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Proposed Tobacco Settlement Excludes Black Media

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By George E. Curry
NNPA Editor-in-Chief

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – The U.S. Justice Department and the Tobacco-Free Kids Action Fund have reached an agreement with the four major tobacco companies that requires them to spend more than $30 million advertising with the three major television networks and run full-page ads in 35 White and Hispanic newspapers as well as purchasing space on their respective websites but not make a single purchase from a Black print or broadcast media company.

The 24-page proposed consent agreement, reached Friday, will go before U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia on Wednesday, Jan. 15, for final approval.

“We are shocked and deeply disappointed that the Justice Department, the Tobacco-Free Action Fund and the tobacco industry would all agree to sign off an advertising plan that totally disrespects the Black community,” said Cloves C. Campbell, chairman of the National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA), a federation of nearly 200 Black newspapers. “The industry’s past efforts to target African-American consumers have been thoroughly documented. It is sad that an industry that sought to exploit our community with a product that is harmful to our health now seeks to further devalue African-Americans by ignoring the Black media when it is being forced to atone what a federal judge determined was a deliberate effort to deceive the American public.”

Peter S. Hamm, director of communications for the Tobacco-Free Kids Action, said on Monday that the media outlets were selected by Judge Kessler and disclosed in an order issued Aug. 17, 2006. Hamm said he did not know how she determined what media outlets would be utilized to carry the newspaper ads and television commercials.

A telephone call Monday requesting comment from the Justice Department was not returned.

The story of the agreement was first disclosed by Target Market News, published by Ken Smikle. The Chicago-based publication said an advertising source placed the value of the total buy at $30 million to $45 million.

The advertising campaign, which won’t go into effect until all appeals have been exhausted by the tobacco companies, was agreed to as part of a settlement that found tobacco companies mislead the public about the dangers of smoking. The four defendants are: Altria, R.J. Reynolds Tobacco, Lorillard and Philip Morris USA.

The U.S. Justice Department filed suit against the cigarette manufacturers on Sept. 22, 1999 charging that they had violated the Racketeer Influenced and Corruption Organizations Act (RICO). They were found guilty at the conclusion of a trial that lasted from Dec. 21, 2004 to June 9, 2005.

Judge Kessler wrote a stinging opinion saying, that the case “is about an industry, and in particular these Defendants, that survives, and profits, from selling a highly addictive product which causes diseases that lead to a staggering number of deaths per year, an immeasurable amount of human suffering and economic loss, and a profound burden on our national health care system. Defendants have known these facts for at least 50 years or more. Despite that knowledge, they have consistently, repeatedly, and with enormous skill and sophistication, denied these facts to the public, to the Government, and to the public health community… In short, Defendants have marketed and sold their lethal products with zeal, with deception, with a single-minded focus on their financial success, and without regard for the human tragedy or social costs that success exacted.”

The judge prohibited the companies from committing similar acts going forward and ordered them to make “corrective statements” about the lies they had told about the dangers of smoking.

Kessler’s ruling was unanimously upheld March 22, 2009 by a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. On June 28, 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to accept an appeal.

Carefully-crafted “corrective statements” that include the wording, placement and timing of TV commercials and the content, type and size of fonts to be used in newspaper ads were covered in the agreement reached Friday. The statements will acknowledge that the advertising is being done under court order and that companies had misled the public on the health effects of smoking, the addictiveness of smoking and nicotine and the health effects of secondhand smoke.

The companies will also admit that they falsely sold and advertised low-tar and light cigarettes as less harmful than regular cigarettes and designed cigarettes to enhance the delivery of nicotine.

Under the agreement, each company will decide whether to place commercials on CBS, ABC or NBC.

“The TV spots will run a total of five times per week, subject to the availability of network time and upon approval of the network (s) on which the spots will air,” the agreement stipulates. “The five TV spots to be run each week will be run by each Defendant at its choice between 7:00 p.m. and 10:00 p.m. in the time zone in which the spot airs, between Monday and Thursday for one year.”

In the event the desired time slot is unavailable, the companies must continue to purchase spots until they have run the corrective statements at least 50 times and have aired a total of 260 spots.

For newspapers, the tobacco companies are required to purchase a full-page ad in the first section of the Sunday edition of each newspaper. Each ad will contain one of the five corrective statements in their entirety. The companies are also required to advertise on the newspapers’ web sites. Those same requirements will run in Spanish in Spanish-language newspapers.

The ads and commercials will state, “A Federal Court has ruled that Altria, R.J. Reynolds Tobacco, Lorillard, and Philip Morris USA deliberately deceived the American public and has ordered those companies to make these statements. Here is the truth:” Texts, of the corrective statements will then be provided.

Under Judge Kessler’s 2006 order, ads will be placed in the following newspapers: Atlanta Journal Constitution, Boston Globe, Boston Herald, Charlotte Observer, Chicago Sun Times, Chicago Tribune, Dallas Morning News, Florida Times Union, Fresno Bee, Ft. Worth Star-Telegram, Houston Chronicle, Los Angeles Times, Miami Herald, New York Daily News, New York Post, New York Sun, New York Times, Orlando Sentinel, Palm Beach Post, Philadelphia Inquirer, Richmond Times-Dispatch, Sacramento Bee, San Diego Union-Tribune, San Francisco Chronicle, St. Petersburg Times, Tallahassee Democrat, USA Today, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, LA Eastern Group Publications, San Francisco La Oferta Review/El Vistaz-Combo, NAHP, Chicago Lawndale Group News and NAHP Houston – Que Onda!

It is ironic that the tobacco industry is bypassing Black media while complying with a federal order to disclose its deception when in the past it used the Black media to target African-American consumers.

“The tobacco industry has gone to great lengths to target the African-American community over the past 30 years,” the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids stated. “Through market research and aggressive advertising, the industry has successfully penetrated this population. The industry’s ‘investment’ in the African-American community has had a destructive impact: African Americans suffer the greatest burden of tobacco-related mortality of any ethnic or racial group in the United States.”

The anti-smoking group also explained, “…There is compelling evidence that tobacco companies not only advertise disproportionately in communities with large African-American populations, they also create advertising specifically targeted to these communities. Cigarette ads highly prevalent in African-American communities and publications are often characterized by slogans, relevant and specific messages, or images that have a great appeal among those in the black community, or that depict African Americans in an appealing light. Contrary to how blacks are typically portrayed in the media, cigarette ads portray images of African Americans who are happy, confident, successful and wealthy, in love, attractive, strong and independent.”

The tobacco industry was among the first to make inroads into the Black community by contributing to Black causes and developing close personal relationships with Black leaders.

For example, A. Shaunise Washington, president of executive director of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, was Vice President for Government Affairs, Policy and Outreach for Altria. Prior to joining Altria, she was Director of Washington Relations for Philip Morris. In addition to serving on the CBC Foundation’s Corporate Advisory Council, Washington was chairwoman of the CBC Foundation Board of Directors from March 2012 to February 2013.

Jim Winston, Executive Director of the National Association of Black Owned Broadcasters, told Target Market News: “The health of the African American community has suffered disproportionately from the advertising campaigns of the tobacco companies, and Black owned media has been demonstrated to be the best way to engage the African American community. Yet, now that the tobacco companies are being required to educate the public about the harm that tobacco products have caused, the companies and the DOJ have no plan to direct any educational advertising to our communities.”

Both Winston and Cloves Campbell said they plan to contact the Justice Department and ask it to direct tobacco companies to include Black-owned print and broadcast media in their public education buys. If that fails, Campbell said, NNPA will take stronger action.

He said, “If our newspapers aren’t good enough to advertise in, their products – including the non-tobacco ones – aren’t good enough for us to consume.”

The School Nobody Wanted – Except the Community

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By Khalil Abdullah
Special to the NNPA from New America Media

The recently announced closure of Sarah T. Reed Senior High School in New Orleans will usher in the first school district in the country with no publicly run schools – and some community advocates see Reed’s demise as a sign that the local community’s voices don’t count.

“People in our community in New Orleans feel like the voices of parents, students, and teachers have been left out. It’s a perception, especially during this education reform process after Hurricane Katrina. That is how folks have been feeling for years,” says Chris Sang, the communications director of the Vietnamese American Young Leadership Association (VAYLA), a community-based organization that has fought to save the school.

Reed is located in the eastern part of the Big Easy. Its students are drawn from the surrounding neighborhoods, which are predominantly composed of African American, Latino, and Vietnamese families.

The school’s closure was announced by the Recovery School District (RSD), an agency established by the state in 2003 to address the problem of failing schools. The state legislature strengthened RSD’s authority to expedite school closures in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, when many New Orleans schools were physically devastated and student and teacher populations became dispersed.

While the RSD oversees failing schools, other public schools in New Orleans operate under the Orleans Parish School Board and the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education. But the majority of the schools that receive public funding in New Orleans – over 60 of less than 90 schools – are under the RSD, which is now exclusively composed of charter schools. Charter schools receive public funding but are run by independent boards and are subject to different regulatory requirements than traditional public schools.

As of 2013, 85 percent of the city’s nearly 43,000 public school students are enrolled in a charter school – by far the highest percentage in the country, according to the National Alliance of Public Charter Schools.

Sarah T. Reed and George Washington Carver Senior High School were the last public non-charter high schools under the RSD. Along with Reed’s closure, it was simultaneously announced that George Washington Carver would transfer to charter control. Though some publicly run schools continue operating under the Orleans Parish School Board, the RSD will be the country’s first all-charter school district.

Sang says VAYLA will continue to provide academic tutoring and counseling to support former Reed students, as it has for other students who have been reassigned to different schools.

“For students from our community, [it’s meant] going to schools where there’s this implicit sense that if you can’t make it here, someone else will take your place,” says Sang. “We see a lot of charters that have written off the local culture here – particularly the culture of African American students – and promoted more of a corporate message. The parents do not want their children to be looked at as just a number or a test score.”

In addition to tutoring and ESL classes, VAYLA also offers cultural activities. Sang says that the VAYLA campaign at Reed was first centered on efforts to retain art, band, and leadership classes, among other offerings that had once made the school competitive.

“We were successful in getting a part-time nurse assigned to the school,” he adds, in a battle that he thinks should not have needed to be fought, but one illustrative of the way Reed and other public schools have become marginalized as the city embraces a charter school culture.

“The RSD never gave the same amount of time and attention to Reed that it gave to the charters,” he says.

The shift from an effort to restore programs to a fight to save the school itself came in 2011, when VAYLA learned that the school was going to be phased out.

“The reasoning was that it is a failing school,” Sang says. Once a school receives a failing score for a consecutive number of years, it can be taken over by the RSD, which is in turn run by the Louisiana Board of Education. The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education makes the final assessment of failure.

But Sang contends that the closing became a rigged game. “When the decision was made to end a grade each year, given the subsequent student loss [and the resulting loss of resources], there was no way for Reed to ever recover,” he says. The decrease in experienced teachers and staff was but one consequence of the diminished funding.

“For students and parents, it will be a huge hurdle to have to wake up so much earlier to travel to other schools,” he says, anticipating that Reed’s students will be dispersed as the RSD has not found a charter school operator to take it over. “Some of those schools do not even offer bus service, and taking public transportation early in the morning or late at night is not only time consuming, but can even be dangerous.”

Myron Miller, who graduated from Reed last year, says he would have had to get up at 5 in the morning to go to a school in a different neighborhood.

“Sometimes the buses come, but sometimes they come late. Eleanor McMain Magnet Secondary School is in another district and there are a lot of bus stops on the way and a lot of traffic up there,” he says. “It would have taken about two hours each way. Reed is in my neighborhood. I used to walk to school in 15 minutes.”

Now a college freshman, Miller has been engaged in the fight to save Reed as a traditional public school since he first got involved with VAYLA’s initiative three years ago. “I told my little sisters I want to try to get the school re-opened so they can go there when they’re ready for high school,” he says.

Sang says he’s seen the downward spiral of a school before. He got his start in the education field through AmeriCorps in 2007, serving as an after-school coordinator and teaching assistant at a school in Chicago. While he was there he saw the student population begin to dwindle.

“The community was gentrifying,” Sang says. “The residents moving into the community weren’t interested in sending their kids to the local public school. They were looking at other options.”

The number of teachers began tapering off, though the predominantly African American and Latino parents – many of whom attended the school’s ESL classes – remained enthusiastic. But as the number of students declined, says Sang, there were fewer available resources as well.

“It was a democratically-run school. The involvement of the community was tangible. You could see it,” Sang says. The level of energy on the part of parents and activists in Chicago parallels what he has experienced in New Orleans in the losing battle to keep Sarah T. Reed open. Though gentrification was not the driver in Reed’s closing, Sang attributes the schools’ decline in both cities to similar root causes.

“Sarah T. Reed has never received the resources that it needed to be successful in serving its students,” he says.

Sang is not dismissive of the efforts of local charter schools to be inclusive, but he points out that some of the education reform advocates who come to New Orleans will have a significant impact on the education system before moving on.

“Long-time community residents who dare to question or challenge are sometimes viewed as obstacles,” Sang says. “We at VAYLA want to make sure that the people who are here are part of the process, that they’re at the table and that they get a chance to weigh in on what their future is.”

Orphaned by Poverty? Children, Homes, State Agencies and Questions About Why Children are Being Taken from Loved Ones

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By Kanya D’Almeida
Special to the NNPA from The Final Call

PHILADELPHIA – Seated at a table in the dimly lit café in Philadelphia’s public library, Carolyn Hill looks no different from her fellow diners. A few minutes of conversation, though, are enough to reveal the extent of her distress.

She is fighting a fierce custody battle against the City of Philadelphia, whose Department of Human Services (DHS) puts more children of color into state custody than any other city of its size in the United States.

Ms. Hill told IPS the only reason she is unable to get back her children is because she is a low-income, single, Black woman—an analysis shared by many activists and experts working to reunite families torn apart by state authorities.

On April 3, 2011, DHS Philadelphia placed Ms. Hill’s two nieces—one of them aged six months, the other just one-and-a-half years old—in her care, after their birth mother’s rights were terminated on charges of drug abuse.

Barely a year later—while the paperwork necessary to grant Ms. Hill status as the girls’ legal adoptive mother was being processed—a social worker from the Lutheran Children and Family Service, a private child support agency contracted by DHS, deemed Ms. Hill unsuitable for adoption, or even fostering.

Citing her lack of a GED as grounds for the immediate removal of the children, the social worker took the girls away, without notice, just before the Easter holiday.

“When they came to visit the kids, they would only stay 15 minutes,” she told IPS. “What can you learn about someone in 15 minutes? They call them home inspections, but they are more like home invasions.”

Unaware at the time of her rights as a caregiver and frantic for help, Ms. Hill stumbled upon a Philadelphia-based self-help group calling itself DHS–Give Us Back Our Children.

Together with this community of volunteers and legal advocates, she has spent the last two years digging through to the nucleus of a systematic child removal policy in Philadelphia—beginning with overworked and under-qualified caseworkers sitting at the receiving end of child protection hotlines, and up through every level of social workers, agencies, courts and “child advocates.”

Anyone lodging a complaint against a parent need only call one of the many national hotlines, which refer calls to agencies like DHS for investigation.

Philadelphia DHS did not respond to IPS requests for comment for this article.

Investigating caseworkers can then list the parent in a central register of child abusers based on nothing more than an hour-long interaction with the family.

“In some states, parents can appeal after the fact, in others there is no appeal at all,” Phoebe Jones, a member of the U.S.-wide Every Mother is a Working Mother Network, told IPS.

Once the allegation of abuse has been made, caseworkers can carry out strip searches and enter homes without warrants. In over 29 states, caseworkers are free to “confiscate” a child immediately if the parent resists any of these measures. In the rest of the states, Ms. Jones said, caseworkers can ask law enforcement to take the child for them.

Ms. Hill lays the blame for her current plight squarely at the feet of her own social workers. She says they were blinded by the fact that she lived in low-income housing, and failed to see that there was always food in the fridge, a home-cooked meal on the stove, and lots of laughter in her home.

“My nieces and I went out for walks together, took naps together, ate together, played together,” she said. “Now they are stuck in a daycare center from six in the morning until six in the evening every day.”

A lucrative enterprise

After fighting for a full year—protesting outside the courthouse, providing endless documentation as proof of her capabilities as a caregiver, enlisting the willing support of her extended family, her church and community—Ms. Hill finally managed to extract a retraction from the DHS.

But no sooner was she proclaimed fit to welcome back her children than the Support Center for Child Advocates stepped in.

Child advocates, according to Celyne Camen of the EMWM Network, are tasked with representing children in ongoing dependency cases.

The advocate’s mandate is to press for what they think is best for the child, regardless of what the child may actually want. In the case of Carolyn Hill, one of the children in question was only 15-months-old.

“How can a child of that age be represented by strangers who don’t understand her needs?” Ms. Camen asked.

In Ms. Camen’s opinion, the board of the Support Center for Child Advocates—which includes Swiss financiers, investment banks like Merrill Lynch, mammoth law firms like Blank Rome and some of the wealthiest CEOs of major drug companies—represents the huge financial incentives powering the child removal/foster care system in the U.S.

“These corporations are very interested in restructuring this particular sector to shift more influence into private hands,” she said. “All of the services needed to run this operation represent the possibility of huge government contracts for private companies.”

Aramark, a facilities management and supply firm, sits prominently on the board of the Support Center. Among their many clients are 600 correctional institutions to whom they supply “everything from uniforms to pencils,” Ms. Camen said, pointing to a continuum between child care institutions and the vast archipelago of prisons scattered across the U.S.—not unlike the widely covered “school-to-prison pipeline.”

In addition, added Eric Gjertsen from Payday men’s network, a Philadelphia-based group working with men impacted by DHS’s practices, cash cows also come in the form of parenting capacity tests, anger management classes, psychological evaluations and medical exams conducted by hundreds of private companies.

Todd Lloyd, child welfare policy director of the non-profit organization Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children, says housing alone for a single child could cost anything from $10,000 to $66,000 a year.

“Keep in mind,” he told IPS, “that placement costs are not the only costs involved with out-of-home removal—there are other administrative, court and case management costs that come into play as well.”

All told, the finances required for statewide child removal operations grant DHS Philadelphia an annual operating budget of $600 million—“Enough to transform the conditions for many children said to be neglected, along with their families,” Ms. Jones told IPS.

Ms. Hill says her struggle has put her in touch with dozens of parents fighting for their children. Many of them are juggling large families of five or more kids, and the vast majority report losing their parental rights over minor shortfalls.

“I met a mother whose aunt called DHS on her. When they arrived they didn’t find anything wrong except that the toilet in her house was backed up. But they took her kid away. That don’t make no sense—if your toilet is backed up you don’t need DHS, all you need is a plumber.”

This Inter-Press Service article is the second of a two-part series on charges of racial bias in the child welfare system in Philadelphia.

Thousands of Students of Color Affected By School Closing

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By Elaina Johnson
Special to the NNPA from the New York Amsterdam News

According to a MSNBC report, in 2013, thousands of students of color in Detroit; New York; Newark, NJ; Oakland; Washington, D.C; Chicago and Philadelphia have lost their schools due to mass school closings.

District officials say these schools were underutilized or underperforming, and that by closing them, students have an opportunity to attend better-equipped schools.

“Consolidating schools is the best way to make sure all of our city’s students get the resources they need to succeed in the classroom,” said Mayor Rahm Emanuel of Chicago to MSNBC.

Many of these closed schools were ones that predominantly served students of color. These students must now travel to elementary and middle schools further away from their homes.

Black students in Chicago and Philadelphia suffered the most from school closings, according to the report. In Chicago, 88 percent of the students affected by the school closures were African-American. In Philadelphia 81 percent were black. In both cities more than 93 percent of the affected students also come from lower income families. Parents of these children in each of these cities have filed federal complaints under the 1964 Civil Rights Act to fight school closings.

A Better Deal for Kids in the Budget? Democrats and Republicans Say 'Yes'

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By Ann Challet
Special to the NNPA from New America Media

June Jimenez of Silver Spring, Md. was pregnant when she was laid off from her job at a public affairs firm last year. She tried unsuccessfully for months to find a job and worried about losing her home.

“My mortgage is $1,500 a month and I only received $320 a week in unemployment,” she says.

Her health insurance policy at the time didn’t provide her with maternity coverage, and when she tried to purchase an individual plan, she discovered that she couldn’t because her pregnancy qualified as a pre-existing condition. She qualified for Medicaid, which covered the cost of her pregnancy, including an emergency C-section.

But she found herself facing the possibility of having to choose among making her mortgage payments, paying for utilities, and buying food.

What sustained her, she says, was that by her sixth month of pregnancy she was able in enroll in WIC (the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children). She used WIC to buy food for her and her daughter for the next nine months.

Today Jimenez is working again, and her daughter Karanda is now almost a year old. “Without a doubt, Medicaid and WIC saved us,” she says. “[Those programs] provided a crucial bridge for me.”

At a congressional briefing last week, children’s advocacy organization First Focus Campaign for Children, in conjunction with advocacy group MomsRising, presented the results of a nationwide poll that found bipartisan public support for protecting funding for children’s programs in the federal budget.

The survey of 800 voters, commissioned by First Focus and conducted by polling firm American Viewpoint, found that strong majorities of both Democrats and Republicans opposed cuts to programs like the ones that sustained Jimenez.

Voters were surveyed by landline and cell phone in the first week of December.

“Kids were affected significantly by the budget sequestration that took effect earlier this year,” says Ed Walz, vice president of communications at First Focus. Cutbacks, he says, have disproportionately impacted programs serving children.

While some federal programs such as Social Security are mandatory, children’s programs like WIC, Head Start (which provides early childhood services to low-income families, including education and child care), and K-12 education are funded through the appropriations process.

Head Start programs, for example, had to cut services for close to 60,000 children in the 2013-2014 school year.

According to the survey, three in four voters oppose cuts to K-12 education funding, including 87 percent of Democrats, 63 percent of Republicans, and 71 percent of independent voters.

Voters specifically oppose cuts to early learning for young children by a ratio of nearly two-to- one (62 to 32 percent), including half of Republicans, more than three in four Democrats, and almost 60 percent of independents. Nearly two in three voters oppose cuts to Head Start.

Sheila Arias of Durham, N.C. says that when she lost her job as an interpreter, she couldn’t afford to keep her daughter, Jaslene, who was two at the time, in daycare. Arias went to the local Children’s Developmental Services Agency for help, and was told that Jaslene would probably qualify for Early Head Start.

The agency helped Arias apply, and three weeks later, her daughter was accepted into the program. Jaslene has developmental disabilities, and Arias says that the teachers “offered her important structure and a regular daily routine” that, in addition to therapy, have helped with managing her special needs.

Jaslene will start kindergarten next year, and Arias says that Early Head Start is now helping her with her younger child, who is showing signs of a disorder that also affects his sister.

Democrats and Republicans recently reached a budget deal that would restore some of the funding to programs that were affected by sequestration. First Focus reports that if sequestration relief were to be applied proportionally to children’s programs, about $3.6 billion federal dollars would be restored to these initiatives in 2014, including $1.8 billion for K-12 education and $370 million for Head Start.

The poll found that when voters are asked to prioritize deficit reduction or protecting investments in children, 31 percent of respondents place a higher priority on investments in children and 41 percent rate the two options as equally important. “Voters reject what they consider a false choice,” says Walz. “What this shows is that 72 percent of voters reject that the way to reduce the budget deficit is to cut children’s programs.”

“Congress has struggled to prove responsive to the concerns of the American people,” he says. “What the current deal does, in a nutshell, is create an opportunity for Congress to undo some of the damage done in this budget year.”

(This article is part of ongoing coverage by New America Media on the Affordable Care Act, supported by The Atlantic Philanthropies.)

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