UPDATE: 87-year-old Chicago hunger strike participant hospitalized in Springfield. Click Here to Read Story.

Watch Mahaley Summerville's Personal Testimony

What would you do to save a child’s life? What would you do to save the lives of 300,000 children?

I work for the American Friends Service Committee but now I’m at the Capitol in Springfield with five other people from various communities in Illinois doing a hunger strike. We are hungry for justice. We felt this drastic step was necessary to demonstrate to our legislators the seriousness of cutting human services for the most vulnerable people.

I’m here participating in this hunger strike for my granddaughter who is a type 1 diabetic who requires two different types of insulin, and takes four to six shots every day even on holidays. I’m going hungry for five days for my granddaughter and the 300,000 children that would lose healthcare if the human service budget cuts are passed by the legislature. My five days of hunger is not detrimental to my life as the loss of healthcare is to the lives of the 300,000 children if those cuts occur.

My granddaughter will celebrate her seventh birthday on Sunday, May 31. I may not be there to celebrate her birthday but when I go home I want to tell her I love her. I want to go home knowing that my granddaughter and 300,000 have healthcare.

--Margaret Jackson, age 55, Homewood, IL

Watch her personal testimony



Community residents continue their hunger strike in the State Capitol building, with only a few days left in session and more than $7 billion in cuts to vital state programs and services looming. Close to 200 community allies will join Hungry for Justice, an ad hoc group of residents aged 24 to 87, to send the clear message to the Legislature that they must protect the safety net for seniors, children, and working families, and pass a fair revenue increase.

“I’m blessed to be in good health, but what about all the seniors who aren’t?” said Brenda Hobson of Westchester, age 65. “If the General Assembly votes cut these programs, we’re all in trouble. That’s why I’m here.”

Slashing core programs such as home care services for seniors and people with disabilities, prevention programs that reduce violence, teen pregnancies, and substance abuse, and education and safety programs such as parent patrols and Grow Your Own teachers is unacceptable. An estimated 5 million Illinois families depend on these programs. At a time of economic crisis, cuts to our safety net are the worst possible action the Legislature can take.
“I’m not worried about my health,” said Mahaley Somerville, 87. “I’m worried about the health of my communities if we try and fix this budget by removing these programs.”

“My focus is the children – what will happen to them if we cut education and healthcare?” said Linda Sarate, who today joined the original 5 hunger strikers and will continue with them through May 31st. “Our communities are already suffering – every day I see the food pantry lines across the street get longer and longer. I’m joining the fast because people’s ability to live is already on the line.”

Hungry for Justice plans to continue the hunger strike until May 31st unless the General Assembly passes a budget that raises new revenue, increases tax fairness for working families, and protects the safety net. New hunger strikers will join every day, and faith and community members plan on supporting Hungry for Justice in Springfield and across the state by undertaking one-day solidarity fasts. Hungry for Justice is staying at the offices of the Black Caucus in Springfield, and appreciates their providing haven for the hunger strikers.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Stepping up to the Plate


NORTH CAROLINA EDITORIAL FORUM

By W. Hodding Carter III

Private foundations are among the greatest of American innovations.

They funnel private wealth into tax sheltered institutions that in turn support public institutions and purposes. At their best, they have been catalysts for civic and cultural development, economic revitalization and educational innovation.

North Carolina in particular is singularly fortunate to have a strong philanthropic tradition represented by a number of vibrant foundations with a well-developed sense of mission and focus. While the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation comes immediately to mind, it is hardly alone. Mention community and economic development, educational innovation, environmental protection and racial justice, and you immediately think of the central role played by North Carolina foundations.

But in a world gripped by economic crisis, a jobless rate moving rapidly toward the worst in 60 years, and an ever-widening gap between the few who are rich and the many who are not, philanthropy has to do much, much more. Reflecting on past accomplishments is useful only as an incentive to innovation in the here and now.

In particular, the foundation world needs to refocus its approach to better assist those who are least able to help themselves. One way to do this is to make grants in ways that promote effectiveness. That means providing more unrestricted support so that nonprofits have the flexibility they need to respond to changing conditions. It also means giving longer-term funding and multiyear grants.

Foundations should also spend more to help nonprofits speak with a louder and more effective voice in advocating public policies that directly benefit those with whom they work. At a time when public policies are changing dramatically at both the national and state levels, those who are most affected by them should be given a seat at the deliberative table. What is good for banks in crisis is no less good for average Americans and marginalized communities in crisis.

That is a short version of the recommendations made by the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy, a Washington-based foundation watchdog group on whose advisory committee I serve. Its recent report “Criteria for Philanthropy at Its Best” pulls few punches and goes straight to the moral heart of the issue: If foundations are not going to concentrate more heavily on the most deprived groups and individuals in our society, who will?

Some in the foundation world are threatened by the questions and the recommendations. Some fear that by subscribing to goals for how much should go to those in critical need, the door will be opened to government regulation. Others who have a long and fruitful history as patrons of the arts or higher education or medical innovation resist anything they perceive might diminish their historic commitments.

I respect their concerns. When I was president of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, earlier in the decade, nothing was more contentious than our evolving efforts to reach more deeply into the communities we hoped to serve. But at this moment in the nation’s history, business as usual is no more tenable for the foundation world than it is for government and the private sector.

Asking foundations to devote a greater share of their grant dollars for the common good, the commonweal, is imminently reasonable and long overdue.
-----------------------------------------------------------------------
Carter III is a former president and CEO of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and Professor of Leadership and Public Policy at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
----------------------------------------------------------------------
Copyright (C) 2009 by the American Forum. 5/09


By Amelia Warren Tyagi

Imagine buying a tube of toothpaste. After using the toothpaste, you are rushed to the emergency room to have your stomach pumped. The paste contained rat poison. But, when you try to complain, you are told that you should have read the label more carefully, as the ingredient list included hydroxycoumarin. You are told that you should have known that meant rat poison.

Now imagine if the conclusion of most pundits and policymakers were “no new laws are needed; you just need more chemistry education.” Sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it?

But that’s the same situation consumers face every day with financial products that are advertised at one rate, but that rate mysteriously sky-rockets months later.

How do we protect consumers? In the real world, toothpaste is regulated as a product, and the government ensures a basic level of safety. But credit cards, mortgages, and other financial products are treated as contracts. When it comes to contracts, the government views its job as nothing more than enforcing the terms of the contract, regardless of the outcome.

This makes a certain amount of sense when the contract is between two small business owners who are agreeing on the price of installing a new roof. But when it comes to financial products, the law is behaving as if the average consumer were on the same footing as a $1 trillion bank, and that you can quickly analyze the contract and bargain at will.

This is absurd. Just try reading the lengthy contract that comes with your next credit card -- and then try calling the bank to tell them you’d like to amend the arbitration clause and the rate disclosure notification period.

The recent hubbub in Congress about a Credit Card Bill of Rights is certainly a step in the right direction. After decades of being held captive by the ultra-powerful banking lobby, it’s great to see Washington thinking about consumers for a change.

But does a bill of rights really solve the problem? It certainly tackles a few of the worst abuses: double cycle billing, retroactive rate hikes, and abusive practices toward college students.

But the proposal is silent on a variety of other nasty practices. It doesn’t do a thing about those ridiculous penalty fees when the check is 10 minutes late. And while it requires a 45-day notice to increase your rate, card issuers still have the right to raise your rate any time, by any amount, even if you haven’t done anything wrong.

A better approach to dealing with the credit card debacle would be a simple proposal to create a Consumer Financial Product Commission.

In the 1970s, Congress created the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), tasked with establishing safety standards, recalling unsafe products, and banning products that pose unreasonable risks. Since then, the CPSC has played a major role in ensuring safer products and a fairer marketplace. They work to keep us safe from lead paint, car seats that collapse on impact, arsenic in kids’ toys, and, yes, rat poison in our toothpaste. In fact, the CPSC estimates that standards for three products alone -- cigarette lighters, cribs, and baby walkers -- save more than $2 billion every year.

Modeled on the CPSC, the proposed Consumer Financial Product Commission would take on the job of ensuring that disclosures are clear, financial products do what they’re supposed to do, and the playing field is level and fair. Most important, it could act quickly and nimbly.

If done properly, the new agency would not try to fix prices. Nor would it prevent consumers from ever charging too much on a credit card or taking on a mortgage they can’t afford; it would be absurd to try to guarantee that no one would ever behave foolishly. (After all, the CPSC can’t prevent someone from throwing a blender into the bathtub.) But the new agency could eliminate the long contracts and give us fewer surprises when we open our credit card statements. And it could stamp out marketing that advertises a 5 percent interest rate in large print and buries the 35 percent interest rate in the fine print.

A Financial Product Safety Commission certainly doesn’t sound as exciting as a “Bill of Rights,” but it really is a far better way to govern, and could go a long way toward helping consumers. Isn’t that worth giving it a try?
-----------------------------------------------------------------------------
Tyagi is co-founder of Business Talent Group, and co-author of “Two-Income Trap” and “All Your Worth.”
-----------------------------------------------------------------------------
Copyright (C) 2009 by the American Forum. 5/09


MASSACHUSETTS FORUM

By Anna-Ellen Lenart

Massachusetts is considering $1 billion in budget cuts. So, what would $1 billion in cutbacks look like for Massachusetts?

These dollars would be taken from essential services such as social programs, schools, and infrastructure. The impact on our communities would be devastating. Programs that would have an especially heavy toll include social and health services, community-based agencies, and aid to cities. This would greatly reduce preventative services that positively impact youth and our communities. This is poor accounting, since preventative care costs less than subsequent treatment services.

One area of mounting concern is teenage pregnancy. The Centers for Disease Control reports that although birth rates have increased across all age groups, the highest jump is among teenagers.

This situation is a grave concern, because young, single mothers are at high risk for raising their children in poverty. And there is plenty of evidence to show that poor children are far less likely to reach school prepared to succeed than their non-poor peers. In the long run, providing after-the-fact services instead of preventing teen pregnancy will cost taxpayers far more than $1 billion.

One way to resolve this issue is to explore new revenue sources and stop the budget cuts. No one likes raising taxes, but even a 0.5 percent state income tax increase would generate substantial revenue for the state. This is not small change being taken out of your pocket, but if it means vastly higher quality in education, prevention, and social services, and getting more out of your tax money over time, isn’t this worth it?

Raising the state income tax is just one way to increase revenue. How about adding sales tax to purchases made over the internet, or decreasing spending in another area, for example renegotiating state contracts?

Another way to resolve this issue is to support proposals that promote prevention and fund educational social programs -- policies that directly impact families and communities.

One such proposal that is currently being examined aims to make comprehensive health and sex education a core requirement in public schools across Massachusetts.

The proposal would end the disparities among school districts in regard to health and sex education. Some school districts have comprehensive health classes as a requirement to graduate, whereas districts in poor communities are likely to have “optional” classes which are typically the first items cut from the budget.

The program would allow adolescents from many different socio-economic levels to be educated on topics such as reproduction, disease prevention, violence prevention, sexuality, and interpersonal relationships. Children and teens would be educated in school and the entire burden would not be left up to parents and caretakers to cover this wide range of important topics.

Having worked with at-risk youth for the past five years in many different settings, I know the difference prevention though education makes. Many teens lack simple knowledge and skills that could have dramatically changed the course of their lives.

Cutting $1 billion in essential services that invest in our communities and our future is not the solution to the current economic state. It will only increase spending on remedial services, such as medical care for high-risk teen pregnancies, and welfare payments to support fragile, young families. Instead, Massachusetts must explore other areas of revenue and support preventative investments for the betterment of our communities.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------
Lenart, age 27, is a social worker.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------
Copyright © 2009 by the Massachusetts Forum. 5/09


By Page Gardner

Almost half a year has passed, but the 2008 election still looms as an epochal event. With a record voter turnout, the American people, including members of many groups who have been excluded from the political process, changed the face of the nation's leadership and the direction of our public policies.

In many ways, this view is not only optimistic but realistic. More than 133 million Americans cast ballots in the election last year -- the largest number of voters in U.S. history and 9 million more than in 2004. Four constituencies that have historically been under-represented -- African Americans, Hispanics, unmarried women and young voters (ages 18-29) -- provided the margin of victory for President Obama.

But the other side of the story is that 79 million eligible Americans did not vote. Forty-four million of these non-voters were not registered, and another four million were discouraged from voting because of burdensome policies, such as voter identification requirements.

Disproportionate numbers of non-voters belong to the very groups that have historically been excluded. African American turnout increased dramatically in 2008, but, in 2004, only 60 percent of African Americans voted. Meanwhile, in 2008, among voting-age Americans, 21.5 million young people, 20.4 million unmarried women, and 9.8 million Hispanics did not vote.

Why did 79 million Americans -- more than the total population of Great Britain or France -- not vote in an historic election after an exciting campaign? As Professor Nathaniel Persily of Columbia Law School testified before the Senate Rules Committee, "The United States continues to make voting more burdensome than any other industrialized democracy."

As an organization focused on encouraging the political participation of the nation's 53 million unmarried women, Women's Voices. Women Vote recently released a report, "Access to Democracy: Identifying Obstacles Hindering the Right to Vote" by Scott E. Thomas, former chairman of the Federal Elections Commission, and Alicia C. Insley and Jenifer L. Carrier.

The report found that many states have confusing and cumbersome registration requirements, limited options to cast ballots before Election Day, complicated voter ID requirements, inconsistent rules regarding casting and counting provisional ballots, and varied regulations regarding the maintenance of voter lists. These obstacles make registering and voting especially difficult for underrepresented groups who tend to move more often, have less formal education and income, hold jobs where they can't take time off during the day, and, especially among immigrants, lack common forms of identification.

The best way to encourage voter participation is to enact a Federal Universal Voter Registration Act. This would establish a national mandate for universal voter registration within each state. Federal funds would be provided to the states to create permanent voter registration systems that will allow voters to stay on the rolls when they move.

Short of this comprehensive initiative, five other reforms would bring the nation closer to the goal of full voter participation.

First, same day registration would allow eligible Americans to register on Election Day. In the 2008 presidential election, voter participation rates were highest in the states that allowed same day registration -- 69 percent, compared to 62 percent.

Second, there needs to be more clarity about voter qualifications, including whether people without permanent addresses or felons who have served their time are now eligible to vote. Qualifications should be similar in different states; the nation must not return to the days when arbitrary poll taxes and literacy tests set discriminatory standards in some parts of the country.

Third, registration deadlines should not vary from Election Day to a month or more before.
Americans who are excited about a presidential campaign debate a week before the election should not be told it is too late to register and vote.

Fourth, registration should be brought into the 21st Century. Busy Americans should be allowed to register online so that they do not have to wait in line.

Fifth, there should be "no excuses" early and absentee voting. As of January, 2009, 32 states allow no-excuse early voting, 15 require excuses, and four do not allow early voting at all. There is no reason why states should not allow no-excuses early voting.

The U.S. still lags behind most other advanced democracies in the percentage of the population that votes in national elections. We can correct this condition by simply removing the obstacles to expanding American democracy.
------------------------------------------------------------------------------
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.
------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Copyright (C) 2009 by the American Forum. 5/09

WASHINGTON FORUM

By Jesse Hagopian

No one ever said teaching middle school would be easy.

Last week, however, truly tried my patience. You’d think, by this time in the school year, they’d know not to fabricate elaborate excuses for incomplete work.

No, I am not ranting about unruly students in my third period.

I’m referring to delinquent state lawmakers who approved a two-year operating budget in this past legislative session that fails students and teachers by cutting a staggering $800 million from a school system that already ranks 45th in the nation in per-pupil spending. The bulk of the cuts come from voiding I-728, the voter approved class-size-reduction initiative designed to address our class-size ranking of 46th in the nation.

Astoundingly, these representatives maintain they are champions for public education because of their much-touted bill that promised to redefine basic education to include tools educators need to prepare kids for college.

But even my student who attempted to excuse himself from an incomplete assignment by explaining to me that temporary amnesia is a clinical condition -- not to be confused with merely forgetting -- would blush at the litany of half-truths and pretexts in the past legislative session.

Even if the mix of needed change and misguided policy in the proposal was able to help prepare students for college, our representatives didn’t fund it and put higher education out of reach for many by increasing four-year college tuition by 14 percent and two-year college tuition by 7 percent. Furthermore, this new budget denies Washington’s teachers their voter-approved cost-of-living raise, reduces math coaches and curriculum offerings for primary school kids, and will result in thousands of teacher layoffs and more disastrous school closures.

An education reform bill without the funding is like the kid who once told me he really had finished his essay, but I just couldn’t see it because it was written in invisible ink. True story.

Predictably, the Republicans in the state legislature showed why their party is about as popular as the meal-money thieving lunchroom bully, claiming the cuts weren’t deep enough.

However, you can be excused for forgetting which party is in charge in Olympia when the Democrats use their legislative majority to erode education.

“I'm tired of whining and complaining,” said Sen. Budget Chairwoman Margarita Prentice, D-Renton. "I'd like to have a whole lot more money, but you know, we don't.”

But as I tell my students, complaining only becomes whining when you don’t propose a solution.

At the Representative Assembly of the Seattle Education Association on April 20, I submitted a resolution proposing what nearly three-quarters of Americans indicated in a recent CBS/NY Times poll is needed to solve the fiscal crisis: taxing the rich.

This resolution, calling for a progressive income tax that would exempt anyone making less than $250,000 a year, passed with some 90 percent of SEA votes. The Economic Opportunity Institute has shown that with only a 3 percent tax on incomes between $200,000 and $999,999 and a 5 percent tax on incomes over $1 million, the state could immediately raise $2.58 billion -- more than enough to stop the education cuts in addition to cuts to healthcare and the General Assistance-Unemployable program -- a program which helps people with mental and physical health challenges that make it difficult for them to find work. Democrats in the legislature could have helped Washington join the 43 other states with an income tax, but didn’t get the bill out of committee.

Yes, insatiable CEOs trading in asset-backed securities caused a recession, making it hard to raise the money needed to continue basic funding commitments. But teachers, parents, (and yes, even middle school students with temporary amnesia) are tired of lawmakers’ “dog-ate-my-homework” excuses for neglecting schools in one of the wealthiest regions the world has ever known.

Today’s lesson in my third period asks the students to interpret the poem “Cloth” by Phillip Pulfrey:

We weave our excuses around events.
Thin, poor quality cloth of justification Poor substitutes for the heavy tribal blankets Once we wove to wrap our children.
------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Hagopian is a teacher in the Seattle Public Schools and a member of the Seattle Education Association.
------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Copyright (C) 2009 by the Washington Forum. 5/09


By Janet Weil

There's an old adage, “Show me what you spend your money on, and I will tell you your values."

President Obama’s request for a “speedy” congressional vote on $83 billion more in supplemental war funds to pay for more troops, more drone bombing, and more carnage in Afghanistan, has inadvertently shown his values in practice: war over diplomacy, and wishful thinking over clear-eyed realism.

It’s time to get real on the U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan. Military engagement there since October 2001 has yielded neither the capture of Osama Bin Laden, the political defeat of the Taliban, nor the improvement of life for Afghans, especially Afghan women.

This war has cost U.S. citizens, thus far, over $172.9 billion, according to the Congressional Research Service. The fiscal year 2009 budget deficit is now projected to be $1.75 trillion. Since it is borrowed money, the taxpayers -- and our children -- will have to pay it back. This will be a burden on the U.S. economy for decades. Meanwhile, military corporations such as DynCorp, Triple Canopy and Halliburton are raking in profits.

Moving from the cost in money to the cost in blood, this military misadventure has claimed the lives of nearly 700 U.S. servicemembers. Former NFL player Pat Tillman, used as a Pentagon poster boy until killed by “friendly” fire, is perhaps the only name of the dead of this war that Americans remember. Nameless to us -- but their deaths never to be forgotten or forgiven by their families -- are thousands of Afghan civilian casualties. Under Obama's policies, many more young Americans, and Afghan civilians, will die, for no gain.

Obama received a polite “no” from European leaders to his request that NATO forces take more of the combat load in Afghanistan. Large protests in France and Germany marked the 60th anniversary of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, which was created to protect Western Europe from the Soviet Union. There is no Soviet Union any longer, Europe is economically powerful and peaceful, and Afghanistan is a long, long way from the North Atlantic.

There are alternatives, far more affordable and rational, than accelerating the military option in one of the poorest and most war-torn countries on earth. The U.S. could halt its military operations, especially the hated drone attacks in the Afghan-Pakistani border areas, and help organize a peace assembly led by widely respected Afghans, both men and women leaders. The U.S. also has the ability to launch a regional diplomatic effort, including Russia, Iran, India, Pakistan, and Central Asian states.

The American people are tired of war and sick of seeing their tax dollars go to bail out bankers and keep military contractors in the black. Afghanistan is not “the right war,” it’s a sinkhole for our lives and tax dollars and could be a disaster for the Obama presidency, which began with such optimism. Diplomacy, a drawdown of military involvement, and an exit strategy with a timeline -- that’s the realistic path to freedom from endless war and debt. This course of action would show the values that most Americans support.
----------------------------------------------------------------------
Weil is a CODEPINK staff member. Her nephew is preparing to be deployed to Afghanistan in November.
----------------------------------------------------------------------
Copyright (C) 2009 by the American Forum. 5/09


By Louise Diamond

Hard power, soft power, smart power -- what is the right mix of U.S. resources for engaging with the world and it challenges? This is a question sweeping through Washington, and rightly so, as the Obama administration seeks to reverse the toxic legacy of eight Bush years on America’s world standing.

We don’t hear much about Kashmir these days. Yet, like the tip of the iceberg, it is the visible reminder of a much larger problem. The Partition of British India in 1947 displaced approximately 12 million people, spawned violence that killed hundreds of thousands, and left a psychological legacy of distrust, animosity, and unhealed trauma in both India and Pakistan that has only grown worse over the decades.

Kashmir got caught in the crossfire of Partition, and remains so today. In the last 60 years it has been the focal point of bitter and dangerous Indo-Pak relations. Like the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the Kashmir situation has defied endless attempts at solution and has bred increasing hatred, violence, and seeming intractability. Yet, a solution is possible -- and, I would suggest, urgent.

Here is where President Obama and Secretary Clinton can exercise the best of what we know of diplomacy. As long as the Pakistan military sees India as its greatest security challenge and posts most of its resources along that border, it cannot fully address the rising threat posed by the Taliban. Meanwhile, India rejected including India in Richard Holbrooke’s mandate as Special Envoy to the region and has consistently held that it can solve the Kashmir situation on its own.

The world has spent decades dealing with the waste products of Partition. The U.S. would be wise to go to the root and use its power to engage the region in finally addressing the Kashmir conflict, and to healing the relationship between the peoples of India and Pakistan. If France and Germany, which had been historical enemies for centuries through numerous wars, can turn that enmity into friendship after World War II, there is no reason why India and Pakistan can’t do the same.

With a nod of acknowledgement to those in Washington speaking for the need to integrate defense, development, diplomacy, and democracy, I’d like to suggest my own definition of smart power: using our resources to create power with and power for, rather than power over or power against.

The Taliban are spreading across Afghanistan and now Pakistan. We’ve tried power over and against, with air attacks and boots on the ground. Yet, the Taliban only grow stronger.

If Pakistan, with its nuclear arsenal, falls under their control, we are rightly concerned about their penchant for power.

Power with means putting our resources together with others in a cooperative, co-creative way. Traditionally our resources have gone to the Pakistani government and military, and this obviously will and should continue, though sovereignty issues affect how much influence we can have on how this money is spent.

We also have a solid USAID presence in Pakistan, which could be strengthened to engage more with Pakistan’s relatively strong civil society. Education is an especially critical need over the long-term, both to reduce poverty and to empower people to take charge of their own destiny and resist tyranny. I’m sure the AID team in Pakistan is doing a fine job; however, with no AID administrator appointed and no National Development Strategy yet in place, our efforts are not as full as they could be.

Consulting directly with a variety of unofficial players in the region should also be a part of the plan. Women’s groups, moderate religious leaders, courageous human rights activists, democracy advocates, entrepreneurs, educators, and others in Afghanistan have a long history of dealing with the Taliban as do international relief and development agencies. We can learn from their experiences, successes -- and even failures -- which might help their counterparts in Pakistan.

Our goal is to assist a strong, democratic nation of Pakistan that is politically and economically viable and can resist the influence of religious extremism and armed militancy spreading throughout the region.

These steps would serve the common good -- both regionally and globally -- and go a long way toward weakening the ground under the power over approach of the Taliban, al-Qaeda, and similar groups.
----------------------------------------------------------------------
Diamond is president of Global Systems Initiatives and a consultant on issues of international peace and security
----------------------------------------------------------------------
Copyright (C) 2009 by the American Forum. 5/09


MISSOURI FORUM

By Thomas R. Shrout, Jr.

The recent cutbacks of transit service in St. Louis are having impacts well beyond the transit riders themselves -- a surprise for many who didn’t realize the connection between the economy and a good public transit system.

What many people don’t realize is that proper transit funding in St. Louis benefits everyone in the state. A thriving St. Louis regional economy represents well over 45 percent of the entire state’s economy, generating tax revenue that supports services across the state such as education and a variety of health and social services.

After years of using temporary fixes to fund the system, Metro’s ingenuity and luck ran out this spring when the Federal Transit Administration ruled that stimulus funding could not be used for the operations of transit systems across the U.S.

It’s not just St. Louis; cutbacks are in the works for transit systems in Boston, Chicago, New York and Kansas City. The cuts are coming at a time when transit ridership is at a 50-year high as people rediscover its many benefits including cleaner air, less strain on the household budget and a catalyst for economic development.

With Metro cutting its service by 40 percent, Professor Jack Strauss at St. Louis University estimates that 3,400 people in St. Louis area will lose their jobs.

Many workers who relied on the bus to get to jobs are out of luck. The state legislature is considering an infusion of $35 million in cash to restore the reduction in light rail service and bus routes so people can get to their jobs, business owners can have a reliable work force and developers will have confidence in the presence of rail service to continue development near light rail stops that are already on the drawing board.

Transit keeps low-income workers on the job and helps them avoid being saddled with car payments and escalating fuel costs. MetroLink has proven attractive to everyone from Cardinal fans to doctors and nurses at BJC Hospital.

While something of an anathema to Missouri, state funding of transit in states with large Metropolitan areas is quite common. For instance, Illinois provides about $35 per capita to its transit systems. Missouri’s $1 per capita funding is one of the lowest among states with major urban centers. If Missouri had a program similar to Illinois, all cuts could be restored and a major expansion of MetroLink to all corners of St. Louis started.

Since Missouri first instituted a 2 cent gasoline tax in the 1921, Missouri has not had a balanced transportation system. In the 1920s, transit companies were private taxpaying entities. Many of Missouri’s villages and towns had streetcar systems. The first road tax that “Got Missouri out of the Mud” was a pact between urban and rural interests. Farmers got easier access to urban markets and urban dwellers got better access to farm goods. The problem was that over time Missouri’s transportation system got out of balance because the state only focused on roads.

Hidden subsidies for trucks and cars such as “free” parking, further distorted the transportation market and led to a loss of not only transit service but also of passenger rail service, which once connected many Missouri communities with each other.

Investments in transit return dividends to the entire population. Since the advent of St. Louis’ MetroLink in 1993, ridership is up over 50 percent and development around MetroLink stations totals more than $13 billion. An expanded system would spawn further development. These cuts jeopardize those gains at a time when Metropolitan areas in other states such as Denver, Dallas, Minneapolis-St. Paul and Seattle – places that Missouri competes with are expanding their rail systems and taking measures to ensure that they operate efficiently.

A good transit system is crucial to the economic health of not only St. Louis, but also the entire state. A $35 million investment will put people back to work and set the stage for the state to develop a true multi-modal approach to transportation that serves all of its citizens.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------
Shrout, Jr., is the executive director of Citizens for Modern Transit, a St. Louis based transit advocacy organization.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------
Copyright (C) 2009 by the Missouri Forum. 5/09


ARIZONA EDITORIAL FORUM

By Timothy J. Schmaltz

Imagine if Scottsdale’s entire population was struck with a natural disaster. We would rush to their aid immediately. We would marshal the resources of the state, community organizations and the faith community, like we did with Katrina refugees, even in the midst of our current economic disaster. We would take federal disaster relief and help the people with housing, food, family support services, health services, anything and everything necessary, both short and long term to help those families return to financial stability.

When you add up all the people impacted by legislature’s health and human services cuts, without including the people who are being thrown into unemployment by these cuts, the end results impact about the same number of individuals living in Scottsdale (240,000 people). What the legislature has done regarding the state budget cuts for health and human services is to create our own disaster.

The Protecting Arizona’s Family Coalition condemns the consequences of 2009 budget cuts imposed on the Departments of Economic Security and Health Services and AHCCCS for children, people with disabilities, seniors, their caregivers and families. The cuts shred the tattered remains of the current state safety net. The cuts may leave some areas of our state without any services. These reductions will fly in the face of many federal regulations for accuracy, accessibility, and timeliness of services and benefits.

Recently, hundreds of advocates came to the capital to protest cuts to health and human services. Two of the citizens, former general assistance participants who lost their places of residence and are now homeless told their stories to their state senator and were introduced on the Senate floor. The cuts have real consequences.

Beyond the large number of layoffs being experienced in various state agencies, community services and health and human services agencies are being forced to lay off thousands of staff, further contributing to the state’s economic woes and putting more families at risk. Community agencies and faith organizations are being overwhelmed by rising demands at the same time that donations are down sharply. These cuts only compound the lack of current community capacity to respond while adding to the economic downturn with more unemployment and decreasing economic activity.

We acknowledge the state’s dire revenues and recognize that actions on the state budget needed to be taken. However, there are options to all these cuts forced on the departments of Economic Security and Health Services and AHCCCS.

Arizona must take immediate action to stop these cuts by accepting and using all available federal stimulus funds for health and human services, including child care, child welfare and other health and family services.

For the 2010 budget, Arizona must not continue or enact such reductions and program eliminations. Cuts to essential services provided by state agencies in the areas of health and human services must be taken off the table to the fullest extent possible to avoid more destructive actions against children, families and vulnerable adults. All proceedings regarding the 2010 budget must be completely open and transparent. Lump-sum cuts must be avoided to avert these types of masked consequences in the public policy process. The 2010 budget must not do more harm. We must not repeat the disaster of the 2009 cuts. There are many viable alternatives. The Arizona Budget Coalition has proposed over $6.7 billion worth of options at http://www.alternativebudgetcoalition.org/.

Long term, the state must look at tax reform to create a fair, equitable and adequate revenue base and tax system to enable government to address its responsibilities for the common good. The measure of a civilized humane society is how it treats its most vulnerable members, particularly at their time of critical need.
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Schmaltz is a coordinator for Protecting Arizona’s Family Coalition (PAFCO).
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Copyright © 2009 by the Arizona Editorial Forum. 5/09

Friday, May 15, 2009

Postville: One Year Later


By Dr. Erik Camayd-Freixas

It’s been a year since the largest immigration raid in U.S. history. That was the day Pedrito’s Mom was taken, and he has not seen her since. For Postville, May 12 is a day that will live in infamy.

A year later, the welcome signs still stand: “Iowa, Fields of Opportunity,” “Postville, Hometown to the World,” and “Agriprocessors, A Great Place to Work!” The town would like to forget and move on, but nothing will ever be the same. Four times the world has come to Postville to mark its rise and fall: the Railroad (1864), Barnum & Bailey (1915), Agriprocessors (1987), and the Feds (2008).

There was a time when folks of 24 nationalities, speaking 17 languages, found their dream of freedom in this two-square-mile community with no traffic lights, nestled amid a sea of cornfields. The town was hailed as a model of ethnic integration for communities across the country. “I wish you had seen my town as it was before,” a teary local muttered. “It used to be a success story.”

Now, the social fabric is torn and the folks must pick up the pieces. The raid claimed three quarters of the plant’s employees, one third of the school children, and nearly half of the town’s population. As rooted family workers were taken, newcomers and drifters moved in. Crime followed. Folks who never locked their doors were afraid to walk the streets. Agents prowled among the drifters. People looked over their shoulder and whispered. Fear was in the air.

When the helicopters came and 900 armed agents stormed the town, children were hidden in basements for as long as two weeks, and fed under the door. Pedrito’s mom said “Take me. I’m alone in this country.” School children of all colors were living in fear. Many had nightmares that their parents too were taken away.

Close to 100 immigrant and 55 U.S.-born citizen children were either forced into exile and poverty or separated from their deported parents. As her mom sat in prison and was deported, Pedrito’s little sister went every day to her bedroom and talked to her, pretending she was still there. Pedrito has written a letter to President Obama and the First Lady, pleading “Give my Mom a three-day visa, so she can come to my middle school graduation, and see that I kept my promise.” Will he receive a response?

A year later, there are still 28 women forbidden to work or to leave with GPS ankle monitors waiting for a deportation hearing. Another 12 adults and 30 children still wait in legal limbo. After serving their sentence, 41 men were forced to come back as material witness against the employer. They were given temporary work permits, but work is scarce. As a twist of irony, almost half of them are back at Agriprocessors.

The plant was never able to replace the workers taken by the raid. Mounting expenses and sanctions drove Agriprocessors into bankruptcy. A massive debt remains unpaid; money stopped flowing into town; businesses closed; storefronts sit empty; homes are in foreclosure; revenue plummeted; and the mayor resigned. The enforcement medicine worked, but it killed the patient. Nobody is the better for it.

The cost of the raid, prosecution, and deportation to taxpayers exceeds $15 million and counting. The regional loss of business from Agriprocessors’ downfall surpasses $200 million per year, which means the further loss of hundreds of American jobs. Greenspan was right. Migrants, as it turns out, create higher-level jobs for Americans.

The significance of Postville is that it shows the devastation that our ill-conceived enforcement policy is having in communities across the country. While in larger cities the impact is diluted and easier to deny, here the ill has nowhere to hide. Postville is ground zero for comprehensive immigration reform.

A year later, the town forgives. Officials forget. The nation remembers.
-----------------------------------------------------------------------
Camayd is a professor of modern languages at Florida International University.
-----------------------------------------------------------------------
Copyright (C) 2009 by the American Forum. 5/09


By Liz O’Donnell

As the search for a Supreme Court justice to replace David Souter heats up, political pundits and analysts are talking about what litmus test, if any, President Obama might apply when vetting a nominee. But scientific metaphors are not needed in this situation -- basic math skills are.

An early childhood mathematics concept called one-to-one correspondence shows us that President Obama needs to appoint a woman to the Supreme Court. Currently, 51 percent of the country's population is female. Yet only 11 percent of the Supreme Court, or one justice, is female. That is not one-to-one correspondence. With one-to-one correspondence, the members of one group can be evenly matched with the members of another.

My four-year-old daughter has mastered the concept in preschool. But our country's leaders still seem to struggle with it.

Women are still woefully underrepresented in the boardrooms of major corporations. This despite the fact women make 85 percent of all consumer purchasing decisions in this country. Women hold only 17 percent of the seats in Congress yet we proclaim to have a representative government. Women represent just 37 percent of full-time daily newspaper staffers and only 15 percent of all Hollywood and radio producers. Only 17 percent of law firm partners are women. For those of you who missed class, this is not one-to-one correspondence.

Conservatives who fear a "radical" appointment to the court will argue that the lack of women among our country's leaders is representative of choices women make to opt out of corporate jobs or not run for elected office. Those choices are indeed a factor but so are blatant discriminatory practices and ingrained biases. In Supreme Court nominations however, all of the normal factors that contribute to the lack of women at the top, factors such as an insufficient talent pool of qualified female candidates or outdated, sexist stereotypes about risk averse women or work-life balance don't need to come into play. The fact is that there are a number of very qualified, very capable women from which to choose the next Supreme Court justice. These women are ready and able to take the bench.

Appointing a woman to the Supreme Court will satisfy multiple requirements. It will underscore this country's new reality of equality for everyone. It will also satisfy President Obama's criteria of appointing a justice who understands how the law affects the everyday lives of Americans.

Litmus tests might help protect the agendas of special interest groups and activists but they won't help Obama meet his stated objective.

Appointing a woman will. Half of the everyday Americans served by the government are female. Today just one Supreme Court justice is a woman. You do the math.
----------------------------------------------------------------
O’Donnell is a public relations consultant and regular contributor to TheGlassHammer.com
----------------------------------------------------------------
Copyright (C) 2009 by the American Forum. 5/09

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Carbon Cap and Invest in Ohio

OHIO FORUM

By Wendy Patton

Ohio understands economic change. This is a state where producers of screw caps evolve into safety system architects, where coal miners retrain for nursing careers and where biomed blooms next to blast furnaces. Our economic history has forced us to seek opportunity. This is our competitive advantage.

Congress is now considering a clean energy proposal that would dramatically change domestic energy policy. Under the plan, revenues would be raised to clean up American manufacturing processes; insulate homes, commercial buildings and factories; produce more wind and solar energy in places like Cleveland and Toledo; and produce more fuel-efficient vehicles. This is the kind of opportunity Ohio needs to capitalize on our competitive advantage.

The clean energy proposal includes a system of carbon cap and trade to reduce carbon dioxide and other pollutants that cause global warming. Carbon cap and trade systems are already in place in parts of the U.S. and in Europe. The system places a value on the right to pollute. The cap limits the amount of pollutants that can be emitted, and the trade allows the market to set the price for rights (allowances) for emissions. The revenues can fund the transition to the new energy economy.

We should shape the cap and trade model into a system of cap and invest. Revenue raised from the system should be invested in revitalization of the American economy and mitigation of the transition costs. Household budgets of low- and moderate-income families must be protected as we transform from a high polluting, high-carbon economy to a low carbon, clean green economy. Existing manufacturing jobs in energy intensive industries must be protected from transitional spikes in energy costs. Clean coal and coal sequestration technologies must be developed, since much of the Midwestern electric generation relies on coal plants.

Ohio’s leaders are on the job. Senator Brown recently introduced a proposal to provide financial resources and expertise to assist firms in lowering energy costs. Representative Zach Space has started a green jobs corps in his district. Representative Betty Sutton champions the ‘Cash for Clunkers’ program to encourage buying high-mileage vehicles. Representative Marcy Kaptur has seeded green markets for Ohio companies and funded research in photovoltaics. These are great starts. We look forward to more.

Our elected officials must negotiate for provisions in the climate change proposal to create jobs in Ohio and facilitate recovery. Such polices should include:

• Direct federal funding for manufacturers to retool their facilities and retrain their workers to develop, produce and commercialize clean energy technologies.
• Domestic content and labor standards must ensure that firms receiving federal support create jobs that pay a family-supporting wage here at home.
• Increased funding for the Manufacturing Extension Partnership to expand its role in strengthening the clean energy supply chain.
• Increased funding for the Green Jobs Act to retrain workers for new green jobs.
• A presidential task force on clean energy manufacturing to make production of clean energy systems and components a national priority.

In our 2005 report on job potential of renewable energy ("Generating Energy, Generating Jobs"), Policy Matters Ohio presented data demonstrating that Ohio would garner more green jobs than 47 other states given a sizable domestic investment in renewable energy and a set of policies that support domestic manufacturing. We can be a winner because of our assets: dense networks of upstream and downstream suppliers in close proximity to research and development facilities, supporting logistics, financiers with a history in new market development, a well trained work force and strong post-secondary training facilities. The disastrous job loss of the past year makes it hard to recognize the strengths we have. But Ohio hosts a comprehensive industrial base upon which we can build.

There is no denying that last year was a tough. But it is precisely because we need new jobs and reinvestment that our lawmakers must seize the opportunity presented in the climate change discussions. Their actions will be far-reaching. The policies of the U.S. will be central to international talks on climate change at December’s United Nations forum in Copenhagen. If, as they are saying, the road to Copenhagen runs through the Midwest, then it runs through Ohio.
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Patton is a senior associate for Policy Matters Ohio.
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Copyright (C) 2009 by the Ohio Forum. 5/09


MINNESOTA EDITORIAL FORUM

By George Byron (“Geordie”) Griffiths

Minnesota’s proposed anti-bullying statute has caused me to reflect on my years as a special education paraprofessional in Crosby-Ironton. As part of my job, I accompanied students who had disabilities to class, modified their assignments, and supervised them in the lunchroom and at recess.

One might think I also would have had to intervene when the children I supervised were picked on in school. Growing up in the big city, I was the skinny, nerdy kid with eyeglasses – often the object of ridicule from the bullies in my school. If I was subjected to mockery, I just assumed that kids with profound disabilities would have to endure much worse. But in the three years I worked as a paraprofessional, I never witnessed a single incident of bullying towards them.

It would be tempting to credit small-town values. But the supportive atmosphere in the Crosby-Ironton school wasn’t the norm everywhere in small-town north-central Minnesota. I saw this first-hand when I accompanied Eric and the Crosby-Ironton basketball team to an away game. Eric, who has Down syndrome, was a team manager. His main job was to bring the players water bottles during time-outs.

As the Crosby-Ironton team entered the gym, a member of the host team pointed out the “retard mascot.” I’d been lulled by the acceptance that usually surrounded Eric. The sneer was unexpected, and it stung. But I wasn’t the only one offended: A Crosby-Ironton team member made a bee-line for the jeering player. I don’t know what words were exchanged, but at the end of the game, as both teams exchanged “good game” hand-slaps in single-file formation, the initially disrespectful player gave Eric an enthusiastic, and genuine, “high five.” Eric hugged him back.

That good-natured Eric was a valued member of the team -- not just some token “mascot” -- was brought home later that spring. Eric’s parents planned an 18th birthday party for him and invited the team, unaware that the school’s “sweetheart dance” was scheduled for the same night. Postponing the party was not an option as Eric is obsessive about keeping to a schedule. So, the young men on the basketball team did what good friends do: they skipped the dance so they could gather around Eric and sing to him as he blew out the candles on his cake.

Eric’s presence among them clearly helped his classmates deepen their own humanity. They were better people for having known Eric. But I’m afraid Eric’s story is exceptional: students with disabilities don’t typically receive such acceptance. That’s why I’m concerned that students with disabilities are not protected from bullying under Minnesota’s current anti-harassment statute for schools.

I don’t have any illusion that simply passing the Safe Schools for All will magically stop bullying in Minnesota classrooms. But the proposal sets a standard and requires training so teachers learn how to effectively intervene. And by specifically listing disability, along with other attributes such as sex, race, religion, sexual orientation, and physical characteristics, the proposal makes plain that, when it comes to bullying, absolutely no exceptions should ever be tolerated.

Eric’s story establishes that a bully-free school is an attainable vision. Safe Schools for All introduces the possibility that the way Eric and his friends treated each other, and changed the attitude of at least one bully, can indeed become the norm.
-------------------------------------------------------------------------
Griffiths is a photographer based in the Twin Cities. For the past 15 years, Griffiths has photographed three young people from Crosby-Ironton who have disabilities: http://www.childrenborntochallenge.com/.
-------------------------------------------------------------------------
Copyright © 2009 by the Minnesota Editorial Forum. 5/09


MONTANA FORUM

By Anita Kuennen

If the latest Montana legislative session taught us anything it is this: there are still many lawmakers in this state who would like to see women lose their constitutional right to privacy and equality. Indeed, many don’t comprehend that reproductive health care is not exclusively a woman’s issue, but affects the health of Montana children and families.

This legislative session was particularly disappointing in how the legislators decided to arrange their priorities.

Lawmakers spent precious time in their bi-annual session debating a constitutional amendment to define personhood at conception and establish rights for a fetus that would have created unlimited possibilities for conflict between a woman and her pregnancy. They also debated an amendment to provide protection to the unborn as a compelling state interest and similarly creating constitutional language that would jeopardize a pregnant woman’s ability to make private decisions related to her health.

Another bill this session would have offered a “bubble” of protection to protesters as they picket and harass patients outside of health clinics. And yet another would have targeted the regulation of clinics providing abortion care through the state department of health and human services -- an agency without any specific expertise in abortion care or direct oversight of other similar medical practices.

Fortunately none of these bills passed but they ate up an alarming amount of time that could have been better devoted to bills that would have actually helped Montana’s women.

Meanwhile, an important bill that would have allowed teachers to voluntarily seek instruction to teach sex education in a clear, medically accurate way, failed to pass. So as the legislative session closed last month the state has passed no bills requiring comprehensive sexual education, no bills supporting the prevention of teen pregnancy and none of the legislation that did pass improves access to primary health care.

Instead of wasting time and resources on the semantics of “life” we should address primary prevention and start with unbiased education, unfettered access to reproductive health care and systems that support children and their families. Forcing radically conservative agendas into our legislature only distracts lawmakers and resources from making necessary changes in health care access for women.

Statewide, groups like ours, instead of working to help women who find themselves pregnant and don’t want to be, had to spend our time reminding our fellow Montanans of a woman’s right to privacy so clearly defined in our state constitution.

Instead of trying to fight unsuccessful, useless legislative battles that help no one why not address the prevention of disease and unintended pregnancy? Why not move toward making the abortion agenda obsolete by addressing its root causes: poverty, lack of education, resources and limited access to healthcare.

When we discuss these root causes we are talking about a fundamental aspect of women’s health. Women of reproductive age make up 62 million of the current U.S. population. Women between the ages of 15 to 44 are approximately 40.9 percent of the population. Any public health care plan and reform should include prenatal, contraception and medical care as part of the continuum of care for women. Evidence shows that reproductive health is essential to women’s health. We need to address pregnancy prevention, particularly in teens given the 2007 incidence rates showing yet another increase in teen pregnancy, and approach women’s healthcare in a holistic way if we are to even begin to scratch the surface of prevention.

The divisive legislation flatly ignored the bigger picture of women’s health in our state and the fact that reproductive care is essential to women’s health.

Creating more barriers for women is not a solution to improving their health and that of their families. We should be talking about how we can increase support for women of reproductive age.
-----------------------------------------------------------------------------
Kuennen is executive director of Blue Mountain Clinic of Missoula.
-----------------------------------------------------------------------------
Copyright (C) 2009 by the American Forum. 5/09


By Linda Meric

In light of the outbreak of swine flu virus in Mexico -- and the 286 confirmed cases, so far, in the United States -- the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended that “to stay healthy” people should cover their mouths with a tissue when coughing or sneezing, wash their hands more often, and avoid touching their eyes, mouth or nose.

The CDC also recommends that if you feel sick, you should stay home from work, limiting contact with others to keep from infecting them. It’s that final recommendation that might prove the fatal flaw in health education efforts designed to avoid a swine flu pandemic in the United States.

Many American workers who feel ill can’t stay home from work. They must go to work anyway because so many -- 57 million workers to be precise -- don’t have a single paid sick day. Especially in this dismal economy, most workers cannot afford to help protect the public health by staying home when they are sick because doing so might mean that they lose a day’s pay, or even worse, their jobs.

Low-wage workers are the least likely workers to have jobs that allow them to earn paid sick days. What does this mean for an America in fear of a pandemic flu virus? It means restaurants, child care centers, nursing homes, hotels, public transit systems, schools and offices across the country could potentially be full of infected workers, who should be home in bed or at the doctor’s getting treatment, but will be on the job instead. It means that instead of containing and minimizing public health risks, we’ll be maximizing them. It means many sick workers could be making other workers -- and the public -- sick.

Coming to work sick doesn’t help employers either. Workers who must report to work when they are ill are less productive. They don’t save money for business; they add to the costs of doing business. The U.S. is the only industrialized nation that has no state or federal law requiring paid sick days. As a result, half of the workforce has none. In addition, 100 million workers lack a single paid sick day they can use to care for an ill child, spouse or parent. Not only do we lack a federal sick leave policy, San Francisco, the District of Columbia and Milwaukee are the only cities that require employers to provide paid sick days for all workers.

Most Americans, though, believe paid sick days should be a basic right guaranteed by law. Public opinion polls show that a majority consistently list paid sick days as “very important.” Allowing workers to take short breaks from their jobs when their health, or the health of their families, demands it, made sense to nearly 90 percent of people polled in 2007. This basic labor standard is feasible, affordable and is good public and workplace policy.

Senator Ted Kennedy and Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro are expected to re-introduce the Healthy Families Act in Congress this month. It would allow workers to earn up to seven paid sick days a year to care for themselves or their families. Women’s, labor, education, community and other organizations all support this proposal. Maybe this swine flu scare, along with the voices of the American people, will move our Congress to action. To fight the spread of disease and ensure the public health, a basic labor standard for paid sick days is the remedy.
----------------------------------------------------------------------
Meric is executive director of 9to5, National Association of Working Women.
----------------------------------------------------------------------
Copyright (C) 2009 by the American Forum. 5/09


ARIZONA EDITORIAL FORUM

By Dave Wells

At a recent community meeting on the state’s budget crisis with Republican and Democratic legislators a courageous Karen Ickes shared her family crisis. Both her husband and she are unemployed, but, after losing her job, for eight weeks her family had to survive without receiving an unemployment check.

She told state legislators how deeply this impacted her family. She held back tears as she revealed some of the tough questions she struggled with daily: “How do you tell your kids, you’re close to being homeless?” “How do you tell your children, they may not be able to afford to keep the pets that have always been part of your family?” And “How do you respond when your daughter offers her birthday money to help pay the rent?”

Karen’s family is not alone.

Arizona’s antiquated unemployment processing system leaves most workers waiting weeks for their first check. Half of those qualifying for unemployment benefits wait at least six weeks for their first check, according to the Department of Economic Security. Although when the check arrives it includes payment for the missing weeks, families wait weeks trying to survive a financial crisis not knowing when, or if, their check will come. Foisting such added suffering upon struggling families is intolerable.

The federal stimulus package includes $150 million for Arizona to upgrade this system, enabling faster processing. However, the governor and legislature have not accepted it because the federal government requires us to do more for the unemployed in order to qualify.

For $50 million, Arizona would have to allow workers to include the last full quarter they worked before they lost their job if it helps them meet the minimum earnings requirements to qualify for unemployment insurance benefits. Under current law if you lost your job this month, the last quarter of earnings that would count toward your unemployment insurance eligibility would be the one which ended five months ago in December. April to May is an incomplete quarter and the last full quarter, January to March, is excluded.

Back in the pre-electronic submission age, such delays were necessary, because earnings paperwork would not yet have been received and processed by the state. But in an age where you can pay your bills online, the state doesn’t need those extra months to keep records up to date, and it unnecessarily prevents many workers from qualifying for benefits.

For the remaining $100 million, Arizona would have to do just one of three things to expand eligibility or benefits in order to qualify. We could add $15 a week per child for families with children or, alternatively, enable those seeking part-time work or permit those enrolled in qualifying work training programs to qualify for unemployment insurance benefits.

These are relatively simple options and the $150 million stimulus funds would not only pay to modernize our processing system, but also cover about 10 years of the cost of the added benefits according to the National Employment Law Center.

The legislature has shown a capacity to act. Just a few weeks ago the Arizona legislature passed a proposal expanding the weeks of benefits those unemployed might qualify for, but in that case, the federal government made it easy. They said the state could sunset the extension when the federal government stopped paying for it.

But when the federal government offers to pay to modernize our processing system and pay for the added benefit cost for a decade, we should take them up on the offer, instead of doing nothing.
-----------------------------------------------------------------------
Wells holds a doctorate in Political Economy and Public Policy and teaches at Arizona State University. The views expressed are his own.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------
Copyright © 2009 by the Arizona Editorial Forum. 5/09


MISSOURI FORUM

By William Donius

There is a mostly invisible but significant minority present in workplaces across the country. The gay, lesbian, bi-sexual and transgendered group is mostly invisible because many choose not to be “out” at work. They may not feel comfortable proclaiming their sexual orientation or identity for fear of reprisal.

This is unfortunate, but remains a reality in many parts of the country. If an organization is not particularly diverse or open to diversity, it is more likely that those who are different will attempt to hide who they are.

Research shows that when employees do not feel valued, they feel distracted and spend more time conducting non-work related activities, including searching for other jobs. People generally don’t give 100 percent when they don’t feel 100 percent comfortable.

Conversely, when employees feel valued and respected, they are much more likely to be engaged and thereby put forth their best efforts on the company’s behalf. Leadership that inspires, rather than rules, motivates employees. Employees are able to quickly differentiate a culture of inclusion from one of exclusion. This is precisely why embracing a diverse workplace is important.

Employees will connect the dots to conclude that an organization that chooses to operate in a progressive manner, demonstrating equality by employing those with diverse backgrounds, sexual orientations, and gender identities, is one that truly values each person’s individual contribution. Therefore, all employees are more likely to feel welcome, accepted, valued and respected within the organization. Most of us have diverse elements within our backgrounds or families. Embracing this makes for a much better climate.

I learned in my 30 years in various workplaces and varying industries that an organization is only as strong as its weakest link. A company may be spending a lot on advertising and marketing, however, money may be wasted if its employees don’t take pride in the company and work to enhance the company’s results. If morale is poor, employees may reduce sales. There is a study by the Human Rights Campaign that shows that 56 percent of workers are disengaged at work. Further, 15 percent of this group is “actively disengaged.”

Organizations that find ways to connect with their employees and thereby lower these percentages will certainly compete more effectively against their competitors.

One sure way to improve morale in a company is to treat each employee with respect. This means recognizing them for who they are as individuals, valuing their input, and making them feel welcome in the organizational family. In my years as CEO of a bank, I ensured that we placed a high value on each of these elements. The net effect was very positive. We were able to dramatically lower turnover, boost retention and increase job satisfaction. In fact, we were voted, “The Best Place to Work in St. Louis” in 2007 by the St. Louis Business Journal for medium-sized companies.

The old saying is true: take care of your people and profits will be taken care of. We were able to become one of the top performing banks as rated by SNL Financial in 2008 while taking care of employees and customers. It is a myth that if you take care of shareholders, employees have to accept the additional burden.

It is vital to do more than just pay lip service to the notion of treating employees with respect. An organization must ensure by its actions that it is able to give voice to the individual. This can be accomplished by a number of tools that ensure that an organization is receiving input and feedback at each level of the organization.

Examples include an employee morale committee, a social events committee, Q+A events with the CEO (that are unscripted), and interdepartmental committees that focus on process improvement within the organization.

Creating dialogue on a topic is a healthy way of continuing progress, and an important step in emphasizing the importance of diversity in the workplace.
------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Donius is a former CEO and chairman of Pulaski Bank. He was appointed to a two-year term on the U.S. Federal Reserve Board TIAC Council in 2008 and served a four-year term on the Board of Directors of America’s Community Bankers ending in 2007.
------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Copyright (C) 2009 by the Missouri Forum. 5/09



By Susan F. Wood and Kirsten Moore

Recently, new leadership at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) took a seemingly small but vitally important step toward restoring scientific integrity at the agency. The FDA notified the manufacturer of Plan B emergency contraception that it could change the age at which consumers can buy the product without a prescription from age 18 to age 17. This is good news for women, and good news for science. This change comes in response to a Federal District court ruling that, for the first time ever, found the FDA guilty of violating the scientific integrity of the drug approval process.

Despite the many highly effective birth control options women and their partners have to choose from, none is 100 percent perfect. And sometimes, mistakes happen -- a condom breaks, a diaphragm slips, a woman forgets to take her pill. Or she has sex when she didn't plan to -- or is raped. Each year, there are about 3 million unintended pregnancies in the United States, including approximately 1 million teen pregnancies. Being able to use backup birth control in time to prevent pregnancy can help a woman take control of a frustrating or even scary situation.

Plan B is a safe, effective back-up birth control method that can prevent pregnancy after unprotected intercourse, or IF contraception fails. Plan B does not cause an abortion, and it will not work if a woman is already pregnant. Plan B is more effective the sooner it is taken (within hours) which is why so many public health officials -- pediatricians, pharmacists, nurses and scientists at the FDA -- have long advocated that it be made available without a prescription. It is one more tool in our toolbox to prevent an unintended pregnancy.

Unfortunately, the medical and scientific consensus was ignored by political leadership at the FDA, who dragged their feet for more than three years, taking action only when it was clear they had run out OF options. At least that was the conclusion reached by Judge Korman in Tummino et al v. von Eschenbach, who ruled that the FDA's justification for the denial of over-the-counter access to Plan B for women "runs counter to the evidence" and "is so implausible that it could not be ascribed to a difference in view or the product of agency expertise."

In his decision, the judge reviewed the timeline of action -- or inaction -- on Plan B, noting that it was only when a new commissioner was being vetted by Congress that there was any movement on the application. During this time, the FDA kept moving the goal post -- initially denying the over-the-counter application flat out; then delaying on an application to make it available only to those 16 and older; then delaying to make it available to those 17 and older, and finally deciding that it would be available to those 18 and older. The FDA's rationale was not based on the interests of women or of public health or medical evidence. Instead, it was based on a perception that a cutoff of 18 would be easier for pharmacies to implement.

The arbitrary nature of that action back in 2006 is what fueled the judge's two pronged decision. He stated that the FDA's age line was ad-hoc, and required that the agency make Plan B available to women age 17, followed by a process to re-review the age restriction. While last week's announcement by FDA does not accomplish that goal outright -- the company must first submit a revised application for approval -- it backs up the administration's stated commitment to restore scientific integrity in policymaking.

Even if the FDA were to approve availability of Plan B tomorrow, however, there is more work to be done. The judge also directed the FDA to revisit the rationale for any age restriction, citing memos written by the agency’s own scientists, a Government Accountability Office review of the FDA's handling of Plan B, and testimony from current and former FDA officials.

We encourage a prompt and speedy review of the evidence, as we strongly believe that over-the-counter access Plan B should be available to anyone who runs the risk of unintended pregnancy. The court has given the FDA a second chance to get their decision right, showing confidence that new leadership will allow the FDA to get back to work based on science and the public's health, without interference. We share that confidence.
-----------------------------------------------------------------------------
Wood is a research professor at George Washington University’s School Of Public Health and Health Services and former assistant commissioner for Women's Health at the FDA. Moore is president and CEO of the Reproductive Health Technologies Project.
-----------------------------------------------------------------------------
Copyright (C) 2009 by the American Forum. 5/09

TENNESSEE EDITORIAL FORUM

By Elizabeth Barger

As we celebrate Mother’s Day to honor the most important person in our lives, let us not forget the history behind its origin in our country.

In the years after the Civil War, a young Appalachian mother named Anna Jarvis worked to heal both the physical and emotional wounds of families on both sides, calling for a Mother’s Work Day to improve living conditions for all and build reconciliation between neighbors.

Inspired by the work of Anna Jarvis, Julia Ward Howe, author of the “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” took up the cause. When the Franco American War began in 1870, Howe used her fame to send a call to women of all nations to recognize their common humanity, seek peaceful resolutions to conflicts and take a firm stance against any and all wars. She issued a proclamation calling for a Congress of Women, stating, “We women of one country will be too tender of those of another country to allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs. From the bosom of the devastated earth a voice goes up with our own.
It says ‘Disarm, Disarm! The sword of murder is not the balance of justice.’”

Across the years, Julia Ward Howe’s words speak as true today as they did then. The conflict in the Middle East has affected us in more ways than we may be aware. For example, Tennessee has lost the use of billions of tax dollars — an amount calculated from a percent of taxes removed from the state to pay for the occupation in Iraq, the war in Afghanistan, and the funding of conflicts in the Middle East. All of our cities and counties have thinner budgets because of the cost of this war. That means everything from health care to education gets less attention and less money.

Yet even more tragic is the loss of precious Tennessee soldiers and the terrible reality of the wounded in body and soul who come home to the lack of proper medical and psychological care. And, the loss of lives and resources for millions of innocent civilians caught in the conflict must rouse our compassion and calls for peace.

Six years ago, a group of Tennessee women, led by founders of PeaceRoots Alliance and More Than Warmth, came together with middle Tennessee women to honor Julia Ward Howe, and remember that Mother’s Day began as a call for our children’s future and a call for peace.

This Mother's Day at Dragon Park in Nashville, Code Pink, and the Nashville Peace Coalition will bring mothers and their children together with church and civic groups, and a growing number of families to oppose violence and work for peace.

"In 2009, may we reach farther into our hearts and souls to help others,” says Judith Biondo Meeker, the founder of More Than Warmth and one of the original organizers of an event in Nashville. Because Barak Obama has said, “sometimes I think that if you just put the mothers in charge for a while, that things would get resolved," we feel, as mothers, we can reach Michelle Obama, who has shown the world compassion and intelligence of humane citizenship, who may then influence her husband toward peaceful policies.

In Nashville we will carry a banner that says, “We will raise our children to be kind to every mother’s child.”

Honoring our mothers is a good thing. Honoring the strength and fortitude of mothers who demand peace and stand for the protection of all children and families is the true meaning of Mother’s Day.
-----------------------------------------------------------
Barger is a recipient of the 2009 TAP Lifetime Achievement Long Haul Award and long time advocate for peace and freedom.
-------------------------------------------------------------
Copyright (C) 2000 by the Tennessee Editorial Forum. 5/09

NORTH CAROLINA EDITORIAL FORUM

By Richard Fireman, MD

Sometimes the adage "Too many cooks spoil the broth" doesn’t apply -- especially when you are brewing something special outside of the kitchen.

Thirty-two advocacy groups from the consumer protection, housing, justice, civil rights, faith, and environmental communities have been busy cooking up an energy efficiency proposal called NC SAVE$ ENERGY. Now being considered by the state, the plan has support from all sides of the political table, because it serves the economic, moral, health and social needs of their constituents.

The only organizations that seem to be unhappy with the energy plan are the utilities that have failed their public duty with decades of disregard of the mandate from the North Carolina Utilities Commission to "include use of the entire spectrum of demand-side options, including but not limited to conservation, load management and efficiency programs."

The result of this failure from investor-owned utilities is that North Carolina ranked 46th out of 50 states in spending per capita on energy efficiency and conservation measures -- a meager 44 pennies per person or $3.8 million for the whole state.

A 2007 decision to allow Duke Energy to build a huge new coal-fired Cliffside power plant required the company to spend 1 percent of its income on efficiency. Duke proposed "Save-a-Watt" as their efficiency program -- which was widely criticized as "doing too little and costing too much." South Carolina's Utility Commission rejected the proposal outright. In North Carolina, where the Utility Commission historically bends over backwards to do the bidding of the investor owned utilities, the Commission approved Save-a-Watt, but asked Duke to come back with new financing numbers. This attempt by Duke to get into the energy efficiency business would generate only 1.9 percent of energy savings to North Carolina by 2018.

Are we surprised? The facts are clear. Investor-owned utilities have an inherent conflict of interest in promoting conservation and efficiency. They increase their profits by building new plants and selling more electricity. They lose money when consumers use less.

In fact, both Duke and Progress Energy have laid out a very expensive menu for North Carolina citizens. The new Cliffside and four new nuclear power plants will guarantee a 50 to 100 percent rate increase in power bills.

There is a better way. A study by Clean Water for North Carolina found that efficiency programs run by independent public agencies or nonprofits demonstrated that the independent administrators accomplished large reductions in energy costs and greenhouse gas emissions. In New York, participating homes were saving an average of $225 a year on utility bills while reducing the statewide peak demand for electricity by 1,000 megawatts (enough power for as many as 1 million homes). As an added bonus 4,800 jobs were created/retained.

NC SAVE$ ENERGY will provide the same kind of economic and energy savings for North Carolina citizens. For a small surcharge of between $1 to $2 per month on energy bills of residential customers, the nonprofit NC SAVE$ ENERGY administrator will develop, administer, and promote programs that will help transition us to a cleaner, safer, healthier and more economically dynamic energy economy.

Energy efficiency and conservation are the fastest, safest, healthiest and cheapest way to transform our energy economy. The cost for energy efficiency is about 4 to 5 cents per kilowatt hour, while the price for new nuclear power is 25 cents and rising yearly. The green job economy is waiting for our state leadership to step up to the plate.

Every community needs this program. United Way of Western North Carolina revealed that the most common call for assistance was relief for energy bills that couldn't be paid. A 2007 report revealed that over 3 million homes in the state need energy efficiency upgrades.

With NC SAVE$ ENERGY providing long term funding and comprehensive education, training and outreach, all local economies will be stimulated as homes are weatherized, appliances upgraded, and energy efficiency devices are installed. Local businesses will grow. Living wage jobs will be created.

We must face a reality of worsening and extreme weather patterns. We are in a drought and climate change will make it worse. Coal and nuclear electric generation wastefully withdraws more water from our rivers and lakes than all other uses combined. Water must be conserved for agricultural, livestock, and human consumption.

The bottom line is clear. The utilities' way is wasteful of our money, our climate, our water and our health. It makes no sense when a clear, proven, alternative is available.
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Dr. Fireman is public policy coordinator on North Carolina Interfaith Power & Light, a program of the North Carolina Council of Churches.
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Copyright (C) 2009 by the North Carolina Editorial Forum. 5/09