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Sharpton-West Feud Highlights Black Frustration with Obama

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Special to the NNPA from the AFRO-American newspapers –

A war of words between the Rev. Al Sharpton, Black civil rights advocate, and Black scholar Cornel West has revved up recently after West made comments criticizing President Obama.

In an MSNBC special news program, West, a Princeton University professor, claimed that Obama is no longer working in the best interests of African-Americans, but is instead protecting the interests of the financial sector.

“I worry about you, brother, because you can be easily manipulated by those in the White House who do have the interests of Wall Street oligarchs, who do have the interests of corporate plutocrats who you opposed,” West said to Sharpton. “But you end up being the public face and Barack Obama ends up being another Black mascot.”

Sharpton countered that West needed to put the same pressure on his friends in Congress who have not pushed hard for a jobs bill and that any criticism of Obama was “hogwash,” leading to a shouting match that ended the show.

TV and radio talk show host Tavis Smiley, a close friend and colleague of West, also offered harsh criticism of Obama.

“The president knows his base in Black America is shaky,” Smiley said on his radio show recently. “You can't play that history card more than one time.”

David Swerdlick, a political analyst and journalist, said that the criticism of Sharpton and Obama is unfair given the challenges the president had to face.

“After firing his top general in Afghanistan for insubordination, enduring the ‘Ground Zero mosque’ controversy, and dealing with the Gulf oil spill, Somali pirates and a banking collapse that was waiting in his inbox on Day 1 of the job, President Obama is running low on juice,” Swerdlick wrote.

The Obama administration, perhaps sensing frustration, has launched whitehouse.gov/africanamericans, part of a concerted effort to show what the White House is doing to address the needs of African Americans ahead of the 2012 presidential election.

Nigerians Anxiously Await Final Count in Third National Poll

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Special to the NNPA from the Global Information Network –

Nigerians cast ballots recently for state governors and legislators. It was the last election scheduled for last month since presidential and regional polls held earlier. Parliamentary polls were held April 9 and a presidential election took place April 16, which was won by President Goodluck Jonathan.

Results are expected within 48 hours of the 5 p.m. local time closure of polling stations, according to the West African nation’s Independent National Electoral Commission.

Polling went off quietly, unlike the earlier vote for president when some 600 people lost their lives in violence sparked by irregular voting practices that even drew criticism from international observers. So far, local news reports note numerous cases of ballot-box snatching in northern Katsina and Kano states, as well as several states in the south, including Akwa Ibom, Imo, Delta, and Rivers.

In Bayelsa state in the oil-producing Niger Delta region, violence and the hijacking of election materials led to the arrest of 13 people, authorities said. Six ballot-box snatching cases were reported in the main northern city of Kano, said electoral official Abdullahi Umar Danyaya.

While voting may be peaceful, published vote totals may be the spark for retaliation from groups seeing their numbers undercounted. Forensic exams of the ballot papers have been sought by the candidate of the Congress for Progressive change in Enugu State, Rosita Okechukwu.

“No electorate throughout history rewards a political party which failed to provide common infrastructure like electricity,” said Okechukwu. “It will be inconceivable that the Nigerian electorate rewarded PDP for decade stretch of failed promises. On Forensic Test and Biometric Technology we depend to prove our case; not on propaganda.”

Zuma Family Upstages the UK with African Wedding Befitting Royalty

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Special to the NNPA from the Global Information Network –

With British commentators still discussing the nuptials of Prince William and Kate, South Africa was already in full marriage regalia, celebrating the wedding of Duduzile Zuma, daughter of South African President Jacob Zuma, with businessman Lonwabo Sambudla.

The glittering affair was called “the mother of all parties.” It featured a convoy of 12 Lamborghinis driving through Inkwenkwezi Private Game Reserve, just off the southern coast, carrying the 28 year old Zuma and her entourage. Elephants roamed the grounds in the background as the couple exchanged vows.

In keeping with the latest styles of the rich and famous, no expense was spared in making this a ceremony worthy of kings. Wearing a white off-the-shoulder gown that sparkled with Swarovski crystals, the bride turned heads with a custom-made diamond necklace worth 1.5-million rand ($225,000 U.S.). She and her bridesmaids were collectively decked out in more than 1000 diamonds worth 4.5-million rand ($674,000).

The service was conducted by Pastor Alph Lukau, from Alleluia Ministries International, and guests were entertained by Nigerian gospel artist Uche Agu.

One of five children, Duduzile actually has 20 siblings – step brothers and sisters from her father’s five wives and several fiancées. A twin brother, Duduzane, is reportedly on his way to joining the growing number of South African Black billionaires, having shares worth about 1 billion rand from a 9 billion rand Black empowerment deal.

Freshening the Food Supply in Minority Communities

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By Kenneth J. Cooper, Special to the NNPA from thedefendersonline.com –

The rap on corner stores in low-income, minority neighborhoods is they’re high on prices at the cash register and low on variety on the shelves, except for candies, snacks, and just about everything else that’s bad to eat.

As unlikely as it might seem, a loose national network has set out to transform the tiny shops into part of the solution to the health disparities afflicting African Americans and Hispanics. Backed by foundation grants and government funds, including federal stimulus money, local organizations that have joined the Healthy Corner Store Initiative offer willing shopkeepers incentives to stock more fresh produce and share best practices on how to make fruits and vegetables sell well.

It is a hyper-local approach to bringing produce to urban “food deserts” that supermarket chains have largely abandoned for more prosperous suburbs. Stocking corner stores also costs less than city governments granting financial breaks to lure grocery stores back to the ’hood and barrio.

The local health activists and officials leading the effort say making fresh fruits and vegetables and whole grains more available in neighborhood shops can help reduce the higher rates of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease that African Americans and Hispanics suffer. While it’s too early for measurable reductions in those chronic conditions, a study in Hartford, Conn. found an eight percent decline in junk food on sale at 40 participating stores.

The corner store initiative reflects a recent shift in expert thinking about the causes and solutions to minority health disparities. Rather than focus solely on individual lifestyles— each person’s diet, exercise, and medical care—activists are also attempting to treat whole neighborhoods that tend to have too few supermarkets and recreational facilities, and too many fast food joints and environmental hazards. One expert at the Harvard School of Public Health, David R. Williams, argues the clustering of such conditions in racially- or ethnically-segregated neighborhoods is the “fundamental cause” of disparities.

Philadelphia is a forerunner in transforming corner stores. There the nonprofit Food Trust began making grants in 2001 to store owners to buy refrigerated coolers for fresh fruit and vegetables. One Hispanic shopkeeper in North Philadelphia, who received $60,000 to renovate his convenience store in 2008, reported a sudden 40 percent increase in business, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported.

The need in Philadelphia was apparent. A 2000 study found the city had the second fewest supermarkets per capita among major cities, after Boston. The Food Trust hasn’t given up on attracting chain grocers, though, even as it has worked with corner stores. A public-private partnership it joined has leveraged financial incentives to open some supermarkets in Philadelphia.

About 500 of the city’s corner stores, including some Hispanic-owned ones known as bodegas, have joined the initiative. That sounds like a big number, but the city has an estimated 2,500 neighborhood stores. The current plan is to expand participation to 1,000.

The initiative has spread from Philadelphia across the country, including The Bronx in New York, Newark, Cleveland, Chicago, Louisville, Ky. and Oakland, Calif. In the last several years, the idea has grown in popularity and prompted more than 500 online inquiries to the Healthy Corner Store Initiative.

The federal stimulus bill has made new funding available through the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. However, not all of what’s needed to persuade corner stores to sell fruits and vegetables takes a lot of money. Activists and food consultants advise owners to place fruits and vegetables in front of the store, display unrefrigerated produce in attractive baskets instead of cardboard boxes and avoid putting too close together certain vegetables that cause each other to spoil faster.

Boston has recently joined the nationwide initiative, recruiting a handful of corner stores in the mostly Black neighborhood of Mattapan and heavily Hispanic East Boston. Collaborating are the Boston Public Health Commission, which has a $2.4 million grant from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a community group in each neighborhood and a citywide health alliance the commission has formed. The project goes by the catchy name, “Healthy on the Block.”

A 2009 survey conducted in six Boston neighborhoods, including Mattapan and East Boston, found that most corner stores do stock a limited supply of produce, says Rebecca Franckle, the project director. But, the fresh food turns over slowly and sustains high spoilage rates. “Some of the store owners we talked to consider it a cost of business,” she says.

Mattapan is Boston’s only neighborhood without a chain supermarket. Another survey identified more than 14 corner stores in the neighborhood, but only two on Blue Hill Avenue, a main drag, signed up for “Healthy on the Block,” says Cassandra Cato-Louis, neighborhood coordinator for the Mattapan Food and Fitness Coalition.

Asked why most corner stores owners in Mattapan declined to join, Cato-Louis says: “The first thing they say is, ‘People don’t buy produce here. There’s not a market for it.’ But, the kind of produce they have is the kind people don’t want. It’s old.”

Meanwhile, a survey of food shoppers who live in the neighborhood found that “the vast majority of them requested fresh food and vegetables” in corner stores, Cato-Louis says.

One store recruited has been stocking fresh fruits and vegetables since last fall, many geared to the neighborhood’s large West Indian population. More than 20 varieties of fruits and vegetables are on sale, some in plastic bins and others in a refrigerated cooler, to either side of the front entrance. The fruits include bananas, oranges, lemons, limes and mangos, while among the vegetables are potatoes, cassava, Caribbean yams and pumpkins, lettuce, tomatoes, and ginger.

Mama Supermarket, as it is known, doesn’t have annual sales anywhere near those at a chain supermarket. But, multiply sales of fresh fruit and vegetables at participating stores across the country, and a dietary problem behind some serious health conditions could start to ease—without providing public subsidies to supermarket chains not inclined to do business in Black and Hispanic neighborhoods anyway.

Kenneth J. Cooper, a Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist, is a freelancer based in Boston. He also edits the Trotter Review at the University of Massachusetts-Boston.

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.

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BVN National News Wire