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Debt Balloons Off the Charts in Ghana, Angering Critics

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Special to the NNPA from the Global Information Network

(GIN) – The steady nation of Ghana could be heading for a painful train wreck as government borrowing raises the foreign debt to sky-high levels.

Last month, President John Mahama signed on to a nearly $1 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund. To service the loan, the government will be forced to impose austerity measures that are very likely to hurt Ghanaian citizens. These measures include increases in fuel prices, a freeze on hiring public-sector workers and an end to energy subsidies.

The plan will be presented to the IMF’s board for approval in April, with the first pay out of approximately $100 million to be made shortly after.

According to Akwasi Sarpong, an analyst for BBC Africa, the bailout was considered necessary for the restoration of investor confidence in a struggling economy beset by crippling electricity blackouts.

Then, on the heels of the IMF bailout, more borrowing was announced. State-owned Ghana National Petroleum Corporation is close to signing a $700 million loan agreement with a group of private commercial lenders led by commodity trader Trafigura as part of plans to recapitalize for expansion, the GNPC chief executive said.

It’s the largest loan taken out by the GNPC since the start of oil production in 2010, which many had cheered as a harbinger of prosperity for all.

Unfortunately for Ghana, the world is awash with oil, at some of the lowest prices per barrel in years. In fact, the world is running out of storage for the oil that has already been pumped.

The mountainous borrowing was defended by Vice President Kwesi Amissah-Arthur, who dismissed the figure of $1 billion as insignificant. “Nine hundred and forty million dollars over a three-year period is not a lot of money, it is just about $300 million a year,” he told regional ministers at a conference in Cape Coast. “Now our infrastructure requirements are in the region of about $5 billion a year, so infrastructure alone is overwhelmingly bigger than the resources we are receiving from the IMF.”

But critics of the mounting loans are worried. At a press conference in early January, Minority Leader Osei Kyei Mensah-Bonsu attacked the ballooning of the public debt from $2.6 billion in 2008 to $19.7 billion today.

“Last year at this time, the burden for every Ghanaian was $582. One year on, the debt per capita has increased by 40 percent. No thanks to ‘yentie obi ara’ (‘we are not listening to anyone’) government.”

“What is the most important issue in Ghana today?” asked Stephen Nyarko in Ghanaweb. “It is four letters long. Yes, it is DEBT, and it is the unsustainable type.”

Nyarko continued, “Not long ago, Ghana had a positive economic future, according to the World Bank and IMF. The narrative of ‘Ghana Rising’ was all over the international financial press. Ghana’s once mighty Ghana new cedi has now achieved infamy as the worse performing currency in the world. The slumping currency is fueling inflation. The impact on citizens economic well-being has become so that well-meaning citizens who invested in the Ghana new cedi in 2007, have seen their wealth and savings totally wiped out.

“If we are to get over our current unsustainable debt burden, we need to restart the debate about the breakneck speed at which Ghana has been borrowing money and using its natural resources—oil, gold, cocoa—as collateral. The old models of just borrowing yourself out of poverty and inefficiencies do not fit.”

HIV Could Be Impacting Already High Cancer Rates Among Blacks

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By Roberto Alejandro
Special to the NNPA from the Afro-American Newspaper

A recent study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute found people with HIV develop cancer at higher rates than would be expected in the general population.

This finding has particular public health implications for African Americans, who already suffer the worst HIV infection rates of any group in the United States. Blacks accounted for 46 percent of HIV diagnoses between 2009 and 2013 despite being only 13 percent of the total population, according to the Centers for Disease Control and the U.S. Census Bureau, respectively.

According to the National Cancer Institute study, “An estimated 7760 cancers occurred in 2010 among HIV-infected people, of which 3920 cancers were in excess of expected. The most common excess cancers were non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, Kaposi’s sarcoma, anal cancer, and lung cancer.”

African Americans already suffer above average rates of cancer. Black men suffer the highest rate of new cancer cases among all American men, and Black men and women suffer the highest death rates due to cancer of all Americans, according to the CDC.

The excess cancer burden imposed by HIV on American is “substantial,” according to the new report, the authors of which suggest that “patterns across groups highlight opportunities for cancer control initiatives targeted to HIV-infected people.”

“About half of the excess cancers were cancers that are normally preventable when HIV is controlled by medications, so this highlights a need for continued improvements in access and adherence to HIV therapy,” said Hilary Robbins, one of the study’s authors, to Reuters Health.


In Selma, Ala., Obama Proved that he is 'Black Enough'

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By George E. Curry
NNPA Editor-in-Chief

SELMA, Ala. (NNPA) – Throughout his campaign for the presidency, Barack Obama was dogged by one question: Is he Black enough? The question was repeated so often that after showing up late for an appearance at the 2008 annual convention of the National Association of Black Journalists in Las Vegas, Obama said, “I want to apologize for being late, but you guys keep asking whether I am Black enough.”

After a 33-minute speech Saturday in Selma, Ala. commemorating the Selma to Montgomery March and passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, nobody was asking: Is Barack Obama Black enough?

President Obama rarely discussed the issue of race in his first six years in office except in reaction to a major racial catastrophe such as the shooting deaths of Trayvon Martin in Florida and Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. or the arrest of Harvard University Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. for breaking into his own home.

On Saturday, however, President Obama seemed comfortable discussing race in public, showing he has a deep appreciation for the accomplishments of the Civil Rights Movement and quoting or referencing the Bible, Black spirituals, James Baldwin, Sojourner Truth, Fannie Lou Hamer, Langston Hughes, the Tuskegee Airmen, Jackie Robinson and even his favorite hip-hop artist Jay-Z.

While connecting with African Americans, President Obama also underscored the significance of civil rights warriors making America hold true to its creed.

“As John [Lewis] noted, there are places and moments in America where this nation’s destiny has been decided. Many are sites of war – Concord and Lexington, Appomattox, Gettysburg. Others are sites that symbolize the daring of America’s character – Independence Hall and Seneca Falls, Kitty Hawk and Cape Canaveral,” the president said.

“Selma is such a place. In one afternoon 50 years ago, so much of our turbulent history — the stain of slavery and anguish of civil war; the yoke of segregation and tyranny of Jim Crow; the death of four little girls in Birmingham; and the dream of a Baptist preacher – all that history met on this bridge.”

He made his comments with the Edmund Pettus Bridge, where civil rights marchers were attacked by Alabama State Troopers on “Bloody Sunday,” serving as a backdrop.

“It was not a clash of armies, but a clash of wills; a contest to determine the true meaning of America,” Obama said. “And because of men and women like John Lewis, Joseph Lowery, Hosea Williams, Amelia Boynton, Diane Nash, Ralph Abernathy, C.T. Vivian, Andrew Young, Fred Shuttlesworth, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and so many others, the idea of a just America and a fair America, an inclusive America, and a generous America – that idea ultimately triumphed.”

President Obama also acknowledged the contributions of thousands whose name will never be known to the public yet played a critical role in securing the right to vote.

“As is true across the landscape of American history, we cannot examine this moment in isolation. The march on Selma was part of a broader campaign that spanned generations; the leaders that day part of a long line of heroes. We gather here to celebrate them. We gather here to honor the courage of ordinary Americans willing to endure billy clubs and the chastening rod; tear gas and the trampling hoof; men and women who despite the gush of blood and splintered bone would stay true to their North Star and keep marching towards justice.

“They did as Scripture instructed: ‘Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.’ And in the days to come, they went back again and again. When the trumpet call sounded for more to join, the people came –- black and white, young and old, Christian and Jew, waving the American flag and singing the same anthems full of faith and hope.”

President Obama admitted what many, if not most African Americans have long accepted as fact – it was through their efforts that other groups obtained their rights. In fact, often ahead of Blacks.

“Because of what they [protesters] did, the doors of opportunity swung open not just for black folks, but for every American,” Obama said. “Women marched through those doors. Latinos marched through those doors. Asian Americans, gay Americans, Americans with disabilities – they all came through those doors. Their endeavors gave the entire South the chance to rise again, not by reasserting the past, but by transcending the past.”

The president said in order to be true to those who sacrificed to make America a better place, everyone – Black and White – has an obligation to address America’s unfinished business.

“First and foremost, we have to recognize that one day’s commemoration, no matter how special, is not enough. If Selma taught us anything, it’s that our work is never done. The American experiment in self-government gives work and purpose to each generation. Selma teaches us, as well, that action requires that we shed our cynicism. For when it comes to the pursuit of justice, we can afford neither complacency nor despair.”

He said, “If we want to honor the courage of those who marched that day, then all of us are called to possess their moral imagination. All of us will need to feel as they did the fierce urgency of now. All of us need to recognize as they did that change depends on our actions, on our attitudes, the things we teach our children. And if we make such an effort, no matter how hard it may sometimes seem, laws can be passed, and consciences can be stirred, and consensus can be built.”

Obama addressed two hot-button issues – the criminal justice system and voter disenfranchisement efforts – directly.

“With such an effort, we can make sure our criminal justice system serves all and not just some. Together, we can raise the level of mutual trust that policing is built on – the idea that police officers are members of the community they risk their lives to protect, and citizens in Ferguson and New York and Cleveland, they just want the same thing young people here marched for 50 years ago – the protection of the law. Together, we can address unfair sentencing and overcrowded prisons, and the stunted circumstances that rob too many boys of the chance to become men, and rob the nation of too many men who could be good dads, and good workers, and good neighbors. With effort, we can roll back poverty and the roadblocks to opportunity. Americans don’t accept a free ride for anybody, nor do we believe in equality of outcomes. But we do expect equal opportunity.”

Regarding Republican-led efforts to suppress the Black and Latino vote, Obama said: “Right now, in 2015, 50 years after Selma, there are laws across this country designed to make it harder for people to vote. As we speak, more of such laws are being proposed. Meanwhile, the Voting Rights Act, the culmination of so much blood, so much sweat and tears, the product of so much sacrifice in the face of wanton violence, the Voting Rights Act stands weakened, its future subject to political rancor.”

But the problem does not stop there, Obama said.

“Of course, our democracy is not the task of Congress alone, or the courts alone, or even the president alone. If every new voter-suppression law was struck down today, we would still have, here in America, one of the lowest voting rates among free peoples. Fifty years ago, registering to vote here in Selma and much of the South meant guessing the number of jellybeans in a jar, the number of bubbles on a bar of soap. It meant risking your dignity, and sometimes, your life.

“What’s our excuse today for not voting? How do we so casually discard the right for which so many fought? How do we so fully give away our power, our voice, in shaping America’s future? Why are we pointing to somebody else when we could take the time just to go to the polling places? We give away our power. “

Hip-hop artist Jay-Z’s remix of the song, “My President” has the popular line: “Rosa Parks sat so Martin Luther could walk / Martin Luther walked so Barack Obama could run / Barack Obama ran so all the children could fly.”

In his speech, Obama had his own line that showed he was in tune with Jay-Z’s lyrics: “We honor those who walked so we could run. We must run so our children soar.”

He added, “And we will not grow weary. For we believe in the power of an awesome God, and we believe in this country’s sacred promise.”

Impact of Roe v. Wade on Black Community an Ongoing Debate

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By Zenitha Prince
Special to the NNPA from the Afro-American Newspaper

In 1967, Dr. Dorothy Lavinia Brown, the first African-American woman surgeon in the South and a Tennessee state assemblywoman, was the first American lawmaker to sponsor a proposed bill to fully legalize abortion. The proposal failed. But, in 1970, pregnant Dallas-area resident Norma L. McCorvey (“Jane Roe”) sued then-District Attorney Henry Wade, claiming that a Texas law criminalizing most abortions violated McCorvey’s constitutional rights. On Jan. 22, 1973, the Supreme Court ruled 7-2 in Roe’s favour, asserting that the “right of privacy, whether it be founded in the Fourteenth Amendment’s concept of personal liberty and restrictions upon state action…or… in the Ninth Amendment’s reservation of rights to the people, is broad enough to encompass a woman’s decision whether or not to terminate her pregnancy.”

The high court’s controversial ruling in Roe v. Wade, which allowed women to have an abortion in the early stages of her pregnancy without government interference, has reverberated throughout the nation and across the decades. Divisive in nature, it has spawned acrimonious debate, sharp political partisanship and even violence.

Undoubtedly, however, Roe v. Wade has had an undeniable impact on American women, particularly African-American women—though the nature of the effect is, as expected, a source of debate. “This was a landmark case that absolutely changed the game for women of color in this country,” said Monica Simpson, executive director, Sistersong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective.

“This is the first case that really helped alleviate reproductive oppression and allowed women to make their own decisions over their body.”

On the other hand, pro-life advocates say the death of millions through abortion, rather than being a source of “justice,” has instead unleashed a “holocaust” and “genocide” in the African-American community.

That idea burst back into the mainstream during 2010’s Black History Month when the Radiance Foundation, a Georgia-based antiabortion group, erected dozens of billboards proclaiming the message, “Black children are an endangered species.” The following year, the group Life Always sparked outrage with a billboard in lower Manhattan that declared, The most dangerous place for an African-American is the womb.”

Both groups, and other anti-abortion activists, have identified Planned Parenthood – the international non-profit and provider of reproductive health services, including abortion – as the villain in this so-called genocide. For example, in New York, the home of Planned Parenthood, more Black babies are aborted than are born alive (1,223 to 1,000), according to the Radiance Foundation, which cited the state’s health department. Activists say the group targets African Americans, pointing to its founder Margaret Sanger’s connection to the eugenics movement—which sought to cull the population of those considered “unfit,” usually the disabled, poor and minorities—and the location of the group’s clinics in poorer, minority communities.

The AFRO reached out to Planned Parenthood but did not receive a statement by deadline.

“As someone who is Black and has worked in the community all my life, I think Roe v. Wade has had a devastating impact on the Black community,” Ryan Scott Bomberger, chief creative officer and founder of the Radiance Foundation, told the AFRO. He added, “If you go off of the United Nations’ definition of genocide, it is exactly what has happened in the Black community.”

Fuelling these claims is the long-held fact: the comparatively high abortion rates among Black women. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2008 (the last year for which information is available), White women accounted for 37.2 percent of abortions, Black women for 35.5 percent, Hispanic women for 21.1 percent and other races for 6.3 percent. But, Black women have the highest rates and ratios of abortion – almost four times that of White women: 33.5 abortions per 1,000 women aged 15-44 years and 472 abortions per 1,000 live births compared to 8.7 abortions per 1,000 women aged 15-44 years and 140 abortions per 1,000 live births. Reproductive rights and health advocates attribute the disproportionate number of abortions among Black women to the higher number of unintended pregnancy rates within the group. These higher unintended pregnancy rates reflect the challenge faced by many women of color in accessing high-quality contraceptive services and in using them consistently, they say, and also reflect the broader realities of racial and ethnic disparities in health care access and outcomes. For example, it was only when President Obama passed the Affordable Care Act that health insurance companies were required to offer free birth control coverage, and Medicaid—the source of health coverage for many low-income, minorities—is still not required to offer free contraceptives. Sonya Michel, an expert in women’s history, University of Maryland—College Park and senior scholar, Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, said because of their relatively low incomes and lack of access to quality health care, African-American women did not always have the full reproductive freedom other groups enjoyed.

“One of the ironies when you look across the political spectrum, the people who are the most opposed to abortion are also opposed to providing affordable birth control and welfare benefits to African-American people,” Michel said, adding that such detractors are basically saying Black people shouldn’t have sex.

The abortion-as-genocide supporters however, decry those claims, seeing abortion as another in a set of attempts—some government-sponsored—to decimate the Black community. Such fears are grounded in a history of medical—including reproductive health—abuses within the Black community.

“We’ve been accused of promoting conspiracy theories, but it is not conspiracy, it’s history,” Bomberger said.

In her book, Killing the Black Body author Dorothy Roberts outlines the history of the control and manipulation of the Black woman’s womb as a tool of racial oppression in the United States.

“The systematic, institutionalized denial of reproductive freedom has uniquely marked Black women’s history in America,” she wrote. “Considering this history—from slave masters’ economic stake in bonded women’s fertility to the racist strains of early birth control policy to sterilization abuse of Black women in the 1960s and 1970s to the current campaign to inject Norplant and Depo-Provera in the arms of Black teenagers and welfare mothers—paints a powerful picture of the powerful link between race and reproductive freedom in America.”

That tainted history prompted several within the Civil Rights and Black Nationalist movements to view birth control and abortion as a form of “race suicide,” and encouraged Black fertility as a means of empowering the Black race.

Bomberger echoes those sentiments, which—for him—is grounded in a deep personal history. The product of rape—which has long been accepted as a rationale for abortion—Bomberger was instead given up for adoption and raised in a Christian family of 15 children—10 of whom were adopted. He is, himself, the parent of two adopted children.

“It is a huge blow to Black voting power” and to other aspects of the Black community, he said of the “epidemic” of abortions.

“We’ve heard the term #BlackLivesMatter, but when do they matter?” Bomberger questioned, later adding, “We want to stop the destruction of beautiful possibility in the Black community, not only of the unborn children who are killed, but of potential mothers and fathers…. For a people who have overcome such a heinous past to believe killing our future is something to celebrate baffles me.”

Conversely, pro-choice advocates see the nation’s history of abuse against the Black woman and the costs of involuntary motherhood as even more reason why Roe v Wade is a matter of justice.

Among African female slaves, abortion and birth control methods were part of their heritage—used as part of their basic health care but also as a form of self-determination, protection of potential children from the horrors of slavery and protest against enslavers that viewed them as mere brood mares.

In an 1856 medical essay, Dr. E.M. Pendleton noted complaints by plantation owners that their slaves seemed to be “possessed of a secret by which they destroy the foetus at an early age of gestation.”

But the indigenous knowledge of those African slaves were lost as the gap between the generations grew wider–and as modern-day Black women began to lean more heavily on institutionalized medical care, Simpson said. And, then-illegal abortion became dangerous.

“Women were taking extreme measures to rid themselves of unwanted pregnancies,” the reproductive justice activist said. “Most of the women who lost their lives before Roe v. Wade were women of color.”

Given those and other socio-political realities, Simpson said it is “completely ridiculous” to “pressure” Black women with these abortion-as-genocide memes void of further discussion about the role of Black men who abandon their families, void of discussions about the economic inequalities Black women face, void of social issues such as police violence against young Black men, void of discussions about the lack of comprehensive sex education for Black boys and girls, etc.

“It is absolutely absurd and cruel to shame Black women in this way because at the end of the day, we don’t know why a woman may choose not to have a child,” she said. “What trips me out is people think women are making these choices lightly. This is never an easy decision for any person to make.”

District Agencies Help Convicts Deal with Mental Health Issues

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By Linda Poulson
Special to the NNPA from the Afro-American Newspaper

Jeffrey Moore was shot in the face. The trauma from his ordeal caused mental health challenges while taking numerous medications. The resulted: He was incarcerated. “At some point people will have mental health challenges, especially with problems they face in life,” he said.

Moore is getting assistance from University Legal Services (ULS), helping him transition to a halfway house. He believes it will be difficult to find work because of his condition. “People already make assessments about you,” he stated. “Why are people with mental health issues pushed back?”

Moore is one example of the thousands suffering from mental health issues who have been incarcerated. The topic is broad-based and depend on behavioral mechanisms that are sometimes hard to define.

ULS has formed a partnership with the D.C. Jail and Prison Advocacy Project (JPAP) for District residents who have been diagnosed with a mental illness or emotional impairment. Symptoms include schizophrenia, bipolar disorders, depression and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

Dr. Jennifer Skeem, a professor at the University of California Berkeley whose research involves justice policy with people that have emotional and behavioral problems, was part of the panel.

“There has been a dramatic increase since 2012,” Skeem said. “There is a perceived root of the problem through imperfect models of what actually works.”

Skeem mentioned a three-step process that takes priority in helping cases of mental illness. “Psychiatric services are not the linchpin,” Skeem continued. “What is the roadmap in the number of people and risk factors in criminal behavior?”

Ann-Marie Louison of the Nathaniel Project in New York City share her ideas about what is needed to help those who are incarcerated. As co-founder of the project, she developed the first “alternative-to-incarceration” program in the Manhattan Supreme Court. The program helps adults with severe mental illnesses that are convicted of felonies. “In New York, there is a natural judicial process in which the majority has felonies,” she said. “Quality of life is important.”

There are 25 mental health clinics or Core Service Agencies (CSAs) in the District. University Legal Services can help those decide which one best suit their needs depending on their condition.

The JPAP received a three-year grant from the Langeloth Foundation for a pilot program with ULS’ Federal Bureau of Prison’s Mental Health Transition Planning Project. Tammy Seltzer is the program director. The legal service provides incarcerated individuals with mental health assistance when leaving prison to go back into the community. The service also provides those who face discrimination due to their condition. The support continues for six months.

Taylar Neuvelle was glad she networked enough to find out about the project. “I had a mental breakdown. I was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) complex due to abuse,” Neuvelle said. “When I went in front of the judge due to my symptoms, he didn’t care,” she said.

Neuvelle had been abused since childhood. Her former husband also abused her.

More information on University Legal Services can be obtained at www.uls-dc.org.

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BVN National News Wire