NEWS STAND: France's New Black Star, U.S. Justice Toughens Stand on Hate Crimes ...

A Black Politician Rises In France
The most popular politician in French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s government is Rama Yade, the minister of sports, according to the latest survey. She is also the most visible black politician in a country where few minorities play prominent roles outside of sports and entertainment. Yade, 32, a native of Senegal, was rated favorably by 59 percent of those polled, leaping from third to first place among members of President Sarkozy’s administration.

Yade has had an uneasy relationship with Sarkozy’s right-of-center UMP Party. When first elected, he made her minister for human rights, a position from which she proceeded to express liberal positions that often contradicted Sarkozy and other members of his cabinet. In fact, at one point, Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, prone to gaffes himself, declared that there was no need for a human rights minister since those concerns fell within his foreign affairs purview.


When Sarkozy shuffled his cabinet, Yade was given the sports portfolio, a move widely seen as a demotion. There too, she has often disagreed publicly with the views of other cabinet members. Yet Yade has moved up from third to first in the popularity ratings, displacing, ironically, Kouchner, who sank from first to third place. She is expected to run for a seat in the French parliament seat in the spring. Although her popularity has protected her, Yade has worked hard to avoid making waves.

The conservative Le Figaro declared her a “good student” after she deflected tough questions in an interview, avoided gaffes and even defended Sarkozy’s controversial national debate on French identity. “I’m not afraid of the debate,” she said. However, polls indicate that most Frenchmen would rather not discuss the issue of national identity at all. On Dec. 21, SOS Racisme, an advocate of French minorities, circulated a petition calling for an end to the discussion, saying it has unleashed language that was, at minimum, stigmatizing, and at worst, racist.

SOS argues that some of the discussions had questioned “insidiously or explicitly, the legitimacy of the presence on French soil of entire categories of people.” At a series of public hearings, speakers have especially targeted Arab immigrants, suggesting they “go home,” dress better, stop speaking slang, and find jobs.

Bigots, Beware U.S. Justice
The head of the civil rights division of the U.S. Justice Department says he was shocked, just shocked, by the poor record of his predecessors under President George W. Bush in bringing hate-crime cases to justice. Thomas E. Perez, who took over the post two months ago, pledged to vigorously prosecute violent “equal-opportunity bigots.” "I spent the better part of a decade prosecuting hate-crime cases, and I know what they can do to a community," the Washington Post reported him saying to reporters. "I got a tour of the route that James Byrd Jr. was taken as he was dragged toward his death. I saw the utter inhumanity of man toward man." Last week, a federal grand jury in Pennsylvania charged two white men in the fatal beating of a Latino man walking home from a community festival in July 2008, nearly six months after a local jury had acquitted them on the most serious charges. Perez was a deputy assistant attorney general from 1988 to 1999, under Presidents Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton. He was Maryland's labor secretary when President Obama tapped him for the civil rights post. The President has signed a bill giving the division funds to hire 102 lawyers.

More Net Access in Chicago

Mayor Richard Daley wants to bring more Internet access to the ‘hood. The mayor has unveiled a smart community plan that would bring access to areas where there is Internet use is limited because of cost, difficulty in using computers or lack of interest. The Chicago Tribune reports that that the mayor’s “Smart Communities” plan would increase broadband access in five neighborhoods, including Humboldt Park, Pilsen, Auburn Gresham, Chicago Lawn and Englewood. "Creating broadband infrastructure and access to technology in our neighborhoods is just as important to cities in the 21st century as paving streets, building water systems, utility systems were in the 19th and 20th century," Daley declared Monday at a news conference in Chicago Lawn with Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski. According to the paper, Hewlett-Packard is already scheduled to install 40 touch-screen computer kiosks in these neighborhoods. The mayor’s plan depends on getting stimulus money from the federal government.


West African junta labeled “criminals”

Guinea’s leaders may have committed a “crime against humanity” in the killing or disappearance of 156 people, says a leaked United Nations report. The French newspaper Le Monde quotes a diplomats as saying the government of junta leader Captain Moussa "Dadis" Camara, the army officer who shot him on December 3, Lieutenant Abubakar "Toumba" Diakite, and Guinea's anti-drug boss, Commander Moussa Thegboro Camara, bear "individual criminal responsibility" for the events of September 28 and the days following. The West African regime sealed off the exits during a peaceful rally in a soccer stadium that was called to demand a return to civilian rule and fired on unarmed civilians. Hundreds of protestors were beaten and many women raped and mutilated in the aftermath.
The junta has insisted only 57 people were killed and has denied all acts of rape or sexual violence. Capt. Camara was flown to Morocco for treatment after the shooting and his condition is unknown. The 60-page UN report was sent to the Security Council, Guinea's government, the African Union and the Economic Community of West African States.