By Linda Meric

When his first two children were born, Daniel Wells didn’t even think of asking his employer for leave. But when his wife became pregnant with the third, he better understood the need to bond with a new baby.

So Daniel, an arborist, requested time off following the birth. He was shocked when he got the answer: request denied. The company said it couldn’t get along without him, not even for a few weeks, and cited a “substantial economic harm” clause in denying the leave.

After the birth, Daniel found himself back at work in three days – instead of three weeks.

“I guess it was just as well. We were already struggling,” he says, “And taking unpaid time might have harmed more than helped.” Still, in his heart, Daniel recognizes that more than anything, more than new ties or new toys, Dads like him need paid, job-protected time away from work for major events in their family lives.

As another Father’s Day approaches, it’s fitting that we consider new Dads, as well as Moms, and paid family leave. Most countries provide at least 10 weeks of paid leave for new mothers; some countries offer paid leave for both parents. Only four countries provide no paid parental leave at all – and the United States is one of them.

But all parents should be able to stay home to care for a new baby and Father’s Day is a good time to push for paid family leave.

The Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 was a significant step forward for working families because it granted the right to take up to 12 weeks off to care for a new child or a seriously ill family member. Unfortunately, it also has several limitations. It applies only to workplaces with 50 or more employees, and there are longevity and hours worked requirements that leave some workers out. There are exceptions like economic harm, and, worst of all, it provides
only for unpaid leave. Many families cannot afford to take FMLA leave because they cannot afford the loss of income.

Paid family leave improves infant health. Babies have more bonding time during the period of critical early development and their mothers are more able to breastfeed, reducing childhood illness and the risk of childhood obesity. Paid family leave and time off before returning to work is also healthier for mothers. Paid paternity leave is good for fathers, too. Ellen Galinsky of the Family and Work Institute says fathers also experience significant work-life conflict, and paid leave can be a financial and mental health lifesaver.

There are benefits of paid leave beyond even parenthood. Paid family leave allows seniors and the chronically ill to be independent longer, recover quicker and stay out of nursing homes. Studies show that businesses also benefit from paid leave because it reduces turnover costs and helps workers stay attached to their jobs.

In these tough economic times, everyone is compromised by the lack of paid family leave in the U.S.

But there’s hope.

The legislatures of five states are currently examining California and New Jersey’s lead, employee-funded arrangements that provide compensation to take time off to care for an ill family member or to bond with a new child. In addition, President Obama’s 2011 budget would establish a $50 million State Paid Leave Fund within the Department of Labor that would provide competitive grants to help states cover start-up costs. The budget also provides resources to improve the collection of data related to the intersection of work and family responsibilities. It must be approved.

As we celebrate dear ole’ Dad isn't it time to enact policies that provide support for mothers – and fathers – who want to be both good parents and effective family breadwinners, too?

Isn’t it time America had a paid family leave policy?
Meric is Executive Director of 9to5, National Association of Working Women.
Copyright (C) 2010 by American Forum. 6/2


By John Decock

According to current nuclear industry proposals, over two dozen new nuclear reactors would be constructed in the United States, the vast majority in the Southeast and Texas. President Obama recently offered $8.3 billion worth of taxpayer-backed loan guarantees to two of them in Georgia, which could be the first to be built in the U.S. in nearly four decades.

Wall Street isn’t interested in investing in these expensive and risky projects, so these guarantees promise that taxpayers will pay back the nuclear industry’s loans if the project fails.

In addition to the high cost and risks, new reactors create another problem, one that is rarely mentioned: they put enormous pressure on water resources. Nuclear reactors require huge amounts of cooling water to operate; without adequate water, they cannot produce electricity. (According to the industry’s Electric Power Research Institute, nuclear reactors can consume between 400 and 720 gallons per megawatt hour; while coal consumes about 300 gallons and natural gas, less than 250 gallons.)

So, the U.S. is pinning its energy future on a power source that is the most vulnerable to weather extremes and that stresses the water resources on which we rely for healthy people and strong economies. As we all have seen in recent years, weather patterns can be wildly erratic, producing floods as well as droughts.

Does anybody remember the drought that hit the Southeastern U.S. in 2007? During that summer and fall, one of the worst dry spells in over a century triggered water wars, forced power stations – including reactors – to reduce operations, and saw rivers and lakes reach their lowest levels in memory. Water had to be trucked into communities and rationing was widespread. In many areas, daily life was heavily disrupted.

Scientists say that warmer temperatures from climate change will mean a less dependable supply of water. This should be of special concern to residents of the southeastern United States, which is seeing its energy demand grow – and its water resources become increasingly stressed. In the Southeast, electric power production accounts for nearly two-thirds of all freshwater withdrawals, or nearly 40 billion gallons daily. (That’s as much as all public-water supply customers in the U.S. use each day.)

During a 2006 heat wave, reactors in Michigan, Pennsylvania, Illinois and Minnesota were either forced to cut output or shut down entirely because there was not enough cooling water. During a 2003 heat wave in France, air temperatures at nuclear reactors came within two degrees of requiring an emergency shutdown. Employees were forced to use garden hoses to spray cold water on the exterior walls of the reactors to keep them from overheating.

Concerns about adequate cooling water have been raised in the context of Exelon Corporation’s plans to build two reactors in Victoria County, Texas. Those reactors would use water from the Guadalupe River, which during a 2009 drought dropped so low it could no longer supply drinking water to the community. On March 25, Exelon withdrew its application for a construction and operating license for the site, and has applied for an “early site permit” that must examine the water issue.

The water supply question isn’t an arcane one to be thrashed out quietly among engineers working for utility companies. Taxpayers have a multi-billion-dollar stake in this question. They are guaranteeing the loans to build these reactors. If they aren’t economical and reliable, then the utility could default, leaving US taxpayers to bail them out.

The Obama administration has proposed tripling loan guarantees for additional reactors. Some in Congress even support a “permanent financing platform” in the form of risky loan guarantees to underwrite all new reactors.

So, as investors in these projects, taxpayers have every right to ask: Will these multi-billion-dollar reactors be rendered useless each summer as rivers and lakes dry up and the region scrambles to meet basic water needs? Will this expensive and risky power source be able to help us curb our global warming pollution?

We need to make smart choices for our energy future – choices that are economical and protective of public health and natural resources. Nuclear power falls short in both categories.
Decock is the President of Clean Water Action
Copyright (C) 2010 by the American Forum. 6/10


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 Dr. Stephen Radinsky

As a retired radiologist, I will never forget the day when I had to tell a woman that her free mammogram, provided through a state initiative, had shown that she had breast cancer. I began telling her about the next steps in diagnosis and treatment and she interrupted me, saying, "You don't understand, I don't have health insurance. I can't afford any of this."

I have spent years wondering what happened to that woman. With the health reform legislation just enacted by Congress, scenarios like this will disappear.

Our healthcare system has been broken for many years. One of the major problems in reforming the system was due to the unwillingness of the insurance companies to compromise. The insurance systems had a virtual monopoly in every state and were unwilling to sell insurance across state lines. Thus, the insurance companies made huge amounts of money. Last year, the CEO of United Healthcare made $1.6 billion in stock options alone. Several years ago, a Blue Cross Blue Shield CEO had a salary and bonus of $337.5 million.

Fortunately, the new health reform laws will vastly improve our healthcare system for everyone by making it fairer. Low-income people will qualify for Medicaid and moderate income people will get help to pay for insurance. An estimated 32 million uninsured Americans will gain health coverage. In Missouri, 495,000 uninsured will gain coverage. More than 1 million Missourians will access coverage through the health exchange. This will make it easier for people to comparison shop for policies. In addition, 516,000 residents will qualify for premium tax credits to purchase health coverage. And free preventive services will be provided to 961,000 seniors. Brand-name drug costs for 171,000 seniors in the Medicare D "doughnut hole" will be halved. Within 10 years, the donut hole will be fully closed.

In Missouri, 79,900 small businesses could receive a small business tax credit to offset premiums. Small businesses eligible for these tax credits employ more than 303,000 workers. In addition to all of these reforms, 559,000 young adults through age 26 will have the right to keep their parents’ insurance. Throughout Missouri, 108 Community Health Centers will receive large increases in funding. And more than 90,000 Missourians with pre-existing conditions will immediately gain access to affordable coverage. As a result of premium and cost sharing credits during the first five years of the exchange, the Missouri economy will benefit from $8.4 billion in new spending. Employers and small businesses will have the ability to create more than 6,000 jobs as a result of stabilizing and reducing healthcare costs. To sum it all up, the new health reform legislation will provide Missourians with health coverage; businesses will be able to give their employees health insurance; and the Missouri economy will be able to grow and create jobs.

Reform legislation includes significant private health insurance reforms to prohibit insurance companies from turning down individuals because of pre-existing conditions, or rescinding policies. The reforms also stop insurance companies from charging higher premiums because of pre-existing conditions, gender, or occupation. The reforms prohibit annual or lifetime limits on coverage and protect consumers with annual out-of- pocket spending caps, after which the insurance company must pay. In addition, the reforms will cap insurance company administrative overhead and profits and require insurers to use premiums to pay for medical care. The reform legislation strengthens oversight of insurance premium rates and increases. It will also allow for sales of insurance across state lines, as long as companies comply with minimum requirements created by states participating in compacts authorizing such sales.

But, if Missouri delays health reform, 128,000 more Missourians will lose health insurance by 2019 and a total of 862,000 Missourians will lack health insurance by 2019. With delay, the average Missourian's family insurance premium will increase by $8,646 by 2019. Missouri's small businesses will pay $3.3 billion more for healthcare premiums by 2018, stifling innovation and job growth.

Health reform will offer peace of mind to those of us who have insurance. Companies will no longer be able to drop us just because we are unlucky enough to get sick. Young adults just starting out can stay on their parents’ plans until they are 26. We will all have the peace of minds of knowing that if we lose our job or open our own business, we can still get insurance for ourselves and our families. Missouri cannot afford to delay health care reform.
Radinsky is a retired radiologist.
Copyright (C) 2010 by the Missouri Forum. 6/10


By Mike Stagg

Governor Bobby Jindal continues to fight healthcare reform even though the political fight is over now that the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is the law of the land.

Since President Obama signed it into law, Jindal has ordered Attorney General Buddy Caldwell to file suit against the law. He has reversed Insurance Commissioner Jim Donelon’s plan to participate in the high-risk pools the law creates which provide coverage to adults who have been denied coverage due to pre-existing conditions. And he’s had DHH Secretary Alan Levine act as the administration’s public face in the effort to pass a constitutional amendment here to nullify aspects of the ACA, particularly the individual mandate to buy coverage.

These moves might advance the governor’s national political ambitions, but they are bad for Louisiana and harmful to its citizens.

The ACA addresses much of what ails healthcare in Louisiana. Chronic disease is rampant in our state, particularly heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure and cancer. We have higher death rates from those diseases here than the rest of the country. This is because these diseases go untreated for too long. When people finally go to a doctor, the disease has reached more advanced stages and is harder and more expensive to treat.

That these chronic diseases go untreated for so long is largely attributable to the fact that people don’t have access to care to detect those diseases at the earliest stages. The primary barrier to care is cost.

The ACA will knock down that barrier by providing tax breaks to businesses and subsidies to individuals so that they can afford insurance. That coverage will enable Louisianans to get the care they need when they need it.

The act also mandates that insurance pay the full cost of regular checkups and wellness exams, making it more likely that chronic diseases will be detected earlier.

The prevalence of chronic disease in Louisiana also restricts the ability of residents here to get insurance. The pre-existing condition exclusion severely limits the ability of small businesses to get coverage. It also limits the freedom of Louisiana citizens to change jobs or start businesses because of their inability to get coverage. The pre-existing condition exclusion for adults will be outlawed under ACA by 2014. The ACA will eliminate the pre-existing exclusion for children this summer.

The biggest burden on healthcare providers in Louisiana is the large percentage of people who don’t have health insurance and can’t pay for the care they need. Over the past five years, that percentage has fluctuated between 18 and 24 percent of adults between the ages of 19 and 64.

Providing healthcare to those without insurance is a major financial burden on doctors, clinics and hospitals. It drives up the cost of care for those with insurance as providers shift costs for care for those without insurance onto those with the deepest pockets — health insurance companies. Cost shifting adds an estimated $900 to the annual cost of premiums for each person insured.

The ACA will dramatically lower the number of people without either health insurance or Medicaid coverage. That will benefit providers who will have more paying customers. That will help those with health insurance as the need to shift costs onto those with coverage dissipates.

The act expands Medicaid eligibility to those earning up to 133 percent of the poverty level. The federal government will initially pick up the tab for the Medicaid expansion, and later it will cover 90 percent of the cost. Jindal claims the state will not be able to afford this cost whenever it arrives. He apparently believes state revenues will never increase again. Or, perhaps, he’s just philosophically opposed to people being able to access care without government assistance -- an odd position for someone who has worked in government for most of his adult life.

The Affordable Care Act is good for what ails Louisiana. Expanding access to affordable health insurance will improve the quality of life for our citizens and the financial viability of community hospitals and other providers. It will enable residents to afford the care they need in order to manage the chronic diseases that plague them and help children avoid those diseases or detect them while they are still manageable.

Governor Jindal needs to quit looking at this issue through the lens of his national ambitions. If he does that, he will quit fighting ACA and embrace the positive changes it will bring to our state.
Stagg is a Lafayette-based healthcare information technology consultant and editor of the newsletter Democratic Louisiana.
Copyright (C) 2010 by Louisiana Forum 6/10


By Juan D. Rangel

It was Sunday, five in the morning; we were eighteen hours away from our hometown Dade City, FL and one hour away from one of the most important cities of our country, Washington D.C. I was amazed to be so close to our nation’s capitol and never thought that one day I would be able to travel and explore Washington D.C. I knew I would be there in a few minutes visiting historic places unknown to me. But, I continue to ask myself this question: why did I go? What did I want by doing this trip?

I always wanted to help my family and improve my lifestyle by getting an education. I started school here in the United States when I was in the fifth grade. I graduated from high school with honors. I want to be a full-time college student and earn a degree in international business. I want to be an example and a role model for my brother and all of the kids in my community.

But college is nearly out of reach for me because of the cost. My parents cannot help me financially because of their low-wage jobs. Sometimes their paycheck is not enough to cover our family’s basic necessities. This is why I traveled to Washington, D.C. on March 22 to march for immigration reform.

I came to Washington D.C. to support a Human Comprehensive Immigration Reform and the “Dream Act.” I am supporting these proposals because if they become laws they will open wonderful opportunities for many like me to go to college.

Since I am an undocumented student, the new laws would help me in many ways. For example, I would be able to go to a public college which is less expensive than the private university I currently attend. Right now, I am only taking one class per semester because I do not have enough money to be a full-time student. With immigration reform, I would also be able to apply for federal grants and receive help from the state government. The amount of the federal grants would be based on my high school grades and my current grades in college.

When I arrived in Washington D.C., I was surprised to see thousands of people supporting and marching for a Human Comprehensive Immigration Reform and the Dream Act. I was also astonished that there were all types of unique organizations that support immigrants and non-immigrants in many different ways. In all, the march organizers reported over half a million immigration reformers at the capitol, telling our elected leaders that we refuse to wait any longer for Congress to give America a new immigration system.

I never imagined that there were so many organizations, representatives, and senators who support immigration reform for America. It was an exciting experience because I had the opportunity to meet bright students with different nationalities and cultures from all over the world. These students have many of the same challenges as I do when trying to further their education.

All I have ever wanted was to be able to go to college and live a better life for my family. I especially want to help undocumented students graduate from high school and then help them pursue a higher education. I am willing to commit and support our immigration reformers in whatever they need to make this dream possible.

I will never forget why I came to Washington D.C. -- “Freedom is not free.” For this reason we must always fight for our rights in order to be respected with honor and dignity. I strongly believe that education is our freedom and as president Abraham Lincoln said, “Those who deny freedom to others, deserve it not for themselves.” Everything is possible if we work together as a team to pursue our dream of immigration reform -- “fight for our rights and liberty.”
Rangel is a part-time student and intern with FarmWorkers Self-Help, INC.
Copyright (C) 2010 by Florida Forum. 5/10


By Elias Feghali

Fixing our broken immigration system is vital to America's economic recovery.

As our economy shrinks, state governments are desperate for revenue. Without additional sources of funds, they are increasingly making the decision to cut important social services, raise taxes, or even worse, lay off hard-working state employees.

Recently, Tennessee laid-off 850 workers (the Department of Intellectual Disabilities took the biggest hit, along with children's services). Gov. Phil Bredesen called these cuts "unfortunate, but necessary" to keep Tennessee afloat.

Although there is no silver bullet for our economic troubles, an important source of revenue and economic growth is available to states across the nation, if we have the foresight and resolve to reform our immigration system now.

It is no secret that there is an underground labor force in this country. For over 20 years, the immigration system has grown increasingly out of sync with the needs of a healthy economy, and immigrant workers have been lured here through an immigration system designed to fail. The government sends these workers mixed messages, making it dangerous and expensive to cross the border, yet issuing taxpayer numbers and collecting taxes once they get here. The vast majority of these immigrants come to work honest jobs and create a better future for their families. Instead, they are often exploited by bad apple employers and left without a pathway to citizenship.

Rather than continuing to enforce policies that aren't working, what if we gave these folks a chance to get on the right side of the law, while securing our borders and reforming our laws so that this doesn't happen again?

Imagine the economic impact of millions of immigrants paying their back taxes and a fine to register with the government. Imagine the new revenue generated when these immigrants can finally buy insurance, earn a driver's license and purchase a car. Imagine the benefit for American workers when bad apple employers can no longer exploit these immigrants to bring down wages.

Every day we delay reforming our immigration system, we suffer economically. According to UCLA researcher Raul Hinojosa, legalizing immigrant workers would contribute $1.5 trillion to the nation's productivity over 10 years, as more tax revenues are collected, wages increase for U.S.-born and foreign-born workers alike, and immigrants spend more in our economy.

There are some who would argue that reforming our immigration system is unnecessary. To them, all we need to do is enforce the law, deport millions of immigrant workers and hope our unemployment numbers shrink as a result.

Unfortunately, there are two main problems with this plan.

First, unemployment is a critical problem facing our nation. Millions of Americans are out of work and struggling to keep their families afloat. That's why we shouldn't take it lightly by suggesting that mass deportations would solve our problems. It is unrealistic to think that unemployed GM workers from Smyrna, TN, can pack up their families, take a bus to Georgia, and harvest crops as migrant farm workers. What we need are real middle-class jobs. We need better opportunities for everyone. We need stabilization in the economy, and immigration reform is a huge part of that.

Second, we have tried the enforcement-only approach. That has basically been the strategy of every president since Reagan. In that time period, we've increased the dollars spent on immigration enforcement, yet the number of undocumented workers has increased every year. It is unrealistic to suggest that we could or should devote our limited resources to trying to identify and deport more than 10 million people, while leaving some of their children and spouses alone to fend for themselves. If the anti-reform lobby has its way, we will spend hundreds of billions of dollars trying to do just that. Worse yet, if successful, this policy would shock local economies, resulting in $1.8 trillion in annual lost spending, $651.5 billion in annual lost output, and millions of lost jobs, according to a study last year by The Perryman Group.

In a time of economic turmoil, we can't afford to waste our money on unrealistic policies that would hurt American workers and families. Blind enforcement of our broken immigration policies is the business-as-usual approach. What we need are workable solutions that uphold our values and move us forward together.

As Congress prepares to address the most important problem facing our nation -- the economy -- we should hope lawmakers realize that reforming our broken immigration system is an essential part of the solution.
Feghali is communications director for the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition.
Copyright (C) 2010 by the Tennessee Editorial Forum. 5/10

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

We Need a Better Alternative


By David Bacon

Senators Charles Schumer and Lindsey Graham recently announced their plan for immigration reform. Unfortunately, it is a retread. It recycles the same bad ideas that led to the defeat of reform efforts over the last five years. In some ways, their proposal is even worse.

Schumer and Graham dramatize the lack of new ideas among the Washington powerbrokers. But real immigration reform requires a real alternative. We need a different framework that embodies the goals of immigrants and working people, not the political calculations of a reluctant Congress.

What's wrong with the Schumer/Graham proposal?

1. It ignores trade agreements like NAFTA and CAFTA, which produce profits for U.S. corporations, but increase poverty in Mexico and Central America. Since NAFTA went into effect, income in Mexico has dropped, millions of jobs disappeared, and farmers were forced off their land. As a result, six million Mexicans had to leave home and migrate north, looking for work.

If we do not change U.S. trade policy, millions of displaced people will continue to come, no matter how many walls we build.

2. People working without papers will be fired and even imprisoned, and raids will increase. Vulnerability makes it harder for people to defend their rights, organize unions and raise wages, which keeps the price of immigrant labor low. Every worker will have to show a national ID card, (too extreme even for the Bush administration). A problem with the ID would mean getting fired, and maybe jail.

This will not stop people from coming to the U.S. But we will have more immigration raids, firings, and a much larger detention system. Last year over 350,000 people went through privately-run prisons for undocumented immigrants. That number will go up.

3. Schumer and Graham treat the flow of people coming north as a labor supply for employers. They propose new guest worker programs, where workers would have few rights, and no leverage to organize for better conditions. We already have guest worker programs, called "Close to Slavery" by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

4. Schumer and Graham's legalization program imposes barriers that would make ineligible many of the 12 million people who need legal status. Their idea for "going to the back of the line" would have people wait many years.

Getting in the back of the line is like having to sit in the back of the bus. In 1986, even President Reagan, hardly a liberal, signed a legalization plan in which people gained legal status quickly and easily. Many are now citizens and vote, run for office, lead our unions, teach in our schools, and have made great contributions to our country.

Schumer and Graham use legalization as a carrot, to force acceptance of a program in which the main beneficiaries are large corporations, not immigrants, and not other workers either.

Instead, we need reform that unites people and protects everyone's rights and jobs, immigrant and non-immigrant alike. We need to use our ideals of rights and equality to guide us.

For several years, immigrant rights groups, community organizations and unions have called for reform based on those ideals. It's time to put those ideas into a bill that can bring our country together, not divide it.

A human rights immigration bill would:
1. Stop trade agreements that create poverty and forced migration.
2. Give people a quick and easy path to legal status and citizenship.
3. End the visa backlogs, so there's no line to "get in the back."
4. Protect the right of all workers in their jobs - against discrimination, getting fired for demanding rights, or for not having papers.
5. Bring civil rights and peace to border communities.
6. Dismantle the immigration prisons, end detention, and stop the raids.
7. Allow people to come to the U.S. with green cards - visas that afford people rights that are not tied to employment and recruitment by labor brokers.
8. Use reasonable legalization fees to finance job programs in communities with high unemployment.
9. End guest worker programs.

Those who say no alternative is possible might remember the "go slow" advice given to young students going to jail in them South in the early 60s. If they'd heeded it, we'd still be waiting for a Voting Rights Act.

Dr. King, Rosa Parks, the students in SNCC, and Chicano civil rights leaders like Cesar Chavez, Bert Corona, Dolores Huerta and Ernesto Galarza, asked the country a simple question: Do we believe in equality or not?

That is still the choice before us.
David Bacon is a writer and photographer, and author of Illegal People: How Globalization Creates Migration and Criminalizes Immigrants (Beacon Press, 2008). He lives in Berkeley, CA.
Copyright (C) 2010 by the American Forum. 3/10


By Sharron Oxedine and K.A. Owens
for Kentucky Forward Coalition

A couple of weeks ago, as families and businesses were trying to recover from the destruction from the floods across the state, thousands of us pulled together. We sandbagged, rescued, washed, dried, moved, fed, housed, clothed and hugged each other until we were all safely through the storms. That is who we are. Kentucky is a beautiful place to call home because we take care of our friends and neighbors, knowing that we’re all in this together.

When our legislators meet in Frankfort this week, their job is to develop a decent budget, one that allows our communities to get important work done that we can’t accomplish as individuals. We created public school systems to provide opportunity, public health systems to keep ourselves well, and environmental and public safety systems to protect our air, water, and people. For these to function -- and to support our quality of life and our economy -- these systems need adequate, stable investments of our public dollars.

The Kentucky Forward Coalition -- a coalition of education and health advocates and faith, labor, and community groups -- is working for tax reforms that would generate the money for investments that reflect Kentucky’s values, improving our quality of life. Many of us see first-hand how the chronic underfunding of our schools and community health services is damaging our Commonwealth. We teach the students who slip behind because of cuts to after-school programs and swollen class sizes; we console the families of people on waiting lists for treatment for mental illness; we work to keep children safe while coping with a severe shortage of resources; and we are the people who wonder why Kentucky couldn’t be among the top in quality of life indicators, instead of always stuck at the bottom. Kentucky deserves better.

The legislators need to stop scrambling for quick fixes every year. Until we fix our broken tax structure, we’re going to continue to lag behind the rest of the nation. And to be effective, solutions must include significant steps toward making our tax structure more balanced.

Right now, well over half of Kentuckians – 60 percent – earn up to $47,000. Those of us in this pool pay on average about 11 percent of our income to state and local taxes. Meanwhile, the wealthiest 1 percent contributes only about 6 percent. We need revenue solutions that bring balance, as well as needed funds.

Kentuckians should also beware of so-called solutions that, if adopted, could worsen the inequity in our current tax structure. Some in Kentucky have proposed raising Kentucky’s sales tax as a way to earn revenue. Our coalition believes that a sales tax rate increase isn’t a good option because it takes a much bigger bite out of the incomes of lower and middle income families. Data by the Institute of Taxation and Economic Policy shows the percentage of our incomes that Kentuckians currently pay in sales taxes. People who earn up to $47,000 pay between 4 and 5 percent of their income to sales taxes, while the wealthiest 1 percent pay less than 1 percent. It’s not a solution that is fair or sustainable.

Instead, we can pass fair revenue reforms that we can depend on year after year. One proposal that meets these criteria calls for comprehensive tax reform that would tax luxury services, income above $75,000, and non-farm estates. This proposal would also direct $100 million in tax reductions to more than 300,000 Kentucky families with incomes less than $42,000. All together, this plan would generate about $300 million in revenue a year -- a significant step toward addressing our chronic budget gaps. This plan, sponsored by Rep. Wayne, sets the benchmark for needed reforms, and we’d gladly support other good ideas, as well.

Kentuckians have long understood that united, we stand. Now is the time to put aside ideologies that only tear down, and stand together for solutions that help us work together to make sure that Kentucky is a place where our kids can drink clean water and work in good jobs. It’s time to come together to move Kentucky forward.
Oxedine is president of the Kentucky Education Association. Owens is chairperson of Kentuckians For The Commonwealth.
Copyright (C) 2010 by the Kentucky Forum. 5/10


By Geena Davis

Five years ago, while watching children’s entertainment with my then 2-year old daughter, I was stunned to see that there were far more male characters than female characters in this media aimed at the youngest of children.

Media images are a powerful force in shaping our perception of men and women. The stark gender inequality in media aimed at little children is significant, as television and movies wield enormous influence on them as they develop a sense of their role in the world. And because young kids tend to watch the same TV shows and movies repeatedly, negative stereotypes get imprinted again and again.

Well, it occurred to me that it was high time for our children to see boys and girls sharing the sandbox equally.

So I launched the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, and its programming arm, “See Jane.” In collaboration with the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Southern California, we sponsored the largest research analysis ever conducted into content of children's movies and television programs.
The results were stunning. At the dawn of a new millennium -- in a world more than 50 percent female -- the sorry message sent to kids by the media is that women and girls have less value than men and boys. For every female character there are three male characters in G-rated films. In group scenes, fewer than one in five characters are female.

Our research also revealed that when female characters do exist in media, most are highly stereotyped and/or hyper-sexualized. Consider this: Female characters in G-rated films wear virtually the same amount of sexually revealing clothing as female characters in R-rated films.

With such disempowering images, then, what message are girls absorbing about themselves? And what message are boys taking in about the worth and importance of girls?

In fact, studies show that the more television girls watch, the more limited they consider their options in life; the more boys watch, the more sexist their views become.

The antidote, of course, is positive media images, where children see an abundance of female characters occupying space rightfully theirs. Girls shown engaging in non-stereotypical activities can broaden and expand girl's lives, fostering confidence, enthusiasm and achievement. If they see it, they can be it.

Armed with our research, we work hand-in-hand with the content creators of children's entertainment to encourage and foster improvement in the gender balance our children see.

People frequently ask me the question: What can I do? Parents, teachers and the public can have a great impact by watching media with their children and educating them on gender stereotypes. One simple exercise I taught my kids is to count how many female and characters speak in a show or a movie.

Clearly, gender equality is an idea whose time has come. Which begs the question, why hasn’t it? In many areas of society, there’s a common belief that progress happens naturally. On its own. That as time goes by, things change, and change for the better. Or perhaps we believe that the necessary change has already taken place.

I yearn for the day when I can share with my daughter a tale of "the way things used to be," of days when women held lesser positions in the world than men. And my daughter, living in a world where all girls and women are seen as important, respected and fully valued members of society -- a world of gender equality -- will turn to me and say, "Oh, Mom, that's just a fairy tale."
Davis is an Academy-Award winning actor and Founder of See Jane and The Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media.
Copyright (C) 2010 by American Forum 4/10