Sunday, March 28, 2010

Ernie Grunfeld says Washington Wizards will not void Gilbert Arenas's contract

For the first time, Washington Wizards President Ernie Grunfeld publicly shot down speculation that the team would look into terminating the remaining four years and more than $80 million remaining on suspended guard Gilbert Arenas's contract."We're not going to void his contract, and as we've said all along, he's going to be with us," Grunfeld said Saturday at a hastily arranged news conference before the Wizards game at Verizon Center against the Utah Jazz.

The comments were the first in public by Grunfeld since Arenas was sentenced for felony gun possession in D.C. Superior Court on Friday. Grunfeld reiterated previous comments about bringing back Arenas, who was sentenced to 30 days in a halfway house, two years of supervised probation and 400 hours of community service and fined $5,000 after bringing four guns to Verizon Center in a dispute with Javaris Crittenton on Dec. 21.

A person with knowledge of the Wizards' thinking said on Friday that the Pollin family was not interested in pursuing the complicated task of contract termination, which has never been successfully carried out in the NBA. Grunfeld went a step further Saturday, making the case for welcoming back the three-time all-star into the fold.

"I think people sometimes tend to forget that he's still one of the best players in this league. He averaged 23 points and seven assists when he was with us," Grunfeld said. "He's a dynamic player and he was just coming back off injury. So we plan to have him back and we plan to have him in uniform this year."
The gun incident embarrassed the franchise and generated hard feelings on both sides. The Wizards organization was upset with Arenas's initial carefree attitude, while Arenas was angered that the team distanced itself by failing to promote him and sell his jersey in the wake of the incident, which also led to Arenas's NBA-mandated suspension in January for the remainder of the season. Grunfeld said he has not spoken with Arenas in a few months, but plans to soon sit down with him. He added that Arenas might have to regain the trust of fans upon his return.

"Gilbert is one of the more popular athletes to play in D.C. in a really long time. And a lot of people had a lot of great affection for him," he said. "He did some magnificent things on the basketball court and what happened a few months ago, some people are disappointed in. He has to maybe get the love back from some of those people, but I think a lot of people will accept it and there may be some that don't."

The incident and its aftermath expedited the rebuilding process for the Wizards, with Grunfeld making several cost-cutting deals at the trade deadline to ship away Antawn Jamison, Caron Butler, Brendan Haywood and DeShawn Stevenson. The moves brought the Wizards below the luxury tax threshold this season and created nearly $18.7 million in available cap room for this offseason.

With the fourth-worst record in the NBA, the Wizards are assured a high lottery pick, and they also acquired a first-round choice from Cleveland.

"I think we put ourselves in a position where we have a lot of flexibility with the trades that we've made," Grunfeld said. "We have a lot of cap room. We have a lot of draft picks. All of these are going to help us to improve the team, and getting a player like Gilbert into the fold is only going to help."

Grunfeld said he has not spoken with prospective new owner Ted Leonsis because he still answers to the Pollin family. But when asked if he was confident that Leonsis would allow him to complete the reclamation project, Grunfeld sounded hopeful.

"I think I'm pretty good at what I do. I have a pretty good track record and we'll see when new ownership takes over what happens," Grunfeld said. "I think we've done a pretty good job here, and if you look at the other places I've been, I've rebuilt several teams, many times over. So I'm confident in my abilities. It's a good challenge and I'm looking forward to it."

Saturday, March 13, 2010

D.C. Woman Named Head Coach Of Varsity Football Team

From CNN:

A high school in Washington, D.C., on Friday named a former women’s professional football player as its head varsity football coach, a move that a national women’s sports advocacy group calls historic.

Natalie Randolph, 29, a science teacher at Calvin Coolidge Senior High School, was introduced as the school’s head football coach Friday in a press conference.

“We needed to find the best leader, role model, coordinator and instructor for our young men,” Coolidge principal Thelma Jarrett said. “Natalie passed our first test — she’s proven herself as a great organizer, a leader who is knowledgeable about the sport as a player and a coach.”

Students and faculty, along with Randolph’s loved ones and former D.C. Diva teammates were on hand for the announcement as Mayor Adrian Fenty decreed March 12, 2010, “Natalie Randolph Day” in Washington

D.C. march to press legalization in face of rise in deportations

As the administration of Barack Obama continues its attacks on undocumented workers, thousands of people from around the country are preparing to demonstrate in Washington, D.C., March 21 to demand legalization of immigrants and an end to deportations.
In a March 5 press release, the Fair Immigration Reform Movement, one of the coalitions backing the march, points out that “the Obama Administration’s shift in emphasis from ‘worker raids’ to ‘paper/desk raids’ has provided a veneer of civility to immigration enforcement.”

“Deportations have increased by more than 60 percent since the Obama Administration took office,” the coalition adds. In 2009 U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) deported the highest number of immigrant workers in U.S. history.

While reducing the number of high-profile factory raids, in 2009 ICE tripled the number of immigration audits, which often lead to the firing of workers who can’t present proof of legal residency in the United States.

By claiming they are focusing on deporting criminals, U.S. officials seek to scapegoat immigrants and foster divisions among immigrant workers. In a three-day operation at the end of February, ICE agents arrested 284 immigrants in Texas. ICE said more than half have “violent criminal histories.”

Washington is expanding the “Secure Communities” program, which aims by 2012 to check the fingerprints of every person held in federal, state, and local jails against a Department of Homeland Security database.

ICE has continued the rapid expansion of E-verify, which allows bosses to check the immigration and work status of current and potential employees through the Internet, making it more difficult for workers without papers to obtain jobs.

The U.S. government has also deepened militarization of the U.S.-Mexico border. There are now more than 20,000 armed agents stationed there.

The purpose of these measures, promoted by both the Democratic and Republican parties, is not to stop the flow of immigrant labor, which U.S. employers need to bolster their profits and compete against businesses from other countries, but to control it. Their anti-immigrant policies are used to divide working people and drive down the value of their labor power.

The March 21 demonstration provides an opportunity for working people, union activists, and students to oppose these anti-immigrant and anti-worker measures.

Among groups sponsoring the demonstration are several immigration reform coalitions, the AFL-CIO union federation, Service Employees International Union (SEIU), United Food and Commercial Workers union, UNITE HERE, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and the National Council of Churches.

Eugenio Villasante, a spokesperson for SEIU Local 32BJ, told the Militant the union members are “very motivated” to join the march. “Many of our members are immigrants and everyone knows someone who has been deported,” he said. “It’s a wrong policy.”

Laborers locals 10, 78, and 79, which organize construction workers in the New York City region, will be participating in the march. The Workplace Project, an immigrant rights group that works with day laborers on Long Island, is organizing a bus to Washington along with a contingent that will walk to the demonstration from Hempstead, New York, starting March 12.

In Salinas, California, the United Farm Workers will also hold an immigration rights action March 21.

Luis GutiƩrrez, U.S. congressman from Illinois, will be the featured speaker at a Houston rally March 13 that is part of promoting the March 21 actions.

GutiĆ©rrez has introduced a “comprehensive immigration reform” in the House of Representatives that is similar to proposals that Obama has raised. The bill is presented by some Democratic Party politicians and union officials as a “road to citizenship” and a way to “fix the broken immigration system.”

The bill does not guarantee legalizing undocumented workers or an end to deportations. It calls for stepped-up enforcement of immigration laws and the creation of a “Southern Border Security Task Force.” It would create a nationwide “employment verification system” to aid bosses in weeding out undocumented workers.

Under the section “Earned legalization program for the undocumented,” the bill proposes granting a six-year “conditional nonimmigrant status” to undocumented immigrants.

Any immigrant applying for legal status has to undergo “complete criminal and security background checks” and pay a $500 fine. Immigrants who qualify must wait for six years after the law takes effect to receive a green card showing they are permanent residents.

LA Mayor Travels to DC; Good News for Denver?

For those of you in Denver worried about the future of FasTracks, I've got good news: Los Angeles' mayor Antonio Villaraigosa just took a trip to Washington, DC.

I know you're asking yourself, "Why should I care?" But the outcome of Villaraigosa's trip could mean good news for Denver.

Just like Denver, Los Angeles has plans for the construction of multiple new rail and bus projects. And, just like in Denver, voters approved a sales tax increase to make it happen. Now Los Angeles wants to complete its transit projects in ten years instead of thirty, as had originally been planned.

Villaraigosa is asking Washington lawmakers to extend a loan to Los Angeles to speed up the rate of construction and to build out all of the new lines simultaneously. L.A.'s mayor touted the 166,000 construction jobs that the project would bring to the recession-wracked region.

From the Wall Street Journal:

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa insists the deal presents little risk for the federal government. The reason: Los Angeles County voters in 2008 passed a half-cent sales tax to fund the rail project over 30 years. But Los Angeles leaders say it can be done in 10 if they get the money up front. The city would pay back the loans over 30 years using the sales tax.
Denver is currently considering raising the transit sales tax from .04 percent to .08 percent in order to complete all of its planned rail projects. Declining sales tax revenue and escalating costs have resulted in a $2.4 billion gap in funding for Denver's ambitious, but much needed, transit plan. If the tax is not raised, several of the currently proposed lines may be eliminated. The Denver Post reported last October:

Local officials, RTD and area voters should acknowledge that money from the initial 0.4 percent FasTracks sales-and-use tax, approved five years ago, is flowing into one "bucket," as Tauer called it, to construct roughly half of FasTracks.
The other half? Those lines are currently unfunded.

Currently there is doubt about the likelihood of voters approving a sales tax increase. As The Economist put it recently, without the sales tax increase, "The project's completion could be delayed until 2035 or scaled back to just one or two new lines." But if voters know that all their rail lines would be constructed sooner rather than later, perhaps public opinion would be behind increasing the tax.

And if Mayor Villaraigosa is successful, if the federal government finds a way to extend Los Angeles a loan to complete its project in ten years instead of thirty, the Denver could make a similar ask of Washington lawmakers.