By Deborah Ortiz

Maybe you have read about “endocrine disruptors” and filed it away as an “environmental issue.” These endocrine disruptor chemicals are found in common consumer products such as pesticides, fertilizers and cleaning chemicals, and are a serious reproductive health issue as well. They have been linked to fertility problems, early puberty in children, poor birth outcomes and certain reproductive cancers.

It is important that we increase community awareness about the intersection of environmental exposure and reproductive health. I am in a unique position to know about the threat because our clinicians often see the troubling effects, ranging from low self-esteem due to early puberty, to problems conceiving healthy children, to a higher risk for breast cancer in young women.

Planned Parenthood’s mission is to promote the health and safety of pregnant women and children by providing primary and prenatal care to uninsured families, many of which work in agricultural communities and in places that expose them and their children to pesticides, plastics, perfumes and sources of endocrine disruptor chemicals.

That’s why we began a series of community forums in Palo Alto last year, with the support of the Compton Foundation, Acterra and Reproductive Health Technologies Project (RHTP), to let parents of young children and grandparents know how environmental chemicals may be harming their children’s reproductive health and the risk of exposing women to environmental contaminants during pregnancy.

The great turnout we had at all three sessions – covering early puberty, fertility and pesticides – showed that there is a strong appetite for more information about how we can reduce our exposure.

Elizabeth Arndorfer, a Palo Alto attorney who works with RHTP, said she first became concerned when she saw that her 7-year-old daughter showed physical signs of early puberty. “It makes perfect sense that Planned Parenthood would be one of the messengers to let people know that these chemicals are everywhere and you can do something about it,” she said. “You can stop microwaving plastic and check to see what kind of lotions and shampoo your kids are using.” All the evidence suggests that once people know more about the risks of endocrine disruptors, they will make a change in their routines, whether it's in the kitchen or at the grocery store.

In recent months, Planned Parenthood Mar Monte broadened its audience to the Pajaro Valley Health Action (PVHAT) collaborative of local farm workers, environmental researchers and leaders of agribusiness to discuss pesticide exposure and its effects on the reproductive health of farm workers in the Pajaro Valley of California. This project is funded by the Community Clinics Initiative, a joint effort of the Tides Foundation and the California Endowment, and brings groups with disparate views on the subject to a roundtable conversation.

Traci Townsend, our project manager, has been encouraged by the level of participation and cooperation among those who are often on opposite sides of the fence. More than three dozen team members showed up for the first PVHAT meeting in Watsonville in February.

"The thing that was really exciting about this meeting is that you could see that regardless of what side of the table people were sitting on, they want to do something," Townsend said. "Everyone is really engaged."

Getting these groups to come together and talk constructively about community-based health is an important first step. As science provides the foundation for policymakers to provide safer and healthier neighborhoods and workplaces for our families, our mission to protect and preserve reproductive health will be more attainable. Elizabeth Arndorfer was right; it makes perfect sense for Planned Parenthood to lead the way on addressing a health issue that has a profound effect on mothers and children.

We have the potential to educate our communities and clients in a way that will touch the lives of so many women of reproductive age. We will also be involved in introducing more federal and state bills that will take the next step toward preventing the consequences of exposure to some of these chemicals.
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Deborah Ortiz is vice president of public affairs for California at Planned Parenthood Mar Monte and a former California state senator.
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Copyright (C) 2009 by the American Forum. 4/09

MINNESOTA EDITORIAL FORUM

By Yolanda Cotterall

The politics of immigration have complex roots.

Since 9/11, the idea that national security is at risk has been used by many to justify draconian tactics to stem the tide of undocumented immigrants walking across the border. However, the big picture politics are infringing on the livelihood of regular people, everyday workers, whose trespasses on the basis of border security are being paid for in their own security.

Imagine a mother informed by her weeping child over the phone about a raid at the plant where her husband works; having heard nothing from him, her mind races. He might have been picked up by government officials. She is afraid to dial his cell phone for fear of bringing said officials to her home. Her three children are at school, without anyone to protect them; she is afraid to pick them up without risking capture in the streets that she now considers a danger zone.

Some could argue that this family should have understood the risk when they decided to make the trip from their small town in the interior of Mexico and cross into the United States without the proper paper work. However, the initial urgency of this type of situation provides perspective. Many people, including young families seek the hope of a better life, a better future for their children even those that have not yet been born. They were told there was work and a future where hunger and hardship were not the main focus, and where hard work is adequately rewarded. This is the allure of our precious American dream.

But while many have made that trip across deserts and mountains to find work, U.S. enforcement officials (as well as average citizens who live along the border) patrol it day and night. This narrow border has become the playing field for an absurd form of the children's game "Red Rover" or "Capture the Hill," where the game plays out: one side trying to find a hole through which they can gain entry and the other side trying to stop them. For some, the game is personal and goes well beyond a disagreement over border policies, immigration documents and a cheap labor force, with a willingness to apply unnecessary hardship and, even, a willingness to break the law in an effort to stop migrants, which can only be identified as an obsession based on hate and bias.

It is this possibility of harm, legitimized by our laws, that breeds fear and insecurity among these migrant workers. We can all understand the terror that a mother must feel in the situation described, but can we understand this feeling as a default? The idea that any day your life could be turned upside down, that any day is another reason to fear the loss of your parents, or fear for your children's safety if you were snatched away, is frightening.

It is very difficult, however, to deter the migrants from trying. Large numbers of "players" win the game daily, gaining entry and finding work while earning what seems like a small fortune, compared to work, if it can be found, back home. The idea is to come for a brief time and return with enough money to buy some land, build a home, and educate their children. In many cases, the main objective is simply to keep hunger at bay long enough for the kids to grow up.

On the U.S. side, those that hire the winners of this dangerous game are not altogether innocent of complicity. The labor resource these migrants represent is not only cheap, but the new arrivals are willing to do jobs most Americans are not interested in nor seek. Employers are attracted to this resource for the cheap labor force which allows them to stay competitive in a market. This temptation to keep the bottom line healthy versus obeying the law is a tough business challenge to address.

It seems that everyone on the U.S. side and in Mexico has opinions about how this very inconvenient and complex supply and demand conundrum can be resolved. However, until it is resolved, we must all agree that any illegal conduct by civilian patrols along the border is an unacceptable practice which breeds insecurity and danger among the defenseless, negating the American Dream and replacing it with something else entirely.
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Cotterall does economic development work with Latino immigrants in rural Minnesota.
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Copyright © 2009 by the Minnesota Editorial Forum. 4/09

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The First 100 Days – Then and Now

By David B. Woolner

After 100 days in office, the comparisons between President Obama and Franklin D. Roosevelt seem as valid as ever.

Both leaders have had to cope with an unprecedented global financial crisis, a deteriorating economy, high unemployment, and an electorate steeped in fear and apprehension about the future. Both men have also had to contend with a world-wide security crisis; inspired in FDR’s case by the pernicious ideology of fascism, and in President Obama’s by the rise of a deadly form of international terrorism driven by religious extremists. Both men have also had to share the blessing—or burden—of high expectations, not only among the American public, but among people the world over, where their assumption of office has been widely heralded as the beginning of a new day.

But in spite of these and other similarities, there are some striking differences between their first 100 days that may provide the current President and his colleagues in Congress with some food for thought.

One clear distinction is the reaction of the Republican Congressional leadership to the President’s initial legislative agenda. In FDR’s day, many republicans not only responded positively to the President’s call for bi-partisanship, they also lent their support to some of the most significant measures to come out of the 100 days, including the Federal Emergency Relief Act and the establishment of the Tennessee Valley Authority or TVA—our nation’s first electric public utility. In short, this “unprecedented national emergency” met with unprecedented national cooperation, among democrats and republicans, and among the executive and legislative branches of government.

A second clear distinction involves America’s standing overseas. Although FDR did not attend, he sent a high level delegation (led by his Secretary of State, Cordell Hull) to Great Britain in June 1933 to attend the long anticipated “London Monetary and Economic Conference.” Attended by 66 nations, and convened to bring about an international response to the global economic crisis, FDR famously “torpedoed” the conference by rejecting a temporary currency stabilization agreement that was negotiated in London and seen as critical to the ability of the conference to continue its work. His decision to do so—particularly after the terms of the temporary agreement had been secured—greatly disappointed the British, French and other delegations. As a result, his international reputation suffered for a time and there were fears—which subsequently proved unfounded—that FDR was an economic nationalist.

By contrast, President Obama’s performance at the recent G-20 meeting in London has been a 10-strike. The President may not have gotten all he wanted in London, but his willingness to listen to and work with the leaders of the world’s leading industrialized nations, along with his ensuing visits to France and Turkey, have restored the international community’s faith in American leadership and significantly enhanced the confidence of people the world over that together we will get through this crisis.

This last point brings us back to the most significant similarity between the two men—their ability to inspire hope in moments of despair and their willingness to act. FDR, like President Obama, never lost faith in the ability of the American people to restore the nation to prosperity. But he understood that government, which he wisely called “ourselves and not an alien power over us,” had a vital role to play in this process. By restoring the people’s faith in government, then, FDR in essence restored their faith in themselves. President Obama and our leadership in Congress would be wise to do the same.
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Woolner is senior vice president of the Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt Institute and co-editor of “FDR’s World: War, Peace, and Legacy.”
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Copyright (C) 2009 by the American Forum. 4/09

TENNESSEE EDITORIAL FORUM

By Bernie Ellis and Margie Parsley

Tennessee went from being one of the 12 worst states for election security to one of the 18 most secure.

We should all be proud of that accomplishment. It took us three years of study, hard work and perseverance to come to the conclusion that our elections are too important to be left to unverifiable direct record electronic machines (DREs) that are easy to hack and impossible to audit.

The Tennessee Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations recommended the move to paper ballots, as did the legislature’s Joint Committee on Voter Confidence. Many newspapers around the state supported this legislation. It was truly a nonpartisan effort, and all Tennesseans -- regardless of political party -- who want our votes to be counted as they are cast, cheered the success.

On June 5, 2008, more than a dozen Tennessee citizens who had worked hard to help save our democracy joined Gov. Bredesen on the podium when he signed the Tennessee Voter Confidence Act (TVCA). On that day, the Governor said: “The right to vote is one of the cornerstones of our democracy, and every voter deserves the 100 percent assurance that his or her vote will be counted. I am proud that Tennessee is taking a big step forward in improving voter confidence."

We were proud too, and shared the Governor’s belief that the TVCA had made our elections safer and more secure for all citizens. But that was then. This is now.

Over the past month, our legislators have been given extremely high cost estimates concerning the shift to paper ballots and routine audits as an excuse for delaying TVCA implementation until 2012. Some of these “extra cost” estimates would be laughable if they were not so dangerous.

One county estimated it would cost them $70,000 “extra” to store paper ballots that would not fill a single filing cabinet. Another county estimated it would cost almost $40,000 “extra” to conduct the routine two-hour training class for poll workers. Several counties estimated it would cost $10,000-$20,000 “extra” to audit a few hundred votes in a single precinct; costs that would average out to more than $50 per ballot.

The truth is, voting with paper ballots/optical scan machines are 30-40 percent less expensive than voting on the unverifiable DREs. That is because a single optical scan machine can do the work of more than 10 DREs, reducing both the time it takes citizens to vote and reducing the unnecessary expense of storing, transporting, programming, testing and retesting so many unneeded DREs. Studies in North Carolina, Maryland and Florida have confirmed these savings.

It is important that we implement the TVCA as intended before the 2010 elections. Tennessee took a big step forward last year in improving voter confidence with the TVCA. There are no good arguments for delaying this vital law. Democracy delayed is democracy denied.
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Ellis is an organizer for Gathering To Save Our Democracy. Parsley is the state action chair of the League of Women Voters.
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Copyright (C) 2009 by the Tennessee Editorial Forum. 4/09


By William F. Schulz

The most important moment of the 2008 presidential debates was one that was little remarked upon at the time. It was in the second debate that the candidates were asked whether health care was “a privilege, a right or a responsibility.” Senator McCain said it was a responsibility -- of government and business. But Sen. Obama said that it “should be a right for every American” and cited as “fundamentally wrong” his mother’s experience of being denied payment for her treatments as she lay dying of cancer.

What was important about Obama’s comment was not just his commitment to guaranteeing access to health care for every American but that the would-be President had framed a social good – in this case, health care – in terms of a human right.

Americans typically think of rights in terms of the traditional civil and political rights guaranteed in the U.S. Constitution: such things as freedom of speech, press and religion; racial equality; and due process. But the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), which the U.S. voted for in 1948, has a much more robust understanding of rights, encompassing such economic and social rights as the right to education, to work, and, indeed, to health care. Article 25 of the UDHR, for example, says that “Everyone has a right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care.”

This doesn’t mean that governments are required to hand out free housing and medical care to everyone. The old anxiety that by recognizing social and economic rights we invite socialism is foolish. What it does mean is that government and other institutional centers of power are required to structure access to basic human needs (food, clothing, housing, work and health care) in ways that make them available to people in proportion to their capacities.

Notice the reference to “other institutional centers of power.” The obligations imposed by human rights do not end at the doors of city hall, the state house or the U.S. Capitol. Corporations, for example, are also bound by human rights constraints and expectations. Indeed, any wielder of power in a society can legitimately be expected to make decisions consistent with recognized human rights standards and obligations, and that includes grant-makers, especially inasmuch as many of them are partially subsidized by the government through various exemptions from taxation.

We would recognize this instantly if a philanthropist or foundation provided support for an organization or a cause that utilized torture or practiced racial discrimination. In such circumstances, no one would debate that the grant-maker had been complicit in human rights violations. But if that’s the case with so-called “negative liberties,” why not also hold grant-makers to account with regard to positive human rights obligations?

That is exactly what the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy (NCRP), on whose board I sit, has tried to do with its Criteria for Philanthropy at Its Best, especially its recommendation that grant-makers “provide at least 50 percent of [their] grant dollars to benefit lower-income communities, communities of color and other marginalized groups, broadly defined” and at least 25 percent “to promote equity, opportunity and justice in our society.”

NCRP’s criteria do not tell foundations exactly how to spend their dollars. But they do recognize that the possession of power entails an obligation to meet basic human needs or, in other words, to help fulfill fundamental human rights.

Government can’t do that alone. Corporations can help. But grant-makers, too, have a critical role to play.

President Obama has reframed at least one critical human need, health care, as a right and promised to see to its fulfillment. It is time now for foundations and other grant-makers as well to see their missions, diverse and complicated as they may be, in terms of meeting the basic welfare of society.
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Schulz is former executive director of Amnesty International USA, and is currently a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress.
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Copyright (C) 2009 by the American Forum. 4/09


By Ralph Paige

I have never seen a U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) like this one. At the very beginning of the Obama administration, Tom Vilsack, the Secretary of Agriculture, has developed initiatives to address the extensive and infamous civil rights problems at USDA.

Usually, lip service is paid to these problems shortly before the end of an administration and nothing is done as a result. But this time it looks to be a different and new era at the USDA. The “People’s Department,” which is what its creator President Abraham Lincoln called the Department of Agriculture, might actually become a department for the people. I applaud the secretary’s efforts.

For more than 40 years and through nine administrations I’ve personally seen black farmers discriminated against by the USDA. I’ve seen discrimination complaints submitted to the USDA by black farmers shoved aside, thrown out or not processed.

There has been unbelievable discrimination including lack of credit opportunities or access to programs for black farmers and other minority farmers (which includes women) at the USDA’s Farm Service Agencies across the country and in other USDA agencies. This has resulted in a tragic loss of land, which has gone from a peak 15 million acres of black owned land in 1910 to a little over 3 million acres today. Because of this, in 1999 black farmers filed a class action lawsuit against the USDA (known as the Pigford case); some claims in the case have yet to be resolved. Congress later offered in the 2008 Farm Bill, an opportunity for thousands of black farmers who were initially left out of the Pigford case to participate.

Vilsack’s first official visit outside the District of Columbia as the Secretary of Agriculture was to the Federation of Southern Cooperatives/Land Assistance Fund. Now in our 41nd year, the Federation has worked diligently to help black farmers stay on the land across the South. Secretary Vilsack told our farmer membership in Albany, GA this February that he wanted to send a message to the country that without question, as Secretary, he will address the civil rights problems at USDA.

Now, Vilsack is letting the nation know what he plans to do. His plans include:

• Analyzing services at USDA agencies to develop recommendations for equitable access to these agencies – particularly the Farm Service Agency, the Natural Resources Conservation Service and in Rural Development;
• Strengthening the Office of Civil Rights at USDA;
• Reviewing the thousands of civil rights complaints since 2000 to ensure they have been adequately addressed;
• Working with the Department of Justice he will finally resolve the remaining Pigford claims against the USDA; and
• Addressing the civil rights issues of other minority and socially disadvantaged farmers across the country and confront the discrimination of employee and promotion practices within the USDA itself.

These are only some of the many initiatives the Secretary is taking to address the civil rights problems within USDA.

Under the Bush administration, the Federation requested a moratorium on foreclosures that black farmers were experiencing, which included even some successful claimants in the black farmer lawsuit. The Bush administration denied our request. In the meantime, foreclosures have gone forward even though a review of appropriate debt relief in the lawsuit is still being conducted.

Secretary Vilsack thankfully reversed the Bush position. He is directing the USDA agencies to suspend all foreclosures against farmers for approximately 90 days to, as he says, "allow time to review the loans for any problems associated with possible discriminatory conduct." Having a suspension of foreclosures for 90 days or more is the right action to take; in fact, it is the moral thing to do.

The history of civil rights at USDA has been appalling, but what we are witnessing today with the Obama administration’s USDA is the most hopeful we have seen in the country’s history. Throughout the USDA’s long history from 1862 to 2009, we have never seen an Agriculture Secretary prioritize civil rights like this. We look forward to the implementation of Vilsack’s plans and his next phase of finally ensuring equity at the USDA for all of our citizens.
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Paige is the executive director of the Federation of Southern Cooperatives/Land Assistance Fund.
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Copyright (C) 2009 by the American Forum. 4/09

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Bigotry is not an American value


By Caroline Fan

Now more than ever, we need a rational and respectful dialogue about how to fix our country’s broken immigration system. But comments like Texas Representative Betty Brown’s recent assertion that legal Chinese American immigrants should adopt Anglophone names that are “easier for Americans to deal with” represents precisely the kind of divisive rhetoric that will keep us from such a levelheaded debate.

Brown’s callous suggestion that Chinese American citizens are not American is symptomatic of the veiled bigotry that underlies much of the immigration debate across the nation. It also begs the question of why state legislators across the country would want to associate with the organization that Brown helped found to propagate racially divisive policies.

Rep. Brown is a charter member of the anti-immigrant special interest group, State Legislators for Legal Immigration (SLLI). SLLI promotes a range of anti-immigrant policies to rescind the rights of legal immigrants, all of which have the effect of promoting discrimination and separating immigrants from their communities. The group is a close ally of the Federation of Americans for Immigration Reform (FAIR), having promoted their model legislation and conducted several joint press conferences. This is same FAIR that the Southern Poverty Law Center classifies as a hate group.

With these policies and Brown’s incendiary comments in mind, legislators who want to have a rational debate over immigration should have second thoughts before continuing their support of the SLLI agenda.

Fortunately, there is ample reason to believe that many will do just that. While Brown’s statement is symptomatic of the ugliest sentiments underlying the immigration debate, our country as a whole is better than those sentiments. We are the proud inheritors of a tradition of respecting the freedoms of a diverse population.

Surely the freedom to name one’s child as one wishes is one that Americans should be dedicated to protecting. The fact that a large majority of Americans elected as President the son of an immigrant, a man with the ‘inconvenient’ name of Barack Obama, is a strong sign that Rep. Brown is out of touch.

If we are to resolve the immigration impasse, we need everyone at the table to engage in constructive, rational debate. Their repeated attempts to marginalize legal U.S. citizens, suggest that SLLI is not interested in such a debate. Brown’s remarks merely confirm that the group’s politics are not so much concerned with “legal” immigration as they are with pitting native-born and recently immigrated Americans against each other.

If the members of SLLI are serious about having a constructive debate about practical immigration reform, they should think seriously about the message Rep. Brown's remarks sends and reconsider whether they wish to be associated with a group that spreads such messages. A failure to do so will only betray the kind of intolerance that will move us backward rather than forward in solving one of the nation's most pressing problems.
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Fan is a second generation Chinese American and the Immigration and Workers’ Rights Policy Specialist at Progressive States Network.
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Copyright (C) 2009 by the American Forum. 4/09

MINNESOTA EDITORIAL FORUM

By Marcella Chester

I understand the harm done when we fail to properly fund services for sex crime victims, and what it will mean for others who are raped. I was raped at age 15; before resources were widely available to help rape victims navigate their choices related to the law and recovery.

After I was raped, I reached out to three different types of helping professionals. All of them failed to properly assess the cause of my trauma. All of them assumed that because the person I was trying to communicate as being my rapist was my boyfriend and I used the word unwanted instead of raped, that I was simply regretting becoming sexually active. These well meaning professionals didn't have the training to recognize that I might be a rape survivor, and to ask the right questions. Even if they realized that I had been raped, they certainly wouldn't have been able to help me see my rapist held accountable because at the time, rapists were described as strangers. Boyfriends might go too far, too fast, but they were never rapists.

In 1974, the research did not exist and these resources were not adequate. In the last few decades, thankfully, the scope of the problem has been considerably more researched.

I have since volunteered for nine years on a local rape crisis line and know what the current services available mean to those who have been raped, and how these services help law enforcement be more effective in responding to sexual violence in our communities. I also know that funding these services and adding funding for primary prevention ultimately will save more money than these programs cost. In fact, a Minnesota Department of Health study issued in 2007 found that the economic cost of sexual violence in Minnesota was $8 billion in 2005.

Minnesota is currently developing the 2010-2011 state budget. As of now, the governor's proposed budget contains no funding for primary prevention, and decreases the grants to local victim service agencies from $1.4 to $1.2 million. In addition, local victim service agencies also face cuts in funding from the county level, compounding their funding crisis.

Last year in Olmsted County, the volunteer coordinator position was cut from the budget. This had a direct affect on the support and training for volunteers who make the local rape crisis line available 24/7. Volunteers are a critical resource that must be trained, developed and supported. Victim services agencies around the state and around the country can only provide continuous emergency services because of thousands of hours which are donated by volunteers. The value provided by the volunteer coordinator position in Olmsted County is the donation of time from over 40 volunteers who agree to set aside their nights, their weekends, and even their holidays, so they can answer a crisis phone call, go to the hospital, or to the law enforcement center.

Minnesota has been -- and should remain -- a leader in the area of responding to sexual violence. This means that we need to continue funding programs that work and find funding to create new initiatives. For example, the Minnesota Department of Health now has a plan for how to create pilot prevention programs, which can be a model for potential programs around the state and the nation. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there is no national model for the primary prevention of sexual violence. This can, and must, change. But to do so requires a willingness to pay for results.

Minnesotans need to speak up to preserve funding for these programs. We must make a difference now so that fewer people will have to understand what it’s like to experience rape.
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Chester is a volunteer victim advocate in Olmsted County’s Office of Victim Services department.
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Copyright © 2009 by the Minnesota Editorial Forum. 4/09



WASHINGTON FORUM

By Pramila Jayapal and Renee Radcliff Sinclair

The early experiences of Amalia Cudeiro, Bellevue School District's new school superintendent, mirror the experiences of many foreign-born residents in Washington and across the United States.

Born in Cuba, Cudeiro came to the United States as a child. Her father was an accountant, but because he didn't speak English, he was only able to find work as a dishwasher. Cudeiro gave back to her father -- she earned a doctorate from Harvard, built a much-lauded career in education, and today is poised to become the first immigrant school superintendent in a city where one in four residents is foreign-born.

Cudeiro's journey and contributions may be viewed as a microcosm of immigrants across Washington state. A recent report released by OneAmerica, a Seattle-based nonprofit dedicated to advancing democracy and justice, clearly lays out the contributions of immigrants to Washington's economy.

The report, "Building Washington's Future: Immigrant Contributions to Our State's Economy," provides the first report specific to our state that looks factually at taxes paid by foreign-born households, consumption patterns of foreign-born families, percentage of immigrants in a variety of industries, and state demographic changes.

Immigrants now make up 14.3 percent of Washington's civilian work force, coming from many regions, spread across the state, and working in a variety of industries. And while immigrants may be perceived as living primarily west of the Cascades, the reality is that Chelan, Douglas, Yakima, Grant, Franklin and Adams counties in Central and Eastern Washington all have percentages of immigrants (compared with the total county population) that are higher than the national average.

The report clearly shows almost every county in Washington needs to start thinking about the tremendous contributions of immigrants to their economy.

Consider these facts:

• The Office of Financial Management estimated that in 2007, Washington households with at least one foreign-born member contributed $1.48 billion in tax revenue, or 13 percent of the state's total tax revenue. Even low-income immigrant households earning less than $20,000 a year contributed a total of $50 million in tax revenue.

Washington's Asian and Hispanic buying power accounted for approximately a fifth of the state's consumer market.
• Immigrants constitute significant percentages of the work force in a variety of industries, making up over 62 percent of farming, fishing and forestry workers; 19.5 percent of production, transportation and material moving workers; 19 percent of service workers.

• Immigrant households in Washington use public assistance at rates that are the same or lower than native-born households, with the exception of food stamps.

• Washington ranks eighth in a list of states that would suffer the highest per-capita losses if the undocumented work force — which constitutes about 5 percent of the total work force — were removed. Washington state could lose $14 billion to $46 billion in lost expenditures, and Washingtonians could lose $600 to $1,700 of personal income per capita.

• Washington's immigrant entrepreneurs contributed approximately $1.3 billion or 9.8 percent of total state business income and provided a significant number of jobs. In Washington, Asians and Hispanics own 5.7 percent and 2.2 percent of businesses, respectively.

Considering these economic influences, clearly Washington must invest in strategies that support the two-way integration of immigrants into our communities. Specifically, the report points to strategies that, even in a tough budget year, must stay funded if Washington is to stay strong.

Invest in English language services. English proficiency is related to the economic self-sufficiency of immigrants and their ability to contribute to the economy.

Invest in naturalization assistance. The report presents compelling evidence that citizenship leads to higher earnings and helps immigrants integrate into society. It also points out that Washington has more than 170,000 legal permanent residents eligible for citizenship, but in 2007, only 8.6 percent are naturalizing. Washington New Americans, a partnership between the state of Washington and OneAmerica, is an example of a program that is desperately needed to fill the gap in services.

Finally, our state must boldly push the federal government to enact comprehensive immigration reform. Reform will fuel further economic contributions by immigrants and end a divisive and often polarizing debate that ignores the very real contributions of immigrants every day to our communities and our economy.
As the economic effects of the downturn are felt across the state, it is important for legislators and the public to remember that immigrants stand ready — as they always have — to build Washington's future, bringing creativity, hard work and entrepreneurship to the challenges ahead.
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Jayapal, is executive director of OneAmerica (formerly Hate Free Zone). Sinclair is executive director of Congressional and Public Affairs for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce
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Copyright (C) 2009 by the Washington Forum. 4/09

WASHINGTON FORUM

By Alison Mondi

In a time of economic uncertainty, unnerving budget deficits, and ever-worsening employment and revenue figures, it is understandable that the legislators and agency heads charged with setting the state’s budget for the next two years are inclined to reach for the hatchet.

And yes, there are going to have to be cuts, and many of those cuts will have very real repercussions for those most in need. But dwindling state revenues, coupled with more people than ever in need of assistance, demands precise and thoughtful budget trimming.

That is why the state Senate and House budget proposals are so alarming. Among the slew of heartbreaking cuts, the Senate budget calls for a $1 million reduction in state spending on funding for birth control and other family planning services for low-income and at-risk women, which is 10 percent of the total program. The House budget is even worse; it proposes a 10 percent cut for the first year of the two-year budget, and then calls for the complete elimination of family planning funding in the second year. That means ending reproductive health care services for over 20,000 Washington women, and putting up to an additional $19 million in pregnancy care costs on the state’s tab. This drastic cut is a gamble with women’s health – and the state’s bottom line – that we simply cannot afford.

In terms of benefits to recipients, tax payers, and the financial health of the state, few social programs compare to public funding for birth control and other family planning services for low-income women. It’s a rare win-win-win in the realm of public policy and state spending. That is why it is critical that we preserve funding for family planning, even now, during one of the state’s (and nation’s) darker economic hours.

Women themselves benefit from the most immediate “win.” With continued funding, low-income women can access birth control and other health care services, thereby providing them with the ability to plan if and when they get pregnant. When women are in control of their fertility, they are more likely to complete their education, and find and retain employment, making women and their children healthier.

When more women, no matter what their income level, have access to birth control, the rate of unintended pregnancies goes down. This leads directly to the next two wins:

Public funding for family planning care is a smart investment. According to a 2008 study by the Guttmacher Institute, for every $1 spent on public funding for reproductive health care, the state saves over $4 in prevented future costs. According to the state’s Department of Health statistics, it costs approximately $550 a year to cover a full range of family planning services for each Washingtonian in need, compared to almost $8,000 in state funds for each Medicaid paid birth. When the state spends a relatively small amount for family planning services, it saves big bucks down the road.

Finally, birth control (i.e. family planning) lifts poor women out of poverty and helps keep women from becoming poor. Not only is this directly beneficial to the women in question, it is also to the benefit of society as whole. A reduction in poverty means less of a strain on public resources and a happier and more productive community. If one of the goals of the budget process is to establish longer-term financial stability for the state – and one would hope that is the case – then it is easy to see that family planning funding should be off the chopping block.

Economic realities mean that many tough decisions await the legislature. To be sure, it is an unenviable task. In the case of funding for birth control and other family planning services for the state’s low-income and marginalized women, the decision is refreshingly easy. For the sake of Washington’s women and for the state’s financial health, the state must allocate full, ongoing funding for reproductive health care.
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Mondi is the communications director for NARAL Pro-Choice Washington.
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Copyright (C) 2009 by the Washington Forum. 4/09


By Liz O’Donnell

Economists are predicting the number of women on the national payroll will surpass the number of men in 2009 due to the fact that 82 percent of recession-related job losses have impacted men. This news has sparked many discussions about how gender roles may or may not be affected in traditional American families. Will Dad now run the household while Mom earns the income? Will Mom still do 17 hours of housework per week?

While who washes the dishes may be of great concern within the four walls of any couple's kitchen, there is an issue of much greater importance that hasn't been talked about. Women still earn, on average, just 78 cents for every dollar a man earns. Plus, the number of women in the top paying jobs is trending downward based on a comparison of how many women held executive positions in 2008 versus 2007. This means while American families sort out who will take out the trash and who will scrub the toilet, they also need to figure out how they will live on less income. Mom and Dad may be able to swap chores, but they still can't swap earning potential.

Those who think pay inequity is caused by women who opt out of full time, fast track careers may continue to think this is a women's issue brought about by choice, therefore affecting only women. But a shift on the national payroll will affect all Americans: women, children and men. It is important that we take note of this, especially in light of the current economic climate. Women are consistently paid less than men for the same work, and when it becomes those women that are the financial heads of households, it is entire families that suffer, likewise when women are boxed out of the top-earning jobs.

As the wife and sole breadwinner in my family, I know for a fact that healthcare costs, grocery bills and mortgage payments don't discriminate based on gender. The cost of raising a family isn't cut by 22 percent, even when a salary is.

It doesn't take an economist to understand that when American families are struggling, consumer spending goes down. And consumer spending accounts for approximately 70 percent of total economic activity. Even the best laid stimulus plan is at risk unless we right the gender inequities in the workplace.

Closing the wage gap and promoting women in the workplace has to be part of the package if we are going to revive our economy. Businesses and government need to implement mentoring and succession planning for women, offer and secure equal pay for equal work, and implement family-friendly work/life programs.

If they don't, how can we expect Dad to pay for the groceries when he does the shopping each week?
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O’Donnell is a public relations consultant and regular contributor to TheGlassHammer.com
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Copyright (C) 2009 by the American Forum. 4/09

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Putting an End to Bullying


MINNESOTA EDITORIAL FORUM

By Jacqueline White

My adopted daughter was born in the projects of the South Bronx, some of the meanest streets in America, and in her early years was tutored in its ruthless code. Though able to escape to Minnesota through her first adoption, she remains proud of her “New York skills”: her ability to throw down, to fight back, to not get punked.

I tell you this because Amy would want you to understand that for Amy Perez, a tough kid from the Bronx, to perceive her suburban Minneapolis high school as so dangerous she had no choice but to drop out, well, it had to be truly treacherous. It’s been more than a decade now, but when word got out that Amy was a lesbian, she was jumped twice and roughed up. The school administration offered no help: she was told she had brought on the attacks herself because of her sexual orientation.

School had been Amy’s refuge, the one glimpse of normalcy she had in the abusive chaos of her biological, foster, and first adoptive homes. Even after her first adoptive mother kicked her out upon discovering Amy’s love letters to another girl, Amy still went to school though she was homeless. She loved school and, as she has said, “The books and the teachers loved me back.” She was staying in a youth shelter when, on cable TV, she happened to catch her classmates walking across a stage to receive their diplomas. The sight was devastating.

My former partner and I met up with Amy through the Twin Cities Host Home program (http://www.avenuesforyouth.org/) which matches homeless gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender youth with trained community volunteers who provide housing and mentoring. We encouraged her to get her GED, and she did.

Though attending Amy’s GED graduation with a couple of cameras around my neck was one of my proudest moments, the victory felt incomplete. What about the other gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender students? Would they be able to stay in school and learn?

I became an activist, determined that schools become accountable for providing a safe learning environment for all students. Through the Rainbow Families School Initiative, I co-authored a report last year detailing the discrepancies between school policies and state law. Though the Minnesota Human Rights Act protects against discrimination based on a wide range of categories including disability, national origin, status in regard to public assistance, and sexual orientation and gender identity, most anti-harassment policies in Minnesota schools only cover the federally recognized categories of sex, race, and religion.

We can change that this legislative session. The legislature is considering a proposal that will mean students in our state who use wheelchairs, are immigrants, are poor, or are gay will also be protected. We need to set the terms for acceptable behavior in our schools by naming these categories. Why? Because bullies listen carefully. If we are hesitant to specify “disability” or “national origin” or “sexual orientation,” the bullies will beat us to it -- and the words they use will not be respectful but mocking. And, in the absence of firm consequences, their taunts can escalate to hazardous levels.

Amy is now a successful adult, but I will not consider her GED graduation complete until all young people in Minnesota have safe school environments in which to learn. My new spouse and I are now Amy’s legal parents. The legacy I hope we can leave her is the knowledge that the rule of law -- not the code of the streets -- will have her back and the back of every bullied student.
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White lives in Minneapolis and is the former School Policy Advisor for Rainbow Families, the Midwest Office of Family Equality Council. For more information on the statewide proposal, visit www.familyequality.org/rainbowfamilies.
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Copyright © 2009 by the Minnesota Editorial Forum. 4/09


MISSOURI FORUM

By John Coffman

Energy utility lobbyists have been exerting increasing influence over Missouri by rewriting laws that are supposed to protect consumers.

Since 2003, utilities have successfully lobbied for seven unfair surcharges to be added onto our utility bills. Energy monopolies love surcharges because they allow rates to increase without a full audit by the Public Service Commission, and even allow rates to go up during a period when the utility’s overall costs are going down.

This onslaught of extraordinary new ways to raise rates for electricity and natural gas has not even stopped in the face of the current deep recession. In fact, 2009 may be the year that politicians succeed in overturning the citizen-led ballot initiative that banned Construction-Work-In-Progress (CWIP). The anti-CWIP statute was passed by voters by a nearly 2-to-1 margin in 1976 and remains one of our most important consumer protection laws. This law currently prevents electric utilities from raising rates for power plants that are not yet providing power.

The CWIP proposal would overturn the will of the voters and put in its place a new ratemaking system, one that is heavily tilted against consumers. Large power plants, such as the proposed $6-9 billion Callaway II nuclear plant of AmerenUE, could be “pre-approved” and then new CWIP surcharges could be added to electric bills every three months during the approximate 10-year construction period.

It is estimated that these charges alone could raise current electric rates by as much as 40 percent before that power plant has even proven it can be operational. And the proposal would allow the utility to collect these CWIP charges even if the power plant is ultimately cancelled and winds up serving no one.

Although the utilities claim that pre-paying saves money for consumers over the life of the plant, their calculations are flawed. Moreover, such overblown claims do not take into account the cost of money for the ratepayers to come up with the extra cash up front. Their claims also assume that each consumer charged will be around to benefit from the power of a plant that could take more than a decade to build. This violates a bedrock principle of fair ratemaking in that the consumers who are benefiting from a power plant should be the consumers who are paying for that plant.

CWIP is also being supported by Kansas City Power & Light Company and Empire District Electric Company, which will surely be swift on the heels of AmerenUE in taking advantage of such a CWIP ratemaking scheme. It is important to recognize that these utilities are privately-held, investor-owned monopolies that do not have to compete for consumers and are already assured of an opportunity to earn a healthy profit, usually in the double digits. These utilities have also rewarded their CEOs well. According to Forbes, AmerenUE CEO Gary Rainwater received a total compensation package of over $5 million last year. KCPL CEO Michael Chesser’s total compensation for 2008 was approximately $3.5 million.

The purpose for such high returns is compensating the utility for managing the risk of providing power. But they want to continue to reap high returns while passing their risk onto the rest of us. In my book, that is the very definition of a bailout. If captive consumers are going to be fronting the money for such large investments, essentially being forced to act as investors, then consumers should, at a minimum, be granted a return for their contribution to future power.

In another outrageous affront to consumers, Missouri’s natural gas companies are pushing to allow its uncollectible accounts to be expeditiously charged back to consumers who actually pay their bills on time. They are proposing to redefine the bad debt of non-paying consumers as “gas costs” and then be flowed through the purchase gas adjustment charge, which is currently limited to the wholesale cost of natural gas. So as the recession makes it hard for an increasing number of households to pay their heating bills, the rest of us must pick up their unpaid tab even more quickly. The goal is to ensure that utility profits do not suffer even a blip.

While all eyes are trained on Congress and its many bailouts, few citizens seem to be aware of these massive bailouts that are under consideration right under our noses in Jefferson City.
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Coffman is general counsel of the Consumers Council of Missouri.
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Copyright (C) 2009 by the Missouri Forum. 4/09

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GEORGIA FORUM

By James Marlow Jr.

At a recent congressional hearing, Public Service Commissioner Stan Wise told Congress that Georgia cannot meet a proposed mandate to obtain at least 25 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2025.

Wise went on to say that other states would be able to meet the requirement, which may soon be imposed by new federal regulations.

With all due respect to the commissioner, he greatly underestimates Georgians’ ability to rise to this challenge and, in the process, clean up our air and create thousands of new, high-paying jobs.

Wise claims Georgia lacks the sunlight that has allowed other states to successfully generate solar energy. This assertion, is just plain wrong.

Georgia averages over five solar sun hours each day, which is more than enough sun for solar to make a significant contribution to Georgia’s energy needs.

In fact, solar energy has worked well everywhere it has been deployed, including places far less sunny than Georgia. Germany is the world’s leading solar market and averages only two solar sun hours each day. Solar energy is also working in Canada, and in the Northeastern U.S.

Wise and others claim that solar is too expensive, but when they compare solar to traditional energy sources such as nuclear or coal, they do not fully include federal subsidies and the environmental costs of those sources. More importantly, the cost of solar is rapidly coming down, while the cost of building traditional power plants is going up.

Solar is also “shovel ready,” meaning it is a technology that can be put right to work today. In addition to providing clean electricity, solar can quickly provide thousands of high quality, high paying new jobs for Georgians.

New solar construction can start in a few weeks, and large systems can be operational in 90 to 180 days. Plant Vogtle’s proposed reactors, by contrast, will not be operational until 2017 or beyond.

Solar is not the only solution; rather, it is an important part of a renewable energy strategy. Coal will remain a source of electricity for Georgians for years to come. But it’s time for Georgia’s political leaders to step forward and work with the business community to ensure that more of our electricity comes from clean, renewable sources. Solar is a proven technology that is ready to be put to work today.

Solar’s benefits include:

• No ongoing fuel purchases. Sunlight is free. Georgia has sunlight, but no coal; • A reduction in “peak” energy needs. Energy demand is typically highest in Georgia when the sun is shining and the air conditioning is on; • No air pollution. It also does not require precious water resources; and • Reliability. Distributed solar production is far more reliable than a power system based on a few big generating plants.

Georgia’s utilities have proven to be resourceful and innovative when given the proper incentives. Hopefully, Georgia will soon join North Carolina, Florida and 30 other states in making the development of solar energy a priority.
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Marlow is CEO of Radiance Solar, an Atlanta solar energy company.
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Copyright (C) 2009 by Georgia Forum. 4/09

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By Gregory Taylor

All across America each year, children start kindergarten unprepared to learn. In some states, the vast majority of kindergarteners aren’t ready for school. Many of them fall behind and never catch up.

We can change that.

The children are victims of failure and neglect by the very entities that should support them most: their families, schools and governments.

As the Obama administration, Congress and state policymakers work to revamp education, they need to target the youngest learners -- those most often overlooked by traditional school systems. They must make sure that children are ready for school and, equally important, that schools are ready for them.

That simple formula is critical for a lifetime of successful learning. Without it, many children are destined to fall behind, require remediation, or drop out.

Yet, most of the focus among policymakers and school systems has been on older children, those who are failing and need help to stay in school and graduate.

That is too late.

The U.S. spends a lot of time and money on remediation, which often doesn’t work. But there is a lot we can do to prevent students from falling behind in the first place.

The evidence is powerful: Young children perform better, learn more and acquire skills that will carry them into adulthood when they move smoothly and seamlessly from home to child care to preschool to kindergarten. The current system, a hodgepodge of uncoordinated care and schooling doesn’t effectively take advantage of children’s key learning years, ages 3 to 8.

Parents and other caregivers, including child care providers and preschools, must make sure that children have the skills they need to enter kindergarten ready to learn. At the same time, elementary schools must be ready for children -- not just for any children, but for the specific kids who will fill their classrooms. Principals and teachers have to reach out to parents, caregivers and preschool teachers to find out everything they can about students long before the first day of school.

As policymakers look for ways to create such seamless systems of education, some communities have been getting it done. SPARK (Supporting Partnerships to Assure Ready Kids) -- a five-year initiative funded by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation -- has contributed a unique, community-based perspective to the national conversation on what it takes to effectively link early learning to the early grades.

SPARK is designed to assure children are successful both before and after they enter school. Working with schools, early care and education providers, families and community partners has yielded a set of proven strategies for aligning local systems of education -- strategies that have been tested in diverse rural and urban communities in Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Mississippi, New Mexico, North Carolina and Ohio, as well as in Washington, D.C.

President Obama has spoken repeatedly of the need to strengthen early education. He’s right. But beyond simply increasing the availability of quality preschools, the president needs to ensure that what children learn there is not lost in the often rocky transition to elementary school.

This issue is bipartisan. Here’s what Gov. M. Jodi Rell, Republican of Connecticut had to say about the benefits of early childhood education: “The gains that are made in preschool cannot and must not be lost when a child enters elementary school. The challenges that the children will actually bring with them to kindergarten must be identified early and dealt with early. In these early years, children develop their love of learning, and they come to know the joys and the fun and, yes, even the hard work of academic success. We don’t want to lose that. You don’t want any child to fall away because suddenly they’re faced with a different set of principles, a different set of schools, a different place.”

But children are falling away; casualties of the lack of coherence and consistency that pervades early child care and education across America. The need is staggering. For example, in Arizona, only 13 percent of students are prepared for kindergarten when they get there.

The U.S. needs a new model for educating its youngest children, one that prepares them for a lifetime of learning starting at birth and that pushes them not only to stay in school, but to achieve.
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Taylor is the vice president for Programs at the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.
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Copyright (C) 2009 by the American Forum. 4/09

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Tuesday, April 7, 2009

How is Your Texas Health Care?


TEXAS LONE STAR FORUM

By Katie Mahoney

This is the story of Rachel in Bexar County, whose mother is 73 years old and hasn't been able to afford to see a doctor for the past 10 years, even though she found a lump in her breast several years ago.

It's also the story of the El Paso County mom who can't afford health insurance for herself and drives to Mexico when she needs to see a doctor or fill a prescription

And it's the story of the woman in Tom Green County who needed a routine medical procedure but couldn't find a clinic in town that she could afford and didn't have transportation to another city.

These are just three of the hundreds of Texas women who have taken the Healthy Women, Healthy Families survey since last summer. Healthy Women, Healthy Families, a statewide coalition of more than 25 grassroots and nonprofit organizations, was launched by NARAL Pro-Choice Texas Foundation in 2008 to improve access to quality healthcare services for Texas women and families.
Member organizations -- which represent a broad range of issue areas including social work, community development and environmental justice -- work to collect surveys from their communities in order to better understand the real health care challenges faced by women across the state.

Why is this work so necessary? Texas has some of the nation's highest rates of women without health insurance, child poverty, teen pregnancy, mothers who receive little or no prenatal care, and women over 40 who have not received a mammogram in the past 10 years.

But that's not all. Certain populations -- low-income women, women of color and disabled women, to name just a few -- experience even more troubling healthcare inequities. Black and Latina women have the highest death rates from cervical cancer. Women with disabilities are often denied certain types of healthcare or given substandard care. And half of all Texas women giving birth must rely on Medicaid to cover their child's birth.

As part of the coalition's commitment to raising the voices of real women across the state, we made the decision to collect personal stories, not just numbers or statistics. Too often those with the fewest resources become just another number and their stories and lived experiences are ignored. Facts and figures are certainly powerful tools, but at the end of the day, what makes the most impact are stories like Patricia's. Patricia is a mother of two living in Fort Worth who recently lost her job and health insurance. Both her children have asthma -- she worries that it is due to the high pollution levels in their neighborhood -- and lately she has begun to experience health problems that she suspects are associated with diabetes. There is no availability of low-cost youth programs in her area; even the YMCA is too expensive. She constantly worries about her children, their future, the opportunities they might miss, and the trouble they might find themselves in without extra activities to occupy them. "Ultimately," she told the coalition, "I am … feeling like I have failed as a person and a parent."

The Healthy Women, Healthy Families coalition believes it is crucial that health policy reflect the real experiences of a broad range of communities, not simply those who have the resources and institutional power to advocate for their own healthcare needs. Through a multi-level strategy that includes targeted policy work, community education and media outreach, we are committed to making this happen. More information about Healthy Women, Healthy Families, including the survey, is available at http://www.healthywomenhealthyfamilies.org/. We encourage all Texans, and especially women, to take the Healthy Women, Healthy Families survey and share their story today.
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Mahoney is project coordinator for the Healthy Women, Healthy Families Coalition and director of outreach & administration at NARAL Pro-Choice Texas
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Copyright (C) 2009 by the Texas Lone Star Forum. 4/09

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By Carolyn Cook

When our forefathers broke from the tyranny in Great Britain, they left nothing to chance. They put it in writing.

In unified thought, spirit and action, the Declaration of Independence was signed by 56 white, male, landowners representing 13 colonies. Hardly reflective of America today, it formally challenged the notion of the “divine right of kings” and guaranteed wealthy men equal rights.

Ironically, god-given rights were customarily denied to women. Considered the property, they were barred from decisions that would impact their social status indefinitely.

Commemorating the spirit of proclaimed freedom, the Declaration of Independence provides the rationale though which the United States Constitution is interpreted. Therefore, the Supreme Court renders its judgments based on a legal precedent established 239 years ago of equality among men only!

With only one female justice and one quarter of judges in state courts, the odds are not in our favor. Furthermore, without the explicit wording and intention of women’s rights documented in the principles of our government, women remain second class citizens until we unite and declare otherwise.

Justice Scalia affirms this stark reality, “When a practice not explicitly prohibited by the text of the Bill of Rights bears the endorsement of a long tradition of open, widespread and unchallenged use, that dates back to the beginning of the Republic, we have no proper basis for striking it down.”

There have been 27 amendments to the Constitution that grant critical civil and political rights. The monumental impact of these revolutionary revisions includes men of all races, religions and national origins. Steadily our cultural landscape transformed from horrific human rights violations to electing the first Catholic and African American male presidents. Stunning triumphs and yet our moral compass must not ignore the double standard that remains -- gender discrimination.

Without a uniform guarantee of equality across 50 states, there is no assurance of women’s progress now or in the future. The stopgap of laws arbitrarily sprinkled throughout the states, subjectively interpreted by courts and overturned by a single vote has failed us. Unwise “investors” bank on the security and protection of state laws assuming this measure is sufficient. They build castles made of sand, but with the changing tides in the legislatures rights can be swept away without a trace. Ask Lily Ledbetter.

Verbal, sexual and physical assaults have become commonplace; advertising exploits our bodies and limits our self-concept; wage disparity and insufficient family support persists in employment and caregivers are not yet eligible for social security.

The omission of women in the U.S. Constitution has had far-reaching consequences for far too long. The time to take action is now.

The Equal Rights Amendment updates America’s original social contract. It calls upon the U.S. government to modernize its existing structures, laws and policies to reflect the progress and contributions of the other half of its taxpaying citizens.

Just three more states are needed to ratify the ERA as the 28th Amendment. Illinois, Missouri, Arkansas, Louisiana, Florida (2009) and Virginia (2010) are attempting to officially declare men and women equal stakeholders in America’s future. With an economy to recover, international relations to mend and corruption to end -- all hands must be joined in this effort.

ERA simply states: “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.”

It is high time our government steps up to the plate and declares gender discrimination unconstitutional as it has nobly done with race. With a uniform guarantee of equality upheld in all 50 states, women’s progress at home, at work and in their communities will be measured and protected by the full extent of the law after 220 years. ERA invests in women’s social progress -- offering her the dignity and respect she is entitled to as citizen of this democracy and an individual of humanity.
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Cook is the DC Representative for the ERA Campaign Network and member of National Council of Women’s Organization’s ERA Taskforce
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Copyright (C) 2009 by the American Forum. 4/09

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OHIO FORUM

By Amanda Woodrum

Public transportation was once again not made a priority in Ohio’s nearly $7.3 billion transportation budget.

Habitually, we spend less than 1 percent of our state transportation dollars on public transit, giving us the low ranking of 40th in the nation for our relative commitment to transit. Per person, Indiana spends 3.6 times more, Michigan nearly 10 times more, and Pennsylvania 33 times more than Ohio does on public transit.

Transportation spending should better reflect the positive role public transit can play in creating a more equitable, vibrant and sustainable Ohio.

In this recession, investing in mass transit can be one part of a much-needed economic infusion for Ohio. Public transportation is not only more energy-efficient than passenger vehicle transportation, it also spurs economic development, employs people, assists firms and workers with transportation needs by providing a low-cost commuting option. It also reduces urban sprawl and congestion, increases urban vitality, and is far less harmful to the environment than having every commuter drive a car.

The Surface Transportation Policy Project estimates that investments in public transportation create nearly 19 percent more jobs than new roads or bridge projects create. Plus, Ohioans are currently sending at least $8 billion out of our state’s economy each year to import fuel for highway travel. Ohio ranks an unfortunate fourth in the nation for the amount of carbon we emit.

Approximately 83 percent of Ohioans drive in their car alone to commute to work. Last year’s high summer gas prices tipped family budget scales and lured many Ohio drivers to mass transit in order to lower their cost of commuting. At the same time ridership was increasing, however, rising fuel prices and declining state investment were forcing cuts to our already inadequate level of public transit services. Currently, our regional transit systems receive only 4 percent of their support from the state, forcing local authorities to levy property and sales tax measures to support transit. These levies are difficult to pass and unreliable in a flagging economy.

In order for public transportation to become a viable option for Ohioans—to commute to work, to make trips to the doctor, or to pick up groceries—riders need to feel confident they can rely on transit to get where they need to go, when they need to get there. Our survey of local transit directors revealed just how essential these services are to riders throughout the state.

To create an adequate funding source for a reliable public transportation system in Ohio, we should amend the provision in Ohio’s constitution that prohibits our motor gas tax revenues from going towards non-highway purposes, and allow 20 percent of the state motor fuel tax to go into a Transit Trust Fund that is dedicated to supporting mass transit in Ohio.

We should also use federal transportation dollars more wisely, directing them towards mass transit whenever it makes sense to do so; fund the Clean and Green Initiative, a five-year plan to purchase 500 electric or bio-fuel propulsion buses; retrofit existing buses with emissions-reducing equipment; and demand that businesses seeking public economic development incentives locate near job centers where our workforce can access them by public transit.

Recent discussions of big new investments in trains to connect some of our large cities are exciting. Maintenance and expansion of buses and regional transit lines within our communities are essential. Ohio needs a 21st century transportation system for a 21st century workforce, and a commitment from our leaders to move us in that direction.
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Woodrum is a researcher at Policy Matters Ohio, where she completed a study on transit in Ohio’s new energy economy, available at http://www.policymattersohio.org/.
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Copyright (C) 2009 by the Ohio Forum. 4/09

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Middletown Journal , Hamilton Journal-News

Friday, April 3, 2009

Moderate Taliban is an Oxymoron


By Martha Burk

In my book "moderate Taliban" ranks right up there with "organic Vienna sausage" as an oxymoron.

But, the president mentioned reaching out to the so-called moderate militias in Afghanistan a couple of weeks ago in talking about how to quell the violence and fix the mess Bush left him with.

Obama recently fleshed out his blueprint for gaining a peace when he announced plans to send 4,000 more American troops and a few billion more dollars through a supplemental appropriation.

Women's groups, both in the U.S. and Afghanistan, want to make sure any shifts in policy don't further harm women and girls. Despite Bush administration claims to the contrary, females have been set back -- way back -- since 2001. Most are once again in the burqua, and girls are being attacked with acid for the crime of going to school. Women are often deprived of food, and have been kicked out of bread lines by the Taliban.

Dr. Sima Samar, chairperson of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, has been making the rounds on Capitol Hill to sound the alarm. "I do not believe there are any moderate Taliban," she said Friday at a news conference sponsored by the Feminist Majority Foundation. "The U.S. must not provide support for those who have terrorized women and girls and violated their rights."

Pointing out that women's rights are human rights and not subject to so-called cultural norms, Feminist Majority Foundation President Eleanor Smeal called for increased attention to health and education, and expressed strong hopes that the Obama administration will attend to the plight of women.

Afghanistan has ratified the universal women's human rights treaty known as CEDAW (the U.S. has not), and the Afghan constitution has basic protections for women. The challenge is bringing culture and practice, still under the grip of Taliban oppression, in line with the law.

Smeal announced a new campaign, chaired by Mavis Leno and supported by women's groups and prominent leaders around the world, to insure that Afghan women will not fall victim to any new alliance of strange bedfellows. With a Secretary of State who is unapologetically pro-woman and women in the Senate and House on their side, the campaign has allies on both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue. Congressional hearings led by Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) on what is to be done for women have been promised.

Due to a scheduling snafu, the women's news conference was taking place at the same time the president was announcing his plan for breaking the hold of the extremists. To his credit, he indicated that women and girls will not be forgotten in the new push, and he's no longer using the term "moderate Taliban.”

But beyond that, there were no specifics on how to protect women. Good thing the girls were speaking up on the other side of town, because good ol' Ross Perot taught us the devil is in the details.

It couldn't be truer for the future of women in Afghanistan.
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Burk is director of the Corporate Accountability Project for the National Council of Women’s Organizations.
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Copyright (C) 2009 by the American Forum. 4/09

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VIRGINIA FORUM

By Page Gardner

As a woman and a Virginian, I was proud to help so many women get registered to vote for the 2008 elections. Women’s Voices. Women Vote, the organization which I founded, registered over 40,000 women in the state of Virginia in the months leading up to the November elections.

These women made the effort to get registered because they believed that change was possible. Then these same women came out in November and voted for change and for hope. Now, we must hold our elected leaders accountable for bringing about that change that we voters have demanded. President Obama’s fiscal year 2010 budget is an important next step in bringing about that change.

Why is President Obama’s budget important to women? Women, and particularly unmarried women, have been disproportionately impacted by the current recession. Unmarried women face a much higher unemployment rate than Americans as a whole, are more likely to be uninsured and are paid substantially less than men. Women need the additional investments in health care, education, and energy reform that are made possible by the proposed budget. These investments will mean tangible improvements in the lives of Virginia women.

Let’s look at healthcare coverage. Our research has shown that healthcare reform is the top public policy issue that unmarried women would like to advocate for, and the dismal statistics help explain why. According to a December 2008 report from the federal Centers for Disease Control, 21 percent of unmarried women aged 25 to 64 lack any health insurance. And, as the economy continues to shed jobs, more and more women are losing their employer-sponsored health coverage and joining the ranks of the uninsured. In fact, a recent report from the Center for American Progress calculates that 330 Virginians are losing their health coverage every day due to job loss. The proposed budget includes $632 billion as a down payment for a system of quality, affordable health coverage for all Americans. Now is the time to fix our health care crisis -- this budget begins that process.

Now let’s take a look at jobs. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, unmarried women experienced an unemployment rate of 9.5 percent in February 2009, compared to an unemployment rate of 8.1 percent for all Americans. In Virginia, the unemployment rate went up by a full percentage point between December 2008 and January 2009. It is vital that the federal budget funds specific programs that address this crisis, and the budget proposal does just that. This budget invests additional funds in high quality affordable early childhood programs like Head Start, to enable low-income mothers to have safe, affordable care for their children while they are at work. The budget increases funding for Pell Grants that make college more affordable, which opens doors to higher skilled jobs. Finally, the budget provides additional funds to train workers for the green jobs of the future which means greater job opportunities.

But how will we pay for it? This budget raises revenue for these critical investments by restoring fairness to the tax code after years of giveaways to the very wealthy and the largest corporations. Taxpayers with incomes over $250,000 (couple) or $200,000 (individual) would lose some of the tax breaks enacted in 2001 and 2003. Corporations would lose tax breaks that encourage them to move jobs and profits overseas, and the big oil companies would lose special tax breaks as well.

Unmarried women came out to vote in record numbers last year because of hope for a better tomorrow. That was a first step, but it is not enough. Now it’s time to take the next step. It’s time we agree to a budget that addresses the healthcare crisis, creates jobs, and invests in education, from early childhood through college.
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Gardner is the president and CEO of Women’s Voices. Women Vote, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to increasing the involvement of women in the public policy process.
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Copyright (C) 2009 by the Virginia Forum. 4/09

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MISSOURI FORUM

By Chris Guinther

“It’s an average teenager’s weekday…going to school, being beat up, having lunch money stolen...the usual. It’s sad to say, but bullying is at its worst these days. About 1 out of every 4 teens admits they are bullies or are being bullied. Many schools don’t even care about those things. They say it’s just a part of life. Bullies can be very dangerous. Bullies are a part of everyday life, but they shouldn’t be. Too many people are being tortured on a daily basis. I may just be a kid, but I hope that I can open your eyes.”

After I read this middle school student’s essay, my first question was, “Why should any student believe that torturing and bullies are a part of everyday life?” The follow-up question has to be, “What are we doing to help?”

The answer to the first question is simple. Bullying is not just “kids being kids” and should never be considered as a rite of passage. In many cases, it’s keeping our children from being successful or it’s keeping them from coming to school. In some cases, it’s killing them. The “Fight Crime: Invest in Kids” report indicates that those who are bullied are five times more likely to be depressed and far more likely to be suicidal.

The answer to the second question lies in the response from Stan Davis, author of “Schools Where Everyone Belongs,” who states, “I am convinced that bullying prevention is primarily something we do rather than something we teach.”

We need to model the behavior that we want our kids to emulate by being careful of our own “teasing” of others; remember that if we’re referring to another person’s size, sexuality, intelligence, religion or race, it’s not teasing -- it’s bullying. In addition, we need to make sure that when our kids watch television where the main character engages in bullying behaviors, children learn that it’s not okay to engage in that kind of behavior.

We need to support schools that engage in whole-school campaigns against bullying -- where everyone in the school takes

personal responsibility in helping others feel safe everywhere in the building. Missouri National Education Association’s “No MOre Bullying” program helps school communities make a whole-school campaign against bullying a part of the school culture. In schools working to achieve whole-school campaigns, students, staff and parents take on the responsibility to ensure safety of targets and bystanders. Further, members of these school communities realize that social behaviors of those who are bullying must change.

The bottom line is that bullying can be controlled, provided there is a strong commitment and willingness to recognize the problem and work together to solve it. It’s not an easy task, and requires that we confront the realities and impact of our own behaviors. We must become a “telling” rather than a “tattling” culture -- where it is our responsibility to get help for someone in danger, rather than just to get someone else in trouble.

Ending bullying is about examining the way we interact with each other and modeling appropriate behavior to our children. Reducing and eliminating bullying will take more than attending a workshop, seeing a movie or reading a book.

Please join in as we engage our communities in campaigns against bullying. It’s our responsibility to make sure that each of our children has opportunities to realize his or her fullest potential. Help us as we work to make our schools and communities safe for every child.
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Chris Guinther is President of Missouri National Education Association and national trainer for the NEA Bullying and Sexual Harassment and Intervention Cadre.
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Copyright (C) 2009 by the Missouri Forum. 4/09

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