Some See a Cash Motive in Duvalier’s Return

Jean-Claude Duvalier

Those of us who remember Jean-Claude Duvalier, known as Baby “Doc” Duvalier, were stunned when suddenly emerged from exile last week.  He was the monster who ruled Haiti folloing in the footsteps of his father.  Both men were monsters.  He left Haiti 25 years ago.  He said he returned to “help” the people of Haiti recover from the devestating earthquake more than a year earlier.  Yeah, right. 

Though Mr. Duvalier has long been accused of looting $300 million from Haiti before fleeing nearly 25 years ago, his lawyers and friends have said that much of his money was squandered on a lavish lifestyle of jewelry, chateaus, fancy cars and a very expensive divorce from his ex-wife.

Mr. Duvalier’s risky return home from France may have been driven by another motivation: money.

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Giffords Faces Long Road To Help Her Brain Rebuild Itself

The human body is a remarkable machine and the brain in particular is spectacular.  When it is damaged by trauma it can reorganize the way it functions and allow you to regain abilities you might think are lost.

When Gabrielle Giffords was shot we heard reports of how the bullet traveled through her brain.  Now she is being transferred to a rehab facility where therapists will work with her to help her regain full functionality.  Amazing what can be done.

The success of this second effort will depend on the extent of her brain damage (which is not yet fully determined), the skill of her therapists, personal effort and the unpredictable capacity of her brain to change.

Despite the use of terms like “miraculous” to describe Giffords’s progress, numerous experts describe her survival and apparently good condition as an increasingly common outcome in brain-injured patients, thanks to aggressive surgery and meticulous care afterward.

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Kidnapped Girl Finds True Family

Carlina White was abducted from Harlem Hospital in 1987, just three weeks after her birth.

Carlina White was abducted from Harlem Hospital in 1987, just three weeks after her birth.

It’s every parent’s nightmare.  Their newborn child is abducted from the hospital.  What do you do?  How do you go on?  Will you ever see your child again? 

Sometimes, if you wait long enough, miracles happen.

The family of Ann Pettway, who raised an infant kidnapped from Harlem Hospital in 1987, long suspected she didn’t give birth to the little girl, a relative said Thursday.

Carlina White, abducted from Harlem Hospital just 19 days after her birth, was finally reunited this month with her blood relatives – including her mom and dad. 

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Higgins Named to Homeland Security Committee

Congressman to Continue Leadership on Border Issues, Security Funds in New Role

This week, Congressman Brian Higgins (NY-27) was selected by the House Democratic Caucus to serve on the House Committee on Homeland Security and the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.

“I am honored to have been appointed to serve on Homeland Security Committee, positioning our border community in the forefront of national discussions and helping to advance the Peace Bridge project and improve our border operations to strengthen economic ties with our Canadian neighbors,” said Higgins, a member of the Congressional Northern Border Caucus.  “Moreover, with a position on the Committee with jurisdiction over FEMA, I will continue to fight against unfair, outdated flood maps and for relief when communities like Silver Creek, devastated by flooding, and Buffalo, hit by the October Storm, are overwhelmed by natural disasters.”

In addition to the Peace Bridge and FEMA, the Homeland Security Committee has jurisdiction over such issues as the Fire Grant Reauthorization Act.  Higgins was an original co-sponsor and strong supporter of the Fire Grants program and aggressively pursues federal funds for local fire companies, which has delivered over $13.164 million dollars to fire departments in his district over the last 5 years, more than double the amount awarded on average to each district.  Higgins was also a strong supporter of the more recent legislation supporting 9/11 first responders dealing with ongoing health issues.

“I am pleased to welcome Rep. Higgins to the Committee on Homeland Security.  Coming from 27th District of New York, he is well versed in many of the security challenges we face as a nation, including securing our northern border and protecting our critical infrastructure,” said Rep. Bennie Thompson, Ranking Member of the Homeland Security Committee.  “In addition to representing a district on the Canadian border, Rep. Higgins understands the importance of intelligence and information sharing with our Canadian partners to combat terrorism.   I look forward to working closely with him on these very important homeland security issues this Congress.”

Congressman Higgins previously joined current Homeland Security Chair Rep. Peter King in rallying against cuts to Urban Area Security Initiative (UASI) funding from the Department of Homeland Security.  UASI provides funding for the unique equipment, training, planning, and exercise needs of 46 select high threat urban areas, including Buffalo and New York City.

“Congressman Higgins is a welcome addition to the Committee on Homeland Security,” King said.  “Brian and I have previously worked together on a number of issues important to New York.  I now look forward to working closely with him on critical homeland security issues.  The fact that Brian represents the northern border region will give the Committee valuable insight.”

Congressman Higgins was also appointed to the Committee on Foreign Affairs, a timely appointment given the existing conflicts in the Middle East and ongoing relations with China whose currency policies deeply affect the American economy.  Just this week, Higgins sent a letter to President Obama with 80 of his colleagues about the need for drastic changes to the economic policies of the Chinese government.  With a deep interest in U.S. foreign policy, Higgins has traveled extensively through some of the most volatile regions in the world and has met with world leaders to promote peace in Iraq, Afghanistan, Israel, Northern Ireland, Lebanon, Pakistan, and Africa, including Darfur.  Locally, Higgins advocated for the new passport office in Buffalo to make travel abroad easier for residents in Western New York.

Higgins served on the Ways & Means Committee from 2009 through 2010, stepping down this month due to a change in the ratio of committee seats.  He will maintain his seniority on the committee and rejoin it when seats become available.  He served on the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure and the Committee Government & Oversight from 2005 through 2008.

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Plan Offered to Overhaul Discipline of Teachers

Tenure for teachers has been a flash point  issue for years.  Once again it is surfacing as officials try to overhaul how teacher misconduct cases are dealt with.

Misconduct cases have regularly embarrassed unions and school districts: Exhibit A was New York City’s so-called rubber rooms, where accused teachers idled away months or even years while cases were investigated, until they were closed last year.

Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, to hire Mr. Kenneth R. Feinberg, the arbitration expert,to propose an alternative.

Ms. Weingarten said she would recommend that her membership use Mr. Feinberg’s proposal as a template in future collective bargaining.

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Advocacy Group Says Justices May Have Conflict in Campaign Finance Cases

Justice is blind and the Supreme Court, being the highest court in the land should be held to the highest standard. 

That is why the group, Common Cause, filed a petition with the Justice Department on Wednesday asking it to investigate potential conflicts by Justices Scalia and Thomas and move for their disqualification from the landmark Citizens United case, in which the court last year lifted a ban on corporate spending on political campaigns.

Common Cause also cited the role of Mr. Thomas’s wife, Virginia Thomas, in forming a conservative political group opposed to the Obama administration as grounds for his disqualification.

“It’s a steep uphill climb for Common Cause, but not an insurmountable one,” said Steven Gillers, who teaches legal ethics at New York University. At the very least, he said, the group’s petition could force a “public airing” of questions surrounding the two justices’ past appearances at the Koch retreat and their connections to the group.

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Wal-Mart Shifts Strategy to Promote Healthy Foods

Michelle Obama, the first lady, has joined the company’s effort to get consumers to eat healthier foods.

How much influence does the First Lady have when it comes to ensuring everyone can have access to fresh fruit and vegetables at an affordable price?  Well, Michelle Obama has managed to get Wal-Mart on-board her drive to get people to eat healthy.  Wal-Mart will be offering thousands of its packaged foods lower in unhealthy salts, fats and sugars, and will drop prices on fruits and vegetables.

The initiative came out of discussions the company has been having with Michelle Obama, the first lady, who will attend the announcement in Washington and has made healthy eating and reducing childhood obesity the centerpiece of her agenda. Aides say it is the first time Mrs. Obama has thrown her support behind the work of a single company.

The plan, similar to efforts by other companies and to public health initiatives by New York City, sets specific targets for lowering sodium, trans fats and added sugars in a broad array of foods — including rice, soups, canned beans, salad dressings and snacks like potato chips — packaged under the company’s house brand, Great Value.

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A Racy Show With Teenagers Steps Back From a Boundary

“Skins” faces questions of child pornography laws.

Last evening I listened to a presentationat Depew High School given by FBISpecial Agent Jeffrey A. Tricoli, concerning children and modern technology and the dangers that go hand-in-hand with that.  Cyberbullying and pornography are part of that danger.  Our children don’t understand that taking photos of themselves and then forwarding them to “friends” is illegal.  They do it because they don’t understand the dangers or the law.  They see things on TV and want to copy and imitate what they see.  How can we help them if they watch programs like “Skins” on MTV?

In recent days, executives at the cable channel became concerned that some scenes from the provocative new show “Skins” may violate federal child pornography statutes.

MTV executives have a new hit drama on their hands, featuring the sexual and drug-fueled exploits of misfit teenagers. They also have something else — a fear that coming episodes of the show may break the law.

In an early version, a naked 17-year-old actor is shown from behind as he runs down a street.

Reality shows have generally involved adults but for “Skins” the producers purposefully cast actors ages 15 to 19, most of whom had never acted before.

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As US, China Presidents Meet, Higgins Joins House Members Encouraging Administration to Press China on Unfair Economic Policies

Brian Higgins

Members Say We Can No Longer Tolerate Blow to American Companies and Jobs

Congressman Brian Higgins (NY-27) joined over 80 of his colleagues in the House of Representatives in sending a strong bi-partisan message of the need for drastic changes to the economic policies of the Chinese government.

In a letter, lead by Congressman Michael Michaud (ME-2), Higgins and the others stressed the need for China to abide by international trade laws calling it, “imperative for the vitality of our nation’s economy and for the viability of American businesses.”

China artificially suppresses the value of its currency relative to the dollar, making China’s exports cheaper than they should be and making American exports to China more expensive. 

Congressman Higgins noted the Western New York region alone has lost over 140,500 jobs over an 8 year period as a result of the Chinese trade deficit.

“We can’t sit back and let these policies to continue to destroy American jobs, companies and opportunities,” said Congressman Higgins. “American manufacturers and workers can compete with anyone in the world provided we are given a level playing field to work from.  China made their World Trade Organization commitments and we need to hold them to it.”  

“The strong, bipartisan showing on this letter illustrates that there is a broad base of support for the President demanding action from China,” said Michaud, Chairman of the House Trade Working Group. “The people we represent know that China’s trade violations have a direct impact on the U.S. economy and our ability to get ahead. We need the President to stand up for American workers and businesses. Taking action and holding China accountable for its illegal actions would be a huge step forward.”

Last September Congressman Higgins voted to approve H.R. 2378, the Currency Reform for Fair Trade Act, a bill, cosponsored by Higgins, which would provide direct relief to U.S. businesses hurt by China’s currency devaluation policies. 

Below is a copy of the letter sent by Higgins, Michaud and over 80 other members of the House:

 Dear President Obama:

In your upcoming meetings with Chinese President Hu Jintao, we know that you will express concerns about China’s persistent violation of international trade law. It is vital, however, to impress upon President Hu that America’s patience is near an end and that we can no longer afford to tolerate China’s disregard for the binding commitments they agreed to as part of their accession to the World Trade Organization in 2001. These standards are in place to ensure that countries do not illegally advantage their economies at the expense of others, and China’s unwillingness to play by the rules is unfairly shuttering U.S. businesses and putting Americans out of work. Ten years is more than enough time for China to have implemented its WTO commitments.

Numerous economic policies in China violate their WTO commitments, and all of them harm U.S. businesses and employment. Its currency is manipulated by as much as 40 percent, and its low value helps to China to maintain its status as the world’s biggest exporter. Its paper sector benefits from illegal subsidies that have allowed the industry – which lacks natural forest reserves and a competitive advantage – to become the world’s largest paper producer. China’s green energy companies also enjoy illicit subsidies, as well as interest-free, government loans, at the direct expense of U.S. competitors. Their limit on the exportation of rare earth materials puts U.S. high-tech companies at a severe disadvantage. And widely applied technology transfer requirements mean U.S. companies doing business in China often have to share their research and development in order to operate there, only to face competition down the road from Chinese companies using the very same U.S.-developed technology.

These, alongside a long list of other WTO violations, harm our workers by putting U.S. companies out of business and impeding our economic recovery efforts. We applaud your Administration’s effort to take enforcement action on some of these violations. But the problem with China cannot be solved by a piecemeal enforcement approach. It is no coincidence that out trade deficit with China has nearly tripled since they joined the WTO.   Nor is it a coincidence that employment in our manufacturing sector has declined by more than 25% in the same period. Achieving the goal of your National Export Initiative of doubling U.S. exports is impossible without addressing China’s predatory, protectionist, and illegal policies that not only limit our access to their market, but also limit our opportunities in other markets around the globe.

The USTR report issued last month on China’s WTO compliance confirms that getting China to live up to its WTO commitments is one of the “critical challenges facing the United States.” We could not agree more. Ensuring that China abides by international trade laws is imperative for the vitality of our nation’s economy and for the viability of American businesses. We believe President Hu should hear this message in no uncertain terms.

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Wegmans – A Great Place To Work

Congratulations to  Wegmans for maintaining its number 3 ranking nationally as one of the best places to work. 

3. Wegmans Food Markets

Courtesy of Wegmans Food Markets


Rank: 3 (Previous rank: 3)

What makes it so great?

This customer-friendly supermarket chain cares about the well-being of its workers, too. This year, 11,000 employees took part in a challenge to eat five cups of fruit and vegetables a day and walk up to 10,000 steps a day for eight weeks.

Another 8,000 took advantage of health screenings that included a flu shot and H1N1 vaccine — all covered by Wegmans.

2009 revenue ($ millions): 5,193

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