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Taking a Cue From U.S., Nigeria Issues Warning On Spills

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Special to the NNPA by the GIN –

(GIN) – After years of standing idly by as western oil companies fouled Nigerian rivers, dirtied the air, killed fish and birds, the Nigerian government, spurred by U.S. action in the Gulf of Mexico, is showing a little fight-back.

This week, Nigerian officials threatened ExxonMobil with sanctions if the company fails to manage spills properly. Idris Musa, head of Nigeria's oil spill response agency, said the meeting was to "call the attention of ExxonMobil, for the last time, to the need to put a stop to the incessant oil spills that we have been having within its operation area."

Musa told reporters after the meeting that his agency had since 2006 recorded about 2,405 oil spills involving all the major international oil companies operating in Nigeria.

"The oil spills in the Niger Delta are more than what has happened in the Gulf of Mexico," said Alagoa Morris, field monitor for Environmental Rights Action in Bayelsa state.

ExxonMobil Safety and Environment Manager, John Etuk, admitted that there was a spill in May, but was promptly reported to the relevant agencies. He disputed the official charge that the oil group did not carry out the clean up to specification.

Meanwhile, in the U.S., ExxonMobil joined other oil companies in blaming BP for its actions leading to the spill that has befouled thousands of acres of shoreline along the Gulf.

World Cup Fanfare Brings Demands To The Surface

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Special to the NNPA from the GIN –

(GIN) – With thousands of World Cup revelers thronging the streets of South Africa, and all eyes riveted on the games, labor unions are seizing the time to push normally reluctant employers to raise their low wages and provide needed benefits.

Tuesday, hundreds of black-clad workers gathered just outside the stadium grounds around midday, chanting and dancing, as grim-faced riot police, toting shotguns, looked on.

Earlier in the week, workers walked off the job in Cape Town and Durban, and bus drivers in Johannesburg quit in the middle of their shifts Monday, stranding about 1,000 fans outside Soccer City stadium. On Sunday, riot police using rubber bullets broke up one demonstration by striking workers in Durban, injuring two.

South African Transport and Allied Workers Union coordinator Mzwandile Jackson Simon said it appeared that wage promises made to the striking workers were not kept.

"To the millions of our workers and the poor, their problems are much bigger than the World Cup and they will never surrender their genuine struggles for a living wage in the interests of appeasing ... visitors to our country," a spokesman for the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA) said.

Meanwhile, some 16,000 workers at the electric power company Eskom, many of whom live in shacks without electricity, could go on strike later this week. The workers are seeking wage hikes of 18% and a housing allowance. The company is offering 5%.

U.S.- Backed Somali Gov't Training Children For War

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Special to the NNPA from the GIN –

(GIN) - Recruited voluntarily or by force, child soldiers (boys and girls under the age of 18) are fighting in more than 30 conflicts worldwide - as combatants, messengers, porters, cooks or for sexual services.

The north African nation of Chad, with 450,000 displaced people in its eastern areas, is beset with child soldiers fighting for both government and rebel forces.

This week, a picture in The New York Times gripped readers with a heart-rending image of small boys, Mohamed, 12, and Ahmed, 15, holding heavy weapons, trained in killing by the Transitional Federal Government of Somalia. Because that government is backed by the U.S., it is likely that U.S. taxpayer money trained and financed these boys.

American military advisers oversee the training of Somali government soldiers in Uganda and officials acknowledge it is impossible to guarantee that American money is not being used to arm children. Fifteen year old Ahmed recalled his training: “One of the things I learned,” he said, “is how to kill with a knife.”

“I’ll be honest,” a Somali government official told the reporter from The Times. “We were trying to find anyone who could carry a gun.”

A U.N. report released last month also accused Somalia's transitional government and the country's al-Shabab rebels of killing and maiming children.

The United States and Somalia are the world’s only two countries not to have ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which prohibits the use of soldiers younger than fifteen.

Gulf Residents Protest, Brace Themselves for After Affects of Oil Spill

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By Ishna Hagan, NNPA Special Correspondent –

WASHINGTON (NNPA) - Flames coated the water as a cloud of grey and black smoke hovered over the Gulf of Mexico. Carlos Felder could have been one of the eleven men killed in the Deepwater Horizon explosion, but he instead was an onlooker.

Felder stood on the deck of the boat, eying what has now been confirmed as the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history. “I was just waking up and getting ready to start my shift,” Felder, a contract worker for Shell energy and petrochemical companies tells, “when I heard the big boom and went out on the deck to see what the big noise was - like everyone else.”

Felder describes what he heard and saw as “crazy.” He said he could only think about the families of the people who did not make it off the oilrig in time. “Everyone on my vessel wanted to help. But Shell told us to stay put. So all we could do is say a prayer,” Felder said. He added that the explosion was so bad, that he does not want to remember anything about it.

Seven weeks later, people around the country – especially costal states - are forced to remember the oilrig explosion as they brace themselves for its aftermath. Businesses take on the straining ramifications of the oil spill. More than ever, the fishing and seafood industries, oil industry, and tourism anticipate loss.

“Many members of my family are commercial fishermen or oystermen. Some have been laid off. Some have to traveled further to oil-free fishing zones,” says D.T. Simmons, a legal assistant from Apalachicola, Fla., home to Apalachicola Bay seafood harvesting areas.

With no concrete date of when the leak will be plugged, Simmons is one of many who has tightened up on her financial spending.

“Some family members and friends work in the service and tourism industry ranging in different areas of the Gulf coast. Their … industry financial projections have been greatly reduced, chiefly because of this oil spill,” Simmons says.

Harry Alford, President/CEO of the National Black Chamber of Commerce, raised issues about reparations to the victims and cost of the cleanup in a statement titled, “Some Words for President Obama About the Oil Spill,” which is posted on the National Black Chamber of Commerce website.

Alford suggests: “Levy BP’s bank accounts and freeze its assets. Their 2009 revenue was $246.1 billion and their assets are $236 billion. Thus, take $50 billion in cash to set up an operating account for us to clean up the mess, cap the well and pay the victims. Set aside another $50 billion in their assets as backup. Halliburton and Transocean are much smaller firms so take a billion dollars each from them based on principle.”

The oil spill is anticipated to have not only a strong and lingering impact on the U.S. economy, but also on the environment and animal and marine life. Fishes and dolphins have already shown up dead on the coast, which provides a clear indication that the oil has intruded natural habitats. Hundreds of other species are at risk.

Simmons was immersed by the health and environmental residue left after the deadly explosion, and recently organized a march for the Franklin County Democratic Executive Committee (FCDEC) to promote preservation awareness of her bay in light of the recent “fiasco.” Simmons plans to push her State representatives for stricter legislation regarding safety standards and penalties for violation of rules.

Alford said President Barack Obama and the U.S. government has got to seize control of this and cannot rely on BP for legislative advice. He said BP has received 760 willful safety violations at their U.S. refineries over the last three years.

“They [BP] don’t care, they are an outlaw – kick them out of the country and send them back to England,” Alford said in an interview.

Tony Hayward, BP’s CEO, said in a televised statement that BP is taking full responsibility for cleaning up the spill in the Gulf. “We will get this done and we will make this right,” he said. Community residents of the five Gulf states - Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida - have obvious health concerns about the food they eat and the air they breathe.

“It could get into the local drainage systems and water systems of local communities if it comes inland enough and can begin to cause sickness among people using public water systems, as it has among marine life,” speculates Pensacola, Fla. resident, Kavontae Smalls.

But, those concerns are being dispelled by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention CDC) and partnering organizations.

The CDC said in a June 11 update that it is monitoring potential health threats or conditions across the five Gulf states that may arise as a result of human exposure to the oil spill. The agency says it is in constant communication with its state partners and has a standing commitment to quickly support and respond to any emerging health threats.

The people will also be watching, assures Simmons in a statement: “The FCDEC will work hand-in-hand with the people in the local seafood industry and state and national environmental protection agencies to promote to help protect our pristine waters.”

America's Racial Temperature Rising

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Experts Say Agitators Must Speak Peace

By Hazel Trice Edney, NNPA Editor-in-Chief –

WASHINGTON (NNPA) - U. S. Rep. John Lewis was headed for the Capitol to vote on President Obama’s health care bill in March when he was pelted with racial epithets when passing near a group of conservative Tea Party protestors.

Days later, reports of attacks on Democrats around the country included bricks smashing through windows, a potentially lethal gas pipe cutting at a home thought to be owned by Virginia Democratic Congressman Tom Perriello. According to reports, the FBI announced the agency would investigate Tea Partiers and a race hate group as potential suspects.

The madness continued into the spring as former Alaska governor, Sarah Palin, and others accuse the Obama administration of trying to kill the elderly with death panels in the health care bill. He is also called a Marxist, a Socialist and a Nazi by Tea partiers and associated radical conservatives.

Meanwhile, also, in March, Virginia’s Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell is roundly criticized by the state’s NAACP after he declares a Confederate History Month while neglecting to mention the cruelty and inhumanity of slavery – a deed for which he apologized.

Among more recent racial flare ups, Arizona passes legislation that appears to unleash racial profiling on Latinos or anyone who police might perceive as an illegal immigrant; then the state of Texas passes a law to distribute history books with a conservative bent that presents slave-owning confederates as heroes.

Finally, the Obamas’ oldest daughter, 11-year-old Malia, becomes the target of mocking by a conservative talk show host after the president quotes her as asking if he had “plugged the hole” in the BP oil crisis. The mocker, Fox News’ Glenn Beck, ultimately apologizes.

But are apologies enough to calm the apparent smoldering atmosphere of racism that has intensified since the election of President Barack Obama? Both Black and White authorities on racial hatred say what’s really needed is a voice of reason within the Republican Party.

“The reality is that the people who could really tamp this down are not doing so,” says Mark Potok, spokesman for the Birmingham-based Southern Poverty Law Center, a foremost authority on race hate incidents around the country. “There are large numbers of Republican officials, so-called responsible leaders of the party, who are doing absolutely nothing to tamp down the outright falsehoods, the defamatory propaganda that’s being pumped out into the political mainstream.”

Potok, Jack Levin, director of the Brudnick Center on Violence and Conflict at Northeastern University in Boston, Mass., and civil rights icon Rev. Joseph Lowery all agreed on mainly two things in interviews with the NNPA News Service. One – that racial tension in America has grown since the election of President Obama. And two – that it could be quelled by a voice of reason rising from the Republican Party.

“Most White people who are on the adverse side of this question would not admit it, but absolutely, much of this is due to the fact that they simply can not accept the fact that we have a Black leader in this country,” says Lowery. “Without the Black president, we wouldn’t have all this heavy tension and lightening rod activity that’s driving us further and further apart.”

A civil rights stalwart who co-founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Lowery knows what it takes to quiet the currently smoldering atmosphere that he says he has not seen since the 1960s. He says it takes a person who is respected by the aggressors to rise up and call for peace.

Potok agrees, but says at this point, it will be difficult to quell the political, race and anti-government tensions.

“This genie may be very difficult to get back into the bottle. It would have been a hell of a lot better if some of the more ostensibly main stream figures in our society had said something about this long ago. Now we’re actually seeing people driving airplanes into IRS buildings and murdering Pentagon police officers and leaving coffins on the lawns of congressmen.”

Levin of the Brudnick Center, agrees with Lowery that the reason the racial temperature is out of control and will likely continue to surge is simple: “It is the Obama factor. It is a big factor. Having an African-American as president has brought out the worse in some White Americans and it’s brought out the best in others … There are many Whites who voted for Obama, who continue to praise him, who think he’s a great president, but then there’s the other side of the coin. The problem is that it is a small but growing number of extremists who are concerned about foreign influence and they see Obama as a Marxist, a Socialist, they question whether he was born in the United States. They see him as attempting to destroy our country. And these are the same folks who are likely to join some White supremacist group or civilian militia organization. They are so concerned about what they see as an erosion of American culture and the American economy and they blame the Black guy who holds the most powerful office in the world.”

Potok says most of the political angst is really not coming from organized militias.

“I don’t think these are organized hate groups. These are by in large more or less every day citizens who are very fearful of the way the world is changing around them and who have been whipped up in a kind of white hot anger,” he describes. “Rather than seeing the changes in the world around us, the kind of globalization of the economy, the increasing diversity of our society and other societies as something that is simply occurring in the course of history, they are demonizing certain groups and saying they are responsible for these things. So that is the problem. It is the identifying of phantom enemies and whipping up the broad masses into a fury about it.”

The name-calling and labeling of President Obama as Marxist, Socialist, etc., have been among the worse offenses, says Potok.

“These things are all utter falsehoods and yet the people in responsible positions of the party have done almost nothing to play this down and in fact have played it up,” he says.

The current frenzy has roots in 9-11, Levin points out.

“The war on terror is part of it. Certainly 9-11 made lots of Americans of any race feel uncomfortable or more insecure about their personal safety. But that’s a small part of the whole thing,” Levin says. “Immigrants of color come into this country from Latin American countries and other parts of the world as well. And whenever the economy goes sour, the immigrants get blamed. That’s part of it.”

In America’s history of racial strife, there have rarely been instances in which White leaders actually take the responsibility to speak against wrongs unless pressed to do so. Such was the case with President Lydon B. Johnson as he called for the passage of the Voting Rights Act, declaring “We shall overcome” after the 1965 “Bloody Sunday” attacks on civil rights protestors in Selma.

But, Johnson was considered to be a friend of racial equality. It is even rarer when a foe rises up and speaks with a changed heart.

Levin concludes, “It would be wonderful if someone who has a reputation for extremism or racism would take the other side and would come out for tolerance and respect.”

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