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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.

Nigerian Election Tears the Country in Two

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Special to the NNPA from the Global Information Network –

Religious and political loyalties appear to have determined the outcome of Nigeria’s presidential poll during the past weekend with northern states throwing their support to former military ruler Muhammadu Buhari of the predominantly Muslim north, while the southern states backed incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan, of the predominantly Christian south.

Jonathan, who was accused of spreading billions in “walking around money” as it is called in the U.S., was declared the winner after a recent landmark vote. He allegedly garnered 31% of the vote total or 22.5 million votes to Buhari, who received 12.2 million votes or just under 60 percent.

Buhari’s loss could sound the death knell to an unwritten power-sharing arrangement, which had handed the presidency back and forth between the Muslim north and Christian and animist south every two years.

A president from the north should have been in power until 2015 but plans went awry when the previous president Umaru Yar'Adua, died in office. Jonathan, a vice-president from the south, should have stepped down after completing his predecessor's term of office. He did not, and went on to defeat a northern Muslim challenger, former vice-president, Atiku Abubakar, for the party's presidential nomination.

Buhari’s party is rejecting the vote totals and has filed a challenge. They have also issued a call to law and order as deadly riots spread through several northern cities in an apparent protest of the result.

Meanwhile, social media groups that monitored reports of electoral abuse, mostly gave thumbs up to the vote. “Nigerians need to be commended, along with elected/appointed officials who were saddled with delivering hitch-free elections,” wrote the watchdog Enough is Enough on their website. “We look forward to the last set of elections on Tuesday, April 26, so that we can have a honest review of the impact of our work – and also plan for the journey ahead.

“This is 2011, our votes will count!”

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