Friday, January 30, 2009

Investing in Our Human Infrastructure

By Riane Eisler

Over half a million people lost their jobs last month. There’s no question we need a job-creation plan. The real question is what kind of plan will most quickly stimulate the economy and at the same time provide the best long-term investment for our nation.

President Obama’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Job-Creation Plan should be used to massively invest in our human infrastructure. Study after study shows that when our nation invests in its people, starting in childhood, the economic benefits are enormous.

By creating, subsidizing, and providing training for jobs in childcare, early education, healthcare, eldercare, and other “caring industries,” as well as supporting caring work in homes, we quickly stimulate the economy, help families, radically reduce poverty and violence, reward women’s economic contributions, save billions in crime and prisons, and develop the “high quality human capital” needed for our post-industrial economy.

Our economic crisis is an opportunity to lay foundations for a sustainable and equitable economic system instead of just trying to patch up an economy based on unsustainable consumerism, consumer debt, and environmental practices. The current economic meltdown is not due simply to the globalization of unregulated capitalism. The problem goes much deeper -- and so must the solutions.

The financial return on investing in caring jobs and home activities is huge. We need a new economic system that really works -- both in the short and long term. To make the job creation plan more effective we must consider that:

• America and the world are in the midst of a sea change as we shift from the industrial to the knowledge/information era. Many of the jobs being lost in manufacturing and other fields will be gone for good as we move toward more automation and robotics. Our most effective investment is in human capital development, starting in childhood and continuing all through life.

• A job-creation program component that focuses on the work of caring and caregiving will stimulate economic recovery and develop high capacity human capital capable of pioneering new frontiers of innovation across the board in every sector of society: culturally, socially, technologically, and environmentally.

• Neuroscience shows that the quality of childcare directly affects the development of human capacities and potentials; caregiving produces what economists call “public goods” and should be economically valued as civic work.

• The hi-tech green jobs and infrastructure construction jobs proposed by the job-creation program as currently formulated are still largely “men’s work.” Yet the time has passed when male “heads of family” were the sole breadwinners. The majority of families are two wage-earner families or woman-headed families. An effective economic stimulus program also provides jobs, training, and subsidies where the female labor force is concentrated: childcare, education, healthcare, eldercare. Studies show that women buy 80 percent of household goods: the food, clothing, and other essentials that keep the core economy going.

• Support of “caring work” will radically reduce poverty and violence, and their enormous economic, social, and personal costs. In the U.S., as in most nations, the poor are disproportionately women and children.

• As the Baby Boomers age, demand for eldercare is rapidly exceeding services available. The job-creation program must address this urgent need by supporting good eldercare in both the market and household economies.

• Millions of Americans are going uncared and undercared for. We have a huge caring gap from cradle to grave. A more broadly defined job-creation program will help close this gap at the same time that it stimulates the economy and trains both women and men for the work that is most urgently needed for a healthy economy and society.

• Creating a new cabinet post or advisory council for high capacity human development will facilitate the reordering of social priorities and the implementation of a new economic agenda appropriate for the post-industrial era -- and a more equitable and sustainable future.

The economic stimulus plan should be a bridge to the kind of economy and society we want and need: one where caring for humans and the planet is the primary economic driver. Good care and education for children is an essential investment in our nation’s future work force, and hence our future quality of life.

Investing in human infrastructure will not only rapidly stimulate our economy; it will lay foundations for a new economic era where our most precious resources -- people and the natural environment -- are nurtured, sustained, and thrive for generations to come.
Eisler is author of The Chalice and the Blade: Our History, Our Future, now in 23 languages, and most recently The Real Wealth of Nations: Creating a Caring Economics. She is president of the Center for Partnership Studies. For more information, see
Copyright (C) 2009 by the American Forum. 1/09

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Better Nutrition Equals Better Education

By Kathleen Rogers

Cafeteria food has always been the brunt of kids' jokes. Many of us remember the grilled cheese sandwich that stuck to the plate when you turned it upside down, and the egg soufflé that jiggled when you poked it. But even that is a far cry from what's served now.

In the midst of a growing childhood obesity crisis, school food now means federally subsidized chicken nuggets, low-grade hamburgers, french fries, hot dogs and pizza. "Cooking" usually involves a centralized kitchen similar to a fast food assembly line.

According to Ron Haskins, senior fellow of Economic Studies at the Brookings Institution, "behind the overcooked vegetables and steam-table pizza that American children confront each school day is an industry that rivals defense contractors and media giants in its ability to bring home the federal bacon." That industry is agribusiness -- and, via the National School Lunch Program, it has a chokehold on our kids.

The commodities-driven National School Lunch Program, meant to feed 60 million children healthy food, has instead turned into a major public health threat. The most vulnerable in our society are suffering the most severe consequences, including epidemic levels of obesity, diabetes, heart disease and other illnesses. While we need to be able to include more children in the School Lunch Program, we also need to be able to feed them higher-quality, more nutritious food, or else we are defeating the purpose of the program.

Over the past three decades, rates of obesity in the U.S. have more than doubled among children ages 2 to 5 and more than tripled among those ages 6 to 11. Today, approximately 9 million U.S. children over the age of 6 are considered obese. America's overweight teens consume an average of 700 to 1,000 calories more than they are required each day.

The National School Lunch Program and its affiliated programs have unmatched size and scope, serving more than 35 million lunches every day in almost every school in the U.S., costing taxpayers more than $8.5 billion. Close to 20 million K-12 students receive up to two meals a day, five days a week. The program was recently expanded to include all children enrolled in Head Start and child nutrition programs. The summer food service program feeds 18 million low-income children.

Where does agribusiness come in? Schools participating in the National School Lunch Program receive cash subsidies and commodity foods for each meal served plus bonus commodities from agricultural surplus. The program’s authorizing language requires that participating schools serve the most abundant commodities -- mostly milk and meat, with few fruits and vegetables. In fact, the ties between the government and the commodities industry, aided and abetted by poor nutritional choices by state and local food service officials, trumps federal nutritional guidelines resulting in menu offerings that resemble fast food.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture purchases hundreds of millions of pounds of pork, beef, and other animal products as well as surplus corn and wheat primarily as an economic benefit to agricultural interests. This might have been a defensible idea a century ago, when a third of our population worked as farmers; now, only 2 percent of our workforce is in agriculture. However, to help 2 percent of our citizens, these commodities are donated to the School Lunch Program and other food assistance programs. Unfortunately for our children, many of these foods are unhealthy.

Next year, The Child Nutrition and WIC Reauthorization Act of 2004, which includes school lunches, will expire and the renewal battle will begin. We must dramatically improve the federal nutrition requirements that guide this program, weaken the ties between the School Lunch Program and the commodities markets, revolutionize the quality of food in our schools, label the salt, fat, and sugar content of each meal served, and educate school officials, regulators and the American public about the School Lunch Program and its potentially disastrous implications for our children's health.

We need a Congressional mandate for higher nutritional values for the School Lunch Program to improve the quality and types of food that are served in K-12 schools, with an emphasis on local foods and organics. However, that's useless unless we complement it with revamped nutrition curriculums for children and parents so that they can learn the value of good nutrition in preventing disease.

Significant progress can and must be made in overhauling school lunches. It will take millions of voices to bring about this change. The cost to the next generation is too high for this battle to be lost.
Rogers is the president of Earth Day Network.
Copyright (C) 2009 by the American Forum. 1/09

Friday, January 23, 2009

Moving on to Common Ground

By Cristina Page

On the 36th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the Connecticut Catholic Conference announced its solution to the increasing rate of teenagers seeking abortion care in the state. They proposed abortion restrictions; specifically, limiting teenager's access to abortion by requiring parental notification. If the goal is lowering the abortion rate, this is the wrong approach.

Studies show that restricting access to abortion often has little-to-no impact on the rate of abortion but instead does something far worse: increase the number of late term abortions. In Mississippi, after passage of a favorite pro-life restriction, mandating a waiting period before a woman can receive an abortion, researchers discovered the second trimester abortion rate had increased by a whopping 53 percent. In 2000, Texas lawmakers required parental consent before a teenager could have an abortion. Researchers soon discovered a spike in second trimester procedures obtained by 18 year olds. Many 17 year olds simply opted to wait to have the abortion until they could do it privately.

Call it the pro-life paradox: the strategies of the anti-abortion movement -- wherever tried -- fail to produce "pro-life" outcomes. The trend is true globally. The countries with the highest abortion rates are those that that have outlawed abortion. Abortion is completely illegal throughout most of Latin America, but abortion rates in Peru, Chile and the Dominican Republic have been estimated to be more than twice the U.S. rate. Conversely, the countries with the lowest abortion rates are those with the strongest pro-choice policies, where abortion is legal and often even free of charge.

During the Clinton administration, pro-choice policies were implemented resulting in the most dramatic decline in abortion rates ever recorded. Through the eight years of the Bush administration, the anti-abortion movement set national policy, yet none of its strategies resulted in dramatic decreases in the abortion rate. Instead, teen birth rates are now spiking in 26 states and the rates of STDs are rising too. What the Catholic Conference is recommending for Connecticut is not new but rather a continuation of the old policies that have failed, even by "pro-life" standards.

That's why many pro-life people are now supporting pro-choice policies that have proven to prevent unwanted pregnancy and reduce the need for abortion. is an organization that is supported by many religious groups and pursues common ground approaches to reduce unwanted pregnancy and abortion. Their tag line is: "Finding real solutions to our high abortion rate based on results, not rhetoric." Reverend Rich Cizik, of the National Association of Evangelicals, explained the group's philosophy, "Let's all join together to be part of a positive strategy to reduce abortions in America that puts problem-solving above political posturing." Since one in five abortions is obtained by a teenager and 60 percent by women with incomes below 200 percent of the poverty line, their platform is to favor policies that prevent unintended pregnancies, support pregnant women, and assist new parents.

The new Obama administration and Democrat-controlled Congress have committed to the common ground approach as well. To signal their seriousness, on the first day the Senate returned to session, Majority Leader Harry Reid introduced the Prevention First Act. This common ground legislation is designed to increase access to both contraception and comprehensive sex education, as well as reduce unwanted pregnancies in the United States. President Obama marked the anniversary of Roe v Wade by stating, "While this is a sensitive and often divisive issue, no matter what our views, we are united in our determination to prevent unintended pregnancies, reduce the need for abortion, and support women and families in the choices they make. To accomplish these goals, we must work to find common ground to expand access to affordable contraception, accurate health information, and preventative services."

Americans, both pro-choice and pro-life, are eager to see progress on this most intransigent of political issues. According to a Faith in Public Life poll, the vast majority (83 percent) of voters, including Catholics (81 percent), believe elected leaders should work together to find ways to reduce abortions by helping prevent unwanted pregnancies, expanding adoption, and increasing economic support for women who want to carry their pregnancies to term. None of these approaches are part of the Connecticut Catholic Conference's recently released plan. However, if both sides of the abortion conflict pooled their talents, these common ground approaches would not only be tremendously successful but would also begin to heal the wound our country has suffered over this issue for far too long. At the very least, it's worth an honest try.
Page is the author of How the Pro-Choice Movement Saved America: Freedom, Politics and the War on Sex and spokesperson for
Copyright (C) 2009 by the American Forum. 1/09

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Ending Wage Discrimination

By Lisa Grafstein

In 2007, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a 5-4 decision which changed the rules for determining how long an employee has to raise a claim of wage discrimination. The plaintiff in that case, Lilly Ledbetter, lost a claim for 18 years of discrimination, but has lent her name to a proposal which would correct the interpretation of federal law and allow victims of wage discrimination to recover a portion of what they have lost.

Before the Ledbetter case, courts -- including the Supreme Court -- had used a “paycheck rule,” which recognized that, when an employee is underpaid on a discriminatory basis, each paycheck that employee receives is affected by discrimination, and the statute of limitations for a claim therefore begins to run when a discriminatory paycheck is issued. In most cases, employees do not become aware of wage discrepancies until well into their employment. Moreover, we know that a pay decision continues to impact a worker over her earning years. The National Women’s Law Center has calculated that women 24 and younger start out earning 6 percent less than their male counterparts, but that gap increases over time, resulting in women 45-64 earn 71 percent of what their male counterparts earn.

A study by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research shows the cost in real dollars: a typical college-educated woman who was between 45 and 49 in 2004 had lost over $440,000 (in 2004 dollars) since 1984 due to the wage gap. As Justice Ginsburg noted in the dissent in the Ledbetter decision: “even minor disparities will increase exponentially over time.” The Bureau of Labor Statistics confirms that women earn 76 percent of what men earn -- a gap that cannot be explained away by women’s career choices or other non-discriminatory bases, and is the cumulative effect of long-term wage disparities.

The Ledbetter decision discarded the paycheck rule, and held that a worker could not complain about wage discrimination that started more than 180 days before the initial complaint was made. The practical impact was that there would be no real remedy for wage discrimination, since very few people discover the wage disparity until well after being hired for a position, and still fewer would opt to sue a new employer over what would initially be a very small amount of money. The Lilly Ledbetter Act would reinstate the paycheck rule, allowing an employee to sue for up to two years of the wage difference, even if the initial salary decision was made earlier.

The central argument against the bill appears to be that it would invite litigation over decades-old claims. The law, however, is clear that no claim for damages can reach back more than two years; in other words, regardless of how many years a woman received lesser pay she cannot claim losses that occurred prior to two years before instituting a charge of discrimination.

Both sides in this debate raise the issue of the struggling economy as support for their argument. Those who oppose the proposal, however, are in the position of arguing that discrimination should be left unremedied because of the current economic crisis -- ignoring the very real impact disparate wages have on women as workers and consumers. Without the Lilly Ledbetter Act, employers have no incentive to examine their wage practices -- past and present -- to determine whether some of their employees are not being fairly compensated.

The Lilly Ledbetter Act has already passed the House and will be voted on by the Senate soon. President Obama has pledged to sign it. It is well past time to end wage discrimination, and to send a firm signal condemning the practice.
Grafstein is a private practice attorney in Raleigh.
Copyright (C) 2009 by the North Carolina Editorial Forum. 1/09

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

English Only Amendment; How Not to Unite a Community

By Nancy Stetten

I have been a teacher all of my life. For a number of years I taught English to immigrants. I experienced firsthand the frustration of trying to communicate without a common language. I was always impressed though with how difficult it was for the adults to learn English, and how hard they struggled to master it to become better, more informed members of their communities.

Proponents for the English-Only Metro Charter Amendment though, say that by promoting English-Only, communities will be more united under a common language. This makes absolutely no sense. Communities are only made stronger due to their differences and by a willingness to come together despite those differences to make it a better place for everyone. This amendment seeks to divide communities. It is bad policy for Nashville and can send a problematic precedent for the rest of the state.

While early voting for the English-Only Metro Charter Amendment has begun, it is very important to understand what the proposal means and what it is trying to accomplish and why it is bad for the state.

Let’s see what it says sentence by sentence.

“English is the official language of the metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County.”

This language is unnecessary. English is already the “official and legal language of Tennessee.”

“Official actions, which bind or commit the government shall be taken only in the English language.”

Again, unnecessary. All bills and resolutions are already written in English.

“…and all official government communications and publications shall be in English.”

What does this mean? Metro government has taken steps to provide information in languages other than English in cases where it believes that this makes our government function more efficiently. To overrule all of these decisions ties the hands of government workers trying to do their jobs and raises barriers to effective communication.

“No person shall have a right to government services in any other language.”

Our country has fought to get rid of categories of people who are denied rights. Why would we want to deny rights to a new class of people now?

“All meetings of the Metro Council, Boards, and Commissions of the metropolitan Government shall be conducted in English.”

Once again, unnecessary. This is already the case.

“The Metro Council may make specific exceptions to protect public health and safety.”

There are two problems with this. First, getting measures through Metro Council is cumbersome and time consuming. And second, it is impossible to list all of the specific cases which could endanger public health and safety. Misunderstandings over law or intention can rapidly escalate to a violent confrontation. In fact, failure to communicate itself is one of the greatest risks to public health and safety.

“Nothing in this measure shall be interpreted to conflict with federal or state law.”

Saying this does not make it so. In fact, the proposed charter amendment is in conflict with the constitution and federal law. Non-English speaking citizens have a right to government services under the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, and immigrants over 50 can become citizens even if they don’t know English. There is no doubt that if the English-Only Amendment is passed, it will surely be challenged in court.

A community achieves unity by treating all of its members as equal before the law, not by dividing members into two legal categories -- one receiving government services and the other denying them. At a time when we should be bringing communities together, the English-Only proposal only seeks to tear them apart.
Stetten is a former ESL teacher and a current researcher at the Tennessee Department of Education and a volunteer at Park Avenue Elementary School, where she teaches science and gardening.
Copyright (C) 2009 by the Tennessee Editorial Forum. 1/09

Monday, January 05, 2009

To Achieve Change President-Elect Obama Needs to Bet on Women

By Linda Tarr-Whelan

President-elect Obama has now moved swiftly to name talented and creative people to Cabinet-level offices and the key members of the White House team. But a nagging thought keeps coming back to me: Why isn't he naming more women to bring our experience, creativity and energy to address the problems that face us?

Until only recently it looked like Obama's Cabinet-level composition held only three women. But the announcement that Gov. Bill Richardson will not be taking the Commerce Secretary slot leaves an open position to fill, and one more chance for diversity.

Whereas the presidents of Chile and Spain, also elected as change candidates, appointed women to one-half of their Cabinet seats, Obama has named (including Richardson), 12 men of 15 Cabinet-level departments heads. Leaving his team very diverse in terms of race and ethnicity -- but not in gender. This is a diminished representation from both Bush presidencies and the Clinton administration.

More important than numbers is the talent that is missing and how out-of-step we are compared to the rest of the world in terms of who leads and why it matters. Since 1995 the global standard has been at least one-third women at power tables to revitalize economies and advance democratic participation.

Here we are stuck or moving backwards compared to the rest of the world.
The U.S. is ranked 27th on the World Economic Forum's Gender Gap Report and 71st in terms of women's representation in Congress. Outside of government representation at the current rate increase it will take women 73 years to reach parity on corporate boards.

Why does Obama -- and all of us -- need more women making decisions?
Women "get it" about the importance of education and have gone to school in droves. Women now earn 58 percent of college and master's degrees and are at least even in professional and Ph.D programs. Women-owned businesses, despite persistent obstacles, generate sales equal to the gross domestic product of China. Women make 80 percent of the consumer decisions. As almost one-half of the workforce and the bulk of nurses and teachers, women are the secret to achieving improvements in the economy, education and health care.

Failing to maximize the power and potential of women as leaders for change is neither smart politics nor good business. Women were the majority of all voters -- and with a 7 percent gender gap over men voters, the majority of Obama voters. In part that was because the campaign specifically addressed pressing problems in women's lives where there has been little action for decades -- family and work, health care, equal pay and violence.

I've had my time to serve in government. Based on my experience, I would recommend a plan recently presented to the Obama-Biden transition by the heads of 38 prominent women's organization who represent 14 million women. They proposed the creation of a Cabinet-level Office on Women reporting directly to the president, an Inter-Agency Council on Women and an Office for Women's Initiatives and Outreach.

As the former head of the White House Office on Women's Concerns for President Carter, I know first-hand the importance of the coordination between the president, the administration and women across the country.

In the Clinton administration, as the CEO of a nonprofit, I worked closely with Betsy Myers, later head of Women for Obama, and others who headed the Office of Women's Outreach. All of us found it difficult to deliver the president's agenda for women without Cabinet status. In my role as ambassador I met women ministers from around the globe and saw how their work informed progress for women and their countries and participated in the work of the very effective Inter-Agency Council on Women.

All of these offices were cut out by the Bush administration -- our next President will face a clean slate and a pressing need. President-elect Obama -- and all of us -- will be well-served by taking on board the full recommendation of an integrated approach on women led by a Cabinet-level Office on Women.

An Obama administration will move the whole country forward when it effectively tackles existing inequities, eliminates possible disparate impacts of supposedly "gender-neutral" policies and taps the full potential of our women. Women are not a special-interest group. We are the current and future talent for the economy, the anchors for most families and the change agents for a better future.

Women have embraced the Obama call for change. Now we want to be sure it happens.
Tarr-Whelan is a Demos Distinguished Senior Fellow on Women’s Leadership. Her book, “Women Lead the Way: Your Guide to Stepping Up to Leadership and Changing the World” will be published in 2009. She is the former Ambassador to the UN Commission on the Status of Women.
Copyright (C) 2008 by the American Forum. 1/09

Friday, January 02, 2009

Medicaid Reform: Yet Another Barrier To Care

By Toni Waters Woods

On Thanksgiving Day 2006, my father, James "Buzz" Waters, was waiting to be disenrolled from the Medicaid reform pilot program in Duval County so that a high-risk cardiologist in Alachua County would see him. Jacksonville cardiologists referred my father to the Alachua doctor because apparently there was not a high-risk cardiologist in the Duval County Medicaid reform program. This wait proved to be fatal.

Before Medicaid reform my father would have been able to immediately make an appointment and be seen by the cardiologist in Alachua county. Two years ago the state introduced a pilot program to North Florida and Broward county that required more Medicaid recipients to join Medicaid HMOs. Proponents of the pilot claimed that Medicaid Reform would result in increased choices of health plans and providers. But by forcing more Medicaid patients into Medicaid HMOs it has instead created new barriers to care. In fact patients are now unable to access specialists who accept Medicaid but are outside reform plan networks without experiencing unnecessary and sometimes fatal delays. Because the specialist my father needed to see was not part of Duval county's Medicaid reform network, he had to waste precious time going through the disenrollment process before he could even make an appointment with the out of network high risk cardiologist. New Medicaid plan enrollments only start at the beginning of the month. As a result, the time frame for effectuating disenrollment from a plan is a frustrating and ludicrous obstacle for high-risk patients who have immediate needs that cannot wait. My father didn't make it to December 1. He died on that Thanksgiving Day, November 23.

Examples like my father's highlight the problems with forcing more high-risk Medicaid patients into Medicaid HMOs. Which is why I'm concerned when I hear the state is considering expanding the pilot program to the entire state. Medicaid reform in the state of Florida is not working for many patients. "Reform" has not only failed to solve the old problems, but it's created a slew of new ones. The reform program’s limited provider networks puts people with complex illnesses at risk. There are many documented stories like my father's about patients stuck in a spiral of red tape and rules that have led to further medical complications. Reading these stories is heartbreaking at times. A letter sent last year to the Florida Medicaid director from Florida CHAIN and Florida Legal Services highlighted many of the problems patients were having. A woman with diabetes was denied coverage for her insulin, goes into diabetic shock and almost dies; a man with severe mental illness ended up in the hospital because of coverage denied for his medications; a child with disabilities was unable to access critical therapies because of a lack of providers.

There are many policy arguments on all sides of the Medicaid reform issue. But we should listen closest to those who must navigate the complex maze of rules that Medicaid reform has put into place: the patients.

In a report from the Agency on Health Care Administration, it says Medicaid reform "seeks to improve the value of the Medicaid delivery system." I do not believe that happened in my father's case and I do not believe that the value has been improved for many of Florida's citizens, whether patients or taxpayers.

Managed care companies require profits and increasing amounts of reimbursement from the state. These needs are difficult to reconcile with the health care needs of high-risk and very sick Medicaid patients. Notably, in recent months managed care companies threatened to leave the program but changed their minds only when the state gave in to their demands to reduce proposed cuts from 5 percent to 3 percent. Decent health care should be not be judged by the balance sheet, but by the health of its patients.

One step in the right direction would be to permit emergency disenrollment procedures for Medicaid patients needing to access care not available through reform plans. Those protections were not in place for my father. Florida certainly should seek greater choices, access and flexibility for its Medicaid patients, but it should do so by reworking the fatally flawed reform program first, not by expanding it.
Woods is a resident of Duval County.
Copyright (C) 2009 by the Florida Forum