Archive for March, 2011

Court to take up huge sex bias claim vs. Wal-Mart

March 27, 2011 Leave a comment

Court to take up huge sex bias claim vs. Wal-Mart

By MARK SHERMAN, Associated Press Mark Sherman, Associated Press 43 mins ago

WASHINGTON – Christine Kwapnoski hasn’t done too badly in nearly 25 years in the Wal-Mart family, making more than $60,000 a year in a job she enjoys most days.

But Kwapnoski says she faced obstacles at Wal-Mart-owned Sam’s Club stores in both Missouri and California: Men making more than women and getting promoted faster.

She never heard a supervisor tell a man, as she says one told her, to “doll up” or “blow the cobwebs off” her make-up.

Once she got over the fear that she might be fired, she joined what has turned into the largest job discrimination lawsuit ever.

The 46-year-old single mother of two is one of the named plaintiffs in a suit that will be argued at the Supreme Court on Tuesday. At stake is whether the suit can go forward as a class action that could involve 500,000 to 1.6 million women, according to varying estimates, and potentially could cost the world’s largest retailer billions of dollars.

But the case’s potential importance issue goes well beyond the Wal-Mart dispute, as evidenced by more than two dozen briefs filed by business interests on Wal-Mart’s side, and civil rights, consumer and union groups on the other.

The question is crucial to the viability of discrimination claims, which become powerful vehicles to force change when they are presented together, instead of individually. Class actions increase pressure on businesses to settle suits because of the cost of defending them and the potential for very large judgments.

Columbia University law professor John Coffee said that the high court could bring a virtual end to employment discrimination class actions filed under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, depending on how it decides the Wal-Mart case.

“Litigation brought by individuals under Title VII is just too costly,” Coffee said. “It’s either class action or nothing.”

Illustrating the value of class actions, Brad Seligman, the California-based lawyer who conceived of and filed the suit 10 years ago, said the average salary for a woman at Wal-Mart was $13,000, about $1,100 more than the average for a man, when the case began. “That’s hugely significant if you’re making $13,000 a year, but not enough to hire a lawyer and bring a case.”

The company has fought the suit every step of the way, Seligman said, because it is the “biggest litigation threat Wal-Mart has ever faced.”

A trial judge and the federal appeals court in San Francisco, over a fierce dissent, said the suit could go forward.

But Wal-Mart wants the high court to stop the suit in its tracks. The company argues it includes too many women with too many different positions in its 3,400 stores across the country. Wal-Mart says its policies prohibit discrimination and that most management decisions are made at the store and regional levels, not at its Bentonville, Ark., headquarters.

Theodore J. Boutrous, Wal-Mart’s California-based lawyer, said there is no evidence that women are poorly treated at Wal-Mart. “The evidence is the contrary of that,” Boutrous said.

The company is not conceding that any woman has faced discrimination, but says that if any allegations are proven, they are isolated. “People will make errors,” said Gisel Ruiz, Wal-Mart’s executive vice president for people, as the company calls its human resources unit. “People are people.”

Ruiz paints a very different picture of the opportunities offered women at Wal-Mart. She joined the company straight from college in 1992. “In less than four years, I went from an assistant manager trainee to running my own store,” she said. “I’m one of thousands of women who have had a positive experience at Wal-Mart.”

Kwapnoski, who works at the Sam’s Club in Concord, Calif., is one of two women who continue to work at Wal-Mart while playing a prominent role in the suit. The other is Betty Dukes, a greeter at the Walmart in Pittsburg, Calif.

“It’s very hard for anyone to understand how difficult that is and what courage that is,” Seligman said of Kwapnoski and Dukes. “They’re Public Enemy No. 1 at Wal-Mart and they are known for their involvement in this lawsuit. Nevertheless, they get and up and go to work every day.”

Kwapnoski didn’t want to discuss any issues she faces at work as a result of the suit.

She said she has seen some changes at Wal-Mart since the suit was filed in 2001. The company now posts all its openings electronically. “It does give people a better idea of what’s out there, but they still can be very easily passed over.” she said. “But before you didn’t even know the position was open.”

The suit, citing what are now dated figures from 2001, contends that women are grossly underrepresented among managers, holding just 14 percent of store manager positions compared with more than 80 percent of lower-ranking supervisory jobs that are paid by the hour. Wal-Mart responds that women in its retail stores made up two-thirds of all employees and two-thirds of all managers in 2001.

Kwapnoski said she and a lot of women were promoted into management just after the suit was filed, although she has had only a couple of pay increases in the nine years since. She is the assistant manager in her store’s groceries and produce sections.

Now, she said, promotions are back to the way they were before, favoring men over women.

She said she’s hoping the long-running court fight will force Wal-Mart to recognize that, stories like Ruiz’s aside, women are not valued as much as men are and that her bosses will begin to “make sure that good men and good women are being promoted, not just men.”



Briefs in the case:

March 26, 2011 Leave a comment

Categories: Uncategorized

US Senator Robert Menendez Statement on Israel

March 20, 2011 Leave a comment


US Senator Robert MenendezNew Jersey


March 18, 2011

CONTACT: Menendez Press Office (202) 224-4744

NEWS: Jewish Community Embarks on Celebration of Purim; Menendez Shares Outrage about Iran‘s Threats Against the Jewish People

WASHINGTON –US Senator Menendez (D-NJ) today released the following statement in celebration of Purim, the three day Jewish celebration that recalls the story of Esther who stood up for the Jewish people of Persia against Haman:

“The Story of Purim celebrates the courage of Esther who stood up for the Jewish people of Persia against Haman who threatened to kill the Jewish people.  Today, the Jewish people face a new Haman in Iran that seeks to annihilate the State of Israel and in terrorists who would kill an innocent family while they sleep in their beds.  Anti-Semitism and anti-Israel vitriol has seen a resurgence. It is both taught and tolerated in many nations. Hateful rhetoric can never be tolerated.  It is time to speak out and say this will not stand.”

“This weekend when Jewish children all over the United States dress up as the heroes and villains of the Purim story, it is time we Americans act as adults and show our true colors as stalwart supporters of the State of Israel and the Jewish people.”

President Obama Speaks Powerfully About Israel

March 15, 2011 Leave a comment
Ben, could you please pass this on?
Thanks, Daniele

The White House

Office of the Press Secretary

March 04, 2011

Remarks by the President at Dinner in Miami, Florida

Adler Residence
Miami, Florida

7:17 P.M. EST

THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you.  Thank you so much.  Thank you, everybody.  (Applause.)  Everybody have a seat.  We’re among friends here.  We don’t have to stand on ceremony.

Let me begin by just thanking Michael and Judy and the whole Adler clan for their incredible friendship and support and hosting us in this elegant setting.  I was just in Michael’s study — I assume it was Michael’s because it had only golf stuff in there.  (Laughter.)  And I think it is a testament to what an extraordinary contribution this family has made to the country and to the state — Florida — and the Democratic Party that there was a wonderful picture of Joe Biden — black hair — (laughter) — hair — (laughter) — and the picture was with Michael’s dad, who was a great friend of Joe’s.  And what’s continued during that time I think is a friendship not only between Michael and the Vice President, but Michael, Judy and myself, who were early supporters of mine when I started running for the United States Senate.  Their kids, and now grandkids, are just wonderful folks.  Their mom is extraordinary.  And so everybody, give them a big round of applause.  (Applause.)

We also have with us two of the finest senators that I know — one of them who hails from the wonderful state of Washington. Some of you remember she got elected as the soccer mom in tennis shoes.  She basically looks the same as when she got elected.  I don’t know if she’s still wearing tennis shoes, but I can tell you I campaigned with her back in Washington state last time, and the connection that she’s able to make with folks who just inherently understand she’s looking out for them, she trusts — they trust her.  They know that she’s one of them.  She brings that spirit to the Senate every day.  Patty Murray, we’re thrilled that you’re here.  (Applause.)

And my dear friend, Bill Nelson, who, being a great United States senator is only the second greatest thing that he’s ever done — actually, the third greatest thing he’s ever done.  The first was marrying Grace and having those wonderful kids.  The second was being in space — which is very cool.  And third is representing Florida each and every day in outstanding fashion.  Please give a big round of applause — (applause.)

And finally, one of the greatest stars of the party, somebody who — if I’m in a foxhole I want her there with me, because — you’re wonderful, too — (laughter) — but I was referring to somebody who’s just doing a great job each and every day in the House of Representatives — Debbie Wasserman-Schultz. (Applause.)

You guys are friends so I’m not going to give a long speech. I want to talk to you a little bit about where I think we are as a country and where we need to go and why Florida is going to be so important.

We’ve gone through a little over two years of the toughest economy that we’ve seen in this country since the 1930s.  And I think most of us here are so blessed and so fortunate that, although we’ve worried about the economy, maybe had (inaudible)  — but when you travel around the country, there are millions of people who are still out of work, hundreds of thousands of folks who are worried about losing their home, young people who wonder if they can still afford college.  It’s been a tough time.

And what’s remarkable is not how frustrated people have been or, in some cases, how angry people have been.  What’s remarkable is actually how resilient people have been.  I could not be prouder of the American people, because through extraordinary hardship the overwhelming majority of people have continued to be great parents and great neighbors, great coworkers, great teachers, great firefighters, great police officers, great small business people.  Through thick and through thin, they’ve continued to contribute to their communities and coach Little League and participate in the important issues of the day.  And now what we’re seeing is that having gone through the toughest time in recent memory, the country is on the rebound.  The country is on the move.  (Applause.)

We got a jobs report today that showed that unemployment has dropped to its lowest level in two years.  We have seen 15 consecutive months of private sector job growth.  The unemployment rate now is below 9 percent, and the trendlines are good.  And part of that has to do with the efforts that people like Bill and Patty and Debbie — to be able to, during a lame duck session, shape a piece of legislation that cut taxes for everybody through the payroll tax cut, helped businesses to make sure that they could invest in the future.  And that has put our economy on a steady growth mode that I believe is going to continue for several years.

But — and here’s a big but — even before this recession, we had a lot of problems in this economy that were structural in nature.  We had some long-term challenges that had been kicked down the road time and time and time and time again.  We still have too much dependence on foreign oil.  We still have underinvestment in our infrastructure.  We still have a — what used to be a massive and consistent investment in research and development in science and technology that had declined over the last several years.

And we still aren’t doing a good enough job educating our kids.  We used to have the highest college graduation rates in the world; we don’t have that anymore.  We rank 15th and 21st in math and science when you compare to other countries in the world.

And so we understood that we’ve got a lot of work to do, and we also understood that we’re doing this all in the midst of recovery from a recession that has really blown a hole through the federal budget and through state budgets, which makes it all the more difficult for us to tackle these big challenges.

But what I have been talking about since the State of the Union, what I talked about here in Florida and what I know Bill is talking about and Debbie is talking about and Patty is talking about is that for all these challenges, I’m confident that if we make good choices now, we’re going to meet these challenges not just for the short term but for the long term.

We just — I went over to a school — Miami Central High School.  State champs in football, which the football team there, they were very big.  They were very large.  (Laughter.)  And Donna Shalala was there, and she said it was to help promote education policy, but secretly I think she was doing some recruiting for the Hurricanes.  (Laughter.)

But that’s not the reason we chose this school.  This is a school that a decade ago had a 36 percent graduation rate.  A third — only a third of the students said they felt safe when they were at school.  There was one room at the school called the Fish Bowl because it flooded so consistently.  On state exams it got Fs and Ds for 10 consecutive years.  And this school, because of a vibrant principal and because of the (inaudible) efforts, both at the state level, but also assistance from the federal level, has now transformed itself.

Now I got a 63 percent graduation that’s moving up.  When we went into a science lab where kids, almost all from minority and (inaudible) were working with robots.  And it used computer programming to design robots, and they were running around and moving, swirling, and picking stuff up.  And they were explaining to me how it worked, and I was nodding pretending like I understood what was happening.  (Laughter.)

And when you talk to these kids you say to yourself, you know what, there’s no reason that we can’t replicate this all across Florida and all across the country, if we’re able to make the wise investments that are necessary to make right now.

And so over the next several months there’s going to be a big debate in this area.  And a lot of it is going to revolve around how we get our deficits and our debt under control, and that’s going to be an important debate because we can’t sustain the spending path that we’re on.

And I put forward a budget that says we’re going to freeze discretionary and domestic spending for the next five years.  We’re freezing pay for federal workers for a couple of years.  As hardworking as they are, they’re going to be making some sacrifices.  We’re going to be making some cuts in some programs that I think work but, frankly, right now we just can’t afford.  We’re consolidating the federal government.  We’re selling 14,000 unused federal buildings — it will save us huge amounts of money that we can then redirect.  We’re going to make some very difficult decisions.

But the tests of whether or not we emerge stronger rather than weaker over the next several months is, are we able to both make the cuts that are needed, save the money that’s necessary, and then still make the investments in those kids at Miami Central, in the infrastructure of this state and states all across the country — the investments in research and development, in clean energy and biotechnology that will create the businesses and jobs for the future — are we able to do that? That’s going to be the debate.

It’s not going to be a debate about whether we need to cut spending.  We are going to be cutting spending.  The question is, are we going to be doing it wisely.  And we’re going to make sure that everybody makes some sacrifices, that it is shared sacrifice.  And if there’s anything that the Democratic party should be standing for, must stand for — if there’s anything that my presidency I hope stands for — is the notion that we’re all in this together, and that in good times everybody shares in opportunity, and in tough times everybody shares in sacrifice.  And it’s not done on the backs of the poor or seniors or the vulnerable.

That’s what’s going to be happening here domestically.  Now, obviously, internationally we’ve got a few things that I have to tend to as well.  (Laughter.)  I don’t know if you guys saw my press conference with President Calderón.  The first question was what are you going to do about the NFL strike?  I said, you know what, if some billionaires and millionaires can’t figure out how to divide up $9 billion, I can’t help them, because I’ve got a few other things to do.

But when you look at what’s happening across the — around the world, what’s happening in the Middle East is a manifestation of new technologies, the winds of freedom that are blowing through countries that have not felt those winds in decades, a whole new generation that says, I want to be a part of this larger world and I want to have some say in what happens.

Now, that’s a dangerous time, but it’s also a huge opportunity for us, because America is built on liberty and innovation and dynamism and technology.  And all the forces that we’re seeing at work in Egypt are forces that naturally should be aligned with us, should be aligned with Israel, if — if — we make good decisions now and we understand sort of the sweep of history.

I met with a group of Jewish leaders in the White House this week — the presidents of all the major Jewish organizations — and I told them we have to be sober.  We can’t be naïve about the changes that are taking place in the Middle East.  Our commitment to Israel security is inviolable, is sacrosanct, but we should not be afraid of the possibilities of the future.

It does mean that we’re going to have to be engaged and we’re going to have to be involved and we’re going to have to reach out.  And there are going to be some bumps along the road.

But I’m actually confident that 10 years from now we’re going to be able to look back potentially and say this was the dawning of an entirely new and better era, one in which people are striving not to be against something but rather to be for something; where young people start saying, you know what, I’m not interested in tearing somebody else down, I’m interested in how I can build my country up and how I can create businesses and how I can have opportunity and find work that’s fulfilling to support a family.

But we’re going to have to seize that moment, as well.  So domestically we’ve gone through a lot of changes.  If we are willing to make good choices now, then I think we’re going to be that much stronger for it.  Internationally, the world is going through huge changes, but we are perfectly poised to make the 21st century again the American Century.

But all of this is going to require leadership.  It’s going to require a steady hand.  It’s going to require hard work.  And it’s going to require you — because, frankly, I can’t do this stuff by myself.  We can’t transform schools unless we’ve got great teachers and unless we’ve got great parents and community members who are interacting with and who are willing to get engaged and get involved.

I can’t deliver for the great state of Florida unless I’ve got Bill Nelson standing by my side and I’ve got Debbie Wasserman Schultz on TV making my case.  (Laughter and applause.)

I can’t get reelected and make sure that we’re carrying on the mandate that you gave us two and a half years ago unless I’ve got everybody here all in.  And when I say “all in” I mean all in.  I don’t — you know how we operate.  We don’t just want your money.  We want your time and we want your energy.  We want your ideas.  We want you passionate about this being important.

When I won the presidency a couple of years ago, it wasn’t because I was the best-connected candidate.  It wasn’t because I had the easiest name to pronounce.  (Laughter.)  The reason was because we tapped into something that wasn’t just about sort of traditional politics; it wasn’t just about sort of special interests and who’s going to be for who because that person checked a box on this particular issue or that particular issue. It was something more substantial, I’d like to think.  It had to do with a recognition that the world was changing and that we weren’t going to respond to that with fear.  We were going to respond to it with hope.

And that if we met this new world with confidence, if we reminded ourselves of what is best about America, which is that through all these changes we constantly adapt better than anybody else — we may be arguing about it, we may debate about it, we may go through moments of ugliness, but eventually we keep on moving forward.  We stay young as a country.  And that’s what we captured during the campaign.

We’ve now gone through two tough years.  And some of us are beaten down and worn out.  And the last midterm obviously was very tough.  And I’m grayer and looking a little older than I did.  People don’t say, “Oh, just look at that young President” anymore.  (Laughter.)  Yes, he looks like the President.  He looks — (laughter.)  But you know, in each of us I think that spirit still exists and that sense of hope still exists.

And we have good reason to be hopeful because we’ve done extraordinary things over these last two years — because of your help.  Because of your help, we yanked this economy out of what could have been a Great Depression.  Because of your help, we passed the historic health care bill.  Because of your help, we ended “don’t ask, don’t tell.”  Because of your help, we are making enormous progress on the education front.  Because of your help, we made the largest investment in clean energy in our history.  Because of your help, we have transformed our foreign policy so that America is once again respected around the world.

That’s because of you.  I need you to do it again.  That’s what tonight is all about.  And I promise you this is not the last time you’re going to see me here in Florida.  (Laughter.)  I love you guys.

God bless you.  Thank you.  (Applause.)

7:38 P.M. EST

Statement from the President on the terrorist attack in the West Bank

March 14, 2011 Leave a comment

Ben, in case you missed it, please pass the following along:


The White House

Office of the Press Secretary

March 12, 2011

Statement from the President on the terrorist attack in the West Bank

We condemn in the strongest possible terms the murder of five Israelis in a terrorist attack in the northern West Bank, and we offer our condolences to their loved ones and to the Israeli people.  There is no possible justification for the killing of parents and children in their home. We call on the Palestinian Authority to unequivocally condemn this terrorist attack and for the perpetrators of this heinous crime to be held accountable.

letter to Clinton RE Iran sanctions

March 11, 2011 Leave a comment

20110310 letter to Clinton RE Iran sanctions

Dear Secretary Clinton:
tlnitrd ~tatrs ~rnatr
March 10,2011
You have frequently cited the progress oflran’s nuclear weapons program, despite the
Administration’s leading efforts to fashion multilateral and unilateral sanctions against Iran. We
support the Administration’s efforts, but we believe that there is still much more that must be
done to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapons capability. We want to assure you of
broad, bipartisan support in Congress for use of the full measure of U.S. economic, diplomatic,
and political power to thwart Iranian nuclear ambitions.
On September 29,2010, Deputy Secretary Steinberg announced the State Department’s
initiation of investigations into international firms that had not yet committed to exit Iran’s
petroleum sector. We understand that the State Department is continuing these investigations.
As you know, the Comprehensive Iran Sanctions and Divestment Act (CISADA) provides the
State Department with 180 days to complete its investigation and make a determination as to
whether sanctions are warranted. We look forward to your notification of these determinations
by March 29,2011.
Numerous open sources, including reports by the Congressional Research Service and the
Government Accountability Office, have detailed foreign investment and other activity that
violates u.S. sanctions laws. We therefore also seek an update on the status of all investigations,
as well as those transactions the Department is looking into but has not yet initiated an
investigation, concerning violations of the Iran Sanctions Act (ISA) as amended by CISADA.
Based on publicly available information, we would hope that your update will include the
following entities, which appear to be in violation of our law:
1) The Chinese National Offshore Oil Company, which is aiding Iran in the development of
Iran’s North Pars field.
2) The Chinese National Petroleum Company, which is aiding Iran in the development of
the North Azadegan and South Pars fields.

3) Sinopec, which is aiding Iran’s refinery capacity at Bandar Abbas and the Arak refinery
near Markazi. .
4) The German company ABB Lumus, which has signed a contract to expand the Abadan
refinery with the U.S-sanctioned National Iranian Oil Company.
5) Entities reportedly selling refined petroleum to Iran, including: Zhuhai Zhen Rong of
China, the PDVSA trading unit of Venezuela, Turpas of Turkey, and Unipec of China.
6) The Industrial Bank of China, the China Construction Bank, the Agricultural Bank of
China and the Bank of China, all of which are reportedly aiding Iran by providing
financial services in violation of Section 104 of CISAD A.
It appears that Chinese firms in the energy and banking sectors have conducted
significant activity in violation of U.S. law. We CaIUlot afford to create the impression that
China will be given free rein to conduct economic activity in Iran when more responsible nations
have chosen to follow the course we have asked of them. We are sure you agree.
We would also like to know whether the Department has developed standard criteria to
determine when it would be appropriate to use the “necessary to the national interest” waiver and
whether the Department is considering such a waiver in any pending investigation should the
party not discontinue prohibited activities. Additionally, what guidance has the Department
promulgated concerning when it has received “credible information” to launch an investigation?
We request you make available to us the clear guidelines you have set for the Department.
The most recent International Atomic Energy Agency report on Iran’s ongoing
weaponization activities makes clear that we must decisively utilize tougher economic, political,
and diplomatic measures in the limited time we may have left to thwart Iran’s efforts to acquire
weapons of mass destruction and the means to deliver them. We urge your prompt response to
this letter, beginning with the determinations you have made with respect to the imposition of
sanctions mandated by CISADA, by March 29,2011.



Factbox: Capital punishment in the United States

March 9, 2011 Leave a comment

Factbox: Capital punishment in the United States

Wed Mar 9, 2:25 pm ET

(Reuters) – The governor of Illinois on Wednesday signed a bill banning the death penalty in the state. The following are some facts and figures about the death penalty in the United States since 1977, when executions resumed following the lifting of a ban on the practice by the U.S. Supreme Court the previous year.

* There have been 1,242 executions in the United States since 1977. The peak year was 1999, when 98 were carried out, while no inmates were put to death in 1978 and 1980. The number of executions dropped 12 percent last year to 46. Eight people have been executed so far this year.

* The year 2009, the last for which data is available, saw 112 death sentences imposed, the lowest number over the past three decades. The peak year was 1996 when 315 were handed down.

* The death penalty is sanctioned by 34 of the 50 states and the U.S. government and military — not counting Illinois, where the ban will take effect July 1. Lethal injection is the main method used by all of the death penalty states.

* The Death Penalty Information Center said there have been 138 exonerations of Death Row inmates since 1973.

* Texas has been by far the most active death penalty state in the post-1976 era, with 466 executions. Virginia is a distant second at 108.

* In 2008, the United States ranked fourth in the world in the number of executions carried out with 37. China carried out by far the most with 1,718, followed by Iran with 346, Saudi Arabia with 102, the United States, Pakistan with 36, and Iraq with 34.

(Sources: Death Penalty Information Center, Amnesty International)

(Writing by Colleen Jenkins; Editing by Jerry Norton)