UPDATE: 87-year-old Chicago hunger strike participant hospitalized in Springfield. Click Here to Read Story.

Watch Mahaley Summerville's Personal Testimony

What would you do to save a child’s life? What would you do to save the lives of 300,000 children?

I work for the American Friends Service Committee but now I’m at the Capitol in Springfield with five other people from various communities in Illinois doing a hunger strike. We are hungry for justice. We felt this drastic step was necessary to demonstrate to our legislators the seriousness of cutting human services for the most vulnerable people.

I’m here participating in this hunger strike for my granddaughter who is a type 1 diabetic who requires two different types of insulin, and takes four to six shots every day even on holidays. I’m going hungry for five days for my granddaughter and the 300,000 children that would lose healthcare if the human service budget cuts are passed by the legislature. My five days of hunger is not detrimental to my life as the loss of healthcare is to the lives of the 300,000 children if those cuts occur.

My granddaughter will celebrate her seventh birthday on Sunday, May 31. I may not be there to celebrate her birthday but when I go home I want to tell her I love her. I want to go home knowing that my granddaughter and 300,000 have healthcare.

--Margaret Jackson, age 55, Homewood, IL

Watch her personal testimony

Community residents continue their hunger strike in the State Capitol building, with only a few days left in session and more than $7 billion in cuts to vital state programs and services looming. Close to 200 community allies will join Hungry for Justice, an ad hoc group of residents aged 24 to 87, to send the clear message to the Legislature that they must protect the safety net for seniors, children, and working families, and pass a fair revenue increase.

“I’m blessed to be in good health, but what about all the seniors who aren’t?” said Brenda Hobson of Westchester, age 65. “If the General Assembly votes cut these programs, we’re all in trouble. That’s why I’m here.”

Slashing core programs such as home care services for seniors and people with disabilities, prevention programs that reduce violence, teen pregnancies, and substance abuse, and education and safety programs such as parent patrols and Grow Your Own teachers is unacceptable. An estimated 5 million Illinois families depend on these programs. At a time of economic crisis, cuts to our safety net are the worst possible action the Legislature can take.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Stepping up to the Plate


By W. Hodding Carter III

Private foundations are among the greatest of American innovations.

They funnel private wealth into tax sheltered institutions that in turn support public institutions and purposes. At their best, they have been catalysts for civic and cultural development, economic revitalization and educational innovation.

North Carolina in particular is singularly fortunate to have a strong philanthropic tradition represented by a number of vibrant foundations with a well-developed sense of mission and focus. While the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation comes immediately to mind, it is hardly alone. Mention community and economic development, educational innovation, environmental protection and racial justice, and you immediately think of the central role played by North Carolina foundations.

By Amelia Warren Tyagi

Imagine buying a tube of toothpaste. After using the toothpaste, you are rushed to the emergency room to have your stomach pumped. The paste contained rat poison. But, when you try to complain, you are told that you should have read the label more carefully, as the ingredient list included hydroxycoumarin. You are told that you should have known that meant rat poison.

Now imagine if the conclusion of most pundits and policymakers were “no new laws are needed; you just need more chemistry education.” Sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it?

But that’s the same situation consumers face every day with financial products that are advertised at one rate, but that rate mysteriously sky-rockets months later.


By Anna-Ellen Lenart

Massachusetts is considering $1 billion in budget cuts. So, what would $1 billion in cutbacks look like for Massachusetts?

These dollars would be taken from essential services such as social programs, schools, and infrastructure. The impact on our communities would be devastating. Programs that would have an especially heavy toll include social and health services, community-based agencies, and aid to cities. This would greatly reduce preventative services that positively impact youth and our communities. This is poor accounting, since preventative care costs less than subsequent treatment services.

One area of mounting concern is teenage pregnancy. The Centers for Disease Control reports that although birth rates have increased across all age groups, the highest jump is among teenagers.

By Page Gardner

Almost half a year has passed, but the 2008 election still looms as an epochal event. With a record voter turnout, the American people, including members of many groups who have been excluded from the political process, changed the face of the nation's leadership and the direction of our public policies.

In many ways, this view is not only optimistic but realistic. More than 133 million Americans cast ballots in the election last year -- the largest number of voters in U.S. history and 9 million more than in 2004. Four constituencies that have historically been under-represented -- African Americans, Hispanics, unmarried women and young voters (ages 18-29) -- provided the margin of victory for President Obama.

But the other side of the story is that 79 million eligible Americans did not vote. Forty-four million of these non-voters were not registered, and another four million were discouraged from voting because of burdensome policies, such as voter identification requirements.

By Jesse Hagopian

No one ever said teaching middle school would be easy.

Last week, however, truly tried my patience. You’d think, by this time in the school year, they’d know not to fabricate elaborate excuses for incomplete work.

No, I am not ranting about unruly students in my third period.

I’m referring to delinquent state lawmakers who approved a two-year operating budget in this past legislative session that fails students and teachers by cutting a staggering $800 million from a school system that already ranks 45th in the nation in per-pupil spending. The bulk of the cuts come from voiding I-728, the voter approved class-size-reduction initiative designed to address our class-size ranking of 46th in the nation.

Click Here to Read Full Op-ed

By Janet Weil

There's an old adage, “Show me what you spend your money on, and I will tell you your values."

President Obama’s request for a “speedy” congressional vote on $83 billion more in supplemental war funds to pay for more troops, more drone bombing, and more carnage in Afghanistan, has inadvertently shown his values in practice: war over diplomacy, and wishful thinking over clear-eyed realism.

It’s time to get real on the U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan. Military engagement there since October 2001 has yielded neither the capture of Osama Bin Laden, the political defeat of the Taliban, nor the improvement of life for Afghans, especially Afghan women.

By Louise Diamond

Hard power, soft power, smart power -- what is the right mix of U.S. resources for engaging with the world and it challenges? This is a question sweeping through Washington, and rightly so, as the Obama administration seeks to reverse the toxic legacy of eight Bush years on America’s world standing.

We don’t hear much about Kashmir these days. Yet, like the tip of the iceberg, it is the visible reminder of a much larger problem. The Partition of British India in 1947 displaced approximately 12 million people, spawned violence that killed hundreds of thousands, and left a psychological legacy of distrust, animosity, and unhealed trauma in both India and Pakistan that has only grown worse over the decades.

Kashmir got caught in the crossfire of Partition, and remains so today. In the last 60 years it has been the focal point of bitter and dangerous Indo-Pak relations. Like the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the Kashmir situation has defied endless attempts at solution and has bred increasing hatred, violence, and seeming intractability. Yet, a solution is possible -- and, I would suggest, urgent.


By Thomas R. Shrout, Jr.

The recent cutbacks of transit service in St. Louis are having impacts well beyond the transit riders themselves -- a surprise for many who didn’t realize the connection between the economy and a good public transit system.

What many people don’t realize is that proper transit funding in St. Louis benefits everyone in the state. A thriving St. Louis regional economy represents well over 45 percent of the entire state’s economy, generating tax revenue that supports services across the state such as education and a variety of health and social services.

After years of using temporary fixes to fund the system, Metro’s ingenuity and luck ran out this spring when the Federal Transit Administration ruled that stimulus funding could not be used for the operations of transit systems across the U.S.


By Timothy J. Schmaltz

Imagine if Scottsdale’s entire population was struck with a natural disaster. We would rush to their aid immediately. We would marshal the resources of the state, community organizations and the faith community, like we did with Katrina refugees, even in the midst of our current economic disaster. We would take federal disaster relief and help the people with housing, food, family support services, health services, anything and everything necessary, both short and long term to help those families return to financial stability.

When you add up all the people impacted by legislature’s health and human services cuts, without including the people who are being thrown into unemployment by these cuts, the end results impact about the same number of individuals living in Scottsdale (240,000 people). What the legislature has done regarding the state budget cuts for health and human services is to create our own disaster.

The Protecting Arizona’s Family Coalition condemns the consequences of 2009 budget cuts imposed on the Departments of Economic Security and Health Services and AHCCCS for children, people with disabilities, seniors, their caregivers and families. The cuts shred the tattered remains of the current state safety net. The cuts may leave some areas of our state without any services. These reductions will fly in the face of many federal regulations for accuracy, accessibility, and timeliness of services and benefits.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Postville: One Year Later

By Dr. Erik Camayd-Freixas

It’s been a year since the largest immigration raid in U.S. history. That was the day Pedrito’s Mom was taken, and he has not seen her since. For Postville, May 12 is a day that will live in infamy.

A year later, the welcome signs still stand: “Iowa, Fields of Opportunity,” “Postville, Hometown to the World,” and “Agriprocessors, A Great Place to Work!” The town would like to forget and move on, but nothing will ever be the same. Four times the world has come to Postville to mark its rise and fall: the Railroad (1864), Barnum & Bailey (1915), Agriprocessors (1987), and the Feds (2008).

There was a time when folks of 24 nationalities, speaking 17 languages, found their dream of freedom in this two-square-mile community with no traffic lights, nestled amid a sea of cornfields. The town was hailed as a model of ethnic integration for communities across the country. “I wish you had seen my town as it was before,” a teary local muttered. “It used to be a success story.”

By Liz O’Donnell

As the search for a Supreme Court justice to replace David Souter heats up, political pundits and analysts are talking about what litmus test, if any, President Obama might apply when vetting a nominee. But scientific metaphors are not needed in this situation -- basic math skills are.

An early childhood mathematics concept called one-to-one correspondence shows us that President Obama needs to appoint a woman to the Supreme Court. Currently, 51 percent of the country's population is female. Yet only 11 percent of the Supreme Court, or one justice, is female. That is not one-to-one correspondence. With one-to-one correspondence, the members of one group can be evenly matched with the members of another.

My four-year-old daughter has mastered the concept in preschool. But our country's leaders still seem to struggle with it.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Carbon Cap and Invest in Ohio


By Wendy Patton

Ohio understands economic change. This is a state where producers of screw caps evolve into safety system architects, where coal miners retrain for nursing careers and where biomed blooms next to blast furnaces. Our economic history has forced us to seek opportunity. This is our competitive advantage.

Congress is now considering a clean energy proposal that would dramatically change domestic energy policy. Under the plan, revenues would be raised to clean up American manufacturing processes; insulate homes, commercial buildings and factories; produce more wind and solar energy in places like Cleveland and Toledo; and produce more fuel-efficient vehicles. This is the kind of opportunity Ohio needs to capitalize on our competitive advantage.

The clean energy proposal includes a system of carbon cap and trade to reduce carbon dioxide and other pollutants that cause global warming. Carbon cap and trade systems are already in place in parts of the U.S. and in Europe. The system places a value on the right to pollute. The cap limits the amount of pollutants that can be emitted, and the trade allows the market to set the price for rights (allowances) for emissions. The revenues can fund the transition to the new energy economy.


By George Byron (“Geordie”) Griffiths

Minnesota’s proposed anti-bullying statute has caused me to reflect on my years as a special education paraprofessional in Crosby-Ironton. As part of my job, I accompanied students who had disabilities to class, modified their assignments, and supervised them in the lunchroom and at recess.

One might think I also would have had to intervene when the children I supervised were picked on in school. Growing up in the big city, I was the skinny, nerdy kid with eyeglasses – often the object of ridicule from the bullies in my school. If I was subjected to mockery, I just assumed that kids with profound disabilities would have to endure much worse. But in the three years I worked as a paraprofessional, I never witnessed a single incident of bullying towards them.

It would be tempting to credit small-town values. But the supportive atmosphere in the Crosby-Ironton school wasn’t the norm everywhere in small-town north-central Minnesota. I saw this first-hand when I accompanied Eric and the Crosby-Ironton basketball team to an away game. Eric, who has Down syndrome, was a team manager. His main job was to bring the players water bottles during time-outs.


By Anita Kuennen

If the latest Montana legislative session taught us anything it is this: there are still many lawmakers in this state who would like to see women lose their constitutional right to privacy and equality. Indeed, many don’t comprehend that reproductive health care is not exclusively a woman’s issue, but affects the health of Montana children and families.

This legislative session was particularly disappointing in how the legislators decided to arrange their priorities.

Lawmakers spent precious time in their bi-annual session debating a constitutional amendment to define personhood at conception and establish rights for a fetus that would have created unlimited possibilities for conflict between a woman and her pregnancy. They also debated an amendment to provide protection to the unborn as a compelling state interest and similarly creating constitutional language that would jeopardize a pregnant woman’s ability to make private decisions related to her health.

By Linda Meric

In light of the outbreak of swine flu virus in Mexico -- and the 286 confirmed cases, so far, in the United States -- the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended that “to stay healthy” people should cover their mouths with a tissue when coughing or sneezing, wash their hands more often, and avoid touching their eyes, mouth or nose.

The CDC also recommends that if you feel sick, you should stay home from work, limiting contact with others to keep from infecting them. It’s that final recommendation that might prove the fatal flaw in health education efforts designed to avoid a swine flu pandemic in the United States.

Many American workers who feel ill can’t stay home from work. They must go to work anyway because so many -- 57 million workers to be precise -- don’t have a single paid sick day. Especially in this dismal economy, most workers cannot afford to help protect the public health by staying home when they are sick because doing so might mean that they lose a day’s pay, or even worse, their jobs.


By Dave Wells

At a recent community meeting on the state’s budget crisis with Republican and Democratic legislators a courageous Karen Ickes shared her family crisis. Both her husband and she are unemployed, but, after losing her job, for eight weeks her family had to survive without receiving an unemployment check.

She told state legislators how deeply this impacted her family. She held back tears as she revealed some of the tough questions she struggled with daily: “How do you tell your kids, you’re close to being homeless?” “How do you tell your children, they may not be able to afford to keep the pets that have always been part of your family?” And “How do you respond when your daughter offers her birthday money to help pay the rent?”

Karen’s family is not alone.

Arizona’s antiquated unemployment processing system leaves most workers waiting weeks for their first check. Half of those qualifying for unemployment benefits wait at least six weeks for their first check, according to the Department of Economic Security. Although when the check arrives it includes payment for the missing weeks, families wait weeks trying to survive a financial crisis not knowing when, or if, their check will come. Foisting such added suffering upon struggling families is intolerable.


By William Donius

There is a mostly invisible but significant minority present in workplaces across the country. The gay, lesbian, bi-sexual and transgendered group is mostly invisible because many choose not to be “out” at work. They may not feel comfortable proclaiming their sexual orientation or identity for fear of reprisal.

This is unfortunate, but remains a reality in many parts of the country. If an organization is not particularly diverse or open to diversity, it is more likely that those who are different will attempt to hide who they are.

Research shows that when employees do not feel valued, they feel distracted and spend more time conducting non-work related activities, including searching for other jobs. People generally don’t give 100 percent when they don’t feel 100 percent comfortable.

By Susan F. Wood and Kirsten Moore

Recently, new leadership at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) took a seemingly small but vitally important step toward restoring scientific integrity at the agency. The FDA notified the manufacturer of Plan B emergency contraception that it could change the age at which consumers can buy the product without a prescription from age 18 to age 17. This is good news for women, and good news for science. This change comes in response to a Federal District court ruling that, for the first time ever, found the FDA guilty of violating the scientific integrity of the drug approval process.

Despite the many highly effective birth control options women and their partners have to choose from, none is 100 percent perfect. And sometimes, mistakes happen -- a condom breaks, a diaphragm slips, a woman forgets to take her pill. Or she has sex when she didn't plan to -- or is raped. Each year, there are about 3 million unintended pregnancies in the United States, including approximately 1 million teen pregnancies. Being able to use backup birth control in time to prevent pregnancy can help a woman take control of a frustrating or even scary situation.

Plan B is a safe, effective back-up birth control method that can prevent pregnancy after unprotected intercourse, or IF contraception fails. Plan B does not cause an abortion, and it will not work if a woman is already pregnant. Plan B is more effective the sooner it is taken (within hours) which is why so many public health officials -- pediatricians, pharmacists, nurses and scientists at the FDA -- have long advocated that it be made available without a prescription. It is one more tool in our toolbox to prevent an unintended pregnancy.


By Elizabeth Barger

As we celebrate Mother’s Day to honor the most important person in our lives, let us not forget the history behind its origin in our country.

In the years after the Civil War, a young Appalachian mother named Anna Jarvis worked to heal both the physical and emotional wounds of families on both sides, calling for a Mother’s Work Day to improve living conditions for all and build reconciliation between neighbors.

Inspired by the work of Anna Jarvis, Julia Ward Howe, author of the “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” took up the cause. When the Franco American War began in 1870, Howe used her fame to send a call to women of all nations to recognize their common humanity, seek peaceful resolutions to conflicts and take a firm stance against any and all wars. She issued a proclamation calling for a Congress of Women, stating, “We women of one country will be too tender of those of another country to allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs. From the bosom of the devastated earth a voice goes up with our own. It says ‘Disarm, Disarm! The sword of murder is not the balance of justice.’”


By Richard Fireman, MD

Sometimes the adage "Too many cooks spoil the broth" doesn’t apply -- especially when you are brewing something special outside of the kitchen.

Thirty-two advocacy groups from the consumer protection, housing, justice, civil rights, faith, and environmental communities have been busy cooking up an energy efficiency proposal called NC SAVE$ ENERGY. Now being considered by the state, the plan has support from all sides of the political table, because it serves the economic, moral, health and social needs of their constituents.

The only organizations that seem to be unhappy with the energy plan are the utilities that have failed their public duty with decades of disregard of the mandate from the North Carolina Utilities Commission to "include use of the entire spectrum of demand-side options, including but not limited to conservation, load management and efficiency programs."

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