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Congressional Black Caucus Opposed to Tax Cut Deal

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By Zenitha Prince, Special to the NNPA From the AFRO-American Newspapers –

The Congressional Black Caucus on Dec. 10 said its members overwhelmingly oppose the tax cuts compromise reached between the White House and congressional Republicans, saying it is “bad for African-Americans” and other vulnerable communities.

“You can’t give tax cuts away like you’re Oprah Winfrey or Santa Claus,” Virginia Democrat Rep. Bobby Scott, a member of the House Budget Committee, said during a Capitol Hill press conference. “Someone eventually has to pay for it.”

And traditionally, it’s been communities of color that have had to pay, the Black lawmakers said.

President Obama and the Republican leadership reached a deal which would extend Bush-era tax cuts in exchange for also extending unemployment benefits and other programs favored by Obama.

According to the Congressional Budget Office, the tax deal is projected to increase the national deficit by almost $900 billion—a figure larger than the recent financial stimulus measures—adding to an already towering debt. And, to reduce that balance, Republicans will likely impose “draconian” cuts on programs important to minority communities such as Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, and health care, Congressional Black Caucus members said.

“There are tough choices that will have to be made next year [and] we know what will happen—it’s going to be low-income communities, poor communities of color that are going to pay,” Caucus Chairwoman Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) told reporters.

The caucus offered its own plan, which is built on some elements of the existing deal:

· A 13-month extension of unemployment insurance benefits plus additional assistance for the chronically unemployed

· A payroll tax holiday with a guarantee that Social Security would not be affected

· Two-year extension of Bush-era tax cuts to middle- and low-income families

· Extension of the Recovery Act’s Earned Income Tax Credit, Child Tax Credit and $2,500 college credit.

But the Caucus rebuked Republicans for their insistence on cuts to the estate tax, which Scott called “particularly offensive,” and the tax cut for the wealthiest two percent of Americans, both of which will cost $114 billion in lost revenue.

“Employing an out-of-work parent would provide much more benefit to the economy than padding the bank account of a CEO,” Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr., D-IL, said in a statement. “If we recklessly cut taxes for the wealthiest 2 percent then Obamanomics will look an awful lot like Reaganomics.”

Jackson and others say the tax cuts won by Republicans reflect President Reagan’s “starve the beast” strategy of lowered taxes and increased spending in areas such as defense that would then force Congress to make deep cuts in social programs. And, the recently passed health care reform act may well be the chief target of this strategy.

“This just gives our Republican colleagues another chance to play, ‘Gotcha,’” said Virgin Islands Democrat Donna Christiansen. “If we extend the upper end tax cuts and add that big estate tax giveaway, when we move to fund implementation of the Affordable Care Act there’ll be no money—‘Gotcha!’ And, when the 2012 election rolls around, and the tax cuts are about to expire, if we don’t extend them again we, the Democrats, will be blamed for raising taxes—‘Gotcha!’”

The Black lawmakers said though they object to the deal, they understand the president felt jammed against a wall.

“[But] as much as he continues to extend the olive branch, to compromise on their behalf, they really don’t seem to appreciate it,” said Rep. Donald Payne, D-NJ. “And, so we’re saying at this point, [the] line in the sand, enough is enough.”

Payne said that the president followed his previous pattern of not including the Congressional Black Caucus and other Democrats in the negotiation process. Payne made similar claims during the health care reform debate.

“He could have called us in and said, ‘Look, this is what they’ve offered; these are my options,” he said. “What do you think? At least bring us in so we can understand the situation... For him to meet with primarily Republicans…is not a way to negotiate. We felt we could have been helpful to him. He gave away the shop before he even brought us in to help him.”

War Fires Burning Again in Nigeria's Oil-Rich Southern Delta

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Special to the NNPA from the Global Information Network –

Heavily armed soldiers and aerial bombing runs have reportedly killed as many as 150 people in the southern delta, a human rights activist said.

Oghebejabor Ikim, national coordinator for the Forum of Justice and Human Rights Defense, described devastation in the village of Ayakoromo in Delta state with houses destroyed, civilians killed, and women raped. Soldiers are said to be looking for a militant leader called John Togo.

"I can describe it as a killing spree of innocent civilians," Mr. Ikim said. "Houses have been burnt. Women are raped. There are killings. Is that how to get at John Togo?" Nigerian officials say they are looking to reach a truce with militants in the Niger Delta who have turned to militancy over failed government pledges to clean up the environment, share oil incomes, build schools, and health care centers. The “rebels” have turned to attacks on pipelines, kidnapping of petroleum company employees, and fighting with government troops.

The attacks have cut drastically into crude production in Nigeria, an OPEC-member nation that is one of the top suppliers of crude oil to the U.S.

The Nigerian Red Cross and other activists have been unable to reach the targeted communities as the military has sealed off the winding muddy creeks that lead to the region. Activists say they continue to see smoke rising from the area and can hear gunfire.

Meanwhile, in a related development, Nigerian environmental activist Nnimmo Bassey recently received the “Alternative Nobel Prize” in Stockholm, for his effort to “reveal the full ecological and human horror of oil production.”

In his acceptance speech, Bassey, who heads Friends of the Earth International, said he represented 'suffering peoples in the oil fields' in Nigeria and other parts of the world. Polluters, he said, should face trial for 'crimes against humanity'. Last year, Bassey was named “Hero of the Environment” by Time magazine.

South Africa Chemicals Co. Sued For U.S. Spying

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Special to the NNPA from the Global Information Network –

The U.S. division of South Africa’s Sasol chemical plant is facing a lawsuit for industrial espionage and sabotage, filed by environmental activists Greenpeace.

The case, which also involves the Dow Chemical Co. and two public relations firms, was filed in Federal Court in Washington, DC.

Greenpeace claims the two companies hired private investigators to steal its documents, tap its phones, and hack into its computers. Central to the complaint is a community's battle against the pollution of Lake Charles, in Louisiana, near the Sasol plant.

Local residents suffer high rates of cancer and respiratory problems linked to the company's production processes, Greenpeace maintains.

According to Sasol's website, the Lake Charles plant produces commodity and specialty chemicals for soaps, detergents, and personal care products. At the time of the Greenpeace complaint, it was manufacturing ethylene dichloride, a suspected carcinogen, and vinyl chloride.

Sasol has denied the charges.

Meanwhile, in a related development, the primarily African-American town of Mossville, Louisiana, on Lake Charles has won a hearing by the Inter American Commission on Human Rights on their claim that racism allowed 14 heavily polluting industries to be built in their residential community. It marks the first time that an international human rights tribunal has taken jurisdiction over a case of environmental racism in the United States, according to Monique Harden of Advocates for Environment Human Rights.

Judge Donald Nominated for Court of Appeals

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Special to the NNPA from the Tri-State Defender –

President Barack Obama last week announced his nomination of Judge Bernice Donald for the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit.

Donald, who serves as federal bankruptcy judge in Memphis, has a history of trailblazing.

In 1982, Donald was elected to serve as a judge on the Court of General Sessions in Shelby County, making her the first female African-American judge in the history of Tennessee. Six years later, she became the first female African-American federal bankruptcy judge in the nation when she was appointed to that position by the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit.

Congressman Steve Cohen said he congratulated Donald on the nomination during a call last week. “I’ve known Judge Donald for over 30 years, including when she presented cases before me as an attorney during my brief tenure as Shelby County General Sessions Court Judge in 1980. I’ve known her to be fair, honest and just,” said Cohen. “As I told her when we spoke today, she has served Memphis proud.”

Judge Donald will now face the confirmation process in the U.S. Senate.

Donald received both her undergraduate degree and her J.D. from the University of Memphis. Her broad range of legal experience also includes private practice and the Shelby County Public Defender’s Office.

Pittsburgh Assistant Chief of Police: Crack Cocaine a Key to Community Breakdown

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By Karen Harris Brooks, Special to the NNPA from the New Pittsburgh Courier –

The overwhelming existence of drugs within many African-American neighborhoods has taken a toll on the once close-knit communities. The influx of these illicit narcotics could not have been predicted by the people who live within the boundaries of once thriving and safe environments. Communities have witnessed a decline in the value of lives of the young, the care of the elderly, and trust among each other.

Assistant Pittsburgh Chief of Police Maurita Bryant, a native Pittsburgher, remembers all too well the initial breakdown of the African-American family, as a result of the infiltration of the highly addictive crack cocaine. When you watch the assistant chief of investigations update crucial crime information to the local audience, one is assured that she is both qualified and sagacious. Among those enviable attributes, you will also find a deep sense of commitment to her native Pittsburgh.

Aware of the various communities she is inherently concerned about the troubling turmoil that exists within the neighborhoods she knows so well.

While she admits there are many contributing factors, she remembers the influx of crack, relating it to the beginning of the destruction of Black communities. While heroin was always a problem, she said. It was the inducement of crack that brought about a victimization of families and communities, she said. Bryant speaks with the wisdom that has come from her 33 years in law enforcement.

“The craving for this drug was, not only more intense, but it was a continual addiction. Unfortunately, more females became victims of the addictive crack cocaine. The impact was extreme. This led to more prostitution to acquire the drug. As a result, children were left alone. Women were always the ones holding things together within the family, but with this addiction, there was no one to take care of the home or the kids,” she said. In particular, when both parties fell prey to the lure of the addictive substance,” she said.

Employed as a police officer at the time, Bryant remembers the gradual transition of crack addiction occurring in the early 1980’s. The manufacture, accessibility, and sale of the cocaine derivative became an intensifying path for many unwilling victims, leading to a new wave of rising crimes that did not previously exist within the African-American community. “Most of these crimes,” she said, “are caused by someone under the influence. Somewhere in the mix, drugs have been a contributing factor to the crime itself.”

The quest for drugs and the love of money is a force that fuels the crime rate, including the rash of violent shootings and homicides, she said. The problems exist within every community and neighborhood across the country, and Bryant is active in educating others as she resolves to do everything she can to help solve this issue.

While it is difficult to pull out concrete numbers regarding drug arrests, the numbers are high among both juveniles and adults. Adults, negotiating sales, are using more and more children to deliver the product because the sentencing guidelines for youth are not as harsh, she said. Anytime of the day or night in many neighborhoods, young men possess identifiable street corners, claiming the territorial boundaries. They are well aware of the circumstances surrounding the mother or father who ignores the security and well-being of their children for the euphoric exchange. She said although many sales are conducted with non-minorities who drive to the minority neighborhood to make a purchase, the desire for the drug or subsequent money from the sale outweighs the risks as they expose themselves to arrest or robbery, or even death.

The vicious cycle between the seller, the addict, the enabler, and family is all too familiar to Bryant. She acknowledges that there is a crucial need to touch not only the addicted, but also the young men and women on the corners and those incarcerated, her views regarding alcohol and drug addiction is empathetic.

She is easily recognizable and greets members of the community with a sincere acknowledgement and a smile. Her demeanor is reserved and concise; her schedule is engaging. She said she is dedicated to the education of herself and her peers, travelling across the country seeking and sharing knowledge that aids her in her own community. Her wisdom and skills have been acquired throughout her impressive career within the Bureau. Recently Bryant served as one of the panel experts at a Town Hall meeting addressing addiction in the Pittsburgh area, and continues to travel across the country lecturing and sharing with other communities the problems of drug addiction.

It is difficult to separate professionalism from personal sentiment, but the Assistant Chief manages to do so in a very unique and concrete manner. Because of her desire to make the streets of Pittsburgh safer, Bryant’s heart remains in the communities she serves each day.

From the addict to the boy on the corner to those incarcerated, Bryant passionately says that the solution lies in the “need to touch one individual at a time. I don’t think the young men involved in criminal activity or the drugs plaguing our communities constitute a state of hopelessness. We can do better and be better. I think we just have to work harder at lifting people up far enough, so they can see a way out of the holes they’ve dug for themselves. A state of hopelessness is when it is easier to condemn someone rather than to help them.”

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BVN National News Wire