By Jonathan Fried

Teresa Garcia [not her real name] was stopped in September 2009 by a Miami-Dade County police officer while on her way home after dropping off her children at school. When she could not produce a driver's license, he arrested her for driving without a license, and she was booked into the Miami-Dade jail system. Although she had no criminal record, ICE placed a detainer on her and took her into custody. After spending several weeks in ICE detention, she was deported to her native country, leaving her two young U.S.-citizen children behind with a relative.

Garcia's story is illustrative of thousands of others resulting from the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement "Secure Communities" program. Marketed by ICE under the guise of making our streets safer, that program has become a nightmare for countless immigrants, while adding to the uncertainty of us all.

This past Monday, four days after we learned that Arizona was poised to become an apartheid state for immigrants, ICE announced that it intends to make Florida a little Arizona. Apparently eight more counties joined ICE's "Secure Communities" program. In light of the recent bad press coming out of Arizona, ICE is marketing the Secure Communities program heavily, touting it as a program that will rid the streets of "dangerous criminal aliens."

Keeping our streets safe would be wonderful, if it were but true. "Secure Communities," in a nutshell, is a fingerprinting system that ICE sets up in county jails across the country. The program basically flags any immigrant arrested and booked in jail to be turned over to ICE for deportation, whether or not they are eventually convicted of a crime. There is nothing that stops an abusive husband from falsely accusing his wife of a crime. Nothing stops an unscrupulous employer from falsely accusing a worker he doesn't want to pay of a crime. Even if innocent, being an immigrant will get them flagged for deportation the second they are booked.

ICE's own statistics show that almost 90 percent of immigrants deported through Secure Communities, almost 15,000 people last year, were not charged for serious or dangerous crimes. ICE refuses to say how many of those 15,000 immigrants were never convicted of any crime.

What we can be sure of is that programs like Secure Communities are making our communities insecure. Last summer, more than half of the immigrants we surveyed said they are afraid to call 911 for help. When asked why, one-third cited collaboration with ICE as the main reason – and this is in immigrant-friendly Miami. Imagine what the numbers would look like in the rest of Florida.

For us to be truly secure, ICE has to stop touting a program it claims makes us secure, when it doesn't. ICE's own numbers tell the truth, even when ICE doesn't.

It’s time to put ICE’s “Secure Communities” on Ice.
Fried is the Executive Director of WeCount! based in Homestead.
Copyright (C) 2010 by the Florida Forum 5/10


By Pat Byington

Just a month ago, my six-year old daughter Whitney and I traveled to a nearby state park, where we learned from a nature educator how to build fairy houses.

That’s right – fairy houses.

Using fallen leaves, branches, acorns (picking live plants are not allowed), and a heavy dose of imagination, my daughter, who is a city girl at heart, surprised her parents, becoming a fairy house architect in a matter of hours. And ever since that wonderful day she has loved forests and nature.

Every day we are bombarded with negative messages about our government. CNN has a regular “Broken Government” series. The Pew Research Center recently released polls showing that distrust in government is at an all-time high. But there is one federal program that, for more than 40 years, has strengthened our communities, protected our natural resources, and secured thousands of jobs. In fact, it helped create the state park that is home to my child’s fairy house. That program is the Land Water and Conservation Fund (LWCF).

LWCF is one of the most successful conservation programs in U.S. history, but most Americans have never heard of it. The program’s impact has been immeasurable. In Virginia alone, LWCF has created or funded more than 600 local and state parks. The Blue Ridge Parkway, Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge, George Washington and Jefferson National Forest are just three of the national units that have benefited.

When my daughter drinks a glass of water from the tap, that water is drinkable because our national forests and local forest preserves are protecting the watersheds that naturally cleanse and filter our waters. In fact, according to a study by the American Water Works Association, forest cover in a watershed results in lower water treatment costs. For every 10 percent increase in forest cover in a water source area, treatment and chemical costs decrease 20 percent. LWCF helps increase forest cover.

In a year or two, my daughter might take up her daddy’s passion – soccer. Conceding to wear shorts instead of dresses, cleats instead of heels, she will join a local team. The soccer field she will play on will likely be one of the 700 parks and fields funded by LWCF in Virginia. These open spaces are helping combat childhood obesity, which has tripled since the 1960s.

In a couple of decades, perhaps my daughter will inherit her great grandmother’s love of history and heritage. She could follow in her footsteps and join the Daughters of the American Revolution. In time, she will walk the Overmountain Victory Trail in North Carolina, where the original Tennessee Volunteers, including one of her ancestors, crossed over the mountains; they crossed to support the American patriots in South Carolina in the decisive Southern Revolutionary battle of King’s Mountain. She can relive that brave moment in our family and country’s history because LWCF has saved portions of the trail. But will she be able to experience it? According to the National Park Service, half of the 677 identified sites associated with the Revolutionary War have been destroyed or extremely fragmented.

In coming years, my daughter with her own family probably will follow her parents’ lead and visit the beaches of Virginia, travel the Blue Ridge Parkway, hike the Appalachian Trail, and escape to one of the many historic military parks. She will seek unmarred landscapes and strong communities that cherish their natural resources and make a pretty good living sharing it with others. But it is a race against time. Recent Forest Service studies predict that we will lose 44 million acres of private forest nationwide to development by 2030. LWCF is one program that will help save our special places.

Despite success in garnering bipartisan support in Congress, LWCF has never been funded adequately. In fact, most of the time, it has received only $1 for every $3 it is supposed to receive from Congress. Yet, there are few federal programs that address so many pressing issues at once.

That may be changing. For the first time in a decade, Congress is seriously considering full and permanent funding of the LWCF. The proposal has two powerful allies: the chairmen of the House Natural Resources and Senate Energy Committees. In the coming months, members of the Virginia delegation will be asked to take a position.

Let’s hope they stand on the side of safe drinking water, children’s health, our heritage, special places and yes – fairy houses.

Byington is a senior associate with The Wilderness Society and Chair of the Eastern Forest Partnership, a coalition that includes Virginia-based conservation organizations.
Copyright (C) 2010 by the Virginia Forum 5/10


By Deb Katz

Alongside rivers and lakes, on ocean shores and tidal bays, nearly 63,000 metric tons of high-level radioactive waste – which remains dangerous for longer than recorded history – sits in “temporary” storage. In some cases, it’s been there for decades. And it’s almost certain to remain for decades longer, scattered around 33 states.

Some of that waste is squeezed into small pools housed inside flimsy buildings; some sits outside in storage containers never intended to be permanent. In both instances, the spent fuel from the nation’s nuclear power plants is exceedingly vulnerable to accidents and terrorist attacks.

Like so many of society’s waste problems, out-of-sight, out-of-mind has become a de facto “solution” -- except to the thousands of Americans who live near these high-level waste storage sites. I am one of them. I reside near two spent fuel pools, one in Massachusetts, at the now-shuttered Yankee Rowe reactor, and another at the troubled Vermont Yankee reactor, only 16 miles away. Together, these pools hold more than 90 million curies of radioactivity. (The bombings at Hiroshima and Nagasaki released 1 million curies of radiation.)

Recently, President Obama canceled the ill-conceived and costly Yucca Mountain high-level radioactive waste disposal project. After 35 years, the deep geological repository in Nevada – chosen on the basis of politics, not science – was finally declared unsuitable. A special blue-ribbon commission has been created to find an alternative. Nobody is even hinting that an answer might come anytime soon. This spring, America reaches an alarming milestone: Enough waste will exist to completely fill Yucca Mountain. We are now about to start filling a second repository – if one existed.

So what should this nation be doing with its spent fuel that – like it or not – is going to stay put for the foreseeable future? Instead of ignoring the problem, or choosing expedient “solutions,” we need to face it realistically. For that reason, more than 170 national and grassroots organizations, including the Citizens Awareness Network, are supporting the “Principles for Safeguarding Nuclear Waste at Reactors.”

These principles are based on the urgent need to protect the public from threats posed by vulnerable storage of spent fuel. While others are using the shortage of disposal options as an opportunity to promote reprocessing this fuel, this is not a solution. Reprocessing is expensive, causes pollution and poses nuclear-weapons proliferation risks.

Rather, the best choice is to improve existing on-site storage until a safe permanent solution can be achieved. In no way should our support of these principles be construed as support of nuclear power or the creation of more radioactive waste. What these principles do represent, however, is a realistic framework for dealing with a problem that threatens all Americans, wherever they may live.
Briefly, this is what we recommend:

• Require a low-density, open-frame layout for fuel pools. Fuel pools originally were designed for temporary storage of a limited number of spent fuel assemblies. Today, waste in many pools is almost as densely packed as the fuel assemblies inside an operating reactor core. Loss of cooling water from an accident or attack could produce a fire and release large quantities of radiation. Returning to the low-density, open-frame design of these pools would reduce the risk of a disastrous radiation release.

• Establish hardened on-site storage. Waste removed from fuel pools must be safeguarded in hardened, on-site storage facilities. The waste must be retrievable and carefully monitored. The overall objective is to make the waste so secure that it’s unattractive as a terrorist target. This can be achieved in two ways: Making the containers resistant to severe attacks (such as with a large aircraft) and by placing the canisters in areas that make detection difficult.

• Increase protection of fuel pools to make them capable of withstanding an attack equal to the force and coordination of the 9/11 attacks.

• Periodic review of each storage facility, including fuel pools and hardened on-site facilities.

• Fund local and state governments to independently monitor these sites.

• Prohibit reprocessing.

A landscape littered with deadly fuel cores is the legacy we must confront. What we propose will give this nation the opportunity to find a safe and responsible permanent solution. Even though the storage modifications we recommend are “temporary,” they will give us time – and security – while we find the right answers.
Katz is executive director of the Citizens Awareness Network.
Copyright (C) 2010 by the American Forum. 5/10


By Mark Cooper and Rep. Nancy Young Wright

A recent announcement of an $8.3 billion loan that guarantees the construction of two new nuclear reactors in Georgia should send the red flags higher up the pole for fiscal conservatives than conservationists.

Federal loan guarantees put the government on the hook for huge, risky investments, and they induce the utilities to make investments that are proven market failures.

Georgia is the perfect illustration, and right here in Arizona we can learn a valuable lesson.

Consumers in Georgia are already paying for the two new reactors, years before the plants produce a kilowatt of electricity. Electric rates in that state will increase by an estimated total of $1.6 billion.

Problems arise when projects backed by federal loan guarantees go into default -- taxpayers are obligated to make the lender whole. The assets in default -- a half-built reactor, for example -- can be sold to try to cover the cost, but there is certain to be a shortfall, which comes directly out of the U.S. Treasury.

Public handouts to nuclear reactors are necessary for one simple reason: Private capital markets have refused to provide loans with manageable interest rates because the risks are too high. Moody’s Investor Service recently called new reactors a “bet the farm” investment. Utilities that are pursuing nuclear projects have seen their financial ratings lowered.

Wall Street’s refusal to fund these projects reflects a clear-eyed assessment of the economics of nuclear reactors. The nuclear construction boom of the 1970s and 1980s resulted in half of the orders being canceled, and those completed cost even twice as much as originally estimated.

Many utility executives want to minimize shareholder exposure and put the risk on taxpayers and consumers, but shifting the risk doesn’t eliminate it.

Government subsidies encourage utilities to build high capital-cost generating capacity and forego lower-cost alternatives, such as energy efficiency and renewable energy.

The 2005 Energy Policy Act already provided huge subsidies to nuclear power; so far, $18.5 billion in loan guarantees for new reactors have been authorized from the Act.

But those subsidies still aren’t enough to restart the industry. So, nuclear proponents want even more.

The federal government now proposes tripling the loan guarantee program to $54.5 billion – enough to cover six to eight reactors. Meanwhile, a pending Senate energy proposal would literally give the nuclear industry a blank check of loan guarantees to back new reactors.

Nuclear power projects clearly face financial difficulties. Instead of investing in a market failure, the government should look toward new and innovative ways to make energy a market success.

Those of us in Arizona should know.

The state House of Representatives wisely rejected a bill that would have reclassified nuclear as renewable energy, draining resources away from incentives for job creation through solar companies setting up shop in Arizona.

Arizona is the best state in the nation for solar energy and boasts the best potential for new companies and new, high-paying jobs, something the state economy desperately needs right now.

It’s simple: a smart, job-creating investment is in something that will succeed with the plentiful resources available, not in something that is a proven market failure.
Cooper is senior fellow at the Institute for Energy and the Environment at Vermont Law School. Wright is a state representative (D-District 26).
Copyright © 2010 by the Arizona Editorial Forum. 4/10


By Camille Moran

Wall Street’s collapsing house of cards brought us a time of economic turmoil that most of us have not seen in our lifetimes. Patching the house of cards back together, though, will not bring us lasting recovery.

When will Washington realize that Main Street needs true financial reform and not just piecemeal crumbs dubbed as reform by Big Business and Wall Street? When will Washington realize it is small business that drives our nation’s economy – that without that entrepreneurial spirit, the wheels of our country’s economic system would no longer turn?

Had there been adequate rules in the past, there is a good chance the Great Recession would not have occurred, or at the least, have been less severe. This would have meant less pain for small business owners, with far fewer business failures, home foreclosures and job losses.

Small businesses didn’t have the luxury of being bailed out by the government as the big financial institutions did. While America waits for comprehensive reform, more families face home mortgage foreclosures, and more small businesses are unable to borrow money, crippled by self-serving Wall Street gamblers, who, enabled by bonuses and Washington bailouts, push aside anyone who gets in their way in order to satisfy their insatiable greed.

As a small business owner, I see the need for comprehensive financial reform that would bring about strong transparency, oversight and accountability to Wall Street. Most importantly, financial reform must include the establishment of a strong Consumer Financial Protection Agency (CFPA) with independent rule-making authority and enforcement powers -- not a branch of the Federal Reserve influenced by the Wall Street “fat cats,” whose total disregard for the needs of Main Street catapulted our economy into chaos in the first place.

Our local Chambers of Commerce claim to represent the needs of small business owners, when they in fact, are often under the umbrella of larger associations, such as the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry (LABI), who actually serve as mouthpieces for Big Business. It is these types of organizations across the country that aggressively fight to kill proposals aimed to create a new CFPA, deceptively claiming it to be in the best interests of their small business owner members – all the while knowing that a CFPA would help stabilize the economy, but being too afraid to stop protecting the Big Business interests who pad their pockets.

But we small business owners know the truth – the CFPA would provide protection against unfair “tricks and traps” lending. Small business owners -- who regularly rely on credit card financing and take out home equity lines of credit to get started or stay afloat -- would benefit enormously from these reforms and from the increased stability that would come from meaningful oversight of the credit markets.

Our elected officials should resist the efforts of Wall Street and other special interests to water down consumer protection through amendments that strip crucial power from states and attorneys general to enforce or enact consumer protection laws, and carve out special exemptions for auto dealers and other businesses. Business owners and consumers need full and fair disclosure of the costs and risks of ALL financial products, services and lending.

According to a recent Washington Post-ABC News poll, about two-thirds of Americans support tighter regulations on the way banks and other institutions conduct their business. Bipartisan support is especially high for greater federal oversight of the way banks and other financial companies that make consumer loans such as credit cards, auto loans and mortgages.

Most of the nation’s new jobs are created by small businesses, and effective financial reform will enable businesses to fill this role as they secure fair credit, hire new employees and build our communities and our economy.

It’s important that our elected officials act expediently on behalf of all small business owners. We can’t let our hard-working small business owners down by protecting the big banks and Wall Street. Instead, we need comprehensive financial reform that includes a Consumer Financial Protection Agency powerful enough to prevent the predatory lending that proved so catastrophic for our economy.
Moran is the owner and CEO of Caramor Industries, LLC, in Natchitoches.
Copyright (C) 2010 by the Louisiana Forum 5/10


By Lew Prince

I’ve owned a small business in St. Louis for 31 years. Like most of my customers and my 26 employees, I watched as greedy hedge funds, irresponsible investment banks and unscrupulous mortgage companies decimated our savings, investments and pension funds, and nearly drove our country into another Great Depression. Now those same hedge funds, investment banks and mortgage companies are spending more than $1.4 million dollars a day (that’s right -- a day) to scuttle financial reform legislation in the U.S. Senate.

What’s the financial industry so afraid of?

Well, there’s the Consumer Financial Protection Agency (CFPA), which passed the U.S. House of Representatives but is under siege in the Senate. The CFPA would make sure banks, mortgage companies, payday lenders and car dealers lay out loan terms in plain language so individuals, families and businesses will know what they’re getting into when they borrow money. It would set clear ground rules for loans, protecting Americans from the kinds of sleazy deals that cost so many people their homes and livelihoods in the wake of the recent Wall Street collapse. And it would actually reduce government bureaucracy by streamlining and combining all federal consumer loan regulations under one roof.

The financial meltdown has shown us how greedy and unscrupulous operators can disrupt the flow of credit and bring our economy to its knees. A consumer protection agency would protect my customers, my business and the economy, keeping responsible lenders from having to compete with sleazy credit hustlers. Common-sense regulation will free money to flow to responsible borrowers, protect the value of our savings and pension funds and direct our nation's financial resources toward job creation and the return of our national prosperity. That’s why I joined with hundreds of business owners around the country in signing a Business for Shared Prosperity statement in support of a strong, independent Consumer Financial Protection Agency.

The financial industry lobbyists want the senators they've been wining and dining to keep loan regulation in the hands of the same banking regulators that let money-crazed investment bankers nearly destroy our economy. Does that make sense to you?

Another provision that has the financial lobbyists up in arms would bring derivatives trading out of the shadows and into a regulated, transparent exchange. Reckless derivatives gambling led to catastrophe, and will again without tough new regulation.

Another financial reform provision that should be strengthened -- not weakened -- is the language separating risky investments and commercial banking. Banks should not be able to keep gambling for their own profits and executive bonuses while also benefiting from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. (FDIC) and subsidies like access to the Federal Reserve discount window.

We need to get banks out of the Casino Economy and back into the business of lending to America’s true wealth creators: working people and small businesses. That’s how to get real economic growth.

Wall Street lobbyists succeeded this week in defeating the Brown-Kaufman amendment, which would have capped the size and leverage of our largest banks so they could be wound down when they fail without sinking the economy. They also succeeded in stripping a dissolution fund for investment banks from the legislation, which would have worked like the FDIC bank-paid resolution fund that protects depositors when a bank fails.

Taxpayers were stuck with cleanup costs for the financial crisis. Banks, not taxpayers, need to pay for future crises. Maybe I’m crazy, but it only seemed fair for us to ask them to take money out of their bonus pot to pay their insurance premiums.

Congress could redeem itself by supporting a permanent bank tax to offset the direct and indirect costs of the financial meltdown and discourage the kind of risk-taking that tanked the economy. This is no radical idea. The International Monetary Fund supports it.

Strong financial reform will help small-business owners by providing the kind of stable financial environment in which small businesses can thrive.

Politicians love to point out that most new jobs are created by small businesses. Senators should listen to the business owners who know the difference between gambling and investment, who didn’t wreck the economy and who want real reform to prevent a repeat.
Prince is managing partner of Vintage Vinyl Inc. in St. Louis.
Copyright (C) 2010 by the American Forum 5/10


By David Hills and Michael Lent

Millions of America’s small business owners suffer from bad practices on Wall Street -- something often given short shrift in debate about creation of a consumer financial protection agency.

As owners of a financial advisement firm with offices in Portsmouth, N.H., San Francisco and New York, we focus on financial products with sustainability, values and transparency. And with more than 70 years of collective experience in the financial services industry, and many clients owning small businesses, we've long known that what's good for Wall Street isn't necessarily good for small businesses and consumers.

Through irresponsible lending, greed and poor risk management, huge Wall Street investment firms and banks brought about a financial crisis that's resulted in massive unemployment and hardships for millions. But while small businesses have borne the brunt of the downturn, it is they who will create the jobs that rebuild our communities.

Ability to access affordable credit with clear and concise contractual language is imperative. Studies have shown that most small businesses are financed through the personal credit of their owners, yet ubiquitous tricks and traps of credit cards and consumer loans have snared small business owners just as they have individuals. What’s worse is that large banks and credit-card companies have unilaterally withdrawn credit from small business owners just when they need it most -- and they've done so regardless of credit and payment history.

A Consumer Financial Protection Agency (CFPA) that safeguards financial products and services is long overdue. We all rely on sound business practices when we expand our businesses, hire new workers, meet payroll and do long-term business planning.

Business owners need the security of knowing that the financial services they receive from one lender carry the
same level of protection as those from any other, and that all lenders – credit cards, trade credit and independent finance companies included – are offering fair financial services.

It's wrong to think the choice lies between consumer protection and a sound environment for banking – as if these issues could ever be mutually exclusive. Any legitimate industry can prosper under fair regulation simply by offering products and services that users understand and can purchase without being tricked. Our economy and the financial sector will prosper over the long haul only if financial transactions no longer include deception, profiteering and excessive risk-taking. The current lack of consumer protection has helped plunge our banking system into crisis, wreaking havoc on millions of individuals and families.

Financial reform that includes a strong independent consumer financial protection agency will end the reckless use of financial products that has stalled small-business expansion and necessitated countless layoffs. Transparency and accountability must be applied to financial markets. A CFPA will help the economy and those financial companies already practicing fair policies. No longer will responsible firms need compete against those that profit from unscrupulous practices, unfair terms and deceptive marketing.

A CFPA is good for business, good for the economy. It's a core element of financial reforms wending through Congress. And anything less than a strong, independent consumer financial protection agency will perpetuate whatever sense of mistrust Americans already have in Wall Street and government.

Protecting consumers and small business from financial ruin shouldn't be a partisan issue. Never, ever. Democrats and Republicans alike must swiftly enact this legislation and get our economy working again.
Hills is a Partner with Veris Wealth Partners in New Hampshire and Lent is a Partner with Veris Wealth Partners in New York.
Copyright (C) 2010 by the American Forum. 4/10

Thursday, May 13, 2010

No Woman Should Die Giving Life


By Thoraya Ahmed Obaid

On Mother's Day, we shower women with flowers, cards and other expressions of love and affection. The holiday is a fitting reminder of the lifeline women extend to us all. But for far too many women, their own lifeline ends tragically.

Every day, 1,400 women and adolescent girls die while giving birth or shortly thereafter – one a minute. In a generation, 10 million mothers die, leaving 10 million families bereft. Nearly all of these deaths occur in Africa, Asia and the poorest countries of Latin America.

In the United States, dying in childbirth is rare. But for women in most poor countries, pregnancy and childbirth are leading causes of death and disability. In Africa, for example, one out of 26 woman risks dying of maternal causes.

The idea that mothers are strong, resourceful and ever-present is so ingrained that we tend to take them for granted. They're always there with that extra sweater, it seems -- offering hugs and support when we most need them. How easy to forget that mothers, too, need bolstering, as the data clearly shows.

An estimated 300 million women suffer from illness and injuries sustained during pregnancy and childbirth. Yet while maternal mortality remains one of the world's greatest health inequities, it doesn't have to be so. With the knowledge, technology and wealth we now possess, we should be able to ensure safe motherhood.

In 2000, leaders from 189 nations adopted the United Nations Millennium Development Goals to improve the well-being of people and our planet. Yet 10 years later, MDG 5 -- to improve maternal health -- lags furthest behind.

What would it take to make every pregnancy wanted and each childbirth safe? Well, it's not rocket science. We're talking about access to contraceptives and family planning; skilled birth attendance and, should things go wrong, emergency obstetric care; safe blood and antibiotics; and Caesarean sections. These simple things, which we take for granted, could save hundreds of thousands of lives every year.

The world spends approximately $12 billion a year on family planning and maternal and newborn health care, with developing countries providing the bulk of the total.

Doubling that modest investment would yield staggering results: a 70 percent reduction in maternal deaths and a 44 percent reduction in deaths of newborns. This is equivalent to an investment of $4.50 per person in affected countries—much less than the amount many people spend on gifts for Mother’s Day. But for more than half a million women a year, it could mean the difference between life and death.

Let’s use the occasion of Mother’s Day to celebrate the health and lives of the women we love. And let’s raise our voices for those who risk their lives during pregnancy and childbirth.
Thoraya Ahmed Obaid is executive director of UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund.
Copyright © 2010 by American Forum.5/10


By Erik Camayd-Freixas

On April 23, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer signed into law a draconian bill that flies in the face of the United States Constitution and undermines the core values upon which this nation is founded.

When this law goes into effect in August, it purportedly will be legal in Arizona to dispense with the Fourth Amendment right to be secure against unreasonable searches and seizures. As in totalitarian regimes, local police will be authorized to detain anyone they “reasonably suspect” is in the country illegally. It will be a crime to be present in Arizona without carrying proper documentation. And who might the police reasonably suspect of this new crime? Well, certainly not the white majority.

Gov. Brewer justified the racist law with empty rhetoric: “Racial profiling will not be tolerated," and, "we have to trust our law enforcement.” Meanwhile, Maricopa County, Ariz., Sheriff Joe Arpaio already is under federal investigation following allegations of abuse of power and racial profiling.

Trust must be earned -- by police through their actions and by lawmakers through their judgment. The Arizona Association of Chiefs of Police opposed the bill because they realize it erodes community trust and causes real crimes to go unreported. Former state attorney general Grant Woods, a fellow Republican, also opposed it on constitutional grounds. In Gov. Brewer's judgment, the law is “another tool” for the state to solve a “crisis” that “the federal government has refused to fix." But police chiefs don’t need or want this "tool."

What “crisis” and what “federal inaction”? The U.S. built hundreds of miles of new fence and militarized the border. Also, illegal entries have dramatically decreased since the recession. Our undocumented population grew by only 3 percent a year during the last decade, and is now on the decline, in tandem with U.S. labor demands. Last year, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials imprisoned and deported a record 380,000 immigrants, 80 percent of whom, by government accounts, were non-criminals -- common workers, including thousands of parents, spouses and siblings of American citizens and veterans. Hundreds of legal residents are deported in error each year, too. But nothing quenches radical lawmakers’ thirst for systematic persecution and repression.

This Arizona law is meant to feed migrant mothers and fathers into a brutal immigration system and its engorged network of privatized prisons. Local police will be pressed to meet arrest quotas.

While Congress defines illegal entry as a civil infraction, Arizona will arrest migrants on criminal complaints -- no trial. They simply get checked against a database and turned over to ICE for indefinite, mandatory immigration detention -- without charges, lawyers, bail or rights. They are then shipped cross-country to one of 300 profit-hungry contract prisons -- far from family, community and legal support, thrown in with common criminals, under abject conditions, until the day they're deported as “criminal aliens."

The harshness of federal enforcement prefigures the newly authorized Arizona police state. Noncriminal arrests will top 2007 levels, when 91 percent of deportees had no criminal record. The law hides this utter failure by declaring all undocumented migrants “criminals.”

The record shows that immigration crackdowns neither make us safer nor combat true criminality. The recent surge in drug violence near the border has nothing to do with centuries-old labor migration patterns, and everything to do with the U.S. demand for drugs and its lack of gun control, Arizona being a source of weapons for Mexican cartels. To blame all migrants for crimes of others is more than unjust; it is the essence of prejudice.

Our country’s true crisis is one of human rights and constitutionality. Elitist politicians, out of touch with the people, are callous to the hundreds of thousands of lives and families arbitrarily shattered each year, and unbothered by the erosion of American justice and democracy. Their “crisis”? People of color turning up at the country club.

Defenders of the Constitution are preparing to sue for a federal injunction. Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., called for a boycott of his state, which would lead to billion-dollar losses in conventions, tourism and trade. State violation of the Civil Rights Act jeopardizes millions in Title VI funding.

This law will be swiftly stricken down. Perhaps then, zealots and radical politicians will get the message: that Arizona is not their private ranch, but an inalienable member of our Union; and that Americans of every color, creed and conviction regard such affronts to our Constitution as manifest acts of tyranny.
Camayd-Freixas, who has a doctorate in Spanish from Harvard, is professor of Hispanic studies at Florida International University.
Copyright (C) 2010 by the American Forum. 4/10


By Pramila Jayapal

As the debate around the recently passed Arizona immigration law clearly demonstrates, racial and religious profiling remains a real and urgent problem in the United States.

Washington state isn't immune to the scourge of this discriminatory behavior by law-enforcement officials. This past October, we discovered that FBI agents, instead of collecting information only about people with direct links to national security threats, scrutinized Somali communities across the nation, including those in Seattle. Within 150 miles of our northern border, in counties such as Skagit, Snohomish and Whatcom, Latino, Arab and Muslim communities face an everyday threat of profiling from both border patrol agents and Immigration Control Enforcement officials. And right here in Seattle, we continue to see the racial disparities that disproportionately affect African-Americans, Asians and other people of color.

Although racial profiling has been unfairly familiar to African-Americans and others for decades, mainstream America has only in the recent decades started to acknowledge the issue. Referred to as "driving while black or brown," racial profiling surfaced in popular culture long before law enforcement conceded the practice.

After 9/11, the U.S. government began an era of blatant profiling, rounding up more than 1,200 Arab, South Asian and Muslim men and holding them without charges.

This didn’t make us safer. In fact, the mass roundup never apprehended anyone linked to the 9/11 attacks. An inspector general's report later revealed that many detainees had been blocked from contacting attorneys and some had been beaten or otherwise physically abused by guards in federal prisons.

Unfortunately, the scope of racial profiling is expanding. As responsibility for enforcing immigration laws and finding undocumented immigrants has been increasingly delegated to state and local police, evidence of increased racial profiling is emerging. Bad immigration laws like the one in Arizona threaten to sanction racial and religious profiling by local police.

History has shown that using race as a substitute for criminal behavior is bad policy. Research has shown that focusing on behavior rather than race is smart law enforcement.

When law-enforcement officers abolish race as a factor and instead rely on behavior, they catch more criminals. In the late 1990s, U.S. Customs Service eliminated use of race in deciding which individuals to stop and search for illegal contraband and instead began focusing on suspects' behavior. Studies showed that this shift to "color-blind profiling techniques" increased the rate at which searches led to discovery of illegal contraband or activity by more than 300 percent.

In response to the revelation about FBI profiling of Somalis, Farhana Khera, president of Muslim Advocates and a commissioner in the upcoming hearing on May 8th, Racial Profiling: Face the Truth Hearing, noted that the FBI is harassing Muslim-Americans by singling them out for scrutiny. “We think the FBI should be focused on following actual leads rather than putting entire communities under the microscope,” Khera said to the New York Times.

On May 8th, OneAmerica, in conjunction with The Rights Working Group, will hold the first of six hearings on racial profiling from noon to 4 p.m. at the Burlington Public Library in Burlington, Wash., on profiling in diverse immigrant communities. We expect Arabs, Muslims, South Asians, Latinos, African-Americans, Native Americans and Asian Americans will all come forward to share the shared but unjust experience of being targeted because of racial, religious or ethnic backgrounds.
I will be joining a distinguished panel of national and local commissioners who will listen to testimony, including Monica Ramirez, Counsel to the Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights at DOJ; Karen Narasaki, Executive Director of Asian American Justice Center; Farhana Khera, Executive Director of Muslim Advocates and National Association of Muslim Lawyers; and Judge Steven Gonzalez, King County Superior Court.
We hope community members from across the state will join us. It is time to tell our story and make our voices heard so we can put an end to racial profiling.
Jayapal is The author is Pramila Jayapal, executive director of OneAmerica.
Copyright (C) 2010 by Washington Forum. 5/10


By Simon Cho

Five years after leaving my hometown of Upper Marlboro, Md., I returned to my elementary school to speak about being an Olympian.

Everyone knew I’d helped the United States speed skating team win a bronze medal in the 5000-meter relay. But there’s another important part of my story I don’t always talk about: I’m a Korean immigrant who grew up in the U.S. without immigration documents.

I was 4 when, clutching my mother’s hand, we crossed into the U.S. from Canada. My father secured my U.S. citizenship and passport when I was 11, but I remember little of the process.

When I was a child, my parents ran a small seafood take-out shop, worked 365 days a year, and came home late each night. Even with all their hard work, we barely scraped by. Growing up, I was the only child I knew who never had a family vacation, even on Christmas, Thanksgiving, Labor Day or New Year’s. On days I helped my parents at the shop I came home exhausted, and I couldn’t believe they worked this hard every day.

Then my parents made an even bigger sacrifice for me.

I’d started speed skating as a child and showed a particular aptitude for it. Later, to support my skating, my parents depleted the family resources and we moved to Salt Lake City for my training. Without any job waiting for them, they risked everything so I could skate and dream big.

There aren’t a lot of people of color in speed skating, which in the U.S. tends to be a white sport. When I came to skating, I came not just as a kid who wanted to compete, but also as a Korean American who knew how challenging it could be to live as an immigrant, with all the hard work and insecurity, especially given that we still weren’t citizens.

At times, seeing all the sacrifices and risks, I wanted to give up. I even took a break from skating. But my friends and schoolmates encouraged me to return, and I also got lots of support from older skaters of color, people like Apolo Ohno and Shani Davis, who told me I should cherish the journey.

This winter, I was a member of the U.S. Olympic short track speed skating team, and I brought home a medal. I reached my dreams. And driving me on was the sacrifice my parents had made.

America’s always been my home. Yet returning from the Olympics I knew I was truly an American and felt accepted. We flew from Vancouver to San Francisco, where we had a layover, and when our team got off the plane a bunch of passengers gave us an ovation.

It’s been an amazing journey. I was thrilled to be able to return as an Olympian to Stone Mill Elementary School. I spoke with all the children at the school, from kindergarteners to fifth graders, and saw the teachers who had helped build my character. It was great to share my story, which is unique but also typical. We all have dreams and hopes.

As important as skating continues to be for me, it’s not the only area in which I want to succeed and make a difference. I want to help remove some of the challenges immigrant families face, because I know that our immigration system doesn’t reflect the best that we can be.

This year, President Obama has an opportunity to reform our immigration laws. I hope my story will inspire him and countless others to go full force and have no regrets. It’s time to bring that medal home.
Simon Cho is an Olympic short track speed skater.
Copyright (C) 2010 by the American Forum. 5/10


By Bonnie Saunders and John Loredo

It’s been a dozen years since Arizona voters passed the landmark Citizens Clean Elections Act allowing candidates to seek office without depending on corporate brass, labor unions, and deep pocketed special interests. Clean Elections has given community leaders, teachers, and small business folk a chance to run for office and govern, answerable not to Big Money, but to Arizona’s voters.

Clean Elections is working as advertised. So it should come as no surprise that developers, bankers and the like are trying to pull off a power grab this November. Their goal is to fool Arizonans into gutting Clean Elections and returning our state to the “good old days” when controlling politics was as simple as controlling the money given to candidates.

Turning back the clock would rob Arizonans of the right to have their voice heard on Election Day and in the halls of power. That’s why the resolutions that would put Clean Elections on the 2010 ballot under a different, contorted name, must fail, either by legislative vote or on November 2nd at the polls.

Before Clean Elections, statewide and legislative candidates begged for campaign cash from a small pool of power players: CEOs, union heads, lobbyists, residents of the state’s priciest ZIP codes, and out-of-state operatives. If officeholders proved insufficiently loyal to their agendas, away went the money. In came new candidates all too happy to bend to the will of these interests.

It’s a ruthlessly efficient system, if you have the money to sit atop it.

Clean Elections changed that one $5 bill at a time. Candidates able to demonstrate community support by collecting a set number of $5 qualifying contributions are allotted funds to run competitive campaigns. As a result, Corporate Arizona lost sway and voters have been in the driver’s seat.

Not a single dollar of Clean Elections funds comes from Arizona’s cash-strapped General Fund. It’s funded by voluntary contributions or through surcharges on criminal penalties and violations like traffic tickets. In fact, Clean Elections has donated $20 million to the General Fund in the last two years.

Clean Elections has helped elect a different breed of leader. After a majority of the Arizona Corporation Commission won “running clean,” the ACC passed a law requiring that 15 percent of all power produced in Arizona come from renewable energy sources by 2025. Who hates that idea? The power companies. Is it any surprise they’re now helping fund the campaign to kill Clean Elections?

They’re joined in this effort by a “who’s who” of Big Money: The Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the Arizona Homebuilders, and Qwest. They are hoping we’ve forgotten about AZScam when newscasts featured grainy video of legislators taking bags of cash in exchange for their votes. No doubt it galls them, that in polling done annually by the Clean Elections Commission, citizen support for the new system remains steady at 77 percent.

Clean Elections is a historic path chosen by Arizona’s voters. It represents progress and political equality. No wonder inside political power players and lobbyists want so badly to kill it.
Saunders is president of the League of Women Voters of Arizona. Loredo is a political consultant and former State Representative. For more information, go to www.savecleanelections.com.
Copyright © 2010 by the Arizona Editorial Forum. 4/10


By Lynn Evans

If we are really committed to improving educational outcomes for all children in Mississippi, we must change the way education is delivered in the classroom. With the benefit of new programs around the state and the nation, as well as scientific research about how children learn, we can and must make classrooms work better.

There is a growing body of evidence that young children learn best not by rote and didactic teaching, but by self-discovery and guided interactions with their peers. Children in a classroom informed by this research spend a lot of time talking to each other, working in small groups, and moving easily around the classroom to get the help and materials they need. As they work, their teacher moves from small group to small group, checking in on what students are doing, offering help and correction, and asking questions.

Very young children learn to “see” number groups and understand the concepts that underlie mathematics such as patterns, more than, less than, and in addition to. They love to count, and like to build and experiment with numbers and grouping. Too often, children lose their natural attraction to math when what they get at school is lots of rote memorization, work sheets, and too little building on what they see and experience in the world around them.

Children learn language by listening and talking amongst themselves and to their teachers and parents. When they learn to read, they are making the connecting leap between language and the written word. When children learn letter sounds and memorize words without connecting them to their meaning, they miss the most important step in learning to read: the understanding essential for reading comprehension.

By third grade, children have mastered reading sufficiently enough to begin to learn by reading. Even so, third graders still need time to be read to, time to read to themselves and to one another, and most importantly, time to talk about the meaning of what they have read. They also need time to write compositions that have real meaning to them personally -- often called “writing from the heart.” Just like adults, children’s writing skills grow when they use writing to think and to communicate what they know.

Third graders should also be devising their own experiments and inventions; recording their observations about the world around them; using art and drama to help them learn; communicating what they are learning; and using their own questions, as well as their teacher’s questions, to help them learn more.

These kinds of classrooms help children with different learning styles and strengths find what works best for them. Children are taught to take responsibility for their own learning, and to know what is expected of them. Children learn to collaborate and work cooperatively, to show respect for one another, to listen and learn from others, to correct their assumptions, and to think conceptually. All of these skills will increase their chances of success not only in school, but in life as well.

Beware of those who say we should just go back to the cheaper old way of doing things. Large classrooms with insufficient supplies and overworked teachers will never make Mississippi children competitive with those around the nation, much less able to take on the world.
Evans is an education activist, former Jackson Public Schools board member and freelance writer.
Copyright (C) 2010 by the Mississippi Forum 4/10

By Laurie Mazur

Forty years ago, 20 million Americans took to the streets to celebrate the first Earth Day. Their agenda was wide-ranging: pollution, smog, endangered species. But one issue—population growth—was seen as the mother of all environmental problems. As Paul Ehrlich, author of The Population Bomb, famously remarked: “Whatever your cause, it’s a lost cause without population control.”

Fast-forward to Earth Day 2010. Climate change and other looming environmental threats make the concerns of 1970 look downright tame. Meanwhile, world population has grown from 3.7 billion in 1970 to 6.8 billion today—an increase of 84 percent. Yet population growth, for the most part, has fallen off the environmental agenda.

Why? The reasons are complex, but here’s the short version. Concern about population growth launched a worldwide movement to promote family planning, and it worked: Fertility rates fell, population growth rates slowed and the “population bomb” was defused. At the same time, while family planning has had huge benefits for human health and well-being, some programs trampled women’s rights in pursuit of lower birth rates. Those abuses, and a right-wing backlash against family planning, have rendered population issues untouchable in many quarters.

And that’s too bad, because unsustainable population growth hasn’t gone away, and we are in a much better position to deal with it now than we were 40 years ago. We have a much more nuanced understanding of connections between population dynamics and environmental health. And the abusive programs of the past have been replaced with a commitment to reproductive health and rights. Forty years after the first Earth Day, it’s time to put population back on the environmental agenda—and craft a 21st century population policy.

That policy must be grounded in understanding of the demographic landscape, which has changed dramatically in the past half century. Today, the largest generation of young people ever is coming of age in developing countries, while the developed world ages and shrinks. And while the rate of population growth has slowed in most parts of the world, our numbers still increase by 75 million to 80 million every year, the equivalent of adding another United States to the world every four years or so. A certain amount of future growth is inevitable -- an echo of the great boom of the late 20th century. But choices made by young people today will determine whether human numbers climb to anywhere between 8 billion and 11 billion by mid-century. What does that mean for the global environment? In the past 40 years, we have learned a lot about the relationship between population dynamics and environmental quality. We now know that population growth has a significant effect on the natural environment, but that effect is neither linear nor simple, instead shaped by a wide range of mediating factors -- including technology, consumption patterns, economic policies and political choices. Nonetheless, evidence suggests that a world population of 8 billion would be better than 11 billion, for human beings and the natural systems that sustain us.

Of course, slowing population growth is not all we must do. Facing climate change will require an unprecedented mobilization of resources and ingenuity.

The good news is, we know how to do this. Since 1970, we have learned a lot about how to deal with population growth—and about how not to. The best way to slow growth isn't with top-down “population control,” but by making sure all people have the means and the power to make their own choices about childbearing. That means, first of all, ensuring universal access to family planning and reproductive health services -- which remains elusive for 215 million women around the world.

It also means tackling poverty and gender inequality, which are strongly associated with high fertility.

In other words, everything we need to do to slow population growth is something we should be doing anyway— ensuring access to family planning, fighting poverty, educating girls and empowering women. Each of these measures is important in its own right, as a matter of human rights and social justice. Together they will slow population growth and help protect the environment.

At this critical moment of environmental awareness, it is again time to take up the cause of population growth. That doesn’t mean we should go back to alarmist rhetoric and draconian solutions, any more than we should go back to dial-up phones or computer punch cards. Instead, let’s go forward to a 21st century population policy that's sustainable and just.
Mazur is Director of the Population Justice Project.
Copyright (C) 2010 by American Forum. 4/10


By Dave Wells

Arizona has to decide whether it cares more about improving educational outcomes or cutting business taxes, because we can't have both.

On May 18th, voters in the state will be faced with a one cent temporary sales tax, the bulk of which will support public education. But passing that initiative will mean nothing, if Republicans in the state legislature continue to push a measure that purports to create jobs, but in actuality will undermine the state's economic future.

Arizona's Job Recovery Act says that problems in Arizona result from taxes being too high, especially our business taxes. It cuts corporate income taxes by 30 percent, makes it possible for multi-state corporations to lower their portion of profits taxed by Arizona, lowers the assessment on corporate property taxes, and eliminates the state equalization property tax.

After resistance to original plans that phased it in immediately, Republican leaders' latest proposal costs $60 million in fiscal year 2012 and expands to nearly $650 million by FY2018, even though the temporary sales tax, if approved by voters, will come off the books in FY2014 and the state projects a $2.5 billion structural shortfall for that year.

The math doesn't add up. We need to fix the state's structural financial problems first. The response to our current financial crisis has been huge cuts in state spending from social programs to K-12 and higher education that far exceed any new revenue brought in through the proposed temporary sales tax.

Next year my local school district will likely have no middle school librarians and will be cutting programs designed to remove disruptive students from classrooms
along with special programs for younger students struggling scholastically -- and that's assuming the statewide sales tax passes. They are considering these changes not because they think they're wise, but because the alternatives are worse. They certainly don't represent the best interests of children.

Since 1994, the state has reduced revenues through tax cuts by nearly $3 billion a year. Despite that history, we're frequently told that Arizona lags in business friendly tax rates.

In my recently released study "Corporate Tax Games: March to Madness or Economic Growth?" I found that the much referenced Tax Foundation's overall business tax state rankings, corporate income tax state rankings, and corporate property tax state rankings all failed to correlate with state rankings based on per capita personal income growth and average unemployment rates.

By contrast, educational outcomes make a difference. Two measures correlate strongly with economic growth: state rankings based on high school graduation rates and 8th grade reading and math scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, the only test which can be used to compare states well.

But doing better requires sustained and thoughtful investments in public education. Huge business tax cuts will help bankrupt the state, not lead a smart path for our economic future.

Wells holds a doctorate in Political Economy and Public Policy and teaches at Arizona State University. The views expressed are his own. The full study can be viewed at http://www.public.asu.edu/~wellsda/research/.

Copyright © 2010 by the Arizona Editorial Forum. 4/10

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

The State Budget Nightmare


By Woods Bowman

The Illinois state budget is like the Nightmare on Elm Street movies – progressively more horrific sequels that seemingly never end. Maybe this time it will have a happy ending, but I doubt it.

The 2010 crisis is the result of a chronic budget imbalance. Spending has been growing faster than revenue, so slash-and-burn spending cuts that don't lower growth in spending and tax increases that don't increase growth of tax receipts will provide but temporary relief.

There are three things citizens should know about the state budget.

First, when commentators speak of the deficit as $13 billion or so, they are mixing two numbers that require different solutions. In doing so, they grossly understate the size of the problem.

Second, while the state provides very little service directly, it underwrites the way local school boards, medical providers and pension systems provide services. Given the integral role of the state, it would be unwise to solve the problem with spending cuts exclusively.

Third, although a tax increase (probably income) is a necessary part of any budget solution, without tax and spending reforms even that won't prevent another budget crisis within a few years.

Here’s the real nub of the state budget problem:

The deficit consists of two parts: a one-time piece, like old unpaid bills, and a recurring piece that will cause new bills to go unpaid. These two are nearly equal parts of the $13 billion figure.

The unpaid-bill figure does not include the state's $73 million underfunded pension system – the largest in the nation. This is money the state owes its employees and former employees for services already provided and for that reason cannot take the obligation out of the debt.

Once old bills are paid, they are paid for good and off the books. Any spending cuts or new taxes for this purpose could and should be temporary. But the recurring piece is a different matter. It can be eliminated only by permanent spending cuts and tax increases.

Nearly a quarter of the state budget goes to Medicaid. The good news is that the federal government reimburses nearly half of this amount. That is also the bad news, because $2 of cuts are necessary to achieve $1 in savings and federal law imposes lower limits on types of services and scope of coverage a state must provide to receive any federal reimbursement. Simply put, that means sick people receive fewer services and they remain sick and get sicker instead of better.

Another quarter of state spending goes to school districts and local governments. It only pushes the problem onto the property tax -- the dominant tax source at local levels. Cutting appropriations to state universities and scholarship aid, which are 4 percent of the budget, would force increases in tuition and parental contributions.

Ten percent of state spending goes for debt service and pensions that, as legal obligations, cannot be cut -- period. Finally, nearly 8 percent of spending is for transportation, which is financed by taxes on gasoline license fees and the like.

These objects of spending account for over two out of every three dollars flowing through the budget. Thus a 10 percent budget cut translates into a 30 percent cut, more-or-less, in the remainder of the budget. This is why it would be unwise to try to cut our way out of the problem.

It is necessary to reduce the rate of increase in spending and increase the rate of increase in revenues. This is why various proposals for limiting the growth in pension funding requirements are on the front pages now.

This is also why it’s important to find ways to make Illinois’ tax system more progressive.
Bowman is Professor of Public Service Management at DePaul University in Chicago. He was a former legislator and past chair of an Illinois House Appropriations Committee.
Copyright (C) 2010 by the Illinois Editorial Forum. 4/10