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Bahamas Wants 'Satisfactory Answers' from United States on Spying Allegations

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Special to the NNPA from the New York Carib News

CMC – The Bahamas says it hopes to get “some satisfactory answers” from the United States later this week to reports that Washington had been spying and collecting the audio of mobile phone calls of Bahamians.

Foreign Affairs Minister Fred Mitchell, in a statement prior to his departure for Paraguay to attend the General Assembly of the Organization of American States (OAS), said the conference “will be the occasion for us to brief colleague ministers on the most recent developments here in The Bahamas with regard to the recent allegations of the recording of Bahamian mobile phone calls by the United States.
“There is to be a meeting between the two sides on this matter and it is my hope that some satisfactory answers will be obtained at that meeting,” he said.

Mitchell said that the Minustry of Foreign Affairs here is gathering “all the pertinent information that we can about the history of this matter and the facts as we know it.

“Following the OAS meeting and my return to the country, it is my expectation that I will be in position to brief Parliament by the time I am to speak on the Budget debate.”

Mitchell said he had also taken note of the position of the main opposition Free National Movement (FNM) on the issue and that the Perry Christie government “takes the matter seriously and will endavour to represent the best interests of Bahamians in this matter.

“We were elected on the theme Believe in Bahamians. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs accepts that as our mandate and marching orders,” he said.

Last month, Nassau described as “startling” reports that the United States had been spying and collecting the audio of mobile phone calls of Bahamians.

Mitchell said that the Bahamas had contacted the US Foreign Office for an explanation and that the representative of the United States Government’s interest in The Bahamas had been summoned to the foreign ministry to give an explanation.

Mitchell said that he had been givemn prior warning by US Chargé d’Affairs John Dinkelman, of the possibility of a story being released, based on the leaks of the former US Government employee Edward Snowden and that they would involve The Bahamas and the use of monitoring apparatus in The Bahamas.

“The Snowden allegations are believed to relate to a period in and around 2011,” Mitchell said, quoting from the article that indicated the “surveillance is part of a top-secret system — code-named SOMALGET — that was implemented without the knowledge or consent of the Bahamian Government.

“Instead, the agency appears to have used access legally obtained, in cooperation with the US Drug Enforcement Administration, to open a backdoor to the country’s cellular telephone network, enabling it to covertly record and store the ‘full-take audio’ of every mobile call made to, from and within The Bahamas and to replay those calls for up to a month,” the article noted.

Patterson: Jamaica Suffering from Severe Decline in Moral Values

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By Tony Best
Special to the NNPA from the New York Carib News

Two decades after he launched a national ‘Values and Attitude’ campaign to arrest Jamaica’s moral declines, a former Prime Minister believes conditions have gotten worse instead of improving.

P.J. Patterson, who headed the government for 14 years, longer than anyone else in the past half century since independence in 1962 warned that the sharp decline in Jamaica’s moral fiber had pushed the country very close to the edge of the precipice.

And he has called for a renewed national effort to reverse the current disastrous trend.

“I spoke then of the growing incivility, discipline, disorder, disrespect for each other, the fight against corruption in all its forms and the critical need to promote integrity in every facet of endeavor,” he told the Rotary club at a meeting in Spanish Town a few days ago. “Every speaker at the launch of that original campaign emphasized the need to arrest the moral decline in our country and enunciated compelling reasons to stem the growing tide.

“Twenty years later, even those who doubted the validity of the (1994) plea or contended that the call was driven by partisan political motives, now openly admit its national urgency as our condition has deteriorated beyond belief,” said the former Prime Minister who served from 1992-2006.

“In spite of the efforts that began at that time, we have seen a massive increase in crime and violence, drug warfare is more rampant, the urban ghettos have spread across the countryside and elsewhere, our ethical standards have fallen,” he lamented. “Today, there is a growing sense of alienation and greater distrust of leadership in politics, in our legal system, our national institutions, corporate business, even in the church. This means, ladies and gentlemen, we are at the extreme edge of the precipice.”

He listed a catalogue of other ills, disturbing trends that ranged from the theft of electricity, the fire-bombing of the Tacky High School and the attacks on buses to the “purveyors of vulgarity and obscenities” in the entertainment industry. Even the new technology, he charged, was being used to undermine the country’s values and moral fiber. Just look at the lottery scamming and the situation would become clear, Patterson charged.

But none of that should be interpreted to mean the original campaign was so deeply flawed that it had borne no fruit, Patterson argued. For instance, he listed the establishment of the Jamaica Social Development Fund; the kick start of the National Youth Service; the introduction of the Program of Advancement through Health and Education, a social welfare system; the National Contracts Commission; and the distribution of scarce benefits, such as land and housing as evidence of some measure of progress.

“What we need now is … a new trajectory that spans the political, religious and social divide that avoids the mistrust and risk averse character of some in our society and the tensions which exist,” he insisted.

But Patterson didn’t stop there.

The former Prime Minister told the Rotarians assembled at Police Officers Club that there was an urgent need to pay more attention to transparency, especially during a time of tough economic conditions.

“The absence of criminal charges or the acquittal from a crime of moral turpitude cannot be a yardstick to which political parties and the electorate measure the suitability of those who seek public office,” he went.

Patterson also zeroed in on the contentious debate over proposed reforms to Jamaica’s buggery laws, which make anal sex between consulting adult males a crime. He said discussion on the hot button issue should be framed within a context of international trends and what he called the realities of different lifestyles.

“it is an issue, I know, where people have very strong positions, but we have to find a way of moving away from polarized positions into one that accepts differences of race or color, differences of class, differences even in terms of sexual preferences may have to be addressed in conformity with the prevailing global environment in which we live,” was the way he put it.

COP Suspends Sports Minister, Calls for His Resignation from Cabinet

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Special to the NNPA from the New York Carib News

CMC – The Congress of the People (COP) party has suspended Sports Minister Anil Roberts as the fall out continues over a video that showed someone resembling a minister partying with marijuana and women in a hotel room.

COP Leader Prakash Ramadhar said that COP executive, which met on Monday night, had also taken a decision to ask the embattled Sports Minister to resign as a Cabinet member until the issue surrounding the video is determined.

Roberts had last week indicated that the matter surrounding the video was now in the hands of his lawyers and had decided against cooperating further with the COP, the second biggest partner within the four-party coalition government, when it met with him to discuss the matter.

Speaking to the media after Monday night meeting, Ramadhar said the executive decided to suspend Roberts and ban him from all party activities. He said the party was also ready to battle Roberts in the courts should he take any legal action against the party.

Ramadhar said these decisions were taken after “deep and serious” consideration.

“The party has decided that in the circumstances where Mr. Roberts was invited and he did in fact attend a meeting and did not cooperate as well to clarify many of the issues that were raised in that meeting … until he does so the COP will not allow him to participate or represent the party in any form or fashion,” said Ramadhar.

He said when there is an allegation of public wrong doing, the party’s position is consistent and that person should step aside.

“He (Roberts) should step aside as a government minister until he clarifies the video whether first of all if he’s in it and two, whether any illegality was taking place,” said Ramadhar, adding that the Sports Minister was entitled to his legal right for the presumption of innocence and the party makes no pronouncement on guilt.

Ramadhar said there was a political aspect to this issue as the perception of many in the country demands that the matter be clarified to assuage the concerns of public and party. He told reporters that Roberts would be given an opportunity to be heard if he so chooses according to the party’s processes.

“This is a political issue apart from a legalistic one and we could not be bound by the legalism that could easily tie the hands politically,” said Ramadhar, noting that under the Westminster system when such serious issues arise, the person resigns in the interest of the country and government.

Ramadhar said Prime Minister Kamla Persad Bissessar is entitled to her processes in dealing with Roberts.

Last week, the coalition government said it saw the video “as nothing more than a vicious attempt at character assassination and will not validate it with any further commentary.

“Nothing should detract the population from the very real positive changes they encounter due to the people’s revolution. The evidence of that is what the Opposition wants the population to forget,” the government said in a prepared statement.

Roberts had also dismissed the video describing it as “ a total absolute fabrication”.

He recalled that last year, a weekly newspaper had published a story, making reference to a “loud mouth minister” who was partying with marijuana and women in room 201 of an unidentified hotel.

“Let me assure the population that is a total fabrication and it is absolute rubbish it is a total concoction,” Roberts told reporters.

Black Children Have Highest Abuse Rates

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By Jazelle Hunt
NNPA Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – Black children are twice as likely as Whites to be victims of child abuse, with 1 in 5 becoming victims of neglect and/or physical, sexual, or emotional abuse, according to a new study.

“These data highlight that the burden of confirmed maltreatment is far greater than suggested by single-year national estimates of confirmed child maltreatment and that the risk for maltreatment is particularly high for black children, who had cumulative risk of confirmed maltreatment in excess of 25 percent for many years, and never less-than 20 percent,” the report states.

Official 2011 data from child protective service agencies puts the overall child abuse figure at 1 in 100 children. But the new research places the figure at 1 in 8, with most of it taking place in the early years.

The new study, which appears online in this month’s JAMA Pediatrics, uses the same protective services data (the National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System – or, NCANDS—Child File), but measures it cumulatively, including all children under 18 who have been victimized, up to and including the given year.

“If you have a person abused, say, at age four, and they were four in 2009. In 2014, they would be nine. If you took a yearly approach, you would only include in your measure those who were maltreated this year,” says Hedwig Lee, one of the study’s authors. “We show people who’ve experienced this at least one time before they were 18. It’s an estimate that shows the actual burden of maltreatment in children. If you experience maltreatment at any time, it affects you, so [this method] is a more clear snapshot of the population affected.”

The researchers use NCANDS data from 2004 through 2011, and in that time, nearly 5.7 million children had at least one confirmed case of maltreatment during their lives (80 percent of which stemmed from neglect, as opposed to abuse, according to the study). CPS found that 174,400 Black children had been neglected or abused in 2011 alone (for most of these children, it was the first reported case).

Cumulatively, researchers found that by 4 years old, Black children had a 1 in 10 chance of being maltreated. By 10 years old, the risk was 4 in 25. Put another way, that’s at least four students in every fifth-grade class. By 15 years old, Black youth had a 1 in 5 chance of having a CPS file.

In 2011, White children accounted for 317,900 confirmed maltreatment cases, most of which were first offenses. (There were a total of 670,000 confirmed cases that year).

Cumulatively, by 4 years old White children have a 1 in 20 chance of maltreatment; a 4 in 50 chance by age 10, and a 1 in 10 chance by age 15.

Put another way, Black children are twice as likely to suffer maltreatment as White children by each of those benchmarks.

“It highlights the importance of thinking about how, in the United States, many disparities that occur…are examples of the ways in which the history of racism can lead to disparate outcomes among groups,” Lee says, pointing out that overwhelmed parents of color are much less likely to have access to support such as comprehensive healthcare, lactation consultants, therapists, nannies, and the like.

“When we think of [the data’s] racial disparities, it’s not necessarily bias among CPS, but more about the large problems of social disparities. In many cases parents are overwhelmed and not receiving enough support. That’s a social and economic problem.”

CPS confirmed cases of abuse or neglect are most likely to occur in infancy and toddlerhood, across race and in both annual and cumulative measures. A more accurate interpretation, according to study co-author, Christopher Wildeman, is that in the case of babies and toddlers, maltreatment is both easier to identify as such, and more likely to be discovered.

“Young children are quite fragile, so maltreatment they experience — whether abuse or neglect — is more noticeable than it would be with older children. If you yank a two year-old by the arm and you yank an eight year-old by the arm, the two year-old could end up with a separated shoulder from the incident, whereas the eight year-old might feel resentful and hurt, but may not present symptoms of an injury,” Wildeman explains. In addition, “folks – whether teachers, physicians, or other folks in the community—are just more attentive to small children, and the folks at CPS are no different.”

In addition to the rate difference between CPS’s annual count and this study’s cumulative count, there’s also a huge difference between CPS rates and self-reporting from adults who were maltreated as children.

“Self-reported rates are higher because to have a case confirmed there has to be enough evidence and there’s a high level of proof,” Lee explains. “There’s going to be discrepancy…[especially if] they’ve never had contact with CPS. Our estimate might be conservative. It’s clear that people may be slipping through the cracks.”

The study does not make recommendations or offer sociological explanations regarding the disparities it highlights, but it does point out that child maltreatment is a serious public health issue. In addition to the moral implications, child maltreatment is associated with higher rates of mortality, obesity, HIV/AIDS infection, and mental health problems.

Children who have been abused or neglected are more likely to engage in criminal activity as teens and/or adults, and five times more likely to attempt suicide. One cited study estimates that the social toll stemming from the effects of child maltreatment costs the United States $124 billion every year.

“The results of this study provide valuable epidemiological information,” the researchers conclude. “Being able to assess the extent and severity of maltreatment across populations and time can inform policies and practices that can be used not only to reduce maltreatment, but also to improve population health and reduce health disparities.”

Rule Change on Generic Drug Labeling Could Cost Billions

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By Freddie Allen
NNPA Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – A proposed rule change for generic drug labels, crafted by the Food and Drug Administration, could cost patients, health care providers and drug manufacturers billions of dollars and limit access to affordable, prescription drugs for minorities and the poor, according to more than a dozen organizations that serve people of color.

Black groups and those representing other people of color expressed their concerns about the rule change in a March 14 letter to Margaret Hamburg, the commissioner of food and drugs for the United States Food and Drug Administration.

The letter said acknowledged that, “while great strides have been made around improving the health of racial and ethnic minority populations through the development of health policies and programs that will help eliminate health disparities, much remains to be done.”

Among the groups signing the letter were: the National Medical Association, the National Dental Association, the National Black Nurses Foundation, the National Black Chamber of Commerce, the International Association of Black Professional Firefighters, the Association of Black Psychologists, the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

The rule change is designed to allow generic drug makers the ability to update their drug labels as soon as they learn of new potential risks.

The letter stated, “[The proposed rule change] would not only jeopardize patient safety, but as a recent economic study has shown, would also create billions of dollars in annual increased costs for consumers, taxpayers, large and small businesses, and state and federal governments. The rule would decrease patient access, impede healthcare decisions and delivery, and make fewer generic drugs available for patients who need them most.”

Patients’ advocate groups and some health care providers worry that drugs that are scientifically identical will carry very different warning labels, adding to patient confusion and may cause some consumers to shun life-saving, generic drugs completely.

According to a report by Matrix Global Advisors, an economic policy consulting firm and sponsored by the Generic Pharmaceutical Association, a trade group for makers and distributors of generic prescription drugs, “the proposed Rule could be expected to increase spending on generic drugs by $4 billion per year (or 5.4 percent of generic retail prescription drug spending in 2012). Of this, government health programs would pay $1.5 billion, and private health insurance, $2.5 billion.”

In 2012, industry experts reported that generic drugs accounted for 84 percent of all prescriptions.

The report said that “generic manufacturers would face higher insurance premiums, self-insurance costs, and reserve spending on product liability, may exit or decline to enter the market for certain products for which they perceive greater liability risk or uninsurable liability risks.”

The report also warned that insurance companies that offered liability coverage to generic manufacturers in the past may also reverse course.

Even though the FDA said that the proposed rule is expected to generate little cost, the agency failed to take into account, “any impact from generic product liability and the accompanying price increases on physicians, pharmacists, hospitals, insurers, patients, or public payors as Medicare or Medicaid,” the report observed. This is a gross oversight on the FDA’s part, as the Proposed Rule would, by the agency’s own admission, provide patients using generic drugs ‘access to the courts’ to bring failure-to-warn suits against generic manufacturers.”

Derrick A. Humphries, a lawyer based in Washington, D.C. who represents many of the groups that signed the letter to Hamburg, said that the proposed rule change is not widely known among diverse populations.

Humphries said that the impact of any cost increase associated with generic drugs could cause an economic tsunami among minorities, especially African Americans who disproportionately go without health insurance and also suffer from chronic illnesses like diabetes and heart disease at higher rates than Whites.

“There must be an opportunity for diverse populations to have a seat at the table,” said Humphries. “It’s an issue we have to take seriously.”

Ralph Neas, the president and CEO of The Generic Pharmaceutical Association.

“We want the FDA to explore the unintended and harmful consequences that the rule may have on patient access, particularly on patients underserved by our nation’s health care system,” said Neas.

Neas called for a multi-stakeholder collaboration with the FDA.

The FDA should hear from providers that serve racial and ethnic populations and individuals who can offer expertise, experience and perspective, said Neas.

“We have a huge drug industry in this country,” said Melanie Campbell, president and CEO of the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation. “We have to pay attention to these changes. Sometimes it’s a fine detail that can have unintended consequences.

“The average person does not have time, but you have to tune in and understand the issue. It’s very important that we have our ear to the ground, not just when the FDA reaches out to [civil rights groups]. We need to reach out to the FDA.”

(Consumers can reach out to the FDA at: http://www.fda.gov/regulatoryinformation/dockets/comments/default.htm)

Neas recommended that the FDA consider expedited industry review, e-labeling for brand name and generic drugs and additional congressional resources for the FDA.

“Assuring safety information will be provided to pharmacists, providers and patients in the most efficient and expeditious way, that’s the way to protect patient safety and protect the public health while at the same time preserving $1.2 trillion dollars in savings for the system and our patients that we saw over the past 10 years,” said Neas.

Campbell said that there’s an opportunity for a mutual partnership between the FDA and minority groups and that community stakeholders and consumers have to stay on top of the issues, especially when those issues have a systemic impact.

Campbell added: “We want to make sure that the rule change makes it less complicated, not more complicated for people to make decisions when you’re standing in front of your pharmacist.”

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