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Archive for June, 2011

Anna Nicole Smith Will Not Get Rich Post Death

Thursday, June 23rd, 2011

The Supreme Court today ruled against the estate of Anna Nicole Smith 15 years after the fight began to get a share of her billionaire husband’s estate. This ends forever the case and means her daughter will not reap the benefits of her mother marrying a husband 63 years her senior. 

In other news, Lindsay Lohan will not be going back to jail for violating the terms of her probation. She was brought into court today on the premise that she tested positive for alcohol.  However, the probation department erred in bringing her  into court on a violation of the terms of her probation.  Her probation terms only covered  drugs but not alcohol. However, the judge did say that Lohan used poor judgment in having a party where alcohol was served. Lohan and her attorney breathed a sigh of relief this time.

And on the Casey Anthony case, the courtroom was dark again today. Trial resumes on Tuesday in the high profile case of  Anthony.  Perhaps, the defense will be able to come up with a better defense by then.  By all accounts, the case is going well for the defense, as it is not their burden to prove anything. The statements made in opening statements will need to be backed up for the jury to consider the defense’s opening.  Did the prosecution prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt? That remains to be seen.

And the beat goes on and on.

Michigan Law Aimed At Taking Away Voting Rights is Challenged

Thursday, June 23rd, 2011

Michigan citizens filed a lawsuit on June 22 against Republican Governor Rick Snyder and the Michigan Republican House and Senate for effectively taking away their right to vote for local government officials. Back in March, 2011, the Republican Michigan legislature passed Public Act 4 (PA-4) to appoint emergency managers to take over entire operations of cities, towns and school districts and fire local elected officials without any say from citizens. Journalist and author Naomi Klein calls it a “frontal assault on democracy.”

John Philo, lead attorney and legal director of the Sugar Law Center filed the lawsuit saying it establishes a new form of government, unknown anywhere else in the US. The lawsuit challenges the constitutionality of the new law which takes away the right to elect mayors, city councils and school boards with an unelected manager. Philo says “it’s a back door way to end collective bargaining and effectively silence local firefighters, police, teachers, nurses and anyone who serves the public.” New York’s Center for Constitutional Rights has also joined to represent the plaintiffs. The law, if not overturned or repealed, has “unlimited, unilateral and unchecked” power to change all local laws, sell off public assets, lay off workers and repeal collective bargaining. The real irony is although, taxpayers have no say in the process, they must pay for the managers.

And the real assault is against mostly black and Hispanic towns and cities as the law is directed at towns and cities that are in severe financial trouble, many of which are inhabited by low income residents and communities of color, according to Attorney Philo. The law is not about financial emergency managers being appointed but about emergency managers which makes appointment of commission members, makes policy decisions and takes away all power of the voter in local elections.

Edith Lee- Payne, a Detroit civil rights activist who marched with Dr. King, and the lead plaintiff says “there are laws made by our founding fathers so why would they be compromised?” Apparently, 66% of the state is in severe financial straits and could lose the right to vote in local elections and lose local elected officials.

If left unchecked, this could be the new Republican trend aimed to disenfranchise minority voters legally. This is by far the most draconian effort to hamper citizens’ right to vote. If citizens are denied the right to effectively elect local officials, many may see no need to vote in federal elections in 2012. The trend started with takeover in school districts. Michigan just took the ball several steps further to include whole towns and citizens.

The new law states that an individual or a “firm” or corporation may be the entity to privately take over the “emergency” management of the city or towns there. And Naomi Klein sees that the trend may be catching on where corporations are concerned. She says Sandy Springs, GA is run by a private company. Klein says it’s quite a lucrative venture for firms and corporations. So now corporations may be running our cities and towns.

No matter what the Michigan legislature may call it, it says folks do not have the brains to run government or elect local officials. That should be done only by a manager, firm or corporation. We fought wars in other countries to prevent one person from stealing democracy. Now, we let corporations have individual rights and run whole cities and towns and get paid. What will the Republicans think of next to disenfranchise voters?

FEMA Denies Aid to Black Tornado Victims

Tuesday, June 21st, 2011

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (“FEMA”) established to provide federal emergency aid to those in need in times of disaster, has once again refused to provide aid to black disaster victims. This time instead of black Hurricane Katrina victims, FEMA is now refusing to provide individual aid to help black families living in the north side of Minneapolis, hit hardest by the tornado on June 5. And this time the president is not George W. Bush.

Mayor R. T. Rybak of Minneapolis, a 2008 Obama state co-chair of Obama’s election campaign, traveled to Washington, DC   early this week to meet face to face with President Obama to plead his case for his residents.  Unfortunately, the story appears to be the same despite the change in presidents and the type of natural disaster involved.  And for those black Minnesotans, it’s the same old song.  Those hit hardest by the natural disaster are also those hit hardest by the economic disaster, with no help from the federal government agency established to dispense aid.

The story has a political side and not just because of Mayor Rybak’s   close connection to President Obama. It was also the topic of a  question raised  during a panel discussion on how to engage and get first time 2008 African American and young adult voters out again in 2012,  at the Netroots Nation convention held last week in Minneapolis. An audience participant asked the panel:  What do you say to those who have been hit hard by disaster and economically and FEMA refuses to help; What do you say to get those voters to come out again and vote in 2012?

Kristal High- Photo by Craig Stellmacher

Kristal High, Editor in Chief of Politic 365 had this to say: “The squeaky wheel is the one that gets the oil.” …Make people accountable and leverage that voice. We have a tremendous power if we just open our mouths and say something.”

Congresswomen Donna F. Edwards, also a member of the panel, stated: Whether it’s immigration or disaster response, we must hold our local, state and federal officials accountable and to call attention to the Administration’s failure when the Administration has failed.  “My job as a progressive is to make the President a better president {and} make federal officials better officials”.  We must call attention to where they’ve dropped the ball.

Well, who besides Mayor R. T.  Rybak, will speak for these victims who are used to getting the short end of the stick and society’s left overs? Victims are never at fault when a tornado or natural disaster occurs. There can be no blame shifting here to the victims. It is not their fault that a tornado ripped apart their section of town. Many photos taken before the tornado show the economic devastation and blight of the north side of Minneapolis before the tornado.

FEMA’s response is that not enough families were affected for them to offer aid. But it’s not just about numbers. Other factors such as demographics and whether the community was already struggling may be factored in. Well, many more were affected during Hurricane Katrina and that got practically the same response from FEMA.  So, how can that be the reason for the denial?

Although the Netroots panelists responded to the question, the answers are still unclear.  What do you say to folks whose lives have been torn apart first by the economic disaster and then by natural disaster and left to fend for themselves?   As the Netroots audience participant stated, “This is Obama’s FEMA.” Progressives need to speak up and address these concerns and others of this type. And the President needs to clearly answer the question posed to the panel by 2012. What do you say to these folks?

The panel was moderated by Debbie Hines of LegalSpeaks.

Wal-Mart Wins and Women Lose Again

Tuesday, June 21st, 2011

The Supreme Court in a spilt 5-4 decision almost got it right when it comes to a legal solution to effectively address years of gender wage disparity at Wal-Mart ( and by implication other major corporations). Yet, the High court failed to take a bold legal move to firmly insure a mechanism to hear these cases without the tedious and long one by one method. 

The Supreme Court felt the class action of 1.6 million women members was too big. But, big required bold action on the part of the court. It’s not the plaintiffs fault that Wal-Mart is alleged to have underpaid, under promoted and unfairly treated women for decades. So, now instead of the Supreme Court taking the big and bold move needed to bring closure to these cases before the 22nd century, it took the easy way out by saying the class was just too big.

Too big is the real problem.  It wasn’t the women’s class that was too big. Corporations are just too big for the Supreme Court to handle. So, instead of taking them on and bringing them down to size, they side with them and say the class action case was just too big.

Yes, too big is a problem.  Corporations are just too big to allow women to be treated fairly.  Once again, corporations win and women lose again.

Black Women Earn the Same Pay Rate Today As Women Did in 1963

Friday, June 10th, 2011

When President Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act almost 50 years ago on June 10, 1963, women earned 60 cents for every dollar a white man earned.  On the anniversary of the Equal Pay Act, African American women earn 62 cents for every dollar a white man earns. Latina women fare even worse earning 53 cents to what a white non-Hispanic man.  The gap translates to a $19,581 per year wage loss for African American women and $24,224 for Hispanic women.

Even in comparing African American women to their male African American counterparts, they still earn less at 85 cents. Latina women earn 87 cents for every dollar earned by a Hispanic man.  The wage gap is a country wide average and varies state by state. The best state is Nevada for African American women  who earn there almost 90 cents of what a white man earns. And the worst state is North Dakota where they earn less than 40 cents.  Likewise, Hispanic women do best in Vermont earning 97.4 cents of what a white non-Hispanic man earns. But, in the District of Columbia, Hispanic women earn less than 35 cents of what a white man earns. Bottom line is no matter which way the data is viewed, African American women and their Hispanic counter parts earn at pay rates equal to the 1960’s when the Equal Pay Act was signed.

The Paycheck Fairness Act introduced into Congress and the Senate again in April, 2011, would help equalize the playing field for minority women.  It would support and supplement the Equal Pay Act by adding prohibitions against retaliations by employers for employees who discuss their wages.  It would further add punitive damages against employers who discriminate against women for same job, same performance, same education and same skills in a willful manner.  Hitting employers and corporations   in the pocketbook is the best way to punish and prevent these practices from occurring.  Some employers, including some big corporations admit to recruiters that they like to hire women because they can save money on them.

The lack of pay among minority women affects not only women of color but society and the economy as a whole.  Many African American women are head of their household.  The disparity of lost income affects the buying power of African American households. And that loss of almost $20,000 in wages yearly could help some families from losing their homes; feed a family of four; pay for health insurance and buy necessary items for the family. There’s a whole lot of buying power a family can buy with an extra   almost $20,000 per year.  And the resulting sales could increase the tax revenues for our states and municipalities.

If we want to fix the economy, we can look to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act. Urge your congress person or Senator to sign on and vote for the pending bills when they come up for a vote.  Our economy and women need it.

Paycheck Fairness Act is Good for Women and the Economy

Thursday, June 9th, 2011

Almost 50 years ago, on June 10, 1963, President John F. Kennedy signed into law the Equal Pay Act prohibiting arbitrary discrimination against women in payment of wages. Today, equal pay is not just a woman’s issue but an issue affecting all of us and most importantly, the economy. In 1963, women earned 60 cents on average for every dollar a man earned. Today, with women earning 77 cents to a man’s dollar, the dream of equal pay for women continues despite more women in the workplace than ever before. Sadly, many women do not even know they are being paid less than their male counter parts. And even sadder, many men refuse to believe that women  earn less.

With the loss of equal pay for women amounting to approximately $11,000 lost  income per year, the sagging economy is affected by that loss.   If we equalize pay, a woman could earn tens of thousands of dollars more and by the time she reaches age 65, should earn hundreds of thousands of dollars more. This is not pie in the sky but a reality for many women. Lilly Ledbetter, for whom the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act was named, lost approximately $224,000 in salary due to gender based discrimination over her working years. That is money the employer saved on her. It is also money that the state government lost in taxable income. 

The issue of discriminatory gender wage differential is not just about women earning less than men but millions of dollars that are not invested in our economy. The tax base for our communities and spending power is diminished by lost income due to discrimination against women. By stripping women of their full paycheck earnings, states lose tax revenues. If a woman earns less, she pays less in taxes. In a time when state and cities’ finances are suffering and drastic cuts to necessary services are being made, the lost taxes on lost wages from women could help make up some of the shortfall.  Undoubtedly, the lost wages for women would help increase revenue to state finance coffers through extra sales taxes from items purchased with the additional income.

The estimated additional $11,000 a year in income to women would save some houses from foreclosure, as 1 in 45 households defaulted on a mortgage in 2010. The difference would feed a family of 4 for a year with some money to spare.  With many families now participating in the Food Stamp program, the lost wages would make up the difference.  And the $11,000 less per year gap widens even further with African American women who make only 62 cents and Latinas, making only 53 cents, for every dollar earned by a white non-Hispanic male.

If Lilly Ledbetter lost $224,000 in wages due to the discriminatory gender gap, imagine how much is lost by the millions of Lilly Ledbetters across the country. The discriminatory practice of paying a women less for the same job, skill, education and performance level as a man not only hurts the pocketbooks of women and their families but affects our overall economy. Instead of Congress and the Senate thinking of ways to cut necessary services, they should be looking to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act to help the economy. 

The Paycheck Fairness Act builds upon the Equal Pay Act signed by President Kennedy in 1963. One of the things the Act would do is prohibit the punishment of employees who voluntarily share their salary information with co-workers.   Most importantly, the Paycheck Fairness Act will help grow the economy.  And the economy needs all the help and growing it can get these days.

Debbie Hines is a lawyer and legal and political commentator. She is frequently seen in the media speaking on issues affecting women and African Americans. She also writes for the Huffington Post. She holds a Juris Doctorate from George Washington University Law School and a BA from the University of PA.