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Amidst Soaring CEO Salaries, South African Workers Demand 'Living Wage'

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Special to the NNPA from GIN –

(GIN) – Thousands of public service workers turned out for a one day strike to demand higher salaries at a time when corporate CEOs and top government officials are enjoying skyrocketing pay packages.

Speaking from the back of a truck at Tuesday’s demonstration, South African labor leader Zwelinzima Vavi wagged a finger at the rising wages of South Africa’s corporate execs in general, government ministers and even President Jacob Zuma.

"If my memory serves me right he is earning more than 2.2-million rand ($312,056)," he said to shouts of disapproval. The public service workers, earning about $1,000 monthly, are seeking a 1,000 rand ($138) housing allowance and better health benefits.

"We are saying to the government; 'if you have a conscience, give us better pay… We also have families. The president has a family, a big family just like we do. He has many children to feed, just like we do'. We want geld (we want money)," said Vavi, leader of the labor federation Cosatu.

Cosatu and the Public Servants’ Association represent more than half of the 1.3-million government employees. Also preparing to strike are metalworkers, teachers and health care professionals.

Workers are not prepared to "suffer the same pain they had suffered in the past three years,” said Irvin Jim, general secretary of the National Union of Metalworkers, which has called for an indefinite strike starting this week. "Today is only a warning. This is not a strike; we are just firing a warning shot."

Black Farmers Dealt Another Blow in Settlement Case

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By Zenitha Prince, Special to the NNPA from the Afro-American Newspapers –

WASHINGTON (NNPA) - Black farmers were again denied a $1.25 billion settlement in a racial bias case against the federal government, when Senate Republicans on August 5 failed to support a unanimous consent on the measure. With Congress now in recess, those farmers have been put on hold again after waiting for more than a decade.

“The Black farmers simply do not have time to waste waiting for justice,” said John Boyd Jr., founder and president of the National Black Farmers Association, in a statement promising to continue agitating “every day until Congress acts.”

While the House has twice approved the bill, the Senate has proven slower to act. The money is the second round of funds dispersed from the 1999 settlement of a class action lawsuit that claimed widespread discrimination in the government’s award of loans to farmers. The suit is known as the Pigford case, after Timothy Pigford, a Black farmer from North Carolina who was an original plaintiff.

Roughly $1 billion has been paid to about 16,000 farmers, with most getting payments of about $50,000. The new money would go to an estimated 70,000 or 80,000 more farmers who were denied earlier payments because they missed deadlines for filing. The amount of money each would get depends on how many claims are successfully filed.

In his statement, Boyd outlined the long process farmers have faced in trying to claim the funds. “Seemingly obstacle after obstacle is placed before the Black farmers:

• When the case was settled, the farmers were told, `Go to Congress;’

• When the House of Representatives passed the legislation, twice, the farmers were told,` Go to the Senate;’

• When the Senate placed the funding in the FEMA supplemental, the farmers were told, `Go find offsets;’

• When offsets were identified, the farmers were told, ‘Those are not the ‘right’ offsets, go find others;’

• When the farmers were placed in a stand-alone measure, the farmers were told, `You need 100% of the Senate to support it;’

• When the Senate placed the funding in the War supplemental, the farmers were told, `‘Not on this bill;’ and most recently

• When the Senate failed to pass several unanimous consent measures, the farmers were told, `Later.’”

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), introduced the Black farmers’ case along with legislation to fund the $3.4 billion class action settlement for Native Americans that suffered losses from mishandling of Indian Trust fund accounts at the Department of Interior. The legislation was introduced as a joint, stand-alone measure after appeals from the farmers who believed that righting such injustices should not be a “partisan” issue.

“But that’s exactly what Republicans have made it by blocking the long overdue settlement of lawsuits for minority farmers and Native American trust account holders which is fully paid for ... for the sixth time this year.”

He added, “I challenge my Republican colleagues to rise above their petty political calculations and think about those Americans who have suffered injustices for far too long.”

Boyd said most of the objections, including that of Wyoming Sen. John Barrasso, who questioned the compensation of lawyers involved in the case, seem directed toward the Native Americans’ case and urged that Pigford be considered on its own.

“These cases deal with discrimination involving two separate government departments, two separate issues, and deal with very different groups of victims,” Boyd said. “While they both deserve to be resolved immediately, there is no reason why the Black farmers need to wait for a resolution of disputes over [the Native American bill] within the Senate when we have broad support for the Black farmers settlement funding.”

Waters, Rangel Seek to Downplay Race in Investigations

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

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – U. S. Reps. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) and Charles B. Rangel (D-N.Y.) are apparently seeking to downplay public allegations of racism as they seek to make the facts of their cases heard before the Office of Congressional Ethics.

“People are speculating all kinds of things,” Waters said in an August 6 interview with the NNPA News Service. “There is one thing that I am clear about though. I am clear that if this gets obscured with any other argument before we get our facts out, we don’t stand a chance because people will say we’re hiding behind race or something. So, I think what has to happen is the charges have to be clear, we have to have our day in court and then let’s deal with the process and how the system is working or not working.”

At NNPA deadline this week, Waters awaited enumeration of charges involving the receipt of $12 million in bailout funds by the Massachusetts-based OneUnited Bank, where her husband owns stock. Rangel faces 13 charges involving reporting of income on his financial disclosure forms and alleged fund-raising violations.

Rangel is moving on with campaigning for re-election to the office he has held since 1971. He is being challenged by educator Adam Clayton Powell III. Rangel beat his father, Adam Clayton Powell Jr. in 1970.

“Do I believe the case is racially motivated? No. So, I’d like to acknowledge my re-election which I’m concentrating on,” Rangel said in a message left on the NNPA voice mail. “And the hearing date has not been set, so that’s about the size of it.”

The fact is that of 30 probes considered since late last year, the only members considered for full-fledged investigations have been CBC members. So far, Rangel and Walters are the only two to face charges. This has drawn charges of racism from pundits, Black journalists and publishers. Both Rangel and Waters have been icons for Black justice in Congress and pioneers for programs to help the poor and underserved.

“If It Sounds Like Racism and Acts Like Racism, Then It is Probably Racism,” states the headline on a commentary written by NNPA Chairman Danny J. Bakewell, Sr. and published on the NNPA News Service.

Political Scientist Ron Walters says it seems both Waters and Rangel would politically embrace the racial allegations given their Black constituencies. Her 35th Congressional District is about 35 percent Black; about 10 percent White and the rest predominately Latino. His Harlem-based district is predomanently Black. "But they don't want race to get in the way of the facts," Walters says.

Both Rangel and Waters acknowledge the support from Black newspapers and other leaders for justice.

“I thank the NNPA for the supportive work that they’ve done and Mr. Bakewell has been terrific. Thank you,” he said in the voice mail.

“You guys are doing fine. Just keep doing what you’re doing,” says Waters, expressing her respect for the First Amendment.

“Other people need to have the opportunity to say what they think. We have to have a chance to get our story out,” she said. “If we don’t have a chance to get our story out, we don’t stand a chance. And so let other people speculate. But for us, we just have to deal with our facts and let those chips fall where they may.”

Waters is pushing for a speedy trial long before the Nov. 2 election in which she faces Black Republican homeless activist Ted Hayes. He is not considered to be a formidable candidate or a threat to her seat. But, her reputation and the truth are still concerns, she says. “I am deeply concerned by the Committee’s failure to announce a date for a public hearing in its most recent press release,” she wrote in a letter to Reps. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) and Jo Bonner (R-Ala.), chair and ranking member of the ethics panel. “I feel strongly that further delay in the scheduling of the hearing violates the fundamental principles of due process, denies my constituents the opportunity to evaluate this case, and harms my ability to defend my integrity.”

CBC Chairwoman Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) is standing with Waters as she has with Rangel.

“Throughout her tenure in Congress, and in the California State Legislature before that, Congresswoman Waters has been a tireless and effective advocate for underrepresented and underserved communities and institutions. She continues to be an important voice on those and many other issues and should not have her rights usurped by politicians or the press,” Lee wrote in a statement.

Lee says the media has appeared to try to convict Waters before the trial, an appearance that is particularly frustrating to Waters.

“The media doesn’t even have the story yet. The facts are not out yet,” she said in the NNPA interview. “And that’s why I have asked that the charges be put forth and that we have an opportunity to respond to them and have a fair proceeding in which all the facts are laid out.”

She is emboldened by the longstanding support for her and her legacy.

“We have a lot of support out there. People want to know what’s happening,” she said. “We will be fighting both legally and politically.”

Five Years since Hurricane Katrina: Pain Index Still at Crisis Level for Many

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SPECIAL REPORT

NEW ORLEANS (NNPA) - It will be five years since Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans on August 29. The impact remains quite painful for many. This article looks at what has happened since Katrina - not from the perspective of the higher ups looking down from their offices, but from the street level view of the people – a view which looks at the impact on the elderly, the renter, people of color, the disabled, the working and non-working poor. So, while one commentator may happily say that the median income in New Orleans has risen since Katrina, a street level perspective recognizes that is because large numbers of the poorest people have not been able to return.

Five years after Katrina, tens of thousands of homes in New Orleans remain vacant or blighted. Tens of thousands of African-American children who were in the public schools have not made it back, nor have their parents. New Orleans has lost at least 100,000 people. Thousands of elderly and disabled people have not made it back. Affordable housing is not readily available so tens of thousands pay rents that are out of proportion to their wages. Race and gender remain excellent indicators of who is underpaid, who is a renter, who is in public school and who is low income.

In short, the challenges facing New Orleans after Katrina are the same ones facing millions of people of color, women, the elderly and disabled and their children across the U.S. Katrina just made these challenges clearer in New Orleans than in many other places. Here is where we are five years later:

Overall population

Five years after Katrina, the most liberal estimates are that 141,000 fewer people live in the metro New Orleans area. The actual population changes will not be clear until official Census Bureau findings are released in November, but it is safe to say that over 100,000 fewer live in the City of New Orleans.

The New Orleans metro area is made up of several parishes, primarily Orleans, Jefferson, Plaquemines, St. Bernard and St. Tammany. Orleans had 455,000 people before Katrina. Now they have 354,000. Jefferson had 451,000 before Katrina; now 443,000. Plaquemines had 28,000 before Katrina; now 20,000. St. Bernard had 64,000 before Katrina; now 40,000.

Displaced People

Louisiana residents are located in more than 5,500 cities across the nation, the largest concentrations in Houston, Dallas, Atlanta and San Antonio. A majority of displaced residents are women – 59 percent, compared to 41 percent men. A third earn less than $20,000 a year.

Lost Housing

More than one in four residential addresses in New Orleans is vacant or blighted – by far the highest rate in the U.S. Though the numbers have been reduced somewhat in the last three years, 50,100 residential properties in New Orleans remain blighted or have no structure on them.

About 58 percent of city renters and 45 percent of suburban renters pay more than 35 percent of their pre-tax household income for housing. Households should spend less than 30 percent of income on housing. Anything over 30 percent means that housing is not really affordable for that family and they are likely to cut back on other necessities.

Over 5,000 families are on the waiting list for traditional public housing and another 28,960 families are on the waiting list for housing vouchers – more than double what it was before Katrina and the government destruction of thousands of public housing apartments. Since the post-Katrina bulldozing of several major public housing developments, there has been more than a 75 percent reduction in the number of public housing apartments available.

Rebuilding

Under Louisiana’s “Road Home” program to rebuild storm-damaged housing, rebuilding grants for homeowners on average fell about $35,000 short. The shortfall hit highly flooded, historically African-American communities particularly hard. The Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center filed suit in 2008 against state and federal agencies charging that the grant policy was racially discriminatory and that Black homeowners received far smaller grants than White homeowners.

The judge in that case has opined that “on average, African-American homeowners received awards that fell farther short of the cost of repairing their homes than did White recipients.”

The judge also found it “regrettable that this effort” to rebuild New Orleans “appears to have proceeded in a manner that disadvantaged African-American homeowners who wish to repair their homes.”

At least 19,746 applications for rebuilding homes that are eligible for funding have not received any money from the Road Home Program grants.

Economic Health

The metro area has 95,000 fewer jobs than before Katrina, down about 16 percent.

Black and Latino households earn incomes that are $26,000 (44 percent) and $15,000 (25 percent) lower than Whites. White household income is $56,000, Latino household income is $41,000 and African-American household income is $35,000 in the metro New Orleans area.

New Orleans has a poverty rate of 23 percent more than double the national average of 11 percent. But because of the loss of people in New Orleans, there are now more poor people living in the surrounding suburban parishes than in the city.

Within New Orleans the majority of households are lower-income.

Public and Private Education

The number of students in public schools in New Orleans, which are over 90 percent African-American, has declined by 43 percent since Katrina.

But an average increase of 5 percent a year in enrollment for the last two years (35,976 to 38,051 from 2008-2009 alone) indicates that people whose children attend public schools continue to return as housing and employment opportunities allow.

In 2008, 85 percent of White students in New Orleans attended private schools, one of the highest percentages in a major city in the U.S.

New Orleans now has more charter schools than any other public school system in the country. Of the 89 public schools in New Orleans, 48, more than half, are charter schools. In other words, sixty percent of students now attend privately managed but publicly funded schools. The Metro area has recovered 79 percent of public and private school enrollment.

People Receiving Public Assistance

More than one-third of Social Security recipients who lived in New Orleans have not returned. There were 74,535 in 2004 and 47,000 in December 2009.

Medicaid recipients have declined by 31 percent: pre-Katrina enrollment in Medicaid in New Orleans was 134,249. December 2009 enrollment was 93,310.

Supplemental Security Income recipients are down from pre-Katrina 26,654 to 16,514 – a 38 percent decline.

Public Transportation

Total ridership has declined to 65.7 percent – from over 33 million in 2004 to about 13 million projected for 2010.

Crime

Violent crimes and property crimes have risen in New Orleans since Katrina and remain well above national rates.

The challenges of post-Katrina New Orleans reflect the problems of many urban and suburban areas of the US – insufficient affordable rents, racially segregated schools with falling populations, great disparities in income by color of households, serious pollution from remote uncaring corporations, and reductions in the public services like transportation. Katrina made these more visible five years ago and continues to make a great illustration of America’s failures to treat all citizens with dignity and its failure to achieve our promise of liberty and justice for all.

Bill Quigley is legal director of the Center for Constitutional Rights and a law professor at Loyola University New Orleans; Davida Finger is also a law professor at Loyola University New Orleans; Lance Hill is executive director of the Southern Institute for Education and Research at Tulane University. They can be reached at quigley77@gmail.com; dfinger@loyno.edu; and lhill@tulane.edu respectively.

Anti-prison Gerrymandering Bill Passes in New York

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By Stephon Johnson, Special to the NNPA from the Amsterdam News –

NEW YORK (NNPA) - The New York State Senate has passed legislation that could end prison gerrymandering once and for all. Passed as part of the revenue bill, the legislation states that people in prison be counted in their home communities and not the communities where they’re incarcerated for the purpose of redrawing district lines. The bill awaits Gov. David Paterson’s signature.

“I’m really just excited,” said State Sen. Eric Schneiderman when speaking with the AmNews. “I spoke to the governor and the governor’s council and I’m sure he’ll sign it. Once it’s signed, I will work with him and I will also work with the incoming administration to make sure that the ball doesn’t get dropped.”

Across the country, sentiments have been expressed that prisoners being counted at institutional addresses is unfair to their home communities. Redistricting lines can determine the racial and economic balance of a political district. Also, census counts determine funding to specifical neighborhoods.

“It’s not a complicated process,” Schneiderman said. “It’s about making sure the [Department of Correctional Services] enters the right information into the new census blocks.... The politics are hard. The technology’s easy."

Schneiderman couldn’t help but redirect the attention to the amount of time that he and a coalition of groups and individuals put in to help this bill see the light of day. He also mentioned promoting the idea of prison gerrymandering bills with other states in time for reapportionment.

“The other thing is that we have a coalition that we built over the past five or six years that includes the NAACP, David Jones and the Hip Hop Action Network, and Eddie Ellis and Edith Wagner from the Prison Policy Initiative,” said Schneiderman. “What we’re going to do is get together and figure out how to use this and try to get other states in on this as well before the 2012 [redistricting] lines are drawn.”

The NAACP’s Legal Defense Fund released a statement praising the passing of the bill and marking the vote as a new day in New York State.

“The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund congratulates the New York State Senate for passing legislation to end prison-based gerrymandering in New York,” read the statement. “Their courageous decision will bring New York’s redistricting process in line with basic principles of democracy and will serve as a model for other states in the effort to count incarcerated populations correctly in the next round of redistricting. ... Prison-based gerrymandering artificially inflates population numbers—and thus, political influence—in districts where prisons are located at the expense of all other districts,” continued the statement. “With approximately 60,000 incarcerated persons in New York State, the proper counting of incarcerated individuals is critical to ensuring fair representation throughout the state.”

Schneiderman believes that Andrew Cuomo, the reported front-runner for New York State governor, will carry the torch that this bill lit to ensure its enforcement.

“I think Cuomo understands this and he will come through,” said Schneiderman. “If [Republican gubernatorial candidate] Carl Paladino became governor, I’d be worried. But I don’t think that’s going to happen.

“This is a big deal,” Schneiderman stated. “Things like this and repealing the Rockefeller Drug Laws makes me feel like banging my head against the wall in Albany for all these years and suffering in the Senate was worth it.”

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