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President Obama's Speech on Middle East Draws Mixed Reviews

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Special to the NNPA from the AFRO-American newspapers –

President Obama’s May 19th speech on the Middle East garnered a mixed reaction at home and abroad, with the president’s claim it could be time for an “Arab Spring” being met with caution.

In his speech, Obama spoke of the people in the Middle East and North Africa moving toward claiming a free life of their own, in concert with Western values.

“I believe now that we have a stake not just in the stability of nations, but in the self-determination of individuals,” Obama said. “The status quo is not sustainable. Societies held together by fear and repression may offer the illusion of stability for a time, but they are built upon fault lines that will eventually tear asunder.”

Obama’s words were met with optimism by Council of American-Islamic Relations Executive Director Nihad Awad who said it is “significant” that Obama supports the freedom movements that have taken place in the Middle East and North Africa in recent months.

“We appreciate President Obama setting the right tone by applauding the recent freedom movements across the Middle East and North Africa, but the true test of our nation's commitment to freedom and human dignity will be in translating this speech into actions and concrete policies,” Awad said in a statement.

Part of Obama’s speech focused on the conflict between Israel and Palestine. Obama would like Israel to return to using the 1967 borders before the Six-Day War in which Israel invaded East Jerusalem. However, many conservatives have shot down that theory fiercely; including Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who opposed the Obama approach in an Oval Office meeting with the president.

According to The Washington Post, Netanyahu told Obama that the country “cannot go back to the 1967 lines, these lines are indefensible. They don’t take into account certain demographic changes that have taken place on the ground over 44 years.”

Possible GOP candidates for president also slammed Obama’s speech. Former Pennsylvania U.S. Senator Rick Santorum characterized Obama’s speech as an incoherent and inconsistent policy for U.S. in the Middle East. The Obama policy, he said, has allowed dictators like Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Libyan leader Muammar Gaddaffi “to remain in power, while fostering overthrow of our allies in Egypt.”

MLK Memorial Foundation Announces Plans for Memorial Dedication

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Special to the NNPA from the Los Angeles Sentinel –

Washington, D.C .-- The Washington, D.C. Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial Project Foundation, Inc. announced plans for the dedication of the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial, in West Potomac Park, in Washington, D.C.

The official dedication will occur on Sunday, August 28, 2011, the 48th anniversary of the March on Washington, and Dr. King's historic I Have A Dream speech, beginning with a pre-dedication concert at 10 a.m. The dedication ceremony will commence at 11 a.m. and a post-dedication concert will follow beginning at 2 p.m.

Reserved tickets to the historic event will be distributed through an online lottery system. The public may request up to two tickets by visiting www.dedicatethedream.org and submitting their information into the ticket lottery. Visitors must register by 11:59 p.m. EDT on May 31 to be included in the lottery for the random selection process. Ticket recipients for the seated and reserved standing areas will be notified by email on June 15, 2011. Public standing areas that do not require tickets will also be available.

"We are thrilled that we will be dedicating the Memorial to Dr. King in the coming months, and the Foundation looks forward, with great pride, to presenting this Memorial--this dream--that we've worked to build, to the people. Dr. King, his life, his dream, and his legacy, will be a source of history and inspiration for all people, for all time," said Harry E. Johnson, Sr., president and CEO of the MLK Memorial Foundation.

"I'm very much looking forward to celebrating this momentous event with my fellow Americans and people around the world who understand what this memorial stands for, and the relevance of Dr. King's message."

The Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial is the first on the National Mall to honor a man of hope, a man of peace, and a man of color. Located on the Tidal Basin, the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial creates a visual line of leadership between the Lincoln and Jefferson Memorials. The memorial will be an engaging landscape experience conveying four fundamental and recurring themes throughout Dr. King's life--democracy, justice, hope, and love--and features the use of natural elements including water, stone, and trees. A 450-foot inscription wall will feature more than a dozen Dr. King quotes engraved into granite to serve as a lasting testament and reminder of Dr. King's humanitarian vision. The memorial will include the "Mountain of Despair" and the "Stone of Hope," which will feature a 30-foot sculpture of Dr. King.

To learn more about dedication plans, including events that will take place earlier in Dedication Week, please visit www.dedicatethedream.org. The site will be updated frequently as Dedication planning progresses and offer the latest available information. The Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial Foundation is currently collecting personal stories about how Dr. King affected the lives of Americans and people around the world. All are invited to submit memories of working alongside Dr. King, participating in the March on Washington, and more by visiting www.dedicatethedream.org/mystory.

General Motors Company will serve as the Dedication Chair and Dedication Co-Chair is the Tommy Hilfiger Corporate Foundation. For a complete list of supporters or to make a donation, visit www.buildthedream.org.

Activists Stemming the Tide of E-Waste Dumped in Africa

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Special to the NNPA from the Global Information Network –

Activists with the U.K.-based Environmental Investigation Agency are trying to stop a toxic flood of broken TVs, computer monitors, cell phones, and other junked electronic devices known as e-waste pouring into Ghana.

"We are destroying the lives of children, we are destroying the environment, the rivers no longer have fish, just because of the illegal shipments and dumping of electronic waste from the U.K.," journalist Mike Anane told the BBC show Panorama.

More than three-quarters of all e-waste from England and Wales ends up in West Africa, primarily Ghana and Nigeria, according to a confidential report obtained by Panorama.

Professor Margaret Bates, of Northampton University, said that while other streams of waste are being reduced,, e-waste is going in the opposite direction - growing at a rate of 5% a year.

EIA’s latest report, “SCANDAL OF UK’S ILLEGAL E-WASTE TRADE EXPOSED” was released this week and is available online at www.eia-international.org.

Nigerian Coca-Cola Plant Workers Demand Decent Pay

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Special to the NNPA from the Global Information Network –

In a protest over low wages and long hours, casual workers of the Nigerian Bottling Company, bottlers of Coca-Cola, said they would no longer accept a daily wage of $2.56 (400 naira) being paid to them.

"We do hard labor with sweat as if we are prisoners and they expect us to survive on $2.56 a day,” said Femi Martins, a worker. "We come to work every day, 31 days a month, and 12 months a year, with nothing to show for it… At the end of the year, we don't even get a bottle of coke as bonus for the year's work."

Bearing signs saying: ‘We say no to slavery', the workers at the Ikeja plant in Lagos, are seeking a monthly wage of $288 (45,000 naira) 200 percent more than their current pay of $107.89 (16,800 naira).

As casual staff, they do not get safety gear and are also paid less than permanent staff.

Management, in a statement seen by the newspaper NEXT, claimed it was handling the matter internally, but that the workers were actually hired "through service providers for the plant."

Coke has operated in Nigeria for nearly 20 years, employing close to 6000 workers. In February, the company appointed Kelvin Balogun as its CEO. Balogun is Nigerian.

Foreclosed Homeowners Vent Anger at Wells Fargo

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By Suzanne Manneh and Ngoc Nguyen, Special to the NNPA from the Final Call –

SAN FRANCISCO - Oakland resident Sara Kershnar has been trying to get Wells Fargo bank to modify her home loan for two years.

After the bank allegedly lost some vital documents “three to four times,” Kershnar, began to think they were “negligent.” She began to get angry.

Kershnar had an opportunity earlier this month that few homeowners in her shoes receive. She got to vent her anger and grill Wells Fargo CEO John Stumpf about the bank's policy on foreclosures. She and about a half dozen other homeowners took a stand during the bank's annual shareholder meeting in San Francisco.

The meeting took place immediately following a demonstration at Justin Herman Plaza, where hundreds of fed-up homeowners, renters, clergy, and union organizers rallied to protest what many said were Wells Fargo's unfair practices.

The crowd marched in the afternoon heat through San Francisco's Financial District to Wells Fargo's headquarters, where the shareholders meeting took place.

The rally was one of a series of actions that will be held this month, as well as the launching of a national campaign, The New Bottom Line, organized by a coalition of community, faith-based, and labor organizing groups.

In addition to this protest at Wells Fargo, demonstrations are planned at the Bank of America shareholder meeting, in Charlotte, N.C., on May 11, and at a JP Morgan Chase shareholder meeting, in Columbus, Ohio, on May 17.

Among the campaign's major demands is for Wells Fargo to “place a moratorium on all foreclosures until the bank negotiates with the coalition to establish comprehensive loan modification reforms.”

Another demand is to cease “illegal evictions of tenants in foreclosed properties.”

At the end of 2009, there were 350,169 Wells Fargo homeowners eligible for the Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP). However, as of February 2011, only 77,402 of those homeowners received permanent loan modifications.

Wells Fargo also cancelled 118,697 trial loan modifications and has denied 175,336 eligible homeowners access to HAMP since 2009, according to a press release from organizers of the rally.

According to a bailout money overview study by Nomi Prins, of the nonpartisan think tank Demos, Wells Fargo received an estimated total of $43.7 billion in federal bailout funds. The bank reported $12.3 billion in earnings last year.

At the shareholders' meeting, Kershnar pointed out that the bank is making a profit at a “time when families in the country are barely surviving.” She called Wells Fargo CEO John Stumpf's annual compensation of $17 million “obscene,” at a time when families are hurting.

“It is not an issue of business, it's an issue of ethics and should be an issue that all shareholders should be concerned about,” said Kershnar.

After a scandal last fall that exposed improper home foreclosures by some of the nation's biggest banks, including Bank of America, JP Morgan Chase and other banks issued moratoriums on foreclosures, while they reviewed their internal procedures. Wells Fargo did not.

CEO Stumpf maintained that Wells Fargo has modified 700,000 loans and has forgiven $4 billion of shareholder capital to keep people in their homes. “I get it,” he said. “There is a lot of pain.”

“It's not pain. It's exploitation,” responded Kershnar, adding that the bank intentionally gave out loans to homeowners, knowing that those loans would fail.

She charged that the bank has profited “obscenely” from servicing debt, affecting people's ability to have a home, and feed and clothe their children. Hundreds of thousands of people are waiting for a home modification, Kershnar said.

Raleigh McLemore, a homeowner and teacher at Bancroft Middle School in San Leandro, echoed Kershnar's concern. He, too, attended the shareholder meeting and was one of the protestors to be arrested.

McLemore said parents and other teachers at his school are reeling from the foreclosure crisis.

Often, he added, parents are too ashamed to talk about their foreclosure troubles. “There's still a lot of silence,” Mr. McLemore said. “Suddenly, the student is gone.”

CEO Stumpf said the HAMP program is just one option and that 80 percent of loan modifications occur outside of it.

“Foreclosures are not good for the housing market,” he said.

CEO Stumpf reiterated, “We do not make profit on foreclosures.” He went on, “We spend a lot of resources to help people stay in their homes.”

According to information in the shareholder proxy materials, citing an estimate by Morgan Stanley, “9 million U.S. mortgages that have been or are being foreclosed on may face challenges over the validity of legal documents.”

Campaign organizers and supporters aren't the only ones putting pressure on banks. This year's proxy included one item introduced by the New York City Office of Comptroller on behalf of pension funds of teachers, firefighters, and police officers.

The campaign's shareholder resolution calls for an independent review of Wells Fargo's mortgage processing and foreclosure policies to ensure that it complies with federal regulations.

However, Well Fargo's board recommended against the resolution, saying multiple audits of the bank's foreclosure processes have already been completed by federal regulators and the bank itself.

But Kristina Bedrossian, with the Coalition Reinvestment Committee, who played a role in organizing the event, believes the “resolution is critical because the public and shareholders do not have access to Wells (Fargo) internal audit of its processes.”

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