By Linda A. Meric

Dear Member of Congress:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The lame duck session will end soon.

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

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Taxes and Thanksgiving


By Sally Jones

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


By Jerry Gonzalez

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

A New START for Women Around the World


By Linda Tarr-Whelan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


By Pat Marida and Beatrice Brailsford

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


By Paul Bolster

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 19, 2010

Whats Really Best for Small Business


By Brian Setzler

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


By: Linda Meric

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 12, 2010

We Didn't Vote for This


By Frank Knapp

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


By Susan Shaer

My uncle sifted through cracked, black and white photos of soldiers. Uncle Rob was in a rehab hospital, slowly fading. The photos were his buddies from World War II. A shoe box that held these photos and medals was practically the only thing he brought with him to the hospital.

The nurse told me it was common for older patients to reach into their distant past for memories they cherished. It was curious to me because he had never talked about his days in the war, nor his friends from that era. Now, he could recall each one’s name, hometown, hair color, and laugh.

My Uncle and I rarely agreed on anything political, but we both enjoyed the banter and ribbed each other about our candidate choices. It was a familiar rift, not a hostile one. The year was 2001. 9-11 had not yet happened and George Bush was president. When Uncle Rob was not talking about his long-disappeared friends, he encouraged me to reconsider our new president.

"Well, I’m concerned that he would use nuclear weapons," I said. That stopped Uncle Rob cold. And then he looked at his war photos and shook his head. “Unacceptable,” he said. “We weren’t trained for that. Fight, yes. Die, maybe. But a nuclear bomb would get us all. Allies, enemies, animals, land, everything. It just wouldn’t be fair.”

As we honor our veterans this Veterans’ Day, we embrace the prospect that the U.S. Senate will a strong step toward ensuring that many of the world’s nuclear weapons are never used. New START, a treaty between the U.S. and Russia, should be voted on before the end of this post-election Senate session. In September the Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved New START with bipartisan support. Now the treaty is ready to be considered and voted on by the full Senate. The original, fifteen year-old START treaty, initiated by Ronald Reagan, expired in December 2009. For almost one year, there have been no on-site inspections of Russia’s large nuclear arsenal. New START must be promptly ratified by the full Senate in order to reestablish inspections. This is vital to a transparent and stable relationship with nuclear – armed Russia.

As a veteran, my uncle, patriot to his dying day, and honoring his fighting partners, knew without question that using a nuclear weapon would be wrong. Therefore, it should be no surprise that New START has the unanimous support of the United States military.

It's not just the military that supports the treaty. The Senate heard testimony in favor of the treaty from Republican national security heavyweights like James R. Schlesinger, George Shultz, James A. Baker III, Henry Kissinger and Brent Scowcroft. An open letter in support of the treaty was published from 30 former national security officials from both political parties - including Colin L. Powell, Frank C. Carlucci, Madeleine K. Albright, Chuck Hagel, and John C. Danforth.

Immediately after this midterm election, the President announced his support for the post-election session to approve the treaty. “This is not a traditionally Democratic or Republican issue, but rather an issue of American national security I'm hopeful that we can get that done … and send a strong signal to Russia that we're serious about reducing nuclear arsenals, but also send a signal to the world that we're serious about nonproliferation."

The recent election demonstrated a clear desire by voters for bi-partisanship. New START would be a huge step to show the country that Republicans and Democrats can work together for the good of the country and the world.

The United States Senate can validate veterans with this vote. I know my Uncle would love to know that the country he and his buddies fought for understands that ratification of New START is good for American security, improves international stability, supports the fighting soldiers, and makes the entire world safer.
Shaer is executive director of Women’s Action for New Directions, WAND, a national peace and security organization that supports the New START Treaty.
Copyright © 2010 by American Forum. 11/10