Friday, September 16, 2011

A Jobs Crisis We Can Solve

By Sarah van Gelder

President Obama is proposing important steps toward doing what Americans have been asking for since the financial collapse of 2008—putting a focus on families and jobs.

To create real prosperity, though, Washington will have to deal with three main drivers of our economic malaise: massive inequality such that the super wealthy and big corporations are sitting on piles of cash while ordinary Americans’ can barely get by; enormous ongoing expenditures for wars; and assaults on our natural systems, including our climate, such that costs of everything from insurance to food is rising while our security is threatened.

Without families buying things, the economy can’t revive and create jobs. That’s why our solutions need to focus on ways to support small businesses, which create the bulk of the jobs and keep money flowing locally instead of flowing to distant corporate headquarters.

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Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The So-Called Personhood Amendment

By Rims Barber

The law of unintended consequences should temper our resolve when tinkering with laws impacting people’s lives. The consequences of adopting Initiative 26 -- the proposed Personhood Amendment to the Mississippi Constitution -- are far-reaching and potentially devastating to women’s health.

In the 33 years since the first in vitro baby was born, hundreds of Mississippi couples were able to have the baby of their dreams through in vitro fertilization (IVF). Since more than one egg is harvested and fertilized to achieve a successful IVF pregnancy, making all the embryos “people” under Mississippi law will make it difficult if not impossible to continue offering IVF treatment in our state.

When embryos are created and frozen as a part of reproductive fertility treatments, these embryos will be legally persons if this initiative passes, and consequently will have all the rights due persons. The problems resulting from this change would be many.

Click to read the full article here

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Minimum-Wage Earners Falling Further Behind

By Christine Owens

Two years ago this week, 4.5 million of America’s workers enjoyed a modest pay increase, as the federal minimum wage rose from $6.55 to $7.25 an hour. The increase was the final of a three-step boost enacted in 2007. Of those getting a bump in pay, more than three-quarters were adults, nearly two-thirds were women, and nearly half a million were single parents with children under 18.

Yet during the past two years, these working families have seen the real value of their wages fall. Minimum-wage earners working full-time make roughly $15,000 a year. Had the minimum wage rate kept up with inflation, their paychecks would have increased by $800 this year. Instead, our nation’s lowest-paid workers have had an even harder time providing basic needs for their families. This is one more reason that Main Street is having a tough time recovering from the economic calamity brought on by financial collapse.

CEO compensation grew 23 percent in 2010, while pay for the average American worker grew only half a percent. Minimum wage workers have fared even worse: Since the 2009 increase, the real value of the minimum wage has fallen 5 percent.

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By Billy Parish

Families across the middle swath of our country -- from North Dakota to Louisiana -- have a disturbing question to ask themselves: “Do we want a leaky pipeline pumping 800,000 barrels of oil a day running through our community?”

The proposed Keystone XL oil pipeline, which would transport tar sands -- a mixture of sand, clay, water and a dense tar-like form of petroleum, from the Boreal forests of Alberta to refineries in the Gulf of Mexico region -- is a 1,700-mile time bomb that either will be activated or defused in the coming days.

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Thursday, September 1, 2011

Veto of Billboard Bill Should Stand

By John Regenbogen

In the final hours of the regular legislative session this past spring, the Missouri General Assembly added highly controversial, pro-billboard language to an otherwise uncontroversial transportation bill. The bill passed on the last day of session but fortunately was vetoed by Gov. Jay Nixon because the bill substantially weakens the ability of local communities to restrict billboards.

The governor’s veto is not the last word, however, as the General Assembly begins a veto session September 14 and leaders appear intent to try to override the veto by garnering votes of two-thirds of the legislature. Ironically, while all indications are that the General Assembly appears poised to finally act on a matter of basic fairness and return control of the St. Louis police department from the state to the city, it may seek to take away the right of local citizens – through their locally elected officials -- to regulate billboards according to community standards.

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By Marianne Hill

Women’s Equality Day, August 26, is both a celebration of women’s progress and a reminder that equality remains a goal, not a reality.

On this day in 1920, women gained the right to vote under the 19th Amendment. Today, over 90 years later, the struggle to advance women’s rights is concentrated on the economic front -- with an end to discrimination against women in the labor force a critical, and hotly-debated, objective.

Two proposals now stalled in Congress would improve women’s odds of getting a fair shake at the workplace. They face an uphill battle, but it’s one worth fighting.

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Monday, August 22, 2011

Proud to Invest in America

By Paul Egerman

I love America, and have proudly invested in America. I have invested by building successful businesses employing thousands of American workers. And I have invested in our country by paying taxes.

But our nation loses $100 billion a year to tax dodging by some of our largest corporations and wealthiest people. That’s a trillion dollar hole in our national treasury over the next decade unless we act now to plug it.

Tax dodging companies are disinvesting in our country – not investing in it.

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Pam Solo
By Pam Solo and Grant Smith

The reactor disaster in Fukushima is so fresh in our memories that it may seem incomprehensible to think that the history of that tragic (and still unfolding) event in Japan could ever be rewritten and distorted. But history tells us that the nuclear power industry is very adept at revising the facts about every major reactor disaster.

Consider the Three Mile Island (TMI) reactor crisis in the United States. Thanks to years of industry propaganda, many Americans now assume that the panic that followed in the wake of this near-disaster situation derailed the nuclear power industry in the United States, halting its forward momentum in its prime. (Just watch: If the industry falters after Fukushima, it will once again pin the blame on “unreasoning panic” by the public.)

Panic was not the issue after the Three Mile Island. In reality, the U.S. nuclear power industry was already dead in the water by the time of the TMI accident. The culprit was not unreasoning panic on the part of the public. What killed nuclear power more than a quarter of a century ago was cold, hard economics: Nuclear power was just too expensive to build.

Remember the promises made about nuclear power?

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Mitchell Szczepanczyk
Steve Macek
By Steve Macek and Mitchell Szczepanczyk

The British tabloid, News of the World, owned by conservative media-mogul Rupert Murdoch's News Corp., has been implicated since 2005 in intercepting voicemails of celebrities and politicians. But recently the newspaper has been swept up in explosive new allegations that its staff also intercepted voicemails of victims of the July 7, 2005, London bombing, of relatives of deceased British soldiers, and of a 13-year-old murdered girl.

Ramifications snowballed. Within a week of the new allegations, Murdoch closed News of the World after 168 years of operation, firing the paper's 200 employees. A class-action lawsuit filed in March against Murdoch about lax oversight was quickly amended to include the new allegations, and News Corp.’s stock lost $10 billion in value in the scandal’s first two weeks. The company's top U.K. executive, Rebekah Brooks, has tendered her resignation, and the scandal derailed an attempt by Murdoch to secure majority control of BSkyB, Britain's largest satellite broadcaster. The scandal has also impacted the head of Scotland Yard, who resigned once ties between News of the World and Scotland Yard became known.

But the Murdoch media empire extends across the world and the scandal may well have repercussions on this side of the Atlantic. News of the World is alleged to have paid a New York police officer to secure voicemails of victims of the 9/11 attacks, and the FBI has apparently opened an investigation. What's more, the editor of Murdoch-owned Wall Street Journal who served as the editor at News of the World during the time of voicemail intercepts has also resigned in disgrace.

Clearly, Murdoch must face accountability for crimes committed under his watch, and one way the U.S. government could hold him accountable would be to repeal News Corp's TV broadcast licenses.

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By Timothy Murray

Every day in America, half a million people sit in local jails awaiting trial. They are there because they can’t afford to make bail. Two of every three of these people are charged with nonviolent offenses and are simply waiting to face their accusers.

Meanwhile, well-publicized and well-off defendants like former International Monetary Fund head Dominique Strauss-Kahn can make bail easily, no matter how high, and are released before court action. In effect, they have purchased their freedom until their trial begins.

The cost to local taxpayers to feed and house those who can’t make bail is $9 billion a year. We could save those dollars, ease prison overcrowding and bring more justice to the entire system with some relatively simple reforms.

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By Kathleen Rogers

In a close vote, the House recently passed a provision that undercuts one of the most successful environmental programs of the decade – one that requires all bulbs -- including the incandescent -- to achieve higher efficiency levels. The amendment, which was tacked on to the Energy and Water Development Appropriations Act of 2012, delays a ban on sales of incandescent bulbs for nine months - from Jan. 1 until the end of the fiscal year, Sept. 30, 2012 – turning off the lights on this successful program.

The legislation, if passed by the Senate, will repeal one of those “inside the beltway” success stories that seems near impossible these days--legislation that was drafted with the help of light-bulb manufacturing giants, Philips, General Electric and Sylvania, and with the support of a coalition of efficiency and environmental organizations, including my own, passed by a bipartisan majority of the House and Senate and signed into law in 2007 by Republican President George W. Bush. More unusual was the fact that California and Nevada, then under leadership of Republican governors, swallowed hard and gave up their own state lighting-efficiency legislation, which had faster timetables. They did so because they were persuaded by all of us that creating a single regulatory light-bulb standard for the whole country would support innovation; would help the United States maintain its market share of production; save American households money; create new jobs; and would give industry what it craves much more than the anti-regulatory crowd would have you believe. It seems fair to use the term “dim bulb” to describe those members of Congress who voted to turn back the clock.

It's up to the Senate to rectify this wrong.

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Monday, July 25, 2011

Making the Case that Medicaid Works

By Anna Liebenow

You never know what obstacles life is going to put in front of you. When I was 25, I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. Before I turned 30, I was using a wheelchair. When you have a disability, it takes a fair amount of creativity to make life work. Like millions of other Americans with disabilities, I found a way. I continued to work, volunteer and live my life.

After a few years, my MS progressed to the point where I could no longer get in and out of the wheelchair on my own. I was still the same person and still wanted to contribute something. But without help transferring from my bed to my wheelchair, I couldn’t even get out the door. The world beyond my bedroom would be lost to me, and all I have to offer the world would go to waste.

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By former U.S. Reps. Constance Morella (R-Md.) and Bob Edgar (D-Pa.)

August marks the 50th anniversary of the first use of herbicides by United States military forces during the war in Vietnam. From 1961 until 1971, more than 20 million gallons of Agent Orange and other herbicides were stored, mixed, handled by U.S. troops and sprayed by U.S. airplanes over millions of acres of Vietnamese forest and farmland. The goal of this military operation was to deny cover to the enemy on the ground.

The U.S. government now compensates U.S. Vietnam-era vets for 15 serious health conditions and one birth defect related to exposure to the dioxin that was part of those herbicides.

But some 3 million Vietnamese also suffered health effects, including 150,000 of today’s children with birth defects. Their needs have long been neglected, caught in the geopolitical and scientific conflict that followed the war. The Vietnamese government, several U.S. foundations, and nongovernmental organizations have set up hospitals and small remediation programs, but so far these have redressed less than 10 percent of the need.

But the devastating legacy of Agent Orange, one remaining shadow of that war, is on the way to being resolved in Vietnam – if current trends continue. We may have disagreed on many things in the past, but on a recent trip to Vietnam we witnessed a new spirit of cooperation and partnership among former adversaries. All sides are now determined to alleviate the health and environmental damage from Agent Orange, damage that continues to this day.

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By Cindy Pearson and Lois Uttley

The Institute of Medicine, an independent panel of doctors and health experts, has just recommended that insurance companies be told to stop charging co-pays for contraception and several other types of women’s preventive health care in any new health plans. Ending those extra out-of-pocket insurance charges will be good for women’s health and good for women’s pocketbooks.

Medical experts also are urging that insurance companies end co-pays for breastfeeding supports, including rental of breast pumps, and for annual well woman exams, HIV infection screening and counseling for women experiencing domestic violence. Most of the public attention so far, though, has focused on the experts’ recommendations about contraception. No wonder, because the vast majority of women in our country have used birth control at some time in their lives.

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Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Putting a Face on Medicaid

By Sue Hetrick

Open the newspaper any morning and one story is at the top: Leaders in Washington are negotiating a deal to reduce our nation’s debt and balance the budget. Trillions of dollars and thousands of laws and programs are at stake. While the public looks on, some of the most influential people in our country go back and forth with proposals: President Obama; Vice President Joe Biden; House Speaker John Boehner; Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid …. .
And Sue, Micah and Nick Hetrick.

No, we aren’t members of Congress. Nor are we cabinet secretaries or big-time lobbyists. We’re an Ohio family -- I’m the proud mother of Micah, 22, and Nick, 27. Along with representatives of the American Association of People with Disabilities and United Cerebral Palsy, we traveled to Washington this week to show the human face of the policies now under consideration. Our mission was to share our family’s story with officials in the White House and on Capitol Hill in order to protect Medicaid. This program, which has enabled our family to lead a fulfilling, healthy life, is on the chopping block. My family has something to say about that.

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By F. Scott McCown

When the legislative session began in January, Texas faced a crisis. The state was short roughly one-fourth of the money needed simply to do what it was already doing. The Center for Public Policy Priorities was part of a broad coalition that pushed for a balanced approach to the problem -- one that used the Rainy Day Fund in combination with targeted cuts and new revenue.

Others pushed for a cuts-only approach that slashed things like the number of teachers and payments to nursing homes. Initially, the House proposed a devastating cuts-only budget. In the end, with a slightly improved revenue projection and various one-time measures, the Legislature largely funded the Senate’s modestly better, but still damaging budget.

Texas is growing twice as fast as the nation. In the most recent decade, Texas’ child population growth accounted for over half of the child population growth in the entire country, making our state’s education system critical to our country’s future.

Contrary to any spin you’ve heard, the Legislature actually cut spending on public education. And the money the state is spending won’t go as far because of enrollment growth and higher costs.

How does Texas turn this around? We’ll need more than a stronger economy to solve our revenue problems.

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By Daniella Levine

Save lives or save money for the rich? Feed hungry children or subsidize the oil and gas industry? Stop buying ineffective military equipment or stop paying for job training? These questions are at the heart of the debate over reducing the federal deficit and raising the debt ceiling.

Negotiations are underway between Congressional leaders and President Obama and it’s clear that all parties want to significantly reduce the deficit.

But, there’s deep disagreement over how to achieve that goal. It’s time for Florida’s Congressional delegation to speak up on behalf of a balanced approach that makes prudent spending cuts and generates new revenue by asking a little more from those with the most.

Right now, many in Congress are rejecting any increase in federal revenues. They have embraced only spending cuts, including many that will harm vulnerable people and the economy as a whole.

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By Monique Perry Danziger

Section 1504 of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act was an anti-corruption game-changer tucked into a historic, comprehensive piece of legislation aimed primarily at overhauling the nation’s financial regulatory structure. Since becoming law, anti-corruption and financial transparency proponents are still waiting for the law to be implemented.

Section 1504 of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform Act would require oil, gas, and mining companies that must report to the SEC—approximately 90 percent of the major internationally operating oil and gas companies in the world—to disclose payments made to governments for the oil, gas, and minerals they extract. This would be a boon to anti-corruption workers trying to get the records straight when investigating bribery and corruption in developing countries. It also would serve investors looking to make informed decisions about their portfolios.

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Lilly Ledbetter
By Lilly Ledbetter and Linda Hallman

Yesterday a sharply divided Supreme Court ignored more than 40 years of established jurisprudence in its Wal-Mart v. Dukes decision, which severely restricts the ability of employees to fight discrimination as a class-action group. In a deeply misguided opinion, the majority ruled that the women of Wal-Mart cannot band together nationwide and stand up as one against the biggest retailer in the world. It's hard to manage the court costs and find the courage to keep going. We only wish the women of Wal-Mart would not have to do that. Yet the high court decided they did not have enough in common to pursue a nationwide class-action suit, a sadly ironic twist for former employees of the great homogenizer of American retail.

The court’s decision was not related to the merits of the case, however, and the women of Wal-Mart are already planning how to proceed next, either individually or in smaller, reformulated class-action cases. In fact, Wal-Mart may rue the day it fought against allowing a single class-action case. The company’s gamble—that if it could throw up enough barriers, the women would quit—is not going to pay off, and the Goliath retailer may soon end up with more Davids than it ever wanted to fight.

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By Patricia Brown, RN

It’s summer in Missouri, the peak time for canoeing on clear Ozark rivers.

Starting Memorial Day, I spent a week camping on the Jack's Fork River. Instead of the beautiful peace and quiet I was looking for, I saw inappropriate overuse of the river.

Because my father was born in Larkin "Holler" of Shannon County (I also have other relatives there) I have visited this area almost every year for the last 50 years. About 30 years ago I stopped canoeing there during the summer because the noisy crowds made it like a Worlds of Fun ride.

More recently, I've witnessed continued deterioration, with even more noise, and scenic disruption, from development of buildings, motorboats that zip by within yards of me snorkeling so that I almost inhale part of their waves, and bulldozers taking scoops of rock gravel beach.

My father had a chance to "get rich" gravel mining, but he valued the rejuvenation powers of those rivers and instead taught me to love them as they were -- which now stirs me to action. When I see things like this, or that red Allley Springs Mill in so many magazine photos, I get a sinking feeling that the memory of something precious to me has been made obscene.

The National Park Service is in the middle of drafting a General Management Plan that will guide management of the Ozark National Scenic Riverways (ONSR) -- the Current and Jack’s Fork Rivers -- for the next 20 years. Missourians should know that now is their chance to speak up about the problems confronting this gem of a river system, home to more first-magnitude size springs in one area than anywhere else on Earth.

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By Pat Byington

Dr. James McClintock, a renowned University of Alabama-Birmingham marine biologist who has conducted research in Antarctica for more than 25 years, told me the following story.

“You work in a scientific lab in the quietest place on Earth -- Antarctica.

"There’s a Crack! Boom!

"You rush to the window of your remote lab with a number of your fellow scientists, and you witness a glacier 'calving' a chunk of ice the size of a house into the water. Adrenaline permeates the room.

"Ten years ago, that exciting and incredible sight would happen about once a week. It was an event. Something rare.

"Today, at that same lab in Antarctica, the calving glacial ice, the explosive sounds, are a daily occurrence.

"The scientists are almost 'ho-hum' about it, barely lifting their heads to recognize the melting ice."

Such is life in a warming world.

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Anne Dunkelberg
Robert Restuccia
By Anne Dunkelberg and Robert Restuccia
Texans count on Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) every day. That’s why we need straight answers from elected officials about proposals to gut Medicaid and CHIP.

When our parents can’t live on their own, it’s Medicaid that provides help to keep them at home, or in nursing home care when home care isn’t enough. When our neighbors living with disabilities need wheelchairs, prosthetics and basic supports to stay independent, Medicaid allows them to continue contributing to our communities. And when parents can’t afford private health insurance or lose their jobs, Texas Medicaid and CHIP protect their kids from becoming uninsured by providing the preventive care they need to stay healthy and letting them see a doctor when they get sick or injured.

Medicaid’s federal and state partnership also protects Texas jobs. Clinics, doctors’ offices, hospitals and other health care businesses count on Medicaid for a dependable source of revenue that supports local jobs.

But Congress is considering proposals that put our families, friends, neighbors and local jobs at risk. Making Medicaid a fixed pot of money that doesn’t grow with need -- commonly referred to as a block grant -- or imposing an unrealistic health care spending cap would set arbitrary limits on federal Medicaid investments.

These proposals do nothing to bring down health care costs. Instead, they just shift costs from the federal government to states, and then on to taxpayers, families and charities. They leave states few choices. States can cut off coverage and make kids, seniors, families and people with disabilities uninsured, which is proven to raise premiums for everyone who has insurance and drives up costs when the uninsured are forced to seek expensive emergency room care.

They can cut payments to doctors’ offices, hospitals and nursing homes, but this puts care and jobs at risk. Congress shifting costs to states is just like an employer shifting more of the premium to the worker. Neither really reforms health care costs, they only push the costs to someone else. Either way, we pay.

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Wednesday, June 29, 2011

What is the Economy, Anyway?

By Ann Manning

The current GOP leadership and their colleagues in the Minnesota House and Senate are the unfortunate victims of the Taxpayer’s League and Governor Tim Pawlenty’s foolish “no new taxes, ever” pledge. I suspect many Republican legislators know that the best thing for Minnesota right now is to ask everyone to pay their fair share -- and that means a small tax increase for the top 2 percent of Minnesota’s high-income households.

When I hear the conservative mantra that we are unfairly “taking from the rich,” I want to remind them that in any legitimate democracy we all benefit from and “take” from each other and the rich do take from the middle class and the poor. The amazing public systems in this country -- physical infrastructure, patents and trademark protection, public schools, libraries, and hospitals -- are something we built together, as citizens. The wealthy have not only benefitted enormously from these investments we all helped build, but over the past 30 years, they have further used their wealth to enact tax policy to benefit themselves disproportionately to the rest of the citizens.

Corporations, who are also doing enormously well, have slowly but steadily eroded the power of workers and shifted a disproportionate share of the enormous economic growth in this country to the top. Wages and household income for the middle class and the poor are either flat or down over the past 30 years. We all know what’s happened at the top --astronomical increases in income and wealth. This is not the “invisible hand” of the market. This is cronyism in the boardrooms of America and the power of money to write the rules.

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By Scott Klinger and Holly Sklar

Some of our nation’s biggest corporations are planning a tax holiday and they want you to pick up the tab.

Actually, you already pay for their routine tax avoidance through the use of tax havens in Bermuda, the Cayman Islands and elsewhere. These accounting acrobatics cost the U.S. Treasury $100 billion a year. Now they want Congress to pass a special tax holiday for money they “repatriate” back to the United States.

There’s nothing patriotic about this repatriation being pushed by Google, Cisco, Pfizer and other companies in the Win America campaign. To sell the tax holiday, they claim it will produce a burst of jobs and investment. In fact, Congress passed a “one-time-only” tax holiday in 2004 with similar promises. Instead, it produced a burst of shareholder dividends and stock buybacks, which goosed the pay of CEOs.

Corporations laid off workers and shifted even more income and investment to offshore tax havens in the wake of the 2004 tax holiday.

“Why should we reward firms for successfully gaming the tax system when we in turn are called on to make up the missing tax revenues?” Edward Kleinbard, former chief of staff of Congress’s Joint Committee on Taxation, told Bloomberg. “Much of these earnings overseas are reaped from an enormous shell game: Firms move their taxable income from the U.S. and other major economies – where their customers and key employees are in reality located – to tax havens.”

A favorite accounting trick is transferring a patent from the U.S. parent company to a subsidiary – often a shell company – in a tax haven. Profits from the patent go largely untaxed offshore while the costs of development, marketing and management remain in the U.S. where they are taken as tax deductions.

Pfizer was the largest beneficiary of the last tax holiday, bringing $37 billion back to the United States and paying just $1.7 billion in federal corporate income taxes. It laid off 10,000 American workers in the following months. The U.S. is the world’s most profitable drug market and yet over the last three years, Pfizer – maker of Lipitor, Viagra and much more – has reported $7.9 billion in U.S. losses while claiming $37.8 billion in profits in the rest of the world. Pfizer, like the rest of Big Pharma, is heavily subsidized by taxpayer-funded research at the National Institutes of Health and elsewhere. It should not be rewarded with another tax holiday.

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Riane Eisler
Kim Otis
By Riane Eisler and Kimberly Otis

What do women really want from our President? This is a question President Obama should be asking if he wants to keep his job for another term -- which hinges on the women’s vote. The recent posting of his accomplishments mentions several positive appointments: two women to the Supreme Court, Elizabeth Warren to launch the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau; and other outstanding women to top Cabinet posts; such as Secretaries Hillary Clinton, Janet Napolitano, Kathleen Sebelius, and Hilda Solis.

But such accomplishments do not begin to go far enough. For one thing, by authorizing major cuts to traditionally women’s jobs in education, health care, and family planning, the President allowed an assault on women’s economic status and health-care access. Moreover, he allowed opponents to divert the conversation about economic recovery from the millions of unemployed and the massive increase in Americans in poverty to an obsessive focus on reducing the deficit through government program cuts. And because women comprise the vast majority of public-sector teachers, nurses, social workers, caregivers, and others being laid off, women are now bearing the brunt of job losses.

These shortsighted and cruel cuts are not only harming millions of people and their families; they will soon harm us all.

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By Karen Jacob

I've lived in the heartland for more than two decades. And I can tell you that there’s nothing like a sultry July night at the local ballpark, rooting for the home team, eating hot dogs and quaffing beer, watching fireworks viewed from damp, warm infield grass.

This time of year, the Midwest is awash in flags and bumper stickers boasting one’s support for the troops and the good ol’ red, white and blue. But, lately we have seen more and more “Come home!” messages, and headlines such as, “Locals hope for an end to the war.” Unemployment, which struck the heartland harder than most places, still affects many who are at the end of their unemployment checks or are underemployed. War costs in Afghanistan, nearing $2 billion a week, particularly stick in the craw of these suffering Americans.

My son will be a sophomore majoring in music education at Butler University this fall (You know, that small Midwest college with the basketball team that went to the Final Four -- two years in a row), will graduate not knowing whether there will be music and band programs in public schools where he can work. Juxtapose that against the two decades of his life filled with costly wars. The first Iraq war started in 1991, when he was not yet born. That war, followed by bombing in the Balkans and elsewhere -- Afghanistan, Iraq again, and now Libya, with the hint of more to come … means that my son and his generation have grown up in continuous war. They know nothing else.

My son's generation thinks gas prices are about war. He knows this father was drafted during the Vietnam War, and that he escaped that fate. He has older friends who returned from recent wars as lesser human beings.

His generation has grown up in a time of plenty, and also a time of economic insecurity. As someone who has worked for peace all her life, I love the Fourth of July. I honor freedom, justice and all that it envelops. Yet, I worry about the constant drain on our American collective dream of freedom, justice and economic security.

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By Matthew Hoh

As he was announcing his second increase in troops for Afghanistan in December 2009, President Obama promised that by July 2011 those troops would begin coming home. As relayed by Bob Woodward’s book, Obama’s Wars, we know the president was skeptical about the United States’ war effort in Afghanistan. In spite of that skepticism, the president's new plan for the war extends the longest war in American history for the foreseeable future.

President Obama announced his first surge of 20,000 troops in spring 2009. Pushing American forces well above the 50,000 mark and reinforcing a counterinsurgency strategy, he escalated a war in a country entering its fourth decade of continuous conflict.

Thousands of Marines and soldiers were rushed in, with the announcement that they were there to ensure free and fair Afghan elections. That summer, these troops found an insurgency fueled by resentment of their presence. Either because of hostility to foreign occupation or because our troops simply sided with someone else’s rival, akin to supporting just one side in a Hatfield-McCoy feud, 2009 became the deadliest year of the war, doubling the amount of American dead in 2008.

Meanwhile, the fire hydrant-like stream of dollars, being pumped into the second most corrupt nation in the world , seemed to purchase only further grievances among the population against a government radiantly kleptocratic. When President Hamid Karzai blatantly stole the elections in August, American officials were forced to abandon any narrative of Americans fighting and dying for democracy in Afghanistan. Then, in October, National Security Advisor Jim Jones announced that al-Qaeda had fewer than 100 members in Afghanistan.

However, given little political cover from the left, feeling little political pressure from the right and receiving nothing but a choice of small, medium or large escalation of the war by the Pentagon, President Obama in December 2009 ordered 30,000 more troops and billions of dollars into what soon would become America’s longest war.

Predictably, by doubling down on a policy that had proved counterproductive, we betrayed our national values and failed to inflict damage on al-Qaeda. We also went from being waist-deep to chest-deep in quicksand.

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By Yifat Susskind

Hurricane season begins this month, and in Haiti’s displacement camps, people have begun to look fearfully toward the skies. For solutions, they must look to Haitian women.

More than a year after the earthquake, each day continues to bring life-threatening challenges to the hundreds of thousands of Haitians living in tent cities. Families that lost everything to the earthquake now struggle to feed themselves, to find clean water or to stay healthy in the face of dangerous illnesses like cholera.

Now, on top of all of this, the hurricanes are returning.

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By Brian Setzler

The coalition calls itself WIN America, but the numbers involved in the corporate tax holiday mean a real loss for America. The Congressional Joint Committee on Taxation has calculated this tax windfall would cost $80 billion, money that would be made up with higher taxes on small business people like me, or through reduced government services and infrastructure upon which all businesses, communities and families depend.

Tax amnesty programs are nothing new. The IRS has a couple of times allowed individual taxpayers to declare hidden offshore assets and pay both the full tax due and penalties in exchange for avoiding prosecution and possible jail time. While much corporate tax-dodging through the use of tax havens is neither hidden, nor illegal under current law favoring U.S. multinationals, it wholly stems from corporations who engage in these transactions for the principle purpose of shifting profits between countries in order to avoid taxes. Creating an incentive for such anti-social behavior through preferential tax rates will only serve to accelerate the offshoring of U.S. profits through fictional transactions.

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By Ellen Bravo and Dan Mulhern

After being inundated with news reports of male public figures behaving badly, Father’s Day gives us a much-needed opportunity to turn attention to the many fathers and husbands who work tirelessly to support their families -- – and to call on elected officials to move policies that allow all men to be good fathers, sons and husbands without being punished for it at work.

First, we saw Mark Kelly take time off from his space training to be at the bedside of his wife, Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, as she recovered from the traumatic shooting.

Then, in a more celebratory moment, Colby Lewis and Ian Desmond told the baseball league and fans that while they loved the game, the birth of a child warranted missing one or two.

Happily but not surprisingly, the Texas Rangers are still in first place, and the Endeavor shuttle launch was a success.

The iconic photos of Mark Kelly camped out at Gabrielle Giffords’ bedside and holding her hand offer poignant evidence that men, as well as women, respond to a loved one’s crisis by wanting to be right by that person’s side.

Scientific evidence demonstrates that the presence of these men is not just sentimental or symbolic. Babies whose fathers have been more actively involved with their care score higher on a key infant development test and are more socially responsive. A year later, these babies show more resilience when faced with stressful situations.

Similarly, the involvement of loved ones is critical to the recovery of brain trauma patients. According to Dr. Stephan Mayer, director of the Neurological Intensive Care Unit at Columbia University Medical Center, “the common denominator is a present, loving and supportive family. I can’t say how important it is to have your loved ones around you helping you battle through.”

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By Dr. William Barclay

This month marks the tenth anniversary of the first of the two tax cuts sought by the President George Bush. The Economic Growth and Tax Relief Reconciliation Act was enacted in 2001 to be followed, in 2003, by the Jobs and Growth Tax Relief Reconciliation Act. Ten years later, it is time we assess the actual results of these tax cuts, looking at economic performance rather than political promises. The results have been a disaster for the US economy and for almost all of the American people. We have experienced very slow income and employment growth for the vast majority of families, an extremely unequal distribution of the direct financial benefits from these measures, and, very slow growth in the economy as a whole.

As someone who has personally received these tax cuts during the past 10 years, I feel it is my responsibility to speak out.

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Monday, June 6, 2011

A Life Changing Anniversary


By Patricia West

As a Pennsylvania social worker specializing in family dynamics, I’ve spent most of my 40 year career analyzing and trying out various ways to keep women healthy and safe. This month [June 7] we celebrate the anniversary of a breakthrough in that process: the 1965 Griswold v. Connecticut Supreme Court decision that legalized contraceptive use for married couples—and more importantly, recognized an individual’s right to privacy in family planning matters.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently recognized family planning as one of the ten great public health advances of the 20th century. At clinics and centers that provide family planning, the complications of pregnancy that are a woman’s most common source of ill health can be prevented or treated. And our national family planning program – Title X of the Public Health Service Act of 1970 – made family planning available to low-income people as well as the rich. As a result, some 98 percent of us have used birth control at some point in our lives, and we mostly take it for granted.

We shouldn’t. The House voted recently to defund Title X completely for fiscal 2011. The Senate saved the program, but another attempt to kill it is certain this year. The attackers are using innuendo and misinformation to entangle family planning in their anti-abortion war, claiming to cut spending but ignoring the truth: Title X, the only dedicated source of federal funding for family planning services, saves the government some $3.4 billion every year by preventing unintended pregnancies, nearly half of which would likely end in abortion.

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By Clare Coleman

If you’re an average woman, you want two children, according to various surveys. That means you’ll spend about five years of your life trying to become pregnant, being pregnant or recovering from pregnancy, and 30 years trying to avoid it.

You can do that thanks to the June 1965 landmark Supreme Court decision Griswold v. Connecticut, which affirmed the right of married couples to use contraceptives -- and more importantly, recognized an individual's right to privacy in family planning matters. Universal usage and acceptance of contraceptives followed, transforming the lives of millions of Americans.

The Griswold case was a catalyst for our national family planning program -- Title X of the Public Health Service Act -- the only dedicated source of federal funding for family planning services. Created in 1970, Title X provides access to family planning for all, without regard to economic circumstances.

Click here to read the full article.


By Serena Unrein

For the first time, Arizona’s State Transportation Board approved a state rail plan which includes connecting the major metropolitan areas of Phoenix and Tucson by passenger rail. In a state known for its reliance on single-occupant vehicles and its lack of good public transportation, this is a crucial step forward for providing Arizonans with better transportation options.

Over the past few decades, Arizona’s population has skyrocketed, but our population growth hasn’t been matched by an investment in public transportation, leaving most Arizonans to rely on their cars to get around.

Most Arizonans make daily trips for work, school or other responsibilities such as getting to doctor’s appointments and visiting family members. Unfortunately, our current transportation system has many of us stuck endlessly waiting in traffic, spewing pollution into the air and paying more and more at the gas pump to fill our tank. There has got to be a better way.

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Riane Eisler

By Riane Eisler and Rene Redwood

A financial debt can be paid back. But the debt we’ll owe our children if investments in health, nutrition and education are slashed is irreparable. Investment in human infrastructure – providing the human capacity development for optimal economic productivity and innovation through both government and business investments – is essential for success in the post-industrial economy, and this should be our policymakers’ guiding economic principle.

Rene Redwood
It’s up to us to ask the hard questions: Why are we being told we can’t raise taxes on the rich, but must cut wages for teachers, nurses, child-care workers and others on whom our future depends? There is no evidence that lower taxes on corporations and millionaires “raise all boats,” or that massive cuts in social services have ever helped people in developing nations rise from poverty. The opposite is true. It is countries like Canada, Sweden, New Zealand and Finland that have made commitments to caring for future generations that have risen from poverty to prosperity. And today nations such as Brazil, South Korea, and other “emerging advanced economies” are heavily investing in their people.

Why are we told that cutting social programs is the road to prosperity, when our past prosperity was the result of the very opposite?

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By Tsedeye Gebreselassie

In 2006, Nevada voters did a really smart thing. Recognizing that their state’s minimum wage stayed flat year after year, despite rising costs of living, the people of Nevada voted to index their minimum wage rate to adjust annually with the cost of living. In the last few years, these small annual increases have helped thousands of working families make ends meet in a rough economy, while providing a modest boost in precisely the type of consumer spending our nascent recovery needs.

Rather than celebrate voters’ sound economic move, critics of the minimum wage see an opportunity to once again toss out their usual—and widely discredited—claims that a strong minimum wage is a “job-killer.” Counting on understandable anxiety about Nevada’s stubbornly high unemployment rate, opponents of the minimum wage have proposed state legislation that would begin a repeal process for the initiative passed by Nevada’s voters just four years ago.

Let’s quickly dispense with these “job-killing” claims. Real-world experiences with minimum wage increases have produced little evidence of job losses. The decade following the federal minimum wage increase in 1996-97 ushered in one of the strongest periods of job growth in decades. Analyses of states with minimum wages higher than the federal floor between 1997 and 2007 showed that their job growth was actually stronger overall than in states that kept the lower federal level. And just last winter, a rigorous study finding that increasing the minimum wage does not lead to job loss was published in the Review of Economics and Statistics. Economists at the University of Massachusetts, University of North Carolina, and University of California compared employment data among every pair of neighboring U.S. counties that straddle a state border and had differing minimum wage levels at any time between 1990 and 2006. Analyzing employment and earnings data of over 500 counties, they found that minimum wage increases did not cost jobs.

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By Roxane Kolar

General Assembly veterans can’t remember a more difficult session.

With revenue crimped to a trickle, legislators have a Solomon’s chore in trying to maintain our state’s core values. For most of us, that’s good jobs, quality schools, access to health care and a clean environment. But some lawmakers want to break in line with another priority: more guns.

The legislature is now considering proposals that would allow concealed weapons in family restaurants, bars and neighborhood parks. Another proposal circumvents business owners’ rights by forcing them to allow guns in their parking lots – as well as in hospital and church lots. Then there's the one that would allow legislators to carry concealed firearms anywhere in the state.

Why is there such a rush to get more guns in more public places?

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By Scott Chase

As a small business owner, I am worried our Legislature is going to make unnecessary and deep cuts to public services that local businesses and all Texans need. Yes, our state has a revenue shortfall, but we also have choices about how deal with the shortfall. We can take a balanced approach that uses our Rainy Day Fund.

My fellow business owners in the Oak Cliff Chamber of Commerce are concerned about unnecessary cuts too. Our chamber includes over 600 small business owners in the Dallas area. We were the first local chamber in Texas to call for the State Legislature to use the Rainy Day Fund to help balance the budget instead of the irresponsible “cuts-only” approach that the Legislature is considering.

The cuts-only approach of the Legislature is wrong for many reasons. All businesses, but particularly small businesses, such as the members of the Oak Cliff Chamber, know that spending on education, health care, roads and bridges, job training and the environment is an investment in the economic future of Texas. This investment will result in a more educated, healthier workforce and a modernized infrastructure. The large cuts in these areas being presented by reckless legislators will lead to a less competitive business climate in Texas, lower wage jobs and economic stagnation.

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By Susan Shaer

As Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes said, “Taxes are the price we pay for a civilized society.” It costs money to make this country hum. Anyone can see that it would be impossible to have roads crisscrossing the country, federal jails and courts, national parks and monuments, environmental protection that has no boundaries, and a whole raft of other essential services without a nationwide system in which we all have a stake.

Right now, our debt, the deficit and the spectacle of a narrowly averted government shutdown have focused attention on federal spending of tax dollars. To that, I say hooray. I hate looking at my own spending budget, but I know what my priorities are, and what money I have to use, save or borrow against. When we examine our personal finances, we recognize our personal values. Such a magnifying glass aimed at the federal budget will expose priorities of our “civilized” society.

So what are our federal values? We have two sides to the spending budget; one non-discretionary (required spending by law or interest on the debt), and the other discretionary. The discretionary side is where our priorities are displayed full frontal. The current budget allows for 56 percent on the Pentagon, wars and nuclear weapons.

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By Rick Weidman

When I served as an Army medic in Vietnam, I often saw a 19-year-old solider whose job was to spray an herbicide called Agent Orange on anything green inside my base. The same was true around the perimeter, to deny cover to any enemy intruders and to ensure a clear line of fire in case of enemy attack.

As I visited numerous American military bases in Vietnam during the war, they all looked like moonscapes. They were stripped of grass and foliage by the same chemical for the same reasons.

Now, more than 40 years after the war, we know that Agent Orange contained dioxin, which is among the world’s most lethal toxins. American veterans of Vietnam fought a long, hard postwar struggle to get our Veterans Administration to compensate troops for a dozen diseases associated with Agent Orange/dioxin. But what about the Vietnamese who were also exposed? And what about the leftover “hot spots” of dioxin that still exist there and continue to harm people to this very day?

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By Volkan Topalli

At each stage of the criminal justice system, the proposed Arizona-style legislative initiatives in Georgia represent a substantial and potentially devastating cost to its citizens, and significant unintended consequences for public safety. The new law would require peace officers to attempt to verify a suspect's immigration status when the suspect is unable to provide legal identification.

The proposed legislation stipulates that, “A peace officer shall not consider race, color or national origin in implementing the requirements of this [law].” But research demonstrates that it's nearly impossible for individuals to discount attitudes about race when engaging in such tasks. T
Hence, the legislation likely would lead to racial profiling. It would put police officers in a nearly untenable situation, one where they'd be expected to decide not who “looks like” a foreigner (bad enough), but who “looks illegal,” leading to a spate of unnecessary and costly court proceedings when they get it wrong.

Also, the proposed legislation mandates poor policing. Remember, every time a peace officer pulls over or arrests someone because the officer is mandated to determine whether they're illegal, that's time he could be spending looking for or dealing with more serious criminal activity. Despite scandalous anecdotes pitched on radio and TV, academic research reveals that the foreign-born are far less likely to break the law than are average nativeborn citizens -- After all, they fear being unjustly deported or otherwise caught up in the justice system. Also, having local law-enforcement implement this legislation would undoubtedly impair community policing strategies, which would harm law enforcement’s efforts to ensure public safety for all residents. Many law-enforcement officials around the nation strongly oppose this type of legislation. They and many of the citizens they protect prefer to focus scarce public resources on fighting crime and promoting public safety, not on tackling immigration enforcement.

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By Chandelle Summer

The evening of Jan. 18 began ordinarily enough, my husband and I engaging in our usual, bedroom channel-surfing along with the attendant full-scale, courtroom-worthy debate over which program was to be selected. With 1,150 channels, it's a long and arduous process. Then it happened.

"Two-four-six-eight, we don't want to integrate." Grainy, black-and-white images of throngs of fresh-faced angry teen-agers dressed in crisp white shirts standing at the Arch of the University of Georgia repeatedly screaming in unison, "Two-four-six-eight, we don't want to integrate." We were watching "Eyes on the Prize," a PBS series about 1960s civil-rights struggles.

Five decades ago, young African Americans endured the wrath of the white establishment and subjected themselves to close-range, fire-hosing at water pressures so strong they could rip the bark right off a tree. They endured rock-throwing, face-smashing and arm-twisting arrests. A young woman walked proudly onto the campus of the University of Georgia to the jeers and taunts of an angry mob. Fifty years later, here we go again.

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By Doug Pibel

So far, agriculture has kept up with population -- there's enough food in the world to feed everyone. But not everyone's getting fed -- at least a billion people live with hunger, according to the U.N. World Food Program. And the world is in the midst of yet another spike in food prices. As long as we keep diverting grain from human mouths to animal ones, people will go hungry. It's simple market economics: It's more profitable to produce meat -- even though the meat that results from feeding grain to animals has less food value than the grain itself.

Which is why there's hunger even when there are no grain shortages: The wealthy of the world are willing to pay more to feed animals than poor people can pay to feed themselves.

So must we all become vegetarians in order to avert world hunger? Not necessarily. The spring issue of YES! Magazine suggests another route to food sufficiency.

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Wednesday, March 30, 2011

What Happened to Gloomy Predictions?


By Frank Knapp, Jr.

Economic reports show that most job growth in our country this year has come from small- and medium-size businesses. That trend will only accelerate, according to the recently released Small Business Index from the Center for Excellence in Service at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business.

Nearly 3.8 million new jobs will be created by small businesses with fewer than 100 employees in 2011, says the report. That will be enough alone to lower the U.S. unemployment rate by 2.4 percent. The survey, conducted in January, also found that only 2 percent of small businesses planned to lay off workers.

Major health insurance companies nationwide are reporting dramatic increases in small businesses offering health insurance to employees. This reverses a trend for small businesses dropping insurance because of affordability.

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By John Shepley

As a small business owner, I support legislation to increase Maryland’s inadequate minimum wage because it makes good business sense. It’s an important part of our economic recovery and economic progress. I know businesses can pay a better minimum wage and still make a profit -- it helps the business prosper.

Opponents of this legislation like the Maryland Chamber of Commerce, the Maryland Retailers Association, and the Restaurant Association tell you the time is not right to increase the minimum wage because the economy is weak. What they don’t want you to remember is that for them the time is never right. In 2005, they opposed legislation to raise Maryland’s minimum wage from $5.15 an hour to $6.15. They opposed federal legislation to raise the minimum wage in 1996, in the middle of the longest economic expansion in our nation’s history. Then president of the Maryland Retailers Association, Tom Saquella, cut to the chase when he said about their opposition in 1996, “A lot of it’s philosophical.”

So let me cut to the chase: If my business, a small nursery in rural Harford County, can profit and grow when paying a wage that people can thrive on, then there’s no reason any viable business cannot do that too. Unless, that is, their philosophy is getting in the way of good business sense.

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By Kelly Anthony

The battle between Governor Walker and public employees in Wisconsin shines a spotlight on people who are normally behind the scenes in our communities – the public workers.

Teachers, firefighters, street cleaners, police, child abuse caseworkers – these public employees are the heartbeat of our communities. Wisconsin breaks open a debate about how these workers are treated, and the impact on citizens’ pocketbooks. Unfortunately, that debate has become more political theater than substance, with pundits advancing ideological points over honest debate. Here in the “Show Me State” we prefer to look at hard facts.

The nonpartisan Economic Policy Institute (EPI) recently issued a report on the lot of public employees in the state of Missouri. They made no-nonsense comparisons between public employees and their counterparts in the private sector. The findings may surprise you – and they will certainly alarm any Missourian that believes an effective government needs to attract the highest quality employees, and keep them for the long term.

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By Clare S. Richie

Georgia’s unemployment trust fund is in the red. Since the end of 2009, the state has amassed a $635 million debt to the federal government so that it could provide unemployment benefits to Georgia’s growing number of laid-off workers.

Georgia’s first interest payment of $24 million is due this fall. Already cash-strapped, Georgia’s best option to make this interest payment, repay its loan and avoid federal tax increases on employers is federal relief. A poor alternative would be redirecting state funds from critical services such as education, health care or public safety in order to pay back the loan.

The unemployment trust fund is used to make weekly payments to eligible workers who are laid off due to no fault of their own. Employers contribute to the trust fund through federal and state unemployment insurance (UI) taxes. These contributions are used to build up the trust fund during strong economic times, creating a reserve that can be used to make payments during periods of high unemployment.

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By Emily Eisenhauer

Several bills before the Florida Legislature seek to make it harder for those who are out of work through no fault of their own to get unemployment compensation. Community service requirements, mandatory drug testing, and limiting the number of weeks all seem to be based on the idea that people who are getting benefits don’t deserve them or are not looking hard enough for a job. But in this economy, that doesn’t make sense, and these proposals will make it harder for the system to do its job.

Florida lost almost a million jobs in the recession that began in late 2007, and over 1.1. million people remain unemployed in the state. Last year, 2010, was better, in that the state added 43,500 jobs. But that just means for every job added, there were still 25 people looking for work. Right now almost half of the people out of work have been looking for a job for over 6 months, and over one-third have been looking for more than a year. In recent weeks the media have covered many stories of people who have been applying for any job they can find, and still coming up empty.

Florida already has one of the strictest unemployment compensation systems in the country. In any given week between 15 and 20% of people who submit claims are rejected by the state for not providing sufficient proof of work search or other eligibility reasons. Florida has the fourth lowest maximum weekly benefit in the country - $275 – with an average weekly payment of $230. That means that on average unemployment benefits replace about 38% of a worker’s previous salary. It’s hard to imagine that people surviving on 38% of their salary wouldn’t be out doing everything they can to get a new job.

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By Mark Cooper

Why would anyone pay a $150 for something that costs $100? They wouldn’t if they had a choice, and that’s the problem with new nuclear reactors. Wall Street knows that new reactors cost too much and won’t fund them. But MidAmerican wants to build them, so the company is looking to the Iowa ratepayer to play the fool.

MidAmerican’s 636,000 customers in Iowa are captive customers; they can’t shop for the best power deal. Historically, when a utility wants to add new generating capacity it must build the plant and begin producing electricity before seeking to recover the costs from its customers. They can only recover costs that are reasonable and prudent. And the utility’s rate of return on its investment in the new plant should be commensurate with the risk the utility faces in undertaking the project.

MidAmerican, through HSB 124 and SSB 1144, wants to turn the whole process on its head. As a result, all three of these traditional consumer protections would be dramatically weakened.

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By Phil Schoggen

Tennessee is considering a proposal to amend the state Constitution to prohibit any tax on incomes or payroll. This resolution would render the state forever dependent on our sales tax, now one of the highest in the nation.

Buried deep in the proposal is a provision that would skirt the Constitution and abandon traditional procedure by declaring that posting an internet notice of the amendment on the Tennessee Secretary of State's or the Tennessee General Assembly's web site would satisfy the Constitution's requirement for official public notice. In the past this notification requirement has been met by publishing notices in newspapers across the state. The purpose of changing the publication method is to reduce the cost of providing the notice.

The problem with the proposed method of providing public notice is that 35 percent of Tennessee households do not have internet access at home and 25 percent do not have internet access anywhere. Voters and community leaders are accustomed to receiving notice in the traditional manner, in their local newspaper. No one knows how effective such a notice would be if published on the internet only. If the public remains uninformed about such serious change in the method of providing a notice, it amounts to legislative action without public awareness.

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