Archive | July, 2011

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Hartford Police Need Drastic Overhaul


By Ann-Marie Adams, Op-Ed Columnist

The Hartford Police Department has a lot of explaining to do for that incredulous delayed discovery of a decomposed body in the city’s South End.

Months after neighbors repeatedly called them and reported the horrid stench emanating from the house at 211 Goodrich St., police on Friday found an unrecognizable body that may belong to a 48-year old handicapped woman.

The news should be deeply disturbing to any decent human being. It should also serve as a reminder of the dysfunctional police department that needs a drastic overhaul.

After the incident made the evening news, Mayor Pedro Segarra on Saturday called for an investigation.

There are, however, several ongoing “investigations” within the department. This latest “investigation” will reveal only the pace of the sequence of events that led to this particular misconduct. This latest investigation will also just reinforce what some people know: many city police officers, sergeants and captains have an utter disdain for the people they are supposed to serve and protect with respect, courtesy and professionalism.

Who will investigate this police misconduct? Will the police be policing themselves? It seems Chief Daryl Roberts does not have control or respect of his officers. Under his watch, the police have seemingly been given carte blanche to treat law-abiding people as suspects, or ignore people in a time of need.

Earlier this year, Roberts declared that he had only two complaints against officers in the police department. Upon uttering that, he immediately undermined his credibility. Now with this incident, there’s a “discrepancy” between the police report and the incident. Is that another way of saying a police officer lied on his report? This seems to be a regular occurrence with the police. That’s because they know that when they show up in court, they are by default “credible witnesses.”

Like this recent complaint to the police about the stench, many other seemingly minor cases are ignored for more “pressing issues.”

For example, an allegation of misconduct against Hartford Police Capt. Joseph Buyak earlier this year was “closed on intake.” Translation? No need to look into an alleged misconduct. That complaint, like the one clearly made in February, is collecting dust. That non-caring attitude about citizens’ concerns has led to Friday’s gruesome discovery. Issues “not pressing enough” eventually snowball into catastrophic ones and implode. If this attitude continues, we’ll soon have a city drained of its already limited resources to deal with many implosions waiting to happen.

There must be consequences, not just for Friday’s incident but also for other alleged police misconducts that have been ignored for too long. Our history has shown us what happens to issues deferred. They explode.
Dr. Ann-Marie Adams writes a bi-weekly column for The Hartford Guardian. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

 

 

 

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The Debt Ceiling: Washington’s Summer Thriller Terrifies the Poor and Elders


By  Behrouz Saba

When a government becomes so beholden to special interests that it no longer can effectively serve its constituents, it has to create fictions of its usefulness to the people, terrifying them in the process.

First, there was in April the cheap spectacle over shutting down the government. Now with July going on to August, an even more tawdry piece of political theater, like a Hollywood summer blockbuster, counts down the minutes to raising the debt ceiling. In its absence, all are told to expect socio-economic Armageddon.

In truth, raising the debt ceiling is a routine procedure for the United States, which has relied heavily on borrowing for decades. As President Barack Obama noted in last Monday’s prime-time speech, “President Reagan did it 18 times. George W. Bush did it seven times.”

Yet in a Washington infested with every imaginable lie and phoniness, there is the particularly galling lie of the phony “patriotic Tea Party,” which is striking up an unconvincing pose as it demands spending cuts commensurate with accruing additional debt.

The greenhorn House representatives, who for the most self-serving of political interests vociferously militate against government spending, know next to nothing about the complex economic landscape they pretend to navigate. Ignoring the fact that the tab for the so-called war on terror is approaching $4 trillion plus another $1 trillion in interest, according to a recent studyby the Eisenhower Research Project at Brown University, they obsess endlessly over entitlements programs for ordinary Americans.

Yet, this new crop of representatives who were elected in blind reaction to Obama’s presidency have sufficiently mastered the Washington game to be in ostensible collusion with the executive branch itself, sharing the single purpose of terrifying the very people they are supposed to serve.

Come this Tues., Aug. 3, 2011 — the middle-class, poor, disabled and elderly Americans are being told — there will be no Social Security or Medicare payments, if a way is not found out of the “debt-ceiling impasse.”

Today the top 10 percent of Americans own 30 percent of the national wealth – about triple the proportion they held in 1970 — while the lowest 10 percent own only two percent of the nation’s earnings, as they fight for the crumbs. These numbers put America in the world’s worst economic company, such as Uganda, Iran and Egypt. The last time America displayed such a lopsided distribution of wealth was in the late 1920s, as a harbinger of the Great Depression. Instead of playing games, this when the federal government should be marshaling all of its means to pull America out of the bleakest economic times since the 1930s.

The financial faith and trust of the American government has become a plaything in the hands of the president and an overemotional John Boehner as his foil.

Despair and sameness are now firmly established as the two gifts of the Obama administration to American voters after its epic campaign for hope and change. The president, however, keeps up the pretense, referring to himself as an affluent American, who is uneasy with his own privileges and would like to spread the country’s riches by taxing the wealthy. Besides this shopworn fix, however, there is no real vision, energy or strategy to pull America out of its stubborn economic predicament.

Wall Street gangsters looted the property values, retirement funds and stock portfolios of Americans, as Washington sat by and did nothing. It is the new normal for the executive and legislative branches to perpetuate the same self-serving inertia without an iota of reformative imagination and true patriotism.

This phony war shall also pass. After much bickering and grandstanding, expect a last-minute compromise with a bill reaching the president’s desk for his signature.

Yet it is sobering to consider that the sitting government, conspiring with its “opposition,” has no other purpose than to terrify the American public into silence and submission.

Public fear, however, is never neutral. Throughout history, fear has been a fertile ground for the rise of aspirants to totalitarianism, who promise full bellies and warm rooms at the price of unquestioning obedience. In the process they find scapegoats in “other people”—immigrants, Jews, Muslims and so on—to finalize their grips on power.

Last week Norway served as a stark reminder of what a single man armed with nativist delusions and weapons can do. As stirrings to pass anti-immigrant legislation reach a growing number of states, it is time to wake up to the true consequences of the games in Washington.

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Hartford Police Discover Decomposed Body


By Fran Wilson, Staff Writer

HARTFORD — Hartford Police are still investigating a decomposed body found Friday, months after they were called about an odious stench coming from a home on Goodrich Street.

The body that belongs to a 4o-something woman was discovered Friday afternoon, but police said the woman has been dead perhaps since May.

Neighbors said they didn’t see the woman for months and mail had piled up. The woman, they said, was handicapped.

One neighbor called police after noticing the woman was missing for weeks.

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Don’t Forget Blacks in the Deficit Struggle


By Dr. Wilmer Leon, Contributor

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Proposed cuts to entitlements will hit African Americans especially hard.

Republicans have linked the issue of raising the debt ceiling to the deficit and are using the debt issue as a hammer to repeal three important social entitlement programs to which several conservative Republicans have been ideologically opposed from their inception. Since these programs became law in 1965, many of those Republicans have disliked the government-run social insurance system (Medicare) and the government-run program for people and families with low incomes and resources (Medicaid). Since the administration of George H.W. Bush, Republicans have also wanted to “privatize” Social Security.

It’s very important to understand the disproportionate impact that proposed cuts to these entitlement programs will have on African Americans. Even though Social Security is supposed to be one piece in a retirement plan or strategy, it is the sole source of retirement income for too many African Americans because of a lack of income from pensions and other assets.

According to the National Committee to Save Social Security and Medicare (link), “71% of African-American beneficiaries rely on Social Security for at least half their income, compared to less than two-thirds (64%) of all beneficiaries. 47% of African-American beneficiaries rely on Social Security for 90% or more of their income and 40% of African-American beneficiaries rely on Social Security for all of their income.” Social Security can pay benefits for the next 25 years at current funding levels; it has nothing to do with the debt or deficit.

A disproportionate number of poor African Americans rely on these benefits. According to the Kaiser Foundation (link), of the estimated 41.8 million Medicare beneficiaries in 2002, 33.1 million were white and 3.9 million were African American. But of those African Americans, 64 percent had incomes below 150 percent of the federal poverty level (FPL), as compared with 32 percent of white beneficiaries.

These disparities in Social Security and other entitlements are compounded by the even larger chasm of wealth disparity. Wealth is defined as tangible assets (home, stocks, cash, etc.) minus debts. According to the most recent Pew Research Center report (link), based on 2009 data, “The median wealth of white households is 20 times that of black households and 18 times that of Hispanic households.” These are the largest disparities since Pew began publishing the data more than 25 years ago.

“The typical black household had just $5,677 in wealth … in 2009, the typical Hispanic household had $6,325 in wealth and the typical white household had $113,149 … Moreover, about a third of black (35 percent) and Hispanic (31 percent) households had zero or negative net worth in 2009, compared with 15 percent of white households.” The ability to accumulate wealth enables an individual or family to better deal with economic downturn and is critical to the ability to pass on wealth to future generations. In this time of a supposed “postracial” America, disparities measured by race are growing at historic rates.

Last week, House Majority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) declared, “The gulf between the two parties now is about policy. It’s not about process, it’s not about personalities.” Boehner was wrong then and is wrong now — it’s not about policy. It’s about ideology and has everything to do with personality (and race).

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) clearly made it about personality when he stated (link) in 2010 that “the single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.” It’s not that Republicans can’t compromise; they won’t compromise with President Barack Obama.

Programs that provide retirement security, both financial and medical, should be sacrosanct in America. Republicans are using a real debt crisis with a simple solution to attack programs to which they have been always ideologically opposed.

Boehner has been negotiating with President Obama and is hamstrung by the members of the Tea Party Caucus and their uncompromising ideological stance for a constitutionally limited government. The vote that was scheduled for Tuesday has been pushed back because Boehner can’t convince 218 Republicans to support his own plan. He can’t even control his own caucus, and he says the president needs to lead?

A Call to Action

Now is the time for organizations such as the NAACP and the National Urban League to come to the forefront. NAACP President and CEO Benjamin Jealous and members of the Congressional Black Caucus need to lead the charge. They should be publicly articulating a unified agenda to improve the economic conditions of African Americans.

National Urban League President Marc H. Morial needs to be out front rallying public support for the Urban Jobs Act and other measures in the league’s 12-Point Plan for Job Creation. It’s one thing to meet with the president and hold summits to discuss these issues, and another to be publicly rallying the troops and creating a groundswell of public sentiment that will bring about change.

Republicans are attacking the financial and medical safety nets for a lot of hardworking Americans, and African Americans will be disproportionately affected if they are successful. If the GOP wins this debate, America loses, and the harm to African Americans will be catastrophic.

When elephants battle, the weeds suffer.

Dr. Wilmer Leon is the producer-host of the call-in talk radio program Inside the Issues With Wilmer Leon on Sirius/XM 128. He teaches at Howard University in Washington, D.C. Follow him on Facebook or Twitter and contact him by email.


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The Dream That Got Away: Tracking Homeownership Trends


The Dream That Got Away: Tracking Homeownership Trends

New America Media, News Report, text: Michael Lawson and Kat Aaron, graphic: Allen Meyer, Posted: Jul 25, 2011

Editor’s note: Since 1995, the federal government has spent nearly $40 billion and provided trillions of dollars worth of insurance guarantees to lenders to promote homeownership, especially among communities of color. The infusion of money boosted homeownership rates slightly over the decades, but the ongoing national foreclosure crisis is wiping out all of those gains. We provide this timeline of homeownership promotion by Michael Lawson and Kat Aaron with the Investigative Reporting Workshop, and graphic by Allen Meyer with New America Media.

Home Ownership Trends
Timeline of Homeownership Promotion

1995
President Bill Clinton’s National Homeownership Strategy aimed to create 8 million new homeowners by 2000 through an “unprecedented collaboration of private and public housing industry organizations.” The program was going to “help moderate-income families who pay high rents but haven’t been able to save enough for a down payment; to help lower-income, working families who are ready to assume the responsibilities of homeownership but are held back by mortgage costs that are just out of reach; (and to) help families who have historically been excluded from homeownership.”

At the 1995 ceremony announcing the plan, Clinton’s rhetoric was almost metaphysical: Homes were more than bricks and mortar. They were part of the intangible promise of America.

“This is a big deal,” the president said. “This is about more than money and sticks and boards and windows. This is about the way we live as a people and what kind of society we’re going to have.”

Not everyone was as sanguine about housing as the president. The Department of Housing and Urban Development produced an urban policy brief the same year that took a hard look at the pros and cons of homeownership.

“The ideal of homeownership is so integral a part of the American dream that its value for individuals, for families, for communities and for society is scarcely questioned,” the brief read. “However, many external factors can affect whether and at what rate a home’s value increases or decreases.”

Homeownership could be a key builder of wealth, but low-income and minority families were particularly “vulnerable to economic downturns that can result in job loss and, eventually, foreclosure,” the brief continued.

1999
Ameriquest, a subprime lender whose slogan was “Proud Sponsor of the American Dream,” became the first subprime lender to have its loans financed by Fannie Mae (the Federal National Mortgage Association). The lender that pioneered “no-document” loans eventually settled for $325 million with several attorneys general over charges of predatory lending, in 2006. Ameriquest closed in 2008.

2000
Five years after announcing his strategy, Clinton could boast a homeownership rate of 67 percent. African-American and Latino homeowners still lagged behind whites, but they were making clear gains.

2002
By 2002, the administration had changed hands, but the American-dream language was still going strong.

“We must begin to close this homeownership gap by dismantling the barriers that prevent minorities from owning a piece of the American dream,” President George W. Bush said in a June 2002 radio address. The Bush administration’s “ownership society” framed homeownership as an engine to help eliminate persistent racial inequalities. Building on Clinton’s goal seven years earlier, Bush set out to create 5.5 million new minority homeowners by the end of decade.

President Bush put cash behind the ownership society goals. From 2002 to 2006, the administration spent $412 million on its American Dream Downpayment Initiative to help first-time homebuyers with costs associated with down payments. His administration also ramped upspending on housing counseling, the thinking being that education led to responsible homeowners. Grants for counseling totaled $176 million over the same four-year period. And more than $440 billion was committed by Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac (the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corp.) and the other government-backed mortgage players, targeted toward making loans available to minority homeowners.

Mortgage lenders jumped on the bandwagon, ramping up lending to communities of color — never mind that the loans were often high cost and packed with provisions like balloon payments and adjustable rates that turned them into ticking time bombs.

2003
Angelo Mozilo, head of mortgage lender Countrywide Financial, delivered a lecture in 2003 entitled “The American Dream of Homeownership: From Cliché to Mission.”  He explained his company’s purpose:

“We wanted to make the American dream of homeownership something tangible — something to which people could do much more than just aspire. We wanted to make it something they could access, afford and achieve. We wanted to prove that our company could and would succeed by offering home loans to hard-working families — of all races and of all ethnic backgrounds,” Mozilo said. “In other words, it has always been our intention to be more than a corporation that makes mortgage loans; we wanted to be a force in making positive differences in people’s lives. Our goal was — and still is — to demonstrate that there is a unique role for the private sector in public service.”

Mozilo also played a unique role in the financial crisis: His company made nearly $100 billion in subprime loans between 2005 and 2007, more than any other lender. Mozilo paid $67.5 million to the Securities and Exchange Commission in 2010, to settle charges of insider trading, misleading investors and disclosure violation.

2005

Although no one knew it at the time, 2005 marked the high-water mark of American homeownership. The national rate of homeownership was 69 percent. Some 76 percent of white Americans owned a home, compared to 49 percent of black Americans and 48 percent of Hispanic Americans.

2008
Barack Obama referenced the American dream in his first speech as president, in Chicago’s Grant Park, on Nov. 6, 2008.

“This is our moment,” he said. “This is our time, to put our people back to work and open doors of opportunity for our kids; to restore prosperity and promote the cause of peace; to reclaim the American dream and reaffirm that fundamental truth, that out of many, we are one; that while we breathe, we hope.”

2009
A year later, Obama invoked the dream again — three times in one speech — this time, in the context of exploding foreclosures.  As he announced the creation of a $75 billion plan to address the housing crisis, he noted that “the American dream is being tested by a home mortgage crisis that not only threatens the stability of our economy but also the stability of families and neighborhoods. It is a crisis that strikes at the heart of the middle class: The homes in which we invest our savings, build our lives, raise our families, and plant roots in our communities.”

2011
Despite more than 15 years of commitments to the American dream, almost all of the gains in homeownership made since Clinton launched his plan have been erased. Nearly a quarter of Americans owed more on their homes than they were worth in the first quarter of 2011. For underwater borrowers, their homes are not building household wealth, but draining it. Fewer Americans own homes now than in 1998. The gap between African-American and white homeownership has actually grown by 2 percent since 1995.

 

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Hartford Museums Receive Grants


HARTFORD – Congressman John B. Larson recently announced that three of Hartford’s major historical attractions will receive over $700,000 in combined grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

The Harriet Beecher Stowe Center, Mark Twain House and Wadsworth Atheneum all met the NEH’s highly competitive criteria of cultivating humanities research, education and preservation.

“Hartford’s incredible history of contributing to the American story is one of the major features that attract tourists to our city every year,” Congressman Larson said. “I am so happy to see the NEH acknowledge the terrific work that the Stowe Center, Twain House and Wadsworth Atheneum do for our community and country every day. Today’s announcement and subsequent grant funding will help ensure that current and future generations understand the role that their community has played in shaping American history.

The three institutions competed for grant funding with facilities from all over the country.

The breakdown of grant money by institution is:

  • Harriet Beecher Stowe Center – $235,000
  • Mark Twain House – $179,683
  • Wadsworth Atheneum – $325,000

Last month, Larson hosted members of the Congressional Black Caucus at each of the sites during the course of a weekend celebration of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s 200th birthday.

 

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City Dedicates Bridge In Honor of Former Mayor Mike Peters


HARTFORD — Hartford on Wednesday dedicated a downtown bridge adjacent to I-91 in honor of mayor Michael Peters, who served between 1993 and 2001. Peters died in 2009.

Read More on Peters

Mayor Pedro Segarra

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Would NBA players dare to leave US?


By Jaime C. Harris, Contributor

Has Deron Williams’ bold and somewhat risky decision to sign a contract with Beşiktaş, a Turkish basketball club based in Istanbul, opened the floodgates for a mass exodus of NBA stars to far way places? Probably not.

However, it has fostered deep thought among many high profile players that plying their trade overseas until the NBA lockout is resolved must be seriously considered, even with the possibility of a career-threatening injury.

Foreign-born ballers such as ZaZa Pachulia of the Atlanta Hawks and Williams’ New Jersey Nets teammate Sasha Vujacic are more likely to take the leap than their American-born peers. Pachulia also agreed to a deal with Beşiktaş, the Euroleague team for which Allen Iverson briefly played last season.

Vujacic, the onetime Los Angeles Laker, has joined Anadolu Efes, also in Turkey.

All three have an opt-out clause that allows them to return to the NBA when the lockout ends. Having a viable alternative at their disposal provides the players’ union with added leverage in their stalled negations with the owners and league commissioner David Stern. And with the Chinese Basketball Association looming as another appealing suitor, league executives must be concerned that a widespread defection of the NBA’s stars could tarnish the NBA brand.

The impasse is unlikely to be settled by the scheduled start of the season this fall-the 2011-12 schedule was released on Tuesday-and with the two sides firmly dug in, the possibility of the entire season being cancelled is conceivable. The specter of no games being held has the Orlando Magic’s Dwight Howard and men of his status keeping at least one eye widely open and private jets on standby.

]”I’m not at liberty to talk about it,” Howard told the Associated Press on Sunday, “but there’s a huge possibility about me going to China or me going overseas to play basketball. If I decide to go overseas, the main thing is for me to continue to get better, not to do the things that I normally do, but do better at the things I’m not good at.”

Even if Howard and most stars refrain from leaving the states, the irony is evident: Stern’s tireless effort to globalize the NBA has ultimately given the players another weapon in this increasingly contentious labor battle.

New York Amsterdam News, News Report, Jaime C. Harris.

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Adams To Discuss “Origins of Sheff v O’Neill”


HARTFORD –- Dr. Ann-Marie Adams will give a talk about her upcoming book based on her dissertation, “The Origins of Sheff v. O’Neill: The Troubled Legacy of School Segregation in Connecticut.”

The discussion will be on Thursday, July 28 from 12: 10 to 1: 50 p.m. at the Downtown Hartford Public Library’s Café Space.

The book talk is a part of the library’s Novel Destinations, a summer reading program for adults.

Participants borrow books, audio books, and magazines, read them, and then complete and submit an entry card for each item read. The more someone reads the more chances that person has a chance to win prizes.

Over the summer, area authors, including Adams, will read from and discuss their books, or upcoming books, on Thursdays, June 30 through August 25, from 12:10-12:50 p.m., at the Downtown Branch, in the Café Space on the Main Floor.

Attendees are invited to bring their lunches and the Library will provide beverages. Each time that someone attends, he/she will receive an entry for the Library’s adult summer reading program, Novel Destinations, prize drawing.

Dr. Adams is a postdoctoral associate at Rutgers University’s Center for Historical Analysis. She teaches Twentieth Century U.S. history.

 

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AG: Facebook Improves Tag Features


HARTFORD – Attorney General George Jepsen credited Facebook Tuesday for making it easier for users of its social media website to report imposter profiles and for providing instructions to users who wish to opt out of its new “Tag Suggestions” feature.

The company worked with attorneys in Jepsen’s office to address the privacy concerns and other issues the Attorney General raised in letters last month and in February.

 

“Facebook has made significant changes that will provide better service and greater privacy protection to its users, not only in Connecticut, but across the country,” Jepsen said. “The company has been cooperative and diligent in its response and I look forward to working with them in the future to make sure Facebook users’ privacy is protected, which I believe is our shared goal.”

Last month, Jepsen expressed concern that consumer privacy was being compromised by Facebook’s “Tag Suggestions” feature — which uses facial recognition software to make photo-tagging easier for its users — because users were not given adequate notice of the feature or the ability and instructions to disable it easily.

In response, the company has developed on-line Tag Suggest ads, which link users to their privacy settings and allow them to opt out if they choose.  One round of ads ran earlier this month, resulting in more than 400 million Facebook impressions on U.S. Facebook users’ home pages.  The second, which begins today, will cycle on those home pages for the next two weeks.  The company anticipates that every Facebook user in the U.S. will see the new ad at least twice during this period.

“For any users who opt out, any facial recognition data collected will be deleted,” Jepsen said.  The company also assured Jepsen that it was not using the information for commercial or marketing purposes and that the biometric data was secured and could not be used by private individuals to gain access to other user information.

Facebook also added new language and links to one of its user contact forms and automatic email response to help direct users to the correct reporting mechanism when trying to report an imposter or fake profile.

Jepsen raised this issue in February after Rep. Kim Rose, D-Milford, complained about the difficulty she had trying to contact Facebook and get it to shut down an imposter profile of her that was fraudulently soliciting money.  The changes made to the contact form, and automatic response should ensure that Facebook users who initially go down the wrong path to report an imposter account do not continue down that mistaken route.

Facebook’s response to similar complaints of impersonation was to create a “roadblock” system, which it began using recently. After an account is reported as fake, the company puts up a “roadblock,” which keeps the account from being used until it is verified as authentic, using telephone numbers or other information.

Additionally, in response to Jepsen’s concerns, Facebook has improved how quickly it is able to respond to reports of fake or imposter accounts. Recently, Facebook was able to shut down within an hour, a second imposter account Rep. Rose discovered and reported.

“After hearing of the fraud perpetrated against me, many concerned individuals e-mailed my office. I am very pleased with the prompt attention from the Attorney General’s office and appreciate all the time and effort in resolving and improving online security,” Rep. Rose said. “Although this measure won’t totally stop fraudulent pages from being created, it will have a significant impact on reducing the amount of time they are active.  I applaud Facebook for working with us on this pervasive problem and it is my hope they continue to improve security and reporting for the benefit of the public.”

Facebook initiated other changes to this process as well. A specific link has been activated on the website’s “report abuse” prompt for complaints that a profile is “impersonating someone or is fake.” Also, “impersonation” has been added to the drop-down menu to report “bullying or harassing” complaints.

Assistant Attorneys General Matthew Fitzsimmons represented Jepsen in this matter.

 

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