Newswire : Congress must pass a $150 Billion Hurricane Harvey Emergency Relief package say Black Congressional Caucus members

By Rep. Bennie G. Thompson (MS-02), Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (TX-18) and Rep. Al Green (TX-09)

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 Congress-persons Al Green, Bennie Thompson and Shiela Jackson Lee
Historically, during times of national emergency, Americans unite to meet the challenge. In 2005, Hurricane Katrina altered the lives of thousands of Americans throughout Louisiana and Mississippi, damaging cities that have not been the same since. But, no matter our differences, we as a country have always come together in the face of tragedy. Now, it is time we act in unison once more.
Since August 25, the city of Houston along with Harris and Fort Bend counties, have felt the effects of Hurricane Harvey. The unprecedented storm dumped an estimated 11 trillion gallons of water on just Houston alone. First responders, emergency personnel and the U.S. National and Coast Guards along with hundreds of volunteers, were on the frontlines of the battle ensuring all those affected by Harvey were safe and dry.
As the natural disaster travels towards Louisiana and Mississippi, we ask for our great country to continue to stand with one another by volunteering, sending donations, and praying that for strength, hope and perseverance to weather this storm.
Hundreds of people of color have been affected by the storm already. If anyone would like to lend a helping hand to the relief effort through donations, we are asking you give to local organizations that focus on people of color such as: The Black Women’s Defense League, Raices, ICNA Relief, BlackAmericaWeb.com Relief Fund or the South Texas Human Rights Center. Any contribution will be greatly received as we ask Congress and President Donald Trump to provide immediate emergency funding and resources to deal with the crisis at hand. We believe at least $150 billion will be needed just to aid Texas residents in reconstruction, with much more needed later as the storm continues to travel the Gulf Coast.
In addition, Southeast Texas needs funding for storm surge protection research, just as New York and New Jersey received following the devastation of Hurricane Sandy.
Congress should pass an aid package not only to help the people of Texas, but to also provide an assurance to the American people that their government will be there for them in a time of crisis. This legislative package should not be weighed down in political rhetoric and partisanship. Instead, it should be aimed at helping as many people affected by Harvey as possible.
It is essential for the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers to conduct a full and complete assessment of the entire Gulf Coast region’s infrastructure capabilities when it comes to flooding. Time and time again, we have seen our region suffer from hurricanes, and we must take steps to prevent another city from struggling to rebuild.
Americans from around the country have offered themselves in service to help their fellow citizens. Now, we as Members of Congress must do the same. The best way for us to do so is with a comprehensive emergency funding package. Volunteers, first responders and so many others have stepped up to the plate, now it is up to us to hit the ball out of the park.
When Congress goes back into session, let’s pass this package without unnecessary political debates. The people of the Gulf Coast are depending on us.
Rep. Bennie G. Thompson (D-Miss.), Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) and Rep. Al Green (D-Texas) represent Gulf Coast residents. They are all members of the Congressional Black Caucus.

Farmers reap ‘bitter chocolate’as unrest rocks Ivory Coast in Africa


Cocao producerin Ivory Coast
Producer displays cocao harvested in Ivory Coast

May 15, 2017 (GIN) – Troubles in the Ivory Coast have pushed the price of cocoa to its highest level in five years.

Don’t blame the farmer. In the world’s largest producer of cocoa, farmers have been going hungry since government slashed the price it guarantees for farmers by 36 percent, then withheld payments due since October – even while the nation’s economy grew by close to 9 percent for each of the past four years.

Visitors to the capital, Abidjan, may see signs of new wealth and a surge in construction transforming the city. Investors have poured in from Mauritius to Morocco. But many ordinary Ivorians have yet to see the benefits of growth.

Daily broadcasts on state TV celebrate the nation’s so-called economic miracle, but an outburst of social unrest this year – the worst since 2011 – is a sign that people are running out of patience.

“There’s a colossal development gap between Abidjan and the interior,’’ Youssouf Carius, an economist with Pulsar Partners, a private investment fund, told Bloomberg News. “Even though some areas have a lot of potential, private investment won’t arrive as long as public services remain largely non-existent.’’

“People feel that inequality is growing, and it’s a feeling that’s fanned by symbols: in Abidjan, you won’t go a day without seeing a Porsche Cayenne,” Ranie Kone, an economist, told a reporter. “We’re in a culture where showing off is very important and people tend to live above their means.”

While farmers, rough diamond miners, and former rebel soldiers struggle to get a living wage, the number of dollar millionaires in Ivory Coast climbed 45 percent in the past decade to 2,500, more than the African growth average of 19 percent, AfrAsia Bank Ltd. said in a report. It’s likely to jump another 80 percent in the coming decade, according to the bank.

Meanwhile, over 8,000 former rebel soldiers who were promised bonuses for helping to bring President Alassane Ouattara to power in 2010 are taking up arms over the promise broken by the administration. Military violence has been reported in the nation’s two largest cities and witnesses on the ground describe empty streets, closed schools, banks and offices in the upscale Plateau district.

“The situation is dangerous in terms of what will happen if a full-blown confrontation erupts between loyal forces and mutineers, Al Jazeera’s Ahmed Idris reported. “The civilian population will be caught in the crossfire.”

Elsewhere on the continent, Madagascar, the world’s largest grower of vanilla beans is predicting steep price hikes after a tropical cyclone in March destroyed over 30% of the crop.

Bill to celebrate 400 years of Black History passes House of Representatives

By Lauren Victoria Burke (NNPA Newswire Contributor)
In a rare display of bipartisanship in Congress, the United States House of Representatives voted to establish a commission to examine 400 years of African American history.
House bill H.R. 1242 is designed “to develop and carry out activities throughout the United States to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the arrival of Africans in the English colonies at Point Comfort, Virginia, in 1619.”
Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.) sponsored the bill in the House and Senators Tim Kaine (D-Va.) and Mark Warner (D-Va.) sponsored the bill in the Senate, where it’s waiting to be passed.
According to Washington insiders, the bill will most likely pass by unanimous consent in the Senate.
Once the bill known as the “400 Years of African-American History Commission Act,” or H.R. 1242 in the House, passes Congress, it will land on President Donald Trump’s desk.
If H.R. 1242 becomes law, the resulting commission would consist of 15 members, who would serve without pay. The legislation would authorize the commission to create grants to communities, nonprofits and other groups to hold events that would commemorate the anniversary of slaves arriving in the U.S. The commission could hire staff and also accept volunteers to perform its mission. The commission would be required to submit a report to Congress and terminate in July of 2020.
In a statement about the bill last year, Kaine said that he’s been lucky to be a part of federal commissions that have been formed to study and celebrate English and Hispanic history. “Well, if English lives matter, if Latino lives matter, then African American lives matter and they’ve mattered every day since the landing of those ‘20 and odd’ African Americans at Point Comfort, Virginia,” said Kaine.
Kaine continued: “The story has a lot of pain to it, but it’s a story that has to be told to commemorate that we as a nation—had it not been for 400 years of African American history—would be absolutely unrecognizable. What we hope to do with this bill is engage in something we should do to tell the story in a different way than it may have been told 50 to 100 years ago.”
In late March, the Congressional Budget Office estimated, “that implementing the bill would cost about $2 million a year—a total of $6 million over the 2018-2021 period.”
In a floor statement about the bill last summer, Rep. Bobby Scott said that African Americans have contributed greatly to the United States and their achievements deserve to be celebrated.
“The history of Virginia and our nation cannot be fully understood without recognizing the role played by the slave trade,” said Scott. “Slavery was an abhorrent institution; but for hundreds of years, it was the foundation of the colonial and early American agricultural system and was essential to its economic sustainability.”
Scott continued: “The 400 Years of African-American History Commission Act will be instrumental in recognizing and highlighting the resilience and contributions of African Americans since 1619. From slavery, to fighting in the Civil War, to working against the oppression of Jim Crow segregation, to the civil rights movement, the rich history of African Americans and their contributions to our Nation began hundreds of years ago but obviously does not end there.”

Lauren Victoria Burke is a speaker, writer and political analyst. She appears on “NewsOne Now” with Roland Martin every Monday. Lauren is also a frequent contributor to the NNPA Newswire and BlackPressUSA.com. Connect with Lauren by email at LBurke007@gmail.com and on Twitter at @LVBurke.

82 kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls are reunited with their families, after trade for 5 Boko Haram fighters

By PADDY DINHAM FOR MAILONLINE

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Kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls Abducted by Boko Haram

82 schoolgirls who were kidnapped by Boko Haram have been released after more than three years in captivity.
They are the largest group yet to be released after years of tense negotiations between the government and the terrorist group, a Nigerian government spokesman said. Later government statements indicated that the girls were released in exchange for the government release of five Boko Haram fighters.
The girls were among about 220 students abducted from a secondary school in the northeastern town of Chibok in 2014, sparking a global campaign #bringbackourgirls supported by then-U.S. First Lady Michelle Obama, and a host of other celebrities.
· Enoch Mark, a Christian pastor whose two daughters were among those kidnapped, said he was told of the release by the Bring Back Our Girls pressure group and an official in Maiduguri. He added: ‘This is good news to us. We have been waiting for this day. We hope the remaining girls will soon be released.’
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Bring Back Our Girls said it was awaiting an official statement but added: ‘Our hopes and expectations are high as we look forward to this news being true and confirmed.’
Boko Haram fighters stormed the Government Girls Secondary School in the remote town of Chibok on the evening of April 14, 2014 and kidnapped 276 girls. Fifty-seven managed to escape in the hours that followed but the remaining 219 were held by the group.
Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau claimed in a video message that they had converted to Islam. The kidnapping brought the insurgency to world attention, triggering global outrage that galvanized support across the globe.
21 Chibok girls were released in October in a deal brokered by Switzerland and the International Red Cross, while a handful of others have escaped or been rescued. However, a large number of the girls are still missing.
Last month President Muhammadu Buhari said in a statement that the government was ‘in constant touch through negotiations, through local intelligence to secure the release of the remaining girls and other abducted persons unharmed’.
The girls were taken from a school in Chibok in the remote northeastern Borno state where Boko Haram has waged an insurgency aimed at creating an Islamic state that has killed thousands and displaced more than 2 million people.

Obama’s latest gift to his detractors: a $400,000 Wall Street speaking gig

By Shawn Langlois, Marketwatch

Former President Barack ObamaFormer President Barack Obama

Barack Obama once told CBS’s “60 Minutes” that he didn’t “run for office to be helping out a bunch of fat cat bankers on Wall Street.” Of course, he didn’t say anything about them helping him out.
So yes, after a political career often spent unloading on banking industry “fat cats” for their profit lust and splashy lifestyle, Obama has agreed to a $400,000 speaking engagement on healthcare policies at bond broker Cantor Fitzgerald, according to Fox Business.
In other words, one day of inspirational words and fist bumps with some of Wall Street’s finest will net the former president what it took him an entire year to earn while calling shots at the White House.
The big payout would also put his price at double the average amount commanded by Bill and Hillary Clinton on the circuit, where the duo cashed in on more than $150 million over the years, according to CNN numbers crunched last year.
The fact that Obama, like so many presidents and politicians before him, is chasing Wall Street cake shouldn’t come as a surprise. The amount, however, is rather eye-popping. Add this to their $60-million book deal — a whopping four times Bill Clinton’s post-presidency offer — and the Obamas should get by just fine in their retirement years.
A pair of popular Democratic Party senators took shots at former president Barack Obama‘s $400,000 speaking fee for a future Wall Street event, a rate that equaled his yearly presidential salary. Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Sen. Bernie Sanders shared their opinions about the fee with the media, although other Democrats and liberals have taken similar speaking engagements in times past.
In speaking with SiriusXM’s Alter Family Politics show, Sen. Warren of Massachusetts didn’t mince words in answering Andy Cohen‘s inquiry about the fee. “I was troubled by that,” said Warren, writes Yahoo News. “One of the things I talk about in the book [the recently-published This Fight Is Our Fight: The Battle to Save America’s Middle Class] is the influence of money. I describe it as a snake that slithers through Washington. And that it shows up in so many different ways here in Washington.”
While Warren’s point that Wall Street’s influence on politics is troublesome, Obama is not in a position to run for office nor has made it known he has any aims to lobby to sitting politicians on behalf of the finance world.
Bloomberg’s Steven Dennis spoke with Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, also levied his criticism. “I think it’s unfortunate. President Obama is now a private citizen and he can do anything he wants to but I think it’s unfortunate,” said Sanders, while adding the word “unfortunate” a third time in his reply to Dennis..
The Democratic Party and liberals, in general, have turned a critical eye towards Wall Street. Yet the practice of former government leaders and officials using their expertise to earn money in the speaking arena is not new. Former president Bill Clinton, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and former Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke have all taken high-paying speaker fees in varying intervals.
Also in place are lobbying bans that Obama himself instituted while in office that would hinder former employees to address government officials on behalf of Wall Street and other special interests.
To be sure, senators Warren and Sanders have long-standing issues with Wall Street’s political influence and have said in previous times they felt Obama took it easy on financial institutions while shunning middle-class concerns. Obama has yet to respond to the criticism.

Virunga Park warden in the Congo tapped for Grassroots Activist Prize

Rodrigue Katembo
Rodrigue Katembo

Apr. 24, 2017 (GIN) – As a child soldier at the age of 14, Rodrigue Katembo learned his survival skills in dangerous times. Belgium had granted independence to the Congo but it was little more than a piece of paper after years of colonial rule.

After a U.S.-led coup in 1961 that removed legally-elected Patrice Lumumba, the nation’s prime minister, years of repression would follow under the dictator Joseph Mobutu. Foreign companies quickly moved in to exploit the Congo’s rich natural resources.

Despite the destructive actions of poachers and oil drillers, the nature sanctuary known as Virunga National Park continued to be a refuge to invaluable biodiversity and rare animals such as the legendary and critically endangered mountain gorillas. Africa’s oldest national park and the crown jewel of Congo’s ecotourism, Virunga was named a World Heritage Site in 1979. And as fate would have it, a former soldier, Rodrigue Katembo, would become its protector.

Rescued from war, Katembo returned to school, studied biology and soon became warden of Virunga’s central sector—an area of interest to oil explorers. A British company Soco had already begun seismic testing in the area by the time Katembo arrived. Refusing their bribes, Katembo instead gathered video footage of their actions – a dangerous task – that was later compiled into the Academy Award-nominated Netflix doc ‘Virunga’.

Amid growing public outrage by Archbishop Desmond Tutu, conservation groups such as the World Wildlife Fund, citizen petition drives, UNESCO, among many others, Soco gave up its oil license in Block V. Declining populations of hippos and elephants have stabilized. Civilians are free to access water and fish at Lake Edwards. And Katembo continues to protect the park.

Katembo paid an enormous price for his activism, however. In 2013, he was arrested and tortured for 17 days. He returned to duty immediately after his release.

Now the 41 year old warden’s good deeds will be rewarded. This month he was named one of six winners of the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize, the world’s largest award honoring grassroots environmental activists.

In addition to a monetary prize, Goldman Prize winners each receive a bronze sculpture called the Ouroboros. Common to many cultures around the world, the Ouroboros, which depicts a serpent biting its tail, is a symbol of nature’s power of renewal.

More information about the prize and this year’s winners can be found on the website http://www.goldmanprize.org

Black doctors earn less than White doctors

By Stacy M. Brown (NNPA Newswire Contributor)
Black doctors

African-American physicians earn 15 percent less than White physicians—an average of $262,000 compared to $303,000—according to Medscape’s 2017 Physicians Compensation Report.
Approximately 19,200 physicians across 26 areas of medicine were asked questions about annual compensation, race, gender, geography and job satisfaction.
The report, detailed by CBS News, revealed that African-American doctors are less likely to say they feel fairly compensated, with only half agreeing that they’re earning what they should.
“Fifty-percent of African-American physicians don’t feel fairly compensated,” the report’s editor Leslie Kane, a senior director of Medscape Business of Medicine, told CBS.
Racial and gender discrimination may certainly be a factor, Kane said, but there are other factors as well. For example, if a doctor treats more Medicaid patients, their reimbursement is usually lower, since employer-insured patients tend to pay better.
How many hours a doctor works and whether they’re in private practice or a clinic can also explain some inequities in pay. “Tons of factors play into how much a physician makes,” she said.
The survey found that the gender pay gap is narrower among younger doctors. Male doctors ages 55 to 69 make 27 percent more than women, but the divide shrinks to 18 percent in physicians under the age of 34.
Being a doctor pays well, but there are still major discrepancies when it comes to paychecks within the medical profession. For the first time, the annual report looked at race as well as gender and other factors, revealing some significant disparities in pay.
Physicians’ annual salaries averaged $294,000, with specialists earning about $100,000 more than primary care doctors. Overall, average pay has risen by $88,000 over the seven years Medscape has been conducting this survey—an increase attributed to intense competition for doctors among hospitals and health care systems.
The three highest-paying specialties were orthopedics (average annual compensation: $489,000), plastic surgery ($440,000) and cardiology ($410,000). They earned well over twice as much as the average pediatrician ($202,000) and family physician ($209,000), the two lowest-paying categories.
A deeper dive into the data shows male doctors take home bigger paychecks in both primary care and specialty areas such as orthopedics and surgery. Male primary care physicians made 15 percent more than women in 2016, while male specialists earned 31 percent more than their female colleagues.
Part of the reason may be that women are more likely to choose lower-paying specialties, Kane said. “One of the things we look at is why there is this overall disparity. We look at what specialties women are going into and they go into less well-paying areas,” she said.
“Fifty-three percent of pediatricians are women, one of lowest paid specialties. Thirty-nine percent of family physicians are women, also a lower-paying area,” Kane said. When it comes to the more highly paid medical specialties, only 9 percent of women are orthopedists and only 20 percent of general surgeons are female, Kane added.
African-American doctors typically work in primary care rather than specialties, the survey noted. The annual compensation survey delved into race for the first time, said Kane, who has edited the report for seven years.
The report revealed higher salaries in rural states. Doctors in North Dakota are the highest paid in the U.S. followed by Alaska, South Dakota and Nebraska.
Washington D.C. counts as the lowest, while New York hovers toward the bottom of the list, which Kane and others chalk up to supply and demand; plenty of doctors cluster in big cities, while rural areas need to offer more money to attract staff.
Patients may be glad to know that regardless of pay, most doctors like what they do: eight out of 10 physicians said they’d still choose medicine if they had the chance to pick a career all over again.