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Latest Report Shows Racial Money Divide Has Quadrupled

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Special to the NNPA from the Louisiana Weekly –

(NNPA) - The wealth gap between White and African-American families increased more than four times between 1984-2007, and middle-income white households now own far more wealth than high-income African Americans, according to an analysis released on Monday by the Institute on Assets and Social Policy (IASP) at Brandeis University.

IASP, in a research brief, also reported that many African-Americans hold more debt than assets and at least 25 percent of African-American families had no assets to turn to in times of economic hardship. The fourfold increase in the wealth gap, it said, reflects public policies, such as tax cuts on investment income and inheritances, which benefit the wealthiest and persistent discrimination in housing, credit and labor markets.

“Our study shows a broken chain of achievement. Even when African Americans do everything right—get an education and work hard at well-paying jobs—they cannot achieve the wealth of their white peers in the workforce, and that translates into very different life chances,” said Thomas Shapiro, IASP director and co-author of the research brief.

“A U-turn is needed. Public policies have and continue to play a major role in creating and sustaining the racial wealth gap, and they must play a role in closing it,” said Shapiro, author of The Hidden Cost of Being African American: How Wealth Per petuates Inequality and the co-author of Black Wealth/White Wealth.

Wealth, what you own minus what you owe, allows people to start a business, buy a home, send children to college and ensure an economically secure retirement. Using economic data from the same nationally representative set of families from 1984 to 2007, the IASP analysis found that the real wealth gains and losses over the time demonstrate an escalating racial gap.

Over those 23 years, it said, the racial wealth gap increased by $75,000 — from $20,000 to $95,000. Financial assets, excluding home equity, among white families grew from a median value of $22,000 to $100,000 during that period while African Americans saw very little increase in assets in real dollars and had a median wealth of $5,000 in 2007.

Summing up all assets and debt, one in 10 African Americans owed at least $3,600 in 2007, nearly doubling their debt burden in real terms since 1984, IASP said.

The growth of the racial wealth gap significantly affects the economic future of American families, it said. The current gap is so large that it would pay tuition at a four-year public university for two children, purchase or make a solid down payment on a house, or provide a nest egg to draw upon in times of job loss or crisis.

“The gap is opportunity denied and assures racial economic inequality for the next generation,” said Tatjana Meschede, a co-author of the policy brief.

Notably, IASP’s analysis found that by 2007, the average middle-income white household had accumulated $74,000 in wealth, an increase of $55,000 over the 23-year period, while the average high-income African-American family owned $18,000, a drop of $7,000. That resulted in a wealth gap of $56,000 for an African-American family that earned more than $50,000 in 1984 compared to a white family earning about $30,000 that same year.

Those figures, IASP said, make it clear that higher income alone will not lead to increased wealth, security and economic mobility for African Americans. Consumers of color face a gauntlet of barriers—in credit, housing and taxes—that dramatically reduce the chances of economic mobility, it said.

Indeed, the data indicate that the general trend in lending, in which consumers of color pay more for accessing credit, increases their debt and blocks opportunities to move forward, putting them at a severe economic disadvantage. These are concerns that must be addressed through the creation of a Consumer Financial Protection Agency, now being debated in Congress, and other policy changes, IASP said.

“The data suggests we need renewed attention to public policies that provide real opportunities for advancement by reducing barriers to mobility inherent in our tax system and increasing transparency, regulation and access in our housing and credit markets,” said Laura Sullivan, another co-author.

Several factors help explain why improving targeted public policies would reduce the racial wealth gap and lessen the increased reliance on debt. One factor is that over the period studied there was an increasing dependence on credit markets to make ends meet. Among those with no financial assets, credit is often an emergency resource to help cover a job loss or medical emergency.

A second factor is that deregulation of the lending market brought a proliferation of high-cost credit, including securitized subprime and predatory loans, payday lending and check-cashing stores. Consumers of color were targeted in this market and resorted more frequently to credit card debt and other forms of high-cost debt in the absence of assets or extended family resources to draw upon.

“This data makes a critical contribution to the debate today about how to ensure greater economic security and opportunity for all our citizens. A racial wealth gap affects all of us because it means that a large portion of the population cannot contribute to building the wealth and strength of our nation, and that is a drain on us all,” said Meizhu Lui, director of the Insight Center for Community Economic Development’s “Closing the Racial Wealth Gap Initiative.

Poisoning Of Nigerian Children Linked To New Mines

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Special to the NNPA from the GIN –

(GIN) – Recently reported deaths of more than one hundred children in the northern Nigerian state of Zamfara are being blamed on polluted water pools where the children play.

The deaths of 163 Nigerians, most of them children, were reported by Dr. Henry Akpan, the health ministry's chief epidemiologist, as “lead poisoning caused by illegal gold mining.”

The villages affected are in remote parts of Zamfara, one of Nigeria's poorest states in the arid Sahel region on the southern fringe of the Sahara desert, where many people work as artisanal miners and subsistence farmers.

Zamfara was recently hailed for newly-discovered subterranean wealth in gold, copper, iron ore and manganese. President Goodluck Jonathan inaugurated a mineral processing plant where he directed miners to respect international environmental practices.

But according to health officials, the natural resources were a double-edged sword. Tools, soil and water contaminated with large concentrations of lead began taking victims back in March and the government was slow to respond.

Abubakar Garba, a 40-year-old sheep farmer in Giadanbuzu, said in a press interview with Reuters that four of his six children died from lead poisoning two months ago. The four were all under the age of 10.

"The government of this country does not know where the poor live. They do not want to know what goes on in our villages," Garba said while fighting back tears.

"If it were their children, it would not have taken them so long to discover these problems."

The Blacksmith Institute, a New York-based nonprofit “working in highly polluted locations in the developing world with the intent of mitigating human health risks from pollution,” according to their website, is taking part in the clean-up.

Anti-Muslim Attacks At Minnesota Public Schools Reported

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Special to the NNPA from the GIN –

(GIN) - The U.S. Department of Education has agreed to look into possible civil rights violations at two Minnesota public schools, after a group based in St. Paul filed complaints against the two districts.

The Minnesota chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) filed the complaints in March, saying Somali and Muslim students were harassed about their race and religion.

These included name-calling, vulgar language, derisive comments about Muslim traditions and obscene gestures, threats on Facebook and the refusal of a school bus driver in St. Cloud to pick up Muslim students at bus stops.

Taneeza Islam, civil rights director for CAIR, a Muslim advocacy organization, said the organization is pleased that a neutral body will look into its complaints.

Meanwhile, a St. Cloud Baptist minister is defending himself against charges of racism after he placed an ad in a newspaper claiming that “when Muslims take over a nation they will destroy the constitution, force Islam on society, take freedom of religion away, and persecute all other religions.”

In a radio interview, the Rev. Dennis Campbell of Granite City Baptist Church insisted he was not racist and his ad was misjudged. Other religious leaders condemned the ad as fearmongering, shocking and untrue.

Advocates Blast BP for Major Disaster, Demand More Accountability

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By Jesse Muhammad, Special to the NNPA from the Final Call –

(NNPA) - The deepening crisis in the Gulf Coast caused President Barack Obama to amend his Memorial Day weekend plans; plus make several trips to the disaster area. He landed in Louisiana to tour the devastation amid frustrated complaints that his administration has responded too slowly and has been weak in its pressure on British Petroleum (BP) to halt what is being called the largest oil spill in the nation's history.

“We expect that frustration and anger to continue until we solve the problem,''said President Obama during his May 28 speech at Grand Isle. He still was unsure whether the “top kill” method will halt the ecological disaster.

The visit was the president's second trip to the region since BP's offshore oil rig Deepwater Horizon exploded over a month ago on April 20, killing 11 and triggering a massive oil spill. It is estimated that this oil spill has surpassed the Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska in 1989.

According to the White House, the purpose of the trip was for the president to meet with local officials and hear their ideas. But this crisis has some analysts zeroing in on what they call a systemic history of corporate criminal behavior and negligence by government to fully hold these companies accountable.

“BP is a habitual criminal offender and cannot be trusted. The fact they were even allowed to manage this oil spill up to this point in the Gulf is horrendous. The company has one of the worst track records of any oil company operating in America,” Tyson Slocum, energy policy program director of the progressive group Public Citizen, told The Final Call.

At Final Call press time, a BP press release reported that the cost of the response as of May 28 was about $930 million, including the cost of the spill response, containment, relief well drilling, grants to Gulf states, claims paid and federal costs.The company says that 26,000 claims have been filed and 11,650 payments have already been made and over 96,000 calls have been made to the help line. Experts have estimated that the rate of oil spill into the Gulf could reach as high as4.2 million gallons (100,000 barrels) a day.

“We cannot let bureaucracy and red tape delay our action while oil hits our wetlands week after week,” said Louisiana Gov.Bobby Jindal. “More than 100 miles of our shoreline has been impacted by the oil spill. That is more than the entire sea coastline of Mississippi and Alabama combined,” said Gov. Jindal.

BP officials have said the company “will pay all necessary response costs and is committed to paying legitimate claims for other loss and/or damage caused by the Deepwater Horizon incident.”

“The American people should know that from the moment this disaster began, the federal government has been in charge of the response effort. As far as I'm concerned, BP is responsible for this horrific disaster, and we will hold them fully accountable on behalf of the United States as well as the people and communities victimized by this tragedy,” said President Obama at a May 27 press conference.

President Obama alsoordered a halt to drilling operations at all 33 deep-water rigs in the Gulf of Mexico for six months or until a commission completes its task. Rigs that are alreadydrillingwill have to stop and others that were preparing to drill will have to stop those preparations.

According to the U.S. State Dept., some 17 countries have offered assistance, including Canada, Mexico, South Korea, Croatia, France, Germany,Ireland, Japan, the Netherlands, Norway, Romania, Russia, Spain, Sweden, theUnited Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom and Vietnam. But no approval has been made by the U.S.

Lack of corporate transparency

“BP is as transparent as oil about the disaster. BP has consistently misled the public about how much oil is gushing from the well. BP must be held accountable and should be subject to permanent sanctions and criminal charges against executives,” said Slocum of Public Citizen.

"It is clear that Obama's administration responded too slowly. He needs to fire BP and put this under full federal control. The solutions to this are difficult but he made a mistake entrusting BP with handling this,” he continued.

In a letter to BP, Rep.Henry Waxman, (D-Calif.) and Rep.Bart Stupak (D-Mich.) said company investigators failed to keep lawmakers thoroughly informed in a series of briefings about the company's abrupt decision to use a type of drill casing that was prone to cause more leaks.

“This raises the possibility that BP's internal investigation is not examining the consequences of BP's own decisions and conduct,” the two lawmakers said in the letter. Waxman chairs the Energy Committee and Stupak is chairman of the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations.

“Mounting evidence shows that BP was negligent. Firsthand accounts describe BP managers proceeding with work to cap the well, even though they were informed that the integrity of the blowout preventer had been compromised,” said Slocum.

Corporate Gangsters on Capitol Hill

Public Citizen and other progressive groups have been beating the drum for decades about the free ride corporations get when it comes to being held responsible for acts that cause physical, economical and environmental damage.

Slocum believes the government is unjust in its prosecution of corporations and executives when compared to actions taken against everyday citizens.

“We should have seen it coming. BP was under criminal probation at the time of the disaster for felony violation of U.S. environmental laws. The government needs to think about the way it punishes corporations because we treat individual offenders harsher than we do these corporate criminals,” said Slocum.

According to research by Public Citizen, in just the last few years, BP has pled guilty to two crimes and paid over $730 million in fines and settlements to the federal government, state governments andin civil lawsuit judgments for environmental crimes, willful neglect of worker safety rules, and penalties for manipulating energy markets.

BP paid the two largest fines in OSHA history—$87.43 millionand$21.36 million—for negligence that led to the deaths of 15 workers and injured 170 others in a March 2005 refinery explosion in Texas, according to data compiled by Public Citizen.

“The American people should be very concerned and outraged that these corporate criminals keep getting away with these crimes with only fees. The government needs to start punishing them by putting executives in handcuffs,” said Slocum.

Although BP has vowed to cover all related costs due to the spill, federal law currently caps oil companies' liability at $75 million per spill. Democrats want to raise the cap to $10 billion.

“I don't think BP's words are anything to rely upon,” said Senator Robert Menendez (D-N.J.). “By lifting the cap unlimitedly, whoever is determined to be beyond BP, the responsible party, will also be held responsible,” said Menendez.

“In any case, cash compensation for economic harms caused—while necessary—doesn't bring back destroyed ecosystems and does little to mitigate the company's culpability for not preventing the blowout in the first place,” said Robert Weissman, president of Public Citizen.

“BP needs more than just a financial slap on the wrist, which is what it will get if the $75 million liability cap remains in place. These oil companies are allowed to destroy people's lives and murder workers. That's a slap in the face to the American people,” said Slocum.

According to its annual report, BP made a profit of $17 billion last year, onrevenue of $246 billion. First quarter profits in 2010 were over $6 billion. Based upon data collected by the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Responsive Politics, BP has positioned itself to combat the foreseen scrutiny from this spill by financially backing U.S. lawmakers and keeping a strong lobbying arm intact.

An online report posted on the Center for Responsive Politics' Web site shows that during the 2008 election cycle, individuals and political action committees associated with BP contributed half a million dollars to federal candidates—40 percent being Democrats. President Obama was reported to be the top recipient of BP-related donations during the 2008 cycle with $71,000 collected.

The center also says BP handed out $16 million to lobby and influence legislation in 2009. In the first quarter of 2010, BP had already spent over $3.5 million on lobbying efforts in D.C., trailing only ConocoPhillips in the top oil and gas interest groups. The entire oil and gas industry reported $169 million in total lobbying expenditures in 2009.

BP was instrumental in lobbying for the American Clean Energy Leadership Act of 2009, which allows increased oil and gas leasing in the Gulf of Mexico, in areas closer to shore than current law allows. The company also lobbied for the Oil Spill Prevention Act of 2009 and the Clean Water Restoration Act, according the Center.

Phone calls made to BP were not returned.

Environmental damage and future problems

With globs of thick, gooey petroleum balls washing ashore along the south Louisiana coast, marine biologists are beginning to prepare studies to monitor how the spill will impact the gulf longterm. Scientists are expecting a lot of animals and plant life to die.

“We're in uncharted territory,” said Steve Murawski, an adviser with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. He's helping to assess the damage caused by the spill.

“The federal response to protect our marshes is a failure,” said Sen.David Vitter, a Republican from Louisiana. “Just look at their response to our emergency dredging barrier island plan—weeks of foot-dragging before approving two percent of it so they can study it further over more precious weeks and months.”

The oil spill has nearly crippled the normal shrimping season which has been largely brought to a halt due to government-ordered closures. According to a news report, several restaurants in Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi and Florida have already sued BP and its partners.

Public Citizen wants to send a clear message to BP by calling on the American people to boycott its gas and retail store products. “Don't spend a cent of your hard-earned money to feed the bottom line of the corporation responsible for the worst oil spill in our nation's history,” the group urges.

They launched an online Beyond BP petition and have gathered over 14,000 signatures of support from those who have pledged to boycott the oil giant.

Said Slocum, “Government regulators should have protected us as citizens but they didn't. So this is a peaceful way of channeling our anger. We want to hit BP in the pocketbook. People should be concerned about the practices of these convicted corporate criminals."

Talk Show Host Glenn Beck Mocks Obama's Daughter, Apologizes

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Special to the NNPA from the Afro-American Newspaper –

(NNPA) - Fox News personality and conservative talk show host Glenn Beck has apologized for mocking Malia Obama in a pretend conversation on his radio show.

Beck said he was trying to explain how President Obama uses his children to deflect media criticism, and said he took it too far.

“In discussing how President Obama uses children to shield himself from criticism, I broke my own rule about leaving kids out of political debates,” Beck wrote on his Web site. “The children of public figures should be left on the sidelines. It was a stupid mistake and I apologize—and as a dad I should have known better.”

According to CNN, in a recent press conference discussing the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, Obama noted that Malia asked him if he’d plugged the hole yet. Beck used that as fodder for his show as he mocked her voice in repeating that and a series of other questions.

"... That's the level of their education, that they're coming to—they're coming to daddy and saying ‘Daddy, did you plug the hole yet?’ Plug the hole!” Beck said at one point, according to CNN.

Since then, he’s been criticized by a number of media watchers, including the hosts of the daytime talk show, “The View” and Howard Kurtz of The Washington Post.

“This was a really low-blow on Glenn Beck’s part,” Kurtz said on the entertainment news show, “Inside Edition.” “To use an 11-year-old girl -- to drag her into the political crossfire…when he said it, it was wrong and it’s something that should never be done with kids.”

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