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Africa Land Grab Confirmed in New World Bank Study

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Special to the NNPA from the Global Information Network –

More than 100 million acres of fertile farm land in mostly poor countries was bought up by western multinationals and Asian state companies in secret deals, according to a new study by the World Bank.

The size of the “land grabs” represent a tenfold jump from the previous decade. Two-thirds of these controversial sales were in Africa.

“Large land acquisitions come at a high cost. The veil of secrecy that often surrounds these deals must be lifted,” said World Bank Managing Director, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, who warned of a “resource curse” that may enrich a small group of the elite, but leaving wreckage behind. Proposals are not properly screened. Poor people who live off the land are forcibly displaced.

Some investors manipulate opinion with a media blitz of false promises. Nothing has been produced so far on almost 80 per cent of the land purchased, notes the report.

Two years ago, Korea’s Daiwoo Logistics attempted to “rent” over 2 million acres of farm land -approximately the size of Connecticut - for $2.50 an acre in Madagascar to plant food and biofuel for export. The 99-year deal set off a firestorm of opposition leading to the downfall of the then president. The lease was later revoked when the new president said: “Madagascar’s land is neither for sale nor for rent.”

The report, Rising Global Interest in Farmland, released last month, calls on developing countries to recognize and respect the resource rights of their people.

Jobs Remain Top Priority for One Nation Marchers

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By James Wright, Special to the NNPA from the Washington Informer –

Hundreds of thousands of people from across the country converged upon Washington, D.C., to participate in a rally to let the U.S. Congress and the White House know that job creation and fixing the ailing economy should be the number one priority.

The One Nation Working Together rally at the Lincoln Memorial was designed t o counter the Tea Party movement’s rally in Washington in August and to caution Americans that a Republican-controlled Congress would turn back the hands of time. Members from various progressive organizations and unions traveled by bus, train, airplane, and on foot to let national leaders in Washington know that political squabbling will do little to heal people's economic pain in the aftermath of one of the longest recessions since World War II.

"I came here to support the cause of the march," Derrick Griffin, 43, said. "Our leaders here in D.C. should be about saving jobs and trying to put forth the change we voted for in 2008," the Fort Washington, Md., resident said.

Event organizers estimated that 175,000 people gathered on a slightly breezy, but clear day to show a united front. They came from all walks of life and economic circumstances. Participants included the employed and unemployed, union workers and environmentalists, civil rights leaders and civic leaders, war veterans and peace activists, student leaders and those from the gay, lesbian, transgender community.

Speakers at the event included the Rev. Jesse Jackson of the Rainbow/Push Coalition, National Urban League President Marc Morial, NAACP President Benjamin Jealous, Rev. Al Sharpton of the National Action Network – all of whom stressed the need for jobs and emphasized the urgency of the situation.

The crowd congregated on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and fanned out onto the grounds of the Washington Monument. There were throngs of people on both sides of the Reflecting Pool as well as those who hunkered down around the World War II Memorial.

Political and civil rights organizations set up tables that displayed their wares and various organizations passed out literature. Throughout the four-hour event, organizations joined in by marching around the grounds for their respective causes while others listened to the speakers.

Most of the marchers donned colored Tee-shirts that announced their cause or organization and sat together throughout the event. For example, members of the Communications Workers of America donned red Tee-shirts with white printed messages on both the front and back of their shirts. The group congregated on the south side of the Reflecting Pool.

The marchers may have been from different parts of the country, but the common thread among all who attended focused on their financial pain and the lack of jobs. Jeffrey Dunkin, 53, traveled from New York City to attend the march and to show support for fellow New Yorkers who are suffering in his home town. "I want to help people that have lost their jobs," said Dunkin, who lives in Brooklyn. "Things do not look good in New York City and I know a lot of unemployed people. I hope this march will help secure more jobs for the unemployed because things are not looking good."

Deborah Maxwell, president of the New Hanover County, N.C. NAACP, said she and about 20 others from her branch, primarily residents of Wilmington, traveled to Washington to call for more action from the federal government.

"It is important that we fight for jobs, justice, and education and that is why we decided to come from Wilmington to [Washington, D.C.]," said Maxwell, 54, and a resident of Wilmington. "Some of us have come at a sacrifice because [we] are still dealing with issues regarding the recent floods. Still, others are in distress because of job loss," said Maxwell, adding two of her members recently lost their jobs working for the local government and their job prospects are grim despite Wilmington's strong tourism economy.

Maxwell isn’t alone. Individuals from other states also feel the sting of the recession.

Harrisburg’s situation mirrors that of the District of Columbia in terms of firing teachers and school personnel. Harrisburg is the capital of the Keystone State and its 47,472 population is 54 percent Black. The Harrisburg school district consists of 8,401 students and approximately 1,200 faculty and staff.

Trea Buck, a high school science teacher in Harrisburg, said that 57 teachers have been laid off since the 2010-2011 school year started. "I am here for my fallen brethren. Our school system has had to undergo a lot of cuts," said Buck, 39, and a resident of Harrisburg. "Teachers who were emergency certified were cut and many of us will have to be furloughed at some point. Plus, our school system administration was cut in half," he said.

Buck joined a large group of National Education Association members at the Reflecting Pool during the rally. Buck said that she traveled to Washington to advocate not only for her fellow colleagues, but for the next generation. "What are we going to do for the children," she said, "How are these cuts going to support our future?"

A weak economy and a struggling school system have plagued Detroit for years. Members of the Metro Detroit Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta traveled to the District to voice their opinions during the rally.

"We came to show our support for President Obama and to stand up for jobs, justice, and education," Mardi Woods, president of the chapter, said. "We also have a get out the vote effort to make sure our voices are heard on Nov. 2."

Woods, 42, and a resident of Farmington Hills, Mich., outside of Detroit, said that the Motor City has been hit hard by a high rate of home foreclosures and job layoffs. She said that the layoffs, particularly in the school system, have adversely affected her members. "Many of our members are educators and Deltas are at the table when these things happen," she said.

The Detroit Public School system laid-off nearly 1,000 school personnel last August due to budgetary problems. However, the action was stopped when money was located due to retirements. The school system has 84,000 non-charter school students and about 15,000 administrators, faculty and staff. The entire school system has a total of 138,000 students enrolled in both public and charter schools.

Robert Bobb, who served as the city administrator of Washington, D.C. from 2002-2006 and was an unsuccessful candidate for the presidency of the D.C. Board of Education, is the current emergency financial director for Detroit Public Schools. Bobb was appointed by Gov. Jennifer Granholm, D-MI, in 2009 to manage the school system's muddled finances. The massive layoffs were proposed by Bobb last spring because of declining enrollment and the costs of running the system.

Woods said she supports Bobb "because he is trying to do the right thing for the children of Detroit."

A number of youth groups also attended the rally. They contend that young people care about what is going on in the country. Leilani Irvin, a senior political science major at Benedict College in Columbia, S.C., said that young people have been particularly hurt by the struggling economy. "I know of many of my former school mates, who graduated in May, are still looking for jobs," Irvin, 21, said. "This is a crisis with youth. I read where 27 percent of college graduates cannot find a job and I don't think my employment prospects for the spring will be better."

There is a belief that the retired are not affected by the economic downturn, but Kenneth Davis, a retired autoworker from Detroit disagrees. "I came to this march because too many people are suffering," Davis, 54, said. "As a member of the United Auto Workers Union, those of us who receive retirement benefits had to give up our dental [coverage]. That is not right that we are giving up concessions to the auto companies while their profits are going up."

Davis said that he received an e-mail recently that said Chrysler's profits were up 65 percent from last year. He said that he knows of fellow retirees who are experiencing economic difficulties, such as foreclosures. At one time, they could get help from the union "but that is not possible now because everyone needs help," Davis said.

Many of the participants could not get close enough to the front of the Lincoln Memorial or even close enough to the four Jumbotrons to hear the speakers. Martina Beauford of Baltimore, Md., saw the crowds huddled near the front of the Lincoln Memorial from her bench close by the Washington Monument and decided to stay put. While she could not hear what was going on, she felt the vibe that was coming from the event. "I am here to make a statement on everything that is going on with people's pay, health benefits and lack of job security," Beauford, 42, said. "This is my first march and I like it because it is exciting and different."

Beauford, a Maryland Department of Corrections employee said she felt a connection with everyone at the rally. "We are all hurting," she said. "This is why it is important for all of us to come together because everyone in all 50 states is hurting."

Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr.'s Wife 'Mortified and in Agony' over Affair

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Special to the NNPA from the Houston Forward Times –

The wife of U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., D-Il, said she and her husband have gone to marital counseling and received spiritual therapy since he revealed his extra-marital affair to her nearly two years ago.

“He said it was over. I was mortified and in agony, but he knew if I found out any other way it would be over. That the only way to save our marriage was to come clean,” Chicago Alderman Sandi Jackson said in an interview published in Sunday editions of the Chicago Sun-Times.

“There were sleepless nights and I started losing hair and I told him I would only consider staying if we got into therapy.”

She said she immediately questioned herself and whether it was her fault, but she never wanted details. When word of the affair became public last week, she said it was like opening the wound again.

Jesse Jackson Jr. has been dogged by corruption allegations in connection with former Gov. Rod Blagojevich since December 2008, shortly after Blagojevich was arrested.

Black Leaders Say New Education Regulations Will Harm Minorities

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Special to the NNPA from the Afro-American Newspaper Staff –

The U.S. Department of Education plans to enact new rules targeting the financial aid eligibility of programs at for-profit career institutions; regulations, which they said, are part of an “effort to protect students from aggressive or misleading recruiting practices.”

However, some Black business and political leaders, including Rev. Jesse Jackson, founder of the Rainbow PUSH Coalition, famed trial attorney Willie Gary, Randal Pinkett, chairman and CEO of BCT Partners, Harry Alford, president and CEO of the National Black Chamber of Commerce, and members of the Congressional Black Caucus, said the regulations are unfair.

Under the department’s planned “Gainful Employment” regulations, institutions of higher education and post-secondary vocational schools would have to disclose graduation and job placement rates, along with debt levels and incomes of their graduates to prospective students and the department.

Additionally, institutions would also have to provide a five-year projection of enrollment, documentation from employers stating that the institution’s programs meet their business needs, projected job vacancies, and job requirements before the program can become eligible to participate in federal student aid.

Milton Anderson, president of Virginia College’s branch in Jackson, Miss. and a spokesman for the Coalition for Education Success, which opposes the proposed regulations, said that 1.2 million students enrolled at career schools are minorities.

"I am concerned that the proposed rule casts too broad and too general a brush on many institutions, some of whom are doing an excellent job at serving economically disadvantaged and minority students," wrote Jackson, in a letter to Education Secretary Arne Duncan on Sept. 15.

Gary voiced his concerns in a newspaper op-ed. “The proposed regulations are aimed at institutions whose graduates don't often become CEOs, doctors and lawyers. Career schools produce nurses, auto mechanics, computer technicians and other skilled workers, whose services are often overlooked and devalued in our society."

In response to the objections and concerns raised, the department said in a statement that it would delay publication of the new rules to take “additional time to consider the comments we received and to host several meetings and public hearings in the coming weeks.” The new regulations were scheduled to go into effect on Nov. 1.

"Let me be clear: we're moving forward on gainful employment regulations,” Duncan said in a statement. “While a majority of career colleges play a vital role in training our workforce to be globally competitive, some bad actors are saddling students with debt they cannot afford in exchange for degrees and certificates they cannot use."

The department expects the regulations to now take effect in the summer of 2012.

HBCUs Get $850M; Still Underfunded, More Aid Needed from Federal Government

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By Charles D. Ellison, Special to the NNPA from the Philadelphia Tribune –

Faced with a sluggish economy and a state budget he once described as “flat” during a faculty meeting, Lincoln University President Ivory Nelson is in a bind like most Black college heads: just getting by. And like others in his situation, Nelson is deeply troubled that federal support for Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) is nominal.

“If you look at HBCUs as a whole, we receive 3 percent of the overall college population,” notes Nelson, a Grambling University graduate in his 11th year as Lincoln’s President. “But, we graduate 25 percent of all African Americans receiving a college degree. You don’t want to lose that 25 percent — in fact, you want to increase it.”

Addressing those concerns, the Obama administration recently rolled out its White House HBCU Initiative in a bit of fanfare during Congressional Black Caucus week, a follow-up to Executive Order 13532 signed in February that directs $850 million to HBCUs during the next 10 years.

Overall, the spending has been viewed as a boost, with the President committing $100 million more than in previous years.

White House HBCU Initiative Executive Director John S. Wilson Jr. is optimistic, describing the effort as “more empowered” when comparing it to previous administrations since President Jimmy Carter launched the program by Executive Order in 1980.

Wilson sees a holistic approach taking form. “Out of the $120 billion in higher education funding, 4 percent of that is going to HBCUs,” argues Wilson when asked what makes the current President’s initiative different.

Yet, funding parity becomes a major issue when talking with HBCU supporters who describe a lack of federal funding to Black schools for research and development grants, a pot of gold for institutions seeking to enhance prestige and attract additional funding.

“There is a gap when the better funded White institutions get the larger piece of the pie for R&D,” observes one White House Initiative board member speaking anonymously.

And critics express concern that community colleges, two-year institutions serving a large share of minority students, are getting federal dollars that could be shifted to full-degree four-year HBCUs. Nelson cited HBCU competition with community colleges as an “issue.”

Wilson contends the money is there. “There’s too much money to say we’ve got money flowing away from HBCUs,” Wilson says. “We have a more informed and sensitive perspective when it comes to HBCUs and we are better resourced. Of the $40 billion in Pell Grants, a disproportionate share goes to HBCU students.”

Cheyney University President Michelle Howard-Vital also appears upbeat. “I think we have a renewed opportunity with this president to state the case for HBCUs,” says Howard-Vital.

Other HBCU presidents like Nelson are also encouraged, but there is hesitation. “$850 million is a good start, but it’s not enough. It is over 10 years, spread out over many different schools.”

And, it remains unclear how much Members of Congress are helping to marshal resources for HBCUs in their states and districts. Democrats are generally supportive of HBCU efforts, particularly when pushed by a unified effort from the Congressional Black Caucus, which Wilson says works closely with his office. But, there is the usual pushback from Republicans who argue HBCU funding is “affirmative action” straining an already tight federal budget.

Pennsylvania-delegation Members such as Rep. Joe Sestak (D-Pa.), whose 7th District houses Cheyney, were difficult to reach for comment. Yet, Howard-Vital heaps praise on Sestak for finding nearly $2 million in federal funding for science programs and scholarships. But, there is concern that Sen. Robert Casey, Jr. (D-Pa.) has yet to visit Cheney or Lincoln’s campus.

“Senator Specter has been here on several occasions,” says Howard-Vital of Cheyney. “Sen. Casey’s Chief of Staff has been here. But, I would like more interface with him.”

Casey’s office claims the Senator has been instrumental in securing federal dollars for HBCUs, including $255 million annually supporting “minority-serving” institutions. “Senator Casey met with Dr. Howard-Vital when she was in DC this summer,” notes Casey press secretary Stephanie Zarecky. “Senator Casey’s office also worked closely with Cheyney [for] the hearing he chaired on college affordability at Temple University last year.”

Marybeth Gasman, an Associate Professor of Higher Education at the University of Pennsylvania and a national expert on HBCUs, sees a much more “centralized” effort under the Obama administration. “The current HBCU Initiative is much better organized,” says Glasman. “Obama realized that the Initiative was not as centralized as it could be and so he asked the current director to pool the resources of all of the agencies — basically making them more accessible to HBCUs.”

Still, the funding stream could be more robust argues Glasman. “It’s a start, but I think more could be done. HBCUs have long been underfunded at every level. Critics say that HBCUs are inferior, but they never discuss the unequal support at all levels that has existed from their inception through the current day.”

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