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South Africa, Host of Climate Confab, is Africa's Worst Pollutor

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Special to the NNPA from the Global Information Network –

(GIN) – Delegates from around the world are streaming into Durban, South Africa, for the U.N.’s Conference on Climate Change. Ironically, this is also home of one of the worst polluters on the continent, the Eskom coal-powered national electric company.

State-owned Eskom's coal-fired power stations are responsible for 66 percent of the 6,000 tons of sulphur dioxide pollution spewed into the atmosphere daily. Sulphur dioxide is dangerous to human health and to plants and corrodes buildings yet dirty and destructive coal plants are opening around the continent at a fast pace.

Prior to the opening of the Durban conference Tuesday, Tosi Mpanu-Mpanu, chair of the Africa Group of Negotiators for Climate Change, stated Africa’s concerns. “Africa wants an outcome based on science that is fair and honors the promises all countries have made in the U.N. Climate Convention and its Kyoto Protocol.

“African countries feel they have been ‘duped,’” he stated at an earlier meeting, “because many of them have not seen the sustainable development benefits that were promised to them when they agreed to emission reducing projects under the Kyoto Protocol. Three countries – Japan, Canada and Russia – have already expressed reluctance to honor their promises and the United States repudiated its commitments a number of years ago.”

“But the world cannot be held hostage by a handful of countries, Africa will not serve as the burial ground of the only legally binding treaty requiring those most responsible for causing climate change to reduce their climate pollution,” continued Mpanu-Mpanu.

“We expect the polluters, and not the poor in Africa, to pay,” said Mpanu-Mpanu. “Durban must deliver an agreement on finance... If we depart from promises made as recently as 2007, how can we trust what comes next? Africa is more than willing to play ball, but only if the other side does not keep moving the goalposts.”

New Effort to Identify Discriminatory Mortgage Lending Begins

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By Charlene Crowell, NNPA Columnist –

(NNPA) Many times consumers question whether complaining about a financial problem will ever do any good. Now, thanks to a new initiative by the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), no one needs to wonder anymore. Beginning December 1, the consumer watchdog agency is asking consumers to tell them about unfair or illegal practices that occurred before, during or after getting a mortgage loan. The agency promises to give every complaint a fair review, and it will also use the information gathered as a guide when considering new consumer protections.

The CFPB should expect to get an earful. A wealth of research documents how communities of color have borne the brunt of predatory lending and the foreclosures that followed. Too many African-American and Latino borrowers received high-cost, risky mortgages when they could have qualified for lower-cost and more sustainable loans. Now foreclosures are happening more quickly in communities of color than anywhere else—a curious phenomenon when one considers that white homeowners hold far more of troubled home loans. By one estimate, Black and Brown communities have lost $350 billion of wealth during this Great Recession, according to the Center for Responsible Lending (CRL). Even worse -- these communities already had the least to lose.

During the subprime boom and long before the CFPB was formed, there was no shortage of mortgage-related complaints—but very few received serious consideration. Responsibility for mortgage protections was parceled out among at least half a dozen regulatory agencies, some of whom were very friendly to the lenders they were supposed to be monitoring. Now, with the CFPB on the job, we can expect a much sharper focus on consumer complaints and a stronger commitment to resolving them.

For any doubting Thomas that remains cynical about progress on consumer complaints, consider what happened when the CFPB asked the public to share their problems with credit cards. Between July 21 and October 21 this year, the Bureau received 5,074 complaints. Of these complaints, 74 percent have now been resolved. Issues raised involved billing disputes, identity theft and other fraud.

We now know that 397,000 African-American families lost their homes on mortgages made between 2004 and 2008. Some opponents of reform try to blame affordable housing programs, but the facts don’t support that position. Wall Street became ravenous for the most dangerous types of loans, and lenders obliged by aggressively marketing them without bothering to underwrite. Moreover, CRL’s most recent research shows that borrowers of color with higher incomes and good credit scores received riskier loans than similar white borrowers.

The result has been tragic for the families involved and also crippling to the entire economy. The CFPB represents a genuine effort to make sure this doesn’t happen again. The Bureau is now open for business, and it wants to hear consumers’ side of the story. Individuals may file complaints related to any part of the mortgage process, including the wrongful denial of a loan, overcharges on lending fees, problems with the way mortgage payments are collected, and abuses related to foreclosures. For more information, visit the CFPB website at http://www.consumerfinance.gov/. Specific mortgage complaints may be filed at: http://rspnsb.li/uTxRb5.

To learn more about what’s at stake for everyday Americans and how CFPB can help protect consumer financial interests, visit CRL’s web at: http://rspnsb.li/s915qX

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

Protesters Vow to Keep Building Movement for Change Despite Brutal Police Crackdowns

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By Saeed Shabazz, Staff Writer
Special to the NNPA from the Final Call –

NEW YORK (FinalCall.com) - Bloodied but unbowed, the Occupy Wall St. movement has vowed to resist brutal assaults by police on peaceful protests calling for economic fairness and a government that serves ordinary people—not just the super-rich.

On a cold New York City afternoon, two days after an historic “Day of Action,” a few hundred protesters gathered in Zuccotti Park in lower Manhattan. A few feet from where the World Trade Center towers once stood, they talked about the way forward and heard speakers discuss topics such as the financial crisis in Italy and how it would impact ordinary Americans.

What they didn’t do was run and hide after a major crackdown on demonstrations and forced evictions of Occupy encampments around the country, where demonstrators have lived in parks, on downtown streets and near the offices of powerful institutions to show their distrust of the ruling class and their dissatisfaction with current conditions.

“We are moving forward,” Mark Bray, a media coordinator told The Final Call. “Many of our people are in jail, some have been injured, we know eventually some may die. But we are in the early stages of a social movement that will change this country,” Mr. Bray said.

With the two month anniversary of the Occupy Movement Nov. 17, a movement started with a few thousand young people responding to a call sparked by resentment over corporate bailouts and economic inequality has gone global.

Young people, mostly from middle-class White American families, coined the phrase “We are the 99 percent.” That cry has echoed across the country and the world capturing the plight of the masses of people left behind economically while a small ruling elite benefits handsomely on the financial and political sides.

Angela Davis, a college professor and onetime Black Panther Party revolutionary, writing Nov. 16 in the Guardian UK newspaper said, “This new Occupy Movement imagined itself from the beginning as the broadest possible community of resistance—the 99 percent against the 1 percent—who are the most affluent sectors of society; big banks, financial institutions and corporate executives.”

America’s political establishment answered the peaceful Occupy movement Nov. 17 with brutal assaults by police in riot gear, some likened the heavy-handedness to old school fascism. So violent was the response that some returning veterans condemned the police for using weapons and tactics not permitted by occupying U.S. troops in war torn nations.

In Los Angeles, hundreds marched through downtown and 27 people were arrested. In Portland, police blocked protesters from crossing a bridge to the financial district, arresting 25 on disorderly conduct charges. In Berkeley, Calif., police cleared out a protest camp, arresting two.

In Atlanta, 18 protesters were arrested for blocking traffic, while in Dallas, 100 police officers in riot gear cleared the Occupy camp outside of city hall, citing unsanitary conditions and safety concerns. Eighteen people were arrested. The same happened in Philadelphia where 300 tents had been placed next to city hall to house protesters.

Protests targeted for crackdown include camps and demonstrators in Las Vegas, St. Louis, Seattle, Wash., and Boston and the Huffington Post, on Nov. 18, showed photographs of police on the campus of the University of Calif. at Davis brandishing pepper spray canisters, some allegedly dousing students sitting on the ground in peaceful protest.

But, it was New York City that became the poster child for excessive police crowd control tactics and the chilling use of force to squelch free speech, according to activists. Two hundred fifty protesters were arrested, some bloodied by police using metal batons.

Some policing experts said the crowd control was aggressive, but not excessive. First Amendment experts said televised interactions between police and demonstrators can hurt the goal of protests and discourage others from joining.

“Everyone has the right to exercise First Amendment rights—if actions cross the line and threaten health and safety of others, we will respond accordingly,” said New York’s billionaire mayor Michael Bloomberg.

“Mayor Bloomberg, who benefited from Wall St. greed, has no compunction against ruthlessly repressing those who dare exercise their constitutional rights to peaceably assemble and to petition the government for a redress of grievances that he helped to create,” activists responded.

Mayor Bloomberg, the world’s 30th wealthiest individual, grabbed national headlines after his police force’s midnight raid Nov. 15 on the encampment at Zuccotti Park, claiming the compound was a health hazard with serious safety concerns. Protestors were allowed back in the park but not tents or sleeping bags and a court sided with the city denying protestors the right to camp out.

Anthony Batalla, 20, from the predominately White middle-class community of Astoria Queens, N.Y. told The Final Call he was rousted from his tent by police and beaten. He showed off scars as proof, including a large bruise to his rib section. When asked why he had returned, Mr. Batalla said, “I will not let them scare me into not standing in solidarity with others who are fighting against economic inequality.”

Mr. Batalla said his father has worked for the Post Office for 38 years, but his parents may lose their home. He had been in Zuccotti Park since Oct. 4.

Rani Shamie, 30, said he has been at the Occupy encampment for five or six weeks and was an eyewitness the morning police in riot gear beat women who were in tents. “I want the constitution to be first; not the capitalist agenda. For the past 280 years, we have been moving the constitution forward; and we will resist the repression against our ideals,” he said.

In recent weeks, the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan has warned the president and the country that her warmongering abroad and lack of investment at home was another sign of a doomed America. “All that love war over peace, that love wrong over right, and love injustice over justice, this is the day of your doom. The end of your world has arrived! What you’re looking at happening in Tunisia, in Egypt, in Yemen, in Jordan, in Libya and Bahrain will soon, very soon, happen in all the nations of the world,” he said Saviours Day 2011.

“While it’s happening there, you better prepare, because it will be coming to your back door America,” he warned.

It appears police and politicians did in fact prepare—over one week at least a dozen cities moved to evict Occupy protesters from public spaces, with police actions sharing similar characteristics.

In newspaper accounts, some unnamed Dept. of Justice officials admitted that there had been coordinated action with the help of the Dept. of Homeland Security, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and other federal police agencies.

But analysts note Occupy demonstrations are not criminal activities and argue police should not be treating them as such, and the coordination shows the crackdown is political.

Oakland’s Mayor Jean Quan mentioned during an interview with the British Broadcasting Network that she was on a conference call with 17 other cities, discussing the crackdowns before they happened. Mayor Quan’s police department sparked a brutal confrontation which resulted in critically injuring Iraq war veteran Scott Olsen, followed by general labor strike in the port city.

A White House press secretary insisted Nov. 16 that the federal government was not coordinating the attacks, adding, “Every municipality has to make its own decision about how to handle their issues.”

But the federal government may also have the capacity to oversee such crackdowns through information fusion centers working at local levels. Before the National Fusion Center Conference in Kansas City, Mo., which came after the 9-11 attacks, Dept. of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, on March 11, 2009, said, “Fusion centers are going to be key in how we increase our ability to protect the homeland. We have created kind of a seamless network of information-sharing not just vertically state to federal, local to state to federal, but also horizontally across the country at different levels. Fusion centers will not be run by the federal government—fusion centers are primarily a phenomenon of your locality, your local and your state, and they grow from that basis and from that recognition,” Secy. Napolitano added.

There are reportedly 72 fusion centers across the country.

The Homeland Security secretary told the National Fusion Center Coordination group that her department had given $327 million in direct funding and another $812 million for “broader information sharing” to back the fusion centers.

On Nov. 16, the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund and the National Lawyers Guild Defense Committee filed a Freedom of Information Act brief with the Dept. of Justice, Dept. of Homeland Security, FBI, Central Intelligence Agency and the National Park Service, requesting any information related to any involvement of federal agencies in planning the crackdown against the Occupy Movement.

“The severe crackdown on the Occupation Movement appears to be part of a national strategy to crush the movement,” said a spokesperson for the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund.

“The banks and the super-rich are becoming very concerned about ‘Occupy Wall St.’, and so, the level of repression will escalate,” predicted Oakland civil rights attorney/activist Dan Siegel, who is also a member of the National Lawyers Guild. “The one percent won’t give up without a fight,” Mr. Siegel told The Final Call.

Mr. Siegel resigned as an advisor to Mayor Quan after her crackdown against the Occupy Oakland encampment. “When I see all of the 20-year-olds and teenagers engaged in the movement, it gives me a great sense of optimism,” he said.

While Mr. Siegel says there are reasons to be optimistic, those who monitor the press and how the government deals with the press in America do not share his optimism. Josh Stearns, associate program director for Free Press, a media watchdog organization, told The Final Call that there appears to be a growing disrespect for the freedom of the press in America among government actors.

“The issue is a lot larger than covering protests. We see a growing trend in the U.S. of repression against the press; and we need to have a national debate about how to move forward,” Mr. Stearns said.

Mr. Stearns’ organization documented the arrest of 13 journalists in NYC during the Day of Action—including five with press credentials issued by the NYPD. There are also reports that police pushed reporters back some five blocks before their raid on the encampment at Zuccotti Park; and news helicopters were not allowed to fly directly over the encampment.

An 84-year-old grandmother pepper sprayed while watching an encounter between police and members of Occupy Seattle compared the media lockdown in the U.S. to what was going on in Nazi Germany as she was growing up.

“I see the same thing happening here. We really have no more free media that will bring you the issues instead of just the soft- fluff entertainment news,” Dorli Rainey told Keith Olbermann, while appearing on his nationally syndicated show.

In the meantime, the Wall St. Journal used data from the NY State Dept. of Labor Nov 17 to report the NYC job market shed 2,000 jobs for the third consecutive month. The Journal said NYC unemployment stands at 8.8 percent, with 350,000 out of work up from the October number of 346,400 people.

In Washington, D.C., the Patriotic Millionaires for Fiscal Strength continued a campaign against the congressional “super committee” for not showing fiscal responsibility. The committee made up of six Democrats and six Republicans representatives was to come up with a plan to trim $1.2 trillion from the federal budget by Nov. 23. The Patriotic Millionaires were discouraged over the committee’s position that it could not agree on a formula for reducing spending. The committee failed to find a way to trim the federal budget equally before automatic spending cuts kick in.

A Patriotic Millionaire spokesperson told ABC News on Nov. 16 “It’s a Las Vegas economy where regular Americans put their money on the table and the richest one percent owns the house. And if the one percent loses money, the 99 percent bails them out, covers their losses.”

Inaction by the super committee could mean more job losses and people on the streets, said analysts. There was also a clarion voice of warning:

“If the government of the United States forgets about the poor—the Black poor, the White poor, the Brown poor—and concentrates only on benefits for the rich, and is trying to make it better for the middle class who are fast becoming the new poor, then the heart of the American Congress is as cold as the granite that bears the image of a man whose heart was warm for the principles of Freedom, Justice, Equality and Peace,” said Min. Farrakhan during his Oct. 9 address at the 16th Anniversary of the Million Man March and Holy Day of Atonement in Philadelphia. The man Min. Farrakhan was speaking about was Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. prior to the dedication of the MLK monument in Washington, D.C.

But, the bad economic news keeps coming, this time from the U.S. Census Bureau in a November report that found the poverty level in the U.S. is higher than reported in September, which means that 100 million Americans are either in poverty or in the “fretful zone.”

The Census Bureau is using a new supplemental poverty measure, meant to better count disposable income. The new data says the “near poor” has increased.

“When we can’t feed our families, what do you tell us? Thou shalt not steal! When survival is the first law of nature, what are you going to do when Black people and poor people erupt in the streets of America? It’s coming! Will you use the federal troops, Mr. President against the poor?” asked Min. Farrakhan during his Feb. 2010 Saviours’ Day keynote address.

South African Firm Cited for Abusing Workers

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Special to the NNPA from the Global Information Network –

(GIN) – Over 100 foreign workers were expelled from Mozambique after local labor officials said they were illegally employed by Kentz-Engineers & Constructors, a South African firm.

The Labor Ministry said the foreign workers, most of South African and Filipino nationality, were denied holidays, weekends and proper protective clothing. The company also failed to register its Mozambican workers for social security.

Kentz-Engineers is a sub-contractor of the Brazilian mining giant Vale whose coal mine in Mozambique is one of the world’s largest, slated to produce 22 million tons after a new expansion.

Vale’s record is blemished however as far as labor rights and the environment. A strike in Cadbury, Ontario, lasted almost 18 months and environmental violations were reported in Indonesia.

Anabela Lemos, a local environmentalist, said: "It's well known, the (negative) impact of coal mining, which is why some countries don't want any more coal mining… Plus to generate energy, it's more pollution. We don't call that development."

Despite the wealth earned by area mines, Mozambique remains an aid-dependent country. After a spike in prices last year, food riots killed over a dozen people. "This is a new colonial era. This time it's not government; it's corporations," Lemos said.

To make way for the mine, Vale moved about 5,000 people off their land into what they call "settlements."

"Vale told us we had to leave, but I didn't want to," Doratea Mateus told Annie Murphie of the International Reporting Project. "That was our land! Like it here? No, I don't. Here there's nowhere to grow food. And sure, there's water and energy, but you have to pay for it. Back on our land, we had a river for water, and it was free.”

Disagreements Flare Over War Plans for Somalia

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Special to the NNPA from the Global Information Network –

(GIN) – Fighters from more than four countries are pouring into Somalia supposedly to prop up its besieged government against militants from the Al Shabab Islamist group.

Neighboring Burundi has sent about 4,000 'peacekeeping' troops. Some 5,000 have come from Uganda. Other countries which have pledged or sent troops are Djibouti, Guinea, Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya and Ethiopia.

But the heavily armed forces are a bitter blessing for the Somalis who have suffered high civilian casualties from U.S. drones based in Ethiopia, armored tanks and small arms fire. Somali President Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed criticized the military build-up: “There are things we see as inappropriate,” he said during a tour of a Mogadishu neighborhood, “such as Kenyan troops crossing the border into Somalia.”

U.S. officials are also reportedly at odds over the build-up. The Pentagon and CIA favor the tough Ethiopian troops but the U.S. State Dept. cites the catastrophic invasion by Ethiopia of Somalia in 2006 that left thousands dead and injured and the government in tatters.

“The last time Ethiopia entered Somalia did not see a very successful outcome in stabilizing the country,“ said U.S. Asst Secy Johnnie Carson in a recent teleconference with Kenyan journalists. “In fact, it is their presence that spawned Al Shabab.”

Meanwhile, preparations are underway for the 4-day long Lamu Cultural Festival that usually attracts thousands of visitors from Kenya and around the world. Lamu is the oldest Swahili settlement in East Africa and an independent state of Kenya. Due to the presence of pirates from neighboring Somalia and the recent kidnapping of a French tourist, its beaches are off limits to British citizens.

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