September 19, 2013
By Cierra Duncan
Special to the NNPA from The Houston Defender
HOUSTON – Affordable Care Act enrollment goes into effect Oct. 1, and many uninsured Americans will begin comparing new health insurance rates.
President Barack Obama signed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) into law in March 2010. It makes preventive care and other types of medical care more accessible and affordable to a larger portion of Americans.
Some provisions of the ACA – dubbed “Obamacare” – have already taken effect while others are still in the works, as federal, state and local agencies continue to fine-tune the process. To inform consumers about the ACA, a forum titled “Healthcare in a Changing Landscape” was recently held at the University of Houston, and sponsored by the Children’s Defense Fund, Texas Organizing Project, Get Covered America and the Center for Children, Law & Policy.
Participants included Houston Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, Houston State Rep. Garnet Coleman and Jeness Sherrell, a Change Happens program coordinator. Change Happens is one of eight Texas organizations awarded navigator grants to assist consumers with enrolling in health insurance marketplaces. Coleman worked with the White House on the ACA, and took the lead on behalf of state legislators in favor of the law.
“The Affordable Care Act probably benefits African-Americans more than anyone else,” Coleman said. “We have a high rate of being uninsured, and also have a high rate of illnesses, such as diabetes, heart disease, hypertension and stroke. If people enroll through the exchanges, they will get a health insurance policy that fits their income. Before, people who had pre-existing conditions would have a hard time getting insurance.”
Coleman said the biggest misconception about the ACA is that individuals cannot afford the insurance. “The premiums are actually less for the exchange,” he said. Exchanges are another word for state, federal, or jointly run online marketplaces for health insurance. Navigators, who act as customer service representatives, will assist with finding the appropriate insurance based on need and income.
The exchanges will offer plans that fall into one of four categories: bronze, silver, gold or platinum. Bronze plans have the lowest premiums available, and 60 percent of health care costs will be paid for by the insurer. Under silver plans, insurance companies will cover 70 percent of medical costs. Gold plans will cover 80 percent of medical costs. Platinum plans will have the highest premiums and cover 90 percent of costs.
Those with limited incomes and those under 30 can purchase a “catastrophic” health plan, which protects from high medical costs. Catastrophic plans include three primary care doctor visits per year and free preventative care at no cost to the insured. However, cost assistance is not available under the plan. Sherrell noted the role of navigators in the process.
“The navigators will have the responsibility of maintaining expertise in eligibility, enrollment, and program specification, as well as conduct public education activities to raise awareness about the exchange,” Sherrell said.
Jackson Lee stressed that under the ACA, insurance companies will no longer be able to deny coverage based on pre-existing medical conditions. In addition, “No insurance company can prevent you from getting preventive care, such as mammograms and [wellness] exams for men.”
Jackson Lee reminded consumers to beware of scams. Attempts to defraud consumers have already been reported, as scam artists attempt to illegally gain access to personal information such as Social Security numbers, credit cards and bank accounts.
“Please do not send money to anyone if you are looking for information,” she said. “The only money you will pay is to the insurer who has a package that you want.”
For more information on enrollment visit healthcare.gov.
September 19, 2013
Special to the NNPA from the New York Carib News
Executive Director of the US base Drug Policy Alliance, Ethan Nadelmann believes anecdotal evidence suggests it could be the next big crop for the island.
The Portia Simpson Miller led administration is being urged to legalize and regulate marijuana as the nation’s economy could benefit from such a move.
This is according to the Executive Director of the US base Drug Policy Alliance, Ethan Nadelmann who believes that although a study has not been carried out surrounding the benefits of marijuana legalization, anecdotal evidence suggests it could be the next big crop for the island.
“If you legally regulate marijuana, first you stop wasting tens of millions of dollars per year on enforcing a policy, secondly you reduce the opportunities for police corruption, you begin to raise tax revenue from the domestic sales of cannabis and you can begin to recruit tourism on that basis.”
He pointed out that the United States has no credibility in lecturing any country on changing its marijuana legislations because 20 states in the U.S. has legally regulated marijuana and are reaping the benefits from it.
Meanwhile, well-known Jamaican scientist, Dr. Henry Lowe believes the Portia Simpson Miller administration should take a serious look at developing the medical marijuana industry.
Lowe told an editor’s forum at the Jamaica Gleaner on Wednesday that the Government is missing out on billions of dollars, which could be earned from the wide range of cosmeceutical, neutraceutical and pharmaceutical products being developed across the world.
“I think Jamaica has got a clear leadership role in medical ganja, and I am calling on the Government of Jamaica – including the parliamentary Opposition – to take a look at this, so we can move forward and do what we need to do…because it has real potential.”
Lowe argued that while the cultivation of marijuana is illegal and most of the debate has been centered on the smoking of marijuana, emphasis must now shift to the medical and extension, economic potential for Jamaica.
September 19, 2013
By Charles Ellison
Special to the NNPA from The Philadelphia Tribune
Before giving his national address on Syria — one of the most consequential speeches of his presidency — Barack Obama barnstormed six major cable networks. Yet major networks of color weren’t on the list. Black and Latino outlets such as BET, TVOne and Univision wouldn’t get an opportunity to interview the first president of color on a diplomatic imbroglio many observers were comparing to the Cuban Missile Crisis.
But the decision to cold shoulder Black media on Syria underscores a tense subtext to the issue. It further exposes a much more frayed and complicated relationship between the president and his most loyal political base: African Americans. While Black voters have, clearly, always been the key to Obama’s political rise and subsequent re-election, their response to his sudden preoccupation with Syria is pointedly chilled. That represents a marked departure from the past when African Americans would typically defend Obama out of a fiercely loyal, and somewhat obligatory, cultural association. Yet, recent polls offer a new take on that relationship, as Black America questions the president’s investment in Syria at the expense of more pressing concerns at home.
When a Washington Post/ABC News poll asked about public support for a U.S. strike against the Syrian regime for its use of chemical weapons, 56 percent of African Americans were opposed. Another Pew Research Center survey discovered similar numbers, with only 22 percent of African Americans favoring a limited air and cruise missile strike.
A YouGov/Economist poll found similar attitudes. Compared to whites and Latinos, Blacks were the least likely demographic to support no-fly zones and airstrikes. When asked about evacuating refugees and sending humanitarian aid, only 21 percent and 37 percent supported such actions – compared to 36 percent and 43 percent for whites, and a whopping 40 percent and 58 percent of Hispanics supporting those same policies.
Tension was also felt in Washington as Black legislators, for the most part, appeared unwilling to offer any real backing to the president once he sought Congressional approval. A recent report in Foreign Policy Magazine caught a request from Congressional Black Caucus chairwoman Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio) for members to “limit public comment,” suggesting the White House was putting pressure on Black members prior to what was evolving into an embarrassing House vote for the president.
Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.), one of the more senior CBC members on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, eagerly issued a statement following the president’s Tuesday night speech. “His request that Congress postpone a vote on the authorization of the use of force is the wise thing to do in the interests of the United States and the global community. The diplomatic openings that have developed must be given a chance to succeed.”
Where the CBC stands on Syria is more than likely a reflection of where most of their Black constituents stand on the issue. With most caucus members representing majority African American and urban districts, lawmakers would rather not take their chances on this one.
“Public opinion data has shown for a long time that blacks tend to be less supportive of foreign intervention,” explains Emory University’s Dr. Andra Gillespie. “So it is not surprising that they would not support the president on Syria.”
“I’m not certain that the Black electorate is rejecting Obama’s diplomatic efforts,” offers Richard Prince of the Maynard Institute for Journalism. “I suspect that, like the rest of the population, they were rejecting the direct military action.”
Dr. Marvin King, a political science and African American studies professor at the University of Mississippi, suspects African Americans have very little patience with the president’s attention projected overseas during his second term. Black voters see a need to have their issues spotlighted and addressed, rather than become distracted by civil war in a distant country.
“Historically, for all second term presidents, they reach a point where by the time they get to the last term, support from their base wears thin,” explains King. “People are ready for something different.”
“But, there has long been a desire among African Americans for a Marshall Plan on urban poverty and issues. And, now in his second term, they are asking him: where is it? No one asked you to get involved in Syria, so why are you in it?”
Peniel Joseph, founding director of Tufts University Center for the Study of Race and Democracy, agrees. “The Black community is tired of wars of choice after more than a decade in Afghanistan and Iraq,” says Joseph. “The group that requires economic opportunity in the form of jobs, access to capital to open small businesses, and educational training for the new knowledge industries are African Americans.”
“Black people want to see more nation-building at home, something President Obama has repeatedly promised, but has failed to deliver in the transformative manner the times require.”
Hiram College political scientist Jason Johnson believes it’s much less complex than that. “It’s really simple: Black people are tired of war. It really has nothing to do whatsoever with Barack Obama.”
“You have a situation here where George Bush is like a really bad ex-husband,” quips Johnson. “He ruined everyone’s ability to trust the president when it comes to war.”
But Johnson adds that other practical considerations come into play when African Americans consider the consequences of military action in Syria — regardless of any effort to explain it as “limited.” Many Black men and women view the military as a pathway to middle class stability as the armed forces are used to pay for college expenses, family healthcare and future financial support. Hence, a disproportionately large number of African Americans typically find themselves on the front line when hostilities break out.
“And Black people just don’t understand why Syria is important,” argues Johnson. “They just don’t see the relation to gas prices, or rent, or how this tackles unemployment.”
September 19, 2013
By Freddie Allen
NNPA Washington Correspondent
WASHINGTON (NNPA) – Although the number of prison inmates is declining nationwide, the number of Blacks serving life sentences continues to rise, according to a new study.
A report by The Sentencing Project titled, “Life Goes On: The Historic Rise in Life Sentences in America” found that about 160,000 inmates are serving life sentences in prisons throughout the United States, and more than 47 percent of them are Black. Non-Hispanic Whites account for about one-third of prisoners serving life.
The racial disparity for those serving life without parole sentences is even greater, with Blacks making up 58 percent of prisoners destined to spend the rest of their life behind bars.
The Sentencing Project reported that, “the black population of lifers reaches much higher in states such as Maryland (77.4%), Georgia (72.0%), and Mississippi (71.5%).”
Since 1984, the number of prisoners sentenced to life has quadrupled and the total number of lifers is up 11.8 percent since 2008 alone. The Sentencing Project reported that there has been a 22.2% rise in life without parole sentences, since 2009.
Despite accounting for less than 13 percent of the U.S. population, Blacks account for 28 percent of total arrests, and 38 percent of those convicted of a felony.
According to the report: “The upward creep in life sentences has accelerated in recent decades as an element of the ‘tough on crime’ political environment that began in the 1980s. The idea of whole-life prison sentences easily won approval in a period of growing skepticism about the value of rehabilitation.”
The report continued: “During this time policymakers and the public grew comfortable with the idea of putting people away for either long, discrete terms of years or simply for the rest of their lives. As fear of crime among the public and policymakers was crystallized by sensationalized media accounts of formerly incarcerated persons reoffending, the corrections system came to be accepted principally as a retributive tool.”
Florida, Pennsylvania, Louisiana, Michigan and California account for nearly 60 percent of prisoners serving life without parole sentences.
The only thing more expensive than sentencing prisoners to life without parole is sentencing them to death.
A 2009 study by rhe Death Penalty Information Center found that the state of California spends $137 million a year on death penalty inmates, largely because of court costs. Sentencing criminals to life without parole cost the state $11.5 million a year.
Advocates for criminal justice reform argue that rehabilitating drug addicts and preparing prisoners for life after incarceration costs far less.
The Sentencing Project found that individuals released from life sentences were less than one-third as likely to be rearrested within three years as all released persons.
The Sentencing Project study offered a number of reforms to current life sentencing policies including eliminating the sentence of life without parole completely, increasing the use of executive clemency rights, preparing lifers for release from prison, and restoring the role of parole.
According to the report, most states staff parole boards with political appointees, making it much harder for evidence and expert testimony to have an impact on life sentences.
The report stated: “In many ways, Americans support the belief in second chances, but there is a reluctance to apply this perspective to those who commit crime, especially serious crime.”
The report continued: “However, many prisoners go on demonstrate true personal reform, remorse, and ability to contribute positively to society if given the chance.”
September 19, 2013
By ERIC TUCKER
LOLITA C. BALDOR
WASHINGTON (AP) — The former Navy reservist who slaughtered 12 people at the Washington Navy Yard had been hearing voices and was being treated for mental problems in the weeks before the shooting rampage, but was not stripped of his security clearance, officials said Tuesday.
Aaron Alexis, a 34-year-old information technology employee with a defense contractor, used a valid pass to get into the highly secured installation Monday morning and started firing inside a building, the FBI said. He was killed in a gun battle with police.
The motive for the mass shooting — the deadliest on a military installation in the U.S. since the attack at Fort Hood, Texas, in 2009 — was a mystery, investigators said.
U.S. law enforcement officials told The Associated Press that there was no known connection to international or domestic terrorism and investigators have found no manifesto or other writings suggesting a political or religious motivation.
Alexis had been suffering a host of serious mental problems, including paranoia and a sleep disorder, and had been hearing voices in his head, according to the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the criminal investigation was still going on.
He had been treated since August by Veterans Affairs for his mental problems, the officials said.
The Navy had not declared him mentally unfit, which would have rescinded a security clearance Alexis had from his earlier time in the Navy Reserves.
The assault is likely to raise more questions about the adequacy of the background checks and security clearances of contract employees and others in sensitive government positions — an issue that came up most recently with National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden, an employee with a defense contractor.
In the hours after the Navy Yard attack, a detailed profile of Alexis began coming into focus.
A Buddhist convert who had also had flare-ups of rage, Alexis, a black man who grew up in New York City and whose last known address was in Fort Worth, Texas, complained about the Navy and being a victim of discrimination. He also had two run-ins with the law over shootings in 2004 and 2010 in Texas and Seattle.
In addition to those killed at the Navy Yard attack, eight people were hurt, including three who were shot and wounded, authorities. Those three were a police officer and two female civilians, authorities said. They were all expected to survive.
Monday’s onslaught at a single building at the Navy Yard unfolded about 8:20 a.m. in the heart of the nation’s capital, less than four miles from the White House and two miles from the Capitol. It put all of Washington on edge.
“This is a horrific tragedy,” Mayor Vincent Gray said.
Alexis carried three weapons: an AR-15 assault rifle, a shotgun, and a handgun that he took from a police officer at the scene, according to two federal law enforcement officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the investigation.
The AR-15 is the same type of rifle used in last year's mass shooting at a Newtown, Conn., elementary school that killed 20 students and six women. The weapon was also used in the shooting at a Colorado movie theater that killed 12 and wounded 70.
For much of the day Monday, authorities said they were looking for a possible second attacker who may have been disguised in an olive-drab military-style uniform. But by late Monday night, they said they were convinced the shooting was the work of a lone gunman, and the lockdown around the area was eased.
“We do now feel comfortable that we have the single and sole person responsible for the loss of life inside the base today,” Washington Police Chief Cathy Lanier said.
President Barack Obama lamented yet another mass shooting in the U.S. that he said took the lives of American “patriots.” He promised to make sure “whoever carried out this cowardly act is held responsible.”
The FBI took charge of the investigation.
The attack came four years after Army psychiatrist Maj. Nidal Hasan killed 13 people at Fort Hood in what he said was an effort to save the lives of Muslims overseas. He was convicted last month and sentenced to death.
The dead in the Navy Yard attack ranged in age from 46 to 73, according to the mayor. A number of the victims were civilian employees and contractors, rather than active-duty military personnel, the police chief said.
At the time of the rampage, Alexis was an employee with The Experts, a company that was a Defense Department subcontractor on a Navy-Marine Corps computer project, authorities said.
Valerie Parlave, head of the FBI's field office in Washington, said Alexis had access to the Navy Yard as a defense contractor and used a valid pass.
Alexis had been a full-time Navy reservist from 2007 to early 2011, leaving as a petty officer third class, the Navy said. It did not say why he left. He had been an aviation electrician’s mate with a unit in Fort Worth.
The Washington Navy Yard is a sprawling, 41-acre labyrinth of buildings and streets protected by armed guards and metal detectors, and employees have to show their IDs at doors and gates. More than 18,000 people work there.
The rampage took place at Building 197, the headquarters for Naval Sea Systems Command, which buys, builds and maintains ships and submarines. About 3,000 people work at headquarters, many of them civilians.
Witnesses on Monday described a gunman opening fire from a fourth-floor overlook, aiming down on people on the main floor, which includes a glass-walled cafeteria. Others said a gunman fired at them in a third-floor hallway.
Patricia Ward, a logistics-management specialist, said she was in the cafeteria getting breakfast.
“It was three gunshots straight in a row — pop, pop, pop. Three seconds later, it was pop, pop, pop, pop, pop, so it was like about a total of seven gunshots, and we just started running,” Ward said.