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Those Hidden Cell Phone Taxes

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(NNPA) Governments – federal through local – are run by revenue. The source for their revenue is taxation. Their management is best when the revenue is low and worse when there is too much revenue. Too much revenue breeds corruption, waste, ineptness and disorder. That is why the last stimulus we had was a total failure. There was just too much money being manipulated and the nation did not improve at all. I want to discuss one of the stealth ways that government uses to stick us up for more taxation.

The subtle way of revenue raising is the cell phone taxes. From the federal government down to your local town, governments are taking advantage of the popularity and success of our wireless devices. To tax cell phones is bad enough but the salt going into the wound is the fact that they are continuing to rise. According to economist Scott Mackey, “a recent study shows that the average American wireless consumer now pays 17.18 percent in monthly wireless taxes and fees. That’s up from 16.26 percent since the last time he looked at these numbers in 2010.

That means that for your wireless service every month, you’re paying a tax rate nearly two and a half times higher than the average general sales tax rate (7.33 percent) that you’d pay if you bought another taxable good or service. Yes, there are 47 states where wireless users like you are being hit by federal, state, and local governments with excessive taxes and fees.

There has been a noble attempt to stop this madness. The Wireless Tax Fairness Act was introduced in the House of Representatives by Representatives Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif) and Trent Franks (R-Arizona). If passed, this bill would prohibit any local and state governments from adding any more taxes on wireless users for five years. It sailed through the House (230 co-sponsors and unanimous voice vote) and was picked in the Senate by Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) and Olympia Snowe (R-Maine). However, our do nothing Senate has it stalled in the Senate Finance Committee. Somehow we have got to get moving again.

What are some of the ways to hit us up with these taxes?

The big one is the Universal Service Fund. According to State Tax Notes: “The federal USF is administered by the Federal Communication Commission, with open-ended authority from Congress. The program subsidizes telecommunication services for schools, libraries, hospitals, and rural telephone companies operating in high-cost areas.” You pays a rate of 5.82 percent of your monthly wireless bill. Now, some states are starting to charge a State Universal Service Fund in addition to all other taxes that are assessed.

Some states assess a Telecommunication Relay Services fee, TRS, which helps fund services for people with disabilities via devices such as talking phones and digital communication services. According to State Tax Notes: “Most states impose 911 fees to fund capital expenses for the 911 system, and in some cases the fees fund 911 operations as well.”

Some examples of how states and local governments hit you up: California (local utility user tax, state 911, PUC fee, ULTS (lifeline), deaf/CRS, high cost funds A and B, teleconnect fund, CASF-advanced services fund); New York (state sales tax, local sales taxes, MCTD sales tax, state excise tax, MCTD excise surcharge-186e, local utility gross receipts tax, state wireless 911, local wireless 911, MCTD surcharge-184, NY franchise tax-184, school district utility sales tax); Nebraska (state sales tax, local sales tax, city business and occupation tax, state USF, Wireless 911, TRS). As you can see various forms of government are choosing to get in on the hustle. We must find a way to stop this madness as it does nothing to improve the “business” of governing.

The most expensive place to have a cell phone is Nebraska which has a total of 24.49 percent of taxes assessed to your monthly bill. That is almost a dollar out of every four dollars on your bill. Nebraska is closely followed by Washington, New York, Florida, Illinois, Rhode Island, Missouri, Pennsylvania and Maryland. These taxes should not be there. They are there because we don’t have any outrage as they subtlety tack them to our phone charges. Most of us think it is the phone company charging us and not local, state and federal politicians hitting us up. We get mad at T-Mobile, Sprint, AT&T, Verizon, etc. But it is not them but politicians hiding behind their “cover.”

Let’s start doing something about this. Tell your politicians “enough already!” Taxation in America is as bad as a European nation. They jump into your pay check big time while find sneaky ways to chip away at your wallet. As President Jefferson once said, “A government that governs least governs best.”

Harry C. Alford is the Co-Founder, President/CEO of the National Black Chamber of Commerce®. Website: www.nationalbcc.org. Email: halford@nationalbcc.org.

"All My Babies Mamas" and other Insults

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By James Clingman
NNPA Columnist

(NNPA) The latest negative programming coming from the dominant media is a ridiculous show about a Black guy who has 11 children by 10 different women. “All My Babies Mamas” was planned for the coming season, but now it may be completely scrubbed, mainly because of a sister, Sabrina Lamb, sent out a petition protesting the show in the most serious manner. I say kudos to Ms. Lamb and others who have spoken out against this nonsensical and degrading show; I wish the same fate for some of those other so-called reality shows.

You can do your own research on the content and intent of the show if you are interested in that sort of thing. For now, I want to talk about the economic implications of it. As you should well know, beneath everything lies economics. First off, we know that no profit-minded business person would intentionally insult its customers by doing something to drive them away, right? So why would Oxygen Media even attempt to put this show on the air? For that matter, why do any of the other networks put the same kind of insulting and demeaning shows on the air?

That answer is quite simply: “Profit.” If we were not watching these stupid shows and not salivating for more and more outlandish depictions of Black folks on TV, they’d all be gone tomorrow. We love this stuff, and the producers are staying up at night trying to develop more. While we may complain about how they disrespect us (Or is it really how we disrespect ourselves?) we will jump on whatever bandwagon that comes along, no matter the content. So it’s certainly no surprise that Oxygen decided to put “Babies Mamas” on the air because they think it’s what we want to watch.

I recently read about two Black radio stations, one that’s been around for more than 42 years, that were bought by Koreans and the stations went from soul music to Seoul music overnight. Remember, it’s all about the money, and as Nino Brown once said, “It’s not personal, it’s business.”

The Black consumer market is a veritable goldmine, and it seems everyone knows that but Black folks, at least everyone profits from it except Black folks. This latest insult by the media reminds me of an article I wrote a few years ago, “The Answer to Media Bias is Media By Us.” Until we decide to do what Sabrina Lamb and others are doing, and until we mount a concerted and sustained effort against our own “ignant” brothers and sisters who perpetuate the “baby mama” and “baby daddy” nonsense, we will always be nothing more than profit margins for the latest fads and any stupid TV show that comes along.

Ownership is the key. Media owned by us, and by “us” I mean conscious brothers and sisters who will not stoop to producing the trash we see now, is the appropriate response to the trash we see and hear in the media today. If you don’t own anything, you are always at the mercy – and the whims – of those who do.

As you read this, Bob Law, noted radio talk show host and one of the most informed brothers in the industry, is mounting a campaign to bring Black radio back up to the level of respect and intelligence it once knew. He writes, “In our initiative there are two levels of responsibility, holding corporations responsible for the inequality that contributes to the conditions in Black communities, and the Black community’s responsibility to change and correct those conditions.”

So always remind yourself of the role we play in the media, especially on the negative side. If we would not accept the trash they throw at us, it would not be thrown at us. If we stand up and let corporations and media outlets know that we will use our collective economic leverage against them by withdrawing our money from their products and refusing to watch and listen to their nonsense, we would at least have a fighting chance to change things in our favor.

You can start by signing Sabrina Lamb’s petition and the online petition that change.org is circulating. Then you can turn all that mess off your TV’s and radios. You will notice that I have not even mentioned the guy’s name that has all the babies by all the “mamas.” That’s another step we can take. Don’t even give the recognition of calling their names. And always remember, “It’s not personal, it’s just business.”

Jim Clingman, founder of the Greater Cincinnati African American Chamber of Commerce, is the nation’s most prolific writer on economic empowerment for Black people. He is an adjunct professor at the University of Cincinnati and can be reached through his Web site, blackonomics.com.

Influencing Barack Obama's Second Act

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(NNPA) There is a different feel in the air, and it should not be surprising. As historic as was the re-election of President Obama, nothing can replace the uniqueness of the opening of his first term four years ago. The expectations; the history that was made; the level of excitement…it was all too impossible to replicate.

The November 2012 re-election of the president, nevertheless, was a remarkable feat. Taking place during a time of war and economic crisis against a very well-funded opponent, combined with the Republican use of voter suppression efforts in many states, victory was far from assured. The forces of irrationalism were blunted in their tracks, however, at least for the moment.

Yet, as we approach Inauguration there are important concerns. In the ‘fiscal cliff’ negotiations, President Obama, despite the public being on his side, once again displayed his tendency towards what I would call over-compromising, a reluctance to engage in hard-bargaining and a tendency to blink at the wrong time. Yes, things could have been worse, but that does not mean that they went well.

Beyond the fiscal cliff there are other issues facing us: climate change; turmoil in the Middle East; the continued war in Afghanistan, the threat of war with Iran; and, obviously, the economy. On each of these issues and more, we should not assume – in fact, we cannot assume – that President Obama will be on the right side. The drone strikes in Pakistan continue, for instance, and so too do the attacks on civil liberties at home.

The question, then, is, what should we expect over the next four years? The answer actually depends on us much more than it does on President Obama. In the fiscal cliff negotiations, we saw what happens without us: the wrong compromises are made in the name of bi-partisanship. The problem is that Obama cannot be bi-partisan if the other side is being fanatically partisan. Such attempts appear to be surrender rather than responsible diplomacy.

Thus, the real answer to what to expect over the next four years comes down to two very different and clear scenarios: One, in the absence of pressure, the administration will offer wonderful rhetoric as it continues to retreat, or, two, the administration will be compelled to shift gears and fulfill the mandate that it received from the decisive November election as a result of pressure that it receives from people like us.

In case you missed this, the administration can only be compelled through mass action. That means more than emails and phone calls, but instead public displays of protest – boots on the ground. In addition, when we have Republicans in Congress who, due to gerrymandering, have districts that are solidly Republican and, thus, they have little fear of any electoral challenge, the only thing that will shake them up is if society is a bit shaken.

One thing that we do not need is to find ourselves, four years from now, asking why we did not do more when we had the chance. If we miss the moment, we may not have additional chances.

Bill Fletcher, Jr. is a Senior Scholar with the Institute for Policy Studies, the immediate past president of TransAfrica Forum, and the author of “They’re Bankrupting Us” – And Twenty Other Myths about Unions. He can be reached at papaq54@hotmail.com.

Falling Through the Crack in Brazil

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(NNPA) It started in the jungles of the Amazon and is now infesting the streets of the favelas (ghettos) of Sao Paolo and Rio de Janeiro. Crack addiction is out of control in Brazil. In fact, Brazilians are the biggest consumers of crack and cocaine in the whole world. Keep in mind that Brazil has more than 100 million Black citizens, making it second only to Nigeria in Black population. That is two and a half times the Black population of the United States. How this has come to be is mysterious. But one thing is for sure – it predominantly affects the Black populace of this nation. It also reminds us of the targeted assault of crack on our own Black population.

Brazil is a former colony of Portugal. The Portuguese took a ship full of African slaves to the Vatican. They were seeking the Pope’s blessing. He received the slaves and blessed what the Portuguese were about to do. Thus, the greatest holocaust in history – Trans-Atlantic African slavery was begun. Portugal claimed Brazil in the year 1500 and the first slaves were delivered in 1525. There are villages in southeastern Brazil where the villagers still speak their native African languages. Unlike the United States, which went through a civil war and reconstruction for the immersion of Africans into the general population, Brazil and other South American nations ended slavery during the 1880s abruptly and had no transition for the newly freed Blacks.

This nation tries to hide its Blackness. They are officially in denial about disparity. Blacks are 52 percent of the population but, in a nation where voting is mandatory, Blacks are less than 10 percent of the elected officials. They have no economic base and any Black celebrity such as an athlete, singer or actor is expected to marry someone White. It reminds me of that old rock tune “All They Want to do is Dance.” Some day there is going to be a struggle in this predominantly Black nation.

How is cocaine being brought into this large nation? I have read various articles about the situation but no one seems to identify the source. It could be using the model of the United States. The difference is the trafficking started in the rural areas in Brazil with the cities being the final market.

The CIA wanted to fund a revolution in Nicaragua and were denied by Congress. Thus, they came up with a funding scheme. They would introduce crack to Black neighborhoods in the United States and come up with quick cash to buy arms for its rebels. They recruited a bright, entrepreneurial middle class guy living in Los Angeles by the name of Ricky Donnell Ross. Rick Ross put the first crack house in America at 69th and Hoover. That was eleven blocks south of my Aunt Lula’s home. His distribution source would be two fledgling gangs: Crips and Bloods. Los Angeles always had gangs. But they were social units like the Slausons, Business Men and Del Vikings. These new groups are murdering machines and would soon infest the entire nation with the crack plague. In the end, Rick Ross had mastered a $600 million enterprise and only had to do 14 years in prison. The damage done by this CIA-sponsored activity was very serious and it is still having a detrimental affect on our society.

The addiction level in Brazil is raging into a severe fury. No one seems to know how it is coming into the nation. Ha! Like the United States there is some level of official cooperation. The United States would use two major street gangs. The Brazilians have three gangs running their operation. There is a lack of much police activity. The only official activity to stop this plague is the social work industry. People will visit these “crack lands” that are located near favelas and try to convince addicts to enter rehab. They are basically ignored. Very rarely will you see police or military trying to suppress the drug activity.

These gangs operate with impunity within the favelas. They are more like the local government and organized crime can flourish within their territories. Brazil is known for its corruption at all levels and the crack business seems to have found very friendly territory. We, in the Black Diaspora, should not be quiet about this. There are evil people profiting off the misery of Black folk and where is the outrage? The government has announced that it will fund $2.2 billion for further rehab and education efforts but that probably will do nothing to stop the rise in addiction. A very large Black population is at risk and the world seems to ignore it.

Harry C. Alford is the co-founder, President/CEO of the National Black Chamber of Commerce®. Website: www.nationalbcc.org. Email: halford@nationalbcc.org.

Oliver Stone's Breakthrough Documentary on U.S. History

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(NNPA) I could not believe that I was actually seeing what I was seeing. I had heard about Oliver Stone’s 10-part documentary regarding contemporary U.S. history. I am not sure what I expected to see, but what I actually viewed was almost breathtaking. The documentary, titled the “Untold History of the United States” [http://www.sho.com/sho/oliver-stones-untold-history-of-the-united-states/home], is almost a visual version of Howard Zinn’s People’s History of the United States. As such it demystifies post-World War II U.S. history in a manner that I have not seen in the mainstream.

In mainstream settings we are taught about World War II and its aftermath as if it were a straight moral course taken by the USA. By way of example, consider the dropping of the atomic bombs on Japan in August 1945. Most mainstream sources in the USA insist, without question, that the use of the atomic bombs was essential to ending the war without massive U.S. and Japanese casualties. Yet few mainstream sources point to the real fear that the Japanese High Command had: the entry of the Soviet Union into the war and its devastating impact on Japanese troops in Manchuria and Korea (and the possible invasion of Japan by Soviet troops).

Stone presents what can be called a “counter-narrative” through an in depth investigation and use of archival footage leading the viewer to ask a very simple, yet profound question: Was the usage of the atomic bombs aimed at ending World War II or, in the alternative, putting the world on notice—and the Soviet Union in particular—of the power possessed by the USA?

As Stone proceeds, the story becomes more complicated, interesting and certainly eye-opening. The devastating impact of the domestic Cold War on progressive social movements is something with which we live to this day since, as Stone demonstrates, the Cold War anti-communism was not aimed at any alleged ‘communist menace’ but at forces at home that were attempting to deepen the reforms that had started with Franklin Roosevelt’s “New Deal.” In fact, the dominance of the super-rich, the so-called 1 percent, illuminated by the Occupy Movement, is in many ways the direct outgrowth of the blunting of movements for social justice first during the early Cold War, and then later in the 1970s and1980s; in the last case with a new and different form of repression.

Stone’s Untold History of the United States not only needs to be viewed, but more importantly, discussed. The one hour segments lend themselves to useful discussion, whether in a classroom setting or a living room setting.

Let’s start by spreading the word. This is one documentary that we cannot afford to have hushed up or brushed aside.

Bill Fletcher, Jr. is a Senior Scholar with the Institute for Policy Studies, the immediate past president of TransAfrica Forum, and the author of “They’re Bankrupting Us” – And Twenty Other Myths about Unions. He can be reached at papaq54@hotmail.com.

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