Category: Breaking News Written by The Root
(The Root) -- No visit to Kenya is complete without calling on Sarah Obama, President Obama's remarkably sharp 90-year-old step-grandmother, the woman who raised his father, Barack Obama Sr.
Since the 2008 U.S. presidential campaign, Westerners have trooped to her door, eager to learn about the president's African heritage from the woman he calls "Granny." Obama used her accounts of the family history extensively in his 1995 autobiography, Dreams From My Father. Thrust into the spotlight by improbable circumstances, Mama Sarah, as Kenyans call her, graciously receives these many visitors.
I've had the pleasure of seeing Mama Sarah several times, most recently this past June, and have visited her with two groups of journalists. It is revealing to hear the narratives Western visitors bring to these encounters, preloaded storylines that can become obstacles to seeing Africa for what it is.
First, you should know something about Nyanza province, where the Obama family, members of the Luo tribe, has lived for generations in the village of Nyangoma Kogelo. Located in Western Kenya, Nyanza has some of the worst health indicators in the country. If President Obama had been born in Kogelo, chances are he would not have lived to age 5. In Kenya nationally, the infant mortality rate is 74 in 1,000; in Nyanza it is 200 in 1,000.
The average Kenyan's life expectancy is 56. In Nyanza it is 44. Infants are more than twice as likely to die here than elsewhere in Kenya, and mothers are more likely to die in childbirth. The HIV/AIDS rate is more than double the national average. Almost two-thirds of the population lives below the national poverty line.
While it's true she's more prosperous than many of her neighbors, this is Mama Sarah's world.
I first met Sarah Obama in March 2009, shortly after her step-grandson took office. In those days you could just show up. When I arrived, Mama Sarah, wearing a colorful dress and matching headscarf, was sitting under a mango tree in front of her small house with a group of local women.
She spoke in Luo, her tribal language. The women were part of a widows-and-grandmothers group taking care of orphaned children. Most of the children were probably AIDS orphans, and some of the women sitting in the circle were probably HIV-positive, too. (Per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, according to a study in Nyanza, up to 36 percent of women between 20 and 30 years old and up to 40 percent of men ages 25 to 34 are HIV-positive. Women are almost twice as likely to contract the virus. Polygamy and customs such as wife inheritance further spread the disease.)
Sarah Obama was caring for several orphans and paying the secondary-school fees of other students so they could continue their studies. She said she had also persuaded more than a dozen non-Kenyan visitors to sponsor more students.
I headed back to Kenya in June 2009 with an editors' delegation. I looked forward to introducing them to the "other" Obama community organizer, to have them see life in Nyanza through her eyes. We came with supplies she had requested for the widows: sugar, tea, maize meal, cooking oil, candles and salt. Someone had set up a souvenir table at the entrance to her compound featuring earrings and necklaces of colorful paper beads made from old magazines.
The visit, which began after Mama Sarah awoke from her afternoon nap, did not unfold as planned. Instead of focusing on life in Nyanza, Mama Sarah's work with her widows group and the challenges women farmers face in a region plagued by hunger, the conversation gravitated to what she thought of the presidential inauguration, how often she communicated with President Obama and the immigration ordeals of various Obama relatives in the U.S.
There were few queries about Nyanza. She sighed, then patiently answered the questions. The supplies we brought delighted her, and as we drove off, she began dragging the boxes in backward through her front door.
In June 2012, I returned with a group of international bloggers who were looking at women's reproductive-health issues in Kenya. Once again we visited Nyanza province and Mama Sarah.
Over three years, much had changed. A brightly painted sign saying "Sarah Obama's Road" had been placed at the turnoff. On the compound's metal gate, another sign posted official visiting hours. The souvenir table was gone. She now had a government minder, a young female civil servant. In the three years since I first met her, Mama Sarah had become a regional tourist attraction.
We sat under the mango tree, and again, the conversation did not go as I had envisioned. Mama Sarah was somewhat irritable, still recovering from a bout of malaria two days prior. Delegation members asked her about women's reproductive-health issues but didn't approve of the answers they got. She opposes abortion and objects to family planning for practical reasons.
"In our circumstances the [child] mortality rate is very high," she said. "If you limit [births], you lower the number that will remain. So the more, the better." She repeated what she told the young Barack Obama Jr., as described in Dreams From My Father: that she believes disobedient wives should be beaten.
A few Western delegation members were appalled by her views. Ideally, they'd have understood that her views reflect those of many in Kenyan society. More than 80 percent of Kenyans oppose abortion. Because so many die, children -- particularly to Mama Sarah's generation -- are considered a blessing. They help in the fields to stave off hunger and care for parents in old age.
It's only recently that some rural Kenyan women feel empowered enough to negotiate with their husbands on family size. Others secretly visit clinics (if there are any available in their area) for injectable contraceptives.
Her thoughts on beating disobedient wives may seem shocking, but it's complicated. She herself was an abused wife. Her husband, Hussein Onyango Obama, President Obama's paternal grandfather, was known as "the Terror." He beat his wives (polygamy is widespread in Nyanza), children and even dinner guests, often for no apparent reason. According to Mama Sarah's account in Dreams From My Father, several wives who predated her couldn't take the abuse and returned to their parents' compounds, a radical act in Luo society that shames the woman's family.
Akumu, Sarah Obama's co-wife and the biological mother of Barack Obama Sr., repeatedly tried to flee but was always returned to Onyango Obama's house by her parents. When Barack Obama Sr. was 9 years old, Akumu finally escaped, abandoning her son to be raised by Mama Sarah, Onyango Obama's third or fourth wife, who was barely more than a teenager herself.
Mama Sarah's experience may explain why, in 2009 and 2012, she spoke repeatedly about the importance of educating girls. "During my day, women were not allowed to go to school," she told us during the visit this year. "We had to take care of the garden, cook and take care of the children. Now it is better." If a woman is educated, "she can take care of herself."
To live to age 90 in a place like Kogelo, to survive an abusive marriage, is not only good fortune. It is also a triumph of tenacity and willpower. Mama Sarah -- complex, evolving -- is beginning to see and help foster some of the changes taking place in her country.
And yet the soundbite from this latest visit that interested the Americans in the group most was her emphatic statement that President Obama was not born in Kenya, more fodder for the 24-hour news cycle of Birther claims and counterclaims.
I wish more people who visit Mama Sarah would say, "Tell us about your life," and then listen.
Last Updated on Friday, 28 September 2012 12:58
Category: Breaking News Written by Huffingtonpost
A tiny, routine revision in some jobs data could have a big political payoff for President Obama.
The Labor Department on Thursday morning quietly released a new benchmark for payroll employment in the U.S. It turns out that with the revision, there has been net job growth -- not much, but more than nothing -- during Obama's first term.
According to the revision, total non-farm payrolls stood at 133.686 million jobs in August, up from 133.561 million in January 2009, when Obama's first term began. Before the revision, payrolls were at 133.300 million in August.
In other words, 125,000 jobs have been created, in total, during Obama's first term, compared with a prior estimate of a loss of 261,000.
This is obviously a very small difference, but it takes away a weapon that former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, the Republican nominee for president, has used repeatedly to hit Obama: the claim that there has been a net job loss since he took office.
That claim was arguably unfair in any event, given the state of the economy when Obama took on the worst job in America: The economy was shedding about 750,000 jobs per month just before and after his inauguration. With the new benchmark revisions, it added about 194,000 jobs per month in the year up to March 2012, according to Wharton economics professor Justin Wolfers.
The BLS regularly adjusts its payroll data to account for hard unemployment insurance data from the states. The next revision is scheduled for February 2013. In the latest revision, as of March 2012, U.S. non-farm payrolls were 386,000 jobs higher than first estimated. The BLS noted that these revisions are so tiny that they are not considered statistically significant -- representing just 0.3 percent of total non-farm payrolls.
If not for deep cuts in government jobs, net job growth in Obama's first term probably would have turned positive long ago. The BLS revision raised private payrolls by 453,000 jobs, but lowered government payrolls by 67,000. That means, in total, federal, state and local government payrolls are 743,000 jobs lower than they were when Obama took office. Private payrolls, in contrast, are 868,000 jobs higher than when Obama took office, including the benchmark revision.
These numbers do not change the unemployment rate, because they are derived from a survey of businesses that is separate from the household survey that determines the unemployment rate. Unemployment is still too high at 8.1 percent, and job growth has weakened noticeably in recent months -- Thursday's benchmark revisions don't change that.
Still, by taking away one big talking point from Romney, these revisions could be politically significant.
Update: A couple of points of context: Including today's benchmark revision, about 4.4 million jobs have been created, in total, since February 2010, when payrolls finally hit bottom after the recession. We're still about 4.3 million jobs away from peak employment in January 2008.
Last Updated on Friday, 28 September 2012 12:47
Category: Breaking News Written by Minehaha Forman
Question It was a trip back in time on the fourth day of the Kilpatrick corruption trail proceedings when three witnesses testified to the potential misuse of state grants that former state legislator Kwame Kilpatrick requested in 2000.
The topic of the day stuck on a $300,000 state grant that was approved more than 12 years ago. Kilpatrick, then the House Democratic floor leader, got his wife Carlita a job at the non-profit that received the state funds that he had pushed for. Kilpatrick’s defense team argued that Carlita’s hire was an ethical issue, not a legal one.
U.S. Attorneys called in three witnesses; Dan DeGrow, former Michigan state senator and majority leader for the Republican Party, Mary Lannoye, former State Budget Director, and Donna Williams, former executive director of Vanguard, the non-profit arm of Second Ebenezer Church that received the $300,000 grant. Kilpatrick’s wife, Carlita Kilpatrick, was the focus of the testimony as it related to the state grant.
Carlita’s youth training company, UNITE, received $37,500 of the grant funds that were allocated to Vanguard. But Carlita never came close to completing the work she invoiced the non-profit for, Williams said in her testimony. Williams said that when she returned to work after her honeymoon in 2000, her boss, Bishop Edgar Vann, told her that Kwame Kilpatrick had visited him at his home and asked that Vanguard hire his wife to perform training services for youth and Vanguard staff.
“When I first heard about it, I was upset,” Williams said. “I didn’t like the circumstances of her hire.” Williams added that she liked Carlita and enjoyed the short time she spent working with her. “Had you been hiring other folks [with the grant money]?” U.S. attorney Michael Bullotta asked Williams. She said that other people hired with grant funds were paid after they finished the work.
“We hired staff and artists to set up workshops,” Williams said. “They provided an invoice and were paid after providing the services.” But Vanguard paid Carlita a $37,500 lump sum in advance of doing any work, Williams said. Williams said Vanguard never asked Carlita to fulfill the terms of her contract.
In fact, after Carlita told Williams she was taking a class and could no longer attend meetings with Vanguard staff, Williams never called her to pressure her to complete the work, or asked for a refund. Why? “This was not a normal grant,” Williams said adding that the requirements of the grant itself were very vague and the circumstances of Carlita’s hire were unique.
In order to receive all $300,000 of the state grant, Williams had to send documentation to the state that work was being done to improve the community. Williams said she attached all invoices in the documentation, including Carlita’s. “I got a phone call from Kwame Kilpatrick. He said that I had messed up, that I was not supposed to include the UNITE invoice,” Williams said adding that he sounded angry. “He said [Carlita’s] payment was supposed to come from some other funds but was not aware of any other money.”
The State became concerned about Vanguard’s grant usage when officials learned that Carlita was receiving funds from a grant that her husband had pushed for. In an unrelated incident, the state terminated the grant for use on housing projects that were not approved in the grant. But it was reinstated quickly with the conditions that they would not continue with the housing construction or hire Carlita again.
Lannoye testified that when she heard Kilpatrick’s wife was receiving funds from a grant that Kilpatrick had pushed for, she was upset and thought it was a breach of ethics. “I was angry at [Kwame] because these grants were supposed to go to help a community, not directly to a legislator,” Lannoye said. She said Kilpatrick was “nonchalant” when confronted about it. Kilpatrick’s attorney, James Thomas, highlighted the difference between unethical and illegal. He asked if Kilpatrick broke any laws or rules that applied to the grant. “Back then there were never rules and processes in place for dealing with these grants,” Degrow said in his testimony. But he said if he had known Carlita was going to be personally benefitting from the grant, he would have stopped it. “I don’t think I would have approved that contract,” he said. “You were concerned it was an ethical breach. Nothing illegal,” Thomas said.
Thomas asked both Lannoye and Degrow whether it was unusual for family members of state lawmakers to work for organizations funded by state grants. Both replied that it was unusual, but that it had happened before with no ethical questions because in those instances, the family members had “actually performed the work”. U.S. Attorney Michael Bullotta asked Williams if she thought Carlita helped a single child in the school where she was hired to train youth. Williams said no.
Last Updated on Friday, 28 September 2012 12:09
Category: News Briefs Written by WWJ
DETROIT (CBS Detroit) A new kind of reality video is coming to theaters near you — and it doesn’t involve any hair-pulling or name-calling.
The meltdowns are for real.
“Burn,” a movie that features a year in the lives of a team of Detroit firefighters, premieres Friday and Saturday, Sept. 28 and 29, at The Fillmore Detroit. Tickets are $25, and still available HERE.
The movie, produced by actor Denis Leary, shows what truly goes on behind the red doors of the Detroit Fire Department.
“I wish my head could forget what my eyes have seen,” one firefighter says in the movie trailer.
Filmmakers Brenna Sanchez and Tom Putnam garnered an exclusive agreement with the Detroit Fire Department that allowed them to embed with firefighters for an entire year, filming no-holds-barred.
“Firefighters don’t talk, they’re not on the couch with Oprah,” Sanchez said. This is the first time viewers will see inside the day-to-day lives of some of the hardest-working first responders in the world.
Detroit has an average of 30 fires a day, and viewers will see some explosive situations up close and personal.
“You’ll see the flames as it unfolds,” Putnam said, adding, “It’s an action movie, it’s shot in widescreen, it’s got great music, we’re up in helicopters, we’re going into fires with these guys.”
The entire movie’s been funded by charitable donations, which Putnam said makes it “possibly the largest film ever to be made this way.”
But it didn’t happen easily: It took filmmakers four years to shoot 1,000 hours of video — which filled 140 hard drives — until they got exactly what they wanted.
“No one’s ever made a firefighting documentary before,” Putnam said. “Detroit’s probably the one place you can do it because they’re so busy that you can actually go to fires with the guys, no one’s ever sent cameras into fires before, no one’s spent this much time in a firehouse before, so I think the movie has a lot of firsts.”
The goal is to “explore human struggles, hope and personal courage in the face of overwhelming odds,” filmmakers said in a press release.
In the meantime, filmmakers are still trying to raise money to ensure the film gets as wide an audience as possible.
As of August 28, 2012, they still need to raise $325,000 to $450,000 — “depending on how wide we want to release the film,” filmmakers said, adding, “Since we do not have a distributor, all the costs of releasing the film fall to us. The more we raise, the more cities we can take it to.
“We know it may seem like a lot, but it’s actually a tiny fraction of what most films cost to get released. And while we’re able to keep costs low, with the support of our partners and social media support, these costs do add up. Just to give you some perspective: Last year, a small documentary we know of was bought by a major distributor that spent $2 million dollars on advertising alone. And you probably never heard of it.”
Last Updated on Friday, 28 September 2012 10:26
Category: News Briefs Written by WWJ
LANSING (WWJ) - Cash registers are noisy at stores across the state. According to the Michigan Retail Index, more Michigan retailers increased sales in August, the first time in three months the overall retail industry has improved its performance.
James Hallan, President and CEO of the Michigan Retailers Association, said late summer sales and back-to-school shopping helped the retail industry rebound from a two-month slip.
“The apparel, shoes and general merchandise categories were strong, suggesting that back-to-school shopping was helpful in reversing the trend from early and mid summer,” said Hallan.
Hallan noted that sales improved despite the drag caused by a continued rise in Michigan’s unemployment rate. In August it jumped from 9.0 to 9.4 percent, the fourth monthly increase after dropping nine consecutive months.
The August Michigan Retail Index found that 54 percent of retailers increased sales over the same month last year, while 27 percent recorded declines and 19 percent saw no change. The results create a seasonally adjusted performance index of 61.7, up from 56.1 in July and 58.6 in June. A year ago August it was 55.9.
The Index gauges the performance of the state’s overall retail industry, based on monthly surveys conducted by MRA and the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago. Index values above 50 generally indicate positive activity; the higher the number, the stronger the activity.
Looking forward, 56 percent of retailers expect sales during September-November to increase over the same period last year, while 14 percent project a decrease and 30 percent no change. That puts the seasonally adjusted outlook index at 67.7, up slightly from 67.4 in July. A year ago August it was 61.1.
Last Updated on Friday, 28 September 2012 09:40
Category: Breaking News Written by Huffington Post
WASHINGTON -- If the Senate were
representative of the U.S. population, 13 of its 100 members would be African-American. But there have been only six black senators in the country's history.
Right now, there are zero. And it will likely remain that way after the 2012 elections, since none of the major Senate candidates are black.
"I frankly think it's a shame, and I think it is reflective of America sometimes still idling in the past," said Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas), who is black. "There are enormously talented people in all backgrounds."
While all the lawmakers interviewed for this piece acknowledged that the Senate would be better equipped to serve the American public if it were more diverse, the issue was hardly at the top of the agenda for many of them.
"That is the last thing on my mind right now," said Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), when asked about the topic on Capitol Hill. "Obviously we should have more diversity. ... But how you go about that, frankly, I would contemplate that more in January."
Lawmakers, experts and activists who spoke with The Huffington Post identified a lack of infrastructure to recruit African-American candidates as a major problem, along with troubles raising money and convincing the party establishment and voters to pick minority candidates.
And the lack of diversity in the Senate, they worried, has a troubling legislative effect.
"I am a firm believer that a legislature is going to pass policies based in large measure on the experiences of people who are in the legislature," said Michael Fauntroy, an associate professor at the George Mason School of Public Policy who teaches courses on urban policy and civil rights policy.
"So if the legislature doesn't really reflect most of the people that it is supposed to represent," Fauntroy said, "then I think it's difficult to see policy-making that will meet the needs of those very same voters."
LACK OF INFRASTRUCTURE
Women are still underrepresented in the Senate; the upper chamber currently contains just 17 female senators, even though women comprise a majority of the U.S. population. Yet the the 2012 elections look promising in this respect. Eighteen women are running for Senate, the highest number of female candidates ever.
Female candidates are increasingly supported by a strong network of political action committees and other organizations, including EMILY's List and the Susan B. Anthony List Candidate Fund. According to the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University, there are 58 PACs and donor networks that donate predominantly to women candidates or have a female donor base.
No such network exists for African-American candidates.
"There's no huge infrastructure for just electing African-Americans," said Hilary O. Shelton, the NAACP's Washington bureau director. "There are a number of smaller PACs, mostly districtwide or statewide that support African-American candidates, but I've not seen national PACs."
Fauntroy is a supporter of a recently created group Unity9 PAC, which was started by members of the nation's oldest black fraternities and sororities and is raising money to support African-American candidates.
"We have the hardest time raising money because the people we aim to serve don't understand the value of supporting candidates. So it's structural, it's grassroots. And that's a real problem," said Fauntroy. "I guess quite frankly, until you get that infrastructure in place, it's going to be more difficult to find candidates who actually win."
There's also the PAC of the Congressional Black Caucus, although The Huffington Post could not track anyone down to speak to about the group, and the "events" and "news" sections on its website have not been updated since 2011. Shelton said that while the CBC PAC helps with House races, it just doesn't have the huge amounts of cash necessary to really benefit someone running statewide.
The challenge of diversifying the Senate begins at the local and state level. Senate candidates tend to be individuals who have previously served in a statewide-elected office, members of the House of Representatives who represent politically diverse districts or have high name recognition, or individuals who have become well-known in another way.
Right now, there aren't many African-American politicians who fit that bill. Some observers are putting their hopes in New Jersey, home to the nation's oldest senator, 88-year-old Frank Lautenberg (D). If he were to retire, Newark Mayor Cory Booker (D) would be a likely frontrunner, and Lisa Jackson -- the head of the Environmental Protection Agency who hails from New Jersey -- could also decide to run.
But Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick (D), the only African-American governor in the nation, turned down the opportunity to run against Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) in this election cycle. The vast majority of black House members, meanwhile, represent solidly Democratic districts, often with high numbers of black constituents, and haven't ever had to run competitive races against Republicans in diverse electorates.
"If we had more African-Americans elected -- particularly to more swing districts in the House -- then they would be well-positioned to run for the Senate. Or if we had African-American governors, they would be very well-positioned to run for the Senate," said one Democratic official who requested anonymity in order to speak openly.
"Both sides have so aggressively gerrymandered the districts, and now you have huge swaths of African-American populations being packed into several dozen districts around the country," added the official. "That further limits their ability to represent diverse constituencies at the House level, which infringes their ability to run statewide."
Another Democratic operative, who also requested anonymity in order to comment openly, pointed to top prospects Val Demings and Al Lawson, both of whom are African-American, as individuals who are bucking this trend and running in competitive House districts in this election. Demings, the former Orlando chief of police, is changing Rep. Dan Webster (R-Fla.) in Florida's 10th congressional district. Lawson, a former Florida state senator, is running against Rep. Steve Southerland (R-Fla.) in the state's 2nd district.
Glencile Greenlea, 56, from Montgomery, Ala., went up to Charlotte, N.C. for the Democratic National Committee. She told The Huffington Post in an interview there that part of the problem is that many members of the African-American community put all their efforts into reelecting President Barack Obama.
"That's heart-wrenching," she said of the fact that there are no African-American senators. "That is because we only work when it's time to elect the president. I think if we stood our ground from the beginning of the year to the end of the year, every year, we would never have that problem. But we get that problem when people decide they want to take a vacation and then show up when it's time to elect the president."
A spokesman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee stressed that the organization supported recruiting diverse candidates for every level of elected office.
Neither the National Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee nor the offices of the only two African-American Republican lawmakers -- Reps. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) and Allen West (R-Fla.) -- returned requests for comment.
THE OBAMA EFFECT
Fauntroy argues that Obama's election as president has not made it any easier for African-Americans to run for office; if anything, it is now harder.
"He has established a standard that many African-Americans will be unfairly judged upon," said Fauntroy.
"I've always contended that if Barack Obama graduated from Morehouse College and Howard University School of Law, he probably ... would not have been validated in the same way that he was having graduated from Columbia and Harvard," Fauntroy added, referring to the historically black college in Atlanta. "[There are] many African-American candidates that don't have that imprimatur that comes with some of these elite educational institutions, so...they don't get their hands stamped as easily or as quickly by white voters."
But while Obama rose through the ranks of the elite educational and political institutions, his less traditional experience as a "community organizer" has been used against him by Republicans.
Jackson Lee said that people of color's "cultural experiences" are often seen as baggage, rather than assets. Potential Latino candidates who work on immigration reform or African-American candidates devoted to civil rights issues should not be discounted, she argued, just because their backgrounds could be used in opposition research in the future.
CONSEQUENCES ON POLICY
The individuals who spoke with The Huffington Post all said that increasing the diversity of the Senate will not only change what the chamber looks like, but it will also change the nature of the discussion.
"Any time you have a cross-section of American people in any decision-making process, you improve the quality of the decisions," said Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.).
Fauntroy said he believes that having more people of color in the Senate could shift the discussion over to the high levels of poverty and inequality in the country.
"I'm not saying you've got to be poor to understand poor people," he said, "but I do believe that the legislature has to be well-shaped demographically, and you can't do that if we continue to put up the same people all the time for office."
University of Mississippi political science professor Marvin King told CNN that the views of white and black Democrats differ most on housing, urban development and civil rights. And the real disparity is not in how they vote, but in which issues they choose to take up in the first place.
"Where you might see a difference is in the agenda of the individual members of Congress, what bills they chose to introduce and where they put their energy," said King.
Shelton said that while groups like the NAACP can meet with lawmakers and serve as advocates on certain issues, it's not the same as having someone in the room all the time.
"It is a problem," he said. "It means that too often, the details that really need to be discussed aren't there. It means that the passion that comes from someone who's lived there, been there, who knows and understands from life experience some details that can be crucial to crafting good public policy -- too often that's what's missing."
Last Updated on Friday, 28 September 2012 09:00
Category: Breaking News Written by Huffington Post
WASHINGTON, Sept 27 (Reuters) - Patients stepping into Johns Hopkins University's HIV clinic in east Baltimore don't just see a doctor or get prescriptions for their antiretroviral drugs; many also get help finding a place to live or bus fare to make it to their next appointment.
Such care that goes beyond the examination table and into patients' often challenging lives has been key to helping poorer HIV patients - particularly blacks and women - live longer, healthier lives, according to a 15-year study published on Thursday in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases.
Researchers at the university followed 6,366 patients in the mostly black, low-income part of a city marked by abandoned buildings and plagued by an illegal drug trade that drew national attention on the gritty television series "The Wire."
From 1995 to 2010, doctors at Hopkins joined with social workers and other experts to treat HIV, the human immunodeficiency virus that causes AIDs, and address other aspects of care that can often derail patients, such as being able to fill prescriptions or access health insurance programs for the needy.
They found that with additional assistance, at-risk patients who contract the virus in their late 20s can expect to live to about age 73 despite their race, sex or drug use, compared with some earlier data that showed higher mortality rates among such groups.
"Just like over time we have developed medications that are easier to take, have fewer toxicities and are more effective, I think we've done exactly the same things in our ability to deliver quality care to this particular population," Dr. Richard Moore, the study's lead author, said in an interview.
Moore, a professor of infectious diseases and director of the university's clinic, said the program shows it is possible to counter the impact of economic disparities on healthcare.
Even though HIV medications have significantly improved since the virus emerged in the United States decades ago, accessing those medications, receiving consistent care and follow-up appointments for the chronic condition are key, he said.
HIV still hits certain populations harder than others, and rising infection rates among gay black men, for example, remain a major worry among public health experts.
Previous studies have shown that certain groups of HIV patients -- the poor, minorities, women and drug users -- tended to have worse outcomes and die earlier.
Moore found that more comprehensive care that addresses problems such as homelessness and a lack of reliable transportation can help an average 28-year-old with HIV live roughly 45 more years with no significantly higher risk of various infections or other complications.
Moore also credited the roughly $2 billion Ryan White CARE Act, the largest federal program solely aimed at paying for care for low-income HIV patients who are uninsured or have inadequate coverage. The program, which President Barack Obama extended in 2009, is up for renewal next year.
Michael Saag, head of the University of Alabama at Birmingham's Center for AIDS Research, said the new findings underscore the need to revamp the nation's healthcare system so that all people get quality care. HIV patients are lucky to have access to Ryan White funds, but others do not.
"This is likely a fundamental reason why the poor and disadvantaged in the United States have health disparities that cause disproportionately worse clinical outcomes than those with means," Saag said in an editorial accompanying the study.
Over the years, Moore said he and his colleagues have learned what tends to work, and what doesn't, when it comes to their patients.
Moore, who has worked at the Hopkins clinic for 24 years, said patients are immediately connected to a case worker who sometimes starts counseling them even before their first appointment.
Other clinics have also started similar efforts in recent year, but this more comprehensive type of care is not yet available nationwide.
"Medical care, particularly for a lot of people who aren't necessarily well-insured or living in a stable situation, you have to just as much deal with all that aspect of assisting them with their lives," Moore said. "I wish that wasn't the case."
Last Updated on Friday, 28 September 2012 09:00
Category: Breaking News Written by Huffington Post
A lawsuit filed last week in Ingham County Circuit Court charges that the state agency responsible for issuing Michigan's medical marijuana registry identification cards is violating the law by not properly carrying out its legal responsibilities.
The suit, filed Sept. 19 against Steven H. Hilfinger, Director of the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs (LARA), and Rae Ramsdell, Director of the Bureau of Health Professions with LARA, alleges that the Michigan Medical Marihuana Program (MMMP), which they oversee, is not acting in accordance with the state's marijuana act passed in 2008. The plaintiff in the lawsuit is Martin Chilcutt, a U.S. Navy veteran in his late seventies, who is the founder of a group called Veterans for Medical Marijuana Access.
The suit requests a writ of mandamus, a court order used to force government officials to perform their duties. Those who don't comply risk being found in contempt of court.
And it charges that the MMMP program has not established a review panel to add new medical conditions to a list allowing qualified patients to legally use pot according to the timeline set forth in state law; has not issued registry cards in a prompt manner; and has failed to issue annual reports.
There are currently 130,965 active patients and 26,896 active caregivers registered with the MMMP.
In order to get an ID card an applicant must send the registry written certification from a physician of a qualifying condition; a form providing information about themselves, their physician and, if necessary, a caregiver designated to handle and grow plants for them; a copy of photo ID; and a processing fee. Applications are supposed to be approved or denied in 15 days. There are roughly a dozen conditions or symptoms, such as Chrohn's disease, cancer and severe chronic pain, that would qualify a person to become a patient under the program.
In an interview last August, attorney Matt Abel of Cannabis Counsel, PLC, the law firm now filing the suit, told The Huffington Post that state had not yet set up the program's required review panel and because of that was at least two years behind in issuing recommendations to add new conditions to the program. According to a state statute that took effect in April 2009, a review panel is supposed to issue a recommendation to the Department of Community Health within 60 days of a petition being received; the department's director is supposed to approve or deny a petition within 180 days of it being filed with the department.
The MMMP has also struggled to issue registry cards to patients in a punctual manner. In March of last year the program got bogged down with a substantial backlog after it received over 16,000 applications in one month. The agency had to purchase new equipment to keep up with the influx.
Attorney Thomas Lavigne filed the lawsuit against the MMMP. He said medical marijuana advocates decided to appeal to the courts after efforts to press the matter with the agency and state legislators went nowhere.
"They're failing to uphold their duty to follow the law by issuing these cards in a timely manner and their time limits have long passed. It should be a no-brainer," he said. "It's just part of a larger pattern of complete disregard for patient and caregiver rights by the state apparatus on every level."
State Sen. Rick Jones (R-Grand Ledge) supports the use of medical marijuana for chronic pain and cancer treatment but says the law is unclear and has sponsored a state senate bill that would outlaw its use by glaucoma patients.
Although he wouldn't comment directly on the lawsuit, Jones was supportive of LARA's work with the medical marijuana program.
"It is my understanding that the cards are being produced much faster," he said. "I do know that initially when the program first started they were slow, but it's my understanding they're now being done in a timely fashion."
Jones also said he was puzzled by the claim medical marijuana advocates were upset about not having access to reports from the MMMP.
"There's been information published in the newspapers -- how many cards there are and what percentages of different afflictions that they're being issued for. I think the information is available," he said. "I don't understand this group's inability to find what they want."
LARA spokeswoman Lori Donlan told The Huffington Post in an email that the state's medical marijuana program currently complies with the Michigan statute that concerns issuing cards in a prompt manner. She said all applications are reviewed and approved within 15 days of receipt; denials are issued and sent out in 15 days; and cards are printed and sent out within 24 to 48 hours.
In reference to the medical marijuana review panel, Donlan said the department still needs to include two more people on panel, but will schedule a meeting for before the end of the year. She added that the department willingly provides information on request and said a report will be put together "by fiscal year" and posted in the coming months.
"It was difficult to create annual reports at a time when the department had a significant backlog of applications to review and process," she said.
"When creating a new program it is difficult to estimate the number of participants and with the high volume of applications combined with the challenges in processing thousands of requests per month, the department has worked through these issues."
LARA had no comment about the recent lawsuit, which they said was being reviewed by the Attorney General’s Office.
Last Updated on Friday, 28 September 2012 09:00
Prosecutor opts against filing charges in alleged hate crime assault of Jewish Michigan State student
Category: News Briefs Written by mlive.com
LANSING, MI -- After a month of investigating, authorities announced on Thursday they will not file charges in the case of a Jewish Michigan State University student who alleged he was the victim of a hate crime in August.
Ingham County Prosecutor Stuart Dunnings III issued a press release on his decision against authorizing charges. He said after weeks of investigating the alleged assault of 19-year-old Zachary Tennen proof a hate crime transpired simply did not surface.
"After reviewing all of the evidence submitted by the (East Lansing) Police Department, I have reached the conclusion that no charges should be issued at this time," Dunnings said in the statement. "I believe there is no evidence that any ethnic/religious/racial bias was involved in this incident."
Tennen, of Franklin, said he was at a party about 1:30 a.m. on Aug. 26 in the 500 block of Spartan Avenue, about a half-mile north of MSU's campus, when two college-aged men asked him if he was Jewish. When he responded in the affirmative, the pair beat him unconscious then stapled his mouth, he alleged.
Tennen, a sophomore journalism major, said his attackers made Nazi gestures and said they were members of the Ku Klux Klan. When he regained consciousness, Tennen said he took a taxi cab to Sparrow Hospital as no one at the party helped him.
East Lansing police have said their investigative findings suggest the incident was not a hate crime. They identified an 18-year-old Farmington Hills man as a suspect in Tennen's assault. The suspect was interviewed but not arrested.
East Lansing police interviewed more than 50 witnesses. They also contacted every person known to have witnessed the incident and its immediate aftermath, Dunnings said.
"The (police) report was completed and sent to my office on September 5, and I have had the report under review as I have taken the time to speak with certain individuals," he said.
Dunnings also released a letter from the Tennen family's attorney, Henry Scharg, of Northville, who writes the Tennens would like the investigation to be closed.
"The Tennen family is cognizant of the fact that substantial resources were expended to investigate these allegations and that there is insufficient evidence of a hate crime to go forward with a criminal prosecution," Scharg writes.
"The Tennen family is grateful for the professionalism of law enforcement and the Ingham County Prosecutor's Office in conducting a full and fair investigation of this matter and believes that justice will be best served by closing this investigation at this time."
Dunnings could not immediately be reached for further comment.
Last Updated on Friday, 28 September 2012 09:00
Category: Breaking News Written by Allan Lengel, Deadline Detroit
Let's face it, in many ways, Kwame Kilpatrick is no different than you and I: He wants to help out family and friends.
Problem is, unlike you and I, he was inappropriately showing kindness with taxpayer money, if the prosecution is to believed.
On the fourth day of his public corruption trial, the prosecution hammered away at Kilpatrick's days as the state House minority leader, trying to show he inappropriately ushered through hundreds of thousands of dollars in state arts and cultural grants in the year 2000 that benefitted his wife Carlita and his friend Bobby Ferguson, who allegedly used the funds to refurbish his office. The grants were supposed to go to two non-profits for the arts or to improve the community.
The government, through a witness, also suggested Carlita Kilpatrick didn't do a lot of work for the $37,500 state money she received. The defense insisted she did work, and that it was okay for lawmakers to steer grants that benefitted relatives. Carlita Kilpatrick is not charged in the case.
Kilpatrick faces dozens of public corruption charges along with co-defendants Ferguson, Kilpatrick's dad Bernard Kilpatrick and ex-water department boss Victor Mercardo.
In the morning, Mary Lannoye, the state budget director in 2000 under Gov. John Engler, testified that hundreds of thousands of dollars in grant money was given to a non-profit known as Vanguard Community Development Corporation. She later found out some of the money was going to Carlita's company U.N.I.T.E, which was a conflict resolution service, contracting with Vanguard.
She said the grant money from the state for Vanguard -- which was supposed to total $300,000 -- was to be given in two installments, and that she needed documentation on how the money was being spent before the second installment was given. Kilpatrick had lobbied for grants for two non-profits: Vanguard, and another for 3-D, Bobby Ferguson's non-profit.
Before the second installment for the grants, Lannoye said she became angry after she learned that some grant money was going to Kilpatrick's wife's Carlita Kilpatrick's company through Vanguard. Authorities have alleged in the indictment that the money went for Carlita's personal expenses and a salary for much of the work she never did. The work was also contrary to what the grant was earmarked for, authorities say.
Lannoye thought it was inappropriate for Kilpatrick to push through the grant money that directly benefitted his wife.
"Because it's his wife, it gives the appearance of impropriety with publc officials," she said.
"I know I was upset. I was angry. I thought these grants were supposed to be for community grants to help nonprofits and not for a legislator’s relatives or personal gain,” Lannoye testified.
During an effective cross examination by Kilpatrick's attorney James Thomas, she conceded that some other grants pushed by lawmakers benefitted relatives financially, and it was an ethical, rather than legal issue. Thomas mentioned state Rep. Dennis Hertel was dealing with budget money that went to his the State Fair, which was run by his brother John Hertel.
She also conceded under cross exam, that conflict resolution services could benefit the community, and that it didn't matter whether Carlita's company was for profit or a non-profit.
Earlier in the morning, former state Senate Majority Daniel DeGrow testified that he dealt with budget matters and grants Kilpatrick lobbied for.
During questioning, prosecutor Michael Bullotta, without introducing any evidence, floated an incriminating question, by asking DeGrow if it would be appropriate to spend these grant monies on refurbishing Bobby Ferguson's office. He later rephrased the question, and asked if it was appropriate to refurbish a demolition contractor's office, a reference to Ferguson.
"I can't imagine the circumstances," DeGrow said.
Update: 11:30 a.m. -- Donna Williams, former executive director of Vanguard, took the stand. Vanguard was part of the Second Ebeneezer Church in Detroit, which was working to improve the neighborhood. She said she traveled to New York in 1999 with the church's Rev. Edgar Vann and Kwame Kilpatrick, who was a state rep at the time, to see how a community development program was working there. Kilpatrick belonged to the church.
At some point, Williams said she landed the $300,000 grant for the arts for low income residents, the one Kilpatrick had pushed for. Later, Kilpatrick went to visit the reverend to push for his wife to get a $75,000 salary from the grant for conflict resolution. Williams hired her without asking questions.
Williams, whose sister is a federal prosecutor in the public corruption unit in Detroit, said Carlita was supposed to do work at Sherrard Elementary School, but it didn't work out because of problems with the school administration. So she said Carlita did some other work, including planning. But all in all, she said Carlita did not provide a lot of the services for the money she charged.
During further questioning, she said she didn't like the circumstances of Carlita's hiring, but she did like her.
She said she never asked for the money back from Carlita because she thought that was part of the deal for the grant, and she had to put up with that.
In 2001, Williams said she wrote a letter to the state budget office in 2001 showing the expenses so that she should could get the second installment of the grant. She said Kwame Kilpatrick called her after she had sent the letter and said she shouldn't have sent the state a copy of an invoice from his wife's company.
He told her she had messed up.
"I thought he was angry with me," she said. He said he would call back, but didn't.
She said the state rejected giving her the remaining grant, citing Carlita's invoice and some architecture fees for another project. Both violated the agreement as to what the state grants were designed for.
Eventually, Vanguard had to pay the state back Carlita's $37,500 payment. But Carlita did not pay it back and she never got the rest of her salary.
12:10 p.m. -- Under cross examination by defense attorney Thomas, Williams said she knew that Carlita was qualified to teach conflict resolution. Williams said she never checked her claims that she was an expert in her field and worked at other schools. But she said Carlita was thoughtful and intelligent and seemed knowledgeable.
Thomas continued to harp on the theme that Carlita was working for her money.
Thomas introduced evidence that Carlita put together a plan to the program's non-profit character education program.
But Williams said she wasn't so sure about that, though she said she was "well-intentioned."
Again, under questioning, she said she felt Carlita did not fulfill her contract.
"In terms of fault, no I don't blame her," she said.
12:45 p.m. -- During re-cross from prosecutor Bullotta, Williams said there were aspects of the contract Carlita could have carried out better. She said Carlita had difficulty getting access to school kids during school hours, but could have gotten access after school. But she said Carlita did not try to get access after school.
She said Carlita started going to school and stopped working for the agency.
Last Updated on Friday, 28 September 2012 09:00
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