Thursday, February 25, 2010

Making the Case for Urban Agriculture

By K. Rashid Nuri

In his State of the Union address, President Obama enumerated ongoing problems requiring his attention: health care, the economy, job creation, environmental issues and lack of renewable fuels. In doing so, he suggested that increasing agricultural exports would help solve some of these problems.

While export agriculture might indeed help some corporations, it is unlikely to resolve issues directly affecting the public. One thing that would, however, is urban agriculture. While not a panacea, urban agriculture can allay many of the concerns mentioned by the president, and it can do so in several critical ways.

Our country is now undeniably urban. According to recent demographics, 81 percent of us now live in cities or suburbs. And with so few of us living on farms or in rural areas, our familiarity with the production and source of our food is limited. As an urban organic farmer, I find it amazing that so many chefs, produce managers, restaurateurs and Americans in general remain blithely unaware of the sources of their food. Many have no idea what food looks like coming out of the soil, let alone have an awareness of seasonal fluctuations in fruit and vegetable production.

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By K.A. Owens

It would be easy to throw up our hands in frustration at the failure of the Kentucky legislature to settle our tax and budget issues. Easy, but wrong.

Change is so desperately needed around tax and budget issues that it is completely rational for us to put forth a mighty effort to create a revenue stream to make our state function properly. The benefits from all of us working together to make the needed changes are so great that we can’t take the easy route of giving in to frustration. We must keep the pressure on for positive change in Kentucky.

Here’s one reason why. Kentucky bridges are supposed to be inspected every two years. It should go without saying, but bridge inspections are necessary to prevent the kind of travesty that happened in Minnesota in 2007. A recent state auditor’s report, though, said of 40 bridge inspection reports, 19 bridges went longer than two years without the required inspection. Why? Because the Transportation Cabinet hasn’t been able to hire the staff it needs because of budget cuts.

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Thursday, February 18, 2010

Mississippi Needs Tougher ATV Safety Laws

By Dr. Shannon Smith

Mississippi’s pediatricians have long been sounding the alarm about the dangers associated with children riding ATVs.

There were 205 deaths in Mississippi from 1999 to 2008 as a result of ATV crashes, and 43 percent of those deaths were children and youths under age 22. Pediatricians, especially trauma specialists at UMMC Batson Children’s Hospital, see too many young lives cut short or forever handicapped by ATV crashes.

The state is currently considering proposals that would make helmet use mandatory for children under age 16, and would require a driver’s license or completion of a 4-H or similar ATV safety course to ride an ATV. It’s a simple first step, but more must be done.

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By Paul Bellamy, J.D., Ph.D.

An effective response to the foreclosure disaster continues to elude the mortgage industry and public officials alike. Realistically, no one believes that all troubled homeowners can, or should, be saved from foreclosure. Lenders made far too many reckless loans and too many borrowers are in situations that are, sadly, beyond help.

But we can do much better at coping with this mess by rethinking the problem’s origin and striving to achieve more realistic results in responding to it. Reaching even scaled back goals would leapfrog over the public/private train wreck that currently passes for a solution to the foreclosure epidemic.

For years this problem gathered steam, while the servicing industry sat on its hands pretending that the system in place from 10 years ago would serve to meet the burgeoning crisis. Predictably, it hasn’t even come close.

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By Nina Auerbach and Anthony Berkley

We need to do more to give children the best start possible. Young children learn more and do better in school and, ultimately, in the workplace when they move seamlessly from home to other early learning settings and to the early grades. Unfortunately, far too few children experience such seamlessness, thanks to a disconnected and deficient educational system that moves them from one place and grade to the next with no sense of continuity. These trends are changing though.

The federal government is promoting meaningful education reform and putting up meaningful money to help pay for it.

President Obama is asking states and communities with innovative ideas to help reshape American education. To propel this innovation, two new federal funds will provide a total of $5 billion to do nothing less than inspire communities to shake up the education landscape.

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Friday, February 12, 2010

Higher Sales Tax Proposal is Bad Magic

By Amy Blouin

Wouldn’t it be nice if Missouri could magically find the money needed to pay for services people need and to make the sort of investments that help build a prosperous future?

That’s pretty much what some state lawmakers are proposing. Wave a magic wand and — poof! — the state income tax disappears. Wave it again and — poof! — corporate taxes disappear. How would reducing revenues get us the money we need? Watch carefully as supporters of this plan pull a rabbit out of their hat. But wait, that’s not a rabbit — it’s a sales tax like none ever before seen in Missouri or any other state.

Measures have been introduced in the state House and Senate that would essentially take this approach to paying for Missouri’s needs. And like all magic tricks, they involve sleights of hand that, when closely observed, reveal that things are not as they seem.

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By Andy McDonald

This past October more than 400 Kentuckians learned a powerful lesson: Solar energy works in Kentucky. The Kentucky Solar Tour featured more than three dozen homes and other sites that use solar energy to produce electricity, heat water or provide space heating/cooling. The Solar Tour crossed the state from Bowling Green to Berea, from Kenton County to Rockcastle County. Kentucky was one of 48 states on the solar tour that day, with 150,000 people nationwide participating. The message is simple: Solar energy has arrived. It works. It’s proven technology. It’s no longer the technology of the future; solar is the technology for today.

Wind energy presents another great opportunity for Kentucky. Conventional wisdom says Kentucky has poor wind resources. However, conventional wisdom is based on outdated wind resource maps that analyzed Kentucky’s wind resources at 50 meters above the ground. Modern wind turbines, the kinds we see in neighboring states like Indiana and Illinois, operate at 80 meters or more, where wind speeds are much higher. More recent studies measuring wind velocity at the height of modern wind turbines found enough wind to justify hundreds of millions of dollars in investment. Now, Indiana has an additional 500 megawatts of wind farms under construction.

Our in-state wind resources do not limit our ability to use wind power. With utility-scale wind farms in operation or development in every state bordering Kentucky, and with existing power lines crossing state borders, Kentucky has access to thousands of megawatts of wind potential in neighboring states. Meanwhile, we can research and develop appropriate sites within the state.

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By Maria Alvarez

I write first as a proud Tennessean, and second as a member of the Haitian community. I was born in Haiti and moved to Nashville at the age of 16. I've lived here for more than 15 years – long enough to see the Haitian community in Nashville grow from three families to more than 2,000 people. I remember when the first group of Haitians came to Nashville because of unrest in their homeland. And I'm privileged to have seen that generation of Haitian Americans -- and the next -- become productive Tennesseans.

As a community, we have watched Haiti go through many ups downs. The country was only recently beginning to recover from a decade of economic, environmental and political turmoil. But the recent earthquake changed everything. It was completely unprecedented. All members of the Haitian community in Tennessee suffer alongside Haiti’s survivors.

The quake, which has jolted the world, has not only damaged buildings, but stolen the lives of tens of thousands of Haitians. The days since have been some of the most difficult of my life – not knowing whether my family and friends are alive.

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By Jennifer Hughes

As a long-time food service worker, I know how difficult it can be to survive on tips. I remember working at a place where the minimum wage was $5.15/hr and no one could get full-time hours because the employer did not want to offer health benefits.

On top of being a full-time student, I had to constantly make quality of life decisions. I cut as many corners as I could: living with roommates, buying generic food and hygiene items, walking to class and carpooling to work. I was a long way from my home and my family, and my dog was all I had.

The last straw came when I had to make a decision between whether my dog or I would eat that night. It was hard decision but not one that I had not made before. I realized then that I could not keep my dog if I could not afford to feed us both. It was a heart-wrenching decision but I found a loving family to take him. I thought I had done everything right. He was like my child. It was at that moment that I wondered about the families of other tipped workers. What did they do? I decided there had to be an end to this system of poverty that keeps hard-working people like me in poverty.

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Thursday, February 4, 2010

Fixing Tennessee’s Tax System

By Shelby Tabeling

For Tennessee to be a first-class place to live and do business, we must ensure our current and future workforce is educated, our bridges and roads are safe, our rivers and parks are clean, our communities are protected, and our fellow Tennesseans have access to affordable housing and health care.

We collect revenue for valuable public structures we all enjoy and that provide quality of life for each Tennessean — structures like higher education, toll-free roads, fire and police protection, thousands of acres of state parks, and affordable care and assistance when our families face unexpected circumstances.

But times are tough for Tennessee. As the General Assembly enters the 2010 legislative session, Governor Phil Bredesen has warned that in the 2010-11 fiscal year, the state could face a gap of more than $1 billion between the money that’s available from taxes and what’s needed to meet the state’s essential obligations.

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By Yifat Susskind

In the immediate aftermath of the catastrophe earthquake in Haiti, the first question everyone asked was: How can I help? Many people believe that donating to a large relief agency is the best way to help Haiti. In fact, those agencies do have a critical role to play, though, the problem is that most big relief operations are designed to swoop into a crisis, deliver services and leave.

After the big agencies leave, local people are no more knowledgeable, self-reliant or resilient than they were before. Therefore, it is crucial to help people respond to the next disaster and move toward real development.

One of ways that you can help is to support organizations that reinforce the activities of existing community groups. Too often, big international agencies temporarily set up shop and inadvertently undermine local organizations by attracting their best staff, driving up rents and ultimately weakening the very organizations that communities need for long-term recovery.

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Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Stopping Maricopa County’s Abuses of Power

By Dave Wells

In countries like Iran we regularly see dissent brutally crushed and political enemies jailed. Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio and County Attorney Andrew Thomas are behaving in similar fashion. That’s why a federal grand jury is investigating Arpaio.
Arpaio and Thomas use their popularity and the cover of law to embark on a reign of legal intimidation. Except that, unlike Iran, they ultimately may be restrained by the very oath they are breaking -- that of upholding the U.S. Constitution and “to impartially discharge the duties of the office.”

The list of political opponents and retribution keeps growing. Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon, an outspoken Arpaio critic, was visited by sheriff’s deputies. County supervisors Don Stapley and Mary Rose Wilcox are under questionable indictments. When Wilcox’s attorney, Colin Campbell, publicly rebuked the charges, he too was visited by sheriff’s deputies. Attorney General Terry Goddard, who might logically step in, is also a target of investigation by the sheriff and county attorney.

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