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New Jersey Pastor Calls for National Anti-Payday Lending Campaign

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Campaign hopes to free one million Blacks from debt

By Charlene Crowell, NNPA Columnist –

An activist New Jersey pastor has decided to take his economic-focused gospel across the country. Rev. Dr. DeForest Soaries, senior pastor of the 7,000 member First Baptist Church of Lincoln Garden in Somerset, NJ is launching a national effort against one of the most predatory lending products: payday loans.

This church-based movement was inspired by hundreds of contacts and phone calls Soaries received following his appearance in a 2010 CNN documentary, Almighty Debt. Hosted by Soledad O’Brien, the documentary shared the financial struggles of Lincoln Garden members facing foreclosure, finding student financial aid and adjusting to long-term unemployment.

According to CNN, the documentary also became the network’s second-highest rated program that year with 13.8 million viewers. Now in 2012, what began as a 90-minute television program has become the impetus for a year-long advocacy effort with four specific objectives:

▪ Education – information distributed through churches, barbershops, community centers;
▪ Direct Action – coordinating a series of protests in front of payday stores;
▪ Alternatives to payday loans – identifying viable alternatives available through credit unions, minority banks and other lenders; and
▪ Public policy – working with local leaders to initiate actions to restrict payday and other predatory practices.

In the January 2012 edition of the American Bar Association’s journal, Pastor Soaries said in part, “Too many Americans find themselves in the perfect storm of diminishing economic opportunity and legal predatory financial practices that have a reverse Robin Hood effect – stealing from the poor to benefit a few voracious enterprises.”

“What is needed is a national campaign that addresses the aggressive efforts of promoting payday lending and luring customers into their web of debt”, continued Soaries.

Over the past decade, the ills of payday lending have been a focus of the Center for Responsible Lending. Through a series of state-based efforts partnering with local advocates, 17 states and the District of Columbia have enacted payday reforms, saying ‘no’ to triple digit interest rates and downward spiraling debt. Additionally, federal law protects military members and their families from the typical 400 percent interest rates of payday loans.

In recent years, however, the growth of new versions of small-dollar, short term loans — Internet and bank payday loans — threaten to circumvent all of these hard-fought consumer victories. In particular, bank payday loans lead to 175 days of indebtedness for the average borrower – twice as long as the maximum length of time the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation has advised.

With many banks allowing up to half of a customer’s monthly direct deposit income, or up to $750, an average 44 percent of a bank payday customer’s next deposit is used to repay bank payday loans. For older borrowers already living on fixed incomes, the average bank payday loan repayment from a Social Security check was 43 percent. Senior customers are also 2.6 times more likely to have used a bank payday loan than bank customers as a whole.

Even without bank payday loans, more than 13 million older adults are considered economically insecure, living on $21,800 per year or less. One-fifth of older households have annual incomes below $50,000 but report spending more than 40 percent of their income on debt payments.

CRL research has shown that communities of color are particularly vulnerable to payday loans. Across the country, the concentration of storefront lenders is typically greater in black and brown communities. Additionally, Missouri is the only state outside the Deep South with the greatest number of payday stores per capita.

Persons and organizations desiring to join the advocacy effort are advised to contact Pastor Soaries at: fbc@fbcsomerset.com.

CRL is ready and willing to work with Pastor Soaries, other clergy and community leaders across the nation to eliminate the financial degradation wrought by payday loans. Let 2012 be the year our community is freed from this ‘almighty debt’.

Charlene Crowell is a communications manager with the Center for Responsible Lending. She can be reached at: Charlene.crowell@responsiblelending.org.

Investigation Sought to Determine Motive in FAMU Death

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Special to the NNPA from the Afro-American Newspaper –

The National Black Justice Coalition has begun an online petition drive (www.change.org/petitions/justice-for-robert-champion-jr) urging the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights to investigate whether the death of a Florida A&M University student was actually a hazing accident, the result of retaliation because of his opposition to hazing, or an anti-gay hate crime.

The parents of Robert Champion Jr., told “CBS This Morning” Jan. 10 that their son may have been targeted because he was gay and vocally opposed to hazing.

“There’s no way around it. It was wrong,” Pam Champion said.

According to “Journal-isms,” an online column written by veteran journalist Richard Prince, Champion family lawyer Chris Chestnut told the network that the family had “spoken to over 10 potential witnesses. Some of them say Champion was singled out because of his sexual orientation and opposition to hazing.”

The Champions also have filed suit against FAMU—which has since named a scholarship in Champion’s memory—as well as Fabulous Coach Lines, the company that provided the charter bus where the attack against the marching band drum major occurred Nov. 19, following the Florida Classic football game in Orlando, Fla.

“I’m waiting on a solution,” Pam Champion told CBS. “Our goal is not to shut down any school. Our goal is not to stop the music. Our goal is to stop the hazing.

USPS to Introduce Changes in Next Day Delivery Mid-Spring

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By Alexis Taylor, Special to the NNPA from the Afro-American Newspaper –

The United States Postal Service is an American institution that has simply always been there. However, after weathering a bitter recession, competition from private mail companies and deeper cuts to an already stretched budget, the age old organization is struggling to survive. This year will see the introduction of record breaking reductions in service as well as price increases for basic USPS materials such as stamps.

Fighting to keep their heads above water, continue to employ its 574,000 career employees, and provide adequate health benefits to its workers, the USPS has taken major hits in the few years.

“The U.S. Postal Service must reduce its operating costs by $20 billion by 2015 in order to return to profitability,” said David Williams, vice president of Network Operations in a press release.

“The proposed changes to service standards will allow for significant consolidation of the postal network in terms of facilities, processing equipment, vehicles and employee workforce and will, when fully implemented, generate projected net annual savings of approximately $2 billion.”

Processing on average 563 million pieces of mail a day, in 2010 alone the USPS had to cut back 75 million work hours, which is roughly the equivalent of 42,800 full-time employees. Jan. 22, Americans will see a one cent increase on first class stamps to 45 cents, and a three cent increase on postcards to 32 cents.

“Mail from Baltimore to Chicago takes 2 days today and would take 2 days if the proposed changes occur, but mail from Baltimore to Baltimore that is overnight today would take 2 days if the proposed changes occur,” said Sue Brennan of the USPS Mail Processing and Mail Delivery divisions.

These changes, which are set to take place in Spring 2012, have already caused a national uproar, as readers who have not ridden the wave of new technology are now facing major dilemmas on how to receive their news promptly, or at least
while still relevant.

Customers of newspapers and periodicals such as the Afro American Newspaper have already seen major changes in their service, with subscribers who usually receive their papers the next day after printing now waiting two weeks.

Slow to sign up for Internet subscriptions, the elderly and the disenfranchised with limited computer access will suffer the most from the proposed cuts.

Highlighting a need for “a line of posts be appointed under the direction of the Postmaster general, from Falmouth in New England to Savannah in Georgia, with as many cross posts as he shall think fit, ” the Second Continental Congress of this Country established the United Sates Postal Service (USPS) in 1775.

Since then, mail has been moved by pony, steamboat, rail, truck, airplane, and other effective mode of transportation to get checks, gifts, news, and unwanted bills where they need to go in a timely fashion.

'Pariah' Not The Usual 'Coming Out' Story

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By Kimberly Roberts, Special to the NNPA from the Philadelphia Tribune –

As the world awaits the next George Lucas blockbuster or lines up for the next sure shot romantic comedy, “Pariah,” a small but engrossing film open in theaters today, is definitely worthy of attention.

Written and directed by Dee Rees and executive produced by Spike Lee, “Pariah,” originally a short film, was a finalist for the 2009 Sundance/NHK International Award. The expanded feature film had its world premiere at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival, and was honored with the Festival’s (U.S. Dramatic Competition) Excellence in Cinematography Award (Bradford Young).

“Pariah” is the provocative coming of age story of 17-year-old Alike (pronounced ah-lee-kay), a sweet, sensitive girl who does well in school and writes insightful, heartfelt poetry. Alike lives with her parents, Audrey (Kim Wayans) and Arthur (Charles Parnell) and her younger sister, Sharonda (Sahra Mellesse), in Brooklyn’s Fort Greene neighborhood. While she adores her father, Alike’s mother, who calls her “Lee,” sees her older daughter as an incorrigible “tomboy,” and works overtime at turning her into a “girly-girl.”

Meanwhile, Alike is living a double life, having discovered and embraced her identity as a lesbian. While she dresses in men’s clothing (often changing clothes on the bus) and secretly frequents gay clubs with her best friend, “out” lesbian Laura (whom her mother can’t stand), Alike is still not quite comfortable in her own skin. The more she struggles to claim her identity, the more confused she becomes, and Audrey unwittingly complicates the issue even further when she encourages (forces) Alike’s friendship with Bina (Aasha Davis) the daughter of a co-worker. While Sharonda is aware of her big sister’s sexuality and is totally cool with it, Alike is constantly wrestling with the prospect of telling her parents — although on a certain level they are both aware that she is gay but are in denial about it.

“Pariah” is inspired by Rees’ personal experience, and she does an excellent job of handling this sensitive subject matter, particularly with a main character that is so young. This film could have become a pornographic spectacle, but in Rees’ hands it is the riveting personal journey of a girl who has made a life-changing discovery, but has no idea what to do with the information.

The talented Adepero Oduye delivers a brilliant portrayal of the confused Alike, who is sincerely looking for love, but simply doesn’t know whom to trust. Although Oduye is in her 30s, she is completely convincing as a 17-year-old high school student.

Kim Wayans, who is best known for her outrageous comedic escapades, was so deeply immersed in the role of angst-ridden Audrey that the film was almost at the half over before I recognized her.

While this fascinating film brings to light a sub-culture that may be unfamiliar to some, “Pariah” is basically a story of friendship, family and acceptance. (Rated “R”)

Johnson and Johnson Slammed with Lawsuits over Drug

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By Glenn Townes, Special to the NNPA from the New York Amsterdam News –

It’s been a bad couple of weeks for New Jersey-based drug maker Johnson and Johnson (J&J), as the pharmaceutical giant quietly settled a multibillion-dollar lawsuit and is reportedly bracing for an onslaught of others from thousands of recipients of a popular antibiotic that may have caused irreparable nerve damage and other serious injuries to patients, according to a report from a California-based investment firm that owns shares in the company.

The firm, Harrington Investments, which, according to its website, is a socially responsible investing firm and shareholder advocate with a “fiduciary duty to screen companies that show a strong commitment to their communities and invest in companies that respond to shareholder concerns,” is about to file a proposal with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) requesting the agency address concerns about the drug Levaquin with its maker, J&J.

According to various reports, shareholders contend that J&J was negligent in properly warning patients about the adverse and long-term side effects of the drug. However, the company said it has increased warnings about the dangers of the drug since the Food Drug and Administration first approved it in 1996. This was due, at least in part, to an ever-increasing number of complaints about the drug and dozens of lawsuits.

A spokesman for J&J told Newark’s Star-Ledger that the company has asked officials at the SEC to disqualify and dismiss the impending proposal from shareholders. Spokesman William Price said the company has repeatedly addressed the safety issues related to the drug, adding, “We’re very sensitive to the issues.” Levaquin was initially approved as a treatment for bacterial infections and belongs to a class of antibiotics called fluoroquinolones. In 2010, the drug generated more than $1.5 billion in worldwide sales.

Lastly, in a related matter, J&J has agreed to pay more than $1 billion to the United States and many states, including New York and New Jersey, in order to resolve an investigation into questionable marketing strategies of Risperdal, a popular antipsychotic medication, according to various published reports. Risperdal was approved in 1993 for the treatment of schizophrenia. However, J&J eventually tried to market the drug as a cure-all for other mental illnesses, including dementia, depression and bipolar disorder.

At the time, the expanded marketing effort and supposed added benefits of the drug were unproven and in noncompliance with some state and federal regulations and lawsuits were filed. A final settlement date has not been formerly announced by the Justice Department.

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