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Security High as Polling Nears for Two Key Elections in Africa

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Special to the NNPA from GIN –

(GIN) – From colonial times to post-independence, Kenya’s food basket, the Rift Valley Province, has been key to Kenya’s politics.

Rift Valley is not just Kenya’s food basket, it is also the region where most of the flowers for the country’s lucrative export industry are grown - with extensive tea plantations, spectacular tourism sites and resorts and a few remaining rich white settler-owned farms and plantations.

It has also been the center of conflict over land ownership between groups dispossessed by white colonial settlers. The outcome of this week’s poll may settle some of these disputes.

Proposed changes to the Constitution include handing powers to Kenya’s 47 counties, such as responsibility for basic health services, agriculture, county roads and water. Public finances and authority over land would be audited by independent bodies to boost accountability.

Maximum leases on land would be reduced, retroactively, to 99 years from 999 years, making ownership accessible to more Kenyans, and property handed out by politicians to their supporters will become public land.

At least 68 percent of Kenyans back the proposed changes to the constitution, according to a recent poll by TNS Research International. About 25 percent plan to reject the document, according to the poll, which had a margin of error of 2.45 percentage points.

In Rwanda, current Pres. Paul Kagame is running for another term of seven years.

The poll was set to take place Aug. 9 amidst a crackdown on political freedoms, including media repression, jailings of opposition leaders, threats of war, attempted assassinations and several killings of political opponents.

The United Nations and U.S.-based Human Rights Watch have called for a full investigation into one of the recent killings, the near decapitation of an opposition leader.

A coalition of human rights groups, the International Humanitarian Law Institute of Minnesota, William Mitchell College of Law, and the Hotel Rwanda Rusesabagina Foundation, among others issued a call to disregard the outcome of the election under these circumstances.

In an open letter published in The Black Star News, the group wrote: “We are calling on President Obama and the U.S. State Department not to recognize the legitimacy of Rwanda's upcoming August 9th election results and to stop militarizing Africa and supporting repressive regimes.”

French Police Captured on Video Assaulting African Women

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Special to the NNPA from GIN –

(GIN) – Videos of a police assault on a protest by African women and children have been widely circulating on the internet. The footage shows the officers trying to move African squatters from the north-east Parisian suburb of La Courneuve.

The group of about 60 women had been living in the street since being evicted from their tenement homes on July 8 to make way for a new housing project.

At one point, a woman is shown being pulled by her legs across the ground, her baby – which she had been carrying on her back – dragged along the concrete after her.

Most of the protesters were legal migrants from the Ivory Coast and had been in France for more than a decade, according to Michael Hoare, a spokesman for Droit au Logement (Right to Housing).

"Most of them have been in France for between 3 to 10 years. Some of them have papers, some of them don't. They have submitted demands to be legalized," Hoare told CNN.

The footage, shot on July 21, comes as President Nicolas Sarkozy targets gypsies and immigrants who he threatened to strip of their passports if they attack police.

Socialist Party member Benoit Hamon accused Mr Sarkozy of trying to ‘win over the far right vote’.

Police said there was no brutality and the operation was carried out ‘within the rules’.

The footage, captured on July 21 and viewed more than 500,000 times on the internet, has aroused strong condemnation by viewers and activists.

The video can be seen at: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/france/7923190/Video-shows-French-police-dragging-pregnant-women-and-children-along-ground.html

Gulf Left Gasping for Air from BP Oil Spill's Many Toxins

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By Susan Buchanan, Special to the NNPA from the Louisiana Weekly –

(NNPA) - Southeast Louisiana residents and workers on the water have kept medics busy and poison hotlines humming for three months because of exposure to toxic emissions from BP's oil spill. Several hundred coas tal dwellers went from sniffing April blossoms to rushing to doctors and hospitals for respiratory and other ailments caused by foul air since the rig explosion.

The state's Dept. of Health and Hospitals last month said 290 spill-related medical cases had been reported to date. Of those, 216 were workers doing oil-cleanup duty or manning oil rigs, and 74 were people taken ill on shore.

Burning and evaporation of oil and gas have hurt air quality, while residents live near toxic waters filled with oil and dispersants. As of last week, 363 miles of Louisiana coastline were oiled, far more than in any other state.

In its spill response, BP's first, open-water, burning of oil in the Gulf open-water, burning of oil in the occurred on April 28, according to the company. On June 3, BP started capturing oil and flaring gas at the well with the installation of the Lower Marine Riser Package-containment cap. The LMRP took oil and gas to the drill-ship Discoverer Enterprise, where oil was collected and gas was flared. A second oil-recovery system began operating at the well in mid-June, and carried oil and gas to the Q4000 well-intervention vessel-where both oil and gas were flared.

If you live near the coast and don't feel well, you might want to crack open an old, school chemistry book to look for some reasons. Bhaskar Kura, professor of civil and environmental engineering at University of New Orleans, is researching local air quality, and collected samples by boat at Grand Bayou in Port Sulphur in June with Arizona State University staffers. Kura said a group of air pollutants of varying toxicity to human, know as hydrocarbons, are contained in crude oil. Pollutants that enter the air from evaporating crude include benzene, toluene, ethyl-benzene and xylene.

Additional pollutants enter the atmosphere from spill-cleanup activities, like oil slick burning. He is director of UNO's Maritime Environmental Resources and Information Center.

Kura's earliest findings will be released soon, and he plans to conduct much more research, including detailed sampling near the well site and other spots with universities from several states.

Nicholas Cheremisinoff, PhD chemical engineer and consultant in West Virginia, said "air monitoring data reported on BP's spill-response website show hardly any impact to air quality, which is inconsistent with the more than 300 fishermen and cleanup workers that have been admitted to Louisiana hospitals in the last two months." He is a former Exxon chemical engineer and a consultant to oil and chemical industries.

Residents as far north as New Orleans who have smelled oil in recent months wonder just how bad the air is and whether the government is downplaying threats to prevent panic.

Cheremisinoff said "the black smoke observed from burning oil slicks in the Gulf contained sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, volatile organics, hydrogen sulfide, poly?aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). These products of incomplete combustion contribute to the formation of acid aerosols, soot and promote particle formation in the atmosphere. The emissions are toxic on their own, and contribute to the formation of smog and acid rain, which worsens air quality."

Burning oil slicks, known as 'in situ' burning, is more hazardous to humans than flaring gas at the well site, he said. When BP recovered oil from the well and burned the gas, those emissions were not as significant as burning slicks, he noted. Natural gas is comprised of methane, and is a relatively clean-burning fuel, with low levels of particulates. He is a former Exxon chemical engineer and a consultant to oil and chemical industries.

Workers on water are exposed to smoke from controlled burns of oil and to oil evaporating in water.

"Workers and possibly residents inhale volatile organic compounds and other hydrocarbons," Chere?misinoff said. "Oil vapors cause headaches, dizziness, nausea, breathing difficulties, vomiting and eye and throat irritation. And bear in mind that crude oil is a mixture of hundreds of chemicals, most of which are toxic." Inhaling quantities of fumes can cause chemical poisoning, called hydrocarbon pneumonia.

"Oil-slick burning generates a broad, particle-size distribution of soot and particulate matter," Cheremisinoff said. "From a health-risk standpoint, there's concern about inhaling small particulate matter that is under 10 microns in size, to particle sizes all the way up to 30 microns-which can be ingested."

Rangel, Waters Fight Ethics Charges as Black Support Mounts

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WASHINGTON (NNPA) – As U.S. Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) prepares to fight 13 ethics charges, U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters, another leading member of the Congressional Black Caucus, has also come under scrutiny.

Reportedly, Waters (D-Calif.) has decided to go to trial rather than be sanctioned for allegedly improperly influencing the receipt of $12 million in bailout funds by the Massachusetts-based OneUnited Bank, where her husband owns stock.

Formal charges against Waters by the House Ethics Committee will reportedly be announced next week. Charges against Rangel involve reporting of income on his financial disclosure forms as well as alleged fund-raising violations.

The investigations have been blasted by pundits as racially disparate.

Black leaders, including political scientist Dr. Ron Walters, U. S. Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif) -- chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus, and Danny Bakewell, chairman of the National Newspaper Publishers Association, have warned against rushing to judgment.

“Of course, we know that one of the most important principles of America’s democracy is due process, that a person is innocent of any charges until all the facts are in and that person is either proven guilty or acquitted of the charges,” says Bakewell in an op-ed posted this week by the NNPA News Service. “This due process must be respected in the ethics charges against Mr. Rangel. He has admitted some mistakes, but we need not rush to judgment as was in the flagrant case involving Shirley Sherrod,” Bakewell wrote.

Rangel was an NNPA "Legacy of Excellence" Award recipient at the organization's annual convention, held in New York in June.

Lee said in a statement, “All Americans are entitled to a fair and due process, and that right extends to Congressman Rangel as well. Any rush to judgment to short-circuit the ongoing review of Congressman Rangel by the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct will do a disservice to the well established processes of the House of Representatives.”

Walters says the Black members are suspiciously going through the full process while White lawmakers are getting off the hook.

“Well, you get it; if you have the money of Senator Jane Harmon or the power of John Murtha, very little will happen to you,” he said. "I'm not defending Black members of Congress who violate ethics rules, but as long as Whites are exonerated, so should Blacks.”

Thousands Attend NUL Jobs Fair Amidst Record Unemployment Numbers for Blacks

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By Jacqueline Taylor, NNPA Special Correspondent –

WASHINGTON (NNPA) - Following a rousing speech by President Barack Obama—who emphasized America’s growing economy and an increase in private sector jobs—the National Urban League kicked off the start of its largest career fair to commemorate its Centennial Conference as the Black jobless rate continues at more than 15 percent.

The NUL Conference, led by President and CEO Marc H. Morial, was held at Washington, D.C.’s Convention Center, where more than 2,000 prospective employees came from around the country to speak to the nearly 80 recruiters on hand from companies, organizations, and government agencies. They ranged from Allstate to Pitney Bowes to the United States Department of Agriculture and Adecco.

With 15 years of experience, job seeker Joy Lindsey from Alexandria, Va. made her rounds to the various booths. Unemployed for the last seven months, Lindsey—who holds a master’s degree in advertising—remains optimistic about her future.

“I’m looking for a career transition that offers me growth,” Lindsey said. “I’m here to connect with someone that may be a few degrees of separation from a key player. I need help to get an interview and build a continual network of support.”

Wanda Jackson, NUL Vice President of Human Resources, noted that this year’s career fair is not unique to the organization.

“For the last 100 years, the Urban League has been putting people in positions and helping them find jobs,” said Jackson. “In this economy, with so many people unemployed…making jobs available is perhaps the most important thing we can do.”

Adecco staffing consultant Lindsay Nolan was on hand to recruit for general administrative positions in the D.C. metropolitan area. Nolan emphasized that when she reviews resumes, she is looking for stable work experience.

“Job-hopping does not typically look good for administrative roles,” Nolan noted. “That’s always a red flag for me.”

Travis Brown of Daytona Beach Florida had stopped at 20 booths and spoken to 12 representatives. He said he found the representatives to be friendly. Having graduated with degrees in Political Science and English four years ago from University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, he’s anticipating that he might not find a job right away.

“I anticipate the job search taking about two months,” said Brown. “I’m hoping that because the exhibitors are here they are actively recruiting. There’s a little less work on my part in having to actively find folks who are actively recruiting. I’m hoping they are here just not to get their names out there.”

Given Brown’s previous experience, he’s hoping to map out his search before moving to D.C.. He used the onsite computers, sponsored by Diversity Connect, to make contact with employers seeking to hire a diverse workforce.

“I’ll be moving to the DC area and I figure the job fair would give me a head start on a career,” Brown stated. “I’ve moved two places without having a job and it’s not a good feeling.”

NUL also had available career-focused workshops entitled: Resume Retool, Digital Networking, and Looking for a Job in the Right Place. Job seekers also had access to free half-hour coaching sessions. Veronica Conway, Master Certified Coach, spoke to clients in a private area void of the hustle and bustle of the fair. She pointed out that coaching is not advice or therapy.

“Coaching is directing them [clients] in a mindset that leads to behavior change,” said Conway. “We challenge the clients to think bigger, act faster, dig deeper, and trust themselves more. People have everything they need inside of them, but often do not trust themselves.”

The job fair also attracted individuals who are currently employed. Urban League Guild member, Jeffery Berry, came to the conference to support his CEO and President Ralph Holman. The Milwaukee, Wis. resident is interested in starting a new chapter of life on the East Coast.

“I spoke to a Career Coach about my portfolio and what I could do to make it fit the experience level of jobs here in the East Coast,” stated Berry. “The coach discussed the importance of triple proofing your resume, updating contact information on the resume, and the importance of refining your elevator speech. In a couple of months I will be turning a half century old and am looking forward to using my new sharpened skills and experience.”

Next year’s conference is scheduled to take place in Boston, Mass.

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BVN National News Wire