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Radioactive Cars from Japan Turning Up in Caribbean

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By Bert Wilkinson
Special to the NNPA from the New York Amsterdam News

It certainly won’t be the first thing on the minds of Caribbean people when they wake up every day but there is clear evidence that radioactive material from the area in Japan where a nuclear power plant failed after a 2011 tsunami and earthquake is beginning to turn up among commercial imports to the region.

Last month, customs and other enforcement authorities in Jamaica intercepted and quarantined a 40-foot container of vehicle parts destined for the Caribbean trade bloc headquarter nation of Guyana after tests had shown elevated levels of contamination.

That the levels startled authorities into quarantining the container and preparing plans to return it forthwith to Japan is slowly beginning to bring regional customs officials to the reality that other contaminated imports might have slipped through their monitoring net in earlier months.

But that should not have been the case. In late 2012, Jamaican authorities also discovered a passenger mini bus with similarly high levels of radioactive material on a city pier and impounded it as well but that very incident has only now come to light after the transiting Guyana container made news headlines.

Health and customs officials in Guyana say they were only alerted to the fact that Jamaica had saved Guyanese car dealers and owners from actually and unknowingly handling contaminated parts when local Jamaican newspapers exposed the story in the past week.

The country has no Geiger Counter to measure or test imports from Japan or any other affected country for acceptable radiation levels. Health Minister Bheri Ramsarran said only that “we will look into this serious matter”, while the head of the revenue and customs authority accused local media of sensationalizing the issue unnecessarily.

Thousands of cars, SUVs and other vehicles were washed out to sea or covered in radioactive water after the Fukushima Nuclear Plant was crippled both by the quake and the tsunami. Contaminated water poured into the Ocean for days, severely polluting the area and reducing it to a virtual ghost town.

Russian authorities recently turned away a shipment of 132 cars from Japan after these had also tested positive for high levels of radiation.

Jamaican Customs spokeswoman Velma Ricketts said the island which is a major marine transshipment port, is lucky that the US Department of Energy regularly monitors its work and that the country has sophisticated equipment to test for radiation.

“Once it is confirmed to be outside the acceptable levels, the shipment will not be released. There are a lot of things we are doing that people don’t know. We are very vigilant,” Customs Chief Richard Reese said.

Black Media Seeks Inclusion in Tobacco Settlement

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By George E. Curry
NNPA Editor-in-Chief

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – The National Association of Newspaper Publishers (NNPA) and the National Association of Black Owned Broadcasters (NABOB), two industry trade associations whose members reach more than 95 percent of African Americans, filed a friend-of-the-court brief objecting to the exclusion of all Black media companies in a proposed settlement that requires the tobacco industry to run ads and TV commercials to correct their misleading assertions about the harmful effects of smoking.

The amicus brief was filed last Friday in federal court in Washington, D.C. U.S. District Court Judge Gladys Kessler held a hearing Wednesday and postponed making a decision on the merits of the case until Feb. 18 when additional briefs by the various parties would have been filed in connection with the case. After NNPA and NABOB filed an amicus brief, Fox News filed a similar brief arguing the cable network should also be part of the advertising deal.

An agreement was reached Jan. 9 between the U.S. Justice Department, the Tobacco-Free Kids Action Fund and the four major tobacco manufacturers – Altria, R.J. Reynolds Tobacco, Lorillard and Philip Morris USA – on what “corrective statements” the tobacco industry should be forced to make in ads to address the falsehoods they have been telling about the harmful effects of smoking, the addictiveness of smoking, the dangers of second-hand smoke and claims that low-tar and light cigarettes are healthier than regular cigarettes.

The Justice Department sued the tobacco companies in 1999, charging that they violated the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO). Judge Kessler found them guilty in 2006. The judge ruled that the companies were not liable for monetary damages under RICO, but ordered them to make “corrective statements.”

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit has rejected two industry appeals. The Supreme Court has refused to accept an appeal from the tobacco giants, who are still suing over Kessler’s order to include the corrective statements in “point of sale” displays at retail outlets.

Under the proposed agreement, the tobacco companies must purchase full-page Sunday ads in 35 newspapers and commercials on either ABC, CBS or NBC network four days a week for a year. Target Market News, which broke the story of the settlement proposal, estimates the value of the ad buy at $30 million to $45 million. In her initial ruling against the tobacco industry in 2006, Judge Kessler provided a list of publications where “corrective statements” should be made. Not a single Black newspaper, magazine, or broadcast outlet was included on the list drawn up by the judge.

The Black media trade associations say that was a mistake.

“…The Defendants targeted the African America community with advertising campaigns which were delivered in part by their paid advertisements in African American print and electronic media,” the amicus brief states. “The proposed remedy does not list any media which specifically targets the African American community. To insure that the Corrective Statements reach the population that the Defendants targeted, the Court should require the parties to jointly select alternative newspapers that specifically target the African American community.”

Targeting Blacks with tobacco products has had a devastating effect on the African American community, the brief notes.

“Lung cancer is the second most common cancer in both African American men and women, and it kills more African Americans than any type of cancer,” it says. “According to the Center for Disease Control, while adjusting for age, from 2006 through 2010, African Americans had the highest incidence rates of lung and bronchus cancer (64.8 per 100,000 people) of any ethnic group and the general population (61.7 per 100,000 people).

“In 2011, more than 23,000 new cases of lung and bronchus cancer are expected to occur among African Americans and more than 16,000 African Americans are expected to die from the disease. African American teen smokers also have a greater risk of developing long-term consequences from smoking than other ethnic groups, and are in danger of experiencing the negative effects of tobacco earlier in their lifetimes.”

Despite the disproportionate number of deaths, tobacco companies looked to Blacks to replace those who died or quit using their products.

“The record clearly demonstrates that the Defendants specifically targeted African Americans to encourage them to smoke,” the brief observed. “The Defendants recognized that new smokers, who could replace smokers who died or quit, were essential to their continued profits. The Court noted, for example, an internal 1981 Lorillard document commenting that the company “must continually keep in mind that Newport is being heavily supported by blacks and the under 18 smokers. We are on somewhat thin ice should either of these two groups decide to shift their smoking habits.’

“To locate new black smokers, the Defendants used targeted marketing tactics. Tactics included sponsorship for youth sports teams, advertisements featuring black athletes, tie-ins with professional sports teams, tie-ins with record companies, and scholarships for underprivileged youth. One memorandum recommended ‘tie-in with any company who help blacks – We help them, they help us.’ It suggested targeting groups that are 16 and older, and sponsoring Miss Black Teenager contests. It also specifically discussed ‘[h]ow to reach Younger Smokers: P.O.S. [point of sale] material, sampling, Black inner-city newspapers, [and] Tee-shirt giveaways.”

The brief cited data showing tobacco companies “even designed brands with the express purpose of targeting the black community for their use.”

Special efforts to get Blacks to become smokers notwithstanding, the Black press is being ignored in plans to educate the public about the misdeeds of the tobacco industry.

Cloves C. Campbell, chairman of the NNPA said, “It is sad that an industry that sought to exploit our community with a product that is harmful to our health now seeks to further devalue African-Americans by ignoring the Black media when it is being forced to atone for what a federal judge determined was a deliberate effort to deceive the American public.”

A 2012 Nielsen report on African American consumers was cited in the brief to show that 91 percent of African Americans believe Black media is more relevant to them. In addition, 81 percent of Blacks believe that products advertised in Black media are more relevant to them.

If parties to the agreement are serious about reaching Black consumers, they can’t ignore the NNPA’s approximately 200 Black-owned newspapers and NABOB’s 200 Black-owned radio stations, three commercial television stations, and one cable TV network, the brief stated.

It said, “Advertisements with NNPA and NABOB will disseminate the information more comprehensively and more directly to members of the African American community, which was a primary target of the Defendants’ extensive marketing practices to promote smoking. Because the Defendants directly and intentionally targeted the African American community, the publication of the text of the court-ordered corrective statement by NNPA and NABOB members will be a more effective and complete remedy for the Defendants’ harmful conduct.”

New Details Emerge in Aaron Hernandez Murder Investigation

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By Alexis Taylor
Special to the NNPA from the Afro-American Newspaper

Documents newly released by authorities have provided details on why investigators believe former New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez may have been present not just for the murder last June of Odin Lloyd, but also when two individuals were gunned down in a 2012 drive-by shooting.

Search warrant documents filed with the State of Connecticut Superior Court and first published by The Hartford Courant allege that a vehicle owned by the former football star was present when Daniel Abreu, 29, and Safiro Texeira Furtado, 28, were killed in Boston during the early morning hours of July 16, 2012.

The documents do not state that Hernandez was directly involved with the murders, or suggest a possible motive, but represent the clearest link yet between Hernandez and the shootings. Hernandez has been charged with Lloyd’s murder and is currently awaiting trial.

The two victims were among five occupants inside a grey BMW that had just left a Boston nightclub, Cure. The vehicle, driven by Abreu, stopped for a traffic light at the intersection of Shawmut Avenue and Herald Street in Boston’s South End.

According to statements made by 25-year-old Aquilino Freire, who survived gunshots to both arms in the incident, an SUV pulled up on the right side of the BMW. Freire noticed nothing out of the ordinary with the vehicle, and said he observed a driver and a passenger in the backseat who appeared to be laughing moments before gunshots rang out.

Two eyewitnesses, co-workers Donald Gobin and Brian Quon, told police the SUV was either a “Nissan Pathfinder or a silver Toyota 4-Runner” being driven by a “Black male or dark skinned Hispanic male with short hair.”

Seconds before the shooting the two men, who worked at a nightclub in the area, stopped at a light on Shawmut Avenue when an SUV with Rhode Island plates pulled up. They said the SUV then ran the light at which they were waiting, only to stop at the next intersection and open fire on the BMW.

Boston police initially had few leads, and sought the public’s assistance in identifying the vehicle. A break in the case finally came in June 2013, when police began investigating Hernandez for the murder of Odin Lloyd, whose body was found on June 17 in an industrial area near the Hernandez mansion.

“At this time, detectives recalled that in previously viewing the video footage from Club Cure on the morning of July 16, 2012, an individual clearly recognizable as Aaron Hernandez is observed entering the club at approximately the same time as the victims,” police said in court documents.

Within a week, a witness claiming to have “accidentally” come into information linking the two cases contacted Massachusetts State Police. Sharif Hashem, a security supervisor at another Boston nightclub, Rumors, said he learned significant details from a patron about how a double homicide involving an SUV with Rhode Island plates was linked to Lloyd’s death. His information caused detectives to take a closer look at Hernandez’s movements the night Abreu and Furtado were murdered.

“Video surveillance from the Tufts parking garage shows Hernandez arrive at 12:04 a.m., driving a silver 2006 4-Runner, with a clearly visible license plate, 635035,” read the documents.

Hernandez and a male acquaintance then enter Cure and move into a surveillance-free area in the lower level of the club, before returning upstairs where the Patriots tight end “quickly” downed two drinks and made an exit. The two men are seen leaving the garage at 1:17 a.m. in a silver Toyota 4-Runner, but they would return a short time later.

According to court documents, exactly one hour later the same vehicle is visible on multiple surveillance tapes circling the block as the victims prepare to leave Cure. Gerson Lopes and Raychides Sanchez, the other two men in the BMW with Freire, Furtado and Abreu, wait on the sidewalk as Abreu pulls the car around.

“The two loops around the block by the Toyota 4 Runner near the club and the parking garage are captured on two separate video surveillance systems,” authorities state in the court documents. “Other traffic is passing the Toyota 4-Runner due to its decreased speed.”

Within ten days of the Lloyd murder, detectives tracked down the Toyota 4-Runner. The vehicle was determined to be a gift to Hernandez for promotional work he performed for a car salesman, and was found locked inside a garage on a property belonging to Hernandez, with a layer of cobwebs, dirt, and a dead battery.

According to the documents, there is no surveillance footage of the double homicide itself. Police have also not determined the identity of the shooter in that case, although detectives have identified Alexander “Sherrod” Bradley as the man accompanying Hernandez on the night of the murders.

Bradley is currently incarcerated, but has placed phone calls relating to the investigation which authorities believe are suspicious. In their Dec. 11 search warrant, detectives seek access to jailhouse phone calls taped in early October that could possibly reveal more information about the murders.

Africans Seeking Asylum, in Danger and Targeted in Israel

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By Ashahed M. Muhammad
Special to the NNPA from The Final Call

(FinalCall.com) – The death of former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was the only thing that could slow down massive protests involving thousands of Africans seeking asylum.

After spending 8 years in a coma following a massive stroke, Mr. Sharon was pronounced dead on January 11. In a show of respect to the larger Israeli society, following his death, protest organizers elected to temper their protest while the Israeli people mourn their beloved war hero, whom many believe to be a war criminal.

Organizers announced it was just the first phase of their efforts to resist inhumane treatment and that there are plans to resume protests within the next few coming days.

Large demonstrations were held in front of Israel’s parliament with protestors consisting of Africans from the Sudan, Ethiopia, and Eritrea. On January 7, they protested in Tel Aviv and on January 8 in Jerusalem. In one detention center, Al-Jazeera reports that up to 150 asylum seekers had participated in a hunger strike. The massive demonstrations—described by many as a general strike—began January 5.

The group Freedom4Refugees representing the African asylum seekers have taken to social media to generate support for their cause using their presence on Facebook and Twitter to spread images, make calls to action and to pass on information in their quest for refugee rights.

“International community: we urge you to advocate that Israel stop our imprisonment and starts (sic) respecting refugee rights! Israel’s latest policy of arbitrary detention for endless time without trial continues to humiliate our community,” said a Jan. 5 statement.

In Israel, Africans seeking asylum are described as “infiltrators” by Israeli law enforcement and political officials as an official designation and are accused by many Israelis of being the cause of growing violence. Recently passed legislation now allows Israel to imprison those seeking asylum for up to one year upon arrival in the country. Those Africans already in the country found to be in possession of expired visas could also be detained and possibly deported. According to human rights activists and Israel’s Interior Ministry, there are over 53,000 African migrants currently in Israel.

“We escaped from war, we escaped from genocide, so we are refugees,” protest organizer Dawit Damuz said in a widely broadcast interview with Euronews. “The Israeli government must give us the basic refugee rights including the right to work, the right to social services and welfare. We are living here until the situation in our homeland changes,” he added.

According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the majority come in through Israel’s southern border with Egypt. Bedouin smugglers are particularly active in smuggling drugs, money and humans. Israel has increasingly become a location for Africans seeking asylum since 2006. The UN’s Convention relating to the Status of Refugees (CRSR) is a multilateral treaty which defines what a refugee is, outlines the rights of those granted asylum as well as the responsibilities of the nations granting asylum.

The CRSR defines a refugee as a person “owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationalality membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality, and is unable to, or owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country.”

Because of the political instability and fighting in their home countries, many Sudanese and Eritreans have fled their home countries seeking work and stability in Israel.

Immigrants in danger

Going back to 2011, tension-filled protests were led by right wing Israelis with African immigrants as the target. In Israel, the African immigrant community is marginalized, and forced to live in segregated, poverty-stricken neighborhoods primarily in South Tel Aviv.

Unemployment is high and they live under the constant threat of detention and physical harm.

In the summer of 2012, Israeli nationalist thugs formed racist mobs and physically attacked Ethiopian neighborhoods. Towards the end of April of that same year, a Molotov cocktail was thrown into a Sudanese kindergarten in Tel Aviv. Influential rabbis have led campaigns in neighborhoods convincing Jews not to rent apartments to those seeking asylum. A number of Knesset members representing the ruling Likud party of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have spoken at anti-immigrant rallies spewing forth comments laced with xenophobic rhetoric.

During one previous rally, Israeli Knesset member Miri Regev, who once served as a spokeswoman for the Israeli Defense Forces, attacked African immigrants referring to them as “a cancer in our body.” Regev has continued to stridently oppose asylum for the Africans. Another member of the Knesset, Danny Danon, recently reportedly called asylum seekers “a national plague.”

It appears that such venomous statements have not been tempered, but may be on the increase with those views being adopted by more Jews daily. Statements on the Knesset’s English language website reported Eli Yishai of Israel’s Shas party warning “that the protests being held by African migrants who infiltrated Israel illegally may turn violent,” and he also suggested taking advantage of protests “to transfer the migrants to holding facilities.”

Hip-hop activist Jasiri X is currently in Israel and has witnessed the inequality and protests firsthand. He told The Final Call he was in total solidarity with the African immigrants and even stood among them during protests. On January 11, he met some of the women leading protests in South Tel Aviv and marveled at the self-determination they displayed. He delivered a straightforward assessment of what he has seen during his time there.

“Being in Israel for the last week, I would describe their policies as White supremacy on steroids. Everyone who is not a Jew is treated as an invader and less than human by the State of Israel. They are forced to go through humiliating checkpoints daily, have different license plates, and given permits and ID cards that restrict their ability to travel throughout the land. They are even denied access to water and electricity. Arab Jews were forced to speak Hebrew and deny their culture and Ethiopian Jewish women were sterilized to control their population. So imagine being an African and immigrant or asylum seeker in a racist system of oppression, occupation and colonialism,” he added.

While Israeli authorities claim to be working on a peaceful and amicable resolution to this issue, the numbers tell a completely different story. According to Haaretz Daily, a center left newspaper, Israel has examined only 250 of 1,800 asylum requests and approved none by Eritrean or Sudanese nationals. There are also reports that many migrants are complaining that the Administration of Border Crossings, Population and Immigration of the Interior Ministry has been rejecting requests to renew visas. Another part the government’s “solution” includes an offer of $3,500 to those Eritreans and Sudanese in the country who participate in a “voluntary departure” back to their countries of origin.

U.S. Troops Boost Forces in Nigeria, Somalia

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Special to the NNPA from the New York Amsterdam News

(GIN) – U.S. forces, winding down in Afghanistan, are finding new battle fronts in Africa.

According to published reports, a small team of U.S. advisors was sent “secretly” to Somalia to assist with operations against militants. Somalia has been at war with religious fundamentalists, called Al Shabab, but has made little headway against the group which still controls a large swath of the country.

“It is the first time U.S. troops have been stationed there since two helicopters were shot down and 18 American soldiers were killed in 1993,” wrote David Cloud in the Los Angeles Times.

“The U.S. soldiers assist a force of more than 18,000 under the auspices of the African Union, backed by the U.S. and other Western countries since deploying to Somalia in 2007 with logistics help, intelligence and planning,” officials told Cloud.

Although a small presence now, the number of advisors could expand in the coming year, a senior Defense Dept. official told the paper, and become a “permanent presence” on the Horn of Africa. He called it something “that’s been in works for a while.”

On the western portion of the continent, the U.S. and Nigeria have been working on a joint effort against insurgency and terrorism in that country. This week, the Nigerian Army announced the establishment of a Nigerian Army Special Operation Command (NASOC) at a meeting with journalists in the capital city of Abuja.

The Command allows the army to have a special group of “highly patriotic Nigerians ready to make sacrifices in the face of extreme danger,” said the Chief of Army Staff, Lt-Gen. Onyeabo Azubuike Iherjirika.

According to Gen. Ihejirika, the US, through its Africa Command, Special Operations Command Africa and the Office of Security Operations United State Embassy, is providing training assistance towards the quick set up of the NASOC.

At a recent Pentagon roundtable, Army Gen. David Rodriguez, who has led Africa Command since April, said he was “optimistic about the future.”

“Our basic premise is that it is Africans who are best able to address African challenges, and our strategy focuses on developing partner nations’ military forces through a wide variety of programs,” he said.

He acknowledged problems on the continent – Mali, South Sudan, Somalia and the Central African Republic – which require regional and international attention, but added: “I strongly believe our cooperative approach … will make enduring change possible.”

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