Tuesday, September 21, 2010

This Time We Know What to Do


By Jill Sheffield

Reading the news is usually an ordeal of watching the world fall apart at an accelerating pace, so when four United Nations agencies offer a new count of mothers’ deaths worldwide in pregnancy and childbirth, one braces for another depressing and insoluble problem. The numbers over the past 20 years, after all, have been stubbornly high: one death per minute on average.

Today, however, the news is jarring because it’s good: the 2008 total of maternal deaths is down 35 percent from 1990. About 358,000 women died in 2008 from complications of pregnancy and childbirth, according to Trends in Maternal Mortality, a recent joint report from the World Health Organization, UNICEF, the World Bank and the United Nations Population Fund. The study reinforces one by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) earlier this year that put the number at 342,900. Both figures translate roughly to one death every 90 seconds. That’s a definite improvement over one per minute. But is it enough?

Of course not. A thousand women per day is still a horrendous toll in human devastation, and it is almost completely unnecessary. Disparities among the 171 countries ranked in the UN report prove that we know what to do to save women’s lives, and that where governments have had the political will to invest in meeting women’s needs, even in the developing world, those investments have paid off.

Resource-poor countries like Bolivia, Romania and Vietnam have lowered their counts and are on track to meet the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) of reducing maternal deaths by three-quarters below 1990 levels, the report says. Where governments have not made those investments, as in much of sub-Saharan Africa and southern Asia, pregnancy continues to be a life-threatening event and the MDG is on track for failure. So are the rest of the eight MDGs, because maternal mortality rates have been proven central to a country’s well-being.

When a woman dies after giving birth in the developing world, her newborn baby is unlikely to survive, and her other children – especially daughters – will be poorer, hungrier, less educated and more susceptible to childhood illness and abuse. A million children are left motherless every year by pregnancy-related deaths. And for every woman who dies, another 20 suffer illness or long-term disability such as infection, fistula or infertility, costing their families, communities and countries vast sums in lost productive capacity.

But finally the numbers are coming down. So what does the trick? The four main causes of maternal death are infections, hemorrhage after delivery, high blood pressure and unsafe abortions. These are all preventable or treatable where women have access to health systems that respect their rights and provide key services. Those include family planning, prenatal and post-natal care, trained assistants at delivery, emergency treatment for complications and safe abortion where it is legal.

The unmet need for family planning alone is huge: More than 215 million women want to avoid pregnancy but are not using modern contraception, and demand is expected to grow 40 percent by 2050 as history’s largest generation of young people grows up. In America we take post-natal checkups for granted, but most women in Africa never see a doctor or nurse or any health worker after giving birth.

One measure that would help is the Global MOMS Act, co-sponsored by Rep. Lois Capps (D-CA) and 74 other House members. It would expand women’s access to essential maternal and child health services in the countries of greatest need and better coordinate existing U.S. programs. This week world leaders convene at the UN to review progress on the MDGs. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and other partners are launching a Global Strategy for Women’s and Children’s Health to spur political commitment and financing.

The world is full of desperate problems, and we need to put our resources where the need and return are greatest. But the cost of not investing in women grows every year, and maternal deaths are one problem we can solve immediately, at a reasonable cost, with the technology and knowhow we already possess. That is the great hope and the really good news behind the numbers of declining maternal deaths.
Sheffield is president of Women Deliver, a non-governmental initiative to reduce maternal mortality and establish universal access to reproductive health care worldwide.
Copyright (C) 2010 by the American Forum. 9/10


By Lt. General Dirk Jameson, U.S.A.F (ret.)

As the former commander of the U.S. ICBM force, I was personally responsible for making sure that the hundreds of land-based missiles, each carrying as many as ten warheads, stayed on alert and ready to launch against targets half way around the world at a moment’s notice, if deterrence failed.

Working at the sharp end of the nuclear spear taught me to respect the skill and wisdom needed to prevent a nuclear confrontation. It made me a strong believer in the kind of tough, pragmatic arms control diplomacy that President Reagan practiced to reach the first Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) with Russia in l981, when he said we should “trust, but verify.” For a military commander, arms control aggressively negotiated and constantly verified is just smart security.

Unfortunately, we now risk turning our backs on President Reagan’s warning.

It has now been more than 250 days and counting since the U.S. lost access to the critical intelligence we get from on-site inspections of Russia’s nuclear arsenal.

In fact, these critical verification procedures will cease altogether unless the Senate acts to ratify the New START Treaty.  Without prompt Senate action, American national security will be at risk.

The treaty, which was signed in April of this year, will assure stability and predictability between the world’s two leading nuclear powers, including strict verification measures that permit U.S. inspectors on the ground to monitor Russia’s nuclear forces.  Its importance to our national security has prompted seven former commanders of United States Strategic Command (STRATCOM), the entity in charge of the U.S. nuclear arsenal, to call for the treaty’s immediate ratification.

There are few more credible authorities than the nuclear commanders but they are far from alone in supporting the treaty’s prompt approval without delay. Defense Secretary Robert Gates assured the Senate that the treaty has the “unanimous support of America's military leadership.”

Senate committees heard testimony in support of the treaty from officials who served in six successive Republican and

Democratic administrations, including Secretaries of Defense James Schlesinger and William Perry, former Secretaries of State James Baker and Henry Kissinger and former National Security Advisors Lieutenant General Brent Scowcroft and Stephen Hadley.

Thirty former national security officials from both political parties – including Colin Powell and Chuck Hagel – recently published an open letter in support of the treaty because they recognize that without it there are no constraints on Russia’s strategic nuclear arsenal, leaving us to guess about the activities and security at their nuclear facilities. As the current Commander of STRATCOM, General Kevin Chilton, warned in testimony to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee: “If we don't get the [START] treaty, [the Russians] are not constrained in their development force structure and … we have no insight in o what they’re doing. So it’s the worst of both possible worlds.”

While some critics like to suggest that the treaty somehow limits U.S. missile defense, it does no such thing. Repeated testimony from Secretary of Defense Gates and our leading military leaders has refuted each of these arguments. The new Treaty will actually make our missile defense plans easier and less costly, according to Director of the Missile Defense Agency Lieutenant General Patrick O’Reilly,

Others have suggested that we should not enter into this treaty because the Russians are untrustworthy.  This is exactly backwards.  By opposing the treaty, critics are arguing in favor of eliminating the only checks we have against Russian untrustworthiness: surveillance and inspections of the Russian nuclear arsenal.

Every day that we delay is another day we aren’t getting the security and intelligence benefits we urgently need. The Senate has done its due diligence; it should offer its advice and give its consent. Listen to America’s leading military commanders: it is time to ratify this treaty.
Jameson served as Deputy Commander in Chief and Chief of Staff of U.S. Strategic Command before retiring from the U.S. Air Force in 1996 after more than three decades of active service. Prior to his StratCom assignment, Gen. Jameson commanded the 14,500 men and women of the U.S. 20th Air Force, and was responsible for all U.S. Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles, seven major subordinate units, operational training, testing, security and readiness.
Copyright (C) 2009 by the American Forum. 8/10


By George P. Shultz, Madeleine K. Albright, Gary Hart and Chuck Hagel

The Senate should promptly vote to approve the New Strategic Arms Reductions Treaty (New START) with Russia for one reason: It increases U.S. national security. This is precisely why Defense Secretary Robert Gates declared at the outset of Senate consideration of the treaty that it has “the unanimous support of America’s military leadership.”

The treaty reduces and caps the Russian nuclear arsenal. It reestablishes and makes stronger the verification procedures that allow U.S. inspectors to conduct on-site inspections and surveillance of Russian nuclear weapons and facilities. It strengthens international efforts to prevent nuclear terrorism, and it opens the door to progress on further critical nonproliferation efforts, such as reducing Russian tactical nuclear weapons.

Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has urged the Senate to ratify the treaty, and seven former Strategic Command (STRATCOM) chiefs have called on Senate leaders to move quickly.

In addition to our military leadership, there is overwhelming bipartisan support for the treaty among national security experts. Also, officials from the past seven administrations, Republican and Democrat alike, testified before Senate committees in support of the treaty. In fact, the number of Republican former officials testifying outnumbered the number of Democrats.

We were part of a group of 30 former national security leaders from both political parties — including former secretary of state Colin Powell, former defense secretary Frank Carlucci and former national security adviser Sandy Berger — who published an open letter in support of the treaty.

The Senate has done its due diligence: Over the course of 21 hearings and briefings during the last five months, senators have had the opportunity to ask questions and put to rest concerns. From the director of the Missile Defense Agency, Lt. Gen. Patrick O’Reilly, senators learned that the treaty in no way limits the ability of our military to deploy the missile defenses it needs or wants. From STRATCOM Commander Kevin Chilton, they learned that with the treaty in place, the United States will retain a strong and reliable deterrent. Sen. John Kerry, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, even delayed the committee vote on the treaty to give senators an extra month to review background materials and seek answers to their questions.

Now it is time to act.

While substantive questions about the treaty have been put to rest, some senators are trying to delay consideration of it based on an unrelated funding issue, namely, claims that future funding for the U.S. nuclear arsenal might be insufficient.

This is wrong for two reasons.

First, these claims fly in the face of the considered opinions of Chilton and National Nuclear Security Administration head Thomas D’Agostino, the men charged with overseeing our nuclear weapons and weapons laboratories. They, along with Gates and Mullen, have made clear that the administration’s 10-year, $80billion plan to modernize our nuclear infrastructure, which would result in a 15 percent increase over current spending levels, represents the funding level that is needed and can be executed in a timely manner.

More important, delaying this treaty over an unrelated matter undermines our national security.

By the time the Senate Foreign Relations Committee votes Sept. 16 on whether to send the treaty to the Senate floor for ratification, it will have been more than 280 days and counting since the United States lost the ability to conduct on-site inspections, monitoring and verification of Russia’s nuclear arsenal. This ability will not begin again until the treaty is ratified.

As Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) told the committee, “The problem of the breakdown of our verification, which lapsed Dec. 5, is very serious and impacts our national security.”

Given the national security stakes and the overwhelming support from the military and national security community, we hope that the Senate Foreign Relations Committee will send the treaty to the floor with robust bipartisan backing and that senators will promptly ratify it with the kind of resounding margin such measures have historically enjoyed.

Senate approval of New START would send a strong message to the world that the United States can overcome partisan differences and take concrete, practical action to reduce the nuclear threat and enhance our nation’s security.
George P. Shultz was U.S. secretary of state from 1982 to 1989. Madeleine K. Albright was secretary of state from 1997 to 2001. Gary Hart (D-Col.) and Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) are former members of the U.S. Senate.
Copyright (C) 2010 by the American Forum. 9/10


By Sarah van Gelder

Americans are facing a troubling reality. The economic recovery they were promised has not materialized. There’s growing talk about a “new normal”—a new way of life to take us through a long period of failed recoveries.

There are, indeed, good reasons to believe we won’t go back to the old ways. But this new normal doesn’t have to be a time of chaos and decline. Instead, many Americans are building stronger families and communities, rejecting the waste and greed that made our economy implode, and turning instead to self-reliance and the sort of neighborliness that embraces diversities of all sorts.

Why not go back to the consumer ideal that was the foundation of the American Dream? Many who live paycheck to paycheck have lost jobs, homes and hopes for an education, retirement security and belief in a more prosperous future. CEO pay is on the uptick, as are corporate profits. But the anti-tax, anti-regulation fever that enriched some undermined the real wealth of our country—our education system, infrastructure, communities and natural resources. And much of our economy has been outsourced, making it difficult for stimulus spending to get growth going again.

But it’s not only a stalled economy that is threatening our future. Leading scientists now say that climate disruption is behind the massive flooding in Pakistan and the record-breaking fires in Russia. Shortages of food, water and energy—with attendant price spikes—along with displacement and migration, are likely, not just abroad, but here in the United States.

As if that wasn’t enough, the Gulf oil disaster is showing the limitations of another sort of security we once took for granted: cheap oil. As the easy-to-exploit oil is used up, oil companies are turning to increasingly difficult-to-reach sources of oil. This means we are likely to see still more expensive disasters associated with oil, whether caused by human error—as in the Gulf—or just part of the extraction process, as seen in the communities devastated by mountain-top removal or tar sands exploitation. Analyst and author Michael Klare says we have reached the “Age of Tough Oil,” and every barrel of oil we extract will be more difficult and expensive to get than the last one.

That brings us back to the prospects for an economic recovery. With cheap oil a thing of the past, an economic recovery that increases demand for energy will drive prices even higher. That energy price increase would stall any recovery.

So what are Americans doing about these very real threats to our security?

Some are exploiting citizens’ fears for their own political ends, blaming President Obama, immigrants or climate scientists for the bad news. These strategies not only distract us from the real threats, they divide our country while offering nothing that can help solve our challenges.

Others are choosing to ignore or deny the depth of these challenges.

But there are people across the political spectrum, in every part of the country, gathering with friends and neighbors to build sources of security close to home.

These folks are turning lawns into vegetable gardens and organizing their neighbors to start pea patches and farmers markets. They’re getting together with neighbors to swap preserves and skills, and to relearn the skills their grandparents had. They are protecting local resources—water, land, forests and fisheries—that can offer sustenance into the future, and they are starting up energy and weatherization cooperatives.

They’re paying off their debt, moving their money out of big corporate banks to local banks and credit unions, and supporting local businesses. As they do, they are freeing themselves from the global corporate economy that moved jobs overseas and fueled the speculation that undermined the real economy of jobs, goods and services. These folks have chosen instead to use their resources to strengthen local economies and the small and medium-sized businesses that are most likely to create the new jobs of the next economy.

These are the pioneers of the new normal, and you can find them building the foundations of a hopeful future in urban centers, small towns and suburbs. Maybe you’re one of them.

Van Gelder is executive editor of YES! Magazine (www.yesmagazine.org), a national media organization that fuses powerful ideas and practical action for a just and sustainable world. The Fall 2010 issue of YES! Magazine features stories of the New Pioneers and the resilient communities they are creating.

Copyright (C) 2010 by the American Forum. 9/10

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Laboring for Justice


By Rev. Gary Kowalski

Americans are more likely barbecuing this Labor Day weekend than singing “Which Side Are You On?” We’ve forgotten the workers who were our own forebears.

My wife’s family, for instance, came from Nanticoke, Pennsylvania. Today it’s an unremarkable crossroads, but a century ago, it saw a titanic contest between labor organizers and the Reading Railroad, which ran the nation’s coal mines. The union wanted an eight hour day and took 100,000 men out on strike. The walk-out finally ended six months later when Teddy Roosevelt established a commission for binding arbitration. In his closing argument to that commission, the railroad CEO testified that “These men don't suffer. Why, hell, half of them don't even speak English.”

Three years after the strike, a government report found thousands of children still picking chunks of coal by hand from the mountains of slag. And this was my wife’s hometown. Her great-grandfather Balliet died of black lung, as did great uncle Ellis. Grandmother Jeanette told stories of her brother Evan, who was so small when he trudged off to the pit that his lunch bucket dragged the ground; he perished in an accident at age 14. So the history of labor in this country is our family history. It’s a story whose repercussions are still felt.

Labor Day started long ago, but the financial panic of 1893 was eerily similar to the current economic meltdown. Then, robber barons accumulated vast fortunes through speculative investments. Waves of bankruptcies ensued as gambles went bad. Banks went belly-up, wiping out the savings of folks who then couldn’t make their mortgage payments. With balance sheets plummeting, companies slashed payroll, leading to revolts like the one in Nanticoke and the Pullman strike of 1894, where federal troops were dispatched to smash the union. Facing re-election that year, President Cleveland declared a “Labor Day,” to mollify the workers whose dreams he’d destroyed. He lost. But it took years, not until FDR, before reforms addressed the boom-bust cycle that left so many in distress.

This brings us to now. Many New Deal regulations have been de-regulated and the gap between rich and poor has never been greater. True, most Americans consider themselves “middle-class,” not working class. But that’s because they’ve gone deeper into debt for that college degree and for homes their actual earnings no longer justify. Forced to borrow beyond their means, many defaulted on loans they couldn’t repay and, as in 1893, banks went bust while ordinary stiffs got evicted and saw nest eggs evaporate. But now as then, Goldman Sachs did all right, disbursing billions in bonuses. Perhaps the biggest difference between 2010 and a century ago is that instead of a Populist or Progressive movement, we have the Tea Party.

I believe in the dignity of labor. I’ve hauled cable and washed dishes; I’ve never felt anything demeaning in hard work. I was taught to be self-sufficient, but I’m well-educated enough to realize I’m not self-made. Whatever advantages I enjoy come from living in a land that other people helped build -- people who deserve a share of the riches they worked to create such as farm workers, child care providers, and nurse’s aides who do jobs that are absolutely necessary and ought to pay a living wage but don’t. They deserve more. We deserve more. And it’s about time we achieve it.

So in regard to that old song, “Which side are you on,” I’m not on the side of trickle down, but on the side of acting up. I’m not on the side of a rising tide lifts all boats, but on the side of a rising demand for justice.
Kowalski is new interim minister at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Santa Fe.
Copyright (C) 2010 by the New Mexico Editorial Forum 9/10

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Putting the Public First in State Services


By Ennis Leon Jacobs Jr.

As a former chair of the Florida Public Service Commission (PSC), I am concerned that recent actions in Tallahassee to dismantle the PSC send a message that the views of the working and bill-paying public count for nothing. Those actions show contempt for balancing the interests of ratepayers with politics.

What other meaning could be derived from the fact that immediately following a vote against record rate-increase requests, four members of the PSC were removed and the public counsel who advocated for ratepayer interests was asked to reapply for his position?

A strong, independent and objective regulatory agency is necessary to oversee utility ratemaking and operation. The legislature recognized that back in 1978, and it remains true today as utility services expand and grow more complex. Just look at your monthly bills that are filled with obscure surcharges and rising prices. But the recent actions to subvert the independence of the PSC threaten to undermine the agency’s credibility and erode public trust. At the moment, the balance seems to be shifting away from consumer protection and toward the utilities and big-money politics.

Many Floridians would be surprised at the breadth of the PSC’s regulatory mandate. It serves a critical function, affecting virtually every aspect of Florida society by overseeing companies that provide electricity, drinking water, sewage treatment, telephone service, high-speed internet connections and natural gas. These are public services we depend upon and for which we pay. But in return we expect rates to reflect legitimate expenses.

While on average, Florida electric costs are relatively modest, ratepayers in Florida have seen their energy bills increase faster than in all but a few states. Most important, these ratepayers face fundamental changes in how these services will be delivered without a meaningful opportunity to weigh in. Amazingly, there is no constituency more closed off from Tallahassee decision-making than ratepayers.

Monopolistic industries cannot have control over these essential services without adequate and transparent government involvement. I believe strongly in the mission of the PSC, which is “to facilitate the efficient provision of safe and reliable utility services at fair prices.” Fair is the operative word -- fair to consumers as well as fair to those companies providing basic services. But recent actions to subvert the independence of the PSC threaten to undermine the agency’s credibility and erode public trust.

I congratulate the new appointees and look forward to the two pending appointments. However, I also encourage my colleagues to consider that they now hold a public duty which demands substantive and moral compasses that are honest and independent of utility persuasion.

Make no mistake; there is imperfection and much room for improvement within the PSC. If you have doubts, I direct you to a series of reports prepared by Common Cause titled: “A State Agency In Need of Reform: Florida’s Public Service Commission.”

Nonetheless, the PSC is the designated sheriff, and it controls the balance of interests between utility ratepayers and shareholders. The sanctity of the agency must be maintained by ensuring a fair and transparent process where integrity is paramount. Without this, I suggest that the recent incidents of ethical lapses, name-calling and backroom deals will produce a public outcry that says, “Enough is enough!"

Floridians must step in and demand that the PSC not be a rubber stamp for utilities and their political allies. Its members must not be chosen for the certainty of their votes. Healthy discussions and differences of opinions are welcome, but we cannot lose sight of the fact that, first and foremost, it is the public that comes first in the Public Service Commission.
Jacobs is former chair of the Florida Public Service Commission.
Copyright (C) 2010 by the Florida Forum. 9/10


By: Sally Bethea

For two decades, Georgia, Alabama and Florida have been battling over future water allocation in the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint (ACF) River Basin which straddles their borders. The dispute also involves a number of federal agencies, courts, and mediators. Its outcome is one of the most important issues facing the Southeast.

On July 17, 2009, federal judge Paul Magnuson answered a key question that has dominated this 20-year water conflict—how much of the water in Lake Lanier can be legally used for metro Atlanta’s water supply? His answer was stunning: none.

Lake Lanier lies in the Chattahoochee River’s headwaters just north of Atlanta, and over time it has become the main water source for metro Atlanta, sustaining 3.5 million people, half of whom have moved to the area in the last decades. While the reservoir, built by the Corps of Engineers in the 1950s, was authorized by Congress for flood control, navigation, and hydropower, Georgia argues that water supply was also an intent of the federal project. Alabama and Florida argue the opposite, claiming the Corps is holding back too much water in Lanier for unauthorized water supply.

Magnuson agreed with Alabama and Florida and gave all three states three years to come up with a water sharing plan before metro Atlanta’s ability to rely on Lanier would be reduced significantly.

With two years left before the judge’s ruling takes effect (i.e., July 2012), Georgia faces a water crisis of immense proportions. But Georgia’s leaders have yet to fully embrace the dramatic change of course the judge’s ruling should have ignited. Instead, they have focused largely on costly and/or politically infeasible options, including transfers of water from other river basins into metro Atlanta and expensive new reservoirs. Georgia also stubbornly refuses to deviate from a proven failed strategy of prolonged litigation.

It makes sense to allow metro Atlanta’s citizens and businesses to use some of the water in Lanier for water supply; it is the most environmentally and economically sound solution. However, successful negotiations--and possible re-authorization of Lanier to provide for some of metro Atlanta’s water supply--ultimately hinge on metro Atlanta’s willingness to reach equitable agreements with downstream communities in all three states while providing adequate safeguards for healthy river ecosystems.

Along with our fellow riverkeepers in Georgia and colleagues in the Tri-State Conservation Coalition, Upper Chattahoochee

Riverkeeper (UCR) believes that the states must move to end the legal appeals and negotiate openly and honestly. Only then will we be able to reach an agreement that fairly shares the limited waters in the ACF and Alabama-Coosa-Tallapoosa (ACT) Basins.

In Charting a New Course for Georgia’s Water Security (www.chattahoochee.org), Georgia’s Riverkeepers provide a course of action for Georgia’s leaders.

First, people and businesses in all three states depend on these river basins. State leaders must demonstrate respect for the rights of all communities to an equitable amount of clean water, a sustainable environment, and future prosperity through more protective regulations.

Second, we need to move beyond the distrust that has developed over the years by ensuring negotiations are transparent and decision-making is open to public debate and scrutiny. Our leaders must bring to the table all stakeholders whose expertise can aid in resolving the tri-state water conflict. Efforts to resolve the dispute behind closed doors have not worked and cannot ensure a fair outcome for all.

Third, aggressive water and energy conservation and efficiency measures must be implemented across all three states, especially metro Atlanta. In addition to metro Atlanta’s small watershed, growing population, and sprawling development, this region has a higher than average use of water and energy. The 2010 Georgia Water Stewardship Act is a good start in reducing water consumption, but Georgia needs to take far more dramatic steps to reduce our water demand by the 2012 deadline. This means reducing water loss through leaks, updating old homes with efficient plumbing fixtures, and pricing water to encourage more efficient use.

Finally, all three states must agree on a uniform, basin-wide approach to collecting hydrological and ecological data, measuring water withdrawals and river flows, and monitoring the health of our ecosystem in response to human alteration. No one can responsibly and sustainably manage anything that is not measured and monitored.

The Magnuson rulings have provided an unprecedented opportunity to advance sustainable water management throughout the ACF and ACT Basins. To accomplish this goal, the states must be willing to de-emphasize litigation and, instead, emphasize smart, cost-effective water supply solutions, over ones that are expensive and risky.
Bethea is the founding director of Upper Chattahoochee Riverkeeper, a 4,800-member environmental advocacy organization established in 1994 and based in Atlanta. For information on the Tri-State Conservation Coalition and its platform, visit www.chattahoochee.org/tri-state-conservation-coalition.php.
Copyright (C) 2010 by Alabama Forum. 08/10