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President Obama Lifts Bans on Cuba


By Ann-Marie Adams, Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — In a move that has been hailed as historic, President Barack Obama on Wednesday signed an executive order to “re-establish diplomatic ties with Cuba.”

The move to thaw the relationship with this communist country comes after months of secret talks between the Obama administration and Cuban officials in Canada and the Vatican. Talks culminated with a 45-minute conversation on Tuesday between Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro, which detailed ways the United States would end 53 years of enmity that has caused disagreement in the Caribbean basin. Fidel Castro was not involved in these discussions, officials said.

Obama had to forgo Congress. Only Congress, which imposed sanctions on Cuba in 1961, can dismantle them completely. So the president’s move was mostly a symbolic but powerful one, according to a White House official on background call before Obama’s live speech. This move represents the most significant changes to America’s Cuba policy in more than 50 years, a White House official said.

“These are the steps that I can take to change these policies,” Obama said in his televised speech from the East Room, emphasizing the limits of his unilateral move to help the U.S. “normalize relations” with Cuba.

Unresolved disputes remain, however. Cubans urged for an end of the U.S. pro-democracy programs in Cuba, which they see as a subversive attempt to overthrow Castro. The White House stood firm on those demands, refusing to disrupt that policy.

Obama’s executive order bodes well for Cuba’s economy because Cuba agreed to release political prisoners, including “a very frail” Alan Gross, a USAID subcontractor who U.S. officials said was wrongfully imprisoned. The order now allows travel, commerce, and the flow of information to and from Cuba.

Former Florida Governor and potential 2016 Republican presidential candidate, Jeb Bush, challenged Obama’s move toward Cuba, saying to USA Today: “I don’t think we should be negotiating with a repressive regime to make changes in our relationship.”

Bush has  favorable ratings in  large Cuban-American constituencies in Florida.

Sen. Marco Rubio, a Cuban American, said he would do all he can as the incoming chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to block Obama’s plan.

While politicos plan to make moves in Congress, most Americans will now be able to travel to Cuba. Previously, there was a ban on all travel to Cuba. Now, government officials and academicians can travel there.

“With the changes I’m announcing today, it will be easier for Americans to travel to Cuba, and Americans will be able to use American credit and debit cards on the island,”  Obama said.

Other benefits to Americans in this move also allows Cuban Americans to travel and send remittances to their family, US embassies will now be in Cuba, and easier trade relations.

Travel for tourist activities are still banned.

Photo Credit: President Barack Obama delivers a statement on Cuba and the release of American Alan Gross, in the Cabinet Room of the White House. (Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy)

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Vermont Spot Offers Affordable Skiing Packages


BOLTON VALLEY — While seemingly easy to accomplish, a simple crimson hat won’t suffice. So just go all out and wear the full Santa Claus outfit–and win a free ski resort lift for a day.

Skiers and riders who arrive at Bolton Valley dressed head-to-toe as Santa Claus will receive the lift ticket for the day as part of the annual Santa Sunday event on Dec 21.

Guests must don a full Kris Kringle suit and bring their most jolly of spirits to Guest Services to claim their prize.

Anyone participating in the event is asked to arrive at Guest Services before 10 a.m. to pick up their lift ticket. Then, promptly at 10 a.m. all Santas will gather in the main base area next to the Vista Quad for a group photo. Once everyone is loaded on the lift, Bolton officials will lead the group down the mountain for some action photos.

After two feet of snow last week and 61 total inches so far this season, Bolton Valley is enjoying some of its best early season conditions in recent memory.

Bolton Valley is Vermont’s most convenient and affordable big mountain skiing. Less than 10 minutes from I-89 and less than 30 minutes from Burlington, the family-friendly mountain offers skiers and riders of all abilities three mountain peaks with 71 trails and 6 lifts, plus 3 terrain parks.

Bolton Valley was the first in Vermont and the second in the U.S. to implement wind power as an energy source and is the recipient of the National Ski Areas Association’s 2010 Silver Eagle Award for environmental initiatives. A

All-inclusive, true ski-to-your-door lodging packages are from $59 personnight.

For more information visit www.boltonvalley.com or call 877-9BOLTON.

–Josh Arenson

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Another Top Aide for Gov. Malloy Resigns


By Ann-Marie Adams, Staff Writer

HARTFORD — Another top aide to Gov. Dannel P. Malloy will be stepping down by January 2015.

Andrew Doba, the governor’s communications director, will resign at the end of Malloy’s first term. Mark Bergman is expected to fill Doba’s position, according to a press release by sent by Malloy’s office on Tuesday.

“From historic storms to unimaginable tragedy to the day-to-day operations of state government, we have faced many challenges over the last four years.  With Andrew’s help, we have effectively communicated our vision for the state in the face of this adversity,” Malloy said.  “I want to thank him for his service, and wish him well in whatever is next.”

Doba, a native from Ansonia who has been working as Malloy’s spokesman for three years, said he was honored that he got the chance to honor the governor’s agenda. He previously worked as Westport First Selectwoman Diane Farrell, a democrat.

“As tough as it’s been, the work we did to advance the Governor’s agenda has been the best job I’ve ever had,” Doba said. “ And while I’m sad to leave, I’m fortunate to have a number of opportunities that I look forward to pursuing in the coming years.”

So far, Doba marks the third top official from Malloy’s administration to step down.

Sources said they expect other top aides to resign before Malloy begins his second term. Last week, Luke Bronin, Malloy’s chief legal counsel who served two years on the job, announced his resignation. He said many Hartford residents have urged him to challenge Mayor Pedro Segarra.

Additional resignations from the Malloy administration includes Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor, State Board of Education Member Andrea Comer and Higher Education Commissioner Lewis Robinson.

Doba will stay on as a Senior Adviser to assist with the transition, help with the coming inauguration and the start of the legislative session.

His final date of state service will be determined in the coming weeks.

“I am honored to continue to work with Governor Malloy as he continues to build a better, stronger Connecticut,” Bergman said.  “I look forward to working in his administration to continue to build on Connecticut’s progress over the last four years.”

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Congress Passes Massive Spending Bill


Updated Monday, December 15, 2014 at 9:39 a.m.

By Ann-Marie Adams, Staff Writer

WASHINGTON —  After much wrangling between the White House and Congress late Saturday, the Senate passed a $1.1 trillion spending package expected to be signed by President Barack Obama by this week.

The Senate greenlighted the measure in a 56-40 vote. Several liberal Congressional leaders called the omnibus spending bill a compromised budget. That’s becasue conservative lawmakers scaled back Obama’s health and immigration policies. The bill only funds the Department of Homeland Security until February. This department oversees most immigration policies.

The Senate also nixed all spending on Obama’s signature education initiative,, Race to the Top. And there is no funding for Common Core Stte Standards.  Moreover, Republicans weakened the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, which installed policeis to protect homeowners and other financial consumers. And Democrats compromised, saying they secured more money for enforcment budgets.

The rollback on key provisions of the Dodd-Frank law would allow big banks to sell off risky fiancial instruments, while having access to federal aid if banks falter. Some obervers noted that similar measures have helped created the 2008 recession and forced government to bail out banks that were “too big to fail.”

The massive omnibus spending bill will fund the federal government operations through September 2015.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif) voted againt the measure, saying it’s clear this is not an acceptable budget to many Democrats.

“I was really so heartbroken to see the taint that was placed on this valuable appropriation bill from on high,” she said on the House floor.

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) disagreed with that characterization of the spending bill, calling it a “responsible” bill put forth by a bipartisan vote to “keep the government running and address the American people’s priorities.”

Before the measure passed in the House with a 219-206 vote, White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough urged House Democrats to vote for the bill. And the White House administration issues a statement, saying the administration was opposed changes to the Dodd-Frank Act, aimed at reducing taxpayer risk.

Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), speaking about the Dodd-Frank regulations, said that the move on fiancial reform reflects a conservative agenda rather than a progessive one.

“The alternative to passing this bill would be worse–another short-term continuing resolution or a government shutdown,” Murphy said in a statement released to the press. “Either would inflict real pain on millions of people in Connecticut and across the country.”

The bill also appropriated billions to fight Ebola in the U.S. and overseas, supports Connecticut economy by funding defense programs, which is a life blood of the state’s economy.

“The bill will surge manufacturing whith more Blackhawk helicopters, F135 Engines for the Joint Strike Fighter,  development for new submarines and combat rescue helicopters, he said.

Other Congressional leaders opted to avert another shutdown as the one in 2013.

Rep. Jim Himes, (D-Conn.) said he voted for the measure because the “doesn’t want a government shutdown and because everyone” demand that the U.S. government be functional–not dysfunctional.

Other key measures include increased limits on individual contributions to national political paerties and a reduced budget for the Internal Revenue Service.

In addition, the spending bill funded core domestic government operations and provided money for military operations abroad.

 

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Pew Study: More Americans Support Gun Rights


By Ann-Marie Adams, Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — After the 2012 school shooting in Newtown, Conn.,  many across the nation called on Congress to pass gun control measures that would require background checks and restrict individuals from attaining assault weapons.

Two years later, a new survey says there is growing support for gun owners, reversing the sentiment immediately after 20-year-old Adam Lanza entered an elementary school and killed 20 students, six adults and his mother. Lanza reportedly committed suicide.

According to a Pew Research Center study that marks the two-year anniversary of the Sandy Hook shootings,  there’s a shift in atttiudes about whether gun ownership does more to protect people or put them in harm’s way.

Currently,  52 percent of those surveyed says it is more imporant to protect the rights of American gun owners, while 46 percent say it is more imporant to control who owns a gun, the reports says.

“Support for gun rights has edged up from earlier this year, and marks a substantial shift in attitudes since shortly after the Newtown school shootings, which occurred two years ago this Sunday,” the report reads. “The balance of opinion favored gun control in the immediate aftermath of the Newtown tragedy in December 2012, and again a month later.”

The report also says that nearly six in ten Americans, or 57 percent, say gun ownership does more to proetc people from becoming victims of crime, while 38 percent say it does more to endanger personal saftey. In the aftermath of the Newtown tradegy, 49 percent said guns do more to proetect people. And 37 percent of those surveyed two years ago said guns place people at risk.

The Pew report comes on the heels of renewed effort to get Congress to regulate firearms. Two groups, Everytown for Gun Safety and Moms Demand Action, released a report earlier this week that counted 95 school shootings since Newtown.

Gun reform advocates disagreed with the Pew Study findings, saying the wording of the questions about gun ownership is skewed.

Ron Pinciaro, president of the CT Voters for Gun Safety, said other surveys have favored what he said should be referred to as “gun violence prevention” policies.

“When they’re using the term ‘gun control,’ there’s kind of a bias attached to that. I would expect that that’s how the data would come out,” he said.

Scott Wilson, President of the Connecticut Citizens Defense League, said the poll results accurately reflect the growing sentiment two years after the shootings in Newtown.

“I am not surprised to see the outcome of this poll. I do believe that after a shock period when a tragedy such as Sandy Hook occurs, people realize that law enforcement can’t be everywhere to protect people and it falls to people to protect themselves. The rational side of humanity eventually takes over,” Wilson said.

As of December 2014, there have been an estimated 126 school shootings since the shooting at Columbine in 1999.

 

 

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Life in America: Hazardous to Immigrants’ Health?


America is a nation of immigrants drawn from all parts of the world by the promise of freedom and a good life. But a substantial body of evidence suggests that for the newly arrived, life in the United States can be hazardous to their well-being.

When they get here, immigrants are on average healthier than their native-born American counterparts. But the longer they stay, the worse they fare on measures such as heart disease, hypertension, diabetes and mental health.

Faculty at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health are working on identifying factors contributing to the declining health status of immigrant groups that’s occurring over time and through the generations.

Part of it has to do with an unfamiliarity with U.S. society and its complicated health care system. Many immigrants lack health insurance. But Marjorie Kagawa-Singer, a professor at the Fielding School who focuses on the delivery of care that appropriately considers a patient’s culture, notes that it’s more than just cost.

“If someone is new to this country, doesn’t speak the language and has to learn to navigate our system, it’s like plopping us in the middle of Siberia and expecting us to figure out what we need,” she said.

For example, many immigrants across the educational and cultural spectrum hold beliefs about disease and how the body works that diverge from the biomedical model practiced in the U.S., Kagawa-Singer added, and many health care practitioners are uneducated on those differences.

“When you have problems in both health literacy among patients and cultural competence among practitioners, you get this ‘perfect storm’ of people who will not be able to utilize the health care system even when it’s offered,” said Kagawa-Singer.

The Latino paradox

Despite social and economic disadvantages, newly arrived Latino immigrants are, by many measures, healthier than other groups. That’s been called the Latino Paradox. But the evidence also shows that the longer these immigrants are in the United States, and through successive generations, the paradox disappears: Risks of chronic conditions such as diabetes, cancer and heart disease increase.

“The suggestion is that they’re adopting unhealthy American lifestyles,” said Alex Ortega, a Fielding School professor whose work focuses on the physical, medical and mental health needs of Latino children and their families. Ortega is also principal investigator of the UCLA Center for Population Health and Health Disparities, a $10 million, five-year effort funded by the National Institutes of Health to study and reduce cardiovascular disease risk in East Los Angeles.

Less attention has been paid to a similar phenomenon. Ortega has found that among Latino children, the longer they have lived in the United States and the more generations their family has been here, the higher the risk for poor mental health. Among the possible explanations: “As people immigrate and become acculturated, in some cases they lose family and social ties. And without those support systems, they lack the safety net to help protect them from the effects of poor mental health,” said Ortega. Similar findings have been reported for other immigrant groups.

The health impacts of discrimination

While assimilation may be a significant factor in immigrants’ worsening health, other factors, such as culture, genetics and socioeconomic status, play an important role. “But they don’t fully explain the health disparities we see,” noted Gilbert Gee, a professor at the Fielding School and member of the UCLA Kaiser Permanente Center for Health Equity. In fact, Gee believes that some of what is attributed to assimilation may actually be the result of the way immigrants are looked upon in their new home.

“Another aspect of being here a long time is that you experience more discrimination,” said Gee, who seeks to measure the impact of that discrimination on mental and physical health. He points out that immigrants go from feeling at home in their country of origin to being viewed as a racial minority.

“Suddenly you’re not Sri Lankan but simply Asian,” Gee said. “It can be stressful enough to come to a new society and learn a new language, but it’s doubly stressful when you’re also dealing with these negative stereotypes.”

In a study of Asian American immigrants, Gee’s group found that clinical depression was more likely to be predicted by experiences of discrimination than by acculturation. Gee suggests that more recent efforts to pass English-only laws have created a hostile climate for immigrant groups, potentially to the detriment of their health.

For Gee, this underscores the notion that civil rights policies are also health policies. “When we’re changing the way we define immigrants, that is likely to have a health impact,” he said.

This story was adapted from a longer version that appears in the Fall 2014 issue of the Fielding School of Public Health Magazine.

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Gov. Malloy Discusses Transportation Overhaul, Costs


By Ann-Marie Adams, Staff Writer

HARTFORD — In an effort to compete in the 21st century and beyond, state officials and residents are poised to engage in a robust discussion about transportation needs and what it will cost, said Gov. Dannel Malloy at a transportation forum in Hartford on Wednesday.

“People need to know the true size and cost of what needs to be done if Connecticut is to be able to compete in the next 50 years,” Malloy said a forum entitled “Getting to Work: Transportation and Job Access for the 21st Century” held at the Legislative Office Building in Hartford.

Malloy said the state is ready to look at the expense and the scope of a complete overhaul of the rail and bus system in the state. The projects would include widening I-84 from the New York border through Waterbury or 95 from Branford to the Rhode Island border, broader rails and upgrades to the Metro North.

The overhaul would also include replacing the I-84 viaduct in Hartford and Route 8 in Waterbury, repairing deteriorated bridges and modernizing Metro-North rails.

The job is expected to cost billions, state officials said.

The forum, which included a panel discussion about the importance of transportation to job access, also highlighted the difficulty residents who work face when relying on public transportation.

Anne Hayes, who works at Travelers, detailed steps taken by Traveler’s employees to ensure that they get to work by car, carpooling or taking advantage of parking arrangements by the company.

Robert Puentes, a senior fellow with the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program, said there is hope for CT transit riders

The state, Malloy said, “has under-invested” in transportation for two generations. It’s time, he said, to pay a price for that.

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Coalition Calls on Congress to Reduce Poverty Rate


Ann-Marie Adams, Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — America needs to drastically cut its poverty rate.

That’s according to a recent report released  by the Half in Ten campaign, which is calling on Congress to “get serious” about passing legislation to reduce poverty. They said that now that the congressional midterm elections are over, Congress should make this a national priority.

The report, which includes a foreward from New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker (D-New Jersey), noted that there’s a significant decrease in the poverty rate since 2006. But the actual number of Americans living in poverty remains statistically unchanged at 45.3 million in 2013.

Connecticut ranks fourth in the nation with the number of people living in poverty. The overall poverty rate is calculated as the number of people in the state who had incomes below the poverty line, which in 2013 is $23,834 for a family of four.

Additionally, Connecticut’s child poverty rate is 14.3 percent and is ranked 8th in the nation.

And the poverty rate for African Americans or Blacks is 24 percent; for Latino, it’s 27.6 percent; for Asian, it’s 18.8 percent; and for Native Americans, it’s 5.6 percent.

Fifty years after President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act into law, women, communities of color, and people with disabilities continue to face far too many barriers to economic prosperity,” said Wade Henderson, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, a partner of Half in Ten. “We can and must do better to lift families out of poverty and reverse the destructive trend of economic inequity. It’s time for Congress to heed the calls for action from across the nation and get to work for all Americans.”

Half in Ten was launched in 2008 to urge local, state, and national leaders to set a national goal of cutting poverty in half in 10 years.”

State and local officials said the report highlights what they have seen: stagnant wages, the rich growing richer and the economy is “seriously failing communities of color.”

Despite that, Congress has cut funding for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, reduced unemployment insurance and stalled legislation that would create jobs.

The report also added policy recommends to attack poverty. For more information, visit

Read the report: Building Local Momentum for National Change

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Protest Erupts After Grand Jury Acquits Police for Killing Michael Brown


By Ann-Marie Adams, Staff Writer

The nation is reacting to a  St. Louis County grand jury’s verdict after they refuse to indict a white police officer who killed an unarmed black teenager.

The jury said that 28-year-old Darren Wilson will not be indicted for killing 18-year-old Michael Brown with six shots in an August confrontation, St. Louis County prosecutor Robert McCulloch said lateMonday night.

In Washington, President Barack Obama called for peaceful protests.

“We need to accept that this decision was the grand jury’s to make. There are Americans who agree with it, and there are Americans who are deeply disappointed, even angry. It’s an understandable reaction,” Obama said. “But I join Michael’s parents in asking anyone who protests this decision to do so peacefully.”

As protesters took to the streets in Ferguson, The Hartford Guardian encourages readers across the country to  on Twitter.

According to reports, crowds of protesters filled streets near the Ferguson police station following the announcement. And police car and stores were set on fire, other stores were looted, gunfire was heard and bricks were hurled. Police said they had been fired on and responded with smoke bombs and pepper spray before using tear gas.

Police later said they came under heavy automatic weapon fire, and some buildings were left to burn because of the danger. County police said an officer suffered a gunshot wound, but it was unclear if it was because of the protest violence.

Protests sprang up in cities from New York to Los Angeles and remained mostly peaceful. At least half a dozen commercial airline flights into St. Louis were diverted out of concerns about the unrest.

READ MORE

 

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In Wake of Obama’s Executive Action, Advocates Warn About Scams


By New America Media

President Barack Obama announced on Thursday his plan to take executive action on immigration. His plan would revise enforcement priorities to focus on recent arrivals and those who had committed serious crimes. It would expand the existing Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and create a new deferred action program for parents of U.S.-citizen or legal-permanent-resident children who have lived in the country for more than five years. It would also revise the legal immigration system, with a special focus on science, technology and entrepreneurs.

There is no new application available yet, however, and advocates are warning immigrants to stay tuned to trusted media sources and community groups to get accurate information.

Any time immigration reform is in the news, advocates warn, immigrant families are vulnerable to scam artists and unscrupulous individuals who promise to help them in exchange for a fee.

Earlier this year, NAM reported that the San Francisco District Attorney’s office had seen a spike in immigration fraud cases in 2013, prompting it to launch a multilingual campaign to educate immigrant families about how to avoid scams.

NAM found that some people were seeking immigration advice from unqualified individuals, and that translation issues were contributing to the confusion.

For example, in most Latin American countries the term “notario” means lawyer. But in the United States, a notary just means someone who is licensed by the state to witness and sign documents.

“Notaries can’t represent a person in court, they can’t assist them in a formal legal process; they can only fill out forms. But anyone can fill out a form,” said Diana Otero, coordinator of the immigration program at Catholic Charities of San Mateo. She says immigrants need to get help from attorneys or qualified people that know how to deal with the immigration process.

Vanessa Sandoval, program director with Services, Immigrant Rights and Education Network (SIREN) in San Jose, offered this advice to undocumented immigrants who go to notaries to complete immigration work. She spoke with Maria Antonieta Mejia.

Why aren’t notaries a good alternative to immigration attorneys?

They do not have a degree to practice law and they do not have the legal right to offer those services. What they are doing is taking money from people offering services they are not qualified to perform. The result, in many cases, is deportation.

How do you determine whether someone is qualified to help with immigration work?

In the United States, practicing attorneys – those licensed by the American Bar Association or the State Bar Association – and non-profit organizations certified by the Board of Immigration Appeals have the right to offer legal services. No one else.

What recourse is there for victims of immigration fraud?

The first thing to do is report the person to the proper authorities. There are dedicated attorneys at the DA’s office focused on investigating fraud cases. You can also report that notary directly to Immigration or file a civil suit.

Where should immigrants look first for help?

Start with non-profit organizations. In San Jose, there are more than seven organizations certified by the Board of Immigration Appeals that offer this type of service. If an organization does not have the capacity to help, it can offer recommendations for private attorneys.

For more information about SIREN, please visit siren-bayarea.org.

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