Funding transportation infrastructure

On October 25, Robert Puentes of the Brookings Institution presented Congressional testimony on the funding of surface transportation infrastructure, "Not So Fast: Key Policy Considerations for Surface Transportation Investment Needs" (pdf, 11pp/64kB). His basic premise was that "we are a metropolitan nation," and "Unfortunately, our nation's transportation policy does not recognize the primacy of metropolitan areas..." Puentes saw three critical problems:
  • Spending is not targeted to achieve certain outcomes
  • There is little attention to reducing demand for spending
  • The system is not priced correctly
In his testimony, Puentes referred to a publication of the U.S. Dept. of Transportation (DOT), 2006 Status of the Nation's Highways, Bridges, and Transit: Conditions and Performance (html) (pdf, 436pp/7.5MB). From the report's Introduction:
This document is intended to provide decision makers with an objective appraisal of the physical conditions, operational performance, and financing mechanisms of highways, bridges, and transit systems based both on the current state of these systems and on the projected future state of these systems under a set of alternative future investment scenarios.

Relevant to this subject area are two commissions connected to DOT: the National Surface Transportation Infrastructure Financing Commission and National Surface Transportation Policy and Revenue Study Commission.

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Dealing with "symbols of fear and violence"

From the Jena Six case in Louisiana to the recent (Oct. 22) sending of a noose to a black principal in Brooklyn, as reported by the New York Times, there has been a growing number of incidents involving nooses. The latter AP story, found on the ABC News website, notes that "the frightening symbol of segregation-era lynchings has been turning up around the country."

Earlier this month, the Congressional Research Service (CRS) issued a report on state laws against what are basically hate crimes. According to the report, virtually every state has criminal statutes covering burning crosses, exhibitions of nooses, and similar displays, or those that cover coercion, terroristic threats, harassment, or the deprivation of civil rights that can be applied to misconduct like cross burning. CRS provides an extensive analysis of First Amendment protection of speech and expressive conduct relating to these statutes.

CRS also notes that most states have enhanced sentencing laws for hate crimes. In Hawaii, §706-662, Hawaii Revised Statutes, provides for extended terms of imprisonment. Subsection (6) therein specifically covers hate crime offenders. On October 1, 2007, in State v. Maugaotega (html) (pdf, 39pp.), the Hawaii Supreme Court declared §706-662 unconstitutional because it authorizes a court, rather than a jury, to make the finding that an extended term is necessary.

Burning Crosses, Hangman's Nooses, and the Like: State Statutes That Proscribe the Use of Symbols of Fear and Violence with the Intent to Threaten, CRS Report RL34200 (pdf, 20pp/144kB, from Open CRS), October 5, 2007

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States and nation fail women's health

The National Woman's Law Center (NWLC) and Oregon Health & Science University Center for Women's Health (OHSU) jointly released a nation and state-by-state report card on the "current state of women's health status and health policies."
First, for the bulk of indicators of the status of women's health, the nation as a whole and the individual states are falling further behind in their quest to reach national goals for women's health.
The Report Card examines status and policy indicators in four categories:
  1. Women's Access to Health Care Services
  2. Addressing Wellness and Prevention
  3. Key Health Conditions, Diseases and Causes of Death for Women
  4. Living in a Healthy Community
Hawaii, though ranked 7 in comparison to other states, received an overall grade of Unsatisfactory. Lowest Hawaii marks were in Addressing Wellness and Prevention, failing with a low 37th place in "Screenings". Only the top three states (Vermont, Minnesota, Massachusetts, respectively) received other than Unsatisfactory with a score of Satisfactory Minus.

In its summary, the report states:
  • The nation still receives an overall grade of unsatisfactory.
  • No state received an overall grade of satisfactory.
Making the Grade on Women's Health: A National and State-by-State Report Card
(October 2007, HTML interactive)

Hawaii's Report Card (HTML)
National Report (HTML)
Key Findings (HTML)

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Climate change impacts public sector budgets

University of Maryland's Center for Integrative Environmental Research (CIER) released their report examining direct and indirect costs of climate change to America as a nation and to the many communities within.
The direct costs of not taking on the challenges posed by climate change are often neglected - and typically not calculated. The indirect effects are considered even less frequently, yet can be substantial ... All sectors of the economy will be affected.
Climate change impacts placing "immense strains on public sector budgets" and the uneven distribution of impacts across the country are two of several key lessons presented and supported in this study.
Recent estimates indicate that a sea-level rise of nearly 20 inches (50 cm) by 2100 would cause $23-170 billion in damages to coastal property throughout the US. In Hawaii, sea level rise will require upgrades to the drinking and wastewater infrastructures -- at a cost that exceeds $1 .9 billion over the next 20 years...

The biggest threats to [Hawaii's] already burdened infrastructure will be sea level rise and tropical storms.
CIER, established in 2006 as a multidisciplinary environmental research and collaboration group, works to develop "strategies and tools to guide policy and investment decisions, particularly to help mitigate climate impacts."

The US Economic Impacts of Climate Change and the Costs of Inaction
(October 2007, pdf, 51pp/5.2MB)

Executive Summary (pdf, 12pp/1.7MB)

Regional Highlight: Hawaii and US Affiliated Islands (pdf, 2pp/136KB)

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Dismantling the pipeline

The Children's Defense Fund (CDF) recently published America's Cradle to Prison Pipeline, a report on "an urgent national crisis at the intersection of poverty and race": the high lifetime risk of Black and Latino boys going to jail.
Poor children of color are the canaries in America's deep mines of child neglect and racial and economic injustice. At critical points in their development, from birth through adulthood, millions of these children confront a multitude of disadvantages and risks including poverty and its many stresses....These accumulated and convergent risks form a Cradle to Prison Pipeline, trapping these children in a trajectory that leads to marginalized lives, imprisonment and often premature death.
The report's proposed steps to help these children include:
  • A fundamental paradigm shift from the first choice of punishment and incarceration to early intervention and sustained child investment
  • Health and mental health coverage for every child and coverage of pregnant women
  • Quality Early Head Start, Head Start, child care and preschool so that every child is school-ready
  • Creating an ethic of achievement and high expectations for every child
The report was released at a summit held at Howard University last month.

According to its website, CDF is a private, nonprofit organization that provides a voice for the children of America, particularly poor and minority children and those with disabilities, and encourages preventive investment for these children. CDF was founded by Marian Wright Edelman in 1973.

America's Cradle to Prison Pipeline (pdf, 244pp/6.6MB)

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Less than half for our children

The New England Journal of Medicine current issue includes a study on the quality of care for children in the United States.
On average, according to data in the medical records, children in the study received 46.5%...of the indicated care. They received 67.6%...of the indicated care for acute medical problems, 53.4%...of the indicated care for chronic medical conditions, and 40.7%...of the indicated preventive care.
According to this study, previous results were limited to select groups (e.g., Medicaid recipients), involved self-reporting by caregivers and guardians, or were collected from data on the overall adult population.
In an attempt to address the limitations of previously published studies of the quality of care provided to children, we developed a comprehensive method for evaluating quality on the basis of information in medical records.
Deficits in the quality of healthcare for children "are similar in magnitude to those previously reported for adults." The results were surprising because the participants were more likely to be white and to have private insurance.

The researchers have found no national commitment to improve children health care.
Expansion of access to care through insurance coverage, which is the focus of national health care policy related to children, will not, by itself, eliminate the deficits in the quality of care.
The Quality of Ambulatory Care Delivered to Children in the United States
(The New England Journal of Medicine, October 11, 2007, pdf, 9pp/136KB)

Abstract available (HTML)

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The Washington Post (WP) reported today on the new study of state achievement tests published by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. According to WP, the study:
offers evidence that the No Child Left Behind law's core mission -- to push all students to score well in reading and math -- is undermined by wide variations in how states define a passing score.
The study's aim was to investigate three research questions related to the NCLB policy calling for all students' proficiency in reading and mathematics by 2014, and expecting each state to define that "proficiency."
  1. How consistent are various states' expectations for proficiency in reading and mathematics?
  2. Is there evidence that states' expectations for proficiency have changed since NCLB's enactment?
  3. How closely are proficiency standards calibrated across grades?
The researchers found that "improvements in passing rates on state tests can largely be explained by declines in the difficulty of those tests."

According to the study, "State tests vary greatly in their difficulty." Thus a student could pass in, say, Michigan where the proficiency passing score is among the lowest in the country, and test lower than five-sixths of the same-grade students in the rest of the country.
What [parents and teachers] don't know is that "proficient" doesn't mean much. This is the proficiency illusion.

The Proficiency Illusion
(October 2007, 238pp/pdf, 2.1MB)

In a Nutshell, a summary

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Breast cancer and early puberty

The younger girls are when they get their first periods, the greater their risk of breast cancer later in life. In fact, first menstruation (menarche) before age 12 raises breast cancer risk by 50 percent compared to menarche at age 16.
The Breast Cancer Fund recently published their report reviewing current scientific literature on the timing of puberty and examining "the nutritional, psychosocial and environmental factors that contribute to its timing." The report's author, Sandra Steingraber, Ph.D., writes:
We know that endocrine disrupting chemicals are a possible cause of early puberty but we also know that exposure to these chemicals in utero or early in life can also lead to low birth weight and obesity, which are themselves possible causes of early puberty.
Key findings include possible risk factors of early puberty:
  • depression
  • eating disorders
  • suicide attempts
  • early alcohol abuse
  • violent victimization
  • teenage sexual activity
  • lower academic achievement
Dr. Steingraber recommends particular actions to protect the young:
  • Combat childhood obesity by promoting breastfeeding early in life and supporting school-based healthy school lunch and obesity prevention programs for older children
  • Support efforts to improve access to healthy foods in urban, low-income areas
  • Eliminate fetal exposures to toxic chemicals in our everyday lives
  • Support the phase-out of endocrine disrupting chemicals
  • Support organic agriculture at home and in schools

The Falling Age of Puberty in U.S. Girls: What We Know, What We Need to Know
(August 2007, 73pp/pdf, 1.3MB)

Advocate's Guide
(August 2007, 9pp/pdf, 1MB)

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