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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.

Inaccurate Inscription on MLK Memorial to be Corrected

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Special to the NNPA from the Afro-American Newspaper –

An inaccurate inscription etched into the Martin Luther King memorial in Washington D.C. will be changed to provide the correct context of a quote by the civil rights leader.

The Washington Post first reported Jan. 13 that Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar had ordered the quote changed.

According to the Associated Press, the side of the granite memorial currently bears the inscription “I was a drum major for justice, peace and righteousness,” taken from a February 1968 sermon known as the “Drum Major Instinct,” made just two months before King’s assassination.

However, King’s original words made him seem more modest: “Yes, if you want to say that I was a drum major, say that I was a drum major for justice. Say that I was a drum major for peace. I was a drum major for righteousness. And all of the other shallow things will not matter.”

The altered quote has drawn criticism since the memorial’s opening in October, including from poet Maya Angelou, who according to the AP said the inscribed version makes King sound like “an arrogant twit.”

Salazar said he has ordered the National Park Service to consult the memorial’s organizing foundation and the King family, and report back within 30 days with a plan to correct the memorial.

“This is important because Dr. King and his presence on the Mall is a forever presence for the United States of America, and we have to make sure that we get it right,” Salazar told the Post.

National Urban League’s Morial Charges with Racist Pandering

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Special to the NNPA for New York Amsterdam News –

NEW YORK — National Urban League President and CEO Marc H. Morial today charged Presidential candidate Rick Santorum with pandering to racist elements within his party.

“Senator Santorum is perpetuating a thoroughly false and destructive racial stereotype in a desperate attempt to score political points,” Morial said. “He is appealing to the lowest common denominator within the electorate and quite frankly should be ashamed of himself.”

Morial called on the other candidates for the Republican nomination immediately to repudiate Santorum’s comments.

During a discussion of social assistance programs over the weekend in Iowa, Santorum claimed he doesn’t want to “make black people’s lives better by giving them someone else’s money.”

Morial said he was appalled by both the comment and the sentiment behind it.

“Social safety net programs serve families in dire circumstances from all walks of life,” Morial said. “Many of those who now find themselves in need, whatever their ethnic background, are the very people who have contributed into these programs throughout their entire working lives.”

In Iowa, about 84 percent of food stamps recipients in Iowa are white; nationally, about 70 percent of recipients are white.

“By falsely suggesting that people of color are a disproportionate drain on resources provided mainly by whites, Santorum deliberately fans the flames of racial divisiveness,” Morial said.

Morial said Santorum’s comment was particularly hypocritical when Santorum himself, while earning more than $162,000 as a U.S. Senator and living in a $643,361 home, admitted in 2005 that he could not make ends meet without financial help from his retired federal employee parents.

“Most people receiving assistance are not earning six-figure salaries and living in a lavish suburban mansion,” Morial said.

Morial noted that the National Urban League does not endorse political candidates, but will speak out against racist rhetoric from every point on the political spectrum.

Kappas and Omegas Form Super PAC to Back Obama

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By Herb Boyd, Special to the NNPA from the New York Amsterdam News –

Kappas and Omegas on the same page?

Yes, and the two Black fraternities-Kappa Alpha Psi and Omega Psi Phi-have come together to forge 1911 United, a super PAC with the goal of raising more than $1 million to help President Barack Obama get reelected.

The PAC, taking its name from the fact that both fraternities were founded a century ago, will focus most of its resources on the campaign in Colorado, Florida, Indiana, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia, according to a recent news story on Politico.com.

Obama needs bolstering, said Sinclair Skinner, the committee’s treasurer. “And we want to use all the means possible to support him, including a super PAC. Black political participation is still evolving, and what we hope to do is get as many voters active in the process as early as possible,” he added.

Essential to this initiative, Skinner related, is to “organize and deploy” Black voters, especially first-time voters. Obviously, social networking and phone banking will be key targets given the habits of young potential Black voters.

“We’re really going to focus on working with people directly,” said Skinner, a mechanical engineer.

The presidential election of 2012 will be the first time super PACs or independent expenditure-only committees will go into effect. They came into existence by virtue of a Supreme Court decision in 2010 that ruled in favor of Citizens United v. the Federal Election Commission and SpeechNow.org v. the Federal Election Commission.

Super PACs can spend unlimited sums of money supporting or opposing political candidates as long as they are not involved in the campaigns.

To date, huge sums of money from the super PACs have been earmarked to promote and attack GOP candidates, including those run by former members of Obama’s staff.

1911 United will certainly assist Obama’s bid for office, and it joins with Priorities USA Action, run by two of Obama’s former White House aides, one of the largest of those backing the president. It was reported that nearly all of its funds, more than $300,000, have been used to attack Mitt Romney.

Still Fighting for Voters’ Rights

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By Cyril Josh Barker, Special to the NNPA from New York Amsterdam News –

As the nation enters another presidential election year, it seems that the push to get people of color registered is being met with a fight to keep the Black, other minority and youth vote from being strong.

New voting laws are being enacted across several states that require government IDs, eliminate early voting and ban registration drives in order to block qualified voters from getting to the polls. These laws restrict access to the franchise in ways that have not been so aggressively pushed in decades-in some cases, in nearly a century.

History is clearly trying to repeat itself, at least in the hopes of those who want our nation to relive some of its darkest moments-the time after the Civil War when laws like grandfather clauses, literacy tests and poll taxes aimed to keep Blacks away from the polls. Black voting rights activists have not seen such a clear and brazen assault on their work since the 1960s, when the Civil Rights Movement led to the passage of the 24th Amendment in 1964, outlawing poll taxes.

But with the rise of Republicans in legislatures and governorships across the nation in 2010, these emboldened politicians have been looking for ways to suppress the Black vote. Republican politicians have been looking for ways to turn back the clock since the 2008 presidential election that brought to office the nation’s first Black president, Barack Obama-an election that saw the highest turnout of young Black voters, including Black women, yet.

“It doesn’t take much, with how close elections have been both at the national, state and local levels, to suppress the vote and for the opposition to win,” said political consultant Bill Lynch. “This comes right out of the Republican playbook. Attorney General Eric Holder has to enforce the Voting Rights Act and let these states know that what they are doing is unconstitutional.”

Last month, Holder spoke about the voting laws and how he plans to enforce the “law of the land,” which was passed nearly 50 years ago by President Lyndon B. Johnson.

“In 1965, when President Johnson signed the landmark Voting Rights Act into law, he proclaimed, ‘The right to vote is the basic right without which all others are meaningless.’ Today, as attorney general, I have the privilege and the solemn duty of enforcing this law. We will examine the facts and we will apply the law,” Holder said.

Republicans have good reason to fear the Black vote. In 2008, states including Ohio, South Carolina, Missouri, Nevada, Maryland and Mississippi saw a 70 percent Black voter turnout.

That election also saw other voters who had previously stayed away from the polls, including Hispanics and the young, become engaged in the process as never before. If the Republican lawmakers and governors succeed in their efforts to suppress the vote, 5 million legitimate voters could be kept from the polls, according to voting rights advocates.

So far, five state legislatures have enacted laws that would require voters to show government ID when they go to cast their ballot: Kansas, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Wisconsin. These states have an estimated 3.2 million people who don’t have state-issued photo IDs.

Another 240,000 voters are affected by proof of citizenship laws in Alabama, Kansas and Tennessee. Florida and Texas have banned voter registration drives, impacting 202,000 potential voters, and in Maine, 60,000 voters will be affected because of the ban on Election Day voter registration.

The elimination of early voting in Florida, Georgia and Ohio is slashing 1 million to 2 million potential voters, and 100,000 citizens in Florida and Iowa won’t be able to vote because of laws that make it difficult for people with past felony convictions to get their voting rights restored.

While none of these laws are in effect in New York State, they do set the national tone, which, that if allowed to go unabated, could have implications here. New York Rep. Yvette Clark and members of the Congressional Black Caucus are doing their part to address the issue and have formed a task force.

“It is a battle,” she said. We are in a Northern, consistently Democratic state, so not as many New Yorkers will be threatened. At this stage, it’s a legal challenge. These states have passed legislation. I think that we all have to be focused on what’s taking place in this country: the movement to disenfranchise the Black vote.

“If we don’t fight back against what is going on in the South, what will it mean for the political future of our communities in the North?” Clark asked. “Nothing is written in stone that New York State will always be governed by Democratic rule.”

The nation’s civil rights leaders say they are ready for the fight and will get the word out. History has proven that one of the first things to go when people attempt to control a certain population is the right to vote, followed by Jim Crow-style laws that further deteriorate democracy.

“Whenever our democracy expands, suddenly there is a sense to contract access to it,” NAACP President Benjamin Jealous told the AmNews. “Our country’s history tends to progress two steps forward, one step back.

“The good news is that we have made gains and we will continue to make gains, but the reality is that we have to fight to make these gains,” he said. “No matter what the barrier is, we have to be prepared to clear it.”

The NAACP is one civil rights group at the forefront of the fight against new voting laws. With their “Stand 4 Freedom” campaign, the organization held a major protest rally in the city in December. Jealous is not only asking people to get the word out about the new laws but also to be educated about them.

“Have a plan for voting. People have to say to themselves, ‘I’m going to vote, no matter what.’ Have a plan, and in that plan you need to be registered to vote and know the laws in your state,” Jealous said.

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BVN National News Wire