Friday, October 24, 2008

One Consequence of Question One


By Leo V. Sarkissian

Meet Caitlin Hadley. She is proof of how well individuals with Down syndrome and other special needs succeed when given the chance. She's also just one example of why we should not eliminate income taxes through Question One as doing so would severely hurt services to children and adults with disabilities and others.

Caitlin was hired as an assembler at Milton Roy in Acton. She performed well there with an outstanding record. When a quality control position became available, Caitlin was a natural fit. After a short time on the job, she was promoted to quality control specialist. In this role, she checks pump subassemblies for accuracy. But Caitlin doesn't stop at her job description. She is extremely helpful and occasionally mentors substitute assemblers who are learning the job.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

A Rescue Package for Working Women

By Ellen Bravo

Wall Street tycoons behave irresponsibly, bring the country to financial brink, hold out their hands for an eleven-figure bailout -- and lobbyists applaud that as a rescue.

Women achieve daily miracles fulfilling responsibilities to their employers and their families, ask for modest protections so they won’t be fired for having a sick kid -- and lobbyists denounce that as mandates.

What’s wrong with this picture?

Not so long ago, we were surrounded by ashtrays and smokers wherever we worked, ate or traveled. Babies sat on our laps in the car. Most paints were lead-based.

In each case, public health experts alerted us to the dangers. Values shifted; what once seemed normal no longer met the test of public acceptability. Groups of concerned citizens petitioned government representatives to do their job and set new standards.

By Margaret Martin Barry and Penny Berger

Make no mistake – the so-called “Civil Rights” Initiative currently on Nebraska’s ballot has only a negative connection to the Civil Rights Movement in our country.
The initiative is intended to put an end to what remains of affirmative action. Discrimination and exclusion on the basis of race and gender have made a mockery of our democratic ideals. Affirmative action has been the principle means of achieving the inclusion that was the goal of the Civil Rights Act.

Affirmative action as a tool to achieve equality is admittedly an imperfect instrument. It is also the only tool that has shown any capacity to address the issues of racism and gender discrimination across America.

Although the Civil Rights Act of 1964 represented progress toward the goals of our democracy, most people understood that the new law, by itself, could not achieve racial and gender equality. Specific steps were needed to change the habits and institutions of discrimination and exclusion. Affirmative action became an enforcement mechanism designed to give meaning to the Act. It required employers and educational institutions to act in ways that would ensure participation and acceptance of minorities and women.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Amendment 48 Goes Too Far



By Patricia Schroeder

My very first job after graduating from Harvard Law School was as a part-time lawyer for Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains in Denver. I was working on cases related to expanding access to birth control to all couples regardless of their marital status. At the time the birth control pill was recently approved as safe, but it was not yet legal in all states for all women. The Supreme Court in 1965 established basic privacy rights to birth control, but only for women who could produce a marriage license.

Fast forward to 2008, 40 years later. In my worst nightmare, it never crossed my mind that voters in Colorado would be considering a constitutional amendment that could outlaw birth control pills. Emergency contraceptives could also be illegal under Proposition 48, a form of birth control that if taken up to 72 hours after intercourse can prevent an unwanted pregnancy, especially used by rape and incest victims.

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By Erin Noble

This election Missouri voters will have the opportunity to secure clean, renewable energy and more energy independence for our state. Backed by the names of 163,000 Missourians, a statewide Clean Energy Initiative has been certified by the Secretary of State and will appear on the November ballot as Proposition C.

The initiative requires the investor-owned utilities Ameren, Kansas City Power & Light, Aquila, and Empire to obtain 15 percent of their electricity from renewable sources by 2021. The initiative defines renewable energy as wind, solar, biomass (not to be confused with corn ethanol) and small hydropower.

A vast majority of Missourians support the Clean Energy Initiative because Proposition C works for our economy, for Missouri schools, for public health and for the environment, while protecting consumers from high-energy costs. Kansas City Power & Light also announced its support earlier this year, joining a diverse coalition of labor, public health, environmental and faith-based organizations that endorse Proposition C, including the United Steelworkers, Restoring Eden - Christians for Environmental Stewardship, and Republicans for Environmental Protection.


By Bill Faith

Ohio partisans have set aside their usual election-year differences and have joined together to urge a “yes’’ vote on Issue 5. Gov. Ted Strickland, a Democrat, agrees with Republican legislative leaders on this one. The two major party contenders for Ohio attorney general are also in agreement.

Issue 5 asks voters to accept or reject Ohio’s new law that caps interest rates on payday loans at 28 percent annually, down from 391 percent APR allowed under the old law. Ohio lawmakers approved the 28 percent interest rate cap after a year-long legislative debate. Ohio legislators authorized payday lending in 1995. By 2007, Ohio had nearly 1,600 payday storefronts -- and payday lenders had more than 300,000 Ohio customers trapped in a cycle of debt, contributing to everything from a rise in demand for food pantries to an increase in home mortgage foreclosures.

While it’s easy for some to blame the victim, our legislators rightly concluded that the problem with payday loans is their flawed design. They are very easy to get but very hard to repay.

By Angela Onwuachi-Willig

For years, affirmative action opponents have pointed to stigma as a reason for dismantling the policy. They have argued that affirmative action engenders feelings of inferiority and dependency in racial minorities and unfairly burdens racial minorities with others’ doubts in their abilities.

Do not believe the hype. The Nebraska Civil Rights Initiative, which would end affirmative action in the state, would cause a startling lack of diversity in Nebraska’s universities. In the summer and fall of 2007, I, along with Professor Emily Houh of the University of Cincinnati College of Law and Professor Mary Campbell of University of Iowa Sociology, explored the relationship between stigma and law school affirmative action admissions policies by conducting a survey of both white students and students of color at seven, high-ranking public law schools in United States.

Four of these schools—the University of Cincinnati, the University of Iowa, the University of Michigan, and the University of Virginia—employed race-based affirmative action when our subject class—the Class of 2009—was admitted, while the remaining three—UC Berkeley, UC Davis, and the University of Washington—did not use such programs. In conducting our study, we generated new descriptive evidence that counters the stigma arguments that are commonly advanced against affirmative action.


By Deirdre Bowen , J.D., Ph.D

On November 4, Coloradoans are being asked to vote on the Colorado Civil Rights Initiative which proposes, among other things, to ban affirmative action in college admissions. Make no mistake in thinking that this proposal supports equality. Passage of Amendment 46 would be a giant step backwards.

The campaign incorrectly asserts that passage of similar anti-affirmative action initiatives in California, Washington and Michigan did not end in the dire results that opponents of such bans predicted. Ask the under-represented minority students who attend schools in those states if they agree.

A recent national study I conducted of 335 high achieving under-represented minority students majoring in the hard sciences from 33 states shows grim results for those students attending schools in the aftermath of anti-affirmative action campaigns.


By Nell Levin

Imagine earth-shaking explosions, rock and debris flying through the air, and mountains blasted to smithereens by explosions 100 times more powerful than those that blew up the federal building in Oklahoma City. When the dust settles, the remaining land looks like another planet: no trees, no plants, no animals -- just a barren moonscape.

These are the shocking images of Jeff Barrie’s documentary, "Kilowatt Ours," that prompted me to write the song, “Don’t Blow Up the Mountain.”

Although I don’t live in Appalachia, I have a great love for the culture of the mountains. I play old-time music and love the rollicking beat of a group of fiddles and banjos playing together. But who will teach these age-old fiddle tunes to the next generation if communities are forced from the mountains and figuratively and literally torn apart?

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By Bryan Warner

Emerging from the stifling heat of Independence Hall, where the 1787 Constitutional Convention was held in a closed-door, shut-window session, a sweltering Benjamin Franklin was asked by a passing woman, “Well, Doctor, what have we got, a republic or a monarchy?” Franklin replied, “A republic -- if you can keep it.”

Franklin’s challenge speaks to the very foundation of our nation. If we are to have a government of the people, by the people and for the people, it requires that we the people put a bit of effort into choosing those who would represent us.

With a ballot that elects more statewide officials than most other states, North Carolina voters bear that responsibility more than many of their peers. For instance, this fall we will elect nine members of the Council of State, an executive-branch body made up of officials often appointed by the governor in other states, such as the commissioners of agriculture, labor and insurance.

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By Kathleen Taylor

America is in the midst of an election season, nearing an Election Day with what likely will be far-reaching consequences. Public interest is extraordinarily high, and candidates are debating many critical issues. Yet we have heard little or nothing about the Constitution and its Bill of Rights – the touchstone of our individual freedoms.

The most significant words of the U.S. Constitution may be the first three: “We the people.” Not “I the King,” not “I the Grand Religious Leader,” not even “I the elected President.” Our governing structure was created by the people, and ensuring that it works for the people is a continuing legal, moral, and political journey.

By Patricia Cain

The proponents of Proposition 8 have unleashed an ad in which a law professor proclaims that unless marriage rights are denied to same-sex couples, churches risk losing their tax exemptions. The claim is pure nonsense and any lawyer who makes such a claim should apologize for misleading the many religious leaders and congregations in this state who, because they are not legal experts, rely on those of us who are.

Our country was founded on the principle of separation of church and state. The U.S. Constitution guarantees separation of church and state. It also guarantees that an individual’s right of religious liberty is protected in every state in this country.

The California constitution provides similar guarantees. The California Supreme Court, the institution charged with construing the California constitution to ensure that it applies to all Californians equally, recognized the importance of these guarantees in its decision in the marriage cases. As the Court explained:

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Friday, October 17, 2008

Merit is More than Numbers

By Jose J. Soto and Deborah Waire Post

Most people think of affirmative action in the context of access to education. Whether we call it affirmative action or diversity, there is a widely shared belief that any process that considers race or gender in evaluating an application for admission is unfair. Actually, the reverse is true.

Those of us who support affirmative action also oppose an admissions policy that relies exclusively on numbers because we believe that a person is more than a number. Schools and testing agencies promote the use of test scores or an index created from the grade point average and the test scores to decide who is in and who is out. In the rarified world of psychometricians, a point difference on a test score may be meaningless, but in the imaginations of parents and students, "fair" means who are "first" or who has the highest number. What most parents do not know is that the game is rigged. Just as an “A” in an honors English class is worth more than an “A” in a regular English class, an “A” from an elite school is worth more than an “A” from a school farther down the educational pecking order.

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By Cynthia Richards

As Election Day nears, it’s hard not having the new political thriller “Cassandra, Chanting” on my mind. Written by an anonymous “election world insider,” it is about a race to reveal a high-tech plan to fix the upcoming presidential election after warnings about the precariousness of electronic voting have gone unheeded.

The novel’s title is apt. Surely all of us in the election integrity movement who have been speaking out about the dangers of this technology have felt like the mythical Trojan seer. Being dismissed as half-baked lunatics goes with the territory -- no matter how well-founded our concerns are. Recently, however, many states have begun to listen, and have taken bold action to protect the vote. Unfortunately, Missouri isn’t among them.

Missourians for Honest Elections has been working to alert Missouri voters and public officials about the issues surrounding electronic voting for several years. Unlike Cassandra, we don’t have the gift of prophecy. What we have – not acquired from Apollo but through our own dogged research is the gift of facts. The following are some of the most sobering:

By Suzanne Petroni
We’re in the waning days of the Bush administration and the ideologues are working furiously to get in their last licks. Women, including the most underprivileged and poor in the world, are their target yet again.

A third of the world's population lives on less than $2 a day. The vast majority are women and children. Many are forced into marriage at 10 or 12 years of age. Many have six to 10 children, because they have no access to education or services, and no authority to decide on sexual matters in their marriages. As a result, more than 500,000 women die each year just because they get pregnant: they gave birth too young, too old, too often, or they live too far away from any trained health care provider. And increasingly, they are becoming infected with HIV/AIDS.

Controlling one’s own reproductive decisions is important for all women, but especially for women in poor families. Birth control is a critical component in ensuring that rates of unwanted pregnancy and abortion continue to drop, and that women and their children are able to live healthy lives.

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Thursday, October 9, 2008

Which Side Are You On?


By Ellen Bravo

It can happen anywhere.

Recently, I sat in a room in Milwaukee filled with people clutching Bibles and babies and spewing venom. They were visibly enraged.

Granted, there’s a lot to be angry about these days: the persistence of poverty in our community, the lack of resources for our children’s education, the number of people who can’t afford health care, the gang of hoodlums on Wall Street holding a gun to our heads, the fact that hard-working parents can be fired for staying home to care for a sick child, and the continuing number of soldiers in harm’s way.

But the object of the rage of folks surrounding me wasn’t any of these things. It was the loving, long-term, committed relationships of people who happen to love someone of the same gender.

We were at a Milwaukee school board meeting, debating a resolution to end discrimination in benefits for same-sex couples in non-bargaining unit positions – estimated to be about 1 percent of staff in those jobs. The cost isn’t very much, especially considering an earlier item on the agenda about the need to retain experienced employees. Treat people right and they’re more likely to stick around.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

A Mom Before The Prom

By Cristina Page

Now that the national attention on Bristol Palin's pregnancy is fading (for the time being) it seems the only discussion it inspired was about John McCain's vetting process and, by extension, his decision-making abilities. But there is another far more important subject raised by the 17-year-old's pregnancy. For decades, teen pregnancy has been viewed as a problem, a danger to the children of young mothers and a hurdle to the success of the adolescent mothers.

But recent public displays of contraceptive failure by girls of visibility and means gives the misleading appearance that teen motherhood might be a lifestyle upgrade. Clearly one of the exacerbating factors is that someone like Bristol Palin is part of what feels like a growing trend: the normalizing of teen pregnancy and teen motherhood in the United States. Bristol is not alone in suggesting that to be a 17-year-old mother is not only acceptable, but exciting. Last year Jamie Lynn Spears, Britney's then 16-year-old sister, had her baby. (The Spears', it's worth noting, were proponents of abstinence-only too.) Last year also featured the movie Juno, in which star Ellen Page played a 16-year-old whose quick-wit and sarcasm made her unwanted pregnancy seem as challenging as a bad case of acne. The attention garnered by each of these girls stripped away layers of what had for years been cautions against this very fate.


By Mark Stewart

For the last two years, as Lorain County auditor, I have felt obligated to fight against the city of Lorain’s retroactive tax-abatement program because it’s illegal, unfair, arbitrary, and harmful to county residents and institutions. The city of Lorain has found a way to shift its tax responsibilities to the rest of the state. Now, I feel obligated to bring this program to broader attention as it threatens to harm to all Ohioans.

In 2006, Lorain’s city council amended its previous tax-abatement ordinance to begin offering 15-year, 100 percent property tax abatements on homes on the city’s west side, most of which were already built and occupied, in return for exorbitant fees averaging $7,000 per home.

Basically, new home owners can pay a one-time application fee in lieu of paying property taxes for 15 years. Good deal, right? For the city it certainly is, because the money paid to get abatement is a "fee" and not a "tax." Under this scheme the city gets its hands on a windfall that doesn't come with requirements to fund services. So that means less money provided for education. Less money provided to libraries. Less money provided to programs serving the developmentally disabled. Property taxes come with specific allocations, but this "application fee" won't. So it's a sweet deal for the city, because without those required allocations they are free to shortchange on public services.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Securing a Greener Future for Kentucky


By Doug Doerrfeld

Sweden recently set on a path to become the world’s first “oil-free economy” within 15 years by replacing all fossil fuels with renewables. As a result, entrepreneurs rushed to develop new ways of generating energy from the wind, sun and tides, from wood chips, agricultural waste, and garbage. Economic growth rates climbed. We learned that when nations "decarbonizes," their economies reap immediate rewards.

In recent weeks we’ve heard significant announcements in solar breakthroughs, from gigantic generating plants to new ways to store solar energy. We are on the threshold of the day when nearly every Kentucky home and business could be generating electricity and hot water.

With technology changing so fast, with renewable energy poised to deliver significant levels of power on a cost-competitive basis, Gov. Steve Beshear was right to ask the Energy Cabinet to develop a new comprehensive energy plan. Though Kentucky’s current plan is just a few years old, it relies heavily on coal and does more to reinforce old power (both energy production and the politically entrenched) than to transform our economy.

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By Rebecca Lightsey

The excitement and optimism that accompany a new school year can fade quickly when a disciplinary problem surfaces at school.

School discipline is a serious matter -- particularly when it means that a student will be removed from the regular classroom for a long period of time, or when the court becomes involved.

It is serious for the student, whose permanent school or court record may be affected; it is serious for the parent, who must make sure that behavior problems are not undermining their child’s capacity to learn and that the school is applying discipline appropriately and equitably; and serious for the school, which must maintain a safe learning environment while constantly evaluating the long-term impacts of its disciplinary policies.

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