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Minnesotans in Shock Over Gang-led Sex-Trafficking Network

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Special to the NNPA from the Global Information Network –

The Somali-American community in Minnesota and Tennessee are reeling from news that a sex-trafficking ring involving Somali youth were busted in the two states by federal agents with a warrant.

The victims were girls from the Twin Cities, some age 13 and younger, who were shuffled across state lines to work as prostitutes, according to an indictment unsealed in federal court.

At a news conference in Nashville , U.S. Attorney Jerry Martin announced the 24-count indictment against three women and 26 men who are said to have run the operation in the Twin Cities, Nashville, and Columbus, Ohio. The alleged victims, all minors, were listed as Jane Doe 1 through 4.

The indictment targets three so-called Somali gangs: the Somali Outlaws, the Somali Mafia, and the Lady Outlaws. The defendants are listed by name and nicknames such as Shorty, Forehead, Hollywood, Barnie, Fatboy, and Pinky.

St. Paul Police Chief Thomas Smith credited Somali parents and elders with coming to police investigators in 2007 with concerns about young girls and gang activity.

“You’d hear about it, but not who’s doing it,” said Abia Ali, who runs a girls’ program at the Abubakar As-Saddique mosque in Minneapolis. “This is a wake-up call to educate the whole community,” she said. “We can’t be in denial. We should take care of our girls.”

Reports of the trafficking of minor-age girls have been published with increasing frequency.

At a Capitol Hill briefing last May, actress Demi Moore said: "I think many Americans are more willing to accept that there are girls enslaved in Cambodia or Delhi, and really can't imagine that it's happening right here… As a society, we owe it to them to ensure this doesn't happen to anyone else."

Mid-term Elections Leave Blacks Vulnerable

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By Cynthia E. Griffin, Special to the NNPA from Our Weekly –

As Americans, politicians, and pundits sift through the results of the voting yesterday, the one thing heavy on everyone’s mind is the question: What’s next?

President Barack Obama in a one-hour nationally televised press conference that found him at times reflective and somber but still able to laugh, particularly after taking what he called a “shellacking” at the polls, refused to accept that the vote was a rejection of his policies.

Instead, the president described voters’ decision to hand control of the U.S. House of Representatives to Republicans as a demonstration of “their great frustration that we have not made enough progress on the economy. They cannot feel progress and they cannot see it,” Obama said. “I’ve got to take direct responsibility. We have not made as much progress as we could have made.”

The president added that now it is a matter of the Democrats and the Republicans sitting down to develop core areas of agreement on issues they can agree on such as alleviating our dependence on foreign oil, and educating American children so that they are equipped to compete in the global economy.

David A. Bositis, Ph.D., senior research associate with the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies and an expert on national Black Electoral Politics, agrees with the president that the election results were about the economy.

“If you look at the exit polls, you will see that it’s about the economy, especially insecurity about the economy. Eighty-five percent of people who voted said they were worried about their personal economic situation and half of those said they were very worried,” pointed out Bositis.

“This election was about punishing the people in power, and the people in power were, of course, the Democrats,” added the political observer.

Why Democrats lost depends on who you talk to.

Lorenzo Morris, Ph.D., a political science professor at Howard University, says the Democrats really did very little to mobilize the youthful base that helped them win the presidency in 2008. He also said they waited too late to begin the kind of heavy-duty stumping done in the final two weeks before the election. They were also tremendously outspent in terms of campaign advertising money pumped into Republican races by corporate interests.

But don’t consider these election results a replay of 1994, admonishes Professor Morris, who said that loss was a huge setback for Clinton and was followed by two years of immobility and impasses as he battled Republicans to push his agenda.

When he was re-elected two years later, Morris said his agenda turned more conservative.

Morris does not think that Obama will face the same kind of partisan divide that Clinton faced, in part, because he believes the conservatives elected to office this term are much less organized than those elected by Newt Gingrich and his Contract for America brigade.

“This group of people, they are so disorganized. They’re like free electrons knocking into each other. They just lucked out,” contends Morris. “They are not connected by any sense of party unity. The Republicans will be lucky, if they have an impasse.”

Bositis agrees that this Republican victory does not at all resemble what happened in 1994.

“First, in a lot of the victories, the republicans had very, very close elections . . . when politicians have close elections like that, they get scared, and it makes them cautious,” noted Bositis, who pointed out that there’s a difference between getting elected and getting rejected, which is what he thinks happened with Democrats. He also believes that while Republicans may never admit it publicly they are probably definitely saying to themselves: “Let’s not kid ourselves that these people love us. They don’t. As a matter of fact, they hate our guts.”

The political researcher points to Harry Reid’s re-election in Nevada as a case in point. “Do you think Harry Reid was being embraced by voters in Nevada? This was his biggest victory," he asked.

But people in Nevada don’t like Harry Reid. I don’t know if it’s his personality or what, but they voted for Harry Reid because the Republicans nominated one of the Tea Party nuts,” explained Bositis. “Voters in Nevada say there is no way we are going to have this person as our senator. They were not voting to say I love Harry Reid. It was just that voting for the alternative was unacceptable.”

While the president in his press conference stressed that the key to making the next two years productive was for the, top democrats and Republican leaders to sit down and find areas of agreement and to work on moving those items forward, Bositis and Morris are much less optimistic about how much is going to get done.

“If I would guess, my guess would be no,” said Bositis. “On the other hand, if the more sensible Republicans start to take a look . . . I think one of the things they are going to discover, is that they’re not very popular. They also know that come 2012, the electorate is going to be a lot younger, and a lot more minority than it was this time around.”

Howard University’s Morris sees the situation as potentially dismal for African Americans. He thinks Republicans will attempt to cut back on things that are vitally important to Blacks such as the unemployment structure (particularly in urban areas), educational subsidies, welfare; criminal justice, and catastrophic health programs used by people who are the least likely able to afford them and fight back.

Bositis also believes the change will hurt African Americans because Republicans are going to be more influential in the budget process.

“In terms of money for unemployment, for social services and things of that sort, those guys’ attitudes are going to be “hey, who cares if you’re poor; it’s your own fault. If you’re sick, it’s your own fault.

“Remember something. In terms of unemployment Blacks consider White unemployment a joke. African American employment is really bad now. If the government starts to cut back on spending, that’s only going to make unemployment worse,” Bositis said.

There are a number of other critical issues to note as a result of the mid-term elections. First, for the first time in years there is no African American in the Senate; the majority of seated Democratic governors are up in age in comparison to their Republican counterparts. This is noteworthy because often governors move from running state houses to serving in the Senate and eventually the presidency. A large majority of the Democrats will be too old to make that move.

By contrast all the newly elected Republican governors are at the right age to make the move.

Africans View U.S. Through Prism of Elections

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Special to the NNPA from the Global Information Network –

On the eve of a possibly altered political landscape in the U.S., one U.S.-resident Nigerian, “glued to the TV”, as votes rolled in, recalled the current plight of his ancestral home.

“ I know America has taken more than 232 years to be where she is today, and that Nigeria, 50 years after independence, still has a long way to go,” observed Dr. Wumi Akintide. “…. But when I remember little countries like Singapore, South Africa after years of Apartheid and even tiny countries like the State of Israel which was only founded in 1948… I see some sense of urgency in complaining about Nigeria.”

“Two years ago, a Black candidate, the least expected to win a presidential election, was suddenly swept into power in the greatest country in the world. It is something nobody has predicted could ever happen in our life time, but it did, pretty much like the second coming of Jesus in a Tsunami of an election and a tidal wave that changed America forever,” Dr. Akintide said.

“That is the kind of Tsunami Nigeria needs.”

Elizabeth Kuranchie-Mensah, writing on the BBC website, observed: “Africans will continue to love and admire Prez.Obama - after all the first Black American President. ..Prez Obama has a mission and he is visionary…. Americans should just relax for our man to get things done the way it will benefit the good of all. Patience is more precious than "GOLD".

Ismail Rashid concurred. “Ultimately, Barrack Obama will continue to enjoy a lot of solidarity from Africans, and peoples of African descent in the U.S. and around the world. His political achievement - even though it has not yet been translated into concrete change for them - still has a great symbolic resonance, especially in showing individually and collectively how far peoples of African descent have traveled in the last century.”

And “MelodySystem” wrote the following: “We still support the bro. He is the man of change. Africa for Brother Barack!”

Splashy Chevron Ad Campaign Spoofed by Environmentalists

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Special to the NNPA from the Global Information Network –

A mega-million dollar ad campaign by oil giant Chevron that critics say “greenwashes” the company’s record in Nigeria, Ecuador, and other oil-producing countries, has met its match.

Satirists and comics joined the campaign lead by environmentalists and human rights activists to produce a dead-on take-off of the oil company’s full-page ads seen recently in The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal.

In one of the Chevron ads, two Black young people with wide smiles are posed alongside the message: “Oil Companies Should Support The Communities They’re a Part of.” The ad is signed “We Agree” by Chevron’s VP and the Director of The Global Fund to Fights AIDS, TB, and Malaria.

But a spoof press release managed to appear before the campaign got launched. Sent by the Yes Men and the Rainforest Action Network, the release came complete with fake quotes from Chevron executives and a phony Chevron website, pointing a finger at the company's environmental disasters.

Rainforest Action Network, calling the hoax a “satirical counter-campaign”, observed: “When it comes to oil spills, climate change and human rights abuses, we need real action from Chevron… Instead, the oil giant has prioritized a high-priced glossy advertising campaign that attempts to trick the American people into believing it is different than BP.”

Chevron is embroiled in a long-running, multi-billion-dollar lawsuit that contends the company is responsible for oil pollution in Ecuador, which Chevron denies and it continues to face claims in Nigeria that its oil spills there have tainted fish ponds in Delta State. Maria Ramos, Rainforest’s campaign director said: "Chevron's rhetoric and the public image that they put forward is very different from how they're actually operating."

Chevron won’t say how much it is spending on the new effort. The company has spent $92 million buying advertising time and space in the U.S. in the 12 months that ended in June.

Republicans Pledge to Cripple Health Care for African Americans

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By Lesley Russell, Special to the NNPA from the Insight News –

House Republicans’ “Pledge to America” contains one particularly specific public policy proposal worth worrying about - the pledge to repeal the Affordable Care Act of 2009. This comprehensive health reform law, designed to fix our broken health care system over the coming decade, in particular provides a unique opportunity to address the health care disparities that African Americans experience from birth to death in the form of higher infant mortality, higher rates of disease and disability, and a shortened life expectancy.

The "Pledge to America" would replace health care reform with a grab bag of isolated measures that mostly benefit those who already have health care coverage. These piecemeal measures will do nothing to address the hurdles such as lack of health insurance, lack of access to preventive care, and other barriers that black families face in getting access to the care they need. Let’s take a closer look at their pledge to understand just how devastating their proposals would be to Blacks.

The pledge will not improve access to health insurance coverage for African Americans. Twenty-one percent of African Americans, including 11.5 percent of children, were uninsured in 2009, the last year for which complete data is available. This represents an increase of 818,000 people without insurance over the figures for the previous year. What’s more, African Americans are the least likely to be able to afford insurance. Of all racial and ethnic groups in the United States, they are most likely to be poor, 26 percent live in poverty, and the median annual income of an African-American household is $17,000 less than that of the average American household.

Conservatives who want to repeal the Affordable Care Act have no plan to expand coverage to help those who cannot afford health insurance. They want to repeal Medicaid expansions, repeal financial help to small businesses struggling with the costs of employee coverage, and repeal the tax subsidies that will help working families purchase coverage through health insurance exchanges.

Their pledge does contain a claim that Republicans will make it illegal for an insurance company to deny coverage to someone with prior coverage on the basis of a preexisting condition, eliminate annual and lifetime spending caps, and prevent insurers from dropping your coverage just because you get sick. They never mention, however, that all of these protections are already enacted in the Affordable Care Act.

The pledge will not rein in the excesses of the health insurance industry to protect African Americans nor will their pledge rein in the excesses of the health insurance industry to protect African Americans - and indeed all Americans - from the excesses of the health insurance industry, which ACA will deal with effectively and fairly in the coming years. Specifically, conservative proposals do nothing to rein in the discriminatory practices and price-gouging behavior of the health insurance industry, such as those that recently saw one insurer, Anthem Blue Cross of California, attempt to increase premiums by 39 percent in the insurance marketplace for individual insurance policies.

What’s more, the pledge would do nothing to ensure that health insurance plans spend premium dollars on health care. In contrast, the Affordable Care Act requires that at least 80 percent of premium costs are returned in benefits. The pledge will not improve access to primary care for African Americans. More than a quarter of African Americans do not have a regular doctor, compared with only one-fifth of white Americans. Twenty-two percent of African Americans report having little or no choice in where to seek care, and many of these people end up in hospital emergency rooms. A primary care provider and a facility where a person receives regular care substantially improve the health of Americans with access to such care. The Affordable Care Act’s emphasis on primary care will particularly benefit people of color, especially those who live in areas that are currently medically underserved.

Conservatives have no plan to improve primary care or increase the primary care workforce. They want to repeal the provisions in the new law that will boost primary care capacity, establish more school-based clinics and more community health centers targeted to the needs of the communities they serve, and develop and expand the so-called medical home model for Medicare and Medicaid patients. Medical homes - health care settings that provide patients with timely, well-organized care and enhanced access to providers - are associated with a reduction in health care disparities for adults and better access to preventive services.

The pledge will not provide better preventive health services for African Americans. Chronic diseases, many of them preventable, place a high burden on African-American communities, where 48 percent of adults suffer from a chronic disease compared to 39 percent of the general population. Obesity is debilitating and is often a catalyst to chronic disease. Seven out of 10 African Americans ages 18 to 64 are obese or overweight. As a consequence they are twice as likely to be diagnosed with diabetes as whites.

In addition, they are more likely to suffer complications from diabetes, such as end-stage renal disease and lower extremity amputations. African Americans experienced 29 percent higher death rates from cardiovascular disease than white adults, and 40 percent higher death rates from stroke. Their age-adjusted death rate for cancer is approximately 25 percent higher than for white Americans, primarily due to late diagnosis.

Black women are less likely to receive prenatal care in the first months of pregnancy and older African Americans are far less likely to receive pneumonia or flu shots. African Americans face the most severe burden of HIV in the United States.

Better access to prevention and early interventions would help keep the African-American population healthier throughout their lives. Yet conservatives would repeal the provisions in the Affordable Care Act that will enhance preventive care and remove the co-payments and deductibles for approved preventive services such as immunizations, screening for colorectal cancer and diabetes, and mammograms. Among the programs that Republicans want to repeal are demonstration projects to develop comprehensive models for reducing childhood obesity, and increased funding for a nurse home-visiting program to help improve the health and well-being of mothers and their children.

The pledge will not improve the lower health quality and health care disparities that African Americans experience. African Americans are less likely than white Americans to get timely access to care and good quality care, and may face some inherent biases within the health care system. Defining and measuring health care disparities is a prerequisite for understanding and addressing them.

If the Republicans repeal the new health care law, they will repeal requirements that federally funded programs collect and report data on race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, health literacy, and primary language, using methodologies that will ensure health care disparities can be measured. They will also undo the provisions that establish the Office of Minority Health at the Department of Health and Human Services and a network of minority health offices located within HHS that elevate the Office of Minority Health at the National Institutes of Health directly into the Office of the Secretary of Health and Human Services.

Conclusion: The Affordable Care Act makes significant advances for African Americans’ health coverage, quality of care, and access to health care services. It represents an important milestone toward the ultimate goal of eradicating racial and ethnic disparities in health and health care in the United States. House Republicans’ "Pledge to America" represents a devastating rollback of much-needed changes to our nation’s health care system - a step backward that will ensure that African Americans continue to receive poorer care and live in poorer health than the rest of the nation.

Lesley Russell is a Visiting Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress. To read more about the Center’s analysis of the Affordable Care Act go to the Health Care page of our website.

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BVN National News Wire