NORTH CAROLINA EDITORIAL FORUM

By Mary Olson

When advisor Dave Freeman helped President Carter navigate the rough waters of the 1970s oil crisis his compass was to find energy that is produced but does not perform a useful function – and stop that waste. Like pumping gasoline on the ground much of our electric power capacity today is effectively wasted.

How is power dumped? An un-insulated roof or leaky old windows cause a furnace to work too hard; newer appliances and industrial motors use a fraction of the juice, paying for themselves many times over (once is savings, more is profit). The trick is that wasted energy when “saved” is “here” and available for another purpose…since it is already generated there is no additional pollution or toxic waste, and also no need to build a new power plant; it is pure “cream.”

North Carolina is awash in power we already have, that is not being used. Imagine an economy nearly twice the size on what we generate today – or alternately a fraction of the power we have now supporting what we do today – possible? Yes. Architects Mike Nicklaus in NC, and Steven Strong nationally, design buildings that not only use less power, they save a system as much energy as they use: net zero.

Unfortunately, our current market is not structured for energy corporations to take advantage of this “cream.” To make more money, they must make and sell more power…even better, build new power plants. NC utilities are rewarded for building new plants on a percentage basis (12.4% guaranteed return on capital investment) so the more they spend, the more “rewarding” this is. Thanks to a 2007 law, NC utilities now charge customers “upfront” for new power plants and still get that return on investment. This may explain why there is such a debate going on about “what kind of power plant we need,” rather than the real question: do we need one at all?

Sadly, President Obama is calling for three times as much taxpayer support for reactor construction than the Bush Administration offered (from $18.5 to $54 billion). The problem is, we don’t need new plants – we have enough wasted energy in our system now to transition to renewables while phasing out both coal and nuclear in the process.

Even without factoring in the real costs (construction, contamination at all fuel cycle sites, waste management or isolation for 100,000 human generations), nuclear is still one of the most expensive forms of power out there, on a par with retail photovoltaic panels – except the solar panel does not need police to protect it, threaten anyone with cancer, or take billions of gallons of water to cool it.

There are many reasons that on February 11, 1985 Forbes Magazine declared nuclear power the “largest managerial failure in history” including the $100 billion default in nuclear loans for the nuclear reactors we have today. A vibrant economy will not result from investment in a dead industry. President Obama and his team are repeating a titanic mistake by pouring billions of dollars into loan guarantees for the all but dead nuclear reactor industry. Thirty years without a new reactor order means that Obama is really trying to resuscitate a cold corpse.

Here in North Carolina we have a better idea: NC SAVE$ Energy would create an independent, non – utility administration for a statewide energy savings program. If you have read this far, read “energy recovery program!” The mandate begins with residential housing stock and would invest in energy upgrades and retrofits. NC SAVE$ Energy will stimulate the NC economy, create three to six times more jobs that investment in new nuclear, reduce air pollution, prevent radioactive waste and oh by the way, free up a significant portion of the power already being generated here and now in NC.

It is discouraging to hear that the Governor’s new Energy Policy Council is going to tour Progress Energy’s Shearon Harris nuclear reactor; this is not progress. It is time to listen to President Carter’s advisor, Dave Freeman again – who later as the head of TVA presided over the cancellation of 7 nuclear power plants because they would have cost too much. We have what we need; we simply need to use it wisely.
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Olson is the Southeast Regional Coordinator for Nuclear Information and Resource Service.
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Copyright (C) 2010 by North Carolina Editorial Forum. 4/10

ALABAMA FORUM

By Pat Byington

On the grounds of one of the world's largest cathedrals, St. John the Divine Episcopal Cathedral in New York City, is a simple piece of art: seven human-shaped arches, each representing a generation, lined up in a row.

Next to this graceful sculpture is a gray footstone topped by a plaque with this inscription: "In all our deliberations we must be mindful of the impact of our decisions on the seven generations to follow ours." -- from the Great Law of the Six Nations of the Iroquois

Most folks count a generation as 20 years, so the total would be 140 years, or two lifetimes. What a mission statement. When we confront difficult environmental issues, the Great Law of the Six Nations of the Iroquois offers us the best path. And if there were ever a state that should adopt such a law, it would be Alabama, because we have the most to lose.

In 2002, The Nature Conservancy released a report called "States of the Union: Ranking America's Biodiversity" in which Alabama was ranked fifth nationally for the most species. Digging deeper into the numbers, Alabama came up first nationally in the number of different kinds of freshwater fish, mussels, snails and turtles. Also, to the dismay of many Louisiana citizens, Alabama ranked first in the number of different kinds of crayfish.

According to the longtime environmental writer and Nature Conservancy staffer Bill Finch, Alabama has played a critical role in maintaining the biological richness of the entire Eastern forest, from New England to the Gulf of Mexico.

For example, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, often described as the most diverse national park, has just more than 100 different tree species and 12different kinds of oak trees over a 500,000-acre area. In southwest Alabama's Red Hills near Monroeville, Finch said he has identified more than130 varieties of trees and 20 kinds of oak trees in an area one-tenth the size of the Smokies.

Finch said it's not hard to find similar diversity in dozens of native forests throughout the state, from the Paint Rock Valley, in northeast Alabama near Huntsville, to the forests along the Cahaba River and the coastal forests along the Mobile-Tensaw Delta.

These Alabama forests have likely played a critical role in nourishing North American forest diversity through hundreds of thousands of years, and they'll likely be called on to share their wealth in the future. Alabama is home to one of nature's largest libraries. We must think in terms of protecting our special places and the environment for "generations."

This year marks my 20th year, a generation, working for groups such as the Alabama Environmental Council, the Wilderness Society, the Alabama Environmental Management Commission and the Forever Wild Board of Trustees. There was one special moment in my memory that the Great Law of the Six Nations of the Iroquois – Seven Generations -- was followed. That was when a very diverse group of people convened in 1992 to write the Forever Wild constitutional amendment.

For nearly 20 years since its passage, Forever Wild has protected more than 200,000 acres across the state and is one of the most successful conservation laws in Alabama's history. More important, even today, that diverse group of people on opposite sides of the political spectrum continues to work together to make Forever Wild succeed for generations to come. On reflection, we were all working together for future generations. Forever.

Forty years ago this week, Earth Day founder Gaylord Nelson may have summed it up best when he said on the original Earth Day, two generations ago:

"Our goal is not just an environment of clean air and water and scenic beauty. The objective is an environment of decency, quality and mutual respect for all other human beings and all other living creatures."
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Byington is senior associate with The Wilderness Society and publisher of Bama Environmental News.
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Copyright (C) 2010 by Alabama Forum. 4/10

KENTUCKY FORUM

By Linda Stettenbenz

Many Kentuckians, like myself, are struggling to find adequate employment, and are going back to school at public universities to try and improve our financial outlook. With tuition at our publicly funded universities rising on average 10 percent per year, we sink into personal debt just trying to find ways to stay afloat and move ahead. While we do our best to move ourselves and our families forward, the Kentucky legislature continues to move us further behind.

People like me pay a bigger portion of our income to state and local taxes than do Kentucky’s wealthiest. Still, every year we are told there is no way to properly fund the services we need the most. And once again, the legislature’s unwillingness to adopt needed reforms further sends Kentucky into decline.

As citizens, we must see through the smoke and mirrors of perpetually inadequate funding for critical services, and support fair and adequate reforms that will move us forward.

We need to demand no-nonsense reforms that will invest in our children, our workforce and the programs that keep our communities safe and healthy. One of the most commonsense, painless, and fair remedies is to change Kentucky’s regressive tax structure.

Right now, people who make $40,000 per year pay a much greater share of income in state and local taxes -- almost double -- than those who make $350,000 per year. If the richest 6 percent chipped in an average of $20 more per month, along with paying currently non-existent sales taxes on things like charter plane rentals and golf course fees, it would fully fund an Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) for 300,000 working families, and create a stable and fair system of revenue.

How can we expect adults and families to prosper if they are only trained for low-paying and declining jobs? According to a recently released Mountain Association for Community Economic Development report, “Kentucky ranks 41st among the states in share of adults with a high school education or GED, and 46th in share of adults with an associate’s degree or higher....80 percent of the job needs in Kentucky in 2016 will require at least two years of training past high school.” Yet, we lag far behind other states in funding adult education and providing proper resources for working families to move ahead.

Most state legislatures recognize the need to keep the recession from pulling us further back. Thirty-three other states passed reforms to raise public dollars since the recession began. But in Kentucky, where we have among the highest unemployment and lowest paying jobs, our legislators are sacrificing us and our children to keep their most influential supporters happy.

They toss a few crumbs to schools in agreeable legislators’ districts; they pretend to balance the budget with tricks like moving the date on state workers’ paychecks; and they continue to ask the most from those who are struggling. When the Poison Control Hotline told legislators it needed funding to maintain its services, it was told to “be creative.” Funding for Kentucky’s mental health clinics has flat-lined for 14 years, even as inflation and need rises. We again face cuts to K-12 education, GED completion programs and higher education. This is not sound leadership, and it won’t move us forward.

Tax policy and budgets can seem intimidating or confusing to the average citizen. We may think we are powerless to change it due to money and old power networks that are so influential in Kentucky politics. But this is exactly what we must do. We are experts. We are people who have friends, sons, and daughters who are struggling to find decent employment or pay tuition at public universities. We value K-12 education, mental health clinics, the poison control hotline, and programs that provide for public health and safety. And we know it’s not right to ask the most from those who can afford it the least. Legislators need our leadership. It’s time for real reforms to move Kentucky forward.
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Stettenbenz lives in Jefferson County and is looking for adequate employment.
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Copyright (C) 2010 by the Kentucky Forum. 4/10

TEXAS LONE STAR FORUM

By F. Scott McCown

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott is asking a federal court to declare national health care reform unconstitutional.

I respect Abbott, having served with him as a state judge, so I carefully read his legal papers, only to discover he is terribly wrong.

Under reform, Congress expanded Medicaid to cover more poor people and created federally subsidized state exchanges where everyone else can buy private health insurance. With some exceptions, everyone must obtain health insurance or pay a tax.

Abbott objects to the “individual mandate” that we all obtain health insurance. Under reform, however, insurance companies cannot deny coverage to those with pre-existing conditions, making the individual mandate essential. Otherwise, people could wait until they got sick to buy coverage, leaving insurance companies operating with only a pool of sick people. With a mandate, everyone is in the pool which keeps premiums affordable.

The Constitution’s Commerce Clause gives Congress authority “to regulate Commerce…among the several states.” The Supreme Court reads this provision broadly. As long as an activity has a substantial effect on interstate commerce, Congress can regulate it. Choosing not to purchase health insurance is an activity with a big, interstate effect on the price and availability of health care in our interdependent federal-state health care system.

The Constitution also gives Congress the power “to lay and collect Taxes…to provide for the…general Welfare of the United States.” The Supreme Court also reads this provision broadly. It includes the authority to tax for a regulatory purpose, such as taxing polluters who chose not to install pollution controls or residents who chose not to purchase health insurance.

Under the Constitution’s Supremacy Clause, federal law trumps state law. To counter, Abbott plays the Tenth Amendment: “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.” But the Tenth Amendment does not limit federal power; it merely says who has the power.

Abbott has previously endorsed an individual mandate; he personally got a state law enacted requiring parents who pay child support to buy health insurance for their kids. Parents who can’t afford a policy or aren’t eligible for a public program must buy a policy designed by the Attorney General from an insurance company chosen by the Attorney General or face going to jail on the motion of the Attorney General.

While Abbott’s program isn’t up and running, its individual mandate plays the same role as the federal mandate, creating a larger insurance pool. Nothing in federal law required this new program; Abbott sought it because he thought it was a good idea.

Unfortunately, unlike insurance purchased from the new federally subsidized exchanges, the Abbott plan isn’t subsidized, which means it will be too costly or cover too little. In any event, it only covers kids who get child support. We all need health insurance.

Abbott is simply not acting in our best interest. More than one in four Texans lack health care insurance and the growing costs add to that number daily. Under reform, about a million Texans gain health insurance through Medicaid, and for every dollar the state spends, it gets nine federal dollars. And for every person who gains coverage through Medicaid, about two others gain coverage by purchasing affordable private insurance through the federally subsidized state exchange, bringing even more federal dollars to Texas. State officials have terribly exaggerated the cost to the state, which pays only a modest share that is far outweighed by the benefits.

Abbott ought to drop his federal case and support affordable, quality health insurance for all Texans through national health care reform.
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McCown is executive director of the Center for Public Policy Priorities.
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Copyright (C) 2010 by the Texas Lone Star Forum. 4/10

AMERICAN FORUM

By Linda Tarr-Whelan

I began my career as nurse in 1960, only to be fired on my first day because I didn’t stand up for a doctor. It didn’t matter that I was inserting an IV line for a patient. In those days, showing deference to men -- and virtually all doctors were men -- took precedence. Now we know that the best patient outcomes are achieved by balance and synergy – it takes women and men, doctors and nurses as members of health teams to achieve optimal results.

It's beginning to dawn on society that women are the talent base for the future. They're the force behind consumer spending and the drivers of small-business development. Women in every profession are trained, experienced and ready to add their individual and collective strength to business and political decision-making. Yet when it comes to balanced leadership, we're stuck in a rut.

We rightfully celebrate “first women” like Katherine Bigelow, who this year became the first woman to win a Best Director Oscar in the Academy Awards' 82-year history. But our celebrations mask the stark reality and expose our complacency. We tend to gloss over the real picture. Geena Davis, working to see more women behind the cameras as filmmakers, writers and directors, reminds us that we've been in exactly the same place for 46 years.

There’s a stiff cost when only half of the nation's talent pool is tapped for leadership. And data for politics are similar to data for Hollywood. Congress now includes 17 percent women, which means the U.S. trails 82 other countries in proportion of women in political leadership. Women partners in law firms hover at the 16 percent level; in the nonprofit world the proportion is 20 percent, with fewer and fewer women in management as organizations grow larger. Women in the religious community call it the “stained-glass ceiling,” with larger congregations much more likely to have men giving the weekly message. Corporate boards are stalled at about 15 percent.

Measuring where we are is important, but this is more than a numbers game.

There is a different conversation going on around the world. Instead of congratulating themselves on the progress women have made, male leaders worldwide are joining with women in serious discussions about leadership needed for the future -- and then they're taking bold actions. Their shared goal is to reach the "30Percent Solution" – the tipping point for balanced

leadership. Why? It’s not for justice or human rights. Instead, the motivator is a simple: Balanced leadership yields better results. Also, it's well-recognized that no significant progress is made on women's issues in any country unless the government is made up of at least 30 percent women. The U.S. federal government is made up of 17 percent women, which explains why we have had such a difficult time moving forward.

Results across various industries, sectors of society and political systems are consistent. With balanced leadership, companies make greater profits, become more risk-aware and determine their course of action with a longer time frame. The 30 Percent Solution opens the door for more women to bring their talents, creativity and knowledge to making the right decisions for society. Twenty-first century management requires teamwork, partnerships, relationships and consensus-building –- a comfortable fit for women leaders. Simply put, we cannot afford to leave half of our talent outside the door.

While in London on tour for my book, I was overwhelmed with the rapidly changing environment in European political and business circles. In the United Kingdom, both the Conservative and Labour parties are short-listing women candidates, and 43 of the FTSE 100 top CEOs are personally mentoring women for board seats. French President Nicolas Sarkozy has introduced legislation that follows the Norwegian example of modernizing boards of directors to include 40 percent women. Recent studies show that French financial firms with a significant representation of women on their boards better weathered the most recent downturn.

We are overdue for a vigorous public debate in the U.S. about women being our most underutilized national resource. We must put aside old myths and stereotypes that stand in the way of progress. McKinsey & Co., a global management consulting firm, has concluded that the U.S. gross domestic product would be 9 percent higher if we maximized women’s talents. Think of that -- 9 percent higher GDP. To get there will take cultural change and attention to the winning strategy of the 30 Percent Solution. Women and men must work together to bring about these changes.
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Tarr-Whelan is a Demos Distinguished Senior Fellow on Women’s Leadership. Her book, “Women Lead the Way: Your Guide to Stepping Up to Leadership and Changing the World” was published in 2009. She is the former Ambassador to the UN Commission on the Status of Women.
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Copyright (C) 2010 by the American Forum. 4/10

AMERICAN FORUM

By Christian Ramirez

Reforming our obsolete immigration system is a human rights issue that can no longer wait. Our nation needs a clear and workable path toward legal residency for the millions of undocumented workers and families living in this country.

Some proposals, such as the immigration-reform blueprint that Sens. Chuck Schumer and Lindsey Graham are spearheading, will only generate the needed path after creating a more militarized southern border. Border communities have for generations demanded accountability and respect for their quality of life, not more of the same failed policies.

Adding more patrols, or high-tech surveillance systems, to “secure the borders” does not make us more secure. The tragic deaths of at least 6,000 migrants attempting to cross the U.S.-Mexico border since the mid 1990s are a stark reminder that border control policies have only perpetuated suffering. Migrants are 17 times more likely to die today while crossing the border than they were in 1998.

We hear from lawmakers that trumpeting border security is necessary to make immigration reform possible. But where is the clear proof that the multimillion-dollar wall along the U.S.-Mexico border has curbed migration? Economists say the recession of the past two years has had more of an impact.

Stepping up ineffective border patrols, filling more detention jails across the country, and more wholesale deportations would only aggravate the climate of fear and uncertainty under which millions of families live. In fact, the Obama administration deported more undocumented migrants in its first year in office than in George W. Bush’s last year in the White House, based on the Department of Homeland Security’s own reports.

No wonder, then, that over 100,000 immigrant rights supporters converged on the streets of Washington, DC, on March 21st to protest any immigration reform that would expand the current ineffective and overzealous enforcement system.

Instead, they and millions of others are calling for an end to policies that split families apart and introduce policies that provide safe and swift paths to legalization. I believe that the seven core principles that the American Friends Service Committee proposed in A New Path Toward Humane

Immigration Policy will help achieve that goal quickly, fairly and humanely. The seven principles state:

1. Create justice with humane economic policies. International economic policies, including trade agreements, need to be consistent with human rights, trade justice, and sustainable approaches to the environment and economic development.

2. Protect the labor rights of ALL workers. All workers are entitled to humane policies that protect their labor and employment rights.

3. Develop a clear path to permanent residence. Inclusive measures must be enacted that lead to permanent residence for undocumented immigrants, multi-status families, refugees and asylum seekers.

4. Respect the civil and human rights of immigrants. Immigrants, regardless of status, deserve the same civil and human rights as all U.S. residents.

5. Demilitarize the U.S.-Mexico border. The U.S.-Mexico border region must be demilitarized and the quality of life of border communities needs to be protected.

6. Make family reunification a top priority. Recognize the distinctly important and valuable role of family ties by supporting the reunification of immigrant families in a way that equally respects both heterosexual and same-sex relationships.

7. Ensure that immigrants and refugees have access to services. Public programs and services should not exclude immigrants or refugees.

As a nation, we should reject appeals to tie the future of millions of families to a broken, unjust system of enforcement as proposed by Sens. Schumer and Graham. Instead we should respect the human rights and dignity of immigrants through humane and fair immigration policies.
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Ramirez is the national coordinator of human migration and mobility for the American Friends Service Committee.
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Copyright © 2010 by the American Forum. 4/10

GEORGIA FORUM

By Timothy Sweeney and Alan Essig

For more than a year, federal efforts at reforming the nation’s health insurance system have been controversial to say the least. Now that the president has signed health reform into law, the partisan debate should come to an end.

It is incumbent upon policymakers to begin planning for the implementation of the national reform law so that Georgians can benefit as much as possible from all its provisions.

Instead of working on implementing reform and focusing on the ways the reforms make needed improvements for Georgians, both with and without health insurance, state policymakers have continued their political rhetoric, misinformation, and exaggeration about its effect on Georgia.

One of the worst examples of such exaggeration is the claim that the national healthcare reform legislation will cost Georgia $1 billion yearly and break the state budget.

Certainly, covering the nearly 500,000 uninsured Georgians who will be newly eligible for Medicaid will not be free; however, a closer look reveals that it will be quite a bargain for Georgia.

The Medicaid expansion does not take place until 2014 and it will be fully federally funded for the first three years. Even after those three years, Georgia’s contribution will only be 5 percent in 2017 before it ramps up to 10 percent in 2020 and beyond.

The generous federal contribution means that Georgia and the state’s healthcare system will benefit greatly from billions of dollars in new federal funding. Even when the state’s 10 percent share is fully phased in, new costs to the state will likely represent only a modest (likely less than 10 percent) increase in state Medicaid spending compared to what the state would spend on Medicaid without the expansion.

The Medicaid expansion itself will actually ease the state’s financial obligations in other areas. For example, many uninsured patients who receive state-funded mental health services will soon get that coverage through Medicaid. In addition, as the number of uninsured Georgians drops, the state will spend less money reimbursing hospitals for treating them. In fact, this healthcare, known as “uncompensated care,” is projected to cost 40 to 50 percent less over the next 10 years due to the reform.
Finally, it is also important for state policymakers not to let political rhetoric get in the way of discussing the important insurance reforms that provide greater economic security to Georgians who already have health insurance, as well as to those who now will be able to get health insurance.

In the first year, insurance policies will have to cover dependent children up to age 26 even if they are not full-time students, and insurance providers will no longer be able to refuse to cover pre-existing conditions for children. In addition, insurers will no longer be able to rescind coverage when someone gets sick (except in cases of fraud) or impose lifetime benefit caps.

Over the following years, insurance companies will be required to cover pre-existing conditions for adults and will no longer be permitted to cap yearly benefits.

In addition to covering more uninsured people through Medicaid, the reform package will provide hundreds of millions of dollars in health insurance tax credits for middle-income individuals and families beginning in 2014. Tax credits to help small businesses provide coverage to their employees take effect this year.

The political fight over passing reform should end; it’s now time for policymakers around the state to implement reform so that it best benefits the people of Georgia.

Instead of exaggerating the costs to fight yesterday’s political battle, state leaders should develop honest and credible cost projections that can help us plan for the future. The benefits of expanding insurance coverage to nearly 500,000 Georgians far outweigh the marginal costs. National health reform is a great bargain for Georgia.
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Sweeney is the senior healthcare analyst and Essig is the executive director of the Georgia Budget & Policy Institute, a nonpartisan, independent think tank that seeks to build a more prosperous Georgia by rigorously analyzing budget and tax policies and providing education to inspire informed debate and responsible decision-making. Visit www.GBPI.org for more info.
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Copyright (C) 2010 by Georgia Forum. 4/10

MASSACHUSETTS FORUM

By Tom Benner

Democracy works best when people participate in their government; and people participate best when they can get the information they need to weigh in with opinions and evaluate the decisions made by those elected to represent us.

It’s that time of year now when Massachusetts is working on a new state budget. No piece of state legislation has a bigger impact on our everyday life -- from schools and roads, to public health, police and fire protection, and parks and recreation. The budget is how we as a Commonwealth express not just what we want to accomplish through government, but also how to pay for it.

State budget documents are not known for being “easy reads.” But understanding the Massachusetts state budget has just gotten easier, with a new online, interactive tool you can use to explore the state budget and see how and where money is allocated. The Budget Browser, found at http://browser.massbudget.org/, is part of our work at the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center to help citizens of the Commonwealth better determine whether the state budget meets public needs and priorities.

The Budget Browser is a valuable resource. You can look up how much was spent over the past decade in categories large and small – from the Massachusetts public school system and all of the state’s colleges, to your local community college. You can see budget amounts for a given year or – to make meaningful comparisons – spending over several years, adjusted for inflation. Plus, you can create and download charts to print out and use for reports, media stories, or other documents.

The Browser tracks line items that have moved from one department to another through various government reorganizations and consolidations, with notes alongside the data alerting the user to these accounting issues.

Other features include a Tax Revenue page that tells how Massachusetts taxes have changed over time and
how they compare to other states. There’s a Resources and Glossary page that includes definitions of budget terms, a step-by-step description of how the state budget process works, and links to additional budget resources.

For too long, information needed to make informed choices about how state dollars are allocated was out of the reach of ordinary people. It used to be that in order to get spending levels for spending items such as health care or environmental programs over the years, for example, you'd have to thumb through a stack of thick documents, each containing hundreds of line items. Now, anyone with access to the Internet can find what they need with a few clicks of a computer mouse.

As citizens, we have an interest in what programs and services we want to preserve and what kind of communities we want to live in. With a crushing national recession increasing public needs, at the same time it reduces state resources to meet those needs, it is now more important than ever to understand how budget decisions being made by our elected leaders will affect services and our quality-of-life across the state.

Early feedback on the Budget Browser has been positive. Users across the state have called it a great new tool that helps the public to understand how state resources are being used and promotes informed and active citizenship. That’s certainly the idea.

It’s your state budget too. So get all the information about it at http://browser.massbudget.org/. An open budget allows us all to understand the state we’re in.
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Benner is communications director of the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center.
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Copyright (C) 2010 by the Massachusetts Forum. 4/10

KENTUCKY FORUM

By Doug Doerrfeld

Kentucky officials are betting our future on an unproven technology known as carbon capture and storage (CCS) or carbon sequestration. It’s a misguided gamble that takes us down an expensive path when there are clearly better options.

No doubt there is a problem. Kentucky coal burning power plants produce about 100 million tons of carbon dioxide a year. And though there are modest efforts to reduce this amount, Kentucky’s electricity use is expected to grow which adds to the problem unless we turn down a different path.

Politicians and utilities are betting on geological sequestration – using porous rock, and a lot of it, deep under our land as the place to dispose of this waste. But after years of experiments, we still have no proof that carbon capture and sequestration will work on the scale necessary, and at a cost that’s affordable. It’s the wrong solution.

The sheer volume of carbon dioxide that we produce in Kentucky requires a scale that goes way beyond any feasible options. To dispose of this much waste would result in the creation of the largest toxic waste distribution and disposal system ever conceived. It will take, literally, the whole state to provide storage capacity that even then might not be enough, and then only for a limited number of years. But state officials have crafted a program that, either through outright seizure or condemnation, gives the coal industry access to almost all deep rock strata under the state.

The speculation until recently was that it would take a 359-square-mile area to store carbon waste from a 500-mega-watt (MW) power plant. But that formula was shattered with research from a recent peer-reviewed article in the Journal of the Society of Petroleum Engineers. Professors Michael and Christine Ehlig-Economides concluded that geologic sequestration of carbon dioxide is “a profoundly non-feasible option for the management of carbon dioxide emissions.”

“Published reports on the potential for sequestration fail to address the necessity of storing carbon dioxide in a closed system," wrote Professors Ehlig-Economides. "Our calculations suggest that the volume of liquid or supercritical carbon dioxide to be disposed cannot exceed more than about 1 percent of pore space. This will require from five to 20 times more underground reservoir volume than has been envisioned by many, including federal government laboratories.” By their projections, a small 500 MW plant's underground carbon dioxide reservoir would need to be the size of the state of Vermont to work.

Kentucky has about 16,510 MW of coal-burning capacity and officials want to add more. That’s just one of the problems with the sequestering side of the plan.

Carbon capture technologies built into a new power plant would increase the fuel needs of such plants by 25-40 percent. In other words, it would take a third more coal to produce the same amount of electricity. The overall energy costs of new coal-burning plants equipped with CCS will jump 30-90 percent. Applying CCS to existing plants or plants far from a storage location will be even more expensive, elevating costs by 50-300 percent.

A 2008 federal Government Accountability Office report concluded that the sheer energy cost of CCS outweighs any potential benefit. Rodney Andrews, executive director at University of Kentucky’s Center for Applied Energy Research, predicts CCS electricity cost increases of 60-200 percent.

The only way utilities will find CCS to be affordable is to get taxpayers, and eventually their customers, to foot the bill. The Kentucky General Assembly has been more than willing to go along with this scheme, introducing several proposals to provide subsidies for sequestration experiments – and exempting corporations from any permanent liability for their wastes.

We need to stop our obsession with coal and move toward energy efficient power such as solar, wind, biomass and the wide variety of available and developing non-fossil fuel energy options. This is where our future economy needs to be headed.

But in Kentucky, some officials don’t see beyond coal.

“For many of us who realize only too plainly the very real dangers and difficulties associated with sequestration, over-inflated claims for CCS have become the last refuge of the energy scoundrel. There is no need to research this subject any longer,” the Ehlig-Economides concluded. “Let's try something else."

I agree. It’s past time to get started.
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Doerrfeld is a member of the Executive Committee of Kentuckians For The Commonwealth.
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Copyright (C) 2010 by the Kentucky Forum. 4/10

MISSISSIPPI FORUM

By Ed Sivak

The governor’s office projects that state revenue estimates will fall $1.2 billion short of what the state needs this year. This means that Mississippi will have significantly less money than in past years to educate children, train the workforce and maintain the roads and infrastructure that foster economic development.

The magnitude of the crisis requires a balanced approach that includes raising revenue to keep the state from moving backwards. Three revenue raising recommendations offer a starting point for helping to solve this problem. The recommendations would produce much needed funds while allowing Mississippi’s tax structure to keep pace with advancements in the global economy.

First, modernize Mississippi’s sales tax to reflect today’s purchasing habits. The sales tax was designed during the Great Depression to provide the state with revenue based on what people bought. Back then, people spent most of their money on things, rather than services. In recent decades, however, the share of spending that households devote to goods has declined. And what households spend on services -- many of which didn’t even exist during the Depression -- has increased. The shift not only costs the state money, it also sets up some imbalances that work against middle-income people. For example, if one buys a lawnmower in Mississippi to cut his or her grass, they pay sales tax on the purchase. If one pays a lawn service, he or she does not pay the tax.

Recognizing this, the Mississippi Tax Study Commission, appointed by Governor Barbour in 2008, recommended adding additional services to the list of what is taxable. The recommendation included 21 items ranging from tanning services to pet grooming. Taxing the 21 items would generate $80 million annually.

Second, update the personal income tax. Mississippi’s tax brackets are the same as they were 25 years ago back when a family could live on $30,000 a year. Today, a family of four with two children that makes $30,000 a year is in the same tax bracket as a similar family earning $1 million a year.

Recent income trends call into question the current tax brackets. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, over the last two decades, Mississippians with incomes above $117,000 have experienced over twice the rate of income growth as middle income families earning $40,000. A well-structured income tax system would take into account the trends. By adding a new state income tax bracket of 6 percent on taxable income of over $45,000 (roughly that of a household with a little over $64,000 a year in total income for a family of four), Mississippi would generate approximately $64 million.

Third, update Mississippi’s Corporate Income Tax. Given the link between the personal income tax and the corporate income tax, Mississippi’s corporate income tax could also be updated. Estimates from the Institution of Taxation and Economic Policy show that a new 6 percent bracket on corporate taxable income over $45,000 could raise approximately $55 million annually in Mississippi.

It’s important to note that these revenue recommendations only cover part of the anticipated gap in forthcoming years. There will also be budget cuts. That’s the point of a balanced approach it recognizes that no one strategy is enough to solve a problem this big and that relying too heavily on spending cuts hurts the economy, hurts working families and limits the state’s ability to move forward when prosperity returns.
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Sivak is the director of Mississippi Economic Policy Center.
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Copyright (C) 2010 by the Mississippi Forum 4/10

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Immigration Can Help Us

MISSISSIPPI FORUM

By Bill Chandler

We should be welcoming immigrants to Mississippi, the ”Hospitality State.”

Instead of having xenophobic reactions, we should be looking at the benefits they bring to our economy. In recent years Republican and Democrats alike have called for kicking immigrants out of Mississippi. Legislators introduced scores of bills intended to make immigrants so uncomfortable they’ll leave. Some law enforcement jurisdictions have made it their mission to target Latinos without provocation. Candidates for public offices have made attacking immigrants the centerpieces of their campaigns. One candidate attempted to show that the presence of immigrants cost the state millions, in his publicly funded reports mostly based on false statistics gathered from a notorious hate group.

The facts paint a different picture of the contributions of immigrants. For example, the worlds’ dominant economy, and one of the richest, is the United States—a country populated almost entirely by immigrants and their descendants. The U.S. population has more than doubled over the last century, yet the country has become wealthier and wealthier.

A study conducted by the National Academy of Sciences found that undocumented immigrants added some $10 billion to the U.S. economy. The NAS study also found that native-born workers whose skills were complimentary to those of immigrants, benefited from their presence in their workplaces. Immigrants’ paychecks have the same deductions for income taxes as their fellow native born workers. Their payroll deductions also contribute to the Social Security fund helping to create a multi-billion dollar surplus that they have no hope to access, which has helped save that system from collapse.

Census data shows that the Latino share of Mississippi’s population grew from 0.6% in 1990, to 1.4% in 2000, and since then, growth of these communities in the state has at least doubled. Across the state, workers with the mississippi immigrant rights alliance counted at least 100,000 more immigrants in the state than were accounted for in the census, and by last year, at least another 100,000 more. While some of these immigrants may be undocumented, overstaying their work visas or entering without authorization, many eventually become U.S. citizens as shown by voter data. Latinos comprised 4% of Mississippi voters in the 2008 elections, according to CNN exit polls.

In Mississippi, Asians and Latinos as consumers, workers and business owners have helped grow our economy. According to the Selig Center for Economic Growth at the University of Georgia, in 2008, the purchasing power of Latinos in Mississippi totaled $1.3 billion, while the purchasing power of Asians was $842 million – with the continued growth in working immigrant communities, here and across the country these numbers have undoubtedly grown. Mississippi’s 1,326 Latino-owned businesses had sales receipts of $213 million and provided jobs to 2,080 workers in 2002, the last year for which data is available. The state’s 2,921 Asian owned firms had sales and receipts of $1.2 billion and provided jobs to 9,232 workers, according to the Census Bureau.

The kinds of jobs immigrants typically do, the so called “3-D”—dirty, difficult and dangerous: agricultural, food processing, day labor, cleaning offices and hotel rooms—are jobs which native born workers are conditioned to reject. Further, with the growing proportion of our youth opting for cleaner, white-collar work through education, far fewer workers are available for the 3-D jobs.

Instead of deporting immigrants we should welcome them and give them a clear path to citizenship. The American public will benefit from the full movement of undocumented workers into the economy. Legalizing immigrant workers will generate tax revenue which will provide an important boost to cash-strapped state and local governments. Legalizing undocumented workers would also eliminate unscrupulous employers’ ability to exploit immigrant’s vulnerability. It would raise American worker’s wages and working conditions by putting all workers on equal footing.

The homage to xenophobia itself jeopardizes our economy. Mississippi calls itself the “Hospitality State.” We should adhere to our slogan and be welcoming to our new residents—we all benefit by their presence and their industry.
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Bill Chandler is Executive Director of the Mississippi Immigrants Rights Alliance (MIRA).
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Copyright (C) 2010 by the Mississippi Forum 3/10

AMERICAN FORUM

By Kathleen Rogers

Climate change is a critical issue in the 21st century, and as we observe Women’s History Month we should bear in mind the effect of the environment on women. Women make up the majority of the earth’s population, and are most vulnerable to changes in climate and environment.

“The poor are not living in industrialized countries where the environment is distant -- where you have to go out to appreciate it. Our lives depend upon it," said Wangari Maathai, winner of the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize.

Problems such as air pollution, contaminated water, lack of adequate sanitation, disease vectors and degraded ecosystems are all risk factors for women and their children. In 2005, 1.1 billion people lacked access to safe and affordable drinking water, nearly 20 percent of the earth’s population, while 40 percent of the earth’s population lacked clean sanitation. Approximately 1.8 million children die every year as a result of diarrhea caused by lack of clean water and proper sanitation. That is an average of 4,500 children per day.

Air pollution can aggravate symptoms of cardiovascular and lung disease, and can increase blood pressure in women 50 and older more so than in their male counterparts. Indoor pollution has been named a "silent killer" among women. Approximately 1.5 women die annually as they inhale poisonous gases while cooking or heating their homes. Post-menopausal women who were exposed to lead early in life often suffer bone loss. This exposure also releases lead into the blood stream, which can precipitate kidney failure. Nearly half of all people in developing countries suffer from health problems caused by water and sanitation deficits -- and most of them are women.

Women play a critical role in the quality of the environment and often depend on natural resources. In places such as Sub-Saharan Africa and Central Asia, women are responsible for 60 percent to 80 percent of crops produced. When climate change affects their crops, domestic burdens are increased, which includes additional work to fetch water or collect fuel and fodder. As these domestic burdens increase, some young girls walk as much as 20 miles a day and because of time and fatigue, are unable to attend school. Without proper education, the needs and opinions of young women are seldom heard.

The World Health Organization encourages simple filtration and disinfection of household water. Improved or energy-efficient appliances to reduce exposures to indoor air pollution and washing hands with soap about 20 seconds can reduce diarrhea related illnesses by 40 percent. Education also is crucial – innovative prevention and treatment protocols need to be developed and implemented for women at high risk for environmental-related illnesses. Women in regions such as Africa and central Asia who are informed about environmental risks present in their homes and communities are better equipped to take appropriate action to reduce or eliminate exposure.

The United Nations says an estimated $9 billion investment would achieve universal access to clean water and sanitation. Consider that Europe spends more than $11 billion a year on ice cream. Every dollar invested in water yields an economic return of eight dollars in saved time, increased productivity and reduced health-care costs. Our economy cannot -- and will not -- achieve maximum sustainability without proper care of women.

Nearly all U.N. millennium development goals have implications for women and the environment. Since 2005, the U.N. has supported women’s roles in protecting biodiversity, indigenous knowledge and overseeing environmental resources.

In order to achieve true environmental justice, we need to empower women. As we take steps to sustain our environment we must not further undermine women’s increasing vulnerability on the planet. Women can play a larger role in the future of a sustainable environment and can be real catalysts for change. From the green-belt movement in Africa to women working for environmental justice in Southeast Asia, around the world women are making a difference.
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Kathleen Rogers is President of Earth Day Network -www.earthday.org.
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Copyright (C) 2010 by the American Forum. 3/10

AMERICAN FORUM

By Ralph Paige

When President Abraham Lincoln created the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) in 1862 he referred to it as the People’s Department. The problem is that its services have never been available to all the people. Although more recently, with the Clinton and Obama administrations, efforts have been made to correct discriminatory problems at the USDA, it's an unfortunate fact that the USDA’s history has been marred by rampant discrimination. This is why black farmers filed a 1997 lawsuit against the USDA that focused on discrimination in administration of its farm programs in the 1980s and into the 1990s.

The litigation -- referred to as Pigford vs. Glickman (now Pigford vs. Vilsack) and named after Tim Pigford a black farmer in North Carolina and then-Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman -- was settled in 1999, and more than 15,000 black farmers obtained relief for discrimination at the hands of the USDA. But the settlement itself triggered such an outpouring of pent-up frustration and demands for justice that more than 12 years later the case is still ongoing.

Black farmers originally needed to file claims by Oct. 12, 1999. While thousands of farmers met that deadline, many others were unaware of the lawsuit. As a result, the judge let people who missed the deadline petition to get into the settlement, providing they did so by Sept. 15, 2000. Again, thousands of farmers filed petitions and are now referred to as “late filers.”

Of these late filers, only 3 percent (2,700) were found eligible to file a claim in Pigford. This left a staggering 97 percent of late claimants (around 58,000 and more than 75 percent of all claimants) who were denied the opportunity.

Black farm groups and their advocates expressed concern that tens of thousands of black-farmer petitioners had been unable to file a claim. Many petitioned Congress and its leadership to resolve this issue. As a result, Congress included in the 2008 Farm Bill a provision to allow late filers into the suit, while establishing a budget of $100 million -- which unfortunately was not nearly enough to serve the farmers.

Since passage of the 2008 Farm Bill, President Obama proposed adding considerably more monies to bring the total to $1.25 billion for the Pigford lawsuit, an amount much closer to what likely will be needed to cover all proven claims. Based on that proposal, attorneys for black farmers and the government have negotiated a settlement of the late-filer lawsuit.

All well and good, but the job remains unfinished. The Obama administration has already submitted legislative language to Congress but the settlement cannot go forward until Congress appropriates the funds requested by President Obama, and they have set March 31 as a deadline to do so. Time is short, and the whole effort is teetering toward failure.

We at the Federation of Southern Cooperatives/Land Assistance Fund recognize that work with farmers requires far more than a lawsuit can provide. This is why for 43 years we have offered Southern black farmers assistance with cooperative development, farm management, debt restructuring, alternative crop suggestions, marketing expertise and a whole range of services to ensure family farm survivability.

Black farmers with late-filer claims, however, have waited for decades for relief for USDA denial of services and credit opportunities. In the 10 years since the original claim period closed, many of these farmers died, others lost their farms or left farming altogether. It is a tragic injustice that thousands of black farmers are still being denied relief for discriminatory behavior from their own government. The Federation of Southern Cooperatives/Land Assistance Fund, the Network of Black Farm Groups and Advocates, and the scores of organizations around the country supporting the network's efforts urge Congress to act expeditiously on providing necessary funding for the black farmer late-filer settlement.
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Paige is executive director of the Federation of Southern Cooperatives/Land Assistance Fund.
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Copyright (C) 2010 by the American Forum. 3/10

AMERICAN FORUM


By Martha Richards

When facing tough times, most Americans turn to the arts. We crank up our favorite songs on the radio, go to a movie, or settle in for an evening of “Dancing with the Stars.” And yet as our country struggles through one of its worst economic periods, our leaders seem oblivious to the pivotal role the arts can play in our recovery.

Seventy-five years ago our leaders made better use of our cultural strengths. When President Roosevelt led the country during the Great Depression of the 1930s, he understood that the arts generated hope and community pride, and he invested in them as part of his recovery strategy.

The centerpiece of his recovery program was the massive Works Progress Administration (WPA), and it supported arts, drama, media, oral history and literacy programs side by side with programs to construct public buildings and roads. The WPA employed more than 40,000 artists, including many of the best artists of the period, such as Eudora Welty, Zora Neale Hurston, Louise Nevelson, Langston Hughes, Orson Welles and Arthur Miller. These artists eventually became American cultural icons, but during the Depression, they were out of work along with everyone else.

During his election campaign, President Obama recognized that the country was facing a crisis of imagination. He campaigned on a platform of hope and convened a National Arts Policy Committee of 33 arts leaders. He promised to be a champion of the arts and said, “To remain competitive in the global economy, America needs to reinvigorate the kind of creativity and innovation that has made this country great.”

But in his recent State of the Union speech about the economic stimulus programs, the president did not include the arts. He announced that 2 million Americans had been hired because of his programs, and he spoke proudly of hiring construction and clean-energy workers, teachers, police officers, firefighters, first responders and correctional officers. He did not mention hiring artists.

To be fair, his administration hasn't completely ignored the arts in its recovery plans. The National Endowment for the Arts received $50 million of stimulus funds last year despite strong Republican opposition – but that is a miniscule percentage of the total Recovery Act package of $787 billion.

The total budget appropriation for the NEA this year is only $167.5 million – enough for about 7,600 jobs at a salary of $22,000 per year – the poverty level for a family of four. Does anyone seriously believe that such a meager investment is adequate to maintain the cultural vitality of a nation of 315 million people in a period of crisis?

It’s time for President Obama to include artists in his recovery plans. His strategy of offering tax breaks to small, private businesses won’t create the jobs artists need. We need federal employment programs like the WPA of the 1930s or the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act of the 1970s that create true public sector jobs.

Thousands of unemployed and under-employed artists are taking whatever jobs they can find these days. Instead of ignoring their talents, we should be hiring them to beautify our cities, spark the creativity of our children, ease the loneliness of our seniors, document our past, imagine our future and inspire us all with performances, workshops, books, exhibits and a wide range of other activities.

The next Zora Neale Hurston and Arthur Miller are standing in unemployment lines somewhere right now. Their creativity is among our country’s greatest assets. Let’s not waste it.
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Richards is founder and executive director of WomenArts; she is also co-creator of Support Women Artists Now Day.
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Copyright (C) 2010 by the American Forum. 3/10

AMERICAN FORUM

By Cindia Cameron

In March we look forward – eagerly anticipating the arrival of spring; and we look to the past – celebrating National Women’s History Month. Looking back, we might ask what our pioneer activists in women’s rights would say about tough choices working women still make to keep their families afloat. Looking forward, we can celebrate Women’s History Month by taking action to pass the Healthy Families Act.

One inspiration for action is the story of a young mother named Tahirah who lives in Denver, CO. At 26, Tahirah found a dream job: crew leader in an airport restaurant. The wages were low and the hours long. Still, the job offered a chance to supervise and a clear path to the management track. But there were two wrinkles: her preschool-age daughter has asthma and this job did not provide any paid sick days.

Tahirah managed to keep her job and home from falling apart – for a while. But there were times when her daughter was sick and her manager would not allow her to leave work. There were also times when Tahirah left her daughter home sick because she simply couldn’t risk being fired. One day her daughter was rushed to the hospital. A friend called to tell Tahirah to meet them there. But her manager didn’t give her the message for hours. Eventually she was forced to leave that job. She’s found others, but still none that offer the paid sick days she needs.

Everyone gets sick. Everyone deserves time to get better. The United States is the only developed nation in the world where no law provides this basic labor standard. Nearly 40 percent of private sector workers
in this country have no paid sick days. According to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, this number includes 78 percent of hotel workers and 85 percent of food service workers. It’s clear who suffers: struggling families, low-income working women, their children. However everyone in the community is affected.

As consumers we eat in restaurants where most servers face a choice between coming to work sick or losing income and possibly a job. As family members, many of us have parents or grandparents living in nursing homes where staff members face this same impossible choice.

Providing access to paid sick days will help struggling state budgets. Researchers in New Hampshire for example, found that workers with paid sick days are 14 percent more likely to visit a medical practitioner, which could translate into fewer severe illnesses and hospitalizations. They conclude that guaranteed paid sick days would lower medical costs by reducing emergency room and hospital use.

The solution for families, workplaces and public health is for Congress to pass the Healthy Families Act. This legislation would allow full-time workers to earn seven paid sick days each year to care for themselves or a family member. It would offer low-wage women in particular, the means to safeguard both their health and their jobs in these difficult economic times.

A national labor standard of paid sick days is a fitting way to honor women -- past, present and future -- by honoring their dual responsibilities: work and family.
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Cindia Cameron serves as organizing director for 9to5, National Association of Working Women, and chair of the Georgia Job/Family Collaborative.
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Copyright (C) 2010 by the American Forum. 3/10

AMERICAN FORUM

By Denis Hayes

Nuclear power has never lived up to the promises of its backers. Their latest claim – that nuclear energy represents an easy answer to global warming – has as much validity as that old industry chestnut of producing energy “too cheap to meter.” Let’s not be duped again.

Four decades ago, when I served as national coordinator for the first Earth Day, millions of Americans mobilized on behalf of the environment. This year, we know that the centerpiece of a healthy environment is safe, clean and sustainable energy. Climate change was a phrase unknown back in 1970; today it is part of our popular vocabulary. Halting the advance of global warming tops the priority list of environmental issues that threaten our well-being.

The nuclear industry – and some in Washington – would like us to believe that building new reactors will solve this threat. To hear them talk, the nuclear option sounds alluring. Certainly the promise of an energy source that is a low greenhouse gas emitter might carry some weight with those concerned about climate change. But let’s look at the facts.

Economics: No nuclear reactor has ever been built on time or on budget. That was what killed the market for new reactors in the 1970s. In recent months, tens of billions of dollars in taxpayer subsidies have been promised just to begin resuscitate the nuclear industry. Tax money is needed for this half-century-old technology because the private sector wants no part of it – with good reason. It is too risky. It is one more federal effort to socialize all risk and privatize all profit.

Equally worrisome is this fact: Nuclear is poised to soak up billions that could be invested far more prudently in hyper-efficiency and renewable energy. Energy efficiency can be achieved at a fraction of the cost of a new reactor, and produces immediate results. New reactors won’t come online for at least decade or more, meaning we’ll be that much farther behind in slowing global warming. Renewable energy produces no radioactive waste, bomb-grade materials, or terrorist risks.

Environmental responsibility: Greenhouse gases are the waste from our unchecked consumption of fossil fuels. The nuclear industry has skillfully wrapped itself in a mantle of green, but it has a massive waste problem of its own. We must not swap one problem for another.

Nearly 63,000 metric tons of highly radioactive nuclear fuel currently sits at “temporary” storage sites in 33 states. Plans to dispose of this waste at Yucca Mountain in Nevada have been abandoned after 35 contentious years. The U.S. is now back at the starting line in finding a place that will accept this deadly garbage.

Enough waste already exists to fill one Yucca Mountain. How responsible is it to talk of building new reactors that will produce tons more waste when we don’t have a place to get rid of what we’ve already got?

Security: Last week, President Obama warned that the risk of nuclear materials falling into the hands of terrorists is on the rise. Global leaders have pledged to reduce access to those materials which, even in minute amounts, could be used to fashion a deadly bomb.

The expansion of nuclear power, here and abroad, raises the very real threat that terrorists will see the trade, transport and storage of fissile materials as a tempting source for bomb-making. Even in the U.S., security of spent fuel is lax and experts warn it is a prime target for terrorists. Until the waste problem is permanently and safely resolved, that threat remains.

Four decades of environmental activism have produced tangible results on many fronts. The one problem we have yet to wrestle to the ground is energy. We started down a vigorous path of efficiency and renewables in the Carter Administration but the Reagan Administration crushed the effort.

Forty years ago, when invited to rally to the defense of their environment, Americans rose to the occasion. The last four decades have brought revolutionary changes in the healthiness of our air and water and the vitality of our natural areas.

We’ve been offered a lot of false promises and greenwashing during those years, and we have acquired what Hemingway called the indispensible “crap detector.” Only the most gullible are buying what the nuclear industry is selling.

The climate clock is ticking. Achieving a safe, self-reliant, prosperous future now will be more expensive and more painful than if we had simply stayed the course 30 years ago. Let’s not hop from the climate frying pan to the nuclear fire. Let’s not waste more time and money on an outdated nuclear technology that has already flunked the market test.
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Denis Hayes is the International Chairman of Earth Day 2010
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Copyright © 2010 by American Forum. 4/10

AMERICAN FORUM

By Linda A. Meric

On Tuesday, April 20, people across the nation will observe Equal Pay Day 2010 – representing the point when women’s wages finally catch up to men’s wages from last year. According to the most recent US Census Bureau statistics, women who work in full-time, year-round jobs earn, on average, 77 cents to every dollar earned by men working in full-time, year-round jobs.

For women of color, the wage gap is even wider. In 2008, the earnings for African American women were 67.9 percent of men's earnings and Latinas’ earnings were 58 percent of men's. As those pennies being lost add up, women and their families are being shortchanged thousands of dollars a year and hundreds of thousands of dollars over the course of a lifetime.

Reaching pay equity means more now than ever before.

According to the Center for American Progress report, A Woman’s Nation Changes Everything, women are now the breadwinner or co-breadwinner in two-thirds of all American families. With more women in the workforce, and more families reliant upon women’s paychecks to make ends meet, it’s clear to see how all of us – women and men – have such a huge stake in eliminating the wage gap.

The good news is that there is pending action that would positively impact the pay gap now. The Paycheck Fairness Act is federal legislation that passed the House last year. Now, the Senate is poised to take action and we must speak out.

Women were earning a mere 59 cents for every dollar a man earned when the Equal Pay Act was passed in 1963. Enforcement of the Equal Pay Act, and other civil rights laws, has helped narrow the wage gap. But huge disparities remained. In 2009, President Barack Obama signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Restoration Act into law, helping ensure that victims of discrimination have fair access to the courts. But we’re not there yet. Additional steps are needed.

One such step, the Paycheck Fairness Act, would close loopholes in the Equal Pay Act, enhance remedies, prohibit retaliation against workers who share wage information, and provide the government with new tools to monitor and address pay inequities. Passage is critical -- particularly in these economically perilous times when the self-sufficiency of women and their families is so at risk.
LaTerrell Bradford – a Denver woman who testified about pay inequity before her state legislature– calls equal pay a “non-negotiable.”

She was working as part of an all-female support team when a man was hired in the same job classification. Her supervisor – a woman – discovered that he was to earn much more than any of the women were earning. She went to human resources and the company agreed to pay everyone at that higher rate. “It would not have been fair,” Bradford says, “nor legal, to sit next to him, do the exact same work and have him be paid more.”

Are women workers really worth less than men?

Any American of good conscience would say “no.” We must ensure that our laws and workplace practices say “no” as well by ensuring family-flexible workplace policies, basic labor standards like paid sick days and, yes, an end to the wage gap.

At the rate we’re going, we won’t see pay equity until the year 2057. Women and their families just cannot afford to wait that long! Congress must tighten wage disparity laws now to ensure equity for every worker.

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Meric is National Director of 9to5, National Association of Working Women.
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Copyright (C) 2010 by the American Forum. 4/10

MISSOURI FORUM

By John Hickey

According to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate in Missouri is 9.4 percent. Behind this statistic are thousands of workers struggling to pay their bills and keep food on the table. I should know – I just went back to work after being unemployed for over eight months. So the jobs issue is important to me. I am also the father of two young boys, so I also want to preserve our environment by addressing climate change.

What are our state representatives doing to address this twin crisis? Unfortunately, too many of them are playing partisan games instead of taking care of the people’s business. Recently, 60 representatives co-sponsored a measure claiming that climate change science is “fraudulent,” “deliberate concealment,” and “manipulation.” The measure indicates there is no need to take action to address climate change, and that proposals to reduce greenhouse gases would lead to more unemployment.

Of course, the vast majority of scientists agree that climate change is real and dangerous, so on that point the legislators are clearly wrong. But I want to focus on the jobs argument, because these legislators are wrong here as well. In fact, Missouri is full of examples of how promoting clean energy creates jobs. Look at the ABB plant in Jefferson City, where 400 workers make transformers for wind generators. Look at the CG Power Systems plant in Franklin County, where workers also make transformers for wind generators. The plant is now expanding its factory and hiring over 100 new workers. Smith Electric Vehicles has begun assembly of battery-powered delivery vans in Platte County near the Kansas City Airport. The Ford plant in Claycomo is assembling hybrid vehicles, and recently added a third shift to keep up with demand.

All of these plants are putting Missourians to work in the clean energy economy. All of these plants are also part of international corporations who can put manufacturing facilities anywhere. Yet, instead of embracing the clean energy economy and generating new jobs and prosperity here, our legislators are telling the world that we in Missouri would rather just stick our head in the sand.

Our state representatives should be debating what is the most efficient and cost-effective way to create good jobs and build a low-carbon economy. They must stop wasting time on stunts designed to score partisan political points.

The Center for American Progress recently issued a report outlining the impact on Missouri of a Green Economic Recovery Program. This report estimates that a $1.8 billion investment in the program would generate over 43,000 new jobs to retrofit buildings, expand mass transit, modernize the power grid, and increase freight rail.

Fortunately, we Missourians have an opportunity to inject some sanity into the political process here, and get serious about attracting more clean energy jobs.

We must look to leaders who have a legitimate plan to build a clean energy economy and put Missourians back to work. We cannot let partisan politics determine the fate of our economy and our environment. These issues are far too important.
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Hickey is political chair of the Missouri Chapter of the Sierra Club.
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Copyright (C) 2010 by the Missouri Forum. 4/10

KENTUCKY FORUM

By Teri Blanton

Quietly, behind the scenes, state and industry officials are planning the largest toxic waste disposal system in Kentucky’s history. The system would deal with 100 million tons of hazardous materials every year.

Where is this system going to be located? Under our land.

No, I’m not kidding.

Right now, we’re putting this waste into our atmosphere and into our lungs. Coal burning power plants operating in Kentucky spew out nearly 100 million tons of carbon dioxide pollution every year, along with a long list of other toxic gases. Most people recognize excessive amounts of carbon and other pollutants in our atmosphere as a serious health and economic problem. Inevitably, and probably soon, federal law and international treaties are going to require that we greatly reduce the amount of our carbon pollution.

Utilities see it coming, and feel some urgency about it. Two problems, though: it conflicts with Kentucky’s mine and burn as much coal as possible for as long as possible obsession, and it is prohibitively expensive.

The first problem is being dealt with as follows: we’ll make modest gestures toward energy efficiency and renewables, the approaches that would actually reduce our pollution. But at the same time, we’ll disparage those solutions as inadequate so that we can keep our obsession with mining and burning the coal that fuels our campaign coffers.

And we’ll even use the emphasis on developing alternative sources of energy to coal’s advantage by declaring that, in Kentucky, synthetic liquids and gas derived from coal qualify as “alternative” fuels.

In terms of cost, investors aren’t willing to risk their capital when there is no possibility of eventual payback, and when the public health liability will never go away.

But that doesn’t deter some Kentucky officials. Taxpayers can help foot the bill, and we can exempt corporations from long-term liability for the pollution they leave permanently with us. And then they’ll require utility customers to pay the cost when we are too far down that path to turn back.

This scenario has been unfolding in the Kentucky General Assembly. The House has been the starting point for proposals that offer hundreds of millions of dollars in subsidies for companies to convert coal to some other burnable form. Peabody Energy – when legislation was being considered during a 2007 special session called just for them – made it clear that they would do no such business in Kentucky if taxpayers did not help foot the bill.

In the current session, we see a series of proposals in the House Natural Resources Committee designed to create the legal and financing structures to cement the state’s continued unhealthy dependence on coal. The most egregious proposes to greatly expand the powers of state officials to seize private property for the benefit of private companies needing a place to store their carbon waste. The proposal would give the state ownership of all the deep rock strata under our land, 5,500 feet and deeper.

On top of that, after a 10-year closure period, the companies that put their waste under our land are free of any permanent liability. They’ll be long gone, but the waste will be ours to keep forever.

All of this is for a technology that hasn’t been proven feasible on a 100-million-tons-a-year scale, or anything close to it.

Another proposal gives private companies the power to use eminent domain to grab the land they need to build and operate pipelines to move around their carbon dioxide, from power plants to disposal sites. As if letting these handful of companies take our land weren’t enough, House members also agreed to have taxpayers help the companies pay for their pipelines.

It’s rather amazing that this massive toxic waste disposal system, that does nothing to address excessive carbon production, is being developed with little public knowledge or discussion. There is little apparent awareness in the General Assembly itself of what is going on.

We know that we will be burning coal to make electricity for some years to come. The Kentucky General Assembly is taking this to an extreme by supporting programs that will obligate us to mine and burn as much coal as possible at whatever the cost. If giving our land, our health and our tax dollars are what legislators believe they owe to the coal industry, then the cost is too high.
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Blanton is a fellow with Kentuckians For The Commonwealth.
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Copyright (C) 2010 by the Kentucky Forum. 3/10

SOUTH CAROLINA FORUM


By Frank Knapp Jr.

Small businesses are paying the price for an economic crisis they didn't create. To find solutions to this crisis, our government needs to listen to small-business owners, not the financial behemoths that caused the meltdown and then passed the buck.

When Tom Ledbetter became facilitator of training programs for entrepreneurs and small-business owners in Columbia, S.C., graduates typically would be able to take action to achieve their goals. Not anymore. Now, classes are smaller and graduates routinely are frozen out of financing necessary for them to pursue their dreams.

More and more small businesses are being rejected for loans. It doesn’t matter what the business is; whether it be a glass company in Charleston with 80 employees, an auto parts company with orders in hand from Honda, a Greenville cabinet-making business with large orders pending, a multi-generation Columbia business looking to diversify by putting up $2 million and prime property, or a Hilton Head construction supply company that had never missed a loan payment—all have been rejected by lenders.

Management consultants familiar with these banking decisions have called them illogical and unreasonable. Yet, they have become routine in today’s lending environment.

At a recent conference of Southeastern Small Business Lenders, the consensus was that for small businesses to qualify for loans, they'd have to change -- become more “credit worthy,” be growing or stable and hold more personal assets. Never mind that many creditworthy businesses are already being rejected for loans.

This is an obvious recipe for a stagnant economy for the next three or more years.

At the same conference, a leading Georgia economist told the audience that small businesses can and will create most of the new jobs our economy needs. Everyone nodded in agreement.

Small businesses will lead us out of this economic crisis -- if we let them. Congress must insist that large financial institutions start making loans, infuse funds into community banks for the same purpose, and raise the credit union business-lending cap.

However, even if we increase lending to small businesses to energize our economy, we must make sure small businesses never again pay the price for abusive and greedy behavior by major financial institutions.

The South Carolina Small Business Chamber of Commerce has joined business organizations such as the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Business for Shared Prosperity, American Business Leaders for Financial Reform and the Main Street Alliance, in support of the proposed Consumer Financial Protection Agency (CFPA).

The CFPA would be an independent federal agency that promotes financial product safety, exposes unsafe products and services, and encourages accountability and fair competition.

Unfortunately, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce opposes the CFPA, saying that it would choke off credit to small businesses. The chamber is simply out of touch with the realities of the present crisis.

With annual dues of $50,000 and more, the Chamber clearly does not represent small businesses. Internal Revenue Service documents show that in 2008 the organization received a third of its revenue from a mere 19 members -- each giving more than $1 million -- the largest donation being $15.3 million.

While the chamber cries crocodile tears for small businesses, it in truth represents the financial giants responsible for today's economic crisis. These big-dues-paying chamber members were first in line for bailouts and loans from the federal government and now oppose government oversight offered by a CFPA.

South Carolina's 103,000 small businesses need federal action to restore effective lending, empower smaller financial institutions with an ability to make more small-business loans, and protect the country from future economic turmoil. They need the CFPA.

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Knapp is president and CEO of The South Carolina Small Business Chamber of Commerce.
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Copyright (C) 2010 by the South Carolina Forum. 3/10

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Restoring Dignity to Former Felons

KENTUCKY FORUM

By Homer S. White

State Senator Damon Thayer is preventing a proposed amendment to the Kentucky constitution that would restore voting rights to former felons from moving forward. Furthermore, nine of the 12 members of Thayer’s State and Local Government Committee say that they intend to support the measure, but Thayer still refuses to let it be heard. Surely this is an important proposal that merits full consideration (the proposal passed the House last month with strong bipartisan support).

Nearly 129,000 former felons in Kentucky, who have served their prison time, probation and parole, have not been able to navigate the existing pardoning process which requires an individual pardon from the governor. Tens of thousands more Kentuckians will be in the same situation in coming years. Conversations with former felons indicate that most have not heard about the pardon process and don't know how to initiate it. Even officials in the Kentucky justice system and the state's county clerk offices often don't know how to help people through the process.

We have to bear in mind that persons recently released from prison are at a particularly vulnerable point in their lives. If we want them to re-engage in society in a positive way, we should provide them with every possible encouragement to do so, and work to remove hurdles that stand in their way.

The current pardon process is entirely dependent upon the sitting governor. It's less complicated under Gov. Beshear, but was quite difficult under Gov. Fletcher. A civil right as fundamental as the right to vote should not be subject to the whim or favor of any one individual.

Thayer alludes to the fact that the current proposal, as currently written, does not automatically restore rights to those who have committed murder or sexual abuse. He speculates that this may create “two classes” of felons – those who regain their rights when they have completed their sentences and those who must still rely “on the favor of the governor.”

This is a point worthy of consideration.

I would prefer to restore rights without exception. After all, the most dangerous voters are those who use their rights to advance their own interests at the expense of the common good.

For example, lobbyists for business interests routinely support laws that give their business a special and unfair advantage, often at taxpayer expense. Yet, we would never think of denying such persons the vote. The right to vote is just that sacred.

A former murderer, on the other hand, never has an opportunity to vote for politicians who pledge to "make murder easier," so his vote is far less likely to damage the common good. Accordingly, there is even less reason to deny this person the right to participate in our democracy.

Nevertheless, the current proposal, as it stands, has widespread support, and it would at least restore rights to nearly all former felons. It’s a fair compromise.

The proposal is more than just a technical device to make the restoration process cheaper and more reliable than tens of thousands of individual pardons, though it will certainly accomplish this aim.

Restoring the vote will also restore the dignity of the human person. Picture a young woman who gets mixed up in drugs and goes to prison. Many of us know such a person -- she may be a childhood friend, someone we went to school with, a relative, even our child. By allowing her the right to vote after she serves her time sends a message to this young woman that she has dignity, that we need and value her positive involvement in society, that we want her to rebuild her life, and that when she does so we are delighted to welcome her back.

Former felons have served their debt to society. Kentucky must allow democracy, dignity, and reason to have a chance.
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White is a professor of mathematics at Georgetown College.
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Copyright (C) 2010 by the Kentucky Forum. 3/10

MINNESOTA EDITORIAL FORUM

By Bruce Corrie

We are inundated with stories about the costs and burdens of immigrants. This is a myopic view as it focuses only on fiscal costs. What’s missing is a larger picture of how immigrants interact in our economy – as entrepreneurs, consumers, workers, human capital, civic capital, fiscal capital, cultural capital and global capital. I call this immigrant capital.

When we look at immigrant capital we can see a different picture of the role of immigrants in our economy.

One just has to visit certain commercial corridors in the Twin Cities to see how immigrant entrepreneurs have vitalized run-down neighborhoods by providing services and jobs, and serving as role models in their communities. Immigrant entrepreneurship is also occurring at the high tech level in areas such as alternative energy, information systems and manufacturing. The number of Asian and Latino firms is growing at a much faster rate than all the other firms in the state.

Immigrants consume goods and services. Analysis of census data for Minnesota shows that the buying power of Asian, Latino and African immigrants is around $5 billion. Nationally, African immigrant buying power is estimated to be larger than the GDP of most countries in Africa – an estimated $45 billion. Immigrants also introduce new products and services to the local economy.

Immigrant workers complement the local workforce by working in areas such as the meat packing industry or the hospitality industry. They are also serving as doctors and high tech workers in rural Minnesota. Minnesota is facing a looming worker shortage as the population ages. In this context, Asian and Latino workers are an increasing share of the prime worker base in Minnesota.

Immigrants also add to the quality of human capital in Minnesota as many immigrants from Asia and Africa have skill levels higher than the native population. They are also becoming an increasing presence in rural Minnesota schools that are facing declines in student population.

Immigrants play an important role in the civic life of the state. Apart from being elected to the legislature and local offices, they also have a presence in the Governor’s cabinet. Many serve as a vast army of volunteers to all political parties actively engaging in the political process.

Immigrants also add to the fiscal revenue of the state. Asian, African and Latino workers are going to be an increasing share of the prime tax base of the future, currently paying about $787 million in state and local taxes in Minnesota.

Immigrants add to the cultural capital in Minnesota’s theatre, arts, music, dance, and cuisine. They have added new festivals to the cultural landscape. For example, we now have the annual dragon festival and boat race that is increasingly becoming very popular in the summer. Chicken curry could soon be the new hot dish of Minnesota.

Immigrant global networks are increasingly being tapped to improve the state’s competitiveness. Before major trade missions to India, China, Mexico and Japan, Minnesota governors have tapped into the local immigrant community to help build bridges into the future. Immigrants have responded with new global organizations such as the India Chamber of Commerce and the U.S. China Business Council. These networks are also seen in the nonprofit and cultural areas from providing immediate responses to the tsunami in Sri Lanka and the earthquake in Haiti to offering long term assistance to countries around the world.

Further analysis of the impact of immigrants on various sectors of the Minnesota economy shows a more detailed picture of immigrant capital: the approximately 4,000 Liberians in the health care sectors in Minnesota have an estimated $300 million impact on the economy and the almost 2,500 workers of Mexican origin in the meatpacking industry have an estimated $432 million impact on the larger economy. When we look at the progress of the Hmong in Minnesota we see a great return on our investment. For example, from 1990 to 2007 Hmong poverty rates and welfare dependency have declined dramatically while homeownership rates, college graduation rates and workforce participation rates have increased significantly.

Immigrant capital is making Minnesota and America strong. It’s time to change the paradigm of how we view immigrants in the economy.
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Corrie is an economist and dean of the college of business and organizational leadership at Concordia University in Saint Paul, Minnesota.
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Copyright © 2010 by the Minnesota Editorial Forum. 3/10