By Mary Olson

When advisor Dave Freeman helped President Carter navigate the rough waters of the 1970s oil crisis his compass was to find energy that is produced but does not perform a useful function – and stop that waste. Like pumping gasoline on the ground much of our electric power capacity today is effectively wasted.

How is power dumped? An un-insulated roof or leaky old windows cause a furnace to work too hard; newer appliances and industrial motors use a fraction of the juice, paying for themselves many times over (once is savings, more is profit). The trick is that wasted energy when “saved” is “here” and available for another purpose…since it is already generated there is no additional pollution or toxic waste, and also no need to build a new power plant; it is pure “cream.”

North Carolina is awash in power we already have, that is not being used. Imagine an economy nearly twice the size on what we generate today – or alternately a fraction of the power we have now supporting what we do today – possible? Yes. Architects Mike Nicklaus in NC, and Steven Strong nationally, design buildings that not only use less power, they save a system as much energy as they use: net zero.

Click Here for the Full Post


By Pat Byington

On the grounds of one of the world's largest cathedrals, St. John the Divine Episcopal Cathedral in New York City, is a simple piece of art: seven human-shaped arches, each representing a generation, lined up in a row.

Next to this graceful sculpture is a gray footstone topped by a plaque with this inscription: "In all our deliberations we must be mindful of the impact of our decisions on the seven generations to follow ours." -- from the Great Law of the Six Nations of the Iroquois

Most folks count a generation as 20 years, so the total would be 140 years, or two lifetimes. What a mission statement. When we confront difficult environmental issues, the Great Law of the Six Nations of the Iroquois offers us the best path. And if there were ever a state that should adopt such a law, it would be Alabama, because we have the most to lose.

Click Here for the Full Post


By Linda Stettenbenz

Many Kentuckians, like myself, are struggling to find adequate employment, and are going back to school at public universities to try and improve our financial outlook. With tuition at our publicly funded universities rising on average 10 percent per year, we sink into personal debt just trying to find ways to stay afloat and move ahead. While we do our best to move ourselves and our families forward, the Kentucky legislature continues to move us further behind.

People like me pay a bigger portion of our income to state and local taxes than do Kentucky’s wealthiest. Still, every year we are told there is no way to properly fund the services we need the most. And once again, the legislature’s unwillingness to adopt needed reforms further sends Kentucky into decline.

As citizens, we must see through the smoke and mirrors of perpetually inadequate funding for critical services, and support fair and adequate reforms that will move us forward.

Click Here for the Full Post


By F. Scott McCown

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott is asking a federal court to declare national health care reform unconstitutional.

I respect Abbott, having served with him as a state judge, so I carefully read his legal papers, only to discover he is terribly wrong.

Under reform, Congress expanded Medicaid to cover more poor people and created federally subsidized state exchanges where everyone else can buy private health insurance. With some exceptions, everyone must obtain health insurance or pay a tax.

Click Here for the Full Post


By Linda Tarr-Whelan

I began my career as nurse in 1960, only to be fired on my first day because I didn’t stand up for a doctor. It didn’t matter that I was inserting an IV line for a patient. In those days, showing deference to men -- and virtually all doctors were men -- took precedence. Now we know that the best patient outcomes are achieved by balance and synergy – it takes women and men, doctors and nurses as members of health teams to achieve optimal results.

It's beginning to dawn on society that women are the talent base for the future. They're the force behind consumer spending and the drivers of small-business development. Women in every profession are trained, experienced and ready to add their individual and collective strength to business and political decision-making. Yet when it comes to balanced leadership, we're stuck in a rut.

We rightfully celebrate “first women” like Katherine Bigelow, who this year became the first woman to win a Best Director Oscar in the Academy Awards' 82-year history. But our celebrations mask the stark reality and expose our complacency. We tend to gloss over the real picture. Geena Davis, working to see more women behind the cameras as filmmakers, writers and directors, reminds us that we've been in exactly the same place for 46 years.

Click Here for the Full Post


By Christian Ramirez

Reforming our obsolete immigration system is a human rights issue that can no longer wait. Our nation needs a clear and workable path toward legal residency for the millions of undocumented workers and families living in this country.

Some proposals, such as the immigration-reform blueprint that Sens. Chuck Schumer and Lindsey Graham are spearheading, will only generate the needed path after creating a more militarized southern border. Border communities have for generations demanded accountability and respect for their quality of life, not more of the same failed policies.

Adding more patrols, or high-tech surveillance systems, to “secure the borders” does not make us more secure. The tragic deaths of at least 6,000 migrants attempting to cross the U.S.-Mexico border since the mid 1990s are a stark reminder that border control policies have only perpetuated suffering. Migrants are 17 times more likely to die today while crossing the border than they were in 1998.

Click Here for the Full Post


By Timothy Sweeney and Alan Essig

For more than a year, federal efforts at reforming the nation’s health insurance system have been controversial to say the least. Now that the president has signed health reform into law, the partisan debate should come to an end.

It is incumbent upon policymakers to begin planning for the implementation of the national reform law so that Georgians can benefit as much as possible from all its provisions.

Instead of working on implementing reform and focusing on the ways the reforms make needed improvements for Georgians, both with and without health insurance, state policymakers have continued their political rhetoric, misinformation, and exaggeration about its effect on Georgia.

Click Here for the Full Post


By Tom Benner

Democracy works best when people participate in their government; and people participate best when they can get the information they need to weigh in with opinions and evaluate the decisions made by those elected to represent us.

It’s that time of year now when Massachusetts is working on a new state budget. No piece of state legislation has a bigger impact on our everyday life -- from schools and roads, to public health, police and fire protection, and parks and recreation. The budget is how we as a Commonwealth express not just what we want to accomplish through government, but also how to pay for it.

State budget documents are not known for being “easy reads.” But understanding the Massachusetts state budget has just gotten easier, with a new online, interactive tool you can use to explore the state budget and see how and where money is allocated. The Budget Browser, found at, is part of our work at the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center to help citizens of the Commonwealth better determine whether the state budget meets public needs and priorities.

Click Here for the Full Post


By Doug Doerrfeld

Kentucky officials are betting our future on an unproven technology known as carbon capture and storage (CCS) or carbon sequestration. It’s a misguided gamble that takes us down an expensive path when there are clearly better options.

No doubt there is a problem. Kentucky coal burning power plants produce about 100 million tons of carbon dioxide a year. And though there are modest efforts to reduce this amount, Kentucky’s electricity use is expected to grow which adds to the problem unless we turn down a different path.

Politicians and utilities are betting on geological sequestration – using porous rock, and a lot of it, deep under our land as the place to dispose of this waste. But after years of experiments, we still have no proof that carbon capture and sequestration will work on the scale necessary, and at a cost that’s affordable. It’s the wrong solution.


By Ed Sivak

The governor’s office projects that state revenue estimates will fall $1.2 billion short of what the state needs this year. This means that Mississippi will have significantly less money than in past years to educate children, train the workforce and maintain the roads and infrastructure that foster economic development.

The magnitude of the crisis requires a balanced approach that includes raising revenue to keep the state from moving backwards. Three revenue raising recommendations offer a starting point for helping to solve this problem. The recommendations would produce much needed funds while allowing Mississippi’s tax structure to keep pace with advancements in the global economy.

First, modernize Mississippi’s sales tax to reflect today’s purchasing habits. The sales tax was designed during the Great Depression to provide the state with revenue based on what people bought. Back then, people spent most of their money on things, rather than services. In recent decades, however, the share of spending that households devote to goods has declined. And what households spend on services -- many of which didn’t even exist during the Depression -- has increased. The shift not only costs the state money, it also sets up some imbalances that work against middle-income people. For example, if one buys a lawnmower in Mississippi to cut his or her grass, they pay sales tax on the purchase. If one pays a lawn service, he or she does not pay the tax.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Immigration Can Help Us


By Bill Chandler

We should be welcoming immigrants to Mississippi, the ”Hospitality State.”

Instead of having xenophobic reactions, we should be looking at the benefits they bring to our economy. In recent years Republican and Democrats alike have called for kicking immigrants out of Mississippi. Legislators introduced scores of bills intended to make immigrants so uncomfortable they’ll leave. Some law enforcement jurisdictions have made it their mission to target Latinos without provocation. Candidates for public offices have made attacking immigrants the centerpieces of their campaigns. One candidate attempted to show that the presence of immigrants cost the state millions, in his publicly funded reports mostly based on false statistics gathered from a notorious hate group.

The facts paint a different picture of the contributions of immigrants. For example, the worlds’ dominant economy, and one of the richest, is the United States—a country populated almost entirely by immigrants and their descendants. The U.S. population has more than doubled over the last century, yet the country has become wealthier and wealthier.

Click Here for the Full Post


By Kathleen Rogers

Climate change is a critical issue in the 21st century, and as we observe Women’s History Month we should bear in mind the effect of the environment on women. Women make up the majority of the earth’s population, and are most vulnerable to changes in climate and environment.

“The poor are not living in industrialized countries where the environment is distant -- where you have to go out to appreciate it. Our lives depend upon it," said Wangari Maathai, winner of the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize.

Problems such as air pollution, contaminated water, lack of adequate sanitation, disease vectors and degraded ecosystems are all risk factors for women and their children. In 2005, 1.1 billion people lacked access to safe and affordable drinking water, nearly 20 percent of the earth’s population, while 40 percent of the earth’s population lacked clean sanitation. Approximately 1.8 million children die every year as a result of diarrhea caused by lack of clean water and proper sanitation. That is an average of 4,500 children per day.

Click Here for the Full Post


By Ralph Paige

When President Abraham Lincoln created the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) in 1862 he referred to it as the People’s Department. The problem is that its services have never been available to all the people. Although more recently, with the Clinton and Obama administrations, efforts have been made to correct discriminatory problems at the USDA, it's an unfortunate fact that the USDA’s history has been marred by rampant discrimination. This is why black farmers filed a 1997 lawsuit against the USDA that focused on discrimination in administration of its farm programs in the 1980s and into the 1990s.

The litigation -- referred to as Pigford vs. Glickman (now Pigford vs. Vilsack) and named after Tim Pigford a black farmer in North Carolina and then-Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman -- was settled in 1999, and more than 15,000 black farmers obtained relief for discrimination at the hands of the USDA. But the settlement itself triggered such an outpouring of pent-up frustration and demands for justice that more than 12 years later the case is still ongoing.

Black farmers originally needed to file claims by Oct. 12, 1999. While thousands of farmers met that deadline, many others were unaware of the lawsuit. As a result, the judge let people who missed the deadline petition to get into the settlement, providing they did so by Sept. 15, 2000. Again, thousands of farmers filed petitions and are now referred to as “late filers.”

Click Here for the Full Post


By Martha Richards

When facing tough times, most Americans turn to the arts. We crank up our favorite songs on the radio, go to a movie, or settle in for an evening of “Dancing with the Stars.” And yet as our country struggles through one of its worst economic periods, our leaders seem oblivious to the pivotal role the arts can play in our recovery.

Seventy-five years ago our leaders made better use of our cultural strengths. When President Roosevelt led the country during the Great Depression of the 1930s, he understood that the arts generated hope and community pride, and he invested in them as part of his recovery strategy.

The centerpiece of his recovery program was the massive Works Progress Administration (WPA), and it supported arts, drama, media, oral history and literacy programs side by side with programs to construct public buildings and roads. The WPA employed more than 40,000 artists, including many of the best artists of the period, such as Eudora Welty, Zora Neale Hurston, Louise Nevelson, Langston Hughes, Orson Welles and Arthur Miller. These artists eventually became American cultural icons, but during the Depression, they were out of work along with everyone else.

Click Here for the Full Post


By Cindia Cameron

In March we look forward – eagerly anticipating the arrival of spring; and we look to the past – celebrating National Women’s History Month. Looking back, we might ask what our pioneer activists in women’s rights would say about tough choices working women still make to keep their families afloat. Looking forward, we can celebrate Women’s History Month by taking action to pass the Healthy Families Act.

One inspiration for action is the story of a young mother named Tahirah who lives in Denver, CO. At 26, Tahirah found a dream job: crew leader in an airport restaurant. The wages were low and the hours long. Still, the job offered a chance to supervise and a clear path to the management track. But there were two wrinkles: her preschool-age daughter has asthma and this job did not provide any paid sick days.

Tahirah managed to keep her job and home from falling apart – for a while. But there were times when her daughter was sick and her manager would not allow her to leave work. There were also times when Tahirah left her daughter home sick because she simply couldn’t risk being fired. One day her daughter was rushed to the hospital. A friend called to tell Tahirah to meet them there. But her manager didn’t give her the message for hours. Eventually she was forced to leave that job. She’s found others, but still none that offer the paid sick days she needs.

Click Here for the Full Post


By Denis Hayes

Nuclear power has never lived up to the promises of its backers. Their latest claim – that nuclear energy represents an easy answer to global warming – has as much validity as that old industry chestnut of producing energy “too cheap to meter.” Let’s not be duped again.

Four decades ago, when I served as national coordinator for the first Earth Day, millions of Americans mobilized on behalf of the environment. This year, we know that the centerpiece of a healthy environment is safe, clean and sustainable energy. Climate change was a phrase unknown back in 1970; today it is part of our popular vocabulary. Halting the advance of global warming tops the priority list of environmental issues that threaten our well-being.

The nuclear industry – and some in Washington – would like us to believe that building new reactors will solve this threat. To hear them talk, the nuclear option sounds alluring. Certainly the promise of an energy source that is a low greenhouse gas emitter might carry some weight with those concerned about climate change. But let’s look at the facts.


On Tuesday, April 20, people across the nation will observe Equal Pay Day 2010 – representing the point when women’s wages finally catch up to men’s wages from last year. According to the most recent US Census Bureau statistics, women who work in full-time, year-round jobs earn, on average, 77 cents to every dollar earned by men working in full-time, year-round jobs.

For women of color, the wage gap is even wider. In 2008, the earnings for African American women were 67.9 percent of men's earnings and Latinas’ earnings were 58 percent of men's. As those pennies being lost add up, women and their families are being shortchanged thousands of dollars a year and hundreds of thousands of dollars over the course of a lifetime.

Reaching pay equity means more now than ever before.


By John Hickey

According to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate in Missouri is 9.4 percent. Behind this statistic are thousands of workers struggling to pay their bills and keep food on the table. I should know – I just went back to work after being unemployed for over eight months. So the jobs issue is important to me. I am also the father of two young boys, so I also want to preserve our environment by addressing climate change.

What are our state representatives doing to address this twin crisis? Unfortunately, too many of them are playing partisan games instead of taking care of the people’s business. Recently, 60 representatives co-sponsored a measure claiming that climate change science is “fraudulent,” “deliberate concealment,” and “manipulation.” The measure indicates there is no need to take action to address climate change, and that proposals to reduce greenhouse gases would lead to more unemployment.

Of course, the vast majority of scientists agree that climate change is real and dangerous, so on that point the legislators are clearly wrong. But I want to focus on the jobs argument, because these legislators are wrong here as well. In fact, Missouri is full of examples of how promoting clean energy creates jobs. Look at the ABB plant in Jefferson City, where 400 workers make transformers for wind generators. Look at the CG Power Systems plant in Franklin County, where workers also make transformers for wind generators. The plant is now expanding its factory and hiring over 100 new workers. Smith Electric Vehicles has begun assembly of battery-powered delivery vans in Platte County near the Kansas City Airport. The Ford plant in Claycomo is assembling hybrid vehicles, and recently added a third shift to keep up with demand.


By Teri Blanton

Quietly, behind the scenes, state and industry officials are planning the largest toxic waste disposal system in Kentucky’s history. The system would deal with 100 million tons of hazardous materials every year.

Where is this system going to be located? Under our land.

No, I’m not kidding.

Right now, we’re putting this waste into our atmosphere and into our lungs. Coal burning power plants operating in Kentucky spew out nearly 100 million tons of carbon dioxide pollution every year, along with a long list of other toxic gases. Most people recognize excessive amounts of carbon and other pollutants in our atmosphere as a serious health and economic problem. Inevitably, and probably soon, federal law and international treaties are going to require that we greatly reduce the amount of our carbon pollution.


By Frank Knapp Jr.

Small businesses are paying the price for an economic crisis they didn't create. To find solutions to this crisis, our government needs to listen to small-business owners, not the financial behemoths that caused the meltdown and then passed the buck.

When Tom Ledbetter became facilitator of training programs for entrepreneurs and small-business owners in Columbia, S.C., graduates typically would be able to take action to achieve their goals. Not anymore. Now, classes are smaller and graduates routinely are frozen out of financing necessary for them to pursue their dreams.

More and more small businesses are being rejected for loans. It doesn’t matter what the business is; whether it be a glass company in Charleston with 80 employees, an auto parts company with orders in hand from Honda, a Greenville cabinet-making business with large orders pending, a multi-generation Columbia business looking to diversify by putting up $2 million and prime property, or a Hilton Head construction supply company that had never missed a loan payment—all have been rejected by lenders.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Restoring Dignity to Former Felons


By Homer S. White

State Senator Damon Thayer is preventing a proposed amendment to the Kentucky constitution that would restore voting rights to former felons from moving forward. Furthermore, nine of the 12 members of Thayer’s State and Local Government Committee say that they intend to support the measure, but Thayer still refuses to let it be heard. Surely this is an important proposal that merits full consideration (the proposal passed the House last month with strong bipartisan support).

Nearly 129,000 former felons in Kentucky, who have served their prison time, probation and parole, have not been able to navigate the existing pardoning process which requires an individual pardon from the governor. Tens of thousands more Kentuckians will be in the same situation in coming years. Conversations with former felons indicate that most have not heard about the pardon process and don't know how to initiate it. Even officials in the Kentucky justice system and the state's county clerk offices often don't know how to help people through the process.

We have to bear in mind that persons recently released from prison are at a particularly vulnerable point in their lives. If we want them to re-engage in society in a positive way, we should provide them with every possible encouragement to do so, and work to remove hurdles that stand in their way.


By Bruce Corrie

We are inundated with stories about the costs and burdens of immigrants. This is a myopic view as it focuses only on fiscal costs. What’s missing is a larger picture of how immigrants interact in our economy – as entrepreneurs, consumers, workers, human capital, civic capital, fiscal capital, cultural capital and global capital. I call this immigrant capital.

When we look at immigrant capital we can see a different picture of the role of immigrants in our economy.

One just has to visit certain commercial corridors in the Twin Cities to see how immigrant entrepreneurs have vitalized run-down neighborhoods by providing services and jobs, and serving as role models in their communities. Immigrant entrepreneurship is also occurring at the high tech level in areas such as alternative energy, information systems and manufacturing. The number of Asian and Latino firms is growing at a much faster rate than all the other firms in the state.


By Sarah van Gelder

If anyone thought the inauguration of Barack Obama as president, heralded the end of racism in America, they should look no further than the tea party rallies held this weekend. The racial slogans and the mocking signs show how far we still have to go. Perhaps even more troubling are the economic indicators that show how far the recession is setting back the fragile fortunes of people of color.

On the other hand, extraordinary possibilities open up for us as a nation if we succeed in coming together to embrace the strengths of the country's growing diversity,

First, the bad news. Before the Great Recession hit, the average family of color had a net worth of less than $30,000; the average white family’s net worth was $170,000. With the economic downturn, things got worse for almost everyone, but especially for people of color. White unemployment rose to 9 percent, but unemployment among blacks is at a whopping 16 percent, and among Latinos it's nearly 13 percent. The economic crisis hits blacks and Latinos in other ways, too. They were far more likely to be saddled with high-rate, subprime loans than their white counterparts with similar qualifications, and they are more likely to be facing the loss of their main asset—their home.


By State Reps. Walt Bivins and Jill Schupp

Missouri is well behind the curve in adopting smoke-free standards for public places. In locales throughout the state, we are subjecting real people – customers, workers, children and people with breathing diseases to the harmful effects of secondhand smoke.

People have the right to breathe clean indoor air. They should be able to eat at restaurants and go into public buildings without being exposed to the serious health dangers of secondhand smoke.

A typical “non-smoker” who works in a smoky restaurant inhales almost an entire pack of cigarettes during just one eight-hour shift. Secondhand smoke contains over 4,000 chemicals and is estimated to cause over 30,000 deaths every year. Missourians alone spend $119 million on health care costs associated with secondhand smoke.