By Dr. Jeffery Patterson

One crucial lesson from the BP oil spill is that measures to speed licensing, cut corners on safety and undermine regulation can lead to tragic consequences. Yet Congress appears on the verge of repeating mistakes that led to the environmental catastrophe in the Gulf.

Federal lawmakers are weighing a BP-type deregulation of new nuclear reactors - the one energy source in which damage from a major accident could dwarf harm done by a ruptured offshore oil well.

In this effort, the nuclear industry's backers are working both sides of the street. On one hand, they proclaim that the current nuclear regulatory system is so superior, it could well serve as a model for regulating the petrochemical industry.

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By Aaron Dorfman

When those who speak for regular folks – you, me and everyday working people – are outspent in Washington, even the most welcome legislation tends to serve the rich and powerful. As the country anticipates President Obama signing financial reform legislation, the scorecard is so starkly out of balance that it's shameful. While a coalition of national and community-based organizations was able to raise $3 million to advocate for average people, the financial industry was spending $1.4 million a day on lobbying efforts.

Americans for Financial Reform, a broad coalition of local, state and national organizations, took up advocating for a financial system that's for the people, one that's accountable, fair and equitable. Despite the enormity of what’s at stake – jobs, economic security and the future of millions of Americans – a new report from the Institute for American’s Future makes it all too clear how much the coalition has been severely outspent by larger, better-funded interest groups.

If financial reform, or any reform, is ever to serve the interests of the people, the balance of power – which is to say, the ability to generate vital lobbying resources – must shift.

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By Brian Miller

Imagine joining friends for a late-night game of Monopoly, but in this game, there’s a twist: At the start of the game, one player gets an entire side of the game board, from Pacific Ave. to Boardwalk, including the Short Line railroad. Instead of pondering easy questions like whether to be the shoe or the thimble, you’re now grappling with a more important question: Do you even stand a chance in such a lopsided game?

As you ponder the fairness of this board game, Congress is debating the very real future of our federal estate tax, a tax on inherited wealth designed in part to prevent one player from owning most of the board before the game even begins.

Recently, a new proposal was introduced in an effort to break through the stalemate that has led to the current tax holiday for the super wealthy. Because of the inability of Congress to reach agreement back in December, the year 2010 is slowly passing as the first since 1916 with no estate tax. Billions of dollars are now being transferred tax-free, while our national deficit grows. The heirs of the late Texas billionaire Dan Duncan stand to inherit, free of any estate tax, more than the average American earns in 4,000 lifetimes. No one questions the right of parents to pass on a legacy to their children, but how much is enough?

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By Frank Knapp Jr.

The South Carolina Small Business Chamber of Commerce and small business organizations and owners across this country want Wall Street Reform. But you wouldn't know that from the attention the media gives to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which is the mouthpiece for the big financial institutions that oppose reform.

The U.S. Chamber purports to represent small businesses. However, the reality is quite different. The July/August edition of the Washington Monthly features an eye-opening story on Tom Donohue, the CEO of the U.S. Chamber, who has a plaque on his desk that reads, "SHOW ME THE MONEY." In 2008, a third of the Chamber's revenues came from just 19 big companies.

When big oil, insurance and other companies are out of favor because of their greed, they turn to the U.S. Chamber to convince Congress and the public that the needed reforms are bad for business in general and small business in particular. This is exactly what is going on regarding Wall Street reform.

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By Yifat Susskind

The shy 14-year-old was not sure how many people she had killed. “When it was my turn to shoot someone, I always hid my face because I was afraid.” Julia (not her real name) is one of thousands of children in Colombia who have been recruited for combat in a decades-long war.

Her story is tragically typical. Years ago, Julia’s family fled their home in the countryside when her father was accused of betraying the local guerrilla commander. Like so many displaced people, Julia’s family ended up in one of Bogotá’s sprawling and dangerous shanty-towns.

Unable to enroll in school because of the cost, Julia spent most of her time in the streets. Gradually, she stopped going home at night because of an abusive new step-father. Julia was 11-years-old at the time, homeless, hungry and afraid.

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By Kathleen Rogers

When President Obama spoke to the nation about the Gulf Coast Oil Spill, he gave us needed straight talk for holding BP accountable and helping those affected by the spill. But, when it came down to talking about clean energy, he disappointed. This was his moment to say America needs a new investment in renewable energy and that it’s time to end America’s dependence on fossil fuels.

While Americans are all feeling the impacts of the spill, we have collectively failed to make the connection between our everyday oil use and the recklessness and negligence that led to the destruction we are witnessing now. Our consumption habits and antiquated infrastructure are exponentially increasing demand, creating an environment in which taking shortcuts on safety standards can prove to be profitable for oil and gas companies.

We need a structural shift to make our economy oil independent. This starts at the grassroots level by mobilizing our family, friends and neighbors to support federal, state and local solutions to our oil dependence. We need a clean energy and climate proposal that is comprehensive and ambitious enough to incentivize real energy independence. Even if Congress continues to delay, there are opportunities for change available at the local level. We need to promote state-based clean energy initiatives and engage local leaders to commit to clean energy policies to curb urban sprawl and promote oil-free transportation.

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By Peter A. Bradford

The recent acceptance of $8.3 billion in taxpayer-backed loan guarantees by the builders of the Vogtle nuclear reactors seems like good news for Georgia electric customers. Nationwide taxpayers will now share in the costs and risks that had been on the shoulders of the customers of the utilities building the two reactors.

But don’t celebrate too soon.

There are more loan guarantees in the pipeline — a total of $54.5 billion, none for Georgia reactors. These guarantees mean that you and I will repay the lender if the project cannot. The $54.5 billion would amount to an exposure of more than $500 for every American family. Some in Congress want unlimited nuclear loan guarantees, which translate to unlimited taxpayer exposure.

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By Madeline Ostrander

Dave Rauschkolb took on the oil industry when it got personal—it threatened his beach and his business.

Rauschkolb is not an environmental lawyer or professional Sierra Club-type. He’s an avid surfer and owns a pizza bar on the northwest coast of Florida, within range of the BP spill. Rauschkolb has never called himself an activist. But he was so incensed that state and federal politicians let the oil industry take a gamble on the safety of drilling in the Gulf Coast that he recently organized a protest called “Hands Across the Sand." What started just weeks ago as an idea on a website mushroomed into more than 900 events in all 50 states and more than 30 other countries—thousands of people who linked hands on beaches to take a stand for protecting coastlines and waterways.

Many people have a profound connection to their rivers, lakes, oceans, and reservoirs. “It doesn't matter if you're a Democrat or a Republican, or an environmentalist or a businessperson,” Rauschkolb says. “Floridians are passionate about their coastal heritage, as much as Americans are passionate about their coastal heritage.”

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By Thoraya Ahmed Obaid

Every country counts its people. The numbers tell decision-makers about current and future needs.

“Everyone counts” is the theme for this year’s World Population Day.

If people and their characteristics aren’t counted, governments can’t plan. If identification is not granted, it is impossible to track progress over a lifetime. If a birth certificate indicates a need for schooling, that informs the education system. If death records specify, to the extent possible, cause of death, health systems can be oriented to meet actual needs. If death records specify causes related to HIV/AIDS and other infectious diseases, pregnancy and childbirth, specific health services can be prioritized. Government planning depends on local and regional information that is supplemented by interviews with the groups most concerned. Such data makes it possible to meet real needs.

Good data is critical for evidence-based policies and programs for improving people’s lives. Yet while timely and reliable data is routine in richer countries, many resource-constrained developing countries struggle to conduct the censuses and surveys that they need for effective planning.

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By Rich Jones

Would you share your hours with co-workers to avoid layoffs?

It’s a relevant question since Gov. Bill Ritter recently signed a work-share bill into law. Since the law is new, there are a lot of questions about what it means for Colorado workers. We'd like to provide some answers.

Work-share is a voluntary program that companies can use to weather short-term business declines.

Under the program, employers can reduce the hours of a work force to avoid layoffs. Employees, in turn, can claim unemployment benefits for the reduction in work hours.

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By Erin Noble

In May, the Missouri General Assembly passed Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE), a green jobs proposal that makes going green even easier for Missourians.

Up-front cash is often the main barrier preventing people from pursuing efficiency or renewable energy projects like replacing an old HVAC system or installing solar panels. The PACE program creates a huge new market for upgrades and thousands of green jobs in Missouri. The yearly savings on energy bills from the PACE projects outweigh their yearly property assessment, which makes these upgrade projects immediately cost effective.

So how does it work? The PACE program is a financing tool that allows homeowners to pay for energy efficiency improvements and renewable energy installations through a property assessment on their taxes over 20 years. The PACE model provides little risk for lenders as the loans are assessed to the property, carry a fixed interest rate, and stay with the house so if the owner moves the person who purchases the property becomes responsible for the remaining amount.

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By Frances Deviney, Ph.D.

Much of the healthcare reform reporting the past few months has focused on political winners and losers. But parents are more concerned with their families than with political scorekeeping. And let's be clear: The reform plan passed by Congress is a major victory for Texas children and families.

Children win with healthcare reform because it promotes preventative treatment, ends discrimination against sick children, helps low- and moderate-income families obtain coverage, protects young adults from becoming uninsured between graduation and employment, and makes the health insurance families already have more secure and stable. Millions of Texas children and their families win, thanks to these reforms.

Everyone can agree that the best way to stay healthy is to prevent sickness and injury, and healthcare reform helps do just that. It puts doctors in charge by requiring insurance companies to pay for preventive services, including CDC-recommended immunizations for children and teens. Winners: all of Texas’ 6.7 million children.

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By Susan Shaer

It’s not enough that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have topped one trillion dollars. Now there is a supplemental appropriations bill awaiting a vote in the House of Representatives that will add $37 billion more, plus some other odd bedfellows.

This so-called supplemental allows other “emergency” spending issues to be added; Members of Congress know it cannot fail because it’s for the wars. Up for consideration is millions for the Gulf Coast oil spill response and billions to keep teachers, police and firefighters on the job as communities dig out of the recession. Oh, and $9 billion in loan guarantees for new nuclear reactors.

Wouldn’t you love to see all these items separated? Wouldn’t you love to know how your elected representatives would vote on the wars, the oil spill response, teachers, police and fire, and also nuclear reactor loan guarantees? These are separate issues with different values attached.

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By Richard Clapp

The long-awaited climate proposal crafted by Sens. John Kerry and Joseph Lieberman has finally landed on Capitol Hill. The proposal, though, is a massive nuclear bailout under the guise of an energy overhaul.

Near the top of the almost-1,000-page document is this statement: It is the policy of the United States&to facilitate the continued development and growth of a safe and clean nuclear energy industry. To achieve that, the proposal offers $54 billion in loan guarantees, plus enormous tax breaks and other financial giveaways, and cuts short licensing and safety reviews of new reactors.

The nuclear power industry has skillfully and successfully painted itself green -- an environmentally benign answer to reducing carbon emissions. The industry and many in Washington want us to believe that a new generation of nuclear reactors will solve the problems of climate change and allow us to live happily ever after. That's a costly fairy tale.

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