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Who are the 'African Mercenaries' Fighting for Gaddafi?

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Special to the NNPA from the Global Information Network –

Claims of “Black Africans” fighting alongside the Libyan troops of Moammar Gaddafi have raised speculation about the identity of the Black fighting force.

According to news reports from the region, sub-Saharan African ‘mercenaries’ were gunning down pro-democracy protestors in the first few days of the anti-Gaddafi uprising. A backlash has now formed against ‘Black’ Africans.

Peter Bouckaert of the NY-based Human Rights Watch, who met with some of the Africans captured by anti-Gaddafi forces, called them "ordinary African workers who got caught up in the middle of this chaos."

But, African analyst Na'eem Jeenah, executive director of the Afro-Middle East Centre in Johannesburg, affirmed that at least some of the Africans were paid to kill. Gaddafi has a long history of conscripting fighters from Chad, Nigeria, Niger, and perhaps the Central African Republic, noted Jeenah. ‘I think it is safe to say that they number at least in the hundreds.”

Others, from neighboring Chad, were described as men "who were not mercenaries specifically recruited to defend Gaddafi but members of (a Chadian) rebel movement Gaddafi has been funding and training for many years who would lose that support if he fell."

"The use of foreign fighters is really Gaddafi's last stand," Bouckaert said.

Meanwhile, in a detention center visited by the rights advocate, the prisoners, apparently from sub-Saharan Africa, called out to the visitors in English. "It is very dangerous here, we are innocent," shouted one man who did not give his name. "We cannot express ourselves. We are here with our wives. We are not bad people."

St. Louis Couple First to Succeed in National Kidney Transplant Program

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By Sandra Jordan, Special to the NNPA from The St. Louis American –

It’s been about three months since a St. Louis couple made medical history at Barnes-Jewish Hospital when they swapped a kidney to receive a kidney from a donor and recipient pair in New Hampshire.

The two lives saved were made possible through a new nationwide live kidney swap database, the United Network for Organ Sharing.

Rebecca Burkes donated a kidney that was swapped for another kidney that was transplanted to her fiancé, Kenneth Crowder. “Let’s start a trend,” she said – “kidney swaps in the African-American community, seeing that it affects us so much.”

Burkes said it was well worth it to save the life of her fiancé and that of a woman in New Hampshire who now has her kidney.

Uncontrolled high blood pressure messed up Kenneth Crowder’s kidneys.

Despite taking several medications for high blood pressure prescribed by a former health provider, his kidneys failed. Crowder could urinate, but his kidneys were not doing their essential function of filtering toxins and fluid wastes from his blood. Crowder was experiencing swelling, puffiness in his body, aches and headaches.

“I did not know that my kidneys were being affected,” Crowder said. “I had been sick and ended up going in the hospital, and the doctor said I had kidney problems – ‘next year your kidneys will probably be gone.’ And, just a few months had gone by and my kidneys were gone.”

For more than a year, Crowder had been on dialysis three times a week because of high blood pressure. A machine called a dialyzer is attached to the body through a catheter or by needles. This carries blood from the body into the dialyzer to filter excess fluids, minerals, and wastes from the blood, and then return cleans blood back into the bloodstream. The process is called hemodialysis.

Without a transplant, patients with permanent kidney failure remain on dialysis for the remainder of their lives.

Ironically, Burkes’ fiancée, is a dialysis nurse. She wanted to give Crowder one of her healthy kidneys, but they were not a match.

“A year ago last November we started the process for him in trying to get it, and they told us it would be anywhere from five to 10 years to get a cadaver kidney,” Burkes said.

“We tried to figure out how to get him a kidney faster.”

They started the transplant evaluation process at the transplant center at Barnes. That took about a year. They found out about the new pilot databank in November, and they put their names in the databank.

“They would find you a kidney somewhere in the 50 states, and you would have to give your kidney and then they would give Ken a kidney,” Burkes explained the process.

In New England, there were two Kathys (one with a C, one with a K) in a similar situation.

Kathy Niedzwiecki thought she would be on the transplant list for at least a couple of years. Her sister-in-law, Cathy Richard, wanted to give Kathy one of her own kidneys, but was incompatible. But, she was a great match for Ken Crowder in St. Louis.

This is where the experts at Barnes-Jewish Hospital and Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon, New Hampshire stepped in, thanks to the nationwide donor swap pilot.

On Dec. 6, 2010, transplant coordinators from both hospitals flew with the donated organs to Pittsburgh, where they made the swap. They then returned to their respective cities, where the successful transplants were performed.

‘We will follow you for life’

Dr. Jason Wellen, surgical director of the Barnes-Jewish Hospital kidney and kidney/pancreas transplant program, said care for Crowder continues long past the surgery.

“Once you get a transplant at Barnes, we will follow you for life,” Wellen said. “So we will be on top of his blood pressure medicine with him, and we will constantly make adjustments to his blood pressure medicines from now until forever so that he will basically not lose his kidney due to high blood pressure.”

Although Crowder said he is feeling better than he has felt in years and can now enjoy a “regular diet,” regular means eating in a health-conscious manner to avoid hypertension and protect the health of that kidney.

“And yes – diet is a big part of it,” Wellen said. “He needs to watch what he eats, just like any regular patient.”

Moderation is essential for the kidney transplant patient.

“Just like when you donate a kidney, we always recommend people do the same things in moderation,” Wellen said. “So you can have alcohol – just do it in moderation. They can have Tylenol and Advil – just do it in moderation.”

Wellen said there are plenty of people who get along just fine with one kidney.

“Donors live the exact same lifestyle that they lived before they donated, and it’s been shown that they have no higher risk for renal failure and they have no higher risk of long-term death,” he said.

“My one recommendation is not to play contact sports. Other than that, your lifestyle should not change.”

For more information, go to www.barnesjewish.org/kidney-transplant or www.unos.org.

NAACP Sees Growth in Membership, Funding and Staff

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By Joi C. Ridley Special to the NNPA from the Indianapolis Recorder –

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), has experienced a remarkable revitalization in membership and motivation in recent years under new leadership. Membership has grown nearly three percent and the organization has had a stable budget two years in a row.

“While our nation continues to endure the worst economic downturn in decades, and while our administration continues to fight to get our nation back on track with more adversaries than ever, the NAACP has grown,” said Roslyn M. Brock, chairman of the NAACP’s Board of Directors during the group’s recent annual meeting.

“In addition to stabilizing the budget, NAACP President Benjamin Jealous and his staff have helped strengthen our infrastructure, and allowed us to hire new staff and create – or re-create – programs in education, health, criminal justice, environmental justice and financial empowerment,” Brock added.

Two years ago, as the NAACP celebrated its 100th year of activism, the organization saw financial deficits: membership was down, staff was at “skeleton crew” status and prospects for revival were bleak. However, signs of the NAACP’s renaissance are apparent as the association moves forward.

Membership has reached three years of consistent growth, staff has been added to all departments, and every major national program has been re-opened. At the annual meeting, attended by representatives from around the nation, constituents were reminded that the NAACP is especially relevant in today’s society.

“Turbulent times like these call for a strong, stable and growing NAACP that is capable of both defending our communities and leading our allies in advancing the cause of social, economic, political, and racial justice,” said Jealous.

In 2010, the association’s 1,200 chapters and branches supported census and voter empowerment efforts and rallied more than 200,000 people and 400 groups for the One Nation Working Together Rally on the National Mall, in Washington, D.C., to call for jobs, education, and justice.

The organization helped pass the landmark health care reform legislation and initiated community empowerment seminars to raise awareness of HIV/AIDS. Its activists led a fight against re-segregation of schools in North Carolina and around the nation.

Furthermore, the NAACP helped push the governors of New York and Mississippi to use their clemency powers to address cases of racial injustice by freeing unjustly incarcerated individuals like Gladys and Jamie Scott and John White.

After years of advocacy, the NAACP was able to advance legislation reducing the crack–cocaine disparity that has resulted in hundreds of thousands of African-Americans being imprisoned for non-violent drug offenses.

Just two years after the historic election of President Barack Obama, the nation finds itself in the midst of a seismic political shift. The country faces aggressive efforts to re-segregate schools, cut valuable programs that assist the poor and end workers’ rights to collectively organize.

“These threats are not in a silo or a vacuum,” said Jealous. “They are part of a greater strategy to weaken our collective power, divide our communities, and peel back our successes.”

During the annual meeting, the organization outlined key priorities for 2011, including campaigns to fight the school-to-prison pipeline, limit mass incarceration, and increase democracy through voter empowerment while ensuring a fair redistricting process that will determine congressional representation for the next 10 years, and promote education.

“If we achieve nothing else in our second century, we must finish what we started in our first century: we must complete the mission of Brown vs. Board of Education, and ensure that every child in America gets a great education,” said Jealous. He seeks to achieve this goal by creating a national strategy to implement educational best practices and fighting to ensure education has top billing in state budgets.

“As we register voters and move them to the polls, we will hold all those elected accountable to the values and mission that we have fought for since 1909,” added Jealous. “We will continue to build large and diverse coalitions committed to building an America where everyone can get a good job, obtain a quality education, and live in communities with clean air and water … an America where opportunities are afforded to all, and most importantly, where no matter a person’s race or creed, she or he can live in a country free of racial discrimination.”

The organization has also increased its efforts to welcome young members, the fastest growing demographic in the association. Greater use of social networking and online campaigns resulted in an unprecedented growth in online membership and activism.

Former Congressman, Activist Andrew Young Speaks at Spelman Program

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By A. Scott Walton, Special to the NNPA from The Atlanta Voice –

ATLANTA – Spelman College closed out Black History Month on a high note last week when a capacity crowd filled the school's Sisters Chapel for "A Conversation With Andrew Young."

Following his introduction – a litany of leadership roles as a civil rights activist, U.S. congressman, local politician, and U.S. Ambassador – Young settled into a candid conversation with Spelman President Beverly Tatum about the life experiences that molded him, and the global developments he finds alternately "scary" and "encouraging."

Early on, Young infused a sense of levity to the appearance by dispelling certain notions about being victimized by law enforcement officers during protest marches he helped lead five decades ago.

"People see (historic film footage of) the dogs and the fire hoses," Young quipped, "but on a hot day during a march, you would take it."

He also made light of the fact that, if he had not been an unemployed husband with children to feed, he might never have moved south to pastor churches.

And, he spoke of his hesitance to launch a mayoral bid because, at the time, he had three children in college, "and the mayor's pay was only $50,000 a year." But, things worked out, he said.

In more serious moments, Young expressed concerns about the recent upheaval in nations in northern Africa, the lapsed sense among some parents to bolster their kids' education, the lack of realization of how rich in resources and morally underserved southern Africa remain, and how a culture of entitlement hinders President Barack Obama's administration.

"The only person around the president whose parents had a job is his wife," Young said.

But, he also offered reassurance that Obama's multi-cultural makes him uniquely qualified to deal with the world's challenges.

Young spoke at length about his newfound fascination with global finance; stressing that a stabilized South Africa could have unfathomable potential.

And he deflected hearty applause over his just-announced Emmy Award for Lifetime Achievement, flashing the charisma first captured when he hosted the New York talk show "Look Up and Live" in the early 1960s and endures through his current "Andrew Young Presents…" documentary series.

CRL to Feds: Don't Mandate Large Home Down Payments

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Low Down Payment Loans Seen as Key to Housing and Economic Recovery

By Charlene Crowell, NNPA Columnist –

As Congress and the White House continue to deliberate how best to rescue the nation’s ailing housing market, some in Washington are calling for a requirement that prospective homeowners make higher down payments in the range of 10-20 percent.

Yet according to the Center for Responsible Lending (CRL), requiring proper underwriting and verification of income, rather than a high down payment, are the factors that ultimately determine the success of a home loan. In a recently-released issue brief CRL also notes that requiring such a high down payment would take 14 years for the typical American family to save enough money for a 20 percent down payment and additionally stop a 50-year practice of allowing low down payments. Additionally, it could possibly remove the current option of purchasing private mortgage insurance.

Drawing a clear difference between low down payments on mortgages and subprime mortgage loans, CRL also warns that limiting low down payment loans will close the gateway to homeownership and the opportunity for middle class families to build wealth. Among households earning $20,000-$50,000, those who own homes have 19 times the wealth of those who rent.

“Because of low down payment loans”, the brief advises, “millions of low-to-moderate income families became successful homeowners. Mortgages generally performed well, producing limited losses for lenders, investors and taxpayers, while expanding the middle class.”

Between 1990 and 2009, more than 27 million mortgages were made with low down payments. These loans did NOT carry the risky features found in subprime loans. Excluding FHA and VA loans, these loans represented 13 percent of total mortgage originations during this period. These types of loans also were achieved by proven industry practices that included fixed-rate loans or at least the same initial mortgage payment for seven years, income and asset documentation, property appraisals, a debt allowance of no more than 41 percent of annual income, and an assessment of a borrower’s ability to repay the loan.

By contrast, subprime loan terms with weak underwriting standards brought variable interest rates after the first two years of the loan and every six month thereafter. Additionally, subprime loans had little if any income documentation and did not evaluate a borrower’s ability to repay the loan, even while allowing debt as high as 80 percent of annual income. These and other contributing factors resulted in record default rates.

The call for full privatization of the housing market is also being criticized by a number of civil rights and progressive organizations that include: the NAACP, the National Council of LaRaza, PolicyLink, the National Urban League, the Kirwin Institute, and National People’s Action.

On February 11, these organizations and CRL issued a joint statement on reforming the U.S. housing market that said in part, “Full privatization would leave most Americans at the mercy of Wall Street and we know from experience the devastating results that would bring. . .True reform must eliminate the dual-track structure that traps qualified families in a fringe credit market and must build a more secure and accountable secondary market, preventing future crises -- like the one that helped bring our economy to its knees.”

The complete issue brief is available on the CRL web at: http://www.responsiblelending.org/mortgage-lending/policy-legislation/regulators/dont-mandate-large-down-payments.html

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.

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