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CSU East Bay Professor Braves Bullets, Arrest to Enter Governor's Race in Nigeria

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Special to the NNPA from the Global Information Network –

An assassination attempt that killed his aide and wounded another, and his arrest for disturbing the peace failed to scare off a determined Cal State professor from the race for governor in his home state of Benue, Nigeria.

Professor Steve Ugbah, of California State College, Hayward, who returned to Nigeria in December, had been tipped to win the April elections in Benue with a lead of 20 percent more than his opponent, Gabriel Suswam, a candidate of the ruling party of President Goodluck Jonathan.

But, victory was elusive. The 56 year old East Bay professor was defeated in a disputed election and he and members of his party were later detained and charged with inciting public disturbances and unrest. He was released on bail, last week, but continues to face charges that he says were cooked up to keep him quiet.

Ugbah’s home state is one of Nigeria's richest agricultural regions but people are poor and he was frustrated by the failure of politicians to improve it, relatives said.

The son of a medical field worker, he came to the U.S. in 1974, at the age of 18, to go to college at Ohio University, where he earned his Ph.D. before moving to the Bay Area to teach more than 20 years ago.

HUD Launches New Campaign Against Housing Fraud

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Areas Hard-Hit by Foreclosures Most Susceptible to Scams

By Charlene Crowell –

According to the federal department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), an estimated three million families have already lost their homes to foreclosure since 2007. But, the worst may still be ahead; analysts now predict that as many as eight million more Americans could face foreclosure by 2012.

With so many desperate homeowners looking for solutions, a new kind of consumer fraud has found a ready-made market. Families fighting for their homes and financial survival can be gullible to shady businesses that promise guaranteed mortgage modifications or a halt to foreclosures already in progress. Oftentimes, aggressive sales pitches to troubled homeowners claim that serious financial problems can go away as soon as payment of an advance fee is made. Other solicitations call for sharing personal financial information over the phone or online to quickly solve a housing dilemma.

The spread of these and other consumer scams have now trigged a new campaign by HUD and other consumer groups with dual goals. Know It. Avoid It. Report It is a new campaign that seeks to: 1) direct homeowners facing foreclosure to trusted housing resources and counselors; and 2) solicit the support of homeowners to shut down scammers who target communities of color and the elderly. The campaign includes support from the Federal Trade Commission, NeighborWorks America, and the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights under Law. Using a combination of traditional and social media, the effort will also include multi-lingual brochures, posters and flyers along with multiple outreach activities in hard-hit areas such as Miami, Chicago, and Los Angeles.

“You can’t go around Miami without seeing all these promises to ‘help’ and the result is that too many people are being taken advantage of,” said Ed Jennings Jr., HUD Southeast Regional Administrator.

"With millions of homeowners in foreclosure or at risk of losing their homes as they fall behind on mortgage payments, and eight million Americans expected to face foreclosure now through 2012, the timing of this campaign could not be more prudent," continued Jennings. "When you know better, you do better."

Another outreach effort in HUD’s campaign featured a two-hour telethon on June 1 with more than 20 housing counselors in the studio of Los Angeles’ KMEX-TV. Counselors answered viewer calls and also sought information to determine whether callers were at risk of being scammed and provided information on how and where to report scams.

Although HUD’s campaign has begun in three heavily-affected markets, every state where large numbers of foreclosures have occurred is also a potential target for this new kind of fraud. Residents of other states with large foreclosures include: Arizona, Colorado, Georgia, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Nevada, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Texas.

Anyone, regardless of where they live, can dial a toll free help line at 1-888-995-HOPE (4673), or go online for more advice on how to avoid housing scams at www.loanscamlert.org.

Additionally, the Center for Responsible Lending has state-by-state information on the number of foreclosures and the costs of bad lending practices, including payday loans, bank overdraft loans, and overcharges in auto financing. It is available at: http://www.responsiblelending.org/mortgage-lending/tools-resources/factsheets/

With communities of color already having lost $350 billion of wealth through foreclosures, everyone should be on guard against promises of debt relief that sound too good to be true. If there really was a quick and easy fix to the foreclosure fiasco, it would have happened before so many families lost their homes.

Charlene Crowell is the Center for Responsible Lending’s communications manager for state policy and outreach. She can be reached at: Charlene.crowell@responsiblelending.org.

Promising New Research on Preventive and Therapeutic HIV Vaccines

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By Rod McCullom –

May 18, 2011, was HIV Vaccine Awareness Day, a time to remind ourselves of the worldwide effort to create vaccines to help prevent HIV infection and to boost the immune systems of people already infected with the virus.

The past three weeks have seen a flurry of activity around new and exciting potential HIV-vaccine concepts.

In Kenya, clinical trials began on two promising new designs for preventive HIV vaccines. In South Africa, researchers launched clinical trials on a therapeutic vaccine intended to strengthen the immune systems of people living with HIV/AIDS. And just last week, scientists at the University of Maryland School of Medicine announced their biggest research gift ever: $23.4 million to continue the university's decades-long work on an HIV/AIDS vaccine from a consortium led by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

"I don't think anyone can argue that this has been an exciting time," says Mitchell Warren, executive director of AVAC, originally the AIDS Vaccine Advocacy Coalition, the 16-year-old New York City-based group that advocates for the development of an AIDS vaccine and biomedical prevention.

Prevention technologies have been in the news lately--from the breakthrough microbicide research at the 2010 International AIDS Conference to the recent data on the potential of pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) to help protect gay and bisexual men. And, all have potentially serious implications for African Americans, who represent only 13 percent of the U.S. population but account for 45 percent of new HIV infections.

Preventive Vaccine Trials

"There are three major areas of work right now around vaccines," Warren explains. "On the one hand, there is a lot of work focused on doing better than what we did in Thailand, how to modify that vaccine candidate and improve upon it."

Announced in September 2009, the U.S.-funded "Thai Prime-Boost" trial--the world's largest, with 16,000 volunteers--combined two previously unsuccessful vaccines. But, while a medical milestone (the vaccine reduced new infections by almost a third), it was not effective enough.

"The second major area of work is other new vaccine concepts. The trial in Kenya is one example," says Warren of the research being conducted in collaboration with the (IAVI). The candidate vaccine affects both antibodies and cellular immune response and has been described as the most advanced AIDS vaccine design" likely to succeed.

Novel HIV-Vaccine Candidate?

Another major effort includes the early research dollars that the National Institutes of Health and the Gates Foundation are providing to the University of Maryland for entirely new vaccine concepts based on other scientific ideas.

The funding was awarded to the university's Institute of Human Virology, headed by the renowned Robert C. Gallo, M.D., who helped discover the human immunodeficiency virus that causes AIDS and later developed the HIV blood test. If effective, the novel HIV-vaccine candidate would neutralize many different strains of HIV." Previous vaccine candidates responded only to a single type of the disease.

"With the possibility of an HIV vaccine that could prevent many different strains of this disease, we could indeed be changing the world," says E. Albert Reece, M.D., Ph.D., M.B.A., dean of the University of Maryland School of Medicine. Dr. Reece, who is African American, describes the new vaccine candidate's potential as "extraordinary."

New Proteins

The third major focus of research "has gotten a lot of people excited," says AVAC's Warren. "That's been the discovery of more than a dozen new neutralizing antibodies. For almost 30 years of the epidemic, there were only a few known antibodies. . . . Scientists broke the code and [can] find additional areas of the HIV virus that might be better targets." Neutralizing antibodies defend cells from an infection by working to inhibit, or "neutralize," the pathogen's effect.

One recent example: Scientists in Oregon recently announced an experimental vaccine that helped monkeys with a form of HIV control their infections for more than a year. This is the first time that a vaccine candidate has been able to "fully control the virus in some animals," Wayne C. Koff, Ph.D., chief scientific officer at the IAVI, told Reuters.

Some Progress on Therapeutic Vaccines

Positive developments have also occurred on therapeutic vaccines, intended to one day boost the ravaged immune systems of people living with HIV/AIDS.

Clinical trials on a vaccine candidate called TAT were announced at the University of Limpopo in South Africa. Participants continue to take their antiretroviral medications (ARVs) as researchers investigate "what health restorative qualities the candidate vaccine has that ARVs do not possess," reports The Sowetan.

This approach appears particularly promising for African and Caribbean nations, where many patients do not have easy access to lifesaving ARVs. An estimated 5.7 million HIV-positive people live in South Africa alone--more than in any other nation.

But, the stateside HIV/AIDS-treatment-and-research community is divided on the benefits of funding therapeutic strategies because many people are on ARV therapy, which is largely effective. Stephen Bailous, vice president of community affairs at the National Association of People With AIDS, defends the approach. “We need to have hopes, and some of the therapeutic vaccines look really promising," Bailous is quoted by Scientific American.

Recruiting Blacks for Vaccine Trials

"In the long term, the preventive vaccine is the goal standard," says Ben Perkins, associate director of community education at the Boston-based Fenway Institute.

"It's great that the PrEP study has shown that uninfected men who have sex with men can take medication and decrease their likelihood of HIV acquisition," he says. "But, that is medication you have to take on a daily basis under medical supervision. A vaccine is just a couple of shots; maybe later you get a booster. That's it."

In addition to doing community outreach and working with AIDS-service organizations around the country, "my job is also to talk about HIV-vaccine research and try to get people of color involved in trials," Perkins says. A participant in the STEP-study phase 2 clinical vaccine trials, Perkins recently uploaded a video to YouTube discussing the importance of Black involvement.

"My childhood best friend died from AIDS-related complications in 1991 at 27 years old," Perkins says. "In addition, once I later came out as a gay man, my first partner had an AIDS diagnosis. It's impacted me personally, and it's important to do my part to help find a vaccine. . . . We were able to eradicate smallpox through vaccine several generations ago. I'd like to see the same thing happen with HIV."

Blacks and Latinos are generally underrepresented in clinical research. There has been a nationwide, sustained effort by the NIH-funded HIV Vaccine Trials Network's Legacy Project to recruit more Black and Latino participants. "In the United States, African Americans are at greatest risk for HIV. Not to acknowledge that, or not to design our research around that, means we are reinforcing the very obstacles that the virus preys upon," AVAC's Warren reminds us. "Whether it be for a vaccine, for a therapy, microbicide or PrEP, we need to make sure that diverse populations are enrolling in the clinical trials.

"But we will find a vaccine," Warren adds. "There is no doubt, given all the recent advances."

Rod McCullom, a writer and television news producer, blogs on Black gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender news and pop culture at rod20.com.

Rihanna 'Man Down' Music Video Causes Uproar

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Special to the NNPA from the AFRO-American newspaper –

Pop star Rihanna’s new video for the song “Man Down” created quite a stir after it debuted on BET‘s “106 & Park” on May 31. The violent images in the video have caused many to ask for it to be banned.

In the video, Rihanna portrays a victim of sexual assault that gets retribution on her attacker by gunning him down in a train station. Members of the Parents Television Council (PTC) complained that the singer, a victim of a highly publicized domestic assault, should approach domestic violence differently.

“Rihanna’s personal story and status as a celebrity superstar provided a golden opportunity for the singer to send an important message to female victims of rape and domestic violence,” Melissa Henson, director of communications and public education for the PTC, said in a statement. “Instead of telling victims they should seek help, Rihanna released a music video that gives retaliation in the form of premeditated murder the imprimatur of acceptability.”

Rihanna used a Twitter posting to defend herself on June 2. She says she’s an artist and her expression should not be muted.

“I'm a 23 year old rock star with NO KIDS! What's up with everybody wantin me to be a parent? I'm just a girl, I can only be your/our voice!” she said on Thursday. “Cuz we all know how difficult/embarrassing it is to communicate touchy subject matters to anyone especially our parents! And this is why! Cuz we turn the other cheek! U can't hide your kids from society, or they'll never learn how to adapt! This is the REAL WORLD!

“The music industry isn't exactly Parents R Us! We have the freedom to make art, LET US! It's your job to make sure they don't turn out like US,” she continued.

BET defended it’s airing of the video, saying it fit within the networks guidelines for decency. However, Henson took offense with the network as well.

“BET’s justification for airing Rihanna’s video is beyond inadequate,” Henson said. “If BET is serious that the video ‘complied’ with its standards, we would like to know just what those ‘standards’ are. In the interest of full disclosure, we call on BET to issue a public explanation of its programming guidelines and urge MTV to keep the video off its network.”

After 30 Years, AIDS Has Become a 'Black Disease'

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By George E. Curry, Special to the NNPA from thedefendersonline.com –

When AIDS was first detected 30 years ago, it was considered a White, gay man’s disease. In fact, it was known as GRID – gay-related immune deficiency.

Although African-Americans represent only 12.6 percent of the U.S. population, Blacks now represent almost half of all new HIV infections and nearly 50 percent of AIDS-related deaths. What was once thought to be a “gay” disease has clearly become a “Black” disease.

Sunday will mark the 30th anniversary of the first public identification of AIDS. To commemorate the anniversary, the Black AIDS Institute released a report on Thursday titled, 30 Years is Enuf: The History of the AIDS Epidemic in Black America.

The report is a comprehensive review of the past three decades, chronicling missed opportunities, failed government actions, a medical community that was slow to react, African-Americans who underestimated the scope of the disease in their community and dedicated community activists forcing health officials to tackle what would later become known as AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome), the final stage of HIV.

“From the epidemic’s earliest days, it was apparent that Black Americans were disproportionately affected by the epidemic,” Phill Wilson, founder and CEO of the Black AIDS Institute, wrote in the introduction to his organization’s report.

“Yet, the epidemic in its early years was consistently portrayed as a problem for white gay men. Neither our national leaders, nor Black America itself, responded as they should have to the clear signs of an emerging health crisis among Black people.”

Initially, medical experts were baffled by the new disease.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported in its June 5, 1981 Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR): “In the period October 1980- May 1981, 5 young men, all active homosexuals, were treated for biopsyconfirmed Pneumocystis carinii pneumonia at 3 different hospitals in Los Angeles, California. Two of the patients died. All five had laboratory-confirmed previous or current cytomegalovirus (CMV) infection and candida mucosal infection.”

In its editorial note, the CDC observed: “Pneumocystis pneumonia in the United States is almost exclusively limited to severely immunosuppressed patients. The occurrence of Pneumocystosis in these 5 previously healthy individuals without clinically apparent underlying immunodeficiency is unusual. The fact that these patients were all homosexuals suggests an association between some aspect of a homosexual lifestyle or disease acquired through sexual contact and Pneumocystis pneumonia in this population.”

It would take another three years to identify HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

Epidemiologists determined that HIV could be transmitted by men having sex with men, heterosexual couples, from infected women to their newborns, blood transfusions, and through contaminated needles. An estimated 1.1 million people live with HIV/AIDS today, including 500,000 African-Americans.

Although early attention was understandably focused on White, gay men, there was sufficient evidence – often ignored – that Blacks were disproportionately affected.

“One of the enduring myths of the epidemic is that AIDS almost exclusively affected white gay men in the U.S. during the early years,” the Black AIDS Institute report states. “In reality, AIDS had a disproportionate effect on Black America from the very beginning. Representing just 12% of the U.S. population, Black people accounted for 26% of all cases reported in 1981-1983.”

It continued, “Outside sub-Saharan Africa, only four countries have HIV prevalence as high as the conservative estimates of the HIV burden in Black America. Indeed, were Black America its own country, it would have the 16th largest number of people living with HIV, with levels of infection rivaling numerous countries in Africa.”

In the early years, there was widespread ignorance about the disease.

“Because health officials and journalists used the phrase ‘bodily fluids’ instead of specifying semen, blood and vaginal secretions, many people feared they could contract AIDS from toilet seats or drinking fountains,” wrote Lawrence K. Altman in the New York Times.

The first drug approved by the Food and Drug Administration to treat HIV infection was AZT, or zidovudine. But a more effective class of antiretroviral drugs, called protease inhibitors, were developed in the mid-1990s.

Researchers discovered that by combining multiple classes of drugs, they could limit the viral replication process.

The combination treatment was called Highly Active Antiretroviral Therapy (HAART).

“Black America has benefited from treatment breakthroughs but not to the same extent as whites,” the Black AIDS study observed.

“Indeed, evidence indicates that Black-white disparities in HIV-related medical outcomes have actually widened in the HAART era. The sub-optimal HIV outcomes experienced by Black Americans stem from a combination of late diagnosis of HIV, inadequate health access, discontinuity of care, treatment adherence challenges, and a higher prevalence of other serious co-morbidities.”

Over the years, public awareness increased in unexpected ways.

“The AIDS-related death of actor Rock Hudson in 1985 shocked the country and dramatically increased AIDS awareness,” the Black AIDS Institute report noted.

“A similar effect resulted from the AIDS diagnosis in 1988 of tennis great Arthur Ashe, one of only two men to win a Grand Slam tournament. Before his death in 1993, Ashe established a private foundation to fight AIDS.

“Public awareness of the AIDS crisis, especially in Black communities, underwent a sea change in 1991, when basketball great Earvin ‘Magic’ Johnson announced that he had tested HIV-positive. After his announcement, HIV testing rates in Black communities skyrocketed, as many Black Americans awoke to the reality that AIDS was not only a problem for gay men.”

By then, however, AIDS had ravaged Black America. The proof is in the numbers.

Although African-Americans represent 12.6 percent of the U.S.

(13.6 percent when you include those who identify with more than one race), Blacks:

• Account for 45 percent of new HIV infections;

• Represent 46 percent of people living with HIV;

• Represent 48 percent of all new AIDS diagnoses and

• Account for 57 percent of all HIV-related deaths.

Figures for some groups are even more staggering. Black women, for example, account for 61 percent of the HIV infections among women, nearly 15 times larger than the rate for White women. Blacks aged 13-19 are only 17 percent of U.S. teenagers, they represent 68 percent of all new AIDS diagnoses among teens. According to a five-city survey, 46 percent of gay and bisexual men were infected with HIV, compared to 21 percent of White men and 17 percent of Hispanics.

The Black AIDS Institute made a series of recommendations to end the AIDS epidemic in Black America. Among them: make major investments of HIV education in Black communities, increase AIDS funding, eliminate HIV treatment waiting lists, introduce new prevention tools, undertake a major marketing campaign to promote HIV testing and treatment, and persuade every Black institution to implement an AIDS strategy.

Thanks to President Obama, the United States has put into place its first national AIDS strategy.

Its vision: “The United States will become a place where HIV infections are rare and when they do occur, every person, regardless of age, gender, race/ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity or socio-economic circumstance, will have unfettered access to high quality, life-extending care, free from stigma and discrimination.”

According to the report, presidential leadership has been uneven over the past three decades. It assigned grades to recent presidents.

Ronald Reagan earned an F, George H.W. Bush received a C, Bill Clinton got a B, George W. Bush was awarded a C-, and Barack Obama received an incomplete.

Since June of 1981, 1.7 million people in the United States have been infected with HIV, including 600,000 who have died.

“As AIDS enters its fourth decade, there could be no more fitting tribute to the hundreds of thousands who have perished from this disease in the U.S. than to demonstrate that we have learned a lesson or two over the last 30 years,” Phill Wilson wrote in the Black AIDS Institute report. “In 2011, we have an extraordinary new opportunity to conquer AIDS. Only bold wise action will get us where we need to go.”

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