Friday, February 27, 2009

Hope in Unlikely Places: Citizen Solutions

By Eleanor LeCain

In his address to Congress, President Obama acknowledged that hope is found in unlikely places; now he can tap into people in those unlikely places to renew America.

People expect the president to solve an array of formidable challenges like creating good-paying jobs, providing health care, strengthening energy independence, and improving public schools.

Fortunately, the president can draw on the experience of the most accomplished Americans, not only the well-known wise men and women selected for the Cabinet, but regular people who solved these problems in their own communities.

Click Here to Read Full Op-ed

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Is This the Plan to Save the Day?


By Dana Beasley Brown

As a mother, I’m fed up with the questionable choices made by the leaders who are entrusted to serve and protect their citizens. As a resident of Kentucky, I need to know that our leadership is willing to invest in the life that my son will have here. I need to know that when he’s old enough to go to school, he’ll have every opportunity to learn and succeed as well as his friends in Maryland and his cousins in California.

And I need to know that the air he breathes and the water he drinks is just as safe here as it is anyplace else and that he will experience a community in which people are treated fairly and justly.

Three little pieces of news led me to believe that perhaps a change had come to the Commonwealth and that we were on our way to a Kentucky I could be proud of. First, our elected officials started echoing Rep. Jim Wayne’s call for a comprehensive tax overhaul. Second, some House Republicans proposed a plan to expand the sales tax to a few of our untaxed services. Third, after years of watching our children’s class sizes swell, our teachers' pay fail to keep up, our justice system and health services leave more and more people behind, and our colleges become unaffordable, even Senate President David Williams admitted that we need new revenue.

Monday, February 23, 2009

An Economic Stimulus That Keeps on Giving


By Pat Willis

Like most states, Georgia is in the midst of budget cutting and juggling finances to stay afloat. This is a reality and it is important now to maintain a solid foundation for future growth when better times return. And they will.

But how can we as a country and a state make this long-term debt pay off for future generations rather than burdening our children and grandchildren with payments for years to come?

Even in the best of times, Georgia's children haven’t fared well, and it does not bode well for Georgia's future economic growth. Ranking at No. 40 according to the 2008 Kids Count report issued by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, health, education, safety, and employability outcomes have consistently ranked among the lowest in the country. If a healthy portion of potential spending is devoted to strategic investments in our children, we could set in motion an economic stimulus that may keep paying us a healthy return for decades to come.

Let's take a look at what a stimulus package might look like in terms of Georgia’s priorities.


By Thomas F. Dernburg

Currently, most states are suffering revenue shortages that are largely due to the recession. Tennessee is among them. But what sets Tennessee apart is that, even in good times, state and local budgets cannot be balanced without resorting to legislated tax increases and/or spending cuts.

Under normal conditions, population and productivity growth raise the state's income. To maintain current services, public spending must rise at the same rate as the rise in state income. Revenues, therefore, need to grow at that same rate.

Despite this fact that revenues rise automatically as income rises, Tennessee's tax system is such that a 1 percent increase in the state's income yields only an eight-tenth of 1 percent increase in revenue. This means that in every year, regardless of economic conditions, Tennessee governments are confronted by revenue shortages and periodic budget crises.

Click Here to Read Full Article

Friday, February 20, 2009

Our Social Safety Needs Mending

By Irasema Garza

The current government social safety net that was built for a growing economy has stretched to its breaking point.

While Congress has acknowledged the dire circumstances working and middle-class families now face, little attention has been paid to those on the brink of the economic precipice: poor families facing the expiration of government assistance, with no jobs on the horizon and all avenues for help closing off.

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act will prevent many from falling off the cliff; however, many decisions that will affect the neediest families will be left to the states. To effectively buoy working families and children coping their way through this crisis, we must rethink how we provide assistance to those who need it most.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Volunteer DTV Extension Wreaks Havoc


By Karen Toering

Do we love TV too much? Maybe.

But for nearly all American households, television provides more than mindless entertainment. It's also our most important lifeline for news and information.

According to Nielsen Media Research, 98.6 percent of American households have at least one TV set. And a Project for Excellence in Journalism study shows that more of us get our picture of the world from local TV news than from any other single source.

That is why Congress voted earlier this month to delay the biggest change in over-the-air television in nearly 50 years -- the federally-mandated switch to digital television. Congress pushed back the date from Feb. 17 to June 12 because there are still far too many people who are unprepared for the transition.


By Jeremy Weir Alderson

Some catastrophes, like 9/11 and the Challenger disaster, happen in public, but others happen out of sight. Such a catastrophe is slowly unfolding in the shadows of rural Mississippi, where thousands of destitute people are on the verge of losing their post-Katrina temporary housing.

A great deal is unknown because politicians and government agencies don't want to talk about it but this is the situation: before Hurricane Katrina made landfall in Waveland, thousands of Mississippians were living in extremely low-cost habitations. Some of these were elderly people, living on Social Security, who had paid off their mortgages; some of these were disabled people whose disability checks just about covered their low rents; and some of these were run-of-the-mill poor people who had been fortunate enough to find low-end affordable housing or who made do with substandard housing.

Unfortunately, Katrina knew no mercy. The paid-for homes of the elderly were washed away, the affordable housing was destroyed and the substandard housing was completely obliterated. The victims were given temporary housing in surviving motel rooms, formaldehyde-filled FEMA trailers or much more substantial MEMA (Mississippi Emergency Management Agency) cottages. Now, however, through some misguided notion of tough love this temporary housing is being withdrawn.

Click Here to Read the Press Release

By Shirley Sherrod

The restructuring of housing loans is thought to be a way to help millions of Americans to stay in their homes that are threatened with foreclosure. But those of us in agriculture ask, “Where is the assistance to family farmers, with both land and houses, who also need loan assistance and loan restructuring?” This has been a glaring oversight in the Congressional debate.

Like most Americans, farmers are suffering from the economic downturn. As we enter the 2009 growing season, prices for farm products continue to decrease, while the cost of producing a crop increases. To complicate matters, farmers depend on credit to operate but with stricter credit regulations, it is harder and more expensive to get loans. Because farmers are often required to list their home as security against their loan, those who fall behind in their payments face losing not just their farm operation, but their home as well.

For 41 years, from our office in South Georgia, we at the Federation of Southern Cooperatives/Land Assistance Fund have provided a wide range of assistance to farmers including marketing, technical assistance and alternative financing. Yet, we have never seen a time like this when our assistance alone may not be enough to keep many farmers on the land, especially small farmers and farmers of color. The current crisis is compounded by the fact that farmers in most of the south have suffered from years of drought and most do not have irrigation.

By Hector Garcia

Taxpayers around the globe have paid over $13 trillion (more than a quarter of the gross global product) to bail out financial, insurance and other organizations as well as investors. Was this global crisis -- which with each passing hour is casting millions of Americans out of their jobs, out of their homes, and into a deep well of debt -- truly inevitable?

In 1993, the gross global product represented about $20 trillion and derivatives traded in the world markets, $12 trillion. Although derivatives have appropriate functions, such as making hedging possible and lending liquidity to markets, they are instruments whose value is not intrinsic but derived from that of mortgages, securities and other assets. Yet by 2008, while the gross global product had grown to $56 trillion, derivatives had reached approximately $530 trillion! When the derivatives' underlying value was eroded by reckless mortgage loans, the huge excess in speculation and the artificiality in the financial edifice were revealed.

As far back as the early 90s, books such as When Corporations Rule the World; hearings by the House Banking Committee on the derivatives market; leaders in academia such the former president of Harvard University, Derek Bok; and reporters, such as Thomas Friedman, laid out different consequences of the practices and policies unfolding in global markets. Economists of the stature of Joseph Stiglitz and a handful of prudent, long-time investors including Warren Buffet called attention to the growing dangers. The outcome was foreseen by those who were willing to see.

Click Here for Full Article

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Health Care Reform Would Boost Economy


Heidi Topp Brooks and Lydia Pendley

This year's multi-billion dollar bailouts of the banking and auto industry were meant to give the impression that these huge infusions of cash would buoy the economy and result in better circumstances for all. But many of us were left wondering where exactly those hundreds of billions of dollars would go and how exactly that would translate into improved conditions for regular Americans and New Mexicans.

The state of the economy and the repercussions from these drastic measures will no doubt be President Obama’s top priority. Rather than focus on more massive bailouts to huge industries, the administration must focus on a long-neglected issue that, once addressed, would not only give a boost to businesses large and small, but have real results for struggling Americans. That issue is health care reform.

The emotional and moral arguments for reforming our broken health care system are well known, but expanding the public role in health care to make sure that every American has coverage makes good economic sense too. Businesses have seen their private insurance costs almost double in recent years. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, employer-sponsored premiums for family coverage have soared from $6,438 in 2000 to $12,680 in 2008. In New Mexico average annual health insurance premiums rose 92.3 percent from $6,222 to $11,967 between 2000 and 2007. As a result, many businesses, especially small businesses, are being forced to cut insurance for their employees. The employees, when forced to choose between a job with no insurance or no job at all, will often choose the paycheck.

Click Here for Full Article


By Terry Brooks

Newspapers, blogs, and the radio airwaves have been awash with comments regarding the governor’s proposal to increase the cigarette tax rate by 70 cents a pack. Many comments, paraded as fact, are simply not true.

To set the record straight, let’s be clear: having one of the lowest cigarette tax rates in the nation is bad for Kentucky businesses, and not the opposite. The main reason is that having the highest rate of adult smokers in the nation increases the costs that businesses pay to provide health insurance to their employees by $1.5 billion every year. Additionally, there is a cost to businesses of $2.1 billion in lost productivity. For this reason alone, the low cigarette tax rate and the high smoking rate make Kentucky a less than desirable place to do business. Certainly this is the crux of the reason that the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce supports a higher tax rate on cigarettes.

Second, if we truly care about low-income smokers’ pocket books, let’s help them quit smoking so that they can spend their money on more important items than cigarettes. The 70-cent increase is predicated on the fact that many smokers want to quit and a high cigarette tax increase is proven to give them the incentive to finally break the habit. For this reason, the only tax increase that is truly burdensome to smokers is one that is low enough to not provide any economic incentive to give up a costly habit.

Click Here for Full Article

Thursday, February 5, 2009

The Coal Disaster

By Howard Switzer

It's being called a huge environmental disaster but, unlike Katrina, the TVA coal ash pond dam collapse disaster was not caused by the environment. Rather, this disaster was caused by the continued use of a dirty, poisonous fuel used in an outdated and inefficient mode of energy production -- coal. Earthen dams holding the toxic materials from burning coal fail all the time.

While several homes were damaged by the collapse and no injuries were reported, one can expect the toxic mix of arsenic, lead, barium, chromium and manganese -- the toxic materials concentrated in the ash -- to have a lasting effect on the health of those living downstream.

Coal kills. It has a long history of doing so. Today it is estimated that over 64 million Americans breathe air that has so much particle pollution that it puts their health at risk. Coal is estimated to cause 25,000 deaths in the U.S. every year from diseases caused by breathing particles and soot from coal emissions. Besides the microscopic particles linked to asthma and heart disease there are other health effects as well as the forest killing acid rain.


By Ed Sivak

Just like in other states across the country, Mississippians are seeing the effects of a sagging economy. More people are unemployed and many working Mississippians have seen their retirement savings decline in value during the past year. As people lose jobs and face financial emergencies with less savings, they become at risk of losing their homes in foreclosure. Foreclosure rates for both prime and subprime loans at the end of the third quarter of 2008 have more than doubled compared to the same period in 2007. When foreclosures do occur, the effects are devastating for working families and communities. Families lose their primary asset and access to affordable credit, and neighboring homes lose value.

Fortunately, several opportunities exist to rectify the challenges associated with foreclosures. The funding of a Housing Trust Fund would elevate Mississippi’s ability to create affordable workforce housing opportunities. Presently, Mississippi is one of only 12 states without a funded housing trust fund. Housing Trust Funds have been successful across the country in the creation of jobs, stabilizing workforce housing and investing back in communities. A statewide trust fund with an ongoing revenue source would benefit Mississippi’s working families through increased economic development opportunities.

One cannot overlook the effects of subprime lending in the state of Mississippi. At the height of the subprime lending boom, Mississippi had the highest rate of subprime lending in the country. Many of the unaffordable products sold to home purchasers -- Option Payment Adjustable Rate Mortgages, No Documentation Loans -- that ultimately made their way to Wall Street as securities were subprime lending products.


By Rep. Bill Deeken

For the past several years I have sponsored legislation that would impose a moratorium on executions in Missouri while a commission does a complete study of the death penalty system in our state. This may seem a strange action for a person who, in principle, supports the death penalty. But I believe that this legislation is absolutely necessary in Missouri.

Since 1989, Missouri has executed 66 people, the fourth most of any state. Legislation returning the death penalty to Missouri law was enacted over 30 years ago. Since then, Missouri has not had a comprehensive official review of the state’s death penalty system. With a punishment as final as death—it’s long past time state officials take a pause to thoroughly examine our system of taking a life.

A death penalty moratorium is important because there is a fear that an innocent person could be executed. While there is much to be proud of in our criminal justice system, it is still a human system. Mistakes can and have been made when it comes to the death penalty. Nationally, 129 people who were convicted and sentenced to death since 1973 have been exonerated. This includes three men in Missouri—Clarence Dexter, Eric Clemmons and Joe Amrine—who had their death sentences removed when evidence of their innocence came to light.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Just Show Me the Money


By Patrick D. Reagan, Ph.D.

The newly-minted Republican majority in the Tennessee General Assembly is faced with an unaccustomed reality: responsibility for governing, rather than criticizing those who hold that responsibility. Tennesseans, not unexpectedly, are curious about how this newfound responsibility will be implemented.

The overwhelming challenge confronting the Republican majority is certain to be the enormous budget deficit, likely to exceed $1 billion for this and next year. Gov. Bredesen will present his budget recommendations in February but he is already talking about 20 percent cuts in most departments and related functions, like higher education and health care. Reductions of this magnitude will bring real suffering and loss to millions of Tennesseans.

The nation’s economic misery is partly to blame, but so is Tennessee’s antiquated, dysfunctional, unfair, and ineffective tax system. By relying so heavily on the nation’s highest sales tax for the state’s principal revenue source, the revenue shortfall is hardly surprising. There is no doubt about the situation: Tennessee is in a horrendous budget mess.

Monday, February 2, 2009

The State of Mississippi’s Children


By Rhea Bishop

Mississippi is once again failing its children.

The Children’s Defense Fund’s recently released State of America’s Children 2008 report highlights how far we have to go in Mississippi to protect our children. Even in the midst of the current economic downturn, Mississippi must continue to invest in our children if we are ever to move up from the bottom of the nation’s economic ladder.

Here’s what we learned in the report:

Once again, Mississippi has the highest percentage of children living in poverty at almost 3 in 10 (the national rate is 1 in 6). The vast majority of Mississippi families living in poverty are working families. The federal poverty line for a family of four in 2008 was $21,200.