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An iHoliday, Anyone?

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By Cheryl Pearson-McNeil, NNPA Columnist –

(NNPA) When parents read the holiday classic, The Night before Christmas to their children, assuming of course this is a tradition that is still being followed, are they doing it from a classic picture book? Or from an electronic device that ensures “visions of sugarplums” are literally dancing in full color across a tablet’s screen? Do little girls still ask Santa for Barbies or Easy Bake Ovens (amazing what a strong light bulb can do, isn’t it)? And little boys for trucks and action figures? Does either still ask for shiny new bikes? (I was so excited the Christmas I got a tandem – you know a bicycle built for two – and I begged my mom to let me ride it right then and there in the snow…Best Christmas ever)! But, sadly no. According to a recent Nielsen survey, now when children make out their lists, there is a very good chance they are asking for an iPad. Yes, you heard me correctly.

Nielsen tracks, measures and analyzes everything consumers watch and purchase around the globe, especially during this time of year, and our data shows that the Apple iPad is at the top of the electronics request list among nearly half (44%) of the 6-12 year old set. That number is up from 31% in 2010. I’m sorry, but I waited until my son was 12 before I even considered getting him a no bells and whistles cell phone, so any phone at age six would be out of the question, let alone an iPad. Other “i” products round out the wish list for this holiday season – the Apple iPod Touch (30%) and iPhone (27%). Apple isn’t monopolizing the list, though – 25% of younger consumers want computers and other tablet brands.

Games are still big. Er, no, I’m not talking about Monopoly, Sorry or Connect Four (a few personal favorites). Research shows that many of today’s kids are asking for Nintendo 3DS (25%) and Kinect for Xbox360 (23%). Younger children are perfectly happy to ask for older game systems like Nintendo DS (22%), PlayStation 3 (17%) and Xbox360 (16%).

The Nielsen survey results indicate that those of us over age 13 also have iPads more on our wish lists this year (24%) than in 2010 (18%). Thanks to Apple iPads, there seems to be new tablet offerings popping up left and right – and 17% of us are interested in those brands. Even with the popularity of the all-inclusive tablets, 18% of adults and older teens are expressing an interest in E-Readers, which is slightly up from a year ago (15%).

I always feel more connected when I realize that people around the globe are much more alike than we are different. We Americans are not alone with technology topping the gift-giving (and gift asking) department. Another recent Nielsen survey conducted in 56 countries reveals that technology ranks number one around the world, followed by clothing and books. And, even though holiday traditions differ around the world, the universal theme for us all (well, most of us, anyway) is celebrating on a budget. We’ve got to pay for those fancy electronics, clothes, or books and whatever else may be on our shopping lists. Here’s how we stack up against the rest of the world in terms of our pocketbooks:

· Nearly three-quarters (73%) of global consumers expect to spend the same or less on holiday gifts this year than last.
· Most Americans surveyed (66%) plan to spend the same as they did in 2010.
· About half (48%) of global consumers expect to spend about the same as last year.
· 25% of global consumers plan to spend less this year.
· 11% (concentrated in the Asia Pacific and Middle East regions) plan to spend more this holiday.
· 15% do not purchase holiday gifts.

Shopping on a “budget” may mean different things to different consumers. Fifty percent have budgeted between $250 and $500 to spend this holiday season. Thirty percent plan to spend between $500 and $1,000. Only 17 percent report plans to spend more than $1,000. These are good figures to keep in mind as you venture out for Holiday shopping. Always the procrastinator, I’ve perpetually been a late Holiday shopper, sometimes right up until Christmas Eve. In keeping with my pattern, I will just be getting started this weekend.

Whether you celebrate Kwanzaa, Hanukkah, Christmas or any other shopping opportunity, remember the reason for the season. Now get out there and embrace your consumer power like never before. Happy Holidays!

Cheryl Pearson-McNeil is senior vice president of public affairs and government relations for Nielsen. For more information and studies go to www.nielsen/africanamerican.com.

China Admits a Downside in Trade with Africa

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Special to the NNPA from the Global Information Network –

(GIN) – Not everything glows brightly in the trade deals China is cutting with Africa although they are the envy of western countries including the U.S.

After investing almost a billion dollars on the African continent, Chi Jianxin, head of the China-Africa Development Fund, admitted all is not well.

China has not been able to realize a profit, Chi said in a recent interview in Beijing. The Asian giant is still seeking a “beneficial result” in the long term, he told a reporter with Bloomberg News.

“When we started, we didn’t have investing experience in Africa, and we hoped to have a quite good profit in three to five years so we could exit investments,” said Chi. “But we’ve seen it’s not as easy as that.”

China is Africa’s largest trading partner and has signed agreements worth billions of dollars with African governments, seeking natural resources to feed its economic growth in exchange for building roads and railways, and nurturing a market for its products.

Presence of 'Blood Diamonds' with 'Good Stones' Alarms Group

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Special to the NNPA from the Global Information Network –

(GIN) – So-called ‘blood diamonds’ are again on the market, glittering in the showcases of the world’s toniest shops, as the regulators who certified good stones from those mined at the point of a gun are now at odds.

Human rights watchdog Global Witness this week said that loopholes and foot dragging by members of the Kimberley Process, a diamond certification body, fatally damaged the institution, and they pledged to withdraw.

The UK-based group said it was particularly outraged by authorized exports from Zimbabwe’s Marange diamond fields where 200 miners were killed during an army occupation. Mining concessions were then granted in questionable circumstances to several companies, some linked to senior figures in President Robert Mugabe’s Zanu PF party.

The diamond industry should be required to prove that the gems it sells are not fuelling abuse, said Chairman Gooch, a founding director of Global Witness. “Consumers have a right to know what they’re buying, and what was done to obtain it,” added Gooch.

"Nearly nine years after the Kimberley Process was launched, the sad truth is that most consumers still cannot be sure where their diamonds come from, nor whether they are financing armed violence or abusive regimes" said Gooch.

Zimbabwe officials downplayed the departure of Global Witness. "They are in the business of lobbying, and we are in the business of selling diamonds," said deputy mines minister Gift Chimanikire. "We will sell those diamonds. That will not stop us."

Predatory Payday Lending by Banks on the Rise

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By Charlene Crowell, NNPA Columnist –

(NNPA) Each year, street corner payday loans strip consumers of $4.5 billion. Now, at least four large banks joining the ranks of those offering one of the most predatory products sold to unsuspecting consumers. Banks like Wells Fargo, US, Regions and Fifth Third are all offering their checking account customers payday loans that typically require full repayment within 10 days with interest rates of 360 percent or higher.

Due to federal bank regulation, these payday loans, sometimes called ‘advance deposit loans’, circumvent state rate cap laws in 17 states and the District of Columbia. Further, as banks repay these loans from funds already on deposit in checking accounts, borrowers run the risk of running short of money for other living expenses as well as incurring overdraft fees. Under fee-based overdraft systems, transactions made when available funds are insufficient will result in an average fee of $35 per transaction.

For banks, the ability to take funds automatically to repay loans means is a winning proposition. But for consumers, every loan renewal means another fee and a longer stretch of high-cost debt. And some banks have practices that lead to account closure when low or modest balances result in frequent overdrafts.

Fortunately, there are African-American leaders who are standing up and speaking out on the ills of payday and bank payday loans.

According to Julian Bond, former NAACP Chairman, “A drive through minority neighborhoods clearly indicates that people of color regardless of income are a target for legalized extortion. Payday lending is an economic drain that threatens the livelihoods of hardworking families and strips wealth from entire communities.”

Rev. Dr. Frederick Haynes, senior pastor of Friendship West Baptist Church in Dallas has also spoken against payday lending. “Storefront payday lenders are more common than fast food restaurants – especially in my church’s neighborhood” said Pastor Haynes. “There are 20 payday loan stores within a five-mile radius on my church. As a pastor and community activist, I have personally seen how quick cash payday loans wind up placing borrowers in financial debt shackles.”

Speaking directly to the ills of bank payday loans, Dr. Haynes added, “This practice of lending is especially troubling when one considers that banks, according to the Federal Reserve, are able to receive loans with interest rates of less than one percent.”

Dr. Haynes’ observation is one worth expanding. Courtesy of the federal government, banks get loan rates near zero percent interest. These banks then loan funds to payday lenders at competitive market rates. Then these lenders offer consumers interest rates of 360 percent or more. When banks enter the payday loan market, they eliminate the middle lender and reap all the profits for the institution with the same triple-digit rates charged consumers.

Legal? Not by some state consumer protections; but unfortunately, we need strong federal action to stop this abusive and level the lending field for all consumers.

There’s nothing wrong with a business making an honest profit. But there’s something seriously wrong with price-gouging interest rates for customers needing a small-dollar loan.

Charlene Crowell is a communications manager with the Center for Responsible Lending. She can be reached at: Charlene.crowell@responsiblelending.org.

FAMU Band Director: I Warned Them About Hazing

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Special to the NNPA from the Florida Sentinel-Bulletin –

TALLAHASSEE, FL — The fired director of Florida A&M’s famed “Marching 100” band said he repeatedly warned university leaders over two decades about the dangers of hazing and that he’s been made the scapegoat for a band member’s death in which the practice is suspected.

Julian White, 71, said he suspended 26 band members for hazing two weeks before drum major Robert Champion’s death on Nov. 19. He reported his actions to university administrators, he said.

Hazing has been “rampant on university campuses,” and the suspensions would serve notice it wouldn’t be tolerated at A&M, he said.

But instead of being supported, White said, he was second-guessed, particularly from some parents of band members, and said the punishments were akin to suspending star football players. “And so the band members were apprehensive. `Doc, you think we can go without 19 trombone players?’” said White, who replaced “Marching 100” founder William P. Foster as director in 1998. “And other folks. `Doc, do you think you can do it without them?’ My comment was, it doesn’t matter, I am not going to sacrifice the performance for the principle.”

After A&M’s football team lost its annual game against rival Bethune-Cookman, Champion collapsed on a bus parked outside an Orlando hotel. The 26-year-old junior had been vomiting and complained he couldn’t breathe shortly before he became unconscious. When authorities arrived about 9:45 p.m., Champion was unresponsive. He died at a nearby hospital.

Authorities have not released any more details, except to say hazing allegedly played a role.

Less than a week later, White, a tenured professor, was fired by FAMU President James Ammons.

“I walked into his office and he said, `Doc, I don’t know any other way to put it, this is it for you,’” White recounted. “He said `you can resign or you can be terminated.’”

Ammons, meanwhile, met Monday with former Florida Attorney General Bob Butterworth, who was named last week to head a task force investigating what led to Champion’s death. “If some strong actions had been taken, then Robert Champion may be alive now,” said White, who was asked by the student’s family to speak at Wednesday’s funeral service.

White, who was the lead drum major as a student, said he fears the tragedy could doom the showy high-energy, high-stepping band that has performed at Super Bowls, the Grammys and presidential inaugurations and in Paris on France’s 200th anniversary.

Since Champion’s death, the school has shuttered the marching band and the rest of the music department’s performances.

Shutting it down was a meaningful decision, White said. The band would have been the first of the Historically Black Colleges and Universities to perform at Carnegie Hall. “That hurts,” White said.

Hazing has a long history in marching bands, particularly at historically black colleges, where a spot in the band is coveted for its tradition and prominence.

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