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National

Immigration raid spotlights rift of have-nots

Submitted by News Desk on Mon, 01/26/2009 - 2:47pm
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LAUREL, Miss. - The work has always been stupefying and hard. Hour after hour standing on the line, soldering or welding or drilling in screws until tears join streaming sweat and hands cramp in pain.

Even in today's nightmare economy, most people wouldn't want this daily grind that steals the soul in 12-hour shifts paying as little as $280 a week, before taxes.

But such labor prospers here in mostly rural Jones County, home to Laurel, where the area's biggest employer, Howard Industries, maintains a sprawling factory that builds electrical transformers and other big equipment behind a chain-link fence topped with barbed wire.

Assembly lines like these offer tenuous lifelines to those desperate enough to toil on them. And sometimes, competition for these jobs pits have-nots against have-nots.

D.C.'s High-Level Social Scene Now Mingles Black and White

Submitted by News Desk on Mon, 01/26/2009 - 1:05pm
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Eleven days after the presidential election, 100 people were invited to the home of Vernon and Ann Jordan. The guest of honor was former Time Warner chief Richard Parsons, but the belle of the ball was Valerie Jarrett, one of Barack Obama's best friends and a newly named White House senior adviser.

All night the Jordans' guests -- many VIPs in their own right -- surrounded Jarrett, eager to introduce themselves and welcome her to D.C. Business as usual. Every four or eight years, Washington's primarily white, influential, moneyed set rushes to cozy up to the new power brokers in town: Texans when George W. Bush arrived, Arkansas buddies when Bill Clinton came to town. The city's high-level social scene -- dinners, black-tie fundraisers, receptions, ubiquitous book parties -- is the place where money and experience are subtly traded for access and influence.

A Fence Can’t Stop the Future

Submitted by News Desk on Mon, 01/26/2009 - 12:55pm
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Diversity

America has long been the envy of the rest of the world, and for good reason. Over the past century, the United States has harnessed its economic, scientific, cultural and educational resources to produce remarkable achievements in every field of human endeavor. But with nations like China and India emerging as major powers, many argue that U.S. dominance will soon be eclipsed, and what is known as the American Century will soon be over. Our fate is far from sealed, though. Whether America surmounts its challenges or slides to the middle of the pack will likely depend on its fastest-growing segment: the Latino community.

Congress Sets Sights on Closing the Wage Gap

Submitted by News Desk on Mon, 01/26/2009 - 12:37pm
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More than 40 years after Congress passed a law making it illegal for employers to pay women less than men for the same work, women still earn less.

Rep. Rosa DeLauro, the Connecticut Democrat, says now is the time to put the squeeze on the wage gap.

Congress appears to agree.

The House passed on Friday two bills to bolster women's economic security: one is designed to reverse a 2007 Supreme Court decision that made it more difficult for women to sue for wage bias and the other strengthens existing pay equity laws.

The Senate followed suit today, passing the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, 61-36. The bill is ready to be placed on President Barack Obama's desk and will become one of the first bills he signs into law.

Resistance to Housing Foreclosures Spreads Across the Land

Submitted by News Desk on Mon, 01/26/2009 - 12:27pm
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"This is a crowd that won't scatter," James Steele wrote in the pages of The Nation some seventy-five years ago. Early one morning in July 1933, the police had evicted John Sparanga and his family from a home on Cleveland's east side. Sparanga had lost his job and fallen behind on mortgage payments. The bank had foreclosed. A grassroots "home defense" organization, which had managed to forestall the eviction on three occasions, put out the call, and 10,000 people -- mainly working-class immigrants from Southern and Central Europe -- soon gathered, withstanding wave after wave of police tear gas, clubbings and bullets, "vowing not to leave until John Sparanga [was] back in his home."

Momentum Gathers for Truly Universal Health Care

Submitted by News Desk on Mon, 01/26/2009 - 12:07pm
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A new campaign was launched to make clear to policy-makers that the moment is right to embrace truly universal health care. Labor activists from 31 states gathered in St. Louis last weekend, solidifying their strategies to push "Medicare for all" -- and to oppose the half-hearted health care plans circulating in Washington.

The meeting launched Labor for Single-Payer Healthcare, a campaign whose reform would cut the insurance industry out of health care and expand an improved Medicare system to everyone.

The single-payer concept has been endorsed by 39 state AFL-CIO federations, 100 central labor councils, and more than 400 local unions.

A Silver Lining to the Economic Crisis: Less Money for Prisons

Submitted by News Desk on Mon, 01/26/2009 - 12:02pm
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As states grapple with record budget deficits, more politicians are looking toward criminal justice reform to cut costs.
If you're seeking a silver lining to the current economic crisis, this may well be it: As states across the country confront historic budget shortfalls, more and more politicians are looking toward long-overdue criminal justice reform as a way to cut spending. Suddenly, the money local governments stand to save by slowing down incarceration rates is trumping the political costs traditionally associated with it.

Good news, perhaps, this evolution in thinking, but it's hardly a burst of innovation (let alone political courage). The nation's prisons have been dysfunctional and overcrowded for ages, reaching emergency levels in recent years. Around this time last year, a study released by the Pew Center found that 1 in 100 Americans was behind bars, a sobering statistic that spurred calls for reform, from news articles to op-eds, to (briefly) Hillary Rodham Clinton's primary campaign. One year later, the economic crisis has given reluctant governors and state reps the political cover to initiate reforms that they previously would have considered too risky. Virginia and Kentucky are pondering early release for thousands of low-level prisoners and Michigan, one of four states that spends more on incarceration than education, is considering deep reforms as well.

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