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Hollywood Descends on Sudan as Date for Referendum Nears

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Special to the NNPA from the Global Information Network

(NNPA) Visitors, including veteran actor George Clooney, are flocking to Sudan, which in less than 100 days will give south Sudanese the choice whether to stay united with the North or become an independent country.

Clooney, a designated “U.N. Messenger for Peace” was among several U.N. officials, and the U.S. Holocaust Mem orial Museum, hoping to head off a resumption of fighting, if the scheduled plebiscite is delayed.

So far, preparations for the voting are seriously behind schedule - voter registration has not started and is unlikely to be ready on time for a January 9, 2011 vote, say local sources. There is not even a North-South border.

The referendum is a key provision of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement that ended a decades-long north-south civil war, during which approximately two million people were killed.

At a recent meeting with parliament, Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir gave assurances that the referendum was on track and predicted unity of the north and south would prevail.

But Secretary of State Hillary Clinton echoed a widely-heard view that southerners will break away, and called independence “inevitable.”

One key point is the fate of the oil-rich Abyei border region which is claimed by both North and South.

As to the referendum, much will depend on final accord concerning the frontier; the sharing of major oil revenues and the citizenship of northerners and southerners, who live on the other side of the border.

British Banks in Cohoots with Corrupt Nigerian Politicians?

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Special to the NNPA from the Global Information Networks –

(NNPA) A new report by the watchdog group Global Witness charges British banks with accepting millions of dollars from Nigerian politicians accused of corruption.

One former governor, Diepreye Alamieyeseigha, brought some $6 million into Britain and deposited it with the Royal Bank of Scotland. "This account received $4 million,” said a Global Witness spokesman. “Of that, $2 million was a corrupt bribe paid by a contractor to secure a contract."

The report, called International Thief, covers 1999 to 2005. It is based on court documents from cases brought by the Nigerian government to win back funds it said had been stolen by former governors.

By taking money from corrupt governors between 1999 and 2005, said the report, Barclays, NatWest, RBS, HSBC, and UBS helped to fuel corruption and entrench poverty in Nigeria.

"Banks are quick to penalize ordinary customers for minor infractions but seem to be less concerned about dirty money passing through their accounts," said Robert Palmer, a policy analyst at Global Witness. "Large scale corruption is simply not possible without a bank willing to process payments from dodgy sources or hold accounts for corrupt politicians," he added.

The banks have all denied the charges. A full copy of the report may be found online at www.globalwitness.org

Nuhu Ribadu, former head of Nigeria’s anti-corruption agency, estimates that corruption and mismanagement swallow about 40 percent of Nigeria’s annual oil income.

Uganda AIDS Clinic is Broke, 4,500 Lives at Risk

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Special to the NNPA from the Global Information Network –

(NNPA) A pediatric in-patient unit, which offers acute care to children with advanced HIV, is broke and may close within six months, according to Dr. Emmanuelo Luyirika, the program’s director.

“Mildmay International is appealing to people and organizations towards the support to this cause,” Dr. Luyirika said.

This distress call comes amid growing concern of rising HIV infections in the country, especially among married couples, when funding for life-prolonging drugs is in flux.

Donors currently pay 85 percent of the total amount spent on HIV/Aids programs in Uganda, while the Uganda government allots only 6 percent of its budget - $30 million for anti-retrovirals and anti-malaria drugs, $3 million to fight HIV, and $500,000 for prevention programs.

“We appreciate funding from donors,” said Chris Baryomunsi, a member of the parliament’s HIV committee, “but as a country, we can’t continue relying on them; we must invest on our own for purposes of ownership and sustainability… We want to see continuous progressive increments in government spending on HIV each year until we reach about 30 percent. When a person is put on AIDS drugs, he or she is supposed to be on them for the rest of their lives,” he added.

“What will happen to them if donors suddenly withdraw their help?”

Meanwhile, Uganda is fighting for a settlement with the UK-based Heritage Oil over $400 million owed for capital gains taxes, which the company has refused to pay.

Currently, there is no local legislative framework covering the oil sector. National oil laws including one on revenue management are still in the pipeline and while amendments have been made to tax laws, they may not be retroactive.

Census Shows Lingering Racial Income Gap

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By Christian Morrow, Special to the NNPA from the New Pittsburgh Courier –

As reported in last week’s New Pittsburgh Courier, there are more African-American families living in poverty than at any time since the U.S. Census Bureau began gathering such statistics. Though the poverty rate increased for all ethnic groups, the increase was greatest among Blacks.

While it is not surprising to see poverty increase during a prolonged recession, the report also showed that despite anti-poverty programs dating back to the 1960s, since 1987, median annual income for African-Americans has consistently lagged behind non-Hispanic Whites. The income difference in 2009 was almost $22,000.

Derdrick Muhammad, senior organizer and research associate for the Institute for Policy Studies, said the report not only reaffirms the economic divide between Blacks and Whites, but also indicates it may be getting worse.

“In 2008, Blacks were making about $.62 for every dollar Whites made. Last year it was $.60,” he said. “In the mid-1970s it had narrowed to about $.50 on the dollar. I think the only way to bridge this gap is to have a progressive economy like we had in the 1940s.”

Muhammad said the federal government cannot, of course, copy a wartime economy, but it can pursue policies to create jobs and educational opportunities. He said massive subsidies for “green jobs” and infrastructure improvement would be two areas where such policies should be focused.

“But with infrastructure, there has to be a racial equity component so we can demand diversity from contractors,” he said. “To me, the economy isn’t the problem, it’s the lack of political will. So I don’t see this happening any time soon.”

Derrick Boykin, Northeast regional organizer for Bread For The World, said the census numbers show people who have never been in poverty before now are, largely as a result of the extended recession. That number could continue to grow for some working families as tax rate reductions authorized during the Bush administration expire.

“If the Earned Income Tax Credit and The Child Tax Credit are allowed to expire, 1.5 million more people—half of them children—will be thrown into poverty,” he said. “We also need to see continued authorization for the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program. While these are immediate concerns, they apply to the longer-term poverty and income issues for African-Americans because without them, we’ll be even further behind than we are now.”

Although Pittsburgh hasn’t been as deeply hit by the recession as some other areas, the poverty rate for African-Americans in the city is 40.4 percent, for African-American children, the rate is 43.5 percent. Those figures are nearly double the national averages that record 25.8 percent of Blacks in poverty and more than 33 percent of Black children.

Locally, aside from agencies like Just Harvest, which helps people with hunger issues, and works every tax season to get as many families to claim the EITC and CTC as possible, most efforts are directed toward education as a means out of poverty.

With that in mind, Community College of Allegheny County has shifted a number of its services toward job placement rather than career enhancement, in an effort to help.

“Since January 2009, we’ve given tuition waivers to more than 325 dislocated workers, and the program was just recognized as a ‘Bright Idea’ by the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University,” said College spokesman David Hoovler. “We have eight programs eligible for any county resident laid off in the last year. We’ve tried to offer training in areas on the state’s high priority list.”

For the upcoming spring term, these job programs include accounting, automotive technology, computer assisted drafting, early childhood education, nurses’ assistant training, IT support, business management, and administrative computer specialist.

The displaced worker program is available to any county resident who lost their job due to the recession as long as they apply within a year of the job loss.

“To help with chronic unemployment or underemployment, we just started our Young Adult Empowerment Program,” said Hoovler. “It’s aimed at 17- to 24-year-olds and provides supportive services to get GEDs and move on into career programs like HVAC and automotive technology.”

The college has also created a new job search engine that allows people to search for employment based on their particular skills rather than just by job or industry titles.

Additionally, the Allegheny County Department of Human Services created a Web page called Help in Hard Times that offers links to an array of services struggling families may need. Deputy Director of DHS Reggie Young said he hasn’t read the report, but believes in the long run education is the best way out of poverty.

“In the city, we have the Pittsburgh Promise, which is great because the number of kids not staying in school adds to the problem,” he said. “When they drop out they have the military. Low wage jobs are life on the street. We’re doing all we can to get people housing, food services, and counseling. People are using CareerLinks but our resources aren’t endless. We have to hope this economy turns around.”

Multi-racial Coalition Unveils Platform for Chicago Mayoral Race

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By La Risa Lynch, Special to the NNPA from the Chicago Crusader –

For the first time in 19-year-old Denise Olivarez’s life, the Fifth Floor of City Hall will have a mayor other than Richard M. Daley. That pivotal milestone prompted the Little Village youth to join a newly formed multi-racial coalition. The coalition seeks to hold the ever-growing list of potential mayoral candidates’ feet to the fire in addressing community concerns.

Olivarez, a youth organizer with Enlace Chicago, believes the new mayor should not dismiss youth, but dialogue with them on issues important to them. Youth, she added, want better funded and properly staffed schools.

“The new mayor is going to be the first mayor for a lot of us that isn’t Daley,” she said. “Now we have a true chance of getting someone who is willing to work with us. We are not asking for anything that is out of this planet. We just want equity.”

New Chicago 2011 is a citywide coalition of neighborhood organizations. The coalition plans to educate city residents on candidates’ positions on community issues through get-out-the-vote rallies, questionnaires, and candidate forums. The idea is to weed out campaign rhetoric to hold candidates accountable in fulfilling campaign promises.

“There are many people who talk one thing and get in office and do another,” said Rev. Booker S. Vance, president of Southsiders Organized for Unity and Liberation, a New Chicago 2011 member. “That’s why the forum is important. That’s why the questionnaire is important, because we will hold these candidates accountable.”

The coalition has yet to formulate its questionnaire or set a date for its forum. But, it has outlined platforms they believe the city’s next mayor should address. The five-point platform focuses on housing, jobs, school, youth violence, and government corruption. The coalition announced the platforms during a Monday press conference outside the mayor’s fifth floor City Hall office.

“These are what the people say affects their lives, that they care about, and that they want some action and attention on,” said Pastor Monte Johnson, of Immanuel Lutheran Church in Edgewater.

He contends residents want a mayor open to finding evidence-based solutions to address failing schools. He said closing schools have done more harm than good. Residents also want a mayor willing to root out government corruption.

City government, Johnson contends, has a culture of secrecy that breeds “corruption and cronyism.” The next mayor, he noted, should promote open government to ensure “people can participate in the decisions of government in a more democratic way.”

“We can’t do the same old same old over and over again. We need new folks with new ideas and new energy,” Vance added. He noted that the coalition, made of 15 grassroots organizations, wants to ensure resident participation in the election process. The next mayor should not be selected by any backroom deals or closed-door meetings with select pastors, Vance added.

Vance also hoped that a multi-racial coalition will eliminate the racial division in the race for mayor. He said the coalition’s platforms affect every city resident and community. “I don’t care whether you are Hispanic, Black or Caucasian, you are still going to have to deal with the issues because they impact everybody,” Vance said.

Ed Shurna, executive director of the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, agreed. The coalition prevents the issues from being lost among the litany of candidates running for mayor, he said. “We have to be together on this,” Shurna added. “We don’t want to be divided by different agendas. So, if we unite together, we stand together.”

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BVN National News Wire