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Detroit Bankruptcy Exit Approved; 'City Has Reasonably and Properly Concluded' Its Plan

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By Roz Edward
Special to the NNPA from The Michigan Chronicle

Rosen added that the controversial Grand Bargain plan was the cornerstone of the bankruptcy exit decision. Michigan’s recently re-elected governor, Rick Snyder, signed a set of bills earlier this year, commonly known as the Grand Bargain,which authorized hundreds of millions of dollars in state help for  Detroit’s debt repayment.

Rosen added that another key condition of the Chapter 9 bankruptcy was that 816 million dollars would be paid to the city’s pension plan over the next 20 years.

“It’s a vast understatement to say that the city repayment plan is reasonable it is miraculous,said Rosen in his statement to the court approving the pension settlement.

The DIA will also pay art to be held in perpetual charitable trust over the next 20 years until the 120 million dollar settlement is paid. The DIA also prevailed in its bankruptcy argument that the DIA’s art works were not subject to creditor claims. The pressures and dynamics of federal municipal bankruptcy put the famed artworks at risk, in that they could have been a source of debt repayment. Comerica bank also donated 1 million dollars towards the Grand bargain to protect DIA art.

“The July 2013 bankruptcy filing was the city’s only avenue for addressing its fiscal woes, which included a big public pension burden,” said Bruce Bennett, an attorney at law firm Jones Day who presented Detroit’s closing arguments. “About 150 court-ordered mediation sessions helped bridge differences with creditors,” he added.

“This plan is very broadly consensual at this point and the city has settled with all the objectors and all the major economic players in the city of Detroit,” Bennett said.

Judge Rosen also read in a statement to the court that parties had argued that raising taxes is not a viable strategy. He said Mike Duggan said it was a remote possibility that Detroiters would vote to raise taxes and Kevyn Orr said in arguments to the court that the city was at tax saturation and could not withstand any additional tax burden.

“The city has worked honestly, diligently and tirelessly to accomplish exactly what was required in the bankruptcy plan,” concluded Rosen, adding that the City of Detroit and emergency financial manager Kevyn Orr had done a remarkable, extraordinary and  brilliant job of devising the bankruptcy plan and acted with extreme integrity in accomplishing the objectives of the bankruptcy plan.

Ebola Numbers Spike Overseas

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By Barrington Salmon
Special to the NNPA from The Washington Informer

For months, World Health Organization officials warned that the numbers of Ebola victims and casualties might be understated because of unreported cases in rural areas of the affected countries and families hiding the sick.

Late last week, WHO adjusted the figures to reflect current number, saying that of 13,567 reported cases, 4,951 people had died from Ebola. Officials also noted that some cases were not Ebola. At the same time, according to published reports, WHO Assistant Director-General Dr. Bruce Aylward told the media in Geneva the rate of new Ebola infections seems to be pointing down in Liberia, but cautioned that Ebola isn’t close to being brought under control.

“It appears that the trend is real in Liberia, and there may indeed be a slowing of the epidemic there,” he said. “(But) I’m terrified that the information will be misinterpreted and people will start to think, ‘Oh great, this is under control,”’ Aylward said. “That’s like saying your pet tiger is under control. …”

The majority of deaths are in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone, and almost 300 physicians and health care personnel are among the casualties.

International health officials say the virus’s outbreak began in Guinea in West Africa. Patient Zero is identified as a 2-year-old boy in the village of Meliandou.

Georgetown University Epidemiologist Dr. Jesse Goodman said concern marked his initial reaction to the outbreak.

“I think initially, like many people in the public health area, I found it upsetting and worrying about another outbreak,” said Goodman, a professor of medicine at Georgetown University Medical Center and an infectious disease physician for more than 30 years. “These are areas without experience and experiencing social, economic and political stress.

“They have weak public health infrastructures; some have had wars and other problems.”

What’s needed to combat the Ebola outbreak, Goodman said, is a strong public health structure that people trust. In a perfect world, he said, health officials would communicate clearly with members of the community, identify who’s been exposed, isolate patients quickly and effectively and treat them.

“I don’t think these countries were prepared to do that,” he added.

A confluence of factors have aided the spread of the disease, including fragile health care systems, a lopsided ratio of doctors to patients, and the shortage of hospital beds, protective gear and other needed equipment and supplies. There’s also deep distrust in some communities of the government and international aid workers. These challenges have left government officials and health workers overwhelmed and the disease free to rampage through a vulnerable population.

Deeply held traditions and customs such as reverence for the bodies of dead relatives, washing the bodies and close contact with corpses are drivers of the disease.

WHO spokesman Daniel Epstein said in a recent interview organization officials say they need $978 million to adequately fight the worst Ebola outbreak in history.

“We have pledges for 37 percent,” he said. “We need a lot more cash to pay local health workers. We need $3 million for protective equipment. People on the ground use seven a day. Doctors Without Borders and the United Nations Children’s Fund are also shipping equipment and supplies. The money will buy medicines, saline solution, and bed linen and provide money to pay for local health workers who make $6 a day. They asked for a bonus, and they deserve it.

Africa.com CEO Clarke Named to Obama Council on U.S.-Africa Biz Relations

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Special to the NNPA from The Washington Informer

U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker announced Thursday that Africa.com CEO Teresa Clarke is among the 15 private sector leaders who have been appointed to President Obama’s newly established Advisory Council on Doing Business in Africa (PAC-DBIA).

Members of the council – representing the private sector from a variety of industry sectors – were hand-picked to advise the president and the secretary of commerce on strengthening commercial engagement between the United States and Africa.

“I am grateful to be able to serve the president and the secretary of sommerce on a topic about which I have so much passion,” Clarke said. “Africa.com has opened the eyes of American business to opportunity in Africa for years through multi-media including our film, Africa Straight Up, and our weekly business newsletters, the Africa.com Top 10.”

Clarke was appointed to the board based on her twenty years of experience doing business in Africa, her vast business career which includes being the first African-American woman managing director in the investment banking division of Goldman Sachs, and her founding of Africa.com which was the only Africa-focused media company selected to be a part of the White House Traveling Press Corps on Obama’s historic trip to Africa in 2013.

“Economic growth on the Continent will continue to drive demand for U.S. exports, which will ultimately help create jobs at home and provide valuable investment opportunities for U.S. businesses,” Pritzker said. “With Africa being home to six of the 10 fastest-growing economies in the world, the President’s Advisory Council will provide expert counsel on strengthening our partnerships with African countries to leverage opportunities for U.S. companies committed for the long term.”

The appointments were announced at Discover Global Markets, a Commerce-led business development forum held in Atlanta that focuses on export opportunities in sub-Saharan Africa, including Cote d’Ivoire, Nigeria, South Africa and Mozambique, among others.

Earlier this year, the U.S. Department of Commerce and Bloomberg Philanthropies co-hosted the first-ever U.S.-Africa Business Forum. As part of his commitment to deepen engagement between the United States and Africa, Obama signed an executive order at the forum to promote broad-based economic growth in the United States and Africa by encouraging U.S. companies to trade with and invest in Africa.

The executive order directed the secretary of commerce to establish the PAC-DBIA. The group’s work will focus on advancing the president’s DBIA campaign as described in the U.S. Strategy Toward Sub-Saharan Africa of June 14, 2012.

The PAC will provide information, analysis, and recommendations on U.S.-Africa trade and investment priorities, including U.S. and Africa job creation; developing and strengthening commercial partnerships to increase U.S. public and private sector financing in Africa; and analyzing the effect of policies in the United States and Africa on U.S. trade and investment interests in Africa.

The appointees of the President’s Advisory Council on Doing Business in Africa (in alphabetical order):

Walé Adeosun – Founder and Chief Investment Officer, Kuramo Capital Management

Dominic Barton – Global Managing Director, McKinsey & Company

J.P. Bilbrey – President and CEO, The Hershey Company

Budget Cuts May Imperil Blacks from Checking Out Public Libraries

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By Jazelle Hunt
Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON (NNPA) Between the rise of digital media, changing social landscapes, and decreased funding, the nation’s 8,956 public library systems are at a crisis stage. And underserved communities and people of color stand to lose more than other communities.

Public libraries stand in the gap for many Black Americans and their households. In a 2013 Pew Research Center survey, 47 percent of African American respondents 16 years and older had visited a library within the past year. Blacks and Latinos were more likely to consider their public library’s services “very important to their lives.”

This is particularly true in the case of Internet access, as Black people are less likely than their White counterparts to have high-speed Internet access at home. In addition to being left behind in a digital age, much of the job market has gone online; many employers no longer offer an in-person application option.

The library is often the only place in a community where a person can receive free technical assistance and help with applying for jobs online.

“The library becomes a social change agent where people of African descent can go, and have a safe space, and empower themselves,” says Princess Black, a Statesboro, Ga. native studying library science at Catholic University in Washington, D.C. “As we’re moving further into the 21st century, the library’s responsibility, especially to African American communities, is to mold and shape itself into whatever the community needs it to be.”

Black points to the Ferguson Public Library as an example. As the demonstrations around Michael Brown’s killing pushed the Ferguson-Florissant school district’s first day of school back a week, the small library became a makeshift school for 200 students, and a safe space for the community during unrest.

“Ferguson [Public Library] is a very small library, it only has one full-time librarian. Given the climate, he could’ve easily said no; however, he allowed them to use the space,” Black explains. The Ferguson head librarian, Scott Bonner, also helped organizers find partners to provide overflow space, food, and school materials. Bonner was one month into the job.

“And so he got rolled into a position of basically being an activist,” Black says. “The library has broken away from the tradition entity it used to be—[they] now play an active role in social justice.”

Black says that because the duty to serve the community is so inherent, libraries and librarians often do not recognize their roles as agents of social justice.

And generally, neither do those outside the library science field. Today, the public library system is facing the challenge to innovate, while also demonstrating its value and purpose.

Currently, public libraries act as a community center and equalizing force, offering free computer, literacy, and language classes, Internet and information access, shelter, child activities and youth programs, life skills workshops, and social connection. Public libraries provide safe space for community organizing, and for students, senior citizens, and indigent people who have few options.

Last year, the Aspen Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based education and policy think tank, convened a Dialogue on Public Libraries Working Group to explore and create strategies to sustain and elevate public library systems. The 35-member group includes library science professionals, philanthropists, corporate CEOs, government officials, nonprofit executives, and researchers. Last month, the Working Group released a report titled, “Rising to the Challenge: Re-envisioning Public Libraries.”

“One challenge is that often libraries are taken for granted,” says Maureen Sullivan, a Working Group member and former president of the American Library Association. “Libraries are sometimes the first place funding is cut, because policymakers often do not understand just what public libraries mean to their communities today.”

Almost 85 percent of all public library operating budgets are from local sources, primarily taxes. The remaining amount comes from states, and other sources such as grants or donors. Federal funds account for well under 1 percent of public library operating costs.

Because of this, public library budgets contend with the ebb and flow of several factors each year. The Brooklyn and New York Public Libraries, for example, are facing a combined $57 million decrease in funding and 19 percent decrease in staff, according to the Aspen report. Funding is also a serious problem in rural areas, in terms of providing high-speed Internet, services, and adequate staff.

“Further complicating the library funding situation is the increase in government mandates that have affected expectations of public libraries in supporting e-government services,” the report reads. “There has been a noticeable shift in what this requires of libraries—moving from simply providing government forms to providing computers and training to access and navigate. Very often, libraries must deliver services to meet these growing demands without any additional funding to cover the costs.”

“Most libraries are fighting and scuffing for resources because there’s this idea that libraries are not necessary—there’s e-books and the Internet and all these things. When I tell people I’m in librarian school they’re like ‘who needs libraries, Google is the library!’” Black says. “But libraries today…play a central role in every community, regardless of if it’s impoverished or well-off. What the library can do for you is boundless—anything you can think of can emerge from a library if you put it to use.”

As libraries move into the future, the report calls for the strengthening of public libraries as community hubs, and ensuring that libraries can provide content in all formats, from books and publications to e-books, Internet radio shows, and other digital media.

The Working Group also wants to bolster public libraries as a point of access to the digital, globalized world. By linking libraries to each other via the Internet, for example, people will no longer be bound by geography when using library resources.

These predictions are already coming to pass. For example, the Central Arkansas Library System has its own theater where the community can take in plays, films, music performances, and children’s story times. Maryland’s Howard County Library System offers a hi-tech digital media lab where teens participate in STEM classes, trips, and workshops.

For those interested in supporting their local libraries, Sullivan recommends visiting in person, getting a library card, and participating in events.

“I’m hard-pressed to think of another institution in communities designed to serve everyone this way. Every state has great library systems,” she says. “Let the library know about [your] information needs, and tell public officials how the library makes a difference for [you].”


Blacks "Unbank" at Higher Rates than Whites

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By Freddie Allen
NNPA Senior Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – When it comes to cashing checks and other financial transactions, Blacks are “unbanked” at much higher rates than Whites, according to a new report by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC).

The FDIC, an independent government agency that guarantees deposits up to $250,000 at insured banks, conducted the study in June 2013 aided by the United States Census Bureau, and collected data from nearly 41,000 respondents.

For the survey, the FDIC defined households that didn’t have an account at an insured institution as “unbanked” and households that had a bank account at an insured institution but still used alternative financial services (AFS) to perform some banking transactions (i.e. check cashing and payday lending) as “underbanked.”

In 2013 the FDIC estimated that less than 10 percent of U.S. households were unbanked. However, the rate of Black households that go without federally-insured bank accounts dwarfs the national rate.

According to the FDIC report, 20.5 percent of Black households are unbanked, compared to less than 4 percent (3.6 percent) of White households that don’t have a bank account at an insured institution.

And while less than 1 percent of U.S. households were “recently unbanked,” when the FDIC conducted the survey, Blacks accounted for nearly 50 percent of the households in that group.

“Among households that recently became unbanked, 34.1 percent experienced either a significant income loss or a job loss that they said contributed to the household becoming unbanked,” stated the report.

In contrast, 19.4 percent of households that had recently opened a checking or savings account when the poll was taken said that a new job prompted the transition.

Limited job prospects may partly explain, why Blacks who often suffer unemployment rates that are double the national unemployment rate, often go without bank accounts.

The Southern region, where most Blacks live, reported the highest rates for the unbanked and underbanked.

“In fact, while 38 percent of U.S. households live in the South, approximately 44 percent of unbanked and underbanked households lived there,” stated the report.

Almost 60 percent of survey respondents that went without a federally-insured bank account said that they didn’t have enough money to keep in the account or meet the minimum balance and more than 34 percent said that they disliked or didn’t trust banks, according to the FDIC report.

The string of high-profile settlements in cases of lending discrimination and misleading investment practices that involved Wells Fargo, Bank of America and Citigroup that followed the housing crisis did little to sway public sentiment. In July 2014, Bloomberg News reported that, “Citigroup Inc., agreed to pay $7 billion in fines and consumer relief to resolve government claims that it misled investors about the quality of mortgage-backed bonds sold before the 2008 financial crisis.”

Nearly 70 percent of all U.S. households had at lease one bank account and had not used an alternative financial service (AFS) over the last 12 months, but only 40 percent of Black households are considered fully banked. More than 75 percent of White households are fully banked.

In a report on the FDIC’s findings, the Center for American Progress (CAP), an independent, nonpartisan educational group, said that people who are unbanked or underbanked, tended to pay more for basic financial services, relied more heavily on “cash and paper checks that can be risky,” and lacked “affordable products for savings and credit.”

Joe Valenti, the director of asset building at CAP and the author of the report, wrote that families that don’t have bank accounts, “may not have access to affordable, responsible credit when looking to purchase household items, cars, or homes. And they may not have a safe place to keep savings in case of an emergency.”

Valenti noted that a recent Federal Reserve survey revealed that almost half of all U.S. households said that they would be unable to come up with $400 in an emergency without borrowing or selling something.

Valenti concluded: “Having access to banking services is a critical first step toward financial security.”

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BVN National News Wire