Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Getting Paid Sick Time Helps Everyone

By Rosemary Harris Lytle

For most Americans, the Fourth of July is a day for fireworks, concerts, parades and all manner of patriotic displays. It's as American as barbeque ribs and apple pie, reminding us of freedom, justice, community, hard work and family values; the shared ideals that define us as a nation.

While many enjoyed a paid day off for the holiday, not everyone was so fortunate. Paid days off from work are rare. When it's a holiday, at least the time off is taken for fun, but when employees need time off for illness or caregiving, even fewer can afford it.

We all occasionally need time off from work to share the responsibility for our family's health. But nearly 60 million American workers lack a single paid sick day in which to care for themselves when occasional illness strikes. Nearly 100 million lack a paid sick day to care for an ill child.


By Raymond R. Ratke

Imagine if you could no longer care for your children and that they had to leave your home and be separated from one another.

You would want your kids to be in a safe home, close to school and friends, with plenty of support as they adjust to a new family. But for nearly 7,000 children in Virginia’s foster care system who have been separated from their families, these things have never been guaranteed.

Virginia recently launched the Virginia Children’s Services System Transformation to make the kind of future that all parents want for their children a bit more certain for every child. First Lady Anne Holton’s For Keeps initiative started Virginia’s child welfare practices on the right road, and in December 2007 we began an intensive change in the way we provide effective help for at-risk children and their families.


By Sarah Wilhelm

While Roe v Wade ensures that abortion is legal in every state, the reality of abortion access today is increasingly dependent upon a woman’s socioeconomic status and geographic location. The average cost of an abortion for a woman up to 12 weeks pregnant is $450 to $600 in the Northwest region, and costs increase markedly after 12 weeks.

The Hyde Amendment, passed in 1976, ended the use of federal Medicaid funding for abortion, except when the woman’s life would be endangered by a full-term pregnancy, or in cases of rape or incest. As the debate about the direction of health care reform takes off, the Obama administration should recognize the critical importance of repealing this fundamental barrier to women’s access to comprehensive health care.

Fortunately, Washington uses its own funds to cover the cost of abortion procedures for women who qualify for Medicaid. However, women living in neighboring states of Idaho and Oregon have limited government assistance for the cost of their procedures.

Click Here to Read Full Op-ed

By Jennifer Rogers, MPH

I recently read an article about Bisphenol-A (BPA) that eerily reminded me of the movie, “Thank You for Smoking.” In the movie, the “merchants of death” or MOD Squad, as they call themselves, are lobbyists for the alcohol, gun, and tobacco industries and meet for lunch while plotting to keep vital information about the harmful health effects of their products out of the hands of the public. And they do so with great success, not to mention, great profit.

What does this have to do with BPA? A recent Washington Post article said a group of chemical industry lobbyists met at the exclusive Washington, DC Cosmos Club to develop a public relations strategy to “tamp down public concerns” around the safety of BPA. BPA is a chemical that has been linked to breast cancer, testicular cancer, low sperm count, miscarriage and other reproductive problems. In fact, it has already been banned in Minnesota and Chicago. The BPA lobbyists agreed to use many of the same strategies used in the 1990s to create doubt around the harmful health effects of tobacco. As the meeting minutes reflected, industry representatives mentioned using fear tactics to dissuade people from choosing BPA-free packaging. They floated messages suggesting that people will no longer be able to buy cheaper canned goods, or that they will lose access to baby food. Furthermore, attendees said they doubted they could find a scientist to serve as a spokesman for BPA, instead deciding to use a young pregnant woman as their “holy grail.” Like Joe Camel or the Marlboro Man, the new “MOD Squad” is looking for ways to put a pleasant face on dangerous product. They can do this because there is so little oversight from any federal agency.

As a health advocate and a consumer, I find this news incredibly disturbing. BPA is just the tip of the iceberg--there are many more chemicals like BPA that pose a danger to our health. Although we have made great strides in some aspects of our health, when it comes to our reproductive health there are some startling trends. Sperm counts have decreased by about 50 percent in many industrialized regions, younger women are reporting difficulty conceiving, and more babies are born premature. One of the most common birth defects today is malformations of male reproductive organs. For the most part, we do not know exactly why this is happening, but evidence suggests that something in our environment is a cause.


By Lynn Evans

Word is that Harvard Professor Dr. Atul Gawande’s article on McAllen, Texas, is required reading in the White House. Published in the June 1, 2009 issue of The New Yorker, the Boston surgeon asks why McAllen’s health care costs are the second highest health care costs in the nation, behind Miami. His conclusions have much to teach us about the problems with America’s health care system today.

First, a little background. This year, 64.4 million Americans who are too young for Medicare will spend more than 10 percent of their pre-tax income on health care and health insurance. And that percentage is growing. Buying health insurance for their families is rapidly becoming too expensive for middle-income families, and simply impossible for low-income families. Mississippi’s low median family income makes this problem even more difficult. At 43 percent, Mississippi has the lowest percentage of children covered by private insurance, and the highest percentage of children eligible for Medicaid and CHIP at 89 percent.

Although Mississippi Medicaid’s health care costs for children are among the lowest in the country – about $1,800 each – Medicaid costs for adults are among the highest at almost $8,000. What Dr. Gawande found in McAllen has some clues as to why that might be.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Torturing the Rule of Law

By Shahid Buttar

Sixty years ago, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson left Washington to pursue what he later called “the most important, enduring, and constructive work of [his] life”: prosecuting international war crimes committed during WWII. Justice Jackson helped usher in a new international regime that promised to help deter human rights abuses.

Unfortunately, Jackson’s achievements have proven less enduring than he hoped. Our nation continues to undermine international law by sweeping torture under the rug, with serious implications going forward. The Nuremberg Trials established a timeless principle: individuals are criminally liable for violating fundamental human rights, even if their governments authorized those violations. Some laws, Nuremberg held, transcend those of any nation.

We have fallen a long way in such a short time. Rather than enforce international principles we once pioneered by prosecuting former officials who enabled torture, our nation today violates those principles with impunity. President Obama’s focus on the future aims to transcend the political divisions deepened by his predecessors. But setting aside the past comes at a price.


By Gracia O’Neill

North Carolina faces a critical decision on the growing costs and environmental damage caused by energy production. Announcing a proposed major rate hike recently, to average over $130 per year, per household, Duke Energy says it’s to supply “reliable energy,” which means they’ll generate and sell more power. North Carolina’s utilities want to build $35-40 billion worth of new coal and nuclear power plants, with Duke’s rate increase being a first installment on increases that could total over 50 percent for construction. That approach assumes ever-increasing power demand, despite recent data reflecting flat or even decreasing consumption.

That’s why more than 30 North Carolina social justice, religious, consumer and environmental groups instead support an approach that would create hundreds or even thousands of "green" jobs and crank down our demand for power, through a state-wide energy efficiency program called NC SAVE$ ENERGY.

Energy efficiency is the fastest, cleanest and cheapest way to control energy bills, and the best route to economic, environmental and health benefits. Efficiency costs less than one-fourth as much as new nuclear power and creates more new jobs. Every county has thousands of homes in urgent need of weatherization. Last year, the United Way's western North Carolina “2-1-1” helpline fielded more requests for assistance paying utility bills than any other service.

Click Here to Read Full Op-ed

By Raj Date

Given the urgency and severity of the financial crisis, it is not surprising that most policymakers have to date been focused on here-and-now tactical initiatives to stabilize the financial system, rather than laying the foundation for a more sound and better regulated system in the future.

There are exceptions; Senator Durbin’s proposal for a Financial Product Safety Commission is one of them. The proposed Commission would establish minimum standards for the safety of financial products, and would focus especially on identifying deceptive and fraudulent practices. The institution’s mandate would be analogous to the Consumer Product Safety Commission. As the proposal’s sponsors argued to the Treasury Secretary in a recent letter, “there is no reason for us to have regulations that prevent toasters from exploding into flames, but no protections to prevent mortgages and credit cards from doing the same.”

Opponents, thus far, have mustered what seems a half-hearted and formulaic argument against the proposal: introducing a new bureaucracy as the ultimate arbiter of product safety would effectively iron out differences in product structures and pricing, and dampen innovation.

By Judy Patrick

In response to the swine flu epidemic, President Obama and the Centers for Disease Control are offering Americans some common-sense advice: wash your hands frequently, cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze, and stay home from work if you feel sick.

Unfortunately, nearly half of all private-sector workers -- 57 million people -- may be forced to ignore that last piece of advice, because they aren’t allowed paid sick days and they risk losing income or even getting fired if they call in sick. For low-wage workers, that number is even higher: three out of four do not have the right to a paid sick day.

To our national shame, the U.S. stands alone among the top developed economies in the world in not providing workers with the right to stay home if they or a child is ill. It’s no different here in California, where, as in the rest of the country, half of all workers are denied even one single paid sick day.

By Judith Liben and Tim H. Davis

In light of the current financial crisis and the public outrage over taxpayer-subsidized bailouts, it only makes sense for banks to explore every possible avenue to mitigate the damage to families and communities caused by foreclosure, while at the same time shoring up their bottom lines.

But foreclosure alone is not what ravages communities. A large share of the damage results from the post-foreclosure eviction policies of the lending industry. What do banks and servicers do with the “real estate owned” (REO) properties that they repossess after foreclosure? They quickly evict the tenants and former owner-occupants, leaving families displaced, perhaps homeless, and buildings vacant and vulnerable.

Abandoned homes are subject to vandalism and crime, quickly lose value, depress the worth of nearby properties, and force cash-strapped municipalities to expend critical resources confronting the inevitable health and safety risks that emerge.

Click Here to Read Full Op-ed

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Let’s Make a New, New Deal

By Susan Feiner

FDR realized that, "People who are hungry and out of a job are the stuff of which dictatorships are made." Why do most economic policies run counter to this basic point?

Faith in markets leads economists to believe that full-employment is impossible, government intervention is destructive, deficits are bad, and planning is futile. That is nonsense.

Remember Galileo? His heresy was challenging the belief that the earth was the center of the universe. It’s as heretical today to enact policies that don’t place markets at the center of the economy. Excommunicating Galileo didn’t change planetary orbits, but misguided fealty to markets does affect our future.

By Joan Dawson

In the past few decades, a term called Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS) or Parental Alienation (PA) has been used in family courts to describe a situation where one parent poisons the mind of the child against the other parent.

While it is true that some mothers (and fathers) intentionally bad-mouth their spouses or partners, several reasons can explain why the child fears or distances him or herself from a parent. It has long been recognized that children experiencing divorce can exhibit aggressive behavior or depression. Children can react angrily to their parent’s separation and may even be reacting to the conflict and violence they’ve witnessed.

But there is another possible explanation for a so-called alienated child. The child may have been abused and, as a result, fears or exhibits hostility towards the “target” parent. PAS, then, can shift the attention from an abusive situation to that of a protective parent’s “alienating” behavior. Abusers, who, not surprisingly, deny allegations or call them “false allegations” (and actually get the spouse punished with fines or jailtime), are more likely to seek custody than nonviolent parents. And, often enough, they get it.

By Paula Gianino, Peter Brownlie, Tonia Stubblefield

The "Get Yourself Tested" campaign -- or for the text-savvy, GYT09 -- was created as a means of addressing the Centers for Disease Control and Preventions' recently released and alarming statistics: one in four teenage females [contract] HAS a sexually transmitted disease (STD) and half of all teenagers are sexually active.

Missouri's score card is even worse. Missouri's largest cities -- Kansas City and St. Louis -- lead the country in chlamydia and gonorrhea rates. Two-thirds of Missouri's high school juniors are sexually active, and one in two young adults will contract an STD before their 25th birthday. These statistics are unacceptable and a cause for alarm and action, as they impact the health and well-being of Missouri's teenagers and young adults.

Our former governor and members of our legislature have turned their backs on this crisis. They eliminated Missouri's family planning program while also reducing the standards for comprehensive and evidence-based sexual health information in public schools. Meanwhile they refused to pass sensible prevention legislation this year that would allow health professionals to presumptively treat the partners of patients who have STDs -- a clinical standard that exists in most other states.

By Dr. Erik Camayd-Freixas

In May, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of Ignacio Flores-Figueroa, a Mexican migrant worker from Illinois convicted of identity theft in 2007. Like most migrant workers, Flores-Figueroa did not know that the social security number in the false papers he was forced to buy in order to get work was a number that actually belonged to another person.

The crime of identity theft was established by an act of Congress in 1998, to deal with the growing problem of people stealing credit cards and personal information to empty bank accounts or get thousands of dollars in credit under someone else’s name. After 9/11/2001, authorities feared that false identities could also be used to facilitate acts of terrorism. This led to the Identity Theft Penalty Enhancement Act of 2004, which made it an aggravated felony punishable by an additional two-year minimum prison sentence.

Since 2006, overzealous prosecutors realized they could use this anti-terrorist weapon to criminalize illegal immigration – which is only a civil offense. So they began testing the waters by charging migrant workers in isolated cases. They won convictions and appeals. One of those cases was that of Flores-Figueroa, who appealed to the 8th Circuit Court and lost. This success emboldened immigration prosecutors to apply the charge against 300 workers at the May 12, 2008 raid in Postville, Iowa.

By David Korten and Doug Pibel

Politicians and the business press are looking for signs that the economic crisis is over and we’ll soon be back on track. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke speaks of “green shoots” of recovery. President Obama sees “glimmers of hope.” All the massive infusions of borrowed stimulus and bailout money are aimed at the dream of getting us back to where we were during the recent “boom.” Do we really want to go there? And even if we do, is such an economy realistic today?

Yes, the bubble economy of the ’00s created mountains of paper wealth. Between tax cuts for the wealthiest and increasingly exotic (and risky) forms of investment, the richest fraction of Americans did very well, indeed.

But during that boom, incomes stayed flat for the overwhelming majority of Americans even as productivity soared, millions lost health care coverage, costs of energy, housing, food, and education climbed, and debt reached record levels.


By Rev. Jeremy Tobin

The history of immigrant labor in this country is as old as the country itself.

Given political or economical expediency, immigrants were given legal protection and a path to citizenship, or were locked out due to politically dominated regulations. That being said, goods we take for granted, and can purchase fairly cheaply, are often the result of immigrant labor.

The 12 million undocumented workers in the U.S. are usually paid below standard wages with no health or other benefits. Many are often cheated. Threatened with deportation, or worse, immigrants do not call on law enforcement for help. Recently an undocumented immigrant died, afraid to call for help after his home was invaded. These conditions create a subclass of people with a strong work ethic, who are easy to exploit, and readily available.


By Tony Garr

We’re in a pretty tough economic time. We’ve seen this before and have pulled our neighbors and ourselves through by using our good sense and decency.

But, help me understand this:

More than a quarter million Tennesseans have lost their jobs and their health insurance since the recession started in December 2007. Before then, there were 850,000 uninsured Tennesseans. In May 140,000, TennCare enrollees began receiving notice that their TennCare would be ending. By the end of September, as few as 20,000 will retain their eligibility. In February of this year, Tennessee got good news when it learned that it was getting an additional $1.1 billion for its TennCare program to help people stay enrolled, keeping Tennesseans secure in these insecure economic times.

By Cecily Kellogg

Last Sunday morning, a man walked into a church in Wichita, Kansas and shot to death Dr. George Tiller. Dr. Tiller was volunteering as an usher that Sunday, so he was standing in the lobby of the church when the gunman entered. Unfortunately, Dr. Tiller’s death didn’t really come as a surprise; his medical practice centered on performing abortions, particularly late term abortions, and he’d been attacked before. Regardless of the near constant threats and harassment he received, Dr. Tiller was committed to his work. Why? Because he believed that “abortion is a matter of survival for women.”

It was for me. In October of 2004, I was pregnant with my sons Nicholas and Zachary. With great joy and expectation, my husband, my best friend, and I visited my doctor for a normal growth ultrasound. I was nearly 23 weeks pregnant, hovering at the start of the third trimester. Within moments it was clear something was wrong; one of the boys was still and had no heartbeat. When I met with my doctor, routine screening revealed the worst: the symptoms I’d been experiencing that I thought were normal with a twin pregnancy were actually evidence that I was sick -- very, very sick. I was immediately admitted to the hospital with severe preeclampsia, and though my doctors tried mightily to slow the progression of the disease, by the morning of October 27, 2004 a group of doctors stood at my bedside and delivered the worst news I’d ever received.

I was in advanced kidney failure. My blood pressure was skyrocketing, and it could not be controlled with medications. My liver was beginning to decline. The horrific headache I was experiencing could no longer be treated with pain medications because they were afraid it would depress my ability to breathe when I began to have the seizures they expected at any moment. I would soon likely suffer a stroke or a heart attack. In other words, I was going to die unless the pregnancy was terminated. Immediately.


By Lindsey Oliver

When I was 16 I had an abortion. It was both difficult to arrange and pay for. Yet this pivotal event resulted in a lifelong commitment to working towards a world with reproductive justice for everyone. The sad part isn’t that I had an abortion, but that there were so many barriers. Even more disheartening is that I know I am not the only person who lacks access to a safe and legal abortion.

My experience led me to volunteer at one of Richmond’s most targeted abortion clinics. I helped protect patients from the aggressive and sometimes violent harassment they often receive from protestors when entering or exiting the clinic. One day someone walking by gave us $20 and encouraged us all to take ourselves out for pizza. But we had just witnessed several women leaving the clinic without getting their abortions because they couldn't afford the procedure. So we took that $20 and helped one woman. The experience helping just that one woman made me realize how many more need help. So at age 19 I co-founded the Richmond Reproductive Freedom Project. The fund primarily helps women who cannot afford to pay for their abortions, but it also provides education and advocacy in our city. Abortion funds like ours were set up in 41 states in order to ensure that poor women were able to have the same access to reproductive choice as everyone else.

The women we fund are poor -- many lack access to education, good jobs and health care for themselves and their children. Most often they are young, and are already mothers. They are always in a state of desperation. These women need and deserve help the most. I am often asked how these women are allowed to fall through the cracks. One of the many answers to that question is Henry Hyde, the man most directly responsible for denying millions of women’s access to an abortion just because they are poor.

By Dennis Markatos-Soriano

Federal Energy Regulatory Commission director Jon Wellinghoff recently stated that the U.S. may not need any new coal or nuclear power plants. Due to our tremendous renewable energy potential, the rising challenge of global warming, and the high cost of new conventional plants, I think he’s right.

The U.S. can meet future electricity demand by deploying efficiency and renewable energy.

The potential for renewable energy is great. The U.S. has more wind and solar potential than all its oil, gas and coal reserves. Our current total electrical generating capacity of 1,000 GW is dwarfed by the combination of onshore and offshore wind potential of ~3,000 GW cited by Interior Secretary Salazar. And solar power's potential is many times greater than that if we deploy panels on less than 1 percent of our land. Add to that the potential of geothermal, hydropower, and biomass -- and fossil fuels begin to look like a dinosaur of the 20th century that will soon be replaced.