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Haiti's Election Campaign and Aristide Expected Return

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

About a month before millions of Haitian voters trek to the polls in the second round in Haiti’s disputed presidential election, a cloud of uncertainty has descended over the country’s political climate.

The questions mark can be traced to the planned return of former President Jean Bertrand Aristide and its potential impact on the outcome of the election.

At the same time, though, former U.S. President Bill Clinton, the United Nations special envoy to Haiti, is convinced the March 20 election will produce a winner. He made a special one-day trip to the Caribbean country last week and he held talks with the presidential candidates, Michel “Sweet Mickey” Martelly and Dr. Mirlande Manigat and discussed the future reconstruction of the earthquake ravaged country.

In addition, the Organization of American States to which Haiti and its Caricom neighbors belong is putting the final pieces in place to send its joint OAS- Caricom Electoral Observation Mission back to the country to monitor the voting under the leadership of Colin Grandison, a senior Caricom official.

“We hope that the irregularities and logistical problems we experienced in the first round on November 28th last year will be mitigated in the elections of March 20th,” said Albert Ramdin, OAS Assistant Secretary-General and Chairman of the Organization’s Group of Friends of Haiti. “That will depend on the resources available to the Provisional Electoral Council, CEP, to conduct the election. We need to have good, well-organized elections.”

But, as the steps are being taken to ensure an acceptable outcome, the key unknown factor in the political equation is Aristide’s impact, should he return home before the election.

Having been granted a diplomatic passport by the Haitian government despite the stated objections of the Obama Administration, Aristide hasn’t indicated when he would he set foot in the country and if he would campaign for any one of the candidates. What’s also unclear is how such a dramatic step would affect the election.

Ira Kurzban, the ousted president’s attorney in Florida, said a few days ago that he was still trying to figure out a way to give his client the Haitian passport. For his part, Aristide has seemingly left his options open.

“As I have not ceased to say since 24th February 2004, from exile in Central Africa, Jamaica, and now South Africa, I will return to the field I know best and love: education,” was the way Aristide put it in a recent article in London’s Guardian newspaper.

The prospects for his return have dominated conversations in and out of Haiti, especially in the Diaspora, on radio stations, the Internet and in Haitian gatherings in New York and Miami. And, like his two terms in office, both of which were prematurely terminated, discussion concerning Aristide’s future divides Haitians.

“Although Aristide must be allowed to return to his country, it would be unwise for him to go back now because of the upcoming election and the confusion it can cause,” said Michel Louis, a Brooklyn resident. “If Jean Claude Baby Doc” Duvalier can go back to Haiti without being arrested for all the trouble and the pain he caused when he was president, then Aristide can also return. But, the timing isn’t right.”

That’s the view of Charles Henri Baker, who contested the November presidential election but failed to get into the run-off.

“The timing is not right for this controversial figure,” said Baker, who opposed Aristide when he was in the presidential palace and might have played a role in his ouster seven year ago. “Anything that has the possibility of disrupting peace should be avoided.”

Jean-Pierre Baptiste, who lives and works in Miami, disagrees. “I take Aristide at his word that he simply wants to go back home,” Baptiste said. “Even if he wants to campaign for someone, that should be his right. At this stage, I don’t believe he can cause any more trouble than currently exists in Haiti.”

Tony Jeanthenor, a Haitian activist in Miami who also supports the ousted President, contends the move to keep Aristide out of Haiti is blatant discrimination.

“Duvalier can go to Leogane. He talks on the radio. He can go wherever he wants,” Jeanthenor said. “It is more than a double standard. It’s discrimination against political beliefs.”

What worries Haitian and American officials is the prospect of Aristide’s supporters taking to the streets to demand that he be allowed to serve out his second term, which was abruptly ended when a militia took up arms against him and Washington used it as a pretext to fly him out of Haiti and into exile.

“I think we would be concerned that, if former President Aristide returns to Haiti before the election, it would prove to be a distraction…an unfortunate detraction,” said P.J. Crowley, U.S. State Department spokesman. “The people of Haiti should be evaluating the two candidates that will participate in the run-off, and I think that should be their focus.”

 

No Home for Blacks and Latinos at Top NY High Schools

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By Stephon Johnson, Special to the NNPA from the New York Amsterdam News –

A newly released report by the New York City Board of Education shows a huge shortage of Black and Latino students at specialized high schools in New York City.

Through a series of articles in the New York Amsterdam News, this student shortage has been chronicled for many months, beginning last year, while the New York Times reported the disparities in an article last week.

The report shows that out of the seven specialized high schools in the five boroughs, only four percent of the students admitted were Black, six percent were Latino, 13 percent were Native American/Alaskan, while 35 percent were Asian and 30 percent were White (Editor’s note: The DOE total does not add up to 100 percent). More than 70 percent of the New York City student population is either Black or Latino.

Since the mid-1990s, the percentage of Black and Latino students at the marquee public schools—the Bronx High School of Science, Stuyvesant High School and Brooklyn Technical High School—has been steady declining.

In an earlier New York Amsterdam News story, it was reported that the Bronx High School of Science’s current ethnicity breakdown is 61 percent Asian, 25 percent White, eight percent Latino and three percent Black. Stuyvesant’s breakdown is 69 percent Asian, 26 percent White, three percent Latino, and two percent Black. And, Brooklyn Tech’s breakdown is 59 percent Asian, 21 percent White, 12 percent Black, and eight percent Latino.

The other top high schools around the city labeled as specialized include the High School for Mathematics, Science and Engineering at the City College, the High School of American Studies at Lehman College, Staten Island Technical High School, Queens High School for the Sciences at York College, the Brooklyn Latin School and the Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts.

Only 12 Black students were admitted to Stuyvesant for the freshmen class of 2011. Stuyvesant is famous for placing large numbers of students in the Ivy League (including schools such as Harvard, Yale, Dartmouth, Columbia, University of Pennsylvania, Brown and Cornell) and other prestigious public and private universities. Last year, only seven Blacks were admitted to Stuyvesant, whose freshmen classes have several hundred students each year.

The stubbornly low numbers of Black and Hispanic students has been a problem that the city has been aware of for many years. Students are admitted to many of the programs, including Stuyvesant, Bronx Science and Brooklyn Tech, solely on the basis of a single test—student grades or teacher recommendations are not considered.

To improve the situation, the Department of Education has begun a preparation program to help with the admissions process. An earlier New York Amsterdam News article chronicled the lack of information and publicity for these test preparation programs available to Black and Latino students as they entered the seventh and eighth grade. The story reported on the plight of a Black student who went to a specialized high school and his family from Staten Island (whose names were changed at their request).

According to the father, James, it was all about knowing when the specialized high school test was scheduled and how soon parents/students found out. “I know through the grapevine, you hear that there are a limited number of seats, and it’s on a first come, first served basis,” he told the New York Amsterdam News. “Which means you either have to be in the PTA or in the network to get the information right away so you can act on it. And after a while, all the seats fill up and you realize the situation. They tell you that there are no more seats available or they’ll have to find a prep course on their own or do some studying outside of the classroom [for the exam].”

However, prep courses take money, and the economic gap between Blacks, Latinos, and Whites is well-chronicled. It was suggested by James that minority parents form an alliance across the city to keep each other up to date on educational matters. He feels that the Department of Education will never do right by them, so they have to do right by themselves.

The city admitted last week that despite its so-called attempts through preparation programs, it hasn’t done enough to reach out to Black and Latino students.

Congressman West Pivots Race, Touts Conservative Ideals at CPAC Summit

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Special to the NNPA from the AFRO-American newspapers –

Rep. Allen West (R-FL) presented the keynote address at this year’s Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) and focused on the onset of “a new dawn in America.”

The CPC annual summit assembles the nation’s conservative activists and politicos. The Republican freshman congressman delivered a rousing speech to several standing ovations, hitting on hot-button social issues, health care reform, the budget crisis, and the definition of “true” conservatism.

He began by thanking conservatives and Tea Party members who, he said, “endured the relentless and hostile attacks from the liberal left,” including being labeled racists. “Perhaps they should see who’s standing here as your keynote speaker,” he told the crowd apparently referring to his visible ethnic heritage, prompting thunderous applause.

The retired Army colonel commended Republicans for remaining steadfast to their conservative values. “Do you believe that America can survive as a bureaucratic nanny state?” he asked the audience. “No!” they replied. “And you are absolutely correct,” West answered.

Vowing to help shave $100 billion out of the federal budget, he said, “We cannot continue on with the policies of behavior modification through excessive taxation and over-burdensome regulation and that’s why we are going to be cutting from the [Environmental Protection Agency].”

“We cannot continue on in America where we are making more and more people wedded to government either by assistance check or employment check. Where we are creating more victims and making people more dependent upon government. That has to end,” he said.

Now is the time, he added, to eliminate “redundant, failed” governmental programs and agencies and reduce federal spending by 18-20 percent. Yet, later on in his speech, he proposed larger tax cuts for corporations and the elimination of capital gains and dividends taxes.

West singled out portions of the health care reform act he favored, which included polices to ensure patients keep coverage despite pre-existing conditions, but decried other regulations in the bill. “It’s the other 2,490 pages with 11 new taxes, 159 new government agencies and bureaucracy and 16,000 new IRS agents that the United States of America does not want,” he said, to another standing ovation.

The freshman blasted President Obama’s plan to invest in innovation, saying such actions should originate in the private sector, which he calls the country’s best engine for “long-term sustainable growth.”

While discussing heated social issues that have polarized the nation, West reaffirmed his strong conservative principles. “We must respect and honor the unborn,” he said, noting later that he does not believe “having a baby is punishment.” He said the country must revere the traditional marriage structure “to promote the promulgation of our society because we cannot allow the destruction of the American family.”

While he noted that the nation should celebrate diversity, he added “we should never allow multiculturalism to grow on steroids and define itself as making American culture subservient because yes, there is a definitive American culture.”

Later, he urged Americans to reclaim their Judeo-Christian faith heritage because “our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people.”

“We are standing on the verge of the dawn of a new America, if we adhere to those fundamental conservative principals and those constitutional ideals,” he said.

HUD Report: Low Income Renters Suffering

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By Jesse Muhammad, Special to the NNPA from the Final Call –

(FinalCall.com) - The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development recently released its bi-annual report to Congress on the housing needs of low income Americans.

It shows an increased number of very low income households have severe housing difficulties, particularly housing costs that far exceed what they can afford.

The findings of the 66-page “Worst Case Housing Needs 2009: Report To Congress,” released Feb. 1, reveal that in 2009 there were 7.1 million worst case needs households in the country, up significantly from 5.9 million two years prior.

HUD defines these worst case needs households as very low-income renters who do not receive government housing assistance and who either paid more than one-half of their income for rent, lived in severely inadequate conditions, or both.

“This report makes clear that worst case needs cut across all regions of the country; all racial and ethnic groups; boundaries of all cities, suburbs, and rural areas; and all household types,” said a HUD assistant secretary.

Fewer than one in four very low income renters currently receive housing assistance. HUD's report finds that these worst case housing needs can be linked to three factors: decline in renter's income, the availability of housing assistance not meeting the increasing need, and the increased competition for affordable rental units.

By race, Hispanic very low-income renters had the highest incidence of worst case needs in 2009, with 45.3 percent. White renters had the next highest incidence, with 42.7 percent, followed by Black renters, with 36.5 percent, according to the report.

During the 2007–2009 period, the number of very low-income renters increased by 11 percent for Blacks compared with 7.7 percent growth for Whites and 5.9-percent for Hispanics, the report says.

The National Low Income Housing Coalition, based in Washington, D.C., is calling on Congress and the Obama administration to spare federal housing aid programs from the budget cuts.

Increases in these two types of housing need have occurred just as many in Congress have suggested that the path to the nation's economic sustainability is through cuts to safety net programs like affordable housing, the group warns.

“Cuts to the programs in existence today would cause increases in many of the other indicators of need tracked by HUD, such as the rising rate of homelessness in the U.S. These data show that the imperative should be to expand and improve low income housing programs,” Sheila Crowley, president of NLIHC, in a released statement.

The group further believes that if the government directs more resources to solve the housing problems of the lowest income families it would create more jobs in construction, a sector that has a 20 percent rate of unemployment, over twice the overall rate of 9.4 percent.

The coalition is also pressuring the government to fully fund the National Housing Trust Fund at $15 billion a year for the next decade. They believe this could double the number of housing vouchers, and preserve all existing federally assisted housing units. Their recommendations were sent to White House policy chiefs Jan. 21 in a letter signed by 32 other organizations representing thousands of housing, civil rights, and social needs advocates across the country.

Texas Minority Businesses Remain Underused

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By Imani Evans, Special to the NNPA from The Dallas Examiner –

The state of Texas Historically Underutilized Business program was founded in 1991 with the aim of helping minority- and women-owned businesses gain access to public and private sector contracts. Housed within the comptroller's office, the program allows for a business to be certified as an HUB, and thus eligible for contracting opportunities with the state. A recent disparity study commissioned by the comptroller, however, has revealed that the state still has quite a ways to go when it comes to achieving across-the-board equity in contracting opportunities. For example, of $38.61 billion in state spending on prime contracts, HUB vendors received a little more than $2.95 billion, only 7.64 percent. For African American HUBs, it was a paltry 0.63 percent.

The report, which covers the period from September 1, 2005 to August 31, 2008, shows HUB utilization to be strong in some areas. For instance, the rate of HUB utilization for "special trades" construction, a procurement category, was nearly 27 percent. However, the general picture that emerges is one of deep and continuing disparities, particularly in categories such as heavy construction, where some of the largest and most lucrative contracts are to be found. Data was gathered from a variety of sources, including data from 210 participating state agencies and institutions of higher education, a review of anecdotal evidence from four public hearings, and a survey of 1,032 firms.

Clifton Miller, believes there is one way to have sustained economic recovery. "It has to be job-based," he said. "In order for it to be job-based, it must include small businesses - because small businesses have been acknowledged for the last 15 years as the engine of economic growth and job creation - and the fastest-growing segment of small businesses are those owned by people of color."

Miller is a founding director of the Minority Business Enterprise Institute of Public Policy, a non-partisan nonprofit organization founded in 1997 to serve as a means for minority entrepreneurs in Texas to participate in the political process. Among other things, Miller, who is Black, is adamant about the need for Black entrepreneurs in particular to act as more of a unified political bloc, even to the point of going beyond a traditional civil rights framework.

Miller challenges the belief that economic development is driven mainly by attracting large corporations to a city. Miller believes that job growth - with the associated building of a city's tax base - is much more determined by small businesses, and that this is true on many levels for African Americans.

"The reality is, when AT&T moved here, they created about 400 jobs. Those were all White-collar jobs, most of those people ended up living in the suburbs, and that didn't bring any economic development to the city of Dallas," Miller said. "Small businesses create the value, create the jobs, and that's how you turn a tax consumer into a taxpayer."

Another "soldier" in the battle to close the HUB utilization gap is Jim Wyatt, chairman of the Texas Association of African American Chambers of Commerce. Commenting on the same disparity study that Miller finds so concerning, Wyatt observes, "we are not making very much progress in the realm of minority businesses doing business with state agencies. If you just put it in the capsule and look at that particular document, we're not doing very well."

"As a professional watchdog, [as far as] what's occurring in trying to make a difference for small businesses, we look specifically at where the money is," Wyatt said. "The money is in heavy construction. If we look at that, African American businesses make up half a percent of those firms doing business with the state."

TAAACC recently created its own Professional Services Committee to provide hands-on troubleshooting to HUBs still struggling to land state contracts. "We're on a fact-finding mission, and trying to do the due diligence of figuring out what's causing our African American businesses to not get a piece of the pie," Wyatt said.

Texas' HUB program wheezes along during a time of massive budget deficits for the state, and in the face of a political climate during which the very concept of affirmative action - which includes set-asides for minority-owned firms -as a result of recent court decisions combined with three decades of sustained attacks from conservatives, hangs on by a thread.

"There are always attacks or efforts to eliminate or limit those preferences for historically underutilized businesses, or minority businesses. It happens repeatedly in different [pieces of legislation], or some of it is done by stealth. For instance, that's what the Texas Conservative Coalition and Research Institute is doing; they just want to wipe it out in the name of the budget," said Miller, referring to a conservation organization that has recently proposed completely eliminating the HUB program for the sake of balancing the state budget.

"Under the Bush Administration, funding to the Small Business Administration and to every agency that supported minority- and women-owned businesses was cut. There are a couple of key issues here: Number one, there's a movement to resist what they call 'preferences.' The reality is that preferences exist all the time, and the only time preferences are a problem is when it's for somebody who doesn't look like the mainstream. Preferences exist in college admissions because if your daddy went there, it means you're a legacy. So that's a preference. The reality is that most of the preferences out there benefit large businesses as opposed to small business, and those programs are sacred."

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