Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Green Stimulus

By Kathleen Rogers

A massive stimulus package of nearly $600 billion holds promise for the economy, and could mean more federal spending on infrastructure and energy efficiency projects. An estimated $400 billion in that bill will repair lots of bridges and roads, but what will they all lead to? Nothing -- unless we first start building bridges and roads between our economic, climate, and education concerns, and start appreciating the way they’re all connected.

New policy and stimulus needs to take into account that we’re not just trying to save our economy with roads, bridges, and buildings: We’re trying to save ourselves.

Few other national topics are as timely as a discussion of how to build a new green economy nationwide. During his campaign Obama promised to create 5 million green jobs. It is this way of thinking that should shape our country’s future.

One way we can stimulate the economy while going green is to create new, personal carbon savings accounts. These would be tax-free, interest-bearing green energy savings accounts that could be leveraged to help weatherize or green-up one’s home or sold to companies that need carbon credits. It would encourage energy efficiency while allowing a personal stake in emissions reductions.

At a time when we are poised to make our greatest infrastructure investment since the Great Depression, we need to make sure we do it right. Congress seems focused on shovel-ready jobs to its own detriment. We need to ensure this bailout is green, that the bridges and roads lead us to the future -- instead of another dead-end.

Putting together a new green energy program for the U.S. and other countries will require thousands of green jobs in solar, wind, and other renewable sources of energy.

One plan is based on the fact that investing in energy efficient buildings would go a long way to create jobs and help the economy. The so-called Architecture 2030 plan recommends an investment of $171.72 billion over two years combining a housing mortgage buy-down and an accelerated-depreciation program for commercial buildings with energy efficiency. This plan could create over 3 million jobs in the building sector and over 4 million indirect jobs plus an additional 350,000 jobs from consumer spending.

The retrofitting and construction of green schools -- the largest construction sector in the United States -- will do the same. Between 2006 and 2008, we spent $80 billion on school construction. If we build those buildings green, they cost less than 2 percent more to construct; however, they pay for themselves in a few years. Consequently, municipalities with major school systems are increasingly looking at “green building” and renovation as they work to update school facilities and save the district money in utility bills. A green school can save a school enough money to hire two additional teachers -- all while preventing 585,000 lbs of CO2 from hitting the atmosphere.

Which, at the end of the day, helps solve a bigger problem: The economy is in a crisis, but the impacts of climate change are far greater in the long run. Fortunately though, there’s no need to sacrifice one for the other.

Green jobs are in danger of disappearing from the stimulus package, to be replaced with shovel-ready jobs, such as President-elect Obama’s recently announced plans to create thousands of jobs by “weatherizing” houses. While weatherizing houses is important, it is a short-term project for employment. It is not the same as creating lasting high-tech work or building infrastructure. Green jobs, however, are solid, necessary jobs which have a long-term future. What we need now is a firm commitment to include in the stimulus package funds for “green” infrastructure and jobs -- the real way to revitalize the economy and look toward the future.

House Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi has touted other projects like investments in new energy technologies and energy-efficient buildings. We need to hold her and the rest of the Congressional leadership to those promises, demanding that they take bold measures to resolve the economic crisis holistically -- by taking into account the challenges of the climate crisis, the health of our children, and the needs of our workforce, which is waiting for green American jobs that can’t be exported.

Our government must begin the shift towards a global economy driven by massive job creation from the growth of green technology, construction, transportation, and renewable energy. While the road to a green economy might be long, we need to use this opportunity to build it.
Rogers is the president of Earth Day Network.
Copyright (C) 2008 by the American Forum. 12/08

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Can Common Ground Prevail?

By Cristina Page

When it comes to the abortion conflict in the U.S. a fascinating new consensus is emerging: the need for common ground. Americans, it seems, are weary of the acrimonious and seemingly endless fight. People want pro-choice and pro-life advocates to work together to reduce the need for abortion.

According to Faith in Public Life Poll, the vast majority (83 percent) of voters, including white evangelicals (86 percent) and Catholics (81 percent), believe elected leaders should work together to find ways to reduce the need for abortion.

For years, pro-choice groups have pushed measures designed to prevent unwanted pregnancy. They have promoted social programs that support poor pregnant women who are forced to make decisions based on economic need. They have pushed prevention over punishment. And now, after decades of resistance, some in the pro-life movement are stepping forward in support of at least some of these pro-choice goals, even if that means jeopardizing their standing in the established pro-life community.

Interestingly, the time may be ripe for a spirit of cooperation. Barrack Obama, with his promise of a new era of post-partisan politics, may be just the leader to promote this cause. When asked about abortion in one debate, Obama predicted, "We can find some common ground." Indeed, the abortion conflict may emerge as an early test case of Obama's belief that cooperation can prevail.

The key development, the one that may make common ground possible, is the emergence on the pro-life side of willing partners in this venture. Recently, several daring pro-life leaders have publicly announced a shift in their focus. Instead of seeking bans and restrictions on abortion, which have proven to have little effect on abortion rates, a new breed of pro-life activist appears motivated more by results than timeworn arguments.

Take Douglas Kmiec who has an impeccable pro-life, Catholic, and republican credentials. Kmiec served as head of the Office of Legal Counsel for Presidents Reagan and George H.W. Bush and was the former dean of the law school at The Catholic University of America. He also started "Pro-Life, Pro-Obama." Kmiec, like the entire new breed, still opposes abortion on moral grounds. He still does not embrace an increase in availability of birth control as area worth common exploration. Still it is impossible to overlook his remarkable, and seemingly decisive, break from his pro-life comrades. Perhaps most striking is this admission from their website: "Legal status of abortion does not necessarily impact abortion rates." Instead, Kmiec's group has turned to prevention and, in particular, social programs that can affect decisions. "Studies show that economic support for women and families reduces abortion," announces one section of the website.

Catholics United is another new pro-life group calling for a common ground approach to the abortion conflict. The group's website lists as one of its top priorities "common ground abortion reduction initiatives," including moving, "beyond the angry rhetoric of the abortion ‘culture war’ and enact policies that achieve actual results by addressing the root causes of abortion: lack of jobs, health care, and other economic supports for women and families."

While what might be called a "common ground movement" has yet to formalize, there is at least one signal of its potency. These new common ground pro-life leaders have won the ire of the traditional anti-abortion hierarchy. Indeed the old-guard pro-life leader views this new approach as a form of treason. In fact, several openly seethe over the calls for cooperation. Doug Johnson, of National Right to Life, called Obama's common ground approach an "abortion reduction scam." Last month, Joseph Schiedler, president of the Pro-Life Action League, told the Washington Post, "It's a sellout, as far as we are concerned. You don't have to have a lot of social programs to cut down on abortions."

It is apparent that many people who are genuinely pro-life want real results, and equally as clear to them is that the current pro-life establishment and the Republican Party have failed to provide those. The facts show that the countries with the lowest abortion rates are those which promote prevention, and support for poor women who want and need help to continue their pregnancies -- traditional pro-choice policies.

We on the pro-choice side are eager to have a willing partner, people who like us, seek progress on what has been until now been an intractable and divisive issue. Let us hope that the "pro-life" establishment doesn't stand in the way of this nascent common ground movement.
Page is the author of "How the Pro-Choice Movement Saved America: Freedom, Politics and the War on Sex" and spokesperson for
Copyright (C) 2008 by the American Forum. 12/08

Monday, December 22, 2008

The Solution for Our Health Care Disaster

By Mary Ellen Bradshaw and George Pauk

It’s time for the big insurance companies, pharmaceutical companies, medical equipment and supply companies, for-profit hospitals and for-profit providers’ groups to stop obstructing real health reform.

There are 140 Arizona members of Physicians for a National Health Plan and many thousands more nationwide. We submit there is only one way to effectively address our country’s crisis in health care: the enactment of single-payer national health insurance, an expanded and improved Medicare for all.

The electorate of Arizona has spoken by defeating Proposition 101: people want real change. They want comprehensive, high-quality, and affordable care. They want to go to the doctor or hospital of their choice.

Single payer is the “cure” that will achieve these goals. Anything short of single payer will not.

Private insurance companies make their profits by enrolling the healthy, screening out the sick, and denying claims. These policies are literally bankrupting and killing us.

We simply can’t afford to pay 31 cents of every health care dollar for wasteful insurance company administrative costs – their paperwork, utilization reviews, executive salaries and payouts to shareholders. We simply can’t afford the inefficiencies of a system that blocks our ability to negotiate drug prices.

Replacing the private insurers with a not-for-profit, publicly financed system patterned after Medicare would save about $350 billion in administrative costs, more than enough to cover all the uninsured and to eliminate all co-pays and deductibles for everyone else.

It’s the only morally, medically and fiscally responsible thing to do.

Recently the people of Arizona were right in their wisdom to reject an amendment to our State Constitution that would have stopped major reform of our health care system, particularly the single-payer approach. They defeated Proposition 101 in spite of the huge amount of money behind it (much of it from out-of-state) and the deceptive language about “choice” that its backers used.

Where do we go from here? The solution exists in the form of a federal proposal that would guarantee everyone all of the medically necessary care they need, including dental care, drugs and long-term care, and would require no co-pays or deductibles.

It would be financed by a system of progressive taxation, much like everyone currently pays into Medicare, and the overwhelming majority of people would end up spending much less than they currently do for insurance premiums and out-of-pocket expenses.

Dr. Quentin Young, national coordinator of Physicians for a National Health Program, noted on the day after President-elect Barack Obama’s election win: "In large measure Sen. Obama's victory and the victories of his allies in the House and Senate were propelled by mounting public worries about health care. Yet the prescription offered during the campaign by the president-elect and most Democratic policy makers -- a hybrid of private health insurance plans and government subsidies -- will not resolve the problems of our dangerously dysfunctional system.”

Young pointed out that such hybrids have repeatedly failed in state-based experiments over the past 20 years in Oregon, Minnesota, Washington and several other states, including Massachusetts, whose second go-round at incremental reform is already faltering.

Like Dr. Young, we believe the only effective cure for our health care woes is to establish a single, publicly financed system, one that removes the inefficient, wasteful, for-profit private health insurance industry from the picture.

An April 2008 study in the Annals of Internal Medicine that showed 59 percent of U.S. physicians support national health insurance. Opinion polls show two-thirds of the public also supports such a remedy.

President-elect Obama and the new Congress have a mandate and the opportunity to improve the lives of tens of millions of Americans. Their first order of business should be to enact a single-payer national health insurance plan.
Dr. Bradshaw and Dr. Pauk are both members of Physicians for a National Health Program ( and co-chairs of the Arizona Coalition for State and National Health Plans.
Copyright © 2008 by the Arizona Editorial Forum. 12/08

Friday, December 19, 2008

The Wisdom of Pardons

By Kemba Smith

The nomination of Eric Holder as the next U.S. attorney general has renewed concerns about the end-of-term clemencies granted by President Clinton.

High-profile names such as Marc Rich grabbed headlines at the time, but many other people with no political influence benefited from the president's mercy.

I am one of those people. If I had not received a commutation, my first-time conviction for a non-violent offense would have kept me in prison until 2016 (with good behavior) because of the harsh mandatory sentencing laws for crack cocaine. My 1994 prison sentence grew out of my boyfriend's trafficking in crack. After he was murdered, the government charged me with conspiracy to distribute the crack that his drug ring distributed. During my court hearings, prosecutors acknowledged that I never sold, handled or used any of the drugs involved in the conspiracy.

Today, I could be in federal prison still serving my 24-year sentence. Instead, I've been raising my now 13-year-old son, graduated from college in 2002 and completed a year of law school. I own a home and speak to youth about the importance of their choices and the consequences that can affect their lives forever. My own experience led me to create a non-profit foundation that focuses on providing children of incarcerated parents with a mentor, and collaborates with other organizations on justice-reform initiatives.

My story of redemption does not need to be an anomaly. Thousands of petitions for executive clemency are pending before President Bush with a month left in his term. The majority of those are unknown to him or the public. Many are people of color caught up in the war on drugs and serving long mandatory minimum sentences, often for low-level offenses. The president should expedite such applications and grant them clemency.

The guidelines for the Office of the Pardon Attorney state that the excessive nature of a sentence and associated sentencing disparity are appropriate considerations when granting a petition for commutation. The federal sentencing policy for crack cocaine offenses is a case in point.

The mandatory five-year sentence for a defendant convicted with 5 grams of crack cocaine -- the weight of two sugar packets -- is the same as that for a defendant convicted with 100 times that amount of powder cocaine, even though these are two forms of the same drug. Defendants convicted with 50 grams of crack cocaine, about the weight of a candy bar, receive a minimum sentence of 10 years. A powder cocaine seller must have at least 5 kilograms to receive the same sentence.

For decades criminal justice experts, civil rights leaders and lawmakers have called these sentences unjust. More than 80 percent of people convicted of crack cocaine offenses are black, even though two-thirds of crack cocaine users are white or Hispanic.

Indeed, President Bush raised concerns about the issue before taking office, saying the crack-powder disparity "ought to be addressed by making sure the powder-cocaine and the crack-cocaine penalties are the same."

I agree, but despite significant changes made to the federal sentencing guidelines for crack cocaine in the past year, the harsh mandatory sentences remain. The president still has time to make good on his promise. His clemency power should be used with thoughtful deliberation. Even so, it should be utilized because clemency is sometimes the only possible response to unfair and excessive penalties.
Smith is founder of the Kemba Smith Foundation.
Copyright (C) 2008 by the American Forum. 12/08

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Helping Foster Children During the Holiday Season

By Harriet O’Neill

The holiday season is here. It’s a time for giving and also a good time to pause and reflect on the many blessings for which we are thankful.

As a parent, my children top the list. Every day I am grateful for the joy, and the challenges, they bring. Their safety and well-being are my first and last thoughts of the day. I am counting the hours until they return home for the holidays, eager to hear their voices, listen to their stories, and share their dreams. All across the nation, families are making preparations to connect with loved ones.

Think for a moment of what it would be like to have no one expecting you home; No one looking out the window awaiting your arrival; No one to lament if distance or circumstance prevent you from being there; No one to give thanks that you are part of their life.

Thousands of Texas children know that feeling all too well.

On any given day in Texas, there are more than 17,000 children in foster care. Many of these children have been abused or neglected and removed from their homes, perhaps forever, through no fault of their own. These children have either lost, or never experienced, the sense of permanence and belonging that comes with being part of a family.

Children like Benjamin (not his real name), who at 5 years old was placed in foster care because his mother was a drug addict who supported her habit with prostitution. For 12 years Ben moved from foster home to foster home, from treatment center to treatment center, clinging to the belief that any day his mother would reappear and make everything right. She never did, and Ben never experienced the love or security of a real family. Two days before his 18th birthday, Ben was arrested for stealing. He turned 18 in jail. When Ben walked out as an adult, he had aged out of the foster care system and disappeared into the homeless population. No one noticed. No one was waiting for him to come home.

More than 6,000 children in Texas are waiting for a family to adopt them, to love them, and to cherish them forever. These kids long every day for a family, for a place to belong, and the holidays are particularly painful.

You can make a difference. During this holiday season, consider whether you could be that person who waits at the window for a child without a home. If you can, you will give the gift of a lifetime. If you can’t, there are so many other ways to help. It is said that you don’t have to raise a child to raise them up -- you just have to raise your hand. Every minute you devote to helping a child in foster care has an impact.
O’Neill is a Supreme Court of Texas Justice and chair of the Commission on Children, Youth, and Families. Visit to explore adoption opportunities and the many ways that you can volunteer your time.
Copyright (C) 2008 by the Texas Lone Star Forum. 12/08