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Black, Civil Rights Groups Applaud Health Care Signing

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By Pharoh Martin, NNPA National Correspondent –

(NNPA) - It's been a contentious year, but now that supporters of health care reform finally got their day, Black political and civil rights leaders, as well as other health care reform advocates are applauding the bill’s passage for a diversity of reasons.

Civil rights leaders have been some of the most vocal backers of the bill because African-Americans are among the most disparately impacted by lack of insurance, chronic diseases and other health-related setbacks.

"Like Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and Civil Rights laws in the past, today's vote will forever be a threshold moment for the nation,” said Marc Morial, president and chief executive officer of the National Urban League on the day of the presidential signing March 23. "Generations to come will look back to this day as one where the American dream was more fully realized."

In the days leading up to the final House vote, congressional members were verbally attacked by opponents of the bill. Civil Rights icon Rep. John Lewis (D- Ga.) was one of the individuals at the receiving end of a protester's racial slur. Of course, Lewis, a veteran of the civil rights struggle, still voted in favor of the bill.

“The last 24 hours have witnessed a chaos and disorder that reared its ugly head in nasty language and hostile attacks,” Morial said in a statement. “Despite attacks upon civil rights icons in the Congress, justice and truth continue to "march on.""

Some key provisions pushed by Black leaders and the Congressional Black Caucus such as the public option failed to make the final bill but other measures were included to bring additional medical insurance-related protections for people, bring down costs and lower the number of uninsured Americans.

The U.S. Census Bureau reports that more than 15 percent of all Americans are uninsured. According to a February Gallop poll, about one out of five African-Americans are without medical coverage.

The new law guarantees coverage for people with pre-existing medical conditions, closes the prescription drug “donut hole” for seniors and extends coverage to an estimated 32 million more previously uninsured people through the use of federal subsidies, the extension of Medicaid and the establishment of a state-based health insurance exchange program that competitively pools different coverage plans in order to drive down premium costs. The Congressional Budget Office reports that the national deficit will be reduced by over $1.2 trillion over the next 20 years because of the new measures.

“Under the current proposal, if people like the insurance plan they have, they can keep it,” stated Hilary Shelton, NAACP Senior Vice President for Advocacy and Director of the NAACP Washington Bureau. “If they like their doctor, nothing in the new proposal takes that choice away.”

He adds, “What does change under the new plan is an increase in protections provided to Americans. Specifically, the new proposal outlaws discrimination against Americans with pre-existing medical conditions and does not allow insurance companies to deny coverage to a person because he or she has gotten sick. It reduces costs for people who currently have insurance and makes coverage more affordable for people without it. It also sets up a new competitive insurance market where small business owners and families are allowed to shop for the insurance plan that works best for them.”

Health care reform measures such as protections for people with pre-existing conditions are key because, if statistics were to tell the story, Black people are the sickest but the least likely to get helped. Just under half of all African-Americans suffer from some kind of chronic disease and the Black community continues to bear the brunt of the AIDS epidemic.

Of the 1.1 million people in the US infected with HIV just under half are African-American, according to statistics reported by the Center for Disease Control. For context, Blacks make up only 12 percent of the US population, citing 2000 Census figures.

And while the health reform bill is a step in the right direction in helping African-Americans living with HIV and AIDS there are miles to go before anybody can sleep, says Phill Wilson, President and CEO of the Black AIDS Institute.

“It might well be what change looks like but It is not yet meaningful enough reform," he wrote in a statement.

In addition to the provisions that expands coverage, closes the “donut hole” for prescription drugs and makes discrimination against people living with pre-existing conditions illegal two other measures critically important to people with chronic diseases, according to Wilson, include:

* The “individual mandate”- The bill includes an "individual mandate" provision that requires that all Americans retain health insurance is expected to drive down insurance premiums and it obligates the federal government to subsidize those unable to afford coverage.

* Prohibitions on life-time caps- The new law prohibits insurance companies from placing limits on how much coverage a plan will cover in an insured person's lifetime, which is especially important for people with long-term chronic conditions.

Wilson said, “Historically, people with AIDS have experienced major barriers to obtaining health insurance and keeping it, especially when purchasing insurance as an individual. Given the potential enormous cost of life-saving HIV treatments over one's lifetime, "guaranteed availability and renewability of coverage" is a key victory for people with AIDS.

More Change Needed in America Says Veteran Civil Rights Leader

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By Larry Miller, Special to the NNPA from the Philadelphia Tribune –

PHILADELPHIA (NNPA) - NAACP’s former Chairman of the Board Julian Bond was in Philadelphia on March 25 discussing changing racial issues in America — issues that Bond said the nation couldn’t ignore just because Barack Obama is president.

With his usual focused clarity, Bond spoke at the PNC Bank’s Eastwick Center in Southwest Philadelphia, talking about the evolution of the Civil Rights Movement and the role that the NAACP played during that turbulent time in America.

He said it is foolhardy to think that because President Barack Obama made it to the White House that the victories and accomplishments of the Civil Rights Movement can now be dismantled. And he was most articulate in describing the plight that the nation and Black America is now in.

“While we are now poised for greater efforts and grander victories, we’re still being tested by hardships and adversities,” Bond said. “We’ve been rocked by an economy, where one writer said no past taxpayers covers billionaires’ bets. We’ve avoided another Great Depression; instead we’ve suffered a grieved recession. The decade that just ended was the worst for the U.S. economy in modern times.”

Bond said from December 1999 and December 2009, there was no net job creation and that middle-class Americans were earning less at the end of the decade than at the beginning. He said that one in eight Americans are on food stamps and many, at least 6 million, that is their only income.

But adverse economic conditions in the country are even worse for African Americans, Bond said. He said Obama’s victory did not herald a post-civil rights America, or that racism had been vanquished or that structural inequality was erased from racist attitudes.

“Black Americans are more likely to be poor than rich and are worse off than their white counterparts,” he said. “Almost every social indicator from birth to death reflects Black and white disparities. The infant mortality rates are 146 percent higher for Blacks; chances of imprisonment are 447 percent higher, rates of death from homicide are 521 percent higher, lack of health insurance 42 percent more likely, the proportion with a college degree 60 percent lower and the average white American will live five years longer than the average Black American.”

Bond has long been a social activist who marched with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. He is also an author and political and social commentator and former politician. In 1965, he was elected to the Georgia House of Representatives and was prevented from taking his seat by those who objected to his position on the Vietnam War.

In an amazing political twist, he was re-elected to his own vacant seat, un-seated again and after a third election and a unanimous Supreme Court decision, was re-seated.

In 1968, he became the first African American to be nominated as a vice presidential candidate by the Georgia Loyal National Delegation to the Democratic Convention.

Since 1998, he has served as the chairman of the board of the NAACP.

In 2008, the Library of Congress named him a “Living Legend.”

The event, “A Conversation in Courage” was sponsored by PNC Financial Services Group — one of the largest financial services organizations in the nation. It was originally scheduled for February, but was cancelled because of adverse weather conditions.

PNC’s president, J. William Mills, said this is the sixth year the organization has sponsored a Black History Month event.

“This has become a tradition for us,” he said. “Our whole commitment to diversity, as a company, makes all the business sense in the world. When we look at our customer base and our employee base, we realize we have a very diverse organization. Our emphasis on Black History Month is something that we believe helps bring us together as a company and helps show the heart that we have on diversity. You can’t do things like this just because it’s the right thing to do. But you have to encompass it more in how does it affect your business — what is it all about? This is all part of what we believe, that diversity is a key to our performance in the future.”

In speaking to the employees of PNC, Bond said that race relations in the nation are far better now than in the 1960s, but there is still much work ahead.

Bond, quoting the late historian John Hope Franklin, said that all whites benefited from American slavery. All Blacks had no rights they could claim as their own, all whites, including those who owned no slaves, were not only encouraged but also authorized to exercise dominion over all slaves, thereby adding to the system of control.

He said that Jim Crow law might be dead, but racism is alive and well in America.

“W.E.B. Du Bois, one of the founders of the NAACP, was the first social theorist who linked class to race,” he said. “He understood then what we must understand now; race never stands apart from economic realities.

“We’re now asked to believe that 200 years of being somebody else’s property, followed by 100 years of oppression in the South and discrimination in the North, can be wiped away by four decades of half-hearted remediation and one presidential election,” Bond said. “The truth is that Jim Crow may be dead, but racism is alive and well.”

 

Ex-Cop Pleads Guilty to Covering Up Deadly New Orleans Shooting

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

WASHINGTON (NNPA) - A second guilty plea in the Danziger Bridge case in New Orleans has revealed more information regarding an alleged corrupt plot by law enforcement in the wake of Hurricane Katrina to cover up a shooting that claimed the lives of two unarmed civilians.

Jeffrey Lehrmann, a former detective, pleaded guilty on March 11 to failing to report a felony in relation to the Sept. 4, 2005 encounter during which his fellow officers shot six civilians. Four other people were injured and all of the victims are Black.

Lehrmann resigned from the police department in 2006 and is working as a special agent at the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement office in Phoenix. A federal court charged him with misprision of a felony, which meant he didn't report the conspiracy although he had knowledge of it. He is now on administrative leave from his job and faces a maximum sentence of three years in prison coupled with a $250,000 fine. His sentencing has been set for June 10.

“It's not surprising to find corruption here. There has been suspicion in the community for the last nearly five years that this was true,” said New Orleans resident Lawrence Martin to The Final Call.

Documents filed by federal prosecutors show Lehrmann willingly assisted in the Danziger Bridge cover up by producing false evidence to mischaracterize the victims. Lehrmann also admitted making up testimonies in the names of witnesses who never existed. Furthermore, he willingly was a part of the plot to plant a gun allegedly provided by his supervising officer at the time, Sgt. Arthur Kaufman.

“I believe there is more to be uncovered,” said Mr. Martin, who directs NOLA.TV, the city's first web-based news station.

In February, Lt. Michael Lohman confessed in federal court that he participated in the same conspiracy on the Danziger Bridge. Mr. Lohman pleaded guilty to conspiracy to obstruct justice with fellow officers.

In a press release from the U.S. Justice Dept., FBI Special Agent in Charge David Welker stated, “The FBI is uniquely tasked to investigate potential violations of the civil rights of the citizens of the United States. Today's guilty plea is a clear message that the intensity of the investigation is increasing. The FBI, U.S. Attorney's Office, and DOJ's Civil Rights Division will continue to aggressively pursue the evidence wherever it leads.”

Mayor-elect in search of a police chief

In a recent interview with NOLA.TV, former U.S. Attorney and Orleans Parish District Attorney Eddie Jordan said it is difficult for residents to trust the police department especially “in light of the recent guilty plea by Mr. Lohman.”

Jordan originally received the report from Mr. Lohman regarding the shooting back in 2005, which has now become a part of the present bill of information used to prosecute the ex-officer. “He (Lohman) lied in the report. The bottom line is that he was part of a conspiracy to deceive and thwart any investigation that took place on the Danziger Bridge. In my opinion this was one of the most serious and horrific murders in the city because it involved police officers,” said Jordan in the interview.

Despite backlash from police officials, Jordan took the case before a grand jury and it was concluded in 2006 that seven officers should be charged with first degree murder. In August 2008, Orleans Parish Criminal District Court Judge Raymond Bigelow dropped the case but it was taken back up by the Justice Dept. a few weeks later.

“The police were very opposed to me investigating the matter. They thought that they had done nothing wrong. That's what they said publicly. And yet now we know based upon this cover up that they knew that they did wrong. They did not want the world to know what they had done,” said Jordan.

Jordan continued, “It is disturbing to see this but I also saw similar conduct in New Orleans back in the mid-90s when I was a U.S. attorney. So this is part of a pattern that's been going on for years—the efforts to deprive citizens of their civil rights by killing them.”

At a March 11 town hall meeting, New Orleans Mayor-elect Mitch Landrieu fielded suggestions from residents about what he calls his most important decision: selecting a new police chief before his May 3 inauguration.

The mayor-elect hopes his 21-member task force of community leaders will be helpful in assisting the critical search for a qualified individual to head the department.

First Lady Speaks on Health, Education and Family

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Special to the NNPA from the Los Angeles Sentinel

By Brian W. Carter –

LOS ANGELES (NNPA) - President Barack Obama is hard at work addressing the country's unemployment and healthcare. As the saying goes, "behind every great man, there's a great woman." This statement rings true for our President. First Lady, Michelle Obama who, like the President, is also making strides and influencing change as she addresses important issues within our country.

As First Lady, Obama has become involved with many public services. She has passionately become an advocate for families of the military. Obama also visits homeless shelters and a strong supporter of education. She also has changed the White House cuisine to include more organic foods.

Obama is an active supporter of her husband's policies and stance concerning the country. She's an advocate of woman's rights in which she threw a reception for at the White House. Obama also supports the economic stimulus bill. She has shown her support by visiting the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development and the United States Department of Education. On March 2, Obama was a guest at the National Education Association's (NEA) 13th Annual, "Read Across America" day event held at the Library of Congress. The event celebrated the 106th birthday of Dr. Seuss and began a national reading campaign.

"The President of the United States reads all the time," declared Mrs. Obama. "We make sure our girls read every day. They can stay up an extra 30 minutes if they are reading, so you know everyone in our house reads every night."

On March16, the Grocery Manufacturers Association and other food companies invited the First Lady to speak at a science forum, where she addressed the need for healthier foods and snacks for children.

"We need you not to just tweak around the edges but entirely rethink the products you are offering," said Obama.

She launched her campaign to reduce childhood obesity at the beginning of the year. Obama has been talking to schools and nutrition groups throughout the country in effort to increase awareness about obesity. She spoke on misleading food labels, portion size control and more healthy foods endorsed.

Obama is planning her first solo trip to Mexico next month. She will be visiting Mexico City April 13-15. She will meet with First Lady Margarita Zavala to discuss education and economic advancement.

NGOs Launch International Campaign to Stop Man-Made Disaster in Ethiopia

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International NGOs are calling for the halt of the destructive Gibe 3 Dam on Ethiopia's Omo River. The dam threatens the land and livelihoods of 500,000 tribal people in Southern Ethiopia and Northern Kenya. By ending the river's natural flood cycle, it will destroy harvests and grazing lands along the river and fisheries in Lake Turkana, the world's largest desert lake. The dam will devastate the unique culture and ecosystems of the Lower Omo Valley and Lake Turkana, both recognized as UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

The dam violates Ethiopia's constitution, international conventions, the environmental safeguard policies of international financial institutions and the strategic priorities of the independent World Commission on Dams.

Most of the affected people know very little about the project. The Ethiopian government is harshly clamping down on dissent, and affected people are not able to express their views or get independent information about the project.

Construction began in 2006, but the Ethiopian Government needs more than $1.4 billion to finish it. In spite of serious impacts and violations, the African Development Bank, the European Investment Bank, the World Bank, the Italian and the Kenyan governments are currently considering funding the project.

"Gibe 3 is the most destructive dam under construction in Africa. The project will condemn half a million of the region's most vulnerable people to hunger and conflict," said Terri Hathaway, director of International Rivers' Africa Program.

The Counter Balance coalition, the Campaign for the Reform of the World Bank, Friends of Lake Turkana, International Rivers and Survival International ask the global community to join the campaign to stop the destructive Gibe 3 Dam. They have today launched an online petition which calls on the Ethiopian government to halt construction. The petition also asks development banks and governments not to provide any funding for the project.

"This dam is a man-made disaster and violates national and international legislation. This should not be financed with development aid. International Financial Institutions and development agencies must withdraw immediately from the operation," said Caterina Amicucci, of the Italian group CRBM and a member of Counter Balance.

International Rivers, CRBM, Friends of the Lake Turkana and the Counter Balance coalition call on international civil society and concerned citizens around the world to add a voice and sign the petition at www.stopgibe3.org

"While efforts are being made both locally and internationally to end conflict within the region, it is a pity that development banks would even consider undertaking a project that would shutter all efforts that have been made to bring these communities together. They have created a sense of suspicion which is going to not only end the communication and sense of partnerships among these pastoralist communities but create a regional war. Where is the development in that?" concluded Ikal Angelei from Friends of the Lake Turkana.

Visit the Stop Gibe 3 Petition website at www.stopgibe3.org

"International Rivers is an environmental and human rights organization with staff in four continents. For over two decades, International Rivers has been at the heart of the global struggle to protect rivers and the rights of communities that depend on them."

International Rivers www.internationalrivers.org

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