Friday, January 30, 2009

Investing in Our Human Infrastructure

By Riane Eisler

Over half a million people lost their jobs last month. There’s no question we need a job-creation plan. The real question is what kind of plan will most quickly stimulate the economy and at the same time provide the best long-term investment for our nation.

President Obama’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Job-Creation Plan should be used to massively invest in our human infrastructure. Study after study shows that when our nation invests in its people, starting in childhood, the economic benefits are enormous.

By creating, subsidizing, and providing training for jobs in childcare, early education, healthcare, eldercare, and other “caring industries,” as well as supporting caring work in homes, we quickly stimulate the economy, help families, radically reduce poverty and violence, reward women’s economic contributions, save billions in crime and prisons, and develop the “high quality human capital” needed for our post-industrial economy.

Our economic crisis is an opportunity to lay foundations for a sustainable and equitable economic system instead of just trying to patch up an economy based on unsustainable consumerism, consumer debt, and environmental practices. The current economic meltdown is not due simply to the globalization of unregulated capitalism. The problem goes much deeper -- and so must the solutions.

The financial return on investing in caring jobs and home activities is huge. We need a new economic system that really works -- both in the short and long term. To make the job creation plan more effective we must consider that:

• America and the world are in the midst of a sea change as we shift from the industrial to the knowledge/information era. Many of the jobs being lost in manufacturing and other fields will be gone for good as we move toward more automation and robotics. Our most effective investment is in human capital development, starting in childhood and continuing all through life.

• A job-creation program component that focuses on the work of caring and caregiving will stimulate economic recovery and develop high capacity human capital capable of pioneering new frontiers of innovation across the board in every sector of society: culturally, socially, technologically, and environmentally.

• Neuroscience shows that the quality of childcare directly affects the development of human capacities and potentials; caregiving produces what economists call “public goods” and should be economically valued as civic work.

• The hi-tech green jobs and infrastructure construction jobs proposed by the job-creation program as currently formulated are still largely “men’s work.” Yet the time has passed when male “heads of family” were the sole breadwinners. The majority of families are two wage-earner families or woman-headed families. An effective economic stimulus program also provides jobs, training, and subsidies where the female labor force is concentrated: childcare, education, healthcare, eldercare. Studies show that women buy 80 percent of household goods: the food, clothing, and other essentials that keep the core economy going.

• Support of “caring work” will radically reduce poverty and violence, and their enormous economic, social, and personal costs. In the U.S., as in most nations, the poor are disproportionately women and children.

• As the Baby Boomers age, demand for eldercare is rapidly exceeding services available. The job-creation program must address this urgent need by supporting good eldercare in both the market and household economies.

• Millions of Americans are going uncared and undercared for. We have a huge caring gap from cradle to grave. A more broadly defined job-creation program will help close this gap at the same time that it stimulates the economy and trains both women and men for the work that is most urgently needed for a healthy economy and society.

• Creating a new cabinet post or advisory council for high capacity human development will facilitate the reordering of social priorities and the implementation of a new economic agenda appropriate for the post-industrial era -- and a more equitable and sustainable future.

The economic stimulus plan should be a bridge to the kind of economy and society we want and need: one where caring for humans and the planet is the primary economic driver. Good care and education for children is an essential investment in our nation’s future work force, and hence our future quality of life.

Investing in human infrastructure will not only rapidly stimulate our economy; it will lay foundations for a new economic era where our most precious resources -- people and the natural environment -- are nurtured, sustained, and thrive for generations to come.
Eisler is author of The Chalice and the Blade: Our History, Our Future, now in 23 languages, and most recently The Real Wealth of Nations: Creating a Caring Economics. She is president of the Center for Partnership Studies. For more information, see
Copyright (C) 2009 by the American Forum. 1/09

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Better Nutrition Equals Better Education

By Kathleen Rogers

Cafeteria food has always been the brunt of kids' jokes. Many of us remember the grilled cheese sandwich that stuck to the plate when you turned it upside down, and the egg soufflé that jiggled when you poked it. But even that is a far cry from what's served now.

In the midst of a growing childhood obesity crisis, school food now means federally subsidized chicken nuggets, low-grade hamburgers, french fries, hot dogs and pizza. "Cooking" usually involves a centralized kitchen similar to a fast food assembly line.

According to Ron Haskins, senior fellow of Economic Studies at the Brookings Institution, "behind the overcooked vegetables and steam-table pizza that American children confront each school day is an industry that rivals defense contractors and media giants in its ability to bring home the federal bacon." That industry is agribusiness -- and, via the National School Lunch Program, it has a chokehold on our kids.

The commodities-driven National School Lunch Program, meant to feed 60 million children healthy food, has instead turned into a major public health threat. The most vulnerable in our society are suffering the most severe consequences, including epidemic levels of obesity, diabetes, heart disease and other illnesses. While we need to be able to include more children in the School Lunch Program, we also need to be able to feed them higher-quality, more nutritious food, or else we are defeating the purpose of the program.

Over the past three decades, rates of obesity in the U.S. have more than doubled among children ages 2 to 5 and more than tripled among those ages 6 to 11. Today, approximately 9 million U.S. children over the age of 6 are considered obese. America's overweight teens consume an average of 700 to 1,000 calories more than they are required each day.

The National School Lunch Program and its affiliated programs have unmatched size and scope, serving more than 35 million lunches every day in almost every school in the U.S., costing taxpayers more than $8.5 billion. Close to 20 million K-12 students receive up to two meals a day, five days a week. The program was recently expanded to include all children enrolled in Head Start and child nutrition programs. The summer food service program feeds 18 million low-income children.

Where does agribusiness come in? Schools participating in the National School Lunch Program receive cash subsidies and commodity foods for each meal served plus bonus commodities from agricultural surplus. The program’s authorizing language requires that participating schools serve the most abundant commodities -- mostly milk and meat, with few fruits and vegetables. In fact, the ties between the government and the commodities industry, aided and abetted by poor nutritional choices by state and local food service officials, trumps federal nutritional guidelines resulting in menu offerings that resemble fast food.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture purchases hundreds of millions of pounds of pork, beef, and other animal products as well as surplus corn and wheat primarily as an economic benefit to agricultural interests. This might have been a defensible idea a century ago, when a third of our population worked as farmers; now, only 2 percent of our workforce is in agriculture. However, to help 2 percent of our citizens, these commodities are donated to the School Lunch Program and other food assistance programs. Unfortunately for our children, many of these foods are unhealthy.

Next year, The Child Nutrition and WIC Reauthorization Act of 2004, which includes school lunches, will expire and the renewal battle will begin. We must dramatically improve the federal nutrition requirements that guide this program, weaken the ties between the School Lunch Program and the commodities markets, revolutionize the quality of food in our schools, label the salt, fat, and sugar content of each meal served, and educate school officials, regulators and the American public about the School Lunch Program and its potentially disastrous implications for our children's health.

We need a Congressional mandate for higher nutritional values for the School Lunch Program to improve the quality and types of food that are served in K-12 schools, with an emphasis on local foods and organics. However, that's useless unless we complement it with revamped nutrition curriculums for children and parents so that they can learn the value of good nutrition in preventing disease.

Significant progress can and must be made in overhauling school lunches. It will take millions of voices to bring about this change. The cost to the next generation is too high for this battle to be lost.
Rogers is the president of Earth Day Network.
Copyright (C) 2009 by the American Forum. 1/09

Monday, January 26, 2009

PSA on the Problems of DTV Transition

By Steve Macek

Click Here to Read the Op-ed

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Ending Wage Discrimination


By Lisa Grafstein

In 2007, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a 5-4 decision which changed the rules for determining how long an employee has to raise a claim of wage discrimination. The plaintiff in that case, Lilly Ledbetter, lost a claim for 18 years of discrimination, but has lent her name to a proposal which would correct the interpretation of federal law and allow victims of wage discrimination to recover a portion of what they have lost.

Before the Ledbetter case, courts -- including the Supreme Court -- had used a “paycheck rule,” which recognized that, when an employee is underpaid on a discriminatory basis, each paycheck that employee receives is affected by discrimination, and the statute of limitations for a claim therefore begins to run when a discriminatory paycheck is issued. In most cases, employees do not become aware of wage discrepancies until well into their employment. Moreover, we know that a pay decision continues to impact a worker over her earning years. The National Women’s Law Center has calculated that women 24 and younger start out earning 6 percent less than their male counterparts, but that gap increases over time, resulting in women 45-64 earn 71 percent of what their male counterparts earn.

A study by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research shows the cost in real dollars: a typical college-educated woman who was between 45 and 49 in 2004 had lost over $440,000 (in 2004 dollars) since 1984 due to the wage gap. As Justice Ginsburg noted in the dissent in the Ledbetter decision: “even minor disparities will increase exponentially over time.” The Bureau of Labor Statistics confirms that women earn 76 percent of what men earn -- a gap that cannot be explained away by women’s career choices or other non-discriminatory bases, and is the cumulative effect of long-term wage disparities.

The Ledbetter decision discarded the paycheck rule, and held that a worker could not complain about wage discrimination that started more than 180 days before the initial complaint was made. The practical impact was that there would be no real remedy for wage discrimination, since very few people discover the wage disparity until well after being hired for a position, and still fewer would opt to sue a new employer over what would initially be a very small amount of money. The Lilly Ledbetter Act would reinstate the paycheck rule, allowing an employee to sue for up to two years of the wage difference, even if the initial salary decision was made earlier.

The central argument against the bill appears to be that it would invite litigation over decades-old claims. The law, however, is clear that no claim for damages can reach back more than two years; in other words, regardless of how many years a woman received lesser pay she cannot claim losses that occurred prior to two years before instituting a charge of discrimination.

Both sides in this debate raise the issue of the struggling economy as support for their argument. Those who oppose the proposal, however, are in the position of arguing that discrimination should be left unremedied because of the current economic crisis -- ignoring the very real impact disparate wages have on women as workers and consumers. Without the Lilly Ledbetter Act, employers have no incentive to examine their wage practices -- past and present -- to determine whether some of their employees are not being fairly compensated.

The Lilly Ledbetter Act has already passed the House and will be voted on by the Senate soon. President Obama has pledged to sign it. It is well past time to end wage discrimination, and to send a firm signal condemning the practice.
Grafstein is a private practice attorney in Raleigh.
Copyright (C) 2009 by the North Carolina Editorial Forum. 1/09


By Nancy Stetten

I have been a teacher all of my life. For a number of years I taught English to immigrants. I experienced firsthand the frustration of trying to communicate without a common language. I was always impressed though with how difficult it was for the adults to learn English, and how hard they struggled to master it to become better, more informed members of their communities.

Proponents for the English-Only Metro Charter Amendment though, say that by promoting English-Only, communities will be more united under a common language. This makes absolutely no sense. Communities are only made stronger due to their differences and by a willingness to come together despite those differences to make it a better place for everyone. This amendment seeks to divide communities. It is bad policy for Nashville and can send a problematic precedent for the rest of the state.

While early voting for the English-Only Metro Charter Amendment has begun, it is very important to understand what the proposal means and what it is trying to accomplish and why it is bad for the state.

Let’s see what it says sentence by sentence.

“English is the official language of the metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County.”

This language is unnecessary. English is already the “official and legal language of Tennessee.”

“Official actions, which bind or commit the government shall be taken only in the English language.”

Again, unnecessary. All bills and resolutions are already written in English.

“…and all official government communications and publications shall be in English.”

What does this mean? Metro government has taken steps to provide information in languages other than English in cases where it believes that this makes our government function more efficiently. To overrule all of these decisions ties the hands of government workers trying to do their jobs and raises barriers to effective communication.

“No person shall have a right to government services in any other language.”

Our country has fought to get rid of categories of people who are denied rights. Why would we want to deny rights to a new class of people now?

“All meetings of the Metro Council, Boards, and Commissions of the metropolitan Government shall be conducted in English.”

Once again, unnecessary. This is already the case.

“The Metro Council may make specific exceptions to protect public health and safety.”

There are two problems with this. First, getting measures through Metro Council is cumbersome and time consuming. And second, it is impossible to list all of the specific cases which could endanger public health and safety. Misunderstandings over law or intention can rapidly escalate to a violent confrontation. In fact, failure to communicate itself is one of the greatest risks to public health and safety.

“Nothing in this measure shall be interpreted to conflict with federal or state law.”

Saying this does not make it so. In fact, the proposed charter amendment is in conflict with the constitution and federal law. Non-English speaking citizens have a right to government services under the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, and immigrants over 50 can become citizens even if they don’t know English. There is no doubt that if the English-Only Amendment is passed, it will surely be challenged in court.

A community achieves unity by treating all of its members as equal before the law, not by dividing members into two legal categories -- one receiving government services and the other denying them. At a time when we should be bringing communities together, the English-Only proposal only seeks to tear them apart.
Stetten is a former ESL teacher and a current researcher at the Tennessee Department of Education and a volunteer at Park Avenue Elementary School, where she teaches science and gardening.
Copyright (C) 2009 by the Tennessee Editorial Forum. 1/09

By Morgan Downey

At this time of year, millions of Americans are hoping the new administration will solve our seemingly intractable problems at home and abroad. Millions are also hoping to lose weight in the new year. The two are not unrelated.

Over the past three decades, obesity has increased among all segments of the population, in the United States and abroad. Obesity is now recognized as the fuel behind many major health problems and a significant cause of increasing health care utilization and health care costs.

The efforts of the last eight years have been largely educational: tell people they should lose weight, eat more nutritiously, exercise more and hope. It has not worked. Other than surgery, nothing works very well to lose significant amounts for a long period of time.

If we do not know how to truly prevent obesity or create a long term treatment, what should a new administration do? It should do the next best thing: focus on how to create the conditions where it is more likely than not that we will find effective strategies for prevention and treatment in the future. So here are three ideas for the new administration.

First, the president-elect’s no-sweets-heavy-exercise regimen, while admirable, is no substitute for sound policies. Federal efforts show little outcome because no one is in charge of coordinating research, prevention and treatment of obesity.

Better research is the sine qua non of the future of obesity. Perhaps 90 percent of what we know about obesity has been learned since the discovery of leptin in 1994. Too many people believe that we know everything we need to know about obesity and do not need any more research. That’s not true. A great deal is known but there are many more questions than answers. Scientific credibility on issues around body weight is sorely needed. Every hour on television another weight loss program or product is hyped as being based on doctor’s advice or scientific study. What can help on both fronts is for the administration to create a National Institute of Obesity Research at the National Institutes of Health. A new entity like this can reenergize researchers on obesity, provide leadership to other federal agencies, states and local governments and provide much needed focus on the social and economic impacts of obesity. Furthermore, a director who is articulate can help lead policymakers and the public away from harmful and dangerous products and keep a focus on developing effective interventions. A National Institute can support research on childhood obesity programs, environmental solutions and be a focus of international efforts.

The NIH bureaucracy opposes “disease specific” research but their interests should not trump the public health needs and the best use of taxpayer dollars.

Second, as part of the health care reform package, remove the bias against drugs for weight loss in the Medicaid statute and change the exclusion of these drugs under Medicare Part D. There are few fans of pharmaceutical companies in a Democratic Congress and administration and there are even fewer who favor drugs to treat obesity. Nonetheless, there is a huge treatment gap. We do not have the drug treatment options for obesity we have for high cholesterol, hypertension or diabetes. Recently, major pharmaceutical companies have dropped or cut back on their programs to develop drugs for obesity. One reason is that insurance companies will not reimburse for most obesity treatments, including counseling, drugs and surgery. For the pharmaceutical industry, it just does not make economic sense to invest in drugs which were not going to be reimbursed. This is where leadership by Medicaid and Medicare is critical. If these programs support obesity products, private insurance may follow. A National Institute of Obesity Research can help shape clinical trials needed by the FDA and speed the process along.

Third, look to multiply your opportunities. For example, you can use the public works part of the economic stimulus package to construct new gyms in schools, sidewalks, playgrounds, green spaces and biking/walking trails to encourage more physical activity.
Downey is the former executive vice president of The Obesity Society and has worked in obesity advocacy and education for over 10 years.
Copyright (C) 2009 by the American Forum. 1/09

By Darin Gilley

The day of reckoning has arrived for the U.S. auto industry and much like the four horsemen of the apocalypse (strife, war, famine, death) our nation’s policies (tax, trade, health care, energy) have helped decimate American manufacturing. As a result, America has gone from the world’s greatest creditor nation to the world’s greatest debtor nation.

Let’s look at how these long-standing policies have virtually eliminated several industries from the productive side of the American economy – shoes, TV’s, textiles, electronics, and potentially the auto industry.

Horseman No. 1 – Tax Policy

Other nations gain an advantage through their use of a Value Added Tax (VAT) system. A VAT is a levy on the “value added” to goods and services as they pass through each stage of the production process. The advantage is gained when a foreign manufacturer exports their goods to the U.S., where at that point the exporting nation rebates the Value Added Taxes back to the manufacturer. This allows foreign goods with no tax cost component to “compete” with American goods that must include U.S. taxes as part of their price. This generally gives goods from VAT nations a 10 percent advantage. To make matters worse, VAT nations assess the tax on American goods entering their market.

U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud of Maine estimates this produces a $375 billion burden on American goods and services. Fortunately, he plans on introducing legislation in the next session of Congress to address this problem. This simple tax issue will immediately assist the auto industry and other manufacturers to be more competitive.

Horseman No. 2 – Trade Policy

America cannot continue to lead a free trade agenda while other nations strategically subsidize, support, and protect their industries at our expense. For example, the U.S. House Ways and Means Committee has found that Japan manipulates its currency to give their vehicles a $2,000 – $8,000 advantage when imported into the U.S. This also raises the cost of American vehicles that are imported into Japan by the same amount.

Currency manipulation and other non-tariff barriers allow Korea to export over 600,000 vehicles to the U.S. last year while only importing 5,000 from America.

We could learn from Europe as well. If a foreign automaker wants to open a car plant in Europe they must use 80 percent locally produced parts, far higher than the 35 percent average content American transplants currently use. This would generate almost two million American jobs. In addition, Europe puts a ceiling on the amount of state subsidies provided so that those plants actually benefit the local economy and not siphon off tax dollars to shareholders.

Horseman No. 3 – Health Care

The United States pays twice as much per person for health care as other industrialized nations. It has been estimated that if GM were a Canadian company it wouldn’t be asking for help. Economist Dean Baker estimates if GM had purchased the same health care used in Canada it would have saved over $22 billion over the last decade. In fact, if health care costs were the same here as in other industrialized nations 80 percent of the Big 3 losses would disappear.

Horseman No. 4 – Energy

In the late 1990s a barrel of oil sold for $10. The Big 3 enjoyed strong sales and consistent profits. In 2008 a barrel of oil sold for $147. If legislators had developed an energy policy then, all industry, but especially the auto industry, would have had a foundation on which to design, engineer, and build vehicles.

Instead we watched our elected officials vote to unleash the “market forces” that came with deregulating the futures commodity market (Commodities Futures Modernization Act). This resulted in gas exploding to over $4 a gallon. The consequence of this decision was the entire economy devolving into a recession while oil companies reported record profits.

Obviously, the financial crisis is the immediate cause of the worldwide auto crisis but these four policies or lack thereof have long been a cause of American manufacturing decline. It is time for responsible legislators to take the reins and look for solutions that will put domestic manufacturing on at least a level playing field in their own market. Our economic recovery depends on it. No nation has ever consumed its way to greatness, nations must produce their way to greatness.
Gilley is president of UAW Local 1760, in the St. Louis, Missouri area.
Copyright (C) 2009 by the American Forum. 1/09

By Linda Tarr-Whelan

President-elect Obama has now moved swiftly to name talented and creative people to Cabinet-level offices and the key members of the White House team. But a nagging thought keeps coming back to me: Why isn't he naming more women to bring our experience, creativity and energy to address the problems that face us?

Until only recently it looked like Obama's Cabinet-level composition held only three women. But the announcement that Gov. Bill Richardson will not be taking the Commerce Secretary slot leaves an open position to fill, and one more chance for diversity.

Whereas the presidents of Chile and Spain, also elected as change candidates, appointed women to one-half of their Cabinet seats, Obama has named (including Richardson), 12 men of 15 Cabinet-level departments heads. Leaving his team very diverse in terms of race and ethnicity -- but not in gender. This is a diminished representation from both Bush presidencies and the Clinton administration.

More important than numbers is the talent that is missing and how out-of-step we are compared to the rest of the world in terms of who leads and why it matters. Since 1995 the global standard has been at least one-third women at power tables to revitalize economies and advance democratic participation.

Here we are stuck or moving backwards compared to the rest of the world.
The U.S. is ranked 27th on the World Economic Forum's Gender Gap Report and 71st in terms of women's representation in Congress. Outside of government representation at the current rate increase it will take women 73 years to reach parity on corporate boards.

Why does Obama -- and all of us -- need more women making decisions?
Women "get it" about the importance of education and have gone to school in droves. Women now earn 58 percent of college and master's degrees and are at least even in professional and Ph.D programs. Women-owned businesses, despite persistent obstacles, generate sales equal to the gross domestic product of China. Women make 80 percent of the consumer decisions. As almost one-half of the workforce and the bulk of nurses and teachers, women are the secret to achieving improvements in the economy, education and health care.

Failing to maximize the power and potential of women as leaders for change is neither smart politics nor good business. Women were the majority of all voters -- and with a 7 percent gender gap over men voters, the majority of Obama voters. In part that was because the campaign specifically addressed pressing problems in women's lives where there has been little action for decades -- family and work, health care, equal pay and violence.

I've had my time to serve in government. Based on my experience, I would recommend a plan recently presented to the Obama-Biden transition by the heads of 38 prominent women's organization who represent 14 million women. They proposed the creation of a Cabinet-level Office on Women reporting directly to the president, an Inter-Agency Council on Women and an Office for Women's Initiatives and Outreach.

As the former head of the White House Office on Women's Concerns for President Carter, I know first-hand the importance of the coordination between the president, the administration and women across the country.

In the Clinton administration, as the CEO of a nonprofit, I worked closely with Betsy Myers, later head of Women for Obama, and others who headed the Office of Women's Outreach. All of us found it difficult to deliver the president's agenda for women without Cabinet status. In my role as ambassador I met women ministers from around the globe and saw how their work informed progress for women and their countries and participated in the work of the very effective Inter-Agency Council on Women.

All of these offices were cut out by the Bush administration -- our next President will face a clean slate and a pressing need. President-elect Obama -- and all of us -- will be well-served by taking on board the full recommendation of an integrated approach on women led by a Cabinet-level Office on Women.

An Obama administration will move the whole country forward when it effectively tackles existing inequities, eliminates possible disparate impacts of supposedly "gender-neutral" policies and taps the full potential of our women. Women are not a special-interest group. We are the current and future talent for the economy, the anchors for most families and the change agents for a better future.

Women have embraced the Obama call for change. Now we want to be sure it happens.
Tarr-Whelan is a Demos Distinguished Senior Fellow on Women’s Leadership. Her book, “Women Lead the Way: Your Guide to Stepping Up to Leadership and Changing the World” will be published in 2009. She is the former Ambassador to the UN Commission on the Status of Women.
Copyright (C) 2009 by the American Forum. 1/09

By Steve Macek and Mitchell Szczepanczyk

On February 17, 2009, all full-power analog television broadcasts in the United States will cease and existing TV stations will begin broadcasting exclusively in a digital format. The switch to digital television (DTV) will free up frequencies for emergency uses and allow broadcasters to provide more programming for their viewers through "multicasting."

As a practical matter, people will need to subscribe to a cable or satellite television service, use a digital-ready TV set, or hook up a digital converter box to an analog TV set, in order to continue watching broadcast television.

Unfortunately, the number of people who stand to lose their access to TV programming in the coming DTV transition is considerable. Roughly 10 to 15 percent of all TV households (about 30 to 40 million people) still rely on over-the-air television, most of whom are senior citizens, poor, or non-English speakers. In a city like Chicago, with high poverty rates and a large immigrant population, some 20 percent of residents still use antenna-only TV and an estimated 230,000 households are completely unready for the conversion.

The federal government has launched a coupon program that allows each household to claim up to two $40 coupons to help offset the cost of digital converter boxes for those that can't afford them otherwise. But the coupons expire 90 days after issuance, and half of the more than 25 million people who have requested them have seen their coupons expire.

What's more, surveys show more than three-quarters of those who are interested in getting converter boxes are not aware of the coupon program.

Preliminary testing of digital-only TV broadcasting in the US has been all but non-existent. The sole switchover test, enacted in September in Wilmington, NC, amounts to a false positive, since 92 percent of the viewers impacted by the test already subscribe to cable. Across the country, there have been sporadic tests -- perhaps a minute or a few minutes at a time at various times and in various locales, but nothing systematic.

Outreach about the DTV conversion has been haphazard at best. For the most part, the FCC is counting on public service announcements (PSAs) voluntarily aired by broadcasters to inform viewers about the switch.

But only 13 percent of PSAs air during the most-watched hours of primetime, and PSAs make up only one half of 1 percent of all TV airtime.

In recent months, the FCC has partnered with senior centers and community groups to stage a series of "town hall" meetings about the DTV transition in an effort to educate some of the most vulnerable populations. But scheduling of these town hall gatherings has been ad hoc and in many cities the meetings have been poorly attended.

The distribution of set-top converter boxes has also been fraught with serious problems. Research has shown that the sort of stores that carry converter boxes are typically located far from the low-income neighborhoods which need them most. And many retailers have been caught flat-footed -- not knowing about the transition and sometimes providing incorrect information about the conversion or the coupon program.

Amid widespread confusion about the DTV conversion, there has been no shortage of unscrupulous retailers taking advantage. Both fly-by-night scam businesses and major satellite and cable TV providers have been pushing unwitting TV viewers to buy equipment they don't need at inflated prices. Worse still, earlier this year, the FCC fined several large big box retailers a combined $3.9 million for failing to correctly label analog-only TV sets that will be rendered useless come February 17.

Just last week, government officials overseeing the transition told Congress they may need an extra $330 million to keep up with the demand for converter box coupons. They also admitted that there might not be enough converter boxes available to fill anticipated needs -- and that the shortfall could be as high as 2.5 million boxes.

The saddest thing about this entire situation is that America's transition to DTV could've been handled much differently. The UK is currently in the midst of its own switch to digital television. But unlike here in the U.S., the British conversion is being rolled out gradually over the course of four years, converting region-by-region, practically neighborhood by neighborhood. What's more, the money the UK has spent on outreach and infrastructure, per capita, puts American efforts to shame. The British DTV conversion has had problems of its own, but the problems have been far smaller in scale and easier to address. Americans who watch TV and the regulators who shape our communications policies would be wise to take notice.
Macek is an associate professor of speech communication at North Central College and Szczepanczyk is an organizer with Chicago Media Action and a frequent contributor to assorted Chicago-area independent media efforts in print, web, radio and television.
Copyright (C) 2008 by the American Forum. 1/09


By Toni Waters Woods

On Thanksgiving Day 2006, my father, James "Buzz" Waters, was waiting to be disenrolled from the Medicaid reform pilot program in Duval County so that a high-risk cardiologist in Alachua County would see him. Jacksonville cardiologists referred my father to the Alachua doctor because apparently there was not a high-risk cardiologist in the Duval County Medicaid reform program. This wait proved to be fatal.

Before Medicaid reform my father would have been able to immediately make an appointment and be seen by the cardiologist in Alachua county. Two years ago the state introduced a pilot program to North Florida and Broward county that required more Medicaid recipients to join Medicaid HMOs. Proponents of the pilot claimed that Medicaid Reform would result in increased choices of health plans and providers. But by forcing more Medicaid patients into Medicaid HMOs it has instead created new barriers to care. In fact patients are now unable to access specialists who accept Medicaid but are outside reform plan networks without experiencing unnecessary and sometimes fatal delays. Because the specialist my father needed to see was not part of Duval county's Medicaid reform network, he had to waste precious time going through the disenrollment process before he could even make an appointment with the out of network high risk cardiologist. New Medicaid plan enrollments only start at the beginning of the month. As a result, the time frame for effectuating disenrollment from a plan is a frustrating and ludicrous obstacle for high-risk patients who have immediate needs that cannot wait. My father didn't make it to December 1. He died on that Thanksgiving Day, November 23.

Examples like my father's highlight the problems with forcing more high-risk Medicaid patients into Medicaid HMOs. Which is why I'm concerned when I hear the state is considering expanding the pilot program to the entire state. Medicaid reform in the state of Florida is not working for many patients. "Reform" has not only failed to solve the old problems, but it's created a slew of new ones. The reform program’s limited provider networks puts people with complex illnesses at risk. There are many documented stories like my father's about patients stuck in a spiral of red tape and rules that have led to further medical complications. Reading these stories is heartbreaking at times. A letter sent last year to the Florida Medicaid director from Florida CHAIN and Florida Legal Services highlighted many of the problems patients were having. A woman with diabetes was denied coverage for her insulin, goes into diabetic shock and almost dies; a man with severe mental illness ended up in the hospital because of coverage denied for his medications; a child with disabilities was unable to access critical therapies because of a lack of providers.

There are many policy arguments on all sides of the Medicaid reform issue. But we should listen closest to those who must navigate the complex maze of rules that Medicaid reform has put into place: the patients.

In a report from the Agency on Health Care Administration, it says Medicaid reform "seeks to improve the value of the Medicaid delivery system." I do not believe that happened in my father's case and I do not believe that the value has been improved for many of Florida's citizens, whether patients or taxpayers.

Managed care companies require profits and increasing amounts of reimbursement from the state. These needs are difficult to reconcile with the health care needs of high-risk and very sick Medicaid patients. Notably, in recent months managed care companies threatened to leave the program but changed their minds only when the state gave in to their demands to reduce proposed cuts from 5 percent to 3 percent. Decent health care should be not be judged by the balance sheet, but by the health of its patients.

One step in the right direction would be to permit emergency disenrollment procedures for Medicaid patients needing to access care not available through reform plans. Those protections were not in place for my father. Florida certainly should seek greater choices, access and flexibility for its Medicaid patients, but it should do so by reworking the fatally flawed reform program first, not by expanding it.
Woods is a resident of Duval County.
Copyright (C) 2009 by the Florida Forum

By Kathleen Rogers

A massive stimulus package of nearly $600 billion holds promise for the economy, and could mean more federal spending on infrastructure and energy efficiency projects. An estimated $400 billion in that bill will repair lots of bridges and roads, but what will they all lead to? Nothing -- unless we first start building bridges and roads between our economic, climate, and education concerns, and start appreciating the way they’re all connected.

New policy and stimulus needs to take into account that we’re not just trying to save our economy with roads, bridges, and buildings: We’re trying to save ourselves.

Few other national topics are as timely as a discussion of how to build a new green economy nationwide. During his campaign Obama promised to create 5 million green jobs. It is this way of thinking that should shape our country’s future.

One way we can stimulate the economy while going green is to create new, personal carbon savings accounts. These would be tax-free, interest-bearing green energy savings accounts that could be leveraged to help weatherize or green-up one’s home or sold to companies that need carbon credits. It would encourage energy efficiency while allowing a personal stake in emissions reductions.

At a time when we are poised to make our greatest infrastructure investment since the Great Depression, we need to make sure we do it right. Congress seems focused on shovel-ready jobs to its own detriment. We need to ensure this bailout is green, that the bridges and roads lead us to the future -- instead of another dead-end.

Putting together a new green energy program for the U.S. and other countries will require thousands of green jobs in solar, wind, and other renewable sources of energy.

One plan is based on the fact that investing in energy efficient buildings would go a long way to create jobs and help the economy. The so-called Architecture 2030 plan recommends an investment of $171.72 billion over two years combining a housing mortgage buy-down and an accelerated-depreciation program for commercial buildings with energy efficiency. This plan could create over 3 million jobs in the building sector and over 4 million indirect jobs plus an additional 350,000 jobs from consumer spending.

The retrofitting and construction of green schools -- the largest construction sector in the United States -- will do the same. Between 2006 and 2008, we spent $80 billion on school construction. If we build those buildings green, they cost less than 2 percent more to construct; however, they pay for themselves in a few years. Consequently, municipalities with major school systems are increasingly looking at “green building” and renovation as they work to update school facilities and save the district money in utility bills. A green school can save a school enough money to hire two additional teachers -- all while preventing 585,000 lbs of CO2 from hitting the atmosphere.

Which, at the end of the day, helps solve a bigger problem: The economy is in a crisis, but the impacts of climate change are far greater in the long run. Fortunately though, there’s no need to sacrifice one for the other.

Green jobs are in danger of disappearing from the stimulus package, to be replaced with shovel-ready jobs, such as President-elect Obama’s recently announced plans to create thousands of jobs by “weatherizing” houses. While weatherizing houses is important, it is a short-term project for employment. It is not the same as creating lasting high-tech work or building infrastructure. Green jobs, however, are solid, necessary jobs which have a long-term future. What we need now is a firm commitment to include in the stimulus package funds for “green” infrastructure and jobs -- the real way to revitalize the economy and look toward the future.

House Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi has touted other projects like investments in new energy technologies and energy-efficient buildings. We need to hold her and the rest of the Congressional leadership to those promises, demanding that they take bold measures to resolve the economic crisis holistically -- by taking into account the challenges of the climate crisis, the health of our children, and the needs of our workforce, which is waiting for green American jobs that can’t be exported.

Our government must begin the shift towards a global economy driven by massive job creation from the growth of green technology, construction, transportation, and renewable energy. While the road to a green economy might be long, we need to use this opportunity to build it.
Rogers is the president of Earth Day Network.
Copyright (C) 2008 by the American Forum. 12/08