Steve Macek
AMERICAN FORUM

By Steve Macek and Mitchell Szczepanczyk

When President Obama appointed Julius Genachowski chair of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), Genachowski promised to introduce regulation that would prohibit internet service providers (ISPs) from discriminating against or blocking lawful online content.

Mitchell Szczepanczyk
Such "network neutrality" protections were needed because ISPs had been caught blocking their customers' access to cost-effective telephone services like Skype and intentionally degrading the performance of peer-to-peer file sharing software like BitTorrent. Now, the FCC chair has finally unveiled his long awaited network neutrality plan, with an expected FCC vote slated for December 21. Unfortunately, the plan will do very little to protect internet users against online discrimination and censorship by ISPs.

Network neutrality is the principle that ISPs should treat all lawful traffic over their networks equally. Using that principle of openness, countless online applications and services (Google, YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, Wikipedia, etc.) have quickly gotten online and improved the daily lives of millions of users without having to first ask for permission from ISPs. And it's not just applications: thanks to the decentralized and nondiscriminatory nature of the internet, citizen journalists and nonprofits have been able to reach new audiences and draw public attention to stories and problems that would otherwise go ignored.

Major ISPs would like to eliminate network neutrality since they could increase their profits by prioritizing certain kinds of internet traffic. They want customers to pay more to get their websites delivered faster. But that opens the door for digital extortion, as recently occurred when Comcast arm-twisted the networking company Level 3 into paying new, exorbitant fees after Level 3 signed Netflix as a new customer. It would also make possible ISP discrimination against low-budget, grassroots web content providers like citizen journalists, bloggers and nonprofits who often post the most interesting stories and videos. These groups likely won’t have sufficient funds to sustain an internet presence for very long.

Sadly, Genachowski's network neutrality proposal is fraught with loopholes. The proposal fails to restore FCC authority over ISPs, which all but ensures court challenges to any attempt at enforcing network neutrality. The proposal does offer nominal protections against "paid prioritization," but critics decry these protections as weak. They point out that the proposal exempts unspecified "specialized services" from network neutrality provisions, an exception which could lead to the creation of a tiered internet. What's more, the proposed rules don't extend to wireless broadband networks, so that as more and more internet services go wireless, the scope of network neutrality would be sharply reduced.

Strong protection of an open internet will require a number of key changes to Genachowski's proposed new rules. One change would be to restore FCC authority over the internet by reclassifying the internet as a "Title II" service, which would put the FCC on firmer ground for asserting its authority. A better proposal would also eliminate the "specialized services" loophole (why shouldn't everyone benefit from network neutrality?), disallow paid prioritization (paid discrimination in other spheres of life is illegal), and extend its rules to both hardline and wireless internet services.

The major ISPs have considerable lobbying muscle, but defenders of full network neutrality have two key swing votes at the FCC -- Commissioners Michael Copps and Mignon Clyburn. Both have called for provisions stronger than those embodied in Genachowski's proposal. Genachowski's new regulations can't pass the FCC without the votes of Copps and Clyburn, especially since the remaining two FCC Commissioners, both Republicans, have vowed to vote against any network neutrality proposal. Hopefully, Copps and Clyburn can leverage their votes for a stronger network neutrality law that can better serve and protect the public.

Public involvement in the net neutrality fight will be a critical factor in determining whether or not the FCC can pass an improved network neutrality law. Indeed, public involvement on network neutrality -- perhaps best exemplified by the Save The Internet coalition -- was critical in overcoming the flood of ISP lobbying money and keeping the issue alive over the past few years when pundits dismissed it as dead or at least on life support. This final phase of the policy fight over network neutrality is no different; the future of the internet is literally in your hands.
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Macek is an associate professor of speech communication at North Central College. Szczepanczyk is an organizer with Chicago Media Action.
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Copyright (C) 2010 by the American Forum. 12/10

AMERICAN FORUM

By Kenneth Lewis

The national conversation on our fiscal health for the past few months has been about whether to extend the Bush-era tax cuts for households with incomes over $250,000, or to allow them to expire on December 31st. To my amazement, lost in all this controversy and discussion has been any mention of what this would really mean for high-income people in the context of historical tax rates.

During the 1950s this country was flourishing economically and adding new jobs that moved millions of people out of poverty and into the middle class. What kind of tax policy was in place during this period, those years after World War II when the Baby Boomers were growing up?

What was the top marginal tax rate during all eight years of the Eisenhower Administration? 91%! The increase proposed for today’s rates seems paltry, and the top rate seems very low, in fact too low, and incongruent with the needs of the country for investment right now in education, health and infrastructure.

This comparison is also true when looking broadly over the mid-century; during the years from 1935 to 1980 the marginal rates were never below 70%.

One can only wonder what the big fuss is all about.

Right now people pay income taxes on a sliding scale between 10% and 35%. If the Bush-era tax cuts expire on December 31, the rates would return to between 15% and 39.6%. Less than one percent of taxpayers now pay the 35% (according to the Wall Street Journal) and less than four percent pay 33%. If the tax cuts are allowed to expire, the top tax rate of 39.6% would only apply to those whose income, adjusted for inflation, exceeds $363,000 per person.

So in reality, the big controversy over the extension of tax cuts boils down to a mere 4.6% for those making over $363,000! And remember, they pay that extra amount only on incomes over $363,000, not their entire income. Based on the arguments and emotional forcefulness of those who want all tax cuts extended, one would think that the rates we are talking about are historically high rates. Top rates of 35% and 39.4% aren’t even close to historic highs.

At a time when reducing the deficit is a main concern of both the public and of policy makers, it seems incredible that there is even any discussion about this. Letting the tax cuts expire for the top two to four percent of high earners will reduce the deficit by over 700 billion dollars. How can we not do this?

The argument that lower tax rates leads to increased employment is belied by the experience during the Bush Administration. The most massive tax reductions in US history occurred during those eight years, and the increase in employment during those years was the lowest in U.S. recorded history. Lower taxes did not lead to increased employment.

I have benefited enormously from the infrastructure that strong federal, state, and local governments provide. As a businessman I have used more than my fair share of these public institutions and therefore, I want to pay my fair share. That’s why I’m asking Congress to raise my taxes!

There is no valid reason to continue these historically low tax rates for those making more than $250,000 or more than $363,000 during a period of economic stress. This country is in trouble and those of us who have benefitted the most need to step up and pay our fair share. The small rate increase will decrease the deficit by over 700 billion dollars and have no appreciable adverse impact on employment. In fact, I would argue it would stimulate job creation if Congress were to invest in this country again. The House has rejected letting the wealthy off the hook for their fair share. The Senate should act now, do the right thing - and also reject the compromise.
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Lewis is former president of Lasco Shipping Co. of Portland and of the Port of Portland Commission. He is also former national chairman of the I Have a Dream Foundation and a member of Wealth for the Common Good.
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Copyright (C) 2010 by American Forum. 12/10

AMERICAN FORUM

By Holly Sklar

Republicans played President Obama in the tax deal like mortgage hustlers played homeowners. Focus on the teaser rates, borrow more than you need and trust us to work with you to refinance later when rates jump.

The teasers are the needed extension of unemployment benefits – always extended before with high unemployment – and continued tax cuts for non-rich Americans. The President folded on more tax cuts for millionaires and doubled down with a renovated estate tax set at the lowest rate since 1931. And a cut in the Social Security payroll tax, which Republicans will use to gut Social Security later.

The tax deal will cost most Americans and our economy much more than it gains.

Obama’s tax deal falls for the same trap Republicans have been running since the Reagan administration. Cut taxes to reward the wealthy and purposely run up the debt to cause cutbacks later in programs Republican lawmakers don’t like, which is most everything outside the military and corporate subsidies for Big Oil, Big Pharma and other favored big business using small businesses as poster children.

Handed a budget surplus by the Clinton administration, President Bush slashed taxes - breaking precedent by asking the wealthy to pay less, not more, during wartime – and chopped away at the public services and infrastructure that underpin actual job creation and long-term economic growth. Bush left America in the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, and falling down the world rankings in wages, living standard, life expectancy, economic mobility, education, infrastructure and global competitiveness. The richest 1 percent of Americans had the greatest share of national income since 1928, which was not coincidentally right before the Great Depression.

Today, the too big to fail banks are bigger and Wall Street continues paying big bonuses for playing heads I win, tails you lose with our money. Wall Street campaign donations flooded to Republicans promising to roll back financial reform. Big businesses are sitting on a record pile of cash and liquid assets while small businesses still get the cold shoulder from banks. Millions of Americans have been foreclosed or are in default. One out of ten Americans are unemployed by the official count, which leaves many uncounted. Our infrastructure – much of it built decades ago when the highest-income taxpayers were more productive and less greedy - is rotting. The promised green jobs of the future are increasingly today’s jobs in Germany, China, Brazil and other countries investing more in their economies.

And now comes the tax deal, offering tax cuts that will be paid for next year and the years after by pay freezes and big budget cuts for the services and infrastructure most Americans and a healthy economy depend on. In a twist on the rightwing strategy long known as “starve the beast,” Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell praised the tax deal as “cutting off the spigot.”

People used to talk about robbing Peter to pay Paul. Now it’s more like robbing everyone to pay the richest 1 percent.

In the set up to the real robbery, the bottom 20 percent of Americans will save $396 on average in 2011 from the tax deal, the middle 20 percent will save $1,521 and the richest 1 percent will take the lion’s share, saving $76,949, according to Citizens for Tax Justice. The tax deal cost of $424 billion in 2011 will be added to the national debt.

Enabled by Obama, the Republicans will use the increased debt to set up the ultimate foreclosures: Social Security and Medicare. “President Obama and the Republicans will say that the payroll tax holiday is all about stimulating the economy. But don’t be fooled,” said Nancy Altman, co-director of Social Security Works. “There are many better ways to stimulate the economy with that $120 billion the payroll tax holiday will cost, including simply extending the Making Work Pay Tax Credit … And the other, better forms of stimulus pose no threat to Social Security.”

The payroll tax holiday, which will likely be extended, not ended heading into the next election, poses a grave threat. Scrapping the cap on earnings subject to Social Security taxes – now just $106,800 – eliminates the future Social Security shortfall projected after 2036. Cutting the tax while leaving the cap is a gift to those who want to cut, privatize and destroy Social Security under the pretense of saving it.

Like the bait and switch mortgages still wreaking havoc, the tax deal sets up big losses to come.
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Sklar is the Director of Business for Shared Prosperity (www.businessforsharedprosperity.org), which produced “The Business Case for Letting High-End Tax Cuts Expire.” Readers can write to her at hsklar.writer@gmail.com. An earlier version of this article appeared in The Hill.
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ILLINOIS EDITORIAL FORUM

By Chris Miller

As a former U.S. Army nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons specialist I was always skeptical of the assertion that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. After I hit ground in Iraq in April, 2003, it soon became clear he didn’t have any. The U.S. searched the entire country for months trying to find them, but to this day nothing more than a few dusty chlorine gas mortars have ever turned up in Iraq. What would have happened if Hussein had complied with the IAEA inspection regime voluntarily? The 2003 Iraq war would likely never have happened. Because he did not comply, it was open to conjecture whether Iraq possessed nuclear weapons or were trying to acquire them. The rest is history.

In view of that, why would we dither, delay, or play politics with a treaty that would allow us to continue a responsible, voluntary inspection regime with a partner state that we know for a fact, with certainty, has nuclear arms, lots of them, and is simply waiting for the U.S. Senate to sign on the dotted line? Why would we risk significantly setting back relations with Russia and at the same time make it much harder to verify that their nukes are secure? Ask the Senate GOP leadership.

The old START (STrategic Arms Reduction Treaty) was negotiated and signed in the early nineties under President George H.W. Bush, based on a concept by President Ronald Reagan. The treaty served the U.S. well through the era of instability at the end of the Cold War and the New START would simply continue what was already a good idea. It has served us well for the last two decades and, if passed, would continue to today. It would reduce nuclear stockpiles by one third on both sides, still leaving America with more than enough firepower to defend itself. It would responsibly allow mutual transparency and allow us to monitor Russia’s nuclear weapons and material.

In addition to the original concerns START was designed to address, more modern concerns may be added to the list of reasons New START must be passed now, not later. Nuclear proliferation is a tremendous concern today, especially since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Reducing stockpiles means less nukes and nuclear material that could fall into the hands of unstable states or groups. Fewer nuclear weapons, less nuclear material, and better control makes us all safer. North Korea and Pakistan have already acquired nuclear weapons through the back door and Iran is certainly trying to. The
black-market smuggling ring led by Pakistani nuclear scientist A.Q. Khan shows there is a hot market worldwide for nuclear technology. For an entire year already America has been unable to account for all of Russia’s nuclear material and there are certainly buyers out there who will stop at nothing to acquire it. New START would close the loophole. Not doing so is like crossing our fingers and hoping nothing happens.

Nuclear terrorism is the ultimate threat to United States and its allies. Al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden have already stated they are attempting to acquire nuclear weapons. They’re not alone. Islamic Jihad, Hezbollah, and Hamas would also jump at the chance. Hollywood never stops thinking up movie plots involving a nuke smuggled into America. If they can think of it, so can terrorists and extremists. For these reasons the U.S. military is also urging the passage of New START. Keeping nuclear weapons and material out of the hands of terrorists is a top national security priority. Not signing New START would be reckless and leave us vulnerable to attack.

The Senate Republican leadership opposes passing the treaty because of politics. They are more concerned with opposing President Obama than they are keeping America safe. There is bipartisan support for the treaty and it would and certainly should be ratified, if only the GOP leadership would put politics aside and put our security first. START was entered into between two states that possessed the nuclear arms to ensure they would mutually destroy one another in a nuclear attack. ‘Mutually Assured Destruction’ kept America and the USSR at a standstill. Today, unstable states and terrorist groups are not so inclined. Extremists and terrorists are unconcerned about the destruction a nuclear attack would create on both sides and many are already fully prepared to die for their cause.

GOP opposition to New START is outdated, out of touch, and disastrously dangerous. The treaty needs to be ratified by the U.S. Senate as soon as possible so that we can jointly and responsibly reduce and monitor nuclear weapons and material, prevent nuclear proliferation and terrorism, and put our security first.
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Chris Miller is a Purple Heart and Combat Action Badge recipient and eight-year U.S. Army veteran, having served two tours in Baghdad, Iraq. He is currently a law student and a fellow with the Truman National Security Project.
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Copyright (C) 2010 by Illinois Editorial Forum. 12/10

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Why We Support the DREAM Act

NORTH CAROLINA EDITORIAL FORUM

By James Moeser and Andrea Bazán

In a program known as the UNC Scholars Latino Initiative (SLI), students at UNC-Chapel Hill make a three-year commitment to mentor Hispanic students at Jordan Matthews High School in Siler City. Students sign on as sophomores and work one-on-one with the high school sophomores through their graduation, preparing them to apply successfully for college.

We have seen first-hand the positive effects of this mentoring program on both the high school students as well as our own at UNC. Many of these young people have gone on to enroll in college, including some at Chapel Hill. Most, but not all of these students, are American citizens, but their legal status has not been an issue for the university. UNC’s concern has been its responsibility for the education of all North Carolinians, including the development of their full potential as human beings.

However, when students apply to the university, their legal status becomes a matter of grave concern. As non-residents, they are required to pay out-of-state tuition, and are not eligible for either federal or state need-based aid. The Office of Student Financial Aid has had to cobble together aid packages made up entirely of private funds. As a result, UNC has been able to admit only a handful of these promising students. Most of them are being left behind.

But now, it appears that the U.S. Senate is once again considering the passage of the DREAM Act. This bipartisan legislation has the ability to open the doors for our high-achieving Hispanic students, such as the ones in the SLI.

The version of the proposal under consideration by the Senate has been scaled back drastically to increase the chance of passage. Unfortunately, gone are the original provisions that would allow these students to pay in-state tuition. Also removed is any eligibility for federal student aid. Still, this proposal represents a small step forward.

The DREAM Act creates a path toward the ability to earn legal status for undocumented students who came to this country before the age of 16. The proposal has many pieces. Students must have lived here for at least five consecutive years, have graduated from high school or obtained a GED, and have been admitted to an institution of higher education.

We want to stress that this is not an easy path. After the required completion of two years of college or military service, the students will be eligible only for provisional legal status. They would not be eligible for permanent legal status for 10 years.

Some will argue that this proposal encourages more illegal immigration, but that objection has been met by the provisions which apply only to students currently in the U.S. Others will argue that Congress should wait until it can pass comprehensive immigration reform. Still others will argue that the proposal has been so watered down in attempts to win full bipartisan support that it does not go far enough. While we share many of those concerns, this is a case where we cannot let “the perfect” be the enemy of “the good.” In the absence of truly addressing our immigration challenges, passing the DREAM Act is the right thing to do.

Good people can disagree about the ethics and morality of the underlying issues involving immigration and legal status. Ultimately, for us, the best argument for the DREAM ACT is simply this: What best serves the needs of the State of North Carolina and the United States? In the competitive environment of this global economy, is it in our own interests to hold back a whole generation of one sector of our communities from reaching their full potential as job creators and tax payers? The DREAM Act provides an answer to this question. We hope the Senate will have the wisdom to do the right thing.
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Moeser is Chancellor Emeritus of University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Bazán is President of Triangle Community Foundation.
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Randy Albelda

MASSACHUSETTS FORUM

By Paul Egerman and Randy Albelda

With unemployment close to 10 percent, Congress needs to focus on creating jobs and strengthening our economy. More than ever, our country cannot afford policies that would waste resources needed for job-creating initiatives in the short run and that would increase deficits in the long run.

That’s exactly what extending hundreds of billions of dollars in tax cuts for our highest-income residents would do.

One of us has built prosperous businesses and the other is a public finance economist. From our different perspectives we have learned the same thing: businesses create jobs when people want, and are able, to buy their products.

Paul Egerman
Tax cuts for the wealthy tend primarily to increase their wealth – not their spending in the economy. To increase spending and create demand in the private sector, government needs to put money into the hands of lower- and middle-income families who are struggling to get by and will spend any new income to keep their families afloat.

That’s why economists have consistently found that tax cuts for high-income people are a far less effective means of creating jobs than are tax cuts for lower- and middle-income families, extended unemployment benefits, and direct investment in services like education, health care, and public safety, which lead to direct hiring and put money into the hands of working people who will spend it in the local economy.

With Congress likely to act in the next weeks on the expiring Bush-era tax cuts, there is widespread support for extending the middle-class tax cuts. The debate will focus on whether to extend tax cuts for the highest-earning two percent of Americans – those with adjusted gross income above $200,000 for single filers and $250,000 for married couples.
There is a strong business and economic case for letting these higher-income tax cuts expire.

The bulk of these poorly targeted tax cuts will go to households with incomes above $1 million – resulting in average annual tax cuts for these households of over $100,000, about twice what the typical American household earns in a year.

Most small businesses aren't owned by people in the top-income brackets -- they don’t make enough taxable income ($250,000 a year) to pay the higher tax rates. Only the top 3 percent of people with business income of any kind, let alone income from what most Americans think of as “small businesses,” would be affected. Moreover, high-income households will benefit from extension of the middle-income rate reductions, because a portion of high-income filers’ total income falls within the tax brackets affected by the middle-class tax cuts.

The $40 billion in revenue next year (and some $90 billion over two years) generated by letting the high-end tax cuts expire could be used for a temporary tax credit to spur small-business job creation, or to provide additional aid to the states, and would do much more to generate economic growth and create jobs. Targeted provisions for working families through the Child Tax Credit and the Earned Income Tax Credit also have helped prop up consumer spending and should be extended.

In the long run, terminating the top-end tax cuts will produce substantial deficit reduction once the economy has recovered. If Congress allows the tax cuts targeted at America’s highest-income households to expire, it would reduce both the deficit and debt over the next decade by $1 trillion, improving the nation’s long-term fiscal outlook.

The US currently is experiencing the effects of the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression; reviving the economy and putting people back to work as soon as possible will place the US in a better position to address our deficits and debt in the years ahead. Cutting taxes for the very wealthy will not help the nation as much as keeping teachers and police officers employed, investing in our schools, transportation systems and other infrastructure, and using our resources to help those who need it most.
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Egerman is a businessman and software entrepreneur, co-founder of eScription, Inc., based in Needham, Massachusetts, and is now a member of U.S. DHHS Health Information Technology (HIT) Policy Committee. Albelda is a Professor of Economics and Senior Research Fellow at the Center for Social Policy at Univ. of Massachusetts Boston.
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Copyright (C) 2010 by Massachusetts Forum. 12/10

AMERICAN FORUM
 
By Erik Camayd-Freixas

Against all odds, 65,000 undocumented students graduate from high school each year, many with honors. They are among America’s brightest, most driven and underprivileged. We have invested much in their K-12 education, and they have much to contribute to our society.

National identity and allegiance are established during adolescence. This is their homeland. Brought here as minors, they have broken no law, yet are deprived of legal status through no fault of their own. Now these meritorious graduates cannot go to college, get a driver’s license, or hold a legal job. What exactly do our lawmakers expect them to do?

Their parents risked everything to flee life-threatening poverty and lack of personal safety. They bring the immigrant’s resolve and determination, ambition and work ethic on which this country continues to be built, generation after generation.

Migrant parents take our toughest, most dangerous and worst-paid jobs, which create higher-level opportunities for Americans. They step in at businesses and farms so American youth can opt for higher education and 21st-century professions, making our country more competitive in the global economy. They do so in hopes that their own children will get ahead and do great things.

“It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer or the baker that we expect our dinner,” said Adam Smith in The Wealth of Nations (1776), “but from their regard to their own interest.” And when Tocqueville, in Democracy in America (1835), sought to unveil the secret of our success, he found it was enlightened self-interest that prompts us to assist others and work for the common good.

The DREAM Act would grant conditional status to talented, crime-free youngsters who entered the U.S. before age 16, have lived here at least five years, and enroll in college or the military for at least two years. Yet they would not be eligible for in-state tuition, scholarships, Medicaid, food stamps, permanent residency or sponsoring family members for at least 10 years.

This fifth version of the bill, introduced Nov. 30 by Sens. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) and Harry Reid (D-Nev.) as a concession to Republican opponents, is disappointing. Still, Republicans have vowed to filibuster until the Senate extends Bush-era tax cuts for the rich.

If passed, an estimated 800,000 high school graduates from marginalized and persecuted families, living in fear of incarceration and deportation, will have a fighting chance to pursue their interests and fully contribute to what Tocqueville once called “the most enlightened and free nation on earth.”

A statistical certainty, many of these dreamers would become doctors who save American lives (perhaps yours or mine), war heroes who defend their country and teachers who provide our children the knowledge and opportunity denied to them.

I came here as an 8-year-old with my Cuban-Lebanese father, a penniless widower with a fifth-grade education who never learned English. Because this once-enlightened country gave him the opportunity to work, which he did seven days a week, I was able to earn a Harvard PhD. Now, as an American, I can defend my country’s fundamental values, both in the classroom and the press.

Ten states have longstanding laws granting undocumented residents not a handout, but a leveled playing field: in-state tuition and limited financial aid. Studies show that this has not reduced opportunities for citizens. The College Board, which stands for equity and access, and every serious educator in this country, support the DREAM Act.

This should not be a battle between Democrats and Republicans, educators and politicians. There is no political, economic, rational or moral justification for withholding education from the poor.
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Camayd-Freixas is a Professor of Hispanic Studies at Florida International University.
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Copyright (C) 2010 by American Forum 12/10

ARIZONA EDITORIAL FORUM

By Carmen Cornejo

Mayra is a famous Arizona student. She has been mentioned on the floor of the U.S. Senate as an example of a determined young lady. Her lovely face, framed by wild curls, is also on the website of Richard Durbin, the Senior Senator from Illinois. But our Arizona State Senators do not celebrate young people like her.

Ironically, only because she has nothing to lose, was she willing to be made famous.

Mayra has beaten all odds. She comes from a working class family in a rural part of Arizona where expectations are tamed for everybody, especially Hispanic kids. She graduated from high school at the top of her class. She was also a student leader who headed the youth advisory board of her town. Now she is in college.

I met her by phone because she was painfully aware that her opportunities to get a scholarship to continue her education beyond high school would be limited, if not impossible. After carefully questioning me, she confided her secret: She was an undocumented student and wanted to know if college could be a possibility for her. I described how Arizona has passed laws tripling the cost of higher education for people like her, but that there would be a narrow window to search for scholarships by private donors.

When high school graduation came I got a call from Mayra informing me that she was awarded a private scholarship to a private university out of state. Needless to say, I was proud of her.

This is the kind of hardworking, deserving youth that the Development, Relief and Education of Alien Minors Act (DREAM Act) would reward by providing a path to legalization -- not amnesty -- so they can access post-secondary education and eventually become citizens.

These youth came here as minors, some as babies when their parents immigrated in search of a better life, filling some of the most exhausting and demanding jobs at the bottom of the economic pyramid. They grew up as Americans, with a special sense of purpose. Mayra describes it like this: "From the time I was intellectually capable of understanding its significance, my dream was to be the first college graduate in my immediate and extended family.” “College means more to me than just a four-year degree. It means the breaking of a family cycle. It means progression and fulfillment of an obligation."

Unfortunately, when her dream of higher education had just begun, she was detained by immigration authorities when her home was raided. Fortunately, her supporters helped her avoid internment at a horrific immigration detention center. However, she is in the “system” and is fighting deportation.

Having nothing to lose, Mayra now shares her story. She wants to be a person without the “undocumented” label so she can study hard and contribute to the betterment of this country. Expert university recruiters know that her kind of guts and drive is rare to find. Only persons who do not take for granted opportunity and freedom have this kind of passion for education.

The DREAM Act would bring us the benefits of a talented professional pool that will take this country to new levels of competitiveness and richness. In reality we are the ones with nothing to lose and everything to gain.
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Cornejo is executive director of CADENA, a DREAM Act advocacy group in Arizona comprised of educators and professionals that have been working for the passage of the DREAM Act since 2002.
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Copyright © 2010 by Arizona Editorial Forum. 12/10

TEXAS LONE STAR FORUM

By F. Scott McCown

Congress is now considering two important issues: whether to extend the Bush tax cuts and whether to extend the federally funded Unemployment Insurance program. To extend any part of the Bush tax cuts, particularly the high-end cuts, while cutting off Unemployment Insurance would betray hardworking Texans.

When a breadwinner loses a job through no fault of their own, they and their family are protected by Unemployment Insurance -- a federal-state program paid for by employers. The regular state program provides 26 weeks of benefits. Responding to the recession, Congress provided federal funding for an additional 67 weeks. But federal funding is running out, and if Congress fails to act by November 30, nearly 128,000 unemployed Texans will not get all or part of the additional weeks.

Both the public and history support extending Unemployment Insurance. A recent national survey shows 67 percent of the public are in favor of continuing Unemployment Insurance until the unemployment rate drops. And Congress has never allowed federally funded extensions to lapse when unemployment was over 7.2 percent. With the national unemployment rate well above 9 percent for 18 consecutive months, it’s far too soon for Congress to cut off Unemployment Insurance.

With the unemployment rate in Texas above eight percent for 14 consecutive months, Texas needs help as much as any state. Texas has almost 125,000 fewer available jobs than when the recession began in December 2007.

On top of everything else, if Congress cuts off federal Unemployment Insurance before it creates a sufficient number of jobs, Texas will face increased enrollment in our public assistance programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, and Medicaid. Texas will be hard-pressed to cover its share of these increased costs because of our state revenue crisis.

Even though the case for Congress extending Unemployment Insurance is clear, two sticking points have emerged. Some argue that the unemployed need tough love to force them back to work by cutting off this “government handout.” But it’s way too soon for tough love.












The country has one job for every five people seeking work. And not every job seeker fits every job. Employers can be picky -- free to reject both the under- and over-qualified worker. Unemployment Insurance keeps the unemployed in the hunt, giving the economy time to create new jobs and workers time to get new skills.

Unemployment Insurance plays an important role in helping the economy maintain and create jobs. Unemployment Insurance allows Texas families to continue to pay their bills. For every dollar spent on benefits, approximately $2 is generated in spending. This spending supports Texas businesses, averting additional job losses and creating more jobs. Federal unemployment insurance programs have injected $5.8 billion into the Texas economy and have added an estimated $11.6 billion to our state’s Gross Domestic Product.

Nevertheless, some argue that Congress should not continue providing the additional weeks of Unemployment Insurance without spending cuts in some other part of the budget. But extending Unemployment Insurance would have virtually no effect on our long-term national debt because it’s temporary, and requiring off-setting spending cuts would actually be counterproductive because it would take money out of the economy.

Unemployment Insurance is far more important to our economic recovery than extending the high-end Bush tax cuts. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimates that federal Unemployment Insurance rates the highest in boosting the economy and creating jobs, while extending the high-end tax cuts rates the lowest.

Congress should provide an extension for a full year. Anything less is too little. And Congress should act now -- before the November 30 expiration of current benefits. Providing retroactive benefits in December is too late. Children can’t be fed retroactively. Congress needs to act to protect hardworking American families.
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McCown is executive director of the Center for Public Policy Priorities.
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Copyright (C) 2010 by the Texas Lone Star Forum. 11/10

AMERICAN FORUM

By David Santulli

Dear Peace Corps -- It’s been 50 years since the idea of you was born during a speech by JFK at the University of Michigan. It’s been a wonderful life – and now is the time to see how you’re faring. Many people celebrating your birthday have focused on what you have and haven’t done. I’d like to examine why you were brought into being, and how the world has changed.

During the Cold War -- when the U.S. and the Soviet Union raced to find allies -- you were viewed as a way to exert soft power and build friendship with countries susceptible to communist influence. But there was more; there was a genuine interest to support communities in need around the world while engaging American youth and opening their global sensitivities.

Other notions were discussed, but never brought into being -- such as the idea of bringing people from other countries to serve in the U.S. (a so-called reverse Peace Corps). At the time, this idea was dismissed as too revolutionary. Besides, many thought, what help does the U.S. need from the rest of the world?

A lot has changed in the past 50 years. Indeed, the idea of international volunteering has flourished, and you are just one of many institutions that now send volunteers around the world. As we look forward, we should be aware of this new world.

1. The concept of enlightened foreign policy has entered the global lexicon. Many of us now agree that countries must think beyond their own self-interests, and that global challenges require global solutions. It is naïve and even self-destructive to think that any one country can solve such pressing issues as global poverty, environmental degradation, and more. It’s also naïve to think that these global issues will not and cannot affect any one country, even the U.S.

2. The global interest in volunteerism has spread. Peace Corps, you have set an example for the world, and many have been inspired by you. From Qatar and the United Arab Emirates to Germany and beyond, the spirit of volunteerism is taking the world by storm.









3. There is more openness to multilateral volunteerism. We are all realizing how much we have to give each other. A farmer from Tanzania or a non-profit professional from Brazil can in fact make a difference in the U.S., while at the same time opening our eyes to another culture and way of life.

So what do these changes mean? How should we act differently because of them?

If our true intent is to improve relationships so that we can address and overcome global challenges, then we need to create one or more global Peace Corps. These organizations could be intergovernmental volunteer forces or independent non-governmental forces. When volunteers of different countries, cultures, and faiths work shoulder-to-shoulder to solve the world’s most compelling challenges, the communities in which they work change -- and perhaps more importantly, the volunteers themselves change.

A multilateral Peace Corps (a global volunteer corps, if you will) does not operate from North to South; it operates in all directions. A polycentric approach, employing many organizations around the world within their circles of influence, will ensure that the maximum numbers of people are touched. As we mark International Volunteer Day on December 5, millions will celebrate the spirit and worth of volunteering.

As you turn 50, Peace Corps, you can mature and go on to create the better world that was the idea of your birth. You can become a role model and a partner for other nations and non-governmental organizations.

You and your idealistic cadres of volunteers have changed the world. Now is the time for you to learn from your acquired lessons so that the world can reap the benefits -- and continue the celebration for many years to come.
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David Santulli is founder and executive director of United Planet, an international nonprofit based in Boston, MA. United Planet is based on the concept of Relational Diplomacy that places hundreds of people in short- and long-term volunteer projects all over the world. December 5 is International Volunteer Day.
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Copyright (C) 2010 by American Forum. 11/10


AMERICAN FORUM

By Linda A. Meric

Dear Member of Congress:

You’ve got a lot to consider in this month. You’re scheduled to debate international treaties and internet censorship. There’s talk of military affairs and revamping federal agencies. But this should be at the top of your agenda: extending benefits for unemployed workers and making sure struggling parents can continue to make ends meet.

You must renew unemployment insurance benefits now for the millions of long-term jobless workers in America. And you must allow jobs to continue to be created through the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) Emergency Contingency Fund.

Think like a struggling family and your decision won’t be so hard.

Consider Cynthia, a mother of three. She has been unemployed since August 2009. Online and in-person, she’s applied for more than 100 positions; inquired about scores and scores more. She’s gotten a few interviews. As of yet, however, not one of them has turned into a job offer. She makes $296 dollars a week in unemployment compensation. Imagine supporting an entire family on a few hundred dollars a week. Everything is a struggle. It’s a struggle to pay the rent, it’s a struggle to keep food on the table, and it’s a struggle to keep shoes on the kids’ feet. It’s a struggle to have to struggle so.

Put yourself in her place. Think about her children. Can you imagine the panic you would feel if you knew your only source of income was about to be cut-off? Can you imagine the insecurity you would feel if you knew that soon Mommy would have no money at all?

It’s not even only about struggling families -- it’s about the economy, too.

Studies, commissioned by the U.S. Department of Labor, show the UI program had an even more positive impact on the economy this time around than in previous recessions. Every dollar spent on UI generated $2 in economic activity, and during each quarter of the recent recession, the economic stimulus provided by UI benefits kept an average of 1.6 million Americans on the job.

Americans need jobs. A job with a living wage is at the top of lots of wish lists this season. And while we’re talking about jobs, let’s talk about the TANF Emergency Contingency Fund. The TANF program itself is the nation’s basic welfare program, and before departing for the weekend, you reauthorized TANF while leaving the Emergency Contingency Fund on the sidelines.

One of the best-kept secrets of last year’s recovery act was this job-creation program that helped the economy while it also helped low-income parents and unemployed youth. Through this effort, 35 states, plus the District of Columbia and the Virgin Islands, partnered with the private sector to create more than 240,000 new jobs through flexible block grants. The TANF-ECF also provided short-term assistance to some of the neediest families. It’s been called a success story by governors and state legislators from both parties. It makes sense that we would continue it, build on it.

The September deadline passed and TANF-ECF wasn’t extended. That’s water under the bridge. But now you have another chance: Put yourself in the place of a homeless family, a long-term unemployed worker and the decision will be clear.

This year, Congress earned base salaries beyond the wildest dreams of most people. You got retirement plans, health benefits, foreign travel stipends. Americans might not begrudge it so much if Congress didn’t seem so tight-fisted with the allocations when it comes to middle class families and those who are struggling with economic insecurity. But you can fix that perception.

The lame duck session will end soon.

It’s not too late for Congress to think like the rest of us; extend unemployment insurance benefits, restore the TANF Emergency Contingency Fund -- give working Americans a little hope for the holidays.
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Meric is executive director of 9to5, National Association of Working Women.
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Copyright (C) 2010 by American Forum. 11/10

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Taxes and Thanksgiving

AMERICAN FORUM

By Sally Jones

“Cut My Taxes!” Americans have heard this cry for years -- and we’ve heard it shouted angrily in recent months. We hear that we pay too much in taxes, that government makes poor use of our money, and that our prosperity would rise if only taxes would fall.

But in reality our taxes have fallen steadily in recent years. In 2001 and 2003 Congress passed temporary tax cuts which will expire at the end of 2010. We must now decide what good or bad has come of that experiment and what tax law we want for the future.

Most of us recognize that one size doesn’t really fit all -- and this holds true for income tax rates. Maintaining a lower level of taxation for the vast majority of Americans makes sense in today’s hard times. But why should we do the same for the tiny percentage of citizens -- a minority to which I gratefully belong -- whose annual earnings exceed $250,000? The American people borrowed $700 billion to give people like me a tax cut over the last decade. Why should they borrow an additional $700 billion to extend the tax breaks?

Congress should let our tax cuts expire for the sake of the country, especially in this economy. Who would lose by this step toward tax fairness? Only those among us who can afford such a loss. Who would gain? All Americans -- including those few of us who would pay more taxes.

We cannot sustain our nation -- not its defense; not its essential infrastructure such as roads, rails, bridges, dams and communications; not its economic place in the world; not the health and education of its people; not its ability to respond to natural disasters such as earthquake, flood or hurricane; not the protections we expect it to provide against man-made disasters, toxins (domestic and imported), buccaneering corporations or hazardous products -- without securing for our government the funding it must have to accomplish all of these things.

Recognizing our shared responsibility -- in the present instance by payment of taxes -- we might live up to the example of earlier generations who left for us a remarkable system of institutions and infrastructure. By abandoning that responsibility, we would betray both our predecessors and our descendants, and we would gain nothing but a temporary self-indulgence, at a price that will impose itself on present and future generations.

Do we bear any collective responsibility? I think so. Consider the example of the season.

On Thanksgiving Day most of us will gather with family or friends or both. We will sit down to tables crowded with the various dishes that speak to us of this special occasion, and indulge ourselves more than we usually do. However much or little else we feel thankful for on that day, we will heartily thank the one or more cooks who toiled in the kitchen to prepare this dinner for us.

We thank the cooks because we have seen their effort first hand. But how many others have contributed to make our feasts possible -- others whom we never think about or credit? Who taught our cooks their skills or created our recipes? Who grew, harvested, preserved or transported the foods? Who built our ovens, plumbed our kitchens, and made our utensils, dishes and tables?

Those of us with high incomes ought to ask similar questions about the plenty we enjoy daily. We could hardly enjoy our success without assistance we hardly notice: the infrastructure that allows businesses to grow and prosper, the law enforcement that protect patents and copyrights, and the productiveness and purchasing power of publicly-educated fellow citizens. Without national investments – supported by our taxes – no wealth would be sustained in this country and those at the top would not have the extraordinary lives they have today. Let us remember to be grateful.

Let’s make sure those outside of the top two percent of Americans can live and thrive. Unless we foster prosperity for our country and for every citizen, all of us will suffer the consequences of living in a society of the ailing, the untrained and inefficient, and the unruly. Let’s pay the taxes -- those of us who can afford them -- to sustain the America that has offered opportunity since its founding. Unless we restore strength to its economy, institutions, and structures, our country will decline - and everyone’s prospects with it.
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Jones is a member of a high-income household in Minneapolis who supports Wealth For The Common Good and its goal of promoting shared prosperity and fair taxation.
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Copyright (C) 2010 by American Forum. 11/10

AMERICAN FORUM

By: Lt. Gen. Dirk Jameson (ret.)

At this time of thanksgiving, we are reminded how people came together, shared resources, shared opinions and worked together to form and protect our nation.

During my long career in the US Air Force I was at the very sharp end of the spear that defended our nation, rising to deputy commander-in-chief and chief of staff of U.S. Strategic Command.

During that time, going back to the Reagan years and before, the U.S. methodically and relentlessly carved out a process for understanding and reducing strategic nuclear arms -- in order increase our national security.

Many have forgotten or did not live through those times during the Cold War when the numbers of nuclear weapons and delivery platforms were escalating at a tremendous rate and costs were ratcheting up at an ever-increasing pace.

It was courageous of political leaders in those perilous times to begin talking to our heavily-armed enemy, the Soviet Union, to find paths to lower numbers of nuclear weapons, lower cost burdens, and greater security for our country and the world.

Since those efforts took root, real progress has been made, the numbers of very deadly weapons are dramatically lower, costs have dropped, and our security vis-à-vis the former Soviet states is far stronger.

Today we have a good treaty ready to take force and continue the progress on numbers, costs, and national security.

The New START Treaty that is presently before the Senate contains verification and transparency measures—that will allow our inspectors inside Russian strategic nuclear facilities, as well as create stability between our forces.

Without New START, we will reintroduce uncertainty into the U.S.-Russia strategic relationship. Over the length of the Cold War, we learned that uncertainty breeds mistrust, costly worst-case planning, and risk. New START reduces uncertainty by locking in the size of each side’s arsenal and providing for onsite verification. The resulting improved strategic stability that will come with New START will make it possible for both sides to pursue agreements on tactical nuclear weapons and proliferation.

Without ratification, we will be left with the requirement to spend our limited resources and money on weapons we don’t need to counter a force structure that could be verifiably reduced under the treaty.

Without New START our national security institutions will need to devote more resources to monitoring Russian strategic forces, by satellite and other means; we will also have to force- plan for scenarios we should not need to. This will involve spending money where we don’t need, and worse, it could mean taking away money from programs and systems that our war-fighters actually do need.

What stands in the way? An ever more vague, disingenuous, and ill-advised raising of the bar for political support. The very same questions that have been asked and answered about missile defense, verification, and stewardship of the nuclear enterprise are brought up again and again in the face of iron clad analysis and billions of added dollars. These “red herrings” are presented wrapped in ever more demanding commitments from future legislators that no arms control treaty past or future could meet.

As this treaty is pushed off with no deadline and no path to prevent an already developing cooling of U.S., Russia relationships, Cold War nuclear realities echo in my head saying to Senators, “Do the right thing!”
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Lt. Gen. Jameson (ret.) is a former deputy commander and chief and chief of staff, U.S. Strategic Command who had responsibility for all ICBM strategic nuclear forces. He is a member of the Consensus for American Security http://www.securityconsensus.org.
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Copyright (C) 2010 by American Forum. 11/10



GEORGIA FORUM

By Jerry Gonzalez

Seventy-four thousand. According to a recent report issued by the Migration Policy Institute, that's the number of undocumented youth in Georgia that could potentially benefit from the passage of the DREAM Act. These children were brought to this country by their parents at very young ages, and through no fault of their own are undocumented.

We as taxpayers have invested in their K-12 education, and they deserve a chance to go to college or serve in our military. These 74,000 kids are 3 percent of the 2.1 million nationally who could potentially be impacted by the DREAM Act. They deserve an opportunity to contribute to the country they have known as their home for most of their lives. The bipartisan DREAM Act would provide undocumented students the opportunity to become legal residents if they graduate from high school and complete two years of college or military service.

It's a no brainer. The DREAM Act is a tremendous investment, a great way to further integrate students who are already an integral part of our society and economy, and a great incentive for these young people to pursue higher education or military service. The viability of the DREAM Act is even included in the U.S. Department of Defense Strategic Plan for 2010-2012 as a way to increase potential military recruits. Despite the fact that comprehensive immigration reform is truly the answer to our broken immigration system, the DREAM Act would be a good start.

Unfortunately, during the most recent Joint Legislative Committee on Immigration Reform public hearing, our state legislators who have the power to influence the passage of this critical legislation continue to deliberately overlook the facts and entertain the reckless rhetoric at the expense of innocent students. In fact, Rep. Tom Rice (R-Norcross) has pre-filed a proposal that would ban access to higher education to all undocumented students in our state, making Georgia only the second state with such a restrictive policy for access to higher education. In fact, most states have passed legislation that encourages youth in these situations to attend higher education by allowing in-state tuition. These states are in full compliance with federal laws.

In Georgia, the Board of Regents has reserved a ban of access to the top five universities and colleges due to space limitations, but allows access to all other institutions for higher education. These students when enrolled in Georgia, under current state law, would be required to pay out-of-state tuition, which creates a profit for the colleges they attend. Their enrollment is not subsidized at all by taxpayers, according to the analysis done by the Board of Regents.

Education is a great equalizer. Despite the belief of Georgia Senator Bill Heath (R-Bremen), these young people are not "wasted space" at our institutions of higher learning. They are truly an asset for our state. Denying access to education to anyone who is qualified and willing to be educated is morally reprehensible. These youth are the promise and the future of our great state and nation, and they should be afforded every opportunity to fulfill their human potential to contribute to society.

The time for political posturing has passed. It’s time to lead and time to stand up for our shared values of an education and rewarding hard work. We would hope that our Congressional delegation would move quickly and support the DREAM Act with great urgency during this lame duck session. No one should dash the dreams of so many young people.
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Gonzalez is executive director, Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials (GALEO).
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Copyright (C) 2010 by Georgia Forum. 11/10

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

A New START for Women Around the World

AMERICAN FORUM

By Linda Tarr-Whelan

The so-called New START, the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty with Russia, is poised for an historic ratification vote in the Senate this year. Three more major international treaties are also lined up on President Obama’s ratification to-do list: the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, and CEDAW, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women.

CEDAW is a landmark international agreement that affirms principles of fundamental human rights and equality for women and girls around the world.

Our role as a human rights defender would be improved mightily by ratifying CEDAW, reasserting the United States as a strong global leader in standing up for women and girls in countries worldwide. The resulting glow of praise for the Senate from half the planet would result in more positive action.

Advancing women’s human rights worldwide is fundamental to America’s national security interests and a cornerstone of our foreign policy. CEDAW ratification would amplify the U.S. voice in defense of women and girls at a time when their rights, even their clothing, are a global battleground. It would send the strongest possible signal that America is back as an international team player on the one hand, while reasserting our proud bipartisan tradition of promoting and protecting human rights on the other.

At the moment, only seven of the United Nations’ 193 member countries have not ratified CEDAW – Iran, Sudan, Somalia, three small Pacific island countries (Nauru, Palau and Tonga), and the United States. Such embarrassing bedfellows! And being in their company weakens our impact in calling for women’s protections in other nations.

CEDAW offers a practical blueprint for action that every country can use to make progress toward ending discrimination – even ours. American women enjoy opportunities and status not available to most of the world’s women, but few would dispute that more progress is needed here, such as in ending domestic violence and closing the pay gap between men and women.

Importantly, CEDAW would not lead to any automatic changes in U.S. law, and at a time when we are worried about the deficit, there is no additional cost. This treaty provides a framework for the continuing national dialogue on women’s equality, as it does in every country. Similar treaties outlining global consensus on genocide, torture and race relations won ratification under the leadership of Presidents Reagan, Bush and Clinton.

Every country has a different starting point, and CEDAW offers governments and women alike a view of what non-discrimination looks like. Many countries have overhauled their laws and policies because of CEDAW. Mexico City, for example, responded to a destabilizing epidemic of violence against women by using CEDAW terms in a General Law on Women’s Access to a Life Free from Violence, and all 32 Mexican states have now adopted it. Kenya used CEDAW to address differences in inheritance rights, eliminating discrimination against widows and daughters of the deceased. Kuwait recommended changes to its electoral law extending voting rights to women in 2005 based on CEDAW, and Bangladesh broadened access to education and vocational training for girls. Such examples are legion.

Basic health care, education, the right to work, to vote, to own property – it’s not news that girls and women are still denied those in too many places, or that they are forced or sold into marriage to much older men, or that violence against them is rampant, especially during conflict situations. Yes, some countries have ratified CEDAW and still discriminate against women – Saudi women still cannot drive cars, for example – but women in ratifying countries can and do demand that their governments live up to their CEDAW commitments.

That pressure would be much stronger if the United States joined the CEDAW community. The American public strongly supports the principles of education, equality, fairness and basic human rights. CEDAW ratification requires 67 Senate votes. So please, senators, as you debate the New START, remember that women worldwide would get a new start as well from U.S. ratification of CEDAW.
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Tarr-Whelan is a Demos Distinguished Senior Fellow on Women’s Leadership and a former Ambassador to the UN Commission on the Status of Women.
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Copyright (C) 2010 by the American Forum. 11/10

OHIO FORUM

By Pat Marida and Beatrice Brailsford

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) is considering giving a $2 billion loan guarantee to United States Enrichment Corporation (USEC) to build a uranium enrichment facility in Ohio. Many in the state are hailing this project for bringing in much-needed jobs, but financially, the project is on shaky ground and is unlikely to bring anything but debt and dashed hopes to Ohio’s residents.

U.S. taxpayers are already on the hook for $2 billion in guarantees that DOE offered to the French government-owned company Areva to build a similar uranium enrichment facility in Idaho. Once that $3.3 billion facility gets a license from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and begins operating in four years or so, it is supposed to supply fuel to about 50 nuclear reactors, but not exclusively to plants in the U.S.

All this taxpayer money is being waved around in the name of moving the U.S. toward a clean energy policy. But what are American taxpayers being asked to invest in? Let’s take a closer look at the bets Washington is making with our tax dollars.

In Ohio, USEC's effort to build the American Centrifuge Plant has been riddled with ever-escalating costs and delays. The original estimated cost of $1.7 billion has soared to $4.6 billion in three short years. DOE actually rejected USEC’s initial loan guarantee application in July 2009, because of financial and technology problems.

USEC no longer has an estimated completion date, but the timing of the project is critical. Half of USEC’s business goes away in 2013 with the expiration of the U.S.-Russian agreement to use Russian down-blended uranium from dismantled nuclear weapons as fuel in U.S. reactors.

USEC has invested $1.8 billion in the project and obtained commitments of $100 million each from Toshiba and Babcock & Wilcox. These two companies won’t invest unless the $2 billion loan guarantee comes through, and the deal guarantees them huge profits off the top. Still, USEC will have at least a $600 million cost gap plus enormous financing costs.

In Idaho, Areva is planning to build the Eagle Rock Enrichment Facility on the upstream end of the Snake River Aquifer, the sole source of drinking water for about a quarter of the people who live in the state. Decommissioning will cost an additional $3.5 billion, for which Areva has offered something akin to a wink and a promise to pay. The facility will be situated a few miles east of the Idaho National Laboratory, which has left a sad legacy of nuclear waste that has already cost taxpayers billions to clean up.

Enrichment is a messy business, with a long history of contamination. Producing one ton of enriched uranium for use as nuclear fuel creates, on average, seven tons of depleted uranium hexafluoride waste – a highly toxic material that reacts violently with water and corrodes most metals. DOE is currently storing nearly three quarters of a million metric tons of uranium hexafluoride from decades of past enrichment activities.

The hexafluoride has to be removed before the depleted uranium can be disposed. Once it is removed, the remaining depleted uranium becomes increasingly radioactive over the course of a million years. At present, there is simply no place to put the stuff.

The USEC facility will generate another 265,300 metric tons of uranium hexafluoride; the Areva facility 320,000. This waste will be stored on-site until its turn comes for treatment, which will take at least 25 years because of the current backlog.

But is the investment of taxpayer dollars necessary to produce the fuel to keep U.S. reactors humming? Apparently not. On June 2, Urenco, another international company, cut the ribbon on a new uranium enrichment facility in New Mexico. The $2 billion facility will also serve a global market, but was built solely with private funds.

With three new enrichment facilities up and running and the ongoing delays and cancellations of new reactor projects, we will go from having too little reactor fuel to having too much. That means taxpayers will be asked to guarantee billions of dollars in a market that may soon be glutted.
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Marida is the nuclear issues chair of the Ohio Sierra Club. Brailsford is the program director of the Snake River Alliance in Idaho.
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Copyright (C) 2010 by Ohio Forum. 11/10

GEORGIA FORUM

By Paul Bolster

Congratulations to Georgia for recently settling the challenge to its mental health system that has hung over the state for years.

The settlement of U.S. v Georgia will shift treatment from a reliance on hospitalization and incarceration to a reliance on community-based treatment. The new plan, which won support from all parties to the federal lawsuit, came from the Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities (DBHDD).

Yes, the DBHDD budget will be bigger, but the cost and local burden will be less than what we now spend on jails, prisons and hospital rooms for the same individuals. With the legislature’s support, the DBHDD budget must increase by $90 million state dollars over this and the next budget year. These dollars will draw down more federal dollars to support the change.

More importantly, the plan will offer health and housing rather than incarceration and neglect.

One in every four Georgians lives every day with mental illness. Many of these persons live isolated from our community life, much like the “caves” in Biblical times. Our modern caves are local jails, state prisons, mental health hospitals, nursing homes, and homeless encampments. Some 20 percent of new state prisoners are being treated for mental illness at the time of their incarceration. Our local jails have become treatment centers for mental illness and addiction. The cost of mental health treatment shows up in the sheriff’s jail budget, at the hospital emergency room and on a homeowner’s property tax bill.

Supported housing is a critical component of the settlement. We know it works. If support services are creatively connected to affordable housing, persons with mental illness, who are now caught in the justice system, can live stable lives in our communities. When you close the door to the hospital, you must open a door to a home in the community. The settlement will expand treatment capacity for persons with serious mental illness, but it also calls for the state to have “capacity to provide supported housing to any of the 9,000 people in the target population who need such support.”

In a broad outline, the settlement expands: 1. Primary mental health treatment; 2. Crisis services; 3. Intensive case management; and 4. Supported employment. But the glue that holds the plan together is supported housing. Housing is the key to health.

By shifting mental health resources away from institutions, Georgia will put into practice the many lessons we have learned about mental illness over recent decades. Modern medications can help persons we used to “shut away.” It’s time to let people with a disability live in housing just like the rest of us. If we do this right, we will become a model for other states.

It bears repeating -- this new approach will cost taxpayers less in the long run. State data projects that we could lower institutional spending by $13,000 for every person with mental illness that we succeed in helping to attain housing.

However, the work is not over just because a federal judge has given his blessing to the plan. We have had “shelved” plans before. Our local representatives will need to support the settlement as well. Local officials will need to get behind plans that create supported housing in their communities. Churches, service providers and nonprofit organizations will have opportunities to help bring about the change. Under the settlement there is a real opportunity for citizens to make a significant difference in the lives of our neighbors and friends. We all need to roll up our sleeves and get to work.
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Bolster is the Executive Director of the Georgia Supportive Housing Association.
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Copyright (C) 2010 by Georgia Forum. 11/10

Friday, November 19, 2010

Whats Really Best for Small Business

AMERICAN FORUM

By Brian Setzler

As a Certified Public Accountant and business owner, I know the impact of taxes up close and personal. And the claim that ending Bush-era tax cuts on income over a quarter of a million dollars will hurt the economy, reduce employment and burden small businesses is patently false. Let’s take a look at the evidence.

First off, small business owners rarely have taxable income in excess of $250,000 (gross income would be substantially more as taxable income includes reductions for business expenses, personal deductions and family exemptions). Hiring people and investing in your business actually reduces taxable income, so hiring and investing decisions would be unaffected. At issue is the tax on income, or the money the owner has available to take out of the business.

According to the Congressional Joint Committee on Taxation, less than 3 percent of tax filers with any business income make over $250,000 (couples) or $200,000 (individuals) a year, the thresholds above which the Bush tax cuts would expire, and many of those are not small business owners. As Ed Kleinbard, former staff director of the Joint Committee on Taxation, said, “Every student who is a part-time Web designer, partner in a law firm with a billion dollars of revenue and investor in a hedge fund gets lumped together in the data, along with real small businesses.”

Even if someone does have over $250,000 of taxable income, the additional tax rate is a marginal tax rate, which means they only pay the higher rates on the portion of income over $250,000, not under it. When the rate goes from 35 to 39.6 percent (back to the level under Clinton) in the very top bracket, for example, it doesn’t mean they pay 39.6 percent of their total income in taxes any more than they paid 35 percent of their total income before. They still start at a 10 percent rate for their first portion of income and work their way up incrementally through the tax brackets. They still pay the same rates everyone else does up to that level of income.

Those fortunate enough to make these high incomes will still benefit from the tax cuts on their first $250,000 of income, just like other Americans. The amount at issue is 3.9 percent or $39 for every $1,000 of income above $250,000. You can check out your own tax situation with the calculator at the non-partisan http://calculator.taxpolicycenter.org/ to see how you might be affected.

When someone claims a small businessperson will pay additional taxes of $20,000, that small businessperson must have taxable income in excess of $700,000. If they claim they’ll pay $120,000 more, they have an eye-popping “small business” income of $3 million. Sounds more like a hedge fund manager to me.

Small businesses are crucial job creators, but if lower tax rates produced job growth, we should have seen a boom in new jobs following the tax cuts. Instead, even the Wall Street Journal, not a bastion of liberal economic policy, said President Bush “shows the worst track record for job creation since the government began keeping records in 1939.” In fact, it’s much worse than under President Clinton who increased taxes. As a new report by Business for Shared Prosperity explains, “The Bush administration created just 1.1 million jobs net while the Clinton administration created 22.7 million.”

The choice is stark. Do we borrow $700 billion from China as we did this past decade to pay for tax cuts for hedge fund managers and Wall Street barons -- irresponsibly burdening our children with repaying, a debt with interest we don’t need to incur?

Do we make deep cuts in social services, education and public safety and forgo investing in the 21st Century infrastructure we desperately need to be competitive?

Or do we do the right thing and ask fellow citizens with really high incomes to pay their fair share? These are real choices our Congressional representatives will make in coming days.

Let’s tell Congress that investing in the infrastructure our businesses and well being depend on, educating our children, caring for the sick and the elderly, and investing in the future are what made America great in the first place.
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Setzler is a certified public accountant since 1989 and president and founder of TriLibrium, an accounting and business advisory firm located in Portland, OR.
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Copyright (C) 2010 by the American Forum. 11/10

AMERICAN FORUM

By: Linda Meric

The much heralded and hotly contested mid-term elections are done. The ballot questions have been decided and the candidates are either grateful because they pulled out a win or gloomy because they didn’t. Either way, it’s time to move on.

It’s time now to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act.

Women have been waiting for a very long time. Frankly, we’ve grown impatient. The moment is here. The U.S. Senate must pass the Paycheck Fairness Act, for the women of today, and for the women of tomorrow.

Since the Equal Pay Act was signed in 1963, the wage gap has been closing at a snail’s pace. In 1963, women who worked in full-time, year-round, jobs made 59 cents on average for every dollar earned by men. In 2009, women earned 77 cents to men's dollar. The wage gap has narrowed by less than half a cent per year. For women of color, the gap is even wider, with African American women and Latinas earning only 61 cents and 52 cents, respectively, on the dollar.

The pay gap is evident in almost every occupational category, in every income bracket; it’s a constant despite education, despite experience. Although enforcement of the Equal Pay Act and other civil rights laws has helped narrow the gap, it’s critical that the significant disparities in pay that remain be addressed. The Paycheck Fairness Act will be an important step to help end those disparities. It must be passed, for the women of today, and for the women of tomorrow.

Consider LaTerrell. She lives in Denver and works in the financial services industry. At one time, she worked as part of a team of three women. Then, Peter, the first male in the department, was hired. He was hired for the exact same job, only Peter didn’t have the same qualifications or the same experience. He didn’t have the same salary either. He was to be paid more. A supervisor discovered it, and the company decided to give all three women a raise to match Peter’s salary. Luckily, someone was paying attention and took action.

But women deal with unequal pay and inequitable salary ladders in all too many professions; something must be done to end it - for the women of today, and for the women of tomorrow. That something is passage of the Paycheck Fairness Act.

The Paycheck Fairness Act (S. 3772) is comprehensive legislation that updates the Equal Pay Act of 1963, strengthens penalties courts may impose for violations of existing equal pay laws, prohibits retaliation against workers who inquire about or share wage information, and empowers women to better negotiate for equal pay.

According to the National Women’s Law Center, the pay gap is about much more than fairness, it’s about women's and families' bottom-lines; the gap represents $10,622 a year. With that, you could buy a year’s worth of groceries ($3,210), arrange for three months of child care ($1,748), pay three months of rent and utilities ($2,265) six months of health insurance ($1,697), cover six months on a student loan ($1,602) -- and buy three full tanks of gas ($100)!

Our U.S. Senate must consider how the pay gap places families of today in jeopardy; at risk, especially in these tough economic times.

But if that doesn’t do it, maybe they should consider something else.

They should think about their own daughters, their granddaughters, great-granddaughters. They should think about how they prize them, how they love them, how they treasure them, how they would fight for them. Are they really worth less?

The answer should then be obvious: Pass the Paycheck Fairness Act now, without amendments, in this session. For the good of all women - women of today and of tomorrow - and for the good of our country, it’s the right thing to do.
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Meric is Executive Director of 9to5, National Association of Working Women
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Copyright (C) 2010 by American Forum. 11/10

Friday, November 12, 2010

We Didn't Vote for This

AMERICAN FORUM

By Frank Knapp

Whether Americans voted for Republicans or Democrats in the mid-term election, one thing is clear: Voters were demanding that Congress focus intensively on job creation on Main Street -- not lobbyists and campaign donors from big business and Wall Street.

Apparently, many in Congress and President Obama, if recent reports are true, either didn't get the message or simply don't care now that the voting is over.

The top legislative priority of the newly "Tea Party-empowered" during the lame duck session is hardly what Tea Party insurgents had in mind. The proposal is to (1) increase the national debt by borrowing $700 billion to $1 trillion over the next 10 years; (2) spend the money on big, non-job producing tax cuts for the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans; (3) use small business as the excuse.

This bad-business proposal is now being pushed in Congress and the media by those advocating extending the Bush-era tax cuts to the top two income brackets. While proponents acknowledge that less than 3 percent of the taxpayers who would receive the tax cuts actually have some business income, they insist that these approximately 900,000 taxpayers are the very successful small business owners who will stop hiring and purchasing if they don't get their tax cut. Wrong, wrong, wrong.

First, almost all real small business owners are middle-class Americans with middle-class incomes. Walk down any Main Street and you won't find small business owners netting over $250,000 a year in profit (dollars remaining after the cost of employee wages and other business expenses are deducted from taxable income).

These middle-income, Main Street small businesses are the ones we really need to help create the new jobs to lift us out of this down economy. There is absolutely no evidence that the wealthiest small business owners create more jobs than those in any other tax brackets. As any small business owner knows, the number of employees does not correlate with profit.

So who are these mysterious high-income "small business" taxpayers in the top two brackets who Congress is considering borrowing hundreds of billions from foreign countries in order to give a tax cut?

Very few of them are what most would consider small business owners. They include partners in large corporate law firms, hedge fund managers, K Street lobbyists, high-powered consultants, Wall Street bond traders and the country's wealthiest
millionaires -- all of whom claim some business income and thus are counted in IRS eyes as small businesses. These aren't "mom and pop" businesses, says Adam Looney, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.

Not only are the vast majority of these 900,000 "faux" small business taxpayers not involved in job hiring decisions, the tax cut won't even cause them to significantly increase their personal spending to create the demand for new jobs.

The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) evaluated 11 policy options in terms of boosting economic growth and creating jobs. It found that "policies that would temporarily increase the after-tax income of people with relatively high income...would have smaller effects because such tax cuts would probably not affect the recipients' spending significantly."

The wealthiest Americans are more likely to save their money from a tax cut rather than spend it, according to Moody's Analytics, Inc.

If we really want to give a tax cut that will create jobs, then we could cut employer payroll taxes on businesses that actually increase their workforce. The CBO estimates this would have six to eight times as much job-creating impact as an income tax cut. The policy the CBO found with the biggest bang for the buck is extending unemployment insurance. It would boost demand by providing income to people most needing to spend it in the local economy.

Alternatively we could create more customers for our small businesses through infrastructure projects, many of them long overdue upkeep or modernization, or keeping teachers and law enforcement officers working rather than laid off. The policy the CBO found with the biggest bang for the buck is extending unemployment insurance -- a direct infusion of money into local economies by people buying for their basic needs.

Increasing the nation's deficit while not saving or creating jobs is just more politics as usual in Washington where those with the most money get rewarded with even more money.

Congress needs to hear this loud and clear. These high-end tax cuts serve K Street lobbyists not Main Street shop owners. Politicians should not use us to justify a very bad business decision.

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Knapp is President and CEO of the South Carolina Small Business Chamber of Commerce.
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Copyright (C) 2010 by American Forum. 11/2010