By Paul Fleisher

Imagine an election in which one candidate could threaten your job if you voted for the other side. That candidate could campaign as much, and whenever, they wish, while the opponent was limited to speaking only during coffee breaks or after work. Suppose that candidate could even decide when the election would take place -- calling the vote only after being certain that it would go in their favor?”

Those conditions don’t sound much like a “free and fair” election -- but they are just the situation employees can be subjected to when they choose whether or not to unionize. It’s those sorts of inequities that the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) is intended to remedy.

Under current law, when a majority of workers indicate they want union representation, management gets to decide when the certification election will take place. Meanwhile, the company can campaign against the union in the workplace by holding workplace meetings, distributing literature, and even meeting privately with employees one-on-one. Such campaigning often includes heavy doses of intimidation and threats of job loss. In fact, employers illegally fire union supporters in 25 percent of organizing campaigns. Meanwhile, union organizers may not enter the workplace; employees can only campaign during breaks, or before and after work. And even if 100 percent of workers indicate by signing authorizations that they wish to be represented by a union, the company is not required to recognize and bargain with it. In short, employers are playing with a stacked deck.


By Rep. Jeannie Darneille and Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles

Two people are released from prison. One of them is from a well-to-do family, which immediately sets him up in a job with a six-figure salary. On Election Day, he watches eagerly to see if the candidates he voted for are elected.

The other person isn’t so fortunate. He had little money when he was convicted, and the best job he can land is low-paying. He can’t pay off all of the fines associated with his sentence. On Election Day, he is just a spectator. He’s been prohibited from voting.

It flies in the face of American values that when two people are released from prison, only the one with enough money is permitted to vote. As Washington Supreme Court Chief Justice Gerry Alexander has said, it’s a modern version of the poll tax. But that’s how it is here in Washington.


By Amy Hinton

The most promising national policy trend in alternative corrections has been the emergence of specialty courts. These alternative courts -- such as mental health or drug courts -- route eligible offenders into the appropriate social service delivery system while maintaining accountability and protecting public safety.

More than 150 mental health courts in over 25 states are providing offenders with needed mental health services and supports under close court supervision. Significant cost savings could be generated in Alabama if specialty court models for offenders with mental health and addiction disorders were implemented across the state. Results so far from these specialty courts are extremely promising, particularly in reduced recidivism.

In 2008, the Los Angeles County Jail was essentially the nation’s largest mental institution, housing approximately 1,400 seriously mentally ill inmates. Mental health professionals, consumers and advocates would say that this is not a surprising revelation given the fact that so many mentally ill people end up in the criminal justice system.

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Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Bipartisanship and Judicial Appointments

By Lisa Grafstein

President Obama will soon begin making nominations to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals as four of the 15 seats on that Court are currently vacant. Of the five states that make up the circuit (North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland) North Carolina has the fewest judges on the Court, even as the state has the largest population in the Circuit.

The sole North Carolinian on the Fourth Circuit – Judge Allyson Duncan -- was appointed by President George W. Bush in 2003. Conventional wisdom is that North Carolinians will be appointed to at least two of the open seats, although it would take all four seats to bring the state into relative parity in terms of population. Nevertheless, all seem to agree that we have been woefully under-represented for years.

Senator Kay Hagan has pledged to move nominations forward in a bipartisan way. Senate rules have permitted a Senator from a nominee’s home state to withhold a “blue slip” and thereby impede the nomination process for a particular nominee. She has argued that the era of partisan use of blue slips should end. Although there has long been political obstruction, Judge Duncan’s nomination in 2003 proceeded (and she was confirmed 93-0) during a Republican presidential administration when a Democratic Senator, John Edwards, was in office.

By Tamika Felder

British reality star Jade Goody, who rose to stardom overseas by exposing nearly every aspect of her life to a hungry media audience, has recently died, with the media in tow, of cervical cancer. She was only 27 and has left behind two young sons, ages four and five.

Despite the sensationalized nature of Ms. Goody's case, her story is tragic, as are the stories of so many other women worldwide who are struck by cervical cancer in the prime of their lives.

I was 25 when I was diagnosed with advanced cervical cancer and my world was turned upside down. After a radical hysterectomy and weeks of tough chemotherapy and radiation treatment, I was declared cancer-free. I survived and consider myself lucky. But I'll never be able to bear my own children -- something I had always dreamed about -- and I'll have to deal with medical complications from my treatment for the rest of my life.
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By Emilie C. Ailts

This year is the 55th birthday of the birth control pill. It is also 44 years since the U.S. Supreme Court decriminalized birth control in Griswold v. Connecticut. Yet, debates over family planning and contraception are alive and widespread. Coloradans witnessed this first hand last fall when the "personhood" amendment that could have re-criminalized birth control in the state was defeated. Similar measures have already been introduced in seven other states so far this year.

However, current health policy discussions about the role of publicly funded preventive reproductive health care services demonstrate a great step forward in accepting that health care includes family planning. In fact, debates over the availability of affordable birth control, sex education and the financial wherewithal to acquire said resources, are moot without considering the critical role government can play to empower individuals to make responsible reproductive health decisions. This includes the support of publicly funded family planning programs like Title X and the Medicaid family planning waiver.

According to a recent report by the Guttmacher Institute, 2 million unintended pregnancies and 810,000 abortions nationwide are prevented annually by publicly funded family planning services. In Colorado, publicly funded family planning centers are estimated to have saved more than $69 million in 2004 alone and, in 2006, prevented 28,500 unintended pregnancies and 11,900 abortions. These numbers demonstrate the value of publicly funded, equitable resources that enable families of all socio-economic backgrounds to acquire the means for a secure livelihood.

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By Dr. Laurie J. Smith and Rhea Williams-Bishop

At a time when the stock market is slumping, Mississippians are making the smartest investment possible in an uncertain economy: providing a better start in life for some of our most vulnerable children.

Together with national foundations, Mississippi’s business and charitable communities have contributed $5 million -- and aim to raise a total of $10 million -- for an early childhood education program that will reap returns in an improved business climate, a better-prepared workforce, and more good-paying jobs. On top of that, we’ll strengthen our social fabric and our state’s finances, as more vulnerable young people are put on a path that leads to productive lives and responsible citizenship, not dependency and anti-social behavior.

Quality early care and preschool aren’t only educational priorities -- they’re economic priorities. When corporate chief executive officers and site selectors decide where to locate or expand a business, they explore whether communities have skilled workforces, good schools, and high-quality early care. Good school systems and early childhood programs not only produce and prepare capable workers but also attract and retain workers who don’t want to worry about the quality of education that their children are receiving.


By Robyn Frost and Sue Heilman

The Patrick administration is seeking new and innovative ways to deal with the growing number of families experiencing homelessness in Massachusetts. Under a Housing First strategy, the governor is seeking to hold the state’s housing agency responsible for finding permanent, affordable housing for homeless families. We applaud the governor’s efforts to find permanent solutions to homelessness.

At the same time, however, Patrick is proposing changes that will limit homeless families’ access to emergency shelter and services. These restrictions should not be implemented as the recession deepens and more families than ever are in need of emergency shelter. Children, who constitute most of the people living as part of a homeless family, will suffer, resulting in long-term harm, at a high cost to society.

Unless supplemental funding to help families with children experiencing homelessness is quickly provided, many of these new limitations will take effect as soon as April 1.
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By Nathan Newman and Gordon Lafer

In order to comply with new transparency requirements under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), state governments across the country are scrambling to report to the public how they spend recovery dollars. In just the last week, the White House’s count of state transparency websites has jumped from 10 to 25. Unfortunately, none of the state and government websites that are accounting for the recovery funds report the number of jobs created by private contractors -- but without such data, the sites are close to meaningless.

Fortunately, Oregon is leading an effort to require contractors to report the number of jobs they create, as well as the hours worked and wages received by their employees. These proposed requirements would provide Oregonians a website that ensures their tax money actually goes toward creating quality jobs.

The benefits of such a site are clear. If contractors are creating quality jobs with recovery money, they will get more. If they aren’t, the state can stop funding them and target resources to contractors that are creating jobs. If we are serious about using recovery dollars to turn the economy around, we must make it a top priority to adopt these new standards.

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Thursday, March 19, 2009

Increased Revenue Needed in State Budget


By Dianna King

There were sighs of relief from our elected officials when it became apparent that Ohio would receive Federal Stimulus Dollars. Much of this relief is because $5 billion of these dollars would be used to fill considerable holes in our state budget due to the current economy and poor decisions made in the past.

However, despite these additional dollars, the budget proposed by the governor does not do nearly enough to protect low-income Ohioans. It leaves in place the tax cuts approved in 2005 that primarily benefit the affluent and corporate Ohio, cuts that have contributed heavily to the lack of sufficient revenue in our general fund to adequately subsidize our current health and human services needs.

As welcome and needed as the stimulus dollars are, they do not provide sufficient revenue to restore the many cuts in health and human services programs experienced over the years. Even with the stimulus dollars, there are insufficient funds in this budget to prevent further cuts to critical programs such as senior community services, which provide meals, companionship and support services for our elderly, and the kinship care program which assists grandparents and others who are caring for young relatives in their own homes.

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By Lauren Waits

The American Recovery & Reinvestment Act of 2009 was signed amid a flurry of speculation over its scope and impact. Questions persist about how Americans in general will benefit through federal stimulus spending for infrastructure and transportation projects, job creation and state budget stabilization. Little has been said, however, about the one population who could benefit the most from the package and provide a return to long-term growth: children.

We know that the early years are critical to a child’s healthy development. Neuroscientists can now show us that the quality of children's earliest experiences shape their brain architecture in permanent ways-for better and for worse. So when children, especially high risk children, receive care that is nurturing, supportive and based on their unique needs early on, we can put them on a course for success over their lifetimes. Key provisions of the stimulus bill contain investments designed to assure that infants, toddlers and preschoolers get what they need to thrive.

It's now up to us to make sure these available funds are deployed correctly for maximum impact and return on that investment. Our youngest children depend on three groups -- parents, businesses and the state – to claim their share of the stimulus funds and ensure their ability to contribute to a renewed nation as they grow.


By Dan McGrath

By now we are used to the grim economic news that fills our newspapers and airwaves on a daily basis. What people are interested in is a plan to move forward toward economic recovery. On this question, however, two very different conversations are unfolding.

In Washington, the conversation is about how to get our national economy moving again, how to create jobs, save homes, provide health care, and help people get back on their feet. At the center of these questions is the role of government. In tough times, what can government do for people that people cannot otherwise do on their own?

In St. Paul, Governor Pawlenty has shaped the debate squarely on cuts, cuts, and more cuts. He has focused on tax cuts for corporations as well as deep cuts to essential public services that Minnesotans need now more than ever due to job losses and home foreclosures. Cutting the jobs of public employees who provide the vital services we all depend on and who are themselves essential to our economic and social well-being.

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By Gloria Tristani

While the number of radio stations is growing, ownership is concentrated in fewer and fewer hands due to widespread media consolidation. This means today's radio often offers national playlists, syndicated programming and other piped-in content that threatens localism and the diversity of voices on the public airwaves.

When I was a member of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), we established low power radio service in 2000 as a partial antidote to the negative effects of consolidation.

Low power radio (LPFM) makes new licenses available for nonprofit community organizations, churches, schools and local governments.

Low power radio informs people about what is going on in their neighborhood or town; features local musicians and unique programming that reflects the local culture; and breaks from the same homogenized content that have pushed radio listeners away.

By Yifat Susskind

If you haven’t thought about the Iraq War as a story of U.S. allies systematically torturing and executing women, you’re not alone. Likewise, if you were under the impression that Iraqi women were somehow better off under their new, U.S.-sponsored government.

In the spring of 2003, Fatin was a student of architecture at Baghdad University. Her days were filled with classes and hanging out in her favorite of Baghdad’s many cafes, where she and her friends studied, shared music, and spun big plans for successful careers, happy marriages, and eventually, kids.

Today, Fatin says that those feel like someone else’s dreams.

Soon after the U.S. invasion, Fatin began seeing groups of bearded young Iraqi men patrolling the streets of Baghdad. They were looking for women like her, who wore modern clothes or were heading to professional jobs. The men screamed terrible insults at the women and sometimes beat them.

By Atiba Madyun

When President Barack Obama was sworn in as the 44th President of the United States of America he inherited a global economic crisis and two wars. Yet, one of the most important policy issues that the president will have to address is -- the return of our military veterans.

During his campaign, President Obama spoke of his opposition to the war in Iraq, and the importance of reallocating resources to Afghanistan. Managing those resources will be difficult, but developing a plan to support hundreds of thousands of American servicemen and women will be just as difficult.

Since 2001, America has sent more than 1.5 million troops into Afghanistan and Iraq. The daily process of carrying out military operations, staying alive, staying connected to loved ones, is stressful both to the troops and to their families. Over the past six years, thousands of military veterans have returned from Iraq and Afghanistan. Sadly, 4,000 have returned in coffins, and tens of thousands returned with injuries and scars (mental and physical) that will affect them for the rest of their lives. Their return in the midst of high unemployment, foreclosures, and instability in financial markets will factor greatly into their re-entry to civilian life.


By Anne Harper

Like most parents of girls, I have had the good fortune to have pretty well-behaved daughters who finished high school and entered promising career paths. But some families are not so lucky.

Their teens may be struggling with a host of problems from learning disabilities to drug dependency. Recently we have discovered some more extreme problems: as many as 300 girls are sexually exploited commercially in Georgia each month --at escort services, hotels, online and on the streets -- according to recent results of an independent tracking study. That is more than twice the number of girls who die in car accidents in a year in our state.

The Juvenile Justice Fund (JJF) has mounted a campaign called “A Future. Not a Past” to address this sexual exploitation -- seeking to demonstrate that adolescents who are sucked into prostitution are victims of adult criminal behavior, rather than criminals themselves. Georgia is considering two proposals to expand the definition of child abuse to include sexual exploitation of children by others than parents and care givers. This change will enable health professionals and other adults report to authorities any suspected prostitution of minors, thus providing a good start toward identifying girls who need protective services.


By Rebecca Lightsey

As more businesses close and unemployment lines lengthen, a virtually unregulated sector of the Texas economy continues to rake in huge profits by providing high-cost payday and auto title loan services that often drag desperate families deeper into financial crisis.

A Texas-based provider of such loans recently reported record-breaking annual revenues topping $1 billion and a net income of $81 million.

So how do small-dollar loan companies make this kind of profit in the middle of the nation’s worst economic crisis since the Great Depression?

In Texas, the answer is clear: they exploit a loophole in state law that allows them to operate as unregulated “credit services organizations” (CSOs).


By Debra Susie, Ted Granger and David Reaney

The growing economic downturn is taking its toll on Americans nationwide. Here in Florida, the number of people needing assistance to meet basic living needs continues to rise in staggering numbers.

Over the last year, Florida added more than 408,835 new recipients to its food stamp rolls -- a 29 percent increase. Given the recession, that kind of growth is not unique to our state, but by the year’s end, Florida led the nation for its dramatic rate of growth in food stamp clients. The increase also represented the largest jump in the state's history, surpassing even the aftermath of Hurricane Andrew.

As one would expect, there are other numbers on the rise, too. Call volume at Florida’s food stamp call centers was over 3 million for the month of October 2008 -- a 40 percent increase over the previous year. Many of these callers are first-time applicants who have lost their jobs during this recession. Even with economic recovery expected to begin in 2010, the Congressional Budget Office projects higher unemployment rates for the next few years, and Florida’s unemployment rate is already higher than the national average.

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By Jessica Bearden

During the recently concluded legislative session, the General Assembly passed a bill to authorize “Choose Life” license plates that now awaits consideration by Governor Kaine. Funds generated from the plates will be distributed to so-called “crisis pregnancy centers.”

There are over 70 crisis pregnancy centers in Virginia, and you’ve most likely seen their advertisements—billboards that read “Pregnant? Scared? We can help.” Many people mistakenly believe that these centers do nothing more than provide materials and support to women who have made the decision to carry an unplanned pregnancy to term.

In reality, they have an extreme anti-choice agenda and often misinform and mislead women about their options. Though they assume the impartial, authoritative trappings of modern healthcare, their function is primarily political—to berate and coerce those women they call “abortion-minded” into carrying the pregnancy to term. A review of the materials produced by crisis pregnancy centers and several investigative reports about them reveal several of the deceptive and coercive tactics most commonly employed by crisis pregnancy centers.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

All the Right Turns

By Kathleen Rogers

In today’s confusing and disheartening economic landscape, it’s more important than ever to navigate carefully -- and make the right turns. At least, that’s what shipping giant UPS is doing. After implementing a “right turn” strategy (taking more right turns than left to avoid idling in left turn lanes) UPS has saved over 30 million miles of driving -- including three million gallons of fuel and $600 million dollars a year from the change -- not to mention countless tons of carbon emissions. The rest of us can learn from this strategy and start our own “right turn” campaign.

UPS, however, isn’t the only big green giant: Wal-Mart, the second largest procurer of energy only to the U.S. government, has made a pledge to be supplied 100 percent by renewable energy; to create zero waste; and to sell greener products. The retailer is also building skylight/dimming system into its new stores. As daylight increases, skylights allow Wal-Mart to dim the lights or even turn them off, thereby reducing the demand for electricity during peak hours. This system results in an annual savings of about 250 million kwh a year, enough to power approximately 23,000 homes. Corporations like Hewlett Packard, Toyota, and even British Petroleum have taken steps toward greening their production. And J.P. Morgan Chase is investing $2 billion of its own capital to fund renewable energy projects such as wind farms and solar in 17 states. Chase believes an investment in renewable energy will help revitalize rural communities and by creating jobs and increasing the local tax base. More and more, companies are finding that simple green solutions are attractive.


By David Wiley and Kelly Wilson

When it comes to teens and sexuality education, ignorance isn’t bliss. It’s reckless.

Research shows that young Texans rate well above national averages on virtually every published statistic involving sexual risk-taking behaviors. In fact, Texas has one of the highest teen birthrates in the nation, with taxpayers spending more than $1 billion annually on teen childbearing.

Yet, Texas is the poster child for the abstinence-only movement, receiving more federal funding for abstinence education than any other state.

Clearly, something is wrong.