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For Many It’s Gas – Food or Rent!

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By Jennifer Bihm, Special to the NNPA from the Los Angeles Sentinel –

Cleo Reynolds mumbled a few expletives as he watched the digital numbers on the Shell station gas pump. Unleaded was $4.15 last week and as he watched the price move up rather quickly; it seemed disproportionate to the slower moving numbers that showed the amount of gas he was getting. For a split second, he seemed taken aback at being asked his feelings on the amount of money he was paying for gas.

Then, leaning back against his SUV, arms folded, unlit cigarette dangling from his lips, he began his tirade. He was against paying $10.65 for a little over 2 gallons in his SUV that particular day and more so about the more than $100 he ends up paying weekly that allows him six days of driving. The Inglewood resident makes a daily trip to Los Angeles where his wife works, he told L.A. Watts Times (LAWT).

"At least $500 a month I'm spending on gas, it's ridiculous," said Reynolds who is 70 years old. "I drop her off. I go back to Inglewood, then I come back. I have to drive my truck because riding the bus for me is no good. It's too much crime."

Like Reynolds, others at the gas station had to briefly pause when asked about how much they're paying and how they felt, as if they had almost quit thinking about it. Some said they cut out extras like eating out. Others cut way down on shopping. While others like L.A. resident Dee, who was reluctant to give her last name, just quit driving. "I don't drive right now because my car broke down," she said. "[But] I'm actually finding that riding the bus has been a lot easier on my wallet and it's been less stressful."

All reported paying between $40 and $100 a week to fill up their tanks.

For his part, Reynolds said he frequents the food bank more than the grocery store for savings.

"There is no reason the gas prices should be this high," he continued with vehemence.

But experts say there are a myriad of factors that have an effect on gas prices.

How are Gas Prices Determined? "Gas prices will usually peak sometime in May," this year being no exception, said senior petroleum analyst Patrick DeHaan. "This is because refineries are doing maintenance in late winter and early spring. By the end of May they're done and gas production goes full tilt."

Full tilt production and a high demand for gasoline in the United States seem to have a major impact on rising gas prices. According to the U.S. Department of Energy website, Americans make use of about 20 million, 42 gallon barrels worth of crude oil per day. Of each 42 gallons, 19 are used to fill up motorists' tanks.

Despite having enough oil in its own back yard to be the world's third largest oil producer, the U.S. also depends on foreign oil, mainly The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), which affects gasoline costs. OPEC (Libya, Nigeria, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Algeria, Angola, Ecuador, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, and Venezuela), which controls almost half of the world's crude oil supply can increase or decrease its inventory. Simply put - increase lowers prices, decrease raises them.

OPEC's monthly report for April 2011, cited factors like the unrest in Libya and the disaster in Japan as contributions to increased oil prices.

"Prices initially spiked in February with the onset of the supply disruption in Libya and concerns that supply outages could spread to other producers in the Mideast and North Africa," the report says. "Indeed, Libyan unrest has cut output by almost 80 percent..."

[Furthermore,] "Supply concerns, and the associated risk premium, were later dampened to some degree by the triple catastrophe in Japan: the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear problems, which has led to a persistent disruption in the Japanese energy complex. The overall impact of the tragic events in Japan on oil consumption is far from clear," OPEC's report continues.

"While the devastating earthquake caused a sudden decline in the country's use of oil, this is likely to be broadly offset by the need to substitute some of its shut-in nuclear power capacity with oil-based generation. Moreover, with the start of reconstruction efforts - currently estimated at $300 billion - this is expected to require even higher energy use."

Refining costs, taxes (which can determine gas prices from state to state or even city to city), marketing and distribution and gas station profits round out the list of gas pricing factors.

Myths and Facts

Back at the gas station, Jose (another L.A. resident who didn't want to give his last name) said he wishes that he could pile more money into his savings account but the hour long drive to his school puts a real dent in his wallet. He uses about $60.00 a week to fill his tank, he said. For people like Jose, the saving-money-on- gas discussion has become increasingly relevant and replete with all kinds of advice, as people try to find ways to keep more money out of the pumps and in their pockets. LAWT asked DeHaan to clarify some of the myths and facts.

One myth, he said, is that certain gas stations are better than others. "I wouldn't necessarily say there is higher quality gas but many different refiners add different blending components and additives, different detergents," DeHaan explained. "The government mandates that all gasoline has a minimum amount of detergent to make sure your engine stays clean. Some manufacturers argue they have more detergent (therefore) better gasoline. But, let's just say all gas shipped from refiners are tested for quality issues."

DeHaan also explained that yes, using the air conditioner and not making sure tire pressure is up to par will waste gas. However, he said, premium gas as opposed to unleaded is really a non-issue. "Buying premium instead of unleaded is a complete waste of money," he said. "There is absolutely no situation where a car needs premium. Now, premium is generally used in higher horse power vehicles or if you are towing. It (makes the engine) less prone to knocking. So, with heavier loads you want a gasoline that resists pinging a little bit more. Then you can avoid catastrophic engine damage when you're towing. That's essentially the only difference. But ,many vehicles don't require premium and don't need it so it's a waste."

Gas saving tips

Driving between 30 to 60 miles per hour, minimizing accelerating and breaking, and avoiding idling are a few steps consumers can take to keep gas in their tanks longer. Also, getting rid of excess weight (unnecessary bulky items for example) and getting regular vehicle maintenance can make the most of gas mileage. Finally, CBS Consumer Correspondent Susan Koeppen said that gas experts recommend buying gas early in the morning when it's cold and the fuel is denser, getting more gas into the tank.

Other tips include, combining trips, taking advantage of ride sharing, avoiding rush hours and driving a more fuel-efficient car, if possible.

Obama Seeks End to Oil Industry Tax Breaks

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By Matt Spetalnick

WASHINGTON, April 30 (Reuters) - President Barack Obama on Saturday kept pressure on the U.S. Congress to end tax breaks for oil and gas companies, saying they were enjoying huge profits, as he sought to limit political fallout from rising gasoline prices.

With public anger over costs at the pump hitting Obama's popularity as he revs up his 2012 re-election bid, he pressed his call for rolling back $4 billion in "unwarranted tax subsidies" at a time of budget belt-tightening in Washington.

But opposition Republicans continued their efforts to cast blame on the Democratic president for a surge in gas prices that is straining Americans' pocketbooks at a time of stubbornly high unemployment and sluggish economic recovery.

"When oil companies are making huge profits and you're struggling at the pump, and we're scouring the federal budget for spending we can afford to do without, these tax giveaways aren't right," Obama said in his weekly radio and Internet address. "They aren't smart. And we need to end them."

Oil companies posted sharply higher first-quarter earnings this week with oil prices above $100 a barrel on unrest in the Middle East and growing global demand for energy.

Leading the way, Exxon Mobil (XOM.N), the world's most valuable publicly listed company, beat analysts' forecasts by posting a 69 percent rise in earnings to $10.65 billion, its biggest profit since the third quarter of 2008.

Obama insisted he remained committed to "safe and responsible oil production here at home" but said the money from oil industry tax subsidies would be better invested in developing alternative energy sources.

REPUBLICAN REBUTTAL

Delivering the Republicans' response, Congressman James Lankford of Oklahoma, an oil state, said Americans were looking for leadership in tackling gas prices but that Obama "has only offered a tax increase on energy and the prospect of reduced supply" and had smothered the industry in new regulations.

He said Obama's proposal to revoke oil industry tax breaks would be counterproductive, and vowed that Republicans in the House of Representatives would try to pass their own job-creating energy initiative next week.

"The president may think he's punishing CEOs of big companies, but his plan will hurt the everyday consumer of energy and imperil the jobs of millions of hard-working people in American-based companies," Lankford said.

But the Republican stance is far from uniform. House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan said on Thursday he supports cutting tax breaks for the oil industry in the search for ways to battle rising gasoline prices and close corporate tax loopholes.

Gasoline prices have become a highly charged political issue after pushing toward $4 a gallon nationally, and Republicans see it as a weak point for Obama in their efforts to defeat him in the 2012 election.

In a Washington Post-ABC News poll published on Tuesday, 71 percent of those surveyed said gasoline prices were causing them serious financial hardship, while 55 percent disapproved of the way Obama was handling his job as president.

Obama has insisted there is no "magic bullet" for bringing down gas prices. But the White House is worried that if gas prices continue rising, the issue could drown out the economic recovery message at the heart of his re-election strategy. (Editing by Mohammad Zargham)

President Obama Promises Help to Rebuild Tornado-Hit South

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(Reuters) - President Barack Obama promised federal aid on Friday to the tornado-ravaged South after he got a close-up look at the "heartbreaking" impact of deadly twisters that killed at least 328 people.

"We are going to do everything we can to help these communities rebuild," Obama told reporters after touring scores of smashed homes and talking with survivors in Tuscaloosa, a university city in Alabama that was wrecked by the tornadoes.

Alabama was the hardest hit of seven southern states that were blasted this week by a swarm of tornadoes and violent storms that flattened whole neighborhoods. It was the deadliest U.S. natural catastrophe since Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

"I have never seen devastation like this. It is heartbreaking," said Obama, accompanied by his wife Michelle and Alabama Governor Robert Bentley. "This is something I don't think anyone has seen before."

In Alabama, emergency officials raised the death toll from the tornadoes in that state alone to 228. Governor Bentley said 1,700 people were injured.

At least 100 more deaths were reported across Mississippi, Tennessee, Arkansas, Georgia, Virginia and Louisiana.

"We can't bring those who've been lost back. They're alongside God at this point ... but the property damage, which is obviously extensive, that's something we can do something about," Obama said.

The president was eager to show that federal relief is on its way and that he is not taking the disaster lightly. His predecessor George W. Bush was fiercely criticized for what was viewed as a slow response to Hurricane Katrina.

Flying into Tuscaloosa aboard Air Force One, Obama and his family saw a wide brown scar of devastation several miles (kilometers) long and hundreds of yards (meters) wide.

Tuscaloosa resident Jack Fagan, 23, was glad that Obama saw the damage. "Perhaps federal funds will help us, but I'm sure it will take longer than they say because it always does."

Recovery could cost billions of dollars and even with federal disaster aid it could complicate efforts by affected states to bounce back from recession. It will place an added burden on municipalities grappling with fragile finances.

Tornadoes are a regular feature of life in the U.S. South and Midwest, but they are rarely so devastating.

NUCLEAR PLANT SHUT, INDUSTRIES DAMAGED

The tornadoes hit Alabama's poultry industry -- the state is the No. 3 U.S. chicken producer -- and hurt other manufacturers in the state.

It halted coal production at the Cliffs Natural Resources mine in Alabama.

The second-biggest U.S. nuclear power plant, the Browns Ferry facility in Alabama, may be down for weeks after its power was knocked out and the plant automatically shut, avoiding a nuclear disaster, officials said.

Apparel producer VF Corp, owner of clothing brands such as North Face and Wrangler Jeans, said one of its jeanswear distribution centers, located in Hackleburg, Alabama, was destroyed and one employee killed.

In Tuscaloosa, the twisters, including one a mile-wide, cut a path of destruction, reducing houses to rubble, flipping cars and knocking out utilities. The death count was expected to rise with many bodies still trapped under debris.

"We are bringing in the cadaver dogs today," said Heather McCollum, assistant to the mayor of Tuscaloosa. She put the death toll in the city at 42 but said it could rise.

Of the more than 150 tornadoes that rampaged from west to east across the South this week, the National Weather Service confirmed that one that struck Smithville in Mississippi's Monroe County on Wednesday was a rare EF-5 tornado, with winds reaching 205 miles per hour.

This is the highest rating on the Enhanced Fujita scale that measures tornado intensity.

"The homes here are made well ... but when you are talking about a direct hit, it does not matter," Monroe County Sheriff Andy Hood said. "Right now, those homes are slabs of concrete. There is nothing left."

Across the South, many people were made homeless by the tornadoes and stayed in shelters. Some residents provided food, water and supplies to neighbors whose homes were destroyed.

Tuscaloosa resident Antonio Donald, 50, received help. "I got no light, no water. I have a newborn baby at home, a daughter who is pregnant and an 88-year-old aunt," he said.

The storms left up to 1 million homes in Alabama without power. Water and garbage collection services were also disrupted in some areas.

Alabama's Jefferson County, which is fighting to avoid what would be the largest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history, suffered damage and 19 dead but said the storms would have little direct impact on its struggling finances because federal grants were expected.

(Additional reporting by Peggy Gargis in Birmingham and Colleen Jenkins in St. Petersburg, Leigh Coleman in Mississippi, Phil Wahba in New York; writing by Matthew Bigg and Pascal Fletcher, Editing by Laura MacInnis)

Brazile Urges Blacks to Support Obama, Protect Gains

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By Cash Michaels, Special to the NNPA from The Wilmington Journal –

The interim chairman of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) says the nation, and specifically the African-American community, has to stick with President Barack Obama and the Democrats during these tough times to “keep the country safe and secure.”

But, in an exclusive taped interview Tuesday with the weekly radio program “Make it Happen” on Power 750 WAUG-AM/Power 750.com, top Washington insider and CNN/ABC commentator Donna Brazile also admitted that there have been times during the past two years when she didn’t necessarily agree with some of the president’s policies.

“Look, I haven’t always been pleased with the president of the United States,” the renowned Democratic Party strategist and interim DNC chair said. “I’ve had times when I’ve had to differ with the president. Whether it’s been the housing policies or the firing of [former USDA official] Shirley Sherrod, or just recently, giving the Republicans the opportunity [during the recent 2011 budget negotiations] to write their own narrowly-based social agenda on the [Washington] D.C. budget where I live, I’m not always in the cheerleading section.”

“Sometimes I’m on the sidelines, sometimes I like to be right there on the field getting a little dirty with the rest of them. But, the bottom-line is I’m proud to be a Democrat, I’m proud to be an American, [but] more importantly I’m proud to say that Barack Obama is my choice for president in 2012,” Brazile said.

It’s the kind of frank, pull-no-punches talk that Brazile, 51, is known. The first African-American ever to run a major political party’s bid for president when she took the reins of then Vice President Al Gore’s 2000 campaign, the Louisiana native has earned the title of Washington powerbroker, serving as DNC vice chair; managing her own D.C. consulting firm, hitting the talk and keynoter’s circuit at colleges and universities across the nation; and now chairing the Democratic National Committee until Florida Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, is officially voted in, which is expected to happen shortly.

But right now, Brazile’s passion is supporting the president, and making sure that both he and the Democrats are successful in 2012.

“The country is still in the throes of a very critical economic downturn,” Brazile told WAUG-AM. “While we’ve seen 13 months of promising job growth, President Obama is committed to see that every American who is looking for a job will be able to find work in his/her hometown.”

Balancing spending cuts with “revenue attractions” in the midst of a slow economic recovery has to be a “balanced approach to getting our fiscal house in order,” Brazile maintains, countering the popular Republican mantra that America as “a spending problem, not a revenue problem.”

The poor and middle-class have definitely been hurt during the recovery, so government must do all it can to make them whole, as much as possible, Brazile says, particularly through job growth.

Brazile says the president “is committed to make sure that the federal government lives within its means,” and will make well thought-out cuts to the budget where needed.

But Republicans, per their plan to drastically cut the federal budget through Medicare/Medicaid, education, affordable housing, and other vital programs, while simultaneously giving millionaires and billionaires generous tax cuts, threaten the government’s social safety net where it’s needed the most. The trend is already being seen in local and state governments across the nation, and Brazile says Americans must take note, and then take action.

Brazile also urges communities to support President Obama’s insistence on “winning the future” through investing more in education, and for individuals to improve their own educational opportunities to better prepare themselves for upcoming challenges and opportunities.

“If you’re living on the margins; if you’re living without the means to dip into your savings account, then the recession we’ve just experienced will have a devastating impact on communities of color,” Brazile says, maintaining that communities should not be “pitted against each other” in times of great struggle.

Hudson River Tragedy Puts Mental Health in the Black Community Into Focus

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By Cyril Josh Barker, Special to the NNPA from the New York Amsterdam News –

The recent tragic death of a woman who drove herself and her children into the Hudson River in Newburgh, N.Y., still has people asking, “How could she?” And, while there are no easy answers for this terrible act, it is increasing the conversation on depression and mental health in the Black community.

Reports indicate that LaShanda Armstrong, 25, drove herself and her four children into the Hudson River after an incident at her and her boyfriend's apartment. Armstrong was upset because she thought her boyfriend was cheating on her.

The children in the minivan were 10-year-old La’Shaun Armstrong, 5-year-old Landen Pierre, 2-year-old Lance Pierre, and 11-month-old Lainaina Pierre.

“If I'm going to die, we're all going to die,” Armstrong reportedly said before driving her family into the Hudson River.

As the car sank into the river, La’Shaun was able to swim out of the vehicle to safety, leaving his siblings and mother behind. La'Shaun, who knew how to swim, feels a heavy load of guilt for not being able to save his siblings who could not.

Upon reaching the shore, La’Shaun went into the street and flagged down a car for help. Soaking wet, he quickly got the attention of motorist Meave Ryan. La'Shaun explained to her what happened and Ryan called the police.

After an hour, the City of Newburgh fire and police departments found the minivan under 10 feet of water, 25 yards from the shore. La’Shaun told police officers what had happened, and spoke of his regret and guilt over not being able to save his young siblings. The guilt-stricken boy said that, during the final moments as the water began to fill the minivan, his mother began to scream words of regret, but it was too late.

The family’s tragic story is actually just the face of mental illness and the depression that often results from it that so many African-Americans are dealing with. According to statistics, 63 percent of African-Americans view depression as a “personal weakness.” Only seven percent of African-American women seek treatment for depression, while 92 percent of African-American men do not seek any help for depression.

Factors that can lead to depression include financial issues, traumatic life experiences, health problems and being a victim of abuse, violence or poverty. Left untreated, depression can be fatal.

Terrie Williams, author of the acclaimed book, “Black Pain: It Just Looks Like We’re Not Hurting,” said that there is a stigma in the Black community around mental illness. It is perceived that a person is insane, which prevents many Black people from seeking the help they need.

“We're all very fragile,” Williams said. “A lot of depression begins from a basic place. All of us move through the world with unresolved wounds from our childhood. Many of us have not opened up and we don't have any coping skills.”

Williams added that in Armstrong’s case, things most likely became too much for her and she felt a sense of worthlessness. While she was probably aware of the anger and rage that she felt, Williams said it was not a case of her not loving her children—she was probably pushed over edge by dealing with issues in her relationship without seeking outside help.

As for 10-year-old La’Shaun, Armstrong’s only surviving child, Williams said she believes that, with the right help, he will be alright.

“He's mourning the loss and dealing with the trauma from what was going on,” she said. “He's going to need some help because he can't do that by himself. We just can't leave him to his own devices and expect he's going to be ok.”

Famed psychologist Dr. Jeffery Gardere added that several factors may have come into play in the lead-up to Armstrong's actions. Stress from motherhood could have been a likely factor. Armstrong was 25 years old at the time of her death—her oldest child was 10 years old, making her only 15 when she first became a mother.

The financial and emotional stress of having four children might have been too much for her to bear. Coupled with an already fragile personality, Gardere said, Armstrong likely had a nervous breakdown that ended in tragedy.

“She loved her kids, and for her to do something so heinous to herself and her children—this is someone who had lost touch with reality,” he said. “With the lack of emotional support, and financial issues, she felt very alone in her misery. This was an unhappy woman.”

Gardere said that La’Shaun is going to need at least 15 to 20 years of therapy and that the traumatic experience he went through might lead to difficulties with relationships with others later in life.

“He'll have flashbacks for years. This will stay with him forever and impact his life and whoever he is involved with—he's going to be unable to make a full commitment [to a relationship] only because he feels she's going to leave him the way his mother left him. There is hope for him and he may become a much stronger individual, but he may become so strong that he shuts out other people,” Gardere said.

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