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President Obama Signs Debt Relief Bill for Haiti

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Special to the NNPA from the Afro-American Newspapers –

WASHINGTON (NNPA) - President Obama has signed into law a bill calling for the United States to take the lead in forgiving debt owed to international lenders by earthquake-ravaged Haiti.

The bill, signed April 26, urges major multinational institutions to cancel all debt owed to them by Haiti and recommends that all aid to the country for the next five years be provided in the form of grants rather than loans.

“The President’s signature on this bill is further indication of the United States’ support for the people of Haiti,” Congresswoman Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), who sponsored the House version of the bill, said in a statement. “I authored this legislation because Haiti’s immense debt burden would have severely impeded the country’s recovery efforts.”

The bill was approved in the House on April 14 and passed the Senate earlier in April.

Under the measure, the Treasury Department is required to instruct U.S. executives at the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and other institutions to use the force and influential power of the United States to cancel Haiti’s debt.

The bill calls for Haiti to receive aid in the form of grants until Feb. 1, 2015. Following that date, multilateral development institutions may resume aid in the form of new loans.

The Treasury said at the beginning of March that Haiti owed $828 million to several international institutions, according to the Associated Press. Since then, one of those institutions, the Inter-American Development Bank, said it would forgive give the $447 million Haiti owed it, and convert remaining undistributed loans into grants.

Other organizations, including the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, have also begun to make moves to relieve Haitian debt, the AP reported.

States, Cities, Towns and Villages Scramble to Economically Stay Afloat

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

(NNPA) - When Zakiyah Ansari hears about budgets and cuts, she knows one thing is certain: Black and Latino children in the Big Apple are going to lose big.

The parent leader with the New York City Coalition for Educational Justice says plans to cut $1.4 billion from public education are just wrong. Gone will be afterschool programs that keep young people off the streets, out of trouble and more likely to stick with school, she adds.

“It's a crime because on top of these cuts, the Contracts for Excellence money that was supposed to come to our schools, and targeted to the lowest performing and special needs children, children in high poverty areas, English Language Learners, etc., we didn't even get that money,” Ms. Ansari complains.

Across America, state, city and local governments are slashing funding for education, healthcare, and other services to try to meet budget shortfalls—but while lawmakers struggle to crunch numbers, they are making decisions that crush lives, say advocates.

More need, less money to help

At least 45 states made cuts that have hit the most vulnerable communities the hardest and the reductions are expected to increase next year, warns the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a Washington, D.C.-based fiscal policy think tank.

“It means that there's a cruel irony taking place. Because of this national recession, the needs of the people are rising dramatically but resources available to states to meet those needs are shrinking. The problem is how do you fill that gap and it's made more difficult by the fact that this has been the longest, deepest national recession since the Great Depression,” says Jon Sure, of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

Major cities like Los Angeles have threatened to lay off several hundred people and furlough thousands to close a $485 million deficit.

A Republican senator in Huntington Beach, Calif., proposed having inmates pay $25 a day for room and board while locked up, while other jurisdictions have cut back on inmate meals to save money.

In Illinois, a proposal was floated to have school children in class four days a week and other places have discussed charging residents when fire trucks show up to put out blazes and for police cars when officers show up at accidents. These basic services have traditionally relied on tax payments, but with high unemployment and an angry electorate, many politicians are leery of asking for more money.

‘Raise my taxes! Raise my taxes!'

The problem is so bad that some residents are demanding something different: “Raise my taxes! Raise my taxes! Raise my taxes!” shouted some of the 15,000 to 16,000 people who joined a Save Our State protest April 21 in front of the capitol building in Springfield, Ill.

The rally drew state employees, teachers and advocates from social service organizations. They were worried about job losses in the state and program cuts. Fired-up speakers urged the crowd to turn to the Statehouse. They shouted slogans such as “Show some guts!”
Gov. Pat Quinn wants a 33 percent increase in the income tax, but House Democrats have been reluctant to back a hike.

In California on that same day, thousands of peaceful demonstrators ended their 365 mile, 48-day March from Bakersfield on the Capitol steps in Sacramento. Next year, according to the California Budget Project, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's proposed budget cuts would put an end to cash assistance to 1.4 million low income children and parents.

Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour would cut K-12 funding by more than nine percent and close four state mental health clinics, according to Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

The cuts mean more people flooding already crowded emergency rooms and country hospitals, longer lines at food pantries and more people seeking beds at homeless shelters.

According to the center: Twenty-nine states have made cuts to health care, and 24 states, and the District of Columbia, have slashed programs for the elderly and disabled. Twenty-nine states and the District of Columbia have made cuts to K-12 education and 39 states have cut costs for college level education.

“People understand it because they're feeling it and in any number of ways,” says Shure.

“It could be shorter hours at the library, longer lines at motor vehicles. It could be that state parks are closed in some places. While it's true that in some cases the largest impact is on low income people who depend more on services and to some extent the impact is felt by more vulnerable people in our population—but this is so deep and widespread that it's being felt by just about everyone,” he adds.

Part of the problem is that usually when a recession ends, it takes a couple of years for state revenues to catch up and states are usually the last to level off unemployment rates. The current downturn is worse than usual, it will now take longer and next year will be worse than the last, he says.

According to the Centre for Research on Globalization, crippled school districts have sent pink slips to 22,000 teachers in California, 17,000 teachers in Illinois, and 15,000 teachers in New York.

Some 19,000 school employees combined in Michigan, New Jersey, and Oklahoma are facing job losses as well.

Zakiyah Ansari, of the New York City Coalition for Educational Justice Now, sees low performing schools threatened with closure, but says a better solution would be to give schools, students, parents, and neighborhoods the power to change schools themselves.

Her coalition is calling for a moratorium on school closings and the establishment of a School Transformation Zone to improve troubled public schools.

“There was a perfect storm involving the mortgage, real estate, finance, loan, and investments of people's 401K's into these things- ... There was already a problem with jobs because too many were not based on solid manufacturing, but based on paper, temporary stuff, outsourcing, which caused a bunch of people to lose their ability to survive,” says Dr. David Horne, executive director of the California African American Political and Economic Institute.

The question becomes how do federal, state, and county governments continue to serve as many people as possible and deliver as much service as possible, he continues. States are making major changes in hiring and how to get funds, trying to preserve basic police and fire service, but exposing schools, homeless shelters and social services to cuts, he adds.

“Black folks need to understand that the government cannot be the only source to take care of them. We need to either start dealing with a resurrection of our entrepreneurial skills and going more and more into internet services, and small co-ops,” Dr. Horne suggests.

Shure, of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, says the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, or federal Stimulus Plan, provided some assistance to states. He says Congress should renew some of the stimulus programs to provide more help to states—and states must find different ways to solve money problems.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Virginia Councilwoman Wants to End Police Chases in Neighborhoods

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Special to the NNPA from the Richmond Free Press –

RICHMOND, Va. (NNPA) - Virginia Delegate Delores L. McQuinn has cited the high-speed police chase that resulted in the death of an admired Church Hill minister as proof that there is a need for a “correction in our laws.”

That fatal chase by Henrico County police shows that the risk of death to innocent people is being ignored.

“And that has to change,” the Richmond legislator said April 26. Standing at the intersection where a driver fleeing police last month killed Apostle Anthony L. Taylor, Delegate McQuinn announced she would introduce legislation pushing for:

A study to create the first uniform state guidelines to govern such pursuits rather than leaving it to individual officers “to make the split-second line. Mr. Harris is charged with second-degree murder and other offenses. The officers involved have been cleared.

Delegate McQuinn’s proposals for change won quick endorsement from Delegate Joseph D. “Joe” Morrissey, D-Henrico, who attended the press conference. Also present were City Councilwoman Cynthia I. Newbille, whose district includes the site of Apostle Taylor’s death, and representatives of four nearby churches, including the United House of Prayer for All People, where Apostle Taylor served as pastor.

Delegate Morrissey emphasized, as did Delegate McQuinn, that police officials as well as citizens would need to be involved to ensure broad support for the measures, particularly the guidelines.

Delegate McQuinn said two other Richmond delegates, Betsy B. Carr and Jennifer L. McClellan, also have given her assurances of support for her legislation.

Meanwhile, Mayor Dwight C. Jones is still seeking to arrange a summit on high-speed chases with counterparts in Henrico, Chesterfield and Hanover counties. He called for the session after Apostle Taylor’s death in a bid to gain support for creation of regional guidelines to govern chases across local boundaries.

While Delegate McQuinn praised the mayor’s initiative, she said the chase issue affects the entire state. The proposals represent a step forward, said Dr. Patricia Gould-Champ, pastor of Faith Community Baptist Church, one of the ministers at the press conference.

She recalled a Richmond police chase 15 years ago that resulted in injuries to several people leaving services at Thirty-first Street Baptist Church, where she was then assistant pastor.

“Fortunately, no one was killed” in that pursuit, which created chaos in front of the church, she said. “It’s time to do something to address chase policies."

President of Rwanda Stars at Tribeca Film Fest

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Special to the NNPA from the GIN –

(GIN) - Rwandan President Paul Kagame took his turn on the red carpet in New York City this week and received a standing ovation for his role in “Earth Made of Glass” – a new documentary that indicts France as "having a hand in all this mess" refering to the genocide.

The 88 minute film portrays Kagame in a heroic light. The tall thin leader of the war-torn Central Africa nation is a surviver of the genocide that took more than three quarters of a million lives.

While gathering up the accolades, including a flattering editorial in the Wall Street Journal, his government is in the throes of a political crisis. Two top military officers were dismissed and the opposition and independent media faced arrest or exile.

Victoire Ingabire, a presidential aspirant, was arrested over comments she made at a genocide memorial in which she said Hutu victims of the genocide must also not be forgotten.

Opposition figures say they believe Kagame is preying on fears of another genocide to crush the opposition. He won 95 per cent of the vote in 2003 elections that were seen as flawed. They point to the "genocide ideology" law that is meant to keep people from fanning ethnic hatred, but which critics say has been used to stifle dissent.

Finally, two local newspapers were banned for allegedly insulting Kagame, inciting the police and army to insubordination and creating fear among the public, according to New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists.

The watchdog group called the move a "thinly disguised attempt at censorship."

Bashir Slate Carries Sudan, Angering The West

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Special to the NNPA from the GIN –

(GIN) A decisive electoral victory by Omar Hassan al-Bashir has returned the controversial Sudanese leader to a new 5-year term as president of this important oil-rich country in east Africa.

Al-Bashir won 68 percent of the votes. Under electoral law, he needed to surpass 50 percent to avoid a run-off election against his nearest competitor.

A parallel vote to elect the president of the semi-autonomous south was won by the incumbent, Salva Kiir with 93 per cent of southern votes.

The men will renew their coalition government, as the country moves towards a referendum on independence for the south due next January.

The victory was called “fraudulent”, “marred” and a win for a war-crimes suspect (al-Bashir) in western media reports. But according to Sudanese writer Nesrine Malik, writing in the Guardian newspaper, the Sudanese election didn’t need fraud.

“People are starting to accept that Bashir, 20 years after coming to power via a military coup, has established himself as the only choice for president,” Malik wrote, citing the last minute withdrawals by candidates Yasir Arman and Sadiq al-Mahdi.

“…There is an entire generation that knows nothing but Bashir. They grew up in a Sudan shaped, culturally and socially by the Bashir’s party... In Khartoum, most people are just grateful to be able to eat out in the plethora of new restaurants and go about their business without fear of a curfew guillotine or security forces.”

Commenting for the New York-based Human Rights Watch, Africa director Georgette Gagnon said: "Our concerns go beyond technical irregularities. Bashir belongs in The Hague responding to the serious charges against him (concerning alleged war-crimes in Darfur), for which victims have still seen no accountability."

Nevertheless, Pres. Al-Bashir found a warm welcome in Egypt one day after his electoral victory. The presidents of the two nations have been allies for years. A video of Sudanese rappers and a discussion of the elections can be found at http://www.linktv.org/video/5365/sudanese-elections-music-the-vote-with-nasjota-and-girifna

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