February 06, 2014
LAWT Contributing Writer
The League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) is leading a national coalition that is calling for an investigation into whether ‘Herbalife’ — the ubiquitous nutrition products company — is operating an illegal pyramid scheme. Locally the Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Southern California (SCLA-CA) and the Congress of Racial Equality — California (CORE-CA) are part of the group, which believes that the company “uses deceptive business practices to target minority groups ... with false promises of wealth and success. In reality, the vast majority of Herbalife participants earn no income from the company and most even end up losing money,” according to a media advisory from the group.
Calling its campaign “Stop HerbaLIES, the group traveled to Washington DC on Feb. 5 to urge the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to open an investigation. While in the nation’s capitol, members will also meet with legislators from their home states as well as give an earful to Attorney General Eric Holder at the Justice Department.
CNBC’s business writers Herb Greenberg and Karina Frayter state that, “With multi-level marketing [companies] — often involving nutritional supplements, weight loss products, cleaning products and various types of housewares — products are sold through a network of distributors. They earn income from the sales they make themselves as well as from people they’ve recruited to become distributors–otherwise known as their “down-line.”
Greenberg and Frayter point to the website of the Federal Trade Commission (which regulates multi-level marketers) which states, “Not all multilevel marketing plans are legitimate. If the money you make is based on your sales to the public, it may be a legitimate multilevel marketing plan. If the money you make is based on the number of people you recruit and your sales to them, it’s not. It’s a pyramid scheme. Pyramid schemes are illegal, and the vast majority of participants lose money.”
President and CEO of SCLA-Southern California Rev. William Smart said that what Herbalife is doing is no different from what Wal-Mart is doing. “Right now people at the bottom are always abused by big corporations and that is what the injustice of it is,” said Smart. “Big corporations like Herbalife [with] people at the top making big money [and] people at the bottom having to pay money for materials and merchandise. A lot of times it doesn’t sell. They don’t have time to do it, and they get taxed. It’s the same paradigm we’re seeing: people who work the most amount of hours get the least amount of money,” said Smart.
“Studies have shown that multi-level marketing disproportionally affects the African American community,” said Adrian Dove of CORE-CA. “Ryan Franklin, one of our advisors, has written a book about it. Its' not a ‘sexy’ [news] item, that jumps at the top; it gnaws away [at the community] kind of quietly,” Doe said.
“You go to some of the hotels on a Saturday morning, around the country, with these multi-level marketing [seminars],” Dove continued “and it’s mostly Black folks. It’s a dream. Nothing’s wrong with dreaming, but at a certain point if you know it’s not going anywhere — a few people at the top who are making the money, taking your time and resources … Herbalife is one of the biggest offenders.”
The group met with California Attorney General Kamala Harris this past January to ask that she enforce an existing injunction against Herbalife designed to protect California consumers. But, the details of that meeting remain confidential.
Herbalife was hit with an injunction in 1986 that required them to provide documentation that verifies their retail sales and the company’s sales to distributors and customers; the company has yet to comply.
“We are deeply concerned that the current practices by global nutrition supplier giant Herbalife were disproportionally having a negative effect on the Latina/o and immigrant communities. That is why we were grateful for the opportunity to address our concerns with the office of the attorney general,” said Joseph Villela, policy director for the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA).
“We need to become fighters for the left out, the lost, the underdogs,” said Smart, co-pastor of Christ Liberation Ministries. “Those that are trying to make it everyday.”
February 06, 2014
LAWT Wire Services
Sheriff’s deputies searched the familiar haunts of a murder suspect today but made no arrests.
Oscar Bridges, 54, who is known to frequent Runyon Canyon Park and Griffith Park, is wanted in the Jan. 23 stabbing death of 21-year-old Robert Brewer of Texas in a motel room in the 10400 block of South Vermont Avenue.
Bridges has been described as black, about 6 feet 2 inches and 180 pounds, with long hair in dreadlocks.
Detectives said Bridges, a registered sex offender with a lengthy criminal record and ties to Arizona, is known for befriending younger men, then robbing them.
About 50 deputies — some working with scent dogs, others on horseback — scoured some of the trails familiar to Bridges but came up empty handed, Nicole Nishida of the Sheriff’s Headquarters Bureau said.
“The search has concluded today, and we haven’t found him, but we are still asking for the public’s assistance,” she said. “We will not be conducting a large scale search tomorrow.”
Oscar Murillo told ABC7 he saw Bridges in Griffith Park last week. Sheriff’s detectives said Bridges sometimes goes by “Rick” and stays in motels in Hollywood and West Hollywood.
February 06, 2014
By TOBY STERLING
AMSTERDAM (AP) — Prosecutors at the International Criminal Court said Wednesday that Kenya’s government is obstructing the crimes against humanity case against its president by withholding access to crucial documents.
Kenyatta has pleaded innocent to charges of crimes against humanity, including murder, forcible population transfer and persecution, for his alleged role in organizing violence that left more than 1,000 people dead after Kenya’s 2007 elections.
The start of his trial was delayed in December after Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda acknowledged that one key witness had decided not to testify and another said he had given false testimony about a “critical event” in the case.
In a hearing on Wednesday about how and whether the case should proceed, prosecutor Benjamin Gumpert told judges that Kenya’s government is obstructing access to information, particularly about Kenyatta’s finances, which could prove vital to the case.
“One of the allegations that we make against Mr. Kenyatta is that he personally provided very large quantities of money which were funneled down through his intermediaries and messengers, and delivered in the form of cash to the perpetrators of the violence,” he said.
He asked for an indefinite delay or at least “until such time as the government of Kenya complies with its treaty obligations” and discloses the information the prosecution is seeking.
Kenyatta, who was not present at Wednesday’s hearing, is the son of Kenya’s founding president, Jomo Kenyatta. He was elected president last year, despite his 2011 indictment by the International Criminal Court. Popular resistance among Kenyans to the cour’s authority may have helped his campaign.
Defense lawyer Steven Kay said Wednesday that the prosecution's “new direction” of blaming the Kenyan government for obstruction comes “at the convenient time when the prosecution has realized that its case has collapsed.”
Human rights groups have warned that witnesses in the case are being intimidated.
Gumpert acknowledged Wednesday that two other avenues the prosecution had been pursuing to bolster evidence had not borne fruit and probably never would.
Presiding Judge Kuniko Ozaki said the panel hearing the case in The Hague, Netherlands, would not decide the matter Wednesday.
February 06, 2014
By Jazelle Hunt
NNPA Washington Correspondent
WASHINGTON (NNPA) – In last week’s State of the Union Address, President Barack Obama declared, “…Our success should depend not on accident of birth, but the strength of our work ethic and the scope of our dreams.”
The operative word was “should.” A recent study by a team of Harvard University and University of California-Berkeley researchers and others confirm that the birth lottery still rules the day.
The report states, “Contrary to popular perception, economic mobility has not changed significantly over time; however, it is consistently lower in the U.S. than in most developed countries. It also said two studies found, “Upward income mobility varies substantially within the U.S. Areas with greater mobility tend to have five characteristics: less segregation, less income inequality, better schools, greater social capital, and more stable families.”
In other words, we have not reached the point where the strength of our work ethic and the scope of our dream dictate our success.
“The Equality of Opportunity Project” is a two-part study that examines intergenerational mobility over time and over geography. The first paper studies the correlation between the incomes of today’s 30-somethings and their parents’ income between 1996 and 2012, and then compares the data across the country.
The second paper studies time trends by comparing the incomes of citizens born between 1971 and 1993, to the incomes of their parents. (For those born after 1986, the researchers compare their probability of attending college and their parents’ income).
“Intergenerational mobility varies substantially across areas. For example, a child born in the bottom fifth of the income distribution has a 7.8 percent chance of reaching the top fifth in the U.S. as a whole,” the report states. “But in some places, such as Salt Lake City and San Jose, the chance of moving from the bottom fifth to the top fifth is as high as 12.9 percent. In others, such as Charlotte and Indianapolis, it is as low as 4.4 percent.”
According to the data, five factors have the greatest influence on mobility: racial and income segregation; income inequality; primary school quality; social connections and community involvement; and family structure.
In areas with the most depressed mobility, these five factors coalesce to form a perfect storm. Income inequality spurs economic segregation; and since race and class are sometimes inextricable, racial segregation arises. Property taxes support schools, so the quality level of a primary school often reflects its neighborhood’s wealth (or lack thereof). Family structure refers to concentrations of single-parent households. Single-parent households tend to have less income than two-parent households, and also tend to have less time to be involved in community affairs.
To clarify, these factors only serve as indicators on a community level. In other words, an individual’s chance at mobility is not tied to his or her family circumstances, but rather to the overall circumstances of his/her hometown. In the case of many African American communities, it is the isolation from jobs, infrastructure, resources, and the influence of more affluent citizens that creates depressed mobility. Such communities stunt successful outcomes for its residents (of all races and incomes).
“These results suggest that it is the isolation of low-income families rather than the isolation of the rich that may be most detrimental for low income children’s prospects of moving up in the income distribution.” The paper states, “One explanation of this correlation is that the separation of the middle class from the poor reduces beneficial peer effects or funding for local public goods (e.g., schools) for children from low-income families. In contrast, the separation of the affluent from the middle class may not directly harm low income individuals.”
In some commuting zones (CZs), which are like metropolitan areas but also include surrounding rural areas, children born to parents in the bottom fifth income level have less than 3 percent chance of earning their way to the top fifth. This is significantly lower than the national mobility average, and the rates of other developed nations.
Among the 50 biggest CZs, Charlotte, Milwaukee, and Atlanta have the lowest mobility. San Jose, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C., have the highest. Geographically, the Midwestern states beyond the Great Lakes have the highest mobility rates. (Racial segregation — one the strongest correlates of depressed mobility — is less of an issue in these states, where at least 95 percent of the population is White). The Southeast has particularly low mobility; 55 percent of all Blacks live in the South.
Senior researcher, Sarah Abraham noted, “As a family at the 25th income percentile, whether your child grew up in Salt Lake City or Charlotte makes a difference of over $8,000 on their expected income at age 30.”
For example, the average child reared in Charlotte in a 20th percentile household (making $26,000 per year) will end up in the 34th percentile (making $41,000 yearly) by the time he or she is 30. Of all the children born in the same circumstance, only 45 percent will earn their way beyond the 40th percentile ($48,000 yearly, or more).
Conversely (and to illustrate the difficulty of upward mobility in this CZ), the average child born in an 80th percentile household (making $109,000 per year) will fall to the 58th percentile (making $71,000 yearly) by 30. In this scenario, only 32 percent will be able to climb the one level above their parents, into the top 20th percentile.
For people raised in the 80th percentile in Charlotte, the mobility rate is two to three points lower than the national rate.
“The southeast generally has severe residential segregation across both income and races. You can also measure the average commute times in a place, and find that places where people have longer commutes have worse mobility. Southern cities generally exhibit sprawl,” Abraham explains.
In Newark, which has the ninth highest mobility among the country’s largest 50 CZs, the average child born into the 20th percentile will end up in the 43rd percentile (making $52,000 per year). Of all the children born in this same circumstance, 77 percent will grow up to earn more than their parents.
The paper concludes that “the fact that much of the spatial variation in children’s outcomes emerges before they enter the labor market suggests that the differences in mobility are driven by factors that affect children while they are growing up.”
The project makes it clear, however, that the key to improving upward mobility for all Americans – particularly those in the middle class – lies in creating diverse, well-planned, supportive communities.
“There are two broad conclusions from our research that we believe should be taken into consideration as guide future research and policies,” Abraham says. “First, our study shows the importance of early intervention, as the patterns of inequality emerge well before students enter the labor market, even as early as their teenage years…. Second, America does not have uniform mobility but rather significant amounts of spatial variation, and as such we might consider targeting limited funds at specific areas to alleviate persistent inequality.”