December 26, 2013
Special to the NNPA from the New York Amsterdam News
A radiant French teenager whose mother hails from Benin was crowned Miss France on live TV, thrilling those who acknowledge the diverse population of the European nation.
Flora Coquerel, who is from Orléans, France, was voted Miss France 2014 by a combination of votes from the TV audience, estimated at 8.2 million viewers, and a celebrity jury.
Within minutes of the crowning, social media outlets were inundated with comments, many of which were racist. A portion of the comments were horrifying: “I’m not a racist, but shouldn’t the Miss France contest only be open to white girls?” and “Death to foreigners.”
Last month, the pageant’s former lifetime president, movie star Alain Delon, resigned after it was revealed he supported the National Front, France’s far-right, anti-immigration party.
December 19, 2013
By CHARLTON DOKI and RODNEY MUHUMUZA
JUBA, South Sudan (AP) — Gunfire continued to ring out in South Sudan’s capital, Juba, Tuesday as the military “cleared out remnants” of soldiers accused of mounting a coup attempt, the foreign minister said, while more than 13,000 people sought refuge at United Nations facilities.
The coup attempt happened on Sunday when a group of soldiers raided the weapons store within the main army barracks in Juba but were repulsed by loyalists, sparking gunfights Sunday night and early Monday, Foreign Minister Barnaba Marial Benjamin told The Associated Press. He described the alleged coup plotters as “disgruntled” but gave no other details.
At least 26 people, mostly soldiers, have since died in the violence, according to Makur Maker, a senior Ministry of Health official. Other groups put the casualties in the hundreds.
The fighting has forced about 13,000 people to seek shelter inside or in the immediate outskirts of two U.N. facilities in Juba, according to the U.N.
The South Sudanese military has arrested five political leaders with suspected links to the coup attempt and many more are still being traced, said Benjamin. Chief among the wanted is former Vice President Riek Machar, who is now believed to be in hiding after he was identified by President Salva Kiir as the political leader favored by a faction of soldiers who tried to seize power earlier this week, he said.
“They are still looking for more ... who are suspected of being behind the coup,” Benjamin said, referring to the military.
The United States Embassy in Juba and the U.N. Mission in South Sudan denied they are harboring Machar, he said.
The hunt for Machar, an influential politician who is one of the heroes of a brutal war of independence waged against Sudan, threatens to send the world’s youngest country into further political upheaval following months of a power struggle between Kiir and his former deputy.
Machar, the deputy leader of the ruling Sudan People’s Liberation Movement, said he would contest the presidency in 2015 after Machar fired him in July. He has openly criticized Kiir, saying that if the country is to be united it cannot tolerate “one man’s rule or it cannot tolerate dictatorship.”
The international community has repeatedly urged South Sudan's leaders to exercise restraint amid fears the military’s actions in the aftermath of the attempted coup could spark wider ethnic violence.
United Nations chief Ban Ki-moon told Kiir in a telephone conversation Tuesday that he expected him “to exercise real leadership at this critical moment, and to instill discipline in the ranks of the (Sudanese military) to stop this fighting among them,” according to Martin Nesirky, a spokesman for the secretary-general’s office.
There are “disturbing reports of ethnically-targeted killings,” with most of the fighting pitting soldiers from Kiir’s majority Dinka tribe against those from the Nuer tribe of Machar, said Casie Copeland, the South Sudan analyst for the International Crisis Group.
“The fighting has been fierce and parts of Juba have been reduced to rubble,” she said. “Reported casualty figures are well over 500 and we should expect this figure to increase. The conduct of the (Sudanese military) in the coming days will be a good indicator of how South Sudan will come out of this and how ethnic diversity will be managed moving forward.”
The oil-rich East African nation has been plagued by ethnic tension since it broke away from Sudan in 2011. In the rural Jonglei state, where the government is trying to put down a rebellion, the military itself faces charges of widespread abuses against the Murle ethnic group of rebel leader David Yau Yau.
December 12, 2013
By Xavier Higgs
LAWT Contributing Writer
As the world mourned Nelson Mandela, who died last Thursday at age 95, Hildred “Hal” Walker and AMEN, Inc will continue a commitment to educating South African young people.
Hildred “Hal” Walker, 80, retired aerospace engineer from Hughes Aircraft Company, is co-founder of AMEN, Inc an Inglewood based a science and technology mentoring program.
In 1994, former State Senator Diane Watson invited Hal and wife Dr. Bettye Walker, a retired educator, to visited South Africa as part of a Los Angeles delegation.
About 80 professionals traveled to determine the needs of the new South Africa and how to assist its people. The Walkers were encouraged by what they saw and return to South Africa to explore ways to utilize their expertise.
While visiting the ANC Headquarters in Pretoria, South Africa in 1997 Hal and a group of 14 students from Compton, were introduced to President Mandela.
The President took a break from a cabinet meeting for a photo opts. Included in this meeting was Vice President Thabo Mbeki.
According to Hal, “the President was so impressed with the young people he cancelled his next appointment.”
“He engaged them about their education interest and their preparation for the future,” says Hal.
Many of the students spoke about space technology and their ambitions in life.
Hal recalls, Mr. Mandela “seemed amazed at their level of knowledge and technological awareness.”
Mr. Mandela was visibly impressed with the impact of the AMEN. He asked Hal and Dr. Walker if they would come back and duplicate the AMAN program in South Africa.
“We said yes, how could we refuse Nelson Mandela,” says Hal.
For 13 years Hal and Bettye commute to and from South Africa.
Before retiring Hal spent some 35 years in the laser industry, and was responsible for the Laser Ranging experiment conducted during Apollo 11.
AMAN was formed 1986 in Compton, CA from a research grant. It was created to study the decline of the African American male.
Along with Rotary International, they worked with a farm school. Today AMAN is affiliated with 10 sites in South Africa. These schools are located in the Johannesburg and Cape Towns areas. AMAN’s headquarters is located in Cape Town.
Hal says it was former President Mandela’s goal to bring South Africa’s education system into the 21st century using a new learning method. There is an educational gap in the country. He saw the AMAN youngsters, ages 9 to 14, as a model of what can be done with the youth of South Africa and build the next generation of South Africans.
He is proud of their success. AMAN has its first Ph.D. in computer science and in 2004 one of their high school students participated in JPL’s Mars rover program.
In addition to AMEN’s success, Hal is instrumental in establishing a chapter of Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity.
The question is “where do we go in South Africa,” says Hal. “We must make sure there is a sustained educational program as well as jobs in South Africa. This includes turning around the aids epidemic. AMAN’s job is to continue Mandela’s dream through our education models.”
December 19, 2013
By ALAN FRAM
WASHINGTON (AP) — Fresh from shackling the traditional blocking ability of the Senate's minority party, Democrats are ready to muscle through President Barack Obama’s nominees for pivotal judgeships and other top jobs.
Despite last month’s Democratic power play, Senate Republicans retain the power to slow, though not derail, Obama’s appointments.
Left unchanged were other rules that the out-of-power party could use to grind the chamber’s work to an excruciating crawl. That ranges from requiring clerks to read voluminous bills and amendments to forcing repeated procedural votes.
“There are so many ways of slowing things down in the Senate,” said Robert Dove, the Senate’s former long-time parliamentarian.
Monday starts a two-week, year-end Senate session in which Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., hopes to finish work on a modest budget deal, a defense bill and other lingering items.
It will also be the first test of how Republicans respond to the Democratic changes.
Monday’s meeting marks the chamber’s first since irritable lawmakers left town Nov. 21 for their Thanksgiving break. Earlier that day, Democrats used their 55-45 edge to reshape how filibusters work, trimming the number of votes needed to halt procedural delays against most nominations from 60 to a simple majority.
Democrats pushed through the changes after tiring of what they consider excessive GOP efforts to derail Obama's nominees. The move angered Republicans, who argue that Democrats frequently tried blocking President George W. Bush’s judicial nominees.
How the GOP responds will become clearer when they return to the Capitol. But in a chamber whose arcane rules give any single senator the ability to throw the brakes on much of its work, partisan friction can hurt.
“The fact is it changes personal relationships with everybody on the other side,” said Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla. “It has damaged the ability of us to move forward.”
The Senate is vulnerable to delays because its rules technically require votes on almost anything it does. This includes agreeing to not read aloud an entire amendment, agreeing to begin considering nominations, even letting committees meet while the Senate is in session.
To save time, the Senate usually does such things by unanimous consent — a quick voice vote to which no one objects. But angry senators can block fast action.
Democrats could make GOP delays as painful as possible, such as keeping the Senate in all night and on weekends.
“We’re going to seek to achieve as much as we possibly can and hope Republicans will cooperate with us, instead of just using knee-jerk obstruction,” said Adam Jentleson, spokesman for Reid.
Republicans are already using the rules to flex their muscle.
When the Senate recessed for Thanksgiving, it did not approve a batch of noncontroversial nominations and bills, which it usually does before such breaks. With 60 votes still required to end filibusters against legislation, GOP senators are blocking final passage of the defense bill until Reid allows votes on Republican amendments.
On Tuesday, the Senate planned to vote to confirm Patricia Millett to become a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. A vote had been planned for Monday but was postponed because winter weather was making travel difficult.
Millett is a prominent private lawyer who worked in the solicitor general’s office under Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, arguing 32 cases before the Supreme Court. Republicans used the old 60-vote requirement for stopping filibusters to prevent a vote on her nomination in October, a blockade that helped prompt Democrats to force the changes.
Her nomination was viewed as key by both sides. The appeals court is disproportionately powerful because it rules on White House actions and federal agency rules. Her ascension will tip the balance of that circuit’s judges to five appointed by Democratic presidents, four by Republicans.
Minutes after the Senate altered the filibuster last month, senators voted by simple majority — and along party lines — to end GOP delays against her. A roll call on final approval has been locked in, and Republicans can do nothing but vote against her.
Over the next two weeks, Reid plans to push five more major nominees through the Senate.
They include Janet Yellen to lead the Federal Reserve, Jeh Johnson to head the Department of Homeland Security and Rep. Mel Watt, D-N.C., to lead the Federal Housing Finance Agency. There are also two more Obama picks for the remaining vacancies on the D.C. court — attorney Cornelia “Nina” Pillard and U.S. District Judge Robert Wilkins.
There is little doubt all five will be approved. But time-consuming GOP delays are possible, especially against Watt. Some Republicans say he is not qualified to run an agency that oversees federally backed home lenders Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae.
“Their objective was to guarantee success, not to make the Senate more efficient,” said Donald Stewart, spokesman for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. “There’s nothing they did that makes the Senate go any faster.”
Under Senate rules, once a filibuster is defeated, senators can debate nominations for circuit court judges and Cabinet-level appointees for 30 hours before a vote on final confirmation. For a lesser post like Watt's, the maximum is eight hours.
“I’m sure he’ll get eight hours of debate because the American people need to know he’s not qualified to fill that position,” said Coburn.
Democrats say Watt, a 21-year veteran of the House Financial Services Committee, is well suited for the job and say Republicans consider him too liberal.
Republicans can also force at least one procedural vote on each nominee before roll calls are taken to end filibusters and for final approval. Each requires only a simple majority for Democrats to prevail.
December 12, 2013
By George E. Curry
SOWETO, South Africa (NNPA) – President Barack Obama described Nelson Mandela, South Africa’s first Black elected president, as “the last great liberator of the 20th century” and thanked the grieving nation for sharing their beloved former leader with the rest of the world.
Speaking Tuesday at a rain-soaked memorial service here attended by nearly 100 current and former international leaders, Obama said, “It is a singular honor to be with you today, to celebrate a life like no other. To the people of South Africa, people of every race and walk of life – the world thanks you for sharing Nelson Mandela with us. His struggle was your struggle. His triumph was your triumph. Your dignity and your hope found expression in his life. And your freedom, your democracy is his cherished legacy.”
Mandela died last Thursday at the age of 95 after a long illness. The memorial service kicked off a week of celebrations that will culminate Sunday with his burial in his ancestral village of Qunu, in the Eastern Cape region. Flags are flying throughout the country at half-staff.
Coincidentally, the memorial service fell on United Nations Human Rights Day. Obama used the occasion to deliver stern words to leaders who repress their own people yet profess to admire Mandela, whom Obama mostly referred to as Madiba, the former president’s Xhosa tribal name.
“There are too many people who happily embrace Madiba’s legacy of racial reconciliation, but passionately resist even modest reforms that would challenge chronic poverty and growing inequality,” President Obama said. “There are too many leaders who claim solidarity with Madiba’s struggle for freedom, but do not tolerate dissent from their own people. And there are too many of us on the sidelines, comfortable in complacency or cynicism when our voices must be heard.”
Like many U.S. civil rights leaders, Obama drew a parallel between Mandela’s struggle for majority rule in South Africa and African-Americans’ struggle to overcome slavery and Jim Crow laws that treated Blacks as second-class citizens.
“We know that, like South Africa, the United States had to overcome centuries of racial subjugation. As was true here, it took sacrifice – the sacrifice of countless people, known and unknown, to see the dawn of a new day. Michelle and I are beneficiaries of that struggle,” Obama said to applause. “But in America, and in South Africa, and in countries all around the globe, we cannot allow our progress to cloud the fact that our work is not yet done.”
Mandela, a former amateur boxer, gave his last public speech in the soccer stadium where the tribute was held. Fittingly, the stadium is located in Soweto, a township were Blacks were forced to live under apartheid and where Mandela and Bishop Desmond Tutu have homes.
Accompanying Obama on Air Force One were former president George W. Bush and his wife, Laura, and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Former presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter arrived in South Africa on separate aircrafts.
Like many international gatherings, journalists observe every detail, including whether adversaries shake hands.
Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro shook hands but, White House officials were quick to note that it amounted to nothing more than an exchange of pleasantries.
“Nothing was planned in terms of the president’s role other than his remarks,” Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes told reporters traveling with Obama. “He really didn’t do more than exchange greetings with those leaders on his way to speak, it wasn’t a substantive discussion.”
The fact that Obama and Castro were at the same event demonstrated the breath of Mandela’s impact on their world.
“He was more than one of the greatest leaders of our time. He was one of our greatest teachers,” U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon told those in attendance. “His baobab tree has left deep roots that reach across the planet.”
Following in the footsteps of Mandela is a tough act to follow, as South African President Jacob Zuma has already discovered. He and the ruling ANC Party are unpopular because of a poor economy and record economic inequality. When Zuma rose to give the keynote speech Tuesday, he was widely booed. Some gave the thumbs down sign or rolled their wrists, a soccer gesture for substitution.
“There is no one like Madiba. He was one of a kind,” Zuma said, as the booing subsided. “Mandela believed in collective leadership. He never wanted to be viewed as a messiah or a saint. He recognized that all of his achievements were a result of working with the A.N.C. collective.”
President Obama relayed how Mandela’s fight for freedom impacted him personally.
“Over 30 years ago, while still a student, I learned of Mandela and the struggles in this land. It stirred something in me. It woke me up to my responsibilities – to others, and to myself – and set me on an improbable journey that finds me here today. And while I will always fall short of Madiba’s example, he makes me want to be better. He speaks to what is best inside us.”
Gen. Thanduxolo Mandela, a relative who offered one of the eulogies, said: “I am sure Madiba is smiling from above as he looks down at the multitude of diversity gathered here, for this is what he strove for – the equality of man, the brotherhood of humanity.”