Archive | March, 2011

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Hartford Politico Abe Giles Dies


HARTFORD — Former State Rep. Abraham Giles has died. He was 84.

Giles was the city’s state representative from 1972 to 1988.

Giles former attorney, John Kardaras, said Giles had been in the hospital since Tuesday after he was found unresponsive by a relative. He had pneumonia.

Gile’s funeral will be held on Tuesday, April 4 from 10 a.m. to noon at the Cathedral of St. Joseph, 140 Farmington Ave., in Hartford.

Calling hours are Monday from 4:30 to 8 p.m. at St. Michael’s Church, 7 Clark St., Hartford.




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Why the Wal-Mart Case Is So Important to Women, Minorities


EDITOR’S NOTE: The U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments March 29 in the biggest sex-discrimination case in history: Dukes v. Wal-Mart. Many pro-worker advocates are worried that the court—which has made a number of extremely conservative rulings in recent years—will decimate the ability of ordinary people to join together in class actions to sue large, well-financed companies that engage in wrongdoing and discriminate against women and minorities.

To understand more about the case, Nina Martin spoke with NAM contributor Irma Herrera, a civil rights attorney who spent almost 15 years as executive director of Equal Rights Advocates, one of the main law firms in the case.

What is this case about?

This is a sex-discrimination case brought by six California women on behalf of female employees at Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club stores across the country. The lead plaintiff, Betty Dukes, started working at the company in 1994 and still works at a Wal-Mart store in the town of Pittsburg, outside San Francisco.

The women’s claims are that: 1) they get paid less than men for doing the same jobs, and 2) the company denies them promotional opportunities even when they are better qualified and have more years of service than male co-workers. One of the things women told us repeatedly is they would train men who started working at Wal-Mart way after they did, and these men would become their supervisors. The women would think, “Wow, how unfair is that.”

Wal-Mart is a company that prides itself on promoting from within. But the women we surveyed reported innumerable obstacles when they tried to move into managerial positions, as well as discrepancies in pay that got wider and wider. At the management trainee level, women earned an average of $22,400, versus $23,200 for men. At the store manager level, it was $89,000 versus $105,000. By the time they reached the regional vice president level, women were earning $279,772, while men were averaging $419,000.

It is neither right nor fair that the nation’s largest employer can get away with widespread discrimination against women, who are the backbone of the business, both as workers and as the primary consumers who shop there.

The issue before the Supreme Court is whether the lawsuit should be allowed to continue as a class action. Why is this issue so important, in the Wal-Mart case and beyond?

In many instances, problems in a workplace are so widespread that it is not feasible for individuals to bring separate lawsuits. Some situations call for systemic change. Wal-Mart is the largest private employer in the world. It is not a good use of court resources for thousands of separate suits to be brought by women who may have been shortchanged $2,000 a year, not to mention that an individual in that situation would never be able to find a lawyer to represent her. The injustice and violation of law would then persist year in and year out.

But when you bring together the interests of many people into one case—a class action— you’re talking about the possibility of real change, because restitution or back pay is so significant.

In order to be certified as a class, the plaintiffs had to show that Wal-Mart’s practices were widespread and affected large numbers of women. To do this, the legal team gathered evidence from many, many women around the U.S. In 2004, the federal court in San Francisco allowed the suit to proceed on behalf of more than 1 million current and former Wal-Mart employees. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld the class certification three times.

This is a case that seems especially important in the current economic climate— people are desperate for work, unions are under siege, and companies have more leverage than ever, especially in nonunion industries or states.

It’s true these are very challenging times for all workers, but especially true of low-wage workers. It used to be that many employees had unions, which collectively could demand fair wages and better treatment of workers. But there are no unions at Wal-Mart, and there, as at most other companies today, employees are on their own.

Wal-Mart started out in a small town in the South, and I think that many of its policies and practices are rooted in its origins. Historically, Wal-Mart’s senior managers embraced the notion that women are not the primary breadwinners. When some of our clients asked why John Doe was paid more than she was, it was not uncommon for her to be told, “Because he has a family to support”—even when the worker was herself the sole breadwinner in her family A number of key people also held the view that women weren’t interested in advancing to management, they were perfectly content to remain in entry-level jobs.

Wal-Mart is an enormously powerful institution. In my hometown of Alice, Texas, for example, many small employers that used to sell office supplies, groceries and housewares don’t exist anymore because of the Wal-Mart effect. Wal-Mart undercuts other businesses because of its sheer size and power in the marketplace. If you’re a small pharmacy in a town of 18,000 people, you cannot compete. That also ends up having an impact on the wages of workers.

Why is this case so important for people of color?

In the current lawsuit, there’s no focus on women of color per se. But this case is important to all low-wage workers, who are disproportionately women of color, because these are the kinds of jobs that women can get without a college education.

Women of color, such as Betty Dukes, often find themselves in a situation when they don’t know if the obstacles they are facing are a result of race or gender. And sometimes it’s because of both.

What is Wal-Mart’s argument against allowing the class action to proceed?

Wal-Mart’s main contention is that women workers across 3,400 stores and 170 different job classifications cannot possibly have enough in common to be treated as a class. But as an interesting aside, Wal-Mart was a lead plaintiff in an antitrust class action brought on behalf of 8 million merchants, suing Visa and MasterCard. In that instance size wasn’t an obstacle to proceeding as a class action.

We don’t know how the Supreme Court will rule. But if the justices say, “No, you can’t have this class as certified below,” it doesn’t means the whole case goes away. The lawyers for the women will continue to fight.

Do you think much has changed in Wal-Mart since the suit was filed in 2001?

One positive effect of litigation is that most defendants immediately begin addressing the problems that are at the root of the lawsuit. Wal-Mart did begin changing some of its practices after the case was filed. It created a promotion system whereby employees can learn about management openings, instead of waiting for a tap on the shoulder from their boss. It created a diversity office and tied compensation for senior managers to meeting diversity goals. It created a global women’s leadership council. And it restructured its overall compensation system, which hopefully has addressed some of the disparities that exist.

We know these things because they are reported in the press. The information collected in the course of the lawsuit itself is now several years old. After the Supreme Court ruling, which is expected in June, the case will go back to the lower courts, there will be more discovery, and we’ll get an accurate picture of how much Wal-Mart has actually changed. Maybe Wal-Mart has gotten better. If so, that’s great. That’s what this lawsuit is all about.

Meanwhile, though, this case has dragged on for nearly 10 years without even getting to the real issues. Despite complaints by big business about too much litigation, not many of these types of cases are actually filed because they take years to resolve, they’re expensive, and the power of the workers, even collectively, is minuscule compared to the power and strength of a big corporation.

Betty Dukes has often said, “We just want our day in court.” The plaintiffs deserve the chance to be heard.

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Why This Story, Not Real Civil Rights Issues?


To The Editor:

I cannot believe that the story about East Hampton Police is newsworthy , while the NAACP is on life support. The state of Connecticut NAACP has been losing membership and branches for the past several years and support for the organization continues to dwindle in large part because its focus is not on real civil rights issues.

The East Hampton issue of sending e – mails shows that the focus of the organization is not where it should be. Sure there maybe a need for sensitivity training and maybe there needs to be reprimand; however,there are no civil rights violations or actionable consequences. This stuff has been covered in civil rights 101.

Everyone has a right to free speech. Instead of focusing on the inequities in our political, legal and economic systems the NAACP is making appearances to make it seem relevant.

There was a time when we had over 20 active branches. Now we are down to 16 or is it 14 and does that really reflect active branches. As we speak, the Hartford branch, just like the Waterbury branch, is in a state of flux.

Branches throughout the country have been render dysfunctional because of incompetency. Our neighborhoods, which we serve, are losing hope due to budget crisis, tax increases, gasoline prices and high unemployment in disproportionate and disparging numbers. And we are dealing with memos and accusations of alleged racism without complete evidence, or necessary legal standing.

What are we doing? Let’s tackle real civil rights issue and stop the photo opportunities. We must move pass civil rights 101.

Russell Williams

Russell Williams works at the Washington-based Center for Economic Justice. He is challenging the current president of the state NAACP, Scot Esdaile.



 





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National NAACP Delegation To Monitor Hartford’s April Election


HARTFORD — A National NAACP  delegation is scheduled to be in Hartford this April to conduct another election after charges of alleged impropriety.

Sources say the national office has disseminated very little information about the re-election scheduled for April 12 or 18.

According to this email, representatives from the national office contacted the North End Senior Center administrators to finalize logistics and  were told “not to reveal any information to the branch or it’s members until they say so.”

According to the source, there was nothing to substantiate the claim that there was impropriety in the last election.

The Hartford Guardian did contact the NAACP national office, and they deferred to the state NAACP president, Scot Esdaile. Esdaile did not respond to recent media inquiries about the election.

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City Council To Hold Public Hearing On Salary Increase


HARTFORD — Citycouncil members will hold a public hearing tonight on whether to repeal an increase to their annual salary.

The hearing will be at 7 p.m. at City Hall on the second floor council chambers.

This move comes weeks after Councilmember Corey Brinson(R-Hartford) announced early this year on Facebook that he would not accept the $15,000 pay. Brinson, 31,  is a criminal attorney who runs his own law firm.

In  2008 voters approved an $11,650 salary increase, up from $15,000 a year to $26,650. The increase is scheduled to take effect January 2012.

The council had voted in favor of the referendum that let voters decide if they should get a pay increase. The referendum passed, 11,563 to 10,897.

After Brinson’s announcement, Councilman Jim Boucher reportedly sent an e-mail to other council members about possible repeal. Boucher is a director at a youth employment program at the  nonprofit agency, Capital Workforce Partners.

The referendum would take place in November 2011.





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AG Issues Cease and Desist To Company


HARTFORD – Attorney General George Jepsen is warning consumers that the California companies, Novation Marketing Center and Novation Law Center, are not licensed in Connecticut to provide mortgage loan modification services and are not affiliated with Webster Bank.

Jepsen received reports that the companies contacted Webster Bank customers in Connecticut with mortgage modification offers, falsely suggesting an affiliation with the bank.

Jepsen sent a letter to the Newport Beach companies Wednesday demanding they cease and desist from doing business in Connecticut until they are licensed. He also demanded that the companies provide copies of their advertisements, solicitations and consumer disclosures; to identify and describe all affiliations with Connecticut and national lenders and loan servicers; and to identify all the Connecticut consumers for whom Novation provided any debt negotiation services and whether they had obtained a loan modification for the customer.

“Connecticut law provides specific protections, such as detailed disclosure and no fees up front, for consumers who need help modifying loans or other debt negotiation,” Jepsen said. “The law also prohibits unlicensed companies from doing business in the Connecticut.”

The Department of Banking has regulatory authority over Connecticut’s debt negotiation laws and has been actively pursuing unlicensed negotiators trying to do business in Connecticut.

Jepsen said consumers need to be aware of scams in which unlicensed companies masquerade as affiliates of banks and other financial institutions, when in fact, they have no legal connection or authorization. Webster Bank advised its customers who receive a mortgage workout letter from any company that claims to represent Webster, to contact Webster at 203-741-4877.

Assistant Attorney Generals Jeremy L. Pearlman and Joseph J. Chambers are representing Jepsen in this matter.

More information about foreclosure prevention, loan modification assistance and avoiding scams is available on the Office of the Attorney General website, www.ct.gov/oag.

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Advocates Gear Up For Rally On Education Funding


HARTFORD — Education advocates are gearing up to rally next Thursday to change the way the state fund education.

The rally will coincided with a public hearing on Bill No.1195, An Act Concerning School Funding Reform, with an aim to revolutionize the way public education is funded in Connecticut,” according to organizers.

Organizers said this bill proposes Student-Based Funding, which would allow funds to reach students based on the specific the learning need of the child,
instead of the current system, which is funded based on the needs of school
districts and systems.

The bill has been granted a hearing through the leadership of our Appropriations
Committee co-chairs, Senator Toni Harp and Representative Toni Walker (D-New
Haven).

A  pre-hearing informational session is scheduled for March 22 at 6: 60 p.m. at  Jumoke Academy Elementary, 250 Blue Hills Ave.

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Is King Downplaying Threat of Racist Extremists?


News Analysis, Frederick Cosby

WASHINGTON — Responding to an avalanche of criticism, Rep. Peter King justified holding a controversial hearing on the radicalization of Muslim-Americans last week by saying the issue was the preeminent threat facing the nation’s security.

“There is no equivalency of threat between al Qaida and neo-Nazis, environmental extremists or other isolated madmen,” King (R-N.Y.), chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, said at the start of Thursday’s hearing. “Only al Qaida and its Islamist affiliates in this country are part of an international threat to our nation. Indeed, by the Justice Department’s own record, not one terror-related case in the last two years involved neo-Nazis, environmental extremists, militias or anti-war groups.”
Several civil rights, civil liberties, law enforcement, and anti-terrorism experts strongly disagree with King’s assertion.

They say he’s overstating the threat of American Muslims being co-opted to commit terrorist acts against the U.S. and severely downplaying the danger posed by mostly white homegrown extremist organizations and individuals to conduct terrorist acts against the country, the federal government or the president of the United States.

The Southern Poverty Law Center, in its Spring 2011 Intelligence Report, said that the number of hate groups operating in the U.S. has exceeded 1,000 for the first time since it began tracking them in the 1980s.
Combined, the number of hate, anti-immigrant nativist, and anti-government groups grew from 1,753 in 2009 to 2,145 last year, a 22 percent increase that followed a 40 percent rise in 2008-09, according to the SPLC.

“Anti-immigrant vigilante groups – despite having some of the political wind taken out of their sails by the addition of hard-line anti-immigration laws around the country – continued to rise slowly,” the report said. “But by far the most dramatic growth came in the anti-government ‘Patriot’ movement – conspiracy-minded organization that sees the federal government as their enemy – which gained more than 300 new groups, a jump of over 60 percent.”

“What seems certain is that President Obama will continue to serve as a lightning rod for many on the political right, a man who represents both the federal government and the fact that the racial makeup of the United States is changing, something that upsets a significant number of white Americans,” the report said. “And that suggests that the polarized politics in this country could get worse before it gets better.”

And, contrary to King’s claim of there not being “one terror related case in the last two years” involving neo-Nazis, environmental extremists, militias or anti-war groups, state and federal law enforcement have been busy since January investigating cases that appear to have overtones of white homegrown terrorism.

Just last Wednesday the FBI arrested a man and charged him in connection of an attempted bombing of a Martin Luther King Day parade in Spokane, Washington. Kevin Harpham, 36, an ex-Army soldier from Colville, Washington, was charged with one count of attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction and one count of possessing unregistered explosives.
The SPLC alleges that Harpham has ties to the National Alliance, a neo-Nazi group based in West Virginia, and claims that he made more than 1,000 posts on Vanguard News Network – a racist Web site – under the pseudonym “Joe Snuffy.”

National Alliance officials told the Associated Press the Harpham isn’t a member of their group. However, Harpham’s public defender said he wouldn’t be surprised if the charges against his client were changed to include hate-crime charges because of Vanguard News postings.
In a separate case in January, an Arizona federal grand jury indicted Jeffrey Harbin, 28, for possessing 12 grenade-like improvised devices. The devices were built with PVC pipe filled with black powder, ball-bearings and an improvised fusing system, law enforcement officials said.

“Jeffrey Harbin built these IEDs in such a way as to maximize human carnage,” Dennis Burke, U.S. attorney for the District of Arizona, said in January. “Thanks to the hard work and diligence of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Phoenix Joint Terrorism Task Force, the defendant was intercepted, and the devices he created were disabled before they could be used to potentially inflict grave human harm.”

The SPLC alleges that Harbin has ties to the neo-Nazi National Socialist Movement. The indictment didn’t mention neo-Nazism, but a former member of the National Socialist Movement told Arizona’s ABC15 that Harbin was a member of the group.

“I personally recruited Jeff into the National Socialist Movement. I am no longer a unit leader or with the Nationalist Socialist Movement,” J.T. Ready told the station in January.

When asked what Harbin planned to do with the weapons, Ready referred the station to federal authorities. But Ready added: “I will say domestic terrorism is real.”

A 2008 survey of state law enforcement agencies by the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism found that “far-right groups are present in most states, and far-right and extreme animal and environmental rights groups are present in more states than Islamic Jihadists.”

In the study, state law enforcement ranked Islamic Jihadist groups 11th in the number of reports they’ve received behind extreme anti-tax groups, the Ku Klux Klan, extreme animal rights groups and freemen/sovereign citizens. Neo-Nazis, Militia/Patriot groups and racist skinheads topped the list.

“According to the Muslim Public Affairs Council, utilizing information provided by respected organizations such as the Congressional Research Service, the (conservative) Heritage Foundation and the Southern Poverty Law Center, there have been 77 total terror plots by domestic, non-Muslim perpetrators since 9-11,” Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca testified Thursday. “In comparison, there have been 41 plots by al Qaida by both international and domestic Muslim perpetrators during the same period.”
Black lawmakers and other congressional Democrats pressed King and other Republican lawmakers on the Homeland Security Committee to not solely concentrate on American Muslims and the Islamic faith as a U.S. threat.

“It may be right, but it doesn’t look right when we take on Islam and allow this to take place, and we don’t tell the truth about the abuses associated with the KKK and Christianity,” said Rep. Al Green (D-Texas). “Why not include the KKK in this discussion today? Why not have a broader topic that doesn’t focus on one religion?”

Maybe because doing so can be tricky politics.

In 2009, the Department of Homeland Security issued a report warning law enforcement officials about an increase in “rightwing extremist activity,” saying the nation’s ailing economy, the election of the first black president and the return of some disgruntled war veterans could bolster the memberships of white-power militias.

“Most statements by rightwing extremists have been rhetorical, expressing concerns about the election of the first African-American president, but stopping short of calls for violent action,” the report said. “In two instances in the run-up to the election, extremists appeared to be in the early planning stages of some threatening activity targeting the Democratic nominee, but law enforcement interceded.”

Veteran’s groups, Republicans lawmakers and conservative talk radio went ballistic.

“To characterize men and women returning home after defending our country as potential terrorists is offensive and unacceptable,” then-House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) said.

In a letter to Napolitano, David Rehbein, then-commander of the American Legion, ironically wrote: “To continue to use (Oklahoma City bomber Timothy) McVeigh as an example of the stereotypical disgruntled veteran is as unfair as using Osama bin Laden as the sole example of Islam.”

The firestorm put the White House, with an occupant who reportedly receives more death threats than his two predecessors, in a full retreat. Napolitano apologized for the report.



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Malloy Changes Venue For Town Hall Meeting


HARTFORD —  Governor Dannel P. Malloy’s office yesterday announced that Monday’s Town Hall Meeting scheduled in the City of Hartford has been moved to RJ Kinsella Magnet School of Performing Arts.

Malloy’s office announced that the venues for other previously scheduled Town Hall Meetings in Stamford, New Haven, Greenwich, Manchester, Windham, Norwalk and Danbury have also been relocated to venues with a larger capacity.

Malloy is in the middle holding a series of 17 constituent meetings throughout Connecticut, allowing him an opportunity to discuss the state’s pressing economic and budgetary issues face-to-face with state residents, while listening to their own thoughts and suggestions, as well.  All of the events are open to the public, tickets are not necessary.

To date, the governor has held seven of these meetings, which began in February.

The most up-to-date schedule of Governor Malloy’s Town Hall Meetings are kept on the Governor’s official website at: http://www.ct.gov/malloy/townhalls

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Local Church Reaches Out To Community


WEST HARTFORD -– Calvary Fellowship, located in West Hartford, will skip its weekly service Sunday, March 20, to instead reach out to serve the surrounding community.

“This is the second year we’ve opted to forego a traditional Sunday service to instead reach out to our community,” said Bill LaMorey, lead pastor. “Last year’s outreach Sunday was such a success, we decided to substitute a Sunday service for a service Sunday. Churches can sometimes become inward focused in an attempt to minister to the fellowship at large. However, we attend to the church body inwardly to prepare parishioners to reach out to community and beyond.”

On Sunday, March 20, many Calvary Fellowship members will prepare and deliver care baskets to families with children being treated at Connecticut Children’s Medical Center in Hartford, provide household items to a onetime homeless family who recently moved into an apartment, help with grounds work at Sedgwick Middle School, collect food for the West Hartford Food Pantry, take part in spring cleaning at the Hartford YMCA, and assemble cookie care packages for delivery to West Hartford businesses. Other members will spend time with residents at local convalescent centers and still others will stroll West Hartford in prayer.

There will be no services Sunday, March 20. Regular services will resume Sunday, March 27. Calvary Fellowship meets Sundays at 10 a.m. at Conard High School, 110 Beechwood Road, West Hartford. Calvary Fellowship features contemporary music and offers relevant biblical teaching and fun-filled Bible classes for children. Calvary Fellowship is casual in style but serious about faith.

For more information on the March 20 Reaching Out to Serve Sunday, visit www.calvaryhartford.com or call 860-231-9957. Church members wishing to participate in a service project, please call 860-231-9957. Businesses and non profits interested in requesting service assistance Sunday March 20, please contact Dave Swanson at 860-231-9957.

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