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To Be Equal

African Leaders Summit: The Ties That Bind

“I stand before you as the president of the United States and a proud American. I also stand before you as the son of a man from Africa. The blood of Africa runs through our family. And so for us, the bonds between our countries, our continents, are deeply personal.” – President Barack Obama

At a time when much of the world seems to be tearing apart in places like Iraq, Israel, Gaza, Syria and Ukraine, last week President Obama hosted leaders from 50 African nations at the White House for a three-day summit, described by the Administration as reflecting “the common ambition that the people and government of the United States share with the people and governments of Africa to leave our nations better for future generations by making concrete gains in peace and security, good governance and economic development.” Themed, “Investment in the Next Generation,” the summit was the largest gathering of African heads of state in our nation’s history.

The President acknowledged the personal aspect of the meeting by referencing his father, Barack Obama, Sr., who was born in Kenya, as well as the painful legacy of the African slave trade. But the primary focus of the meeting was on strengthening economic ties between the United States and Africa in ways that spur African development and create tens of thousands of American jobs. President Obama used the summit to announce a shift in America’s relationship with what he called "the new Africa.” Where once United States involvement centered on providing humanitarian aid to Africa, it will now concentrate on expanding trade and investments that benefit both America and the African continent. While challenges of health, security and governance remain, the fact is that Africa has six of the 10 fastest-growing economies in the world. Its population is expected to double by 2050, when two-thirds will be young people under the age of 35. Deputy National Security Advisor, Ben Rhodes explained, “Insofar as we can promote trade and investment, that is going to create new markets for our goods… and ultimately create jobs in both the United States and Africa. So this is about seizing the opportunity of African growth and development in our mutual interests.”

In his post-summit press conference, the President announced that the three-day gathering had generated some $37 billion for Africa’s progress on top of substantial efforts that have been made in the past. This includes $33 billion by U.S. companies in new trade and investment, a U.S. government investment of $110 million per year for three to five years to help build the peace-keeping capacity of more than a half-dozen African nations to deal with militant extremists like Boko Haram in Nigeria and al-Shabaab in Somalia, a tripling of the United States’ Power Africa Initiative goal, which now aims to bring electricity to 60 million African homes and businesses, and an increase in efforts by both the Obama Administration and American non-governmental organizations to combat HIV/AIDs and improve maternal and child health.

The President made it clear that “Africa’s prosperity ultimately depends on its greatest resource—its people.” None of the investments and trade agreements will matter unless African countries do more to promote good governance, the rule of law, open and accountable institutions, strong civil societies and the protection of human rights for all citizens.

Africa, America and President Obama are inextricably bound by the ties of blood and history. We applaud the President’s commitment to bind our futures with stronger partnerships in economic development and in meeting the health and security challenges that affect America, Africa and the world.

Marc H. Morial is president and CEO of the National Urban League.


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Small Businesses Deserve More from Healthcare Reform

BY JANET TRAUTWEIN

President Obama marked the recent conclusion of open enrollment in the federal healthcare law's insurance exchanges with a celebration at the White House. The administration exceeded its goal of signing 7 million Americans up for insurance coverage.

Small business owners are in a less festive mood. They're dealing with burdensome new rules, taxes, and premium hikes.

Fortunately, several measures that would offer small businesses relief from spiraling health costs are pending before Congress.

For small firms, insurance is more expensive than ever. Ninety-one percent have reported that their insurance costs rose following their latest renewal. A February report from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services estimated that premiums would rise for two-thirds of small-business workers—roughly 11 million Americans.

One reason for these price increases is the federal healthcare law's annual $8 billion fee on health insurance providers. Carriers will have to pass this added expense on to employers—and consequently, their workers. Premiums are expected to increase by as much as $160 per person this year.

New "community rating" rules may also lead to higher premiums and create administrative headaches for small business owners. These rules do not allow insurers to charge older workers any more than three times what younger ones pay. The goal is to protect older workers—and ensure that they have affordable coverage.

But in the small group market, community rating could have the opposite effect.

Prior to passage of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), insurers often charged small employers a uniform "composite rate," which took the overall age breakdown of the employees into account—and did not reveal the details to employers or staff. In effect, the premium for each employee was the same, regardless of age.

But the ACA's community rating rules essentially bar insurers from issuing composite rates. Every employee's premium corresponds to his or her age.

Imagine explaining to a 60-year old employee that her monthly premium will be $900 while her younger colleague's will be $325.

And if the employer offers a set amount toward coverage for each employee—or a percentage of the premium—that older worker would have to pay more for coverage than she did pre-ACA.

Fortunately, a bipartisan group of lawmakers in the House of Representatives has offered a measure that would moderate the rate shocks that small businesses may face. The bill would allow states to determine the appropriate ratio between premiums for the young and those for the old. In states that failed to act, a five-to-one ratio would be imposed, meaning that no person could be charged more than five times what any other person was charged.

Another group of lawmakers would like to get rid of the annual fee on health insurance providers. According to consultancy Oliver Wyman, such a move would ward off a 2.3 percent hike in premiums this year. That translates to savings of nearly $500 per family per year.

By making insurance more affordable, these measures would encourage more small firms to retain coverage for their workers. And that saves taxpayers money by keeping small business workers out of the exchanges, where they could qualify for subsidized coverage. Doing so would save the federal government a billion dollars over the next decade.

But those savings can only come about if Congress acts soon. A recent survey found that 15 percent of small-business owners are considering dropping coverage altogether in order to cut costs.

Lawmakers can't risk that outcome. With open enrollment now behind us, the Obama Administration needs to turn its attention to the small business market. Lawmakers must find a way to provide small firms relief from skyrocketing health costs.

Janet Trautwein is CEO of the National Association of Health Underwriters.


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What Would Jesus Do?

BY DOUGLAS DEMETRIUS PRATHER

In my opinion Aaron Mcgruder has overstepped his boundaries in his latest work produced entitled, “Black Jesus,” on the adult swim network owned by CNN. Perhaps as his modus operandi this is his latest attempt of shock value as was the case with the series, “Boondocks,” which I also disagreed. This series however I think removes all spirituality from Christ and portrays him as a modern day hoodlum highlighting all of the stereotypes that exist within and without the African American community. The depiction of Christ as presented by McGruder I believe is unpleasant not only to the African American community but humanity and Clergy alike who spend their entire lives preaching and teaching the Gospel and good news of Jesus Christ, and inclusiveness. This representation of Christ is far from realistic and is the best illustration of imaginary fiction.

This new run is on the order of Vaudeville and minstrel show performances wherein African Americans were the source of entertainment to our detriment. I maintain that this series is socially, religiously and culturally unfriendly and only aides and contributes to prejudices that separate people and fosters fear. Satire certainly has its place as an art form however there is a very thin line when dealing with one’s faith and religion convictions. I submit that the show should be cancelled post haste in that it singles out Christianity and no other major world religion. It was Paul who I think places it best in his letter to the Roman Church, “And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind!” Such as it is, this is what Jesus taught in his travels, teaching and preaching.

My distress is that those who are wavering in their spirituality and faith in a higher power and Jesus Christ in particular are being sent a message that is contradictory in nature. It in fact makes a mockery of religion and spirituality by its very account of Christ and Christianity. In spreading the good news of Christ and keeper of the light, I am reminded of the articulation of John T. Faris, “The keeper of the lighthouse does not launch any ship, it is true, but he keeps many a good ship from going to wreck. The light shines farther than the keeper can see, and brightest when he cannot see at all. Two things he has got to remember, to keep the light burning, and never to get in between the light and the darkness he is set to lighten.” As Luke suggested I will keep my light, “trimmed and burning,” always fighting the good fight!

The rhetorical question that I posit is what really would Jesus do in these days and times in response to his delineation? I submit that it would not be what Mr. Mcgruder presents, however what Christ has always done and continues to do even now! I would venture to say he would do what he did when he entered into the synaguage and proclaimed to the public,

“THE SPIRIT OF THE LORD IS UPON ME,

BECAUSE HE ANOINTED ME TO PREACH THE GOSPEL TO THE POOR.

HE HAS SENT ME TO PROCLAIM RELEASE TO THE CAPTIVES,

AND RECOVERY OF SIGHT TO THE BLIND,

TO SET FREE THOSE WHO ARE OPPRESSED, to preach the acceptable year of the Lord!”

The Reverend Douglas Demetrius Prather, a noted social justice and civil rights activist is the Senior Pastor of the Greater Mountain Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia.