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Clearing the Air on Climate Change

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(NNPA) In response to a commentary I wrote, I received a note the other day from a reader. Among other things they were most concerned about what they believed to have been the dismissal of those who challenge the very notion of climate change. As far as this reader was concerned, there are all sorts of people who have questioned climate change, so the matter is up in the air, so to speak.

What is critical for us all to understand is that the preponderance of the evidence indicates that climate change is underway. Many people have gotten confused because of the usage of the term “global warming,” thinking that this means that the Earth is turning into a desert. When they see snow storms they conclude that global warming cannot possibly be happening.

“Climate change” is underway. We all, actually, know that. One example that scientists warned of was the development of extreme weather. The hurricane that hit the New York/New Jersey area is one example of that, but so too are the droughts that we have been experiencing in the Midwest, the increasingly warmer summers, the winters that have started to feel like springs, and, yes, the very odd snow storms. There are, of course, other examples of climate change, such as the melting of the polar icecaps.

Though it is factually correct that the climate of the Earth has evolved over millions of years, with ice ages and warmer periods, again the evidence points to the increase in the usage of fossil fuels as contributing to what has been described as the “greenhouse effect.” In other words, even if you were to assume that the human contribution to climate change was minimal, you would still be faced with a reality that has profound implications on how we live.

What the reader who commented on my column missed is that the fact that there are many people who disagree on the very existence of climate change means little. The question is more what does the evidence show? What is the balance of opinion among reputable scientists on the question of climate change? It is important to keep in mind that to this day there are those who assert that the world is flat and that what appears to be a curved Earth is nothing more than an illusion! While everyone is entitled to their beliefs, the fact that someone believes something that is unsubstantiated (and sometimes irrational) does not mean that it needs to be respected at the level of policy.

I sit here writing this commentary during a week when the temperature has dropped to the low 20s. What is odd is not that fact, but that most of the winter so far has been above normal in temperature. While many of us have enjoyed the more pleasant weather, to be honest, it has me very nervous because we all know that it is not supposed to be this way.

Let’s start looking at the evidence rather than listening to the commentators on many of these right-wing talk radio shows who seem to want to keep us in an ignorant bliss. The reality is that there are things that we can do about climate change IF, and only if we act now.

[Note: for more information on this, please check out www.350.org for excellent information and suggestions on what needs to be done.]

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. You can follow him at www.billfletcherjr.com.

Children Must Stop Dying from Gun Violence

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By Marian Wright Edelman
NNPA Columnist

(NNPA) On Saturday, January 26, I was part of the March on Washington for Gun Control. We called on members of Congress and state legislators to pass common sense gun safety laws to stop the epidemic of preventable child and adult gun deaths. Others were marching in Boston, San Francisco, Chicago, San Antonio, Jersey City, and in communities across the country.

Grassroots groups came together in the wake of the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. Mothers and fathers, grandparents, pastors, gun violence survivors, law enforcement officers, elected officials, child advocates, and everyone who believes that our children’s right to live, learn and grow up safely must be protected before guns, must not stop marching, calling, writing, and visiting and holding our political leaders accountable. We must vote them out if they do not act to end the preventable and immoral loss of child and human lives and honor what most Americans want and our children need.

A new Gallup poll shows that most Americans support universal background checks for gun buyers, a ban on assault weapons, limiting ammunition magazines to 10 rounds or less, and other proposals in President Obama’s plan to reduce gun violence. It will be a formidable fight to achieve these essential steps but we can and will succeed if all of us raise an irresistible and unrelenting voice in every state in the weeks and months to come, and for as long as it takes.

Don’t let anyone tell you current gun safety regulations are working just fine. They aren’t. The massacre at Sandy Hook woke up many Americans to the epidemic of gun violence which has snuffed out the lives of 148,000 children since 1968 – this is the equivalent of 7,400 classrooms of 20 children and teens. Every 30 minutes a child or teen is shot in the United States. Every 3 hours and 15 minutes a child dies from gun violence. It’s time to say “no more.”

Epidemic gun violence against children—and its toll on all who live in the United States—is a uniquely American phenomenon. In 2010, the U.S. gun death rate— homicides, suicides, and accidents—for children and teens was nearly 65 times higher than the rates in the United Kingdom and Germany and 108 times higher than in Spain. The U.S. gun homicide rate for children and teens was 106 times higher than the rate in Germany and 213 times higher than the rates in Spain and the United Kingdom.

The reason gun deaths are a huge epidemic in the United States is simple: it’s the guns and the permissive gun laws that protect them. In a 2007 study of 178 countries by the Geneva-based Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, the U.S. ranked number one in the number of guns per person (88.8 per 100), far ahead of all the other countries in the study. Yemen was a distant runner-up with 55 guns per 100 people, 40 percent less than the U.S. rate.

Although the U.S. accounts for less than five percent of the global population, Americans own an estimated 35 to 50 percent of all civilian-owned guns in the world. Between 270-300 million guns are in civilian hands in the U.S. – nearly one gun for every man, woman, and child. Our nation is saturated with guns and the National Rifle Association wants more and more.

We can free our nation of this scourge of gun violence. No external enemy ever took the lives of so many children and adults. We can and must change this. I am confident that most Americans value children’s safety and right to live more than they value the right of anyone to have assault weapons and high capacity ammunition magazines. If America can’t stand up for its children, it doesn’t stand for anything.

Marian Wright Edelman is president of the Children’s Defense Fund whose Leave No Child Behind® mission is to ensure every child a Healthy Start, a Head Start, a Fair Start, a Safe Start and a Moral Start in life and successful passage to adulthood with the help of caring families and communities. For more information go to www.childrensdefense.org.

Drones: Warfare of the Video Age

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(NNPA) Drone warfare is truly the warfare of the videogame age. The ‘pilot’ sits behind a panel, miles away from a flying machine that contains no human being. Through cameras and various forms of sensing equipment they direct the drone to the location where it will carry out reconnaissance and/or a missile strike. And then, in the case of a missile strike, presto, the target vanishes!

There are many problems with this entire scenario. Drone warfare, particularly the manner in which it is played up in the media, leads one to believe that war is now easy and relatively painless, at least for those operating the drones. Yet, the accolades for drones ignore a few things, such as, what if the wrong target is hit? What if there is a mistake?

None of this is abstract. Drone warfare, whether carried out in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, or any number of other places, has brought with it an extensive amount of what is politely called “collateral damage.” The estimates of the number of civilians killed in drone strikes range significantly from 200 – 600 for the first years of the Obama administration. Yet each time that we hear about these drone strikes, we are informed, through the mainstream media, that another “militant” has been eliminated. The reality is that we, the public, really do not know who has been killed.

There is one thing that we do know and it has been documented. The drone strikes in the Afghanistan/Pakistan war have turned populations against the U.S.A. The hatred of the U.S.A. in Pakistan is now almost legendary. While we hear about the ‘pilots’ directing the drones from the security of buildings miles away, civilians in places like Afghanistan and Pakistan are often fearful of where they walk, not knowing whether a drone thousands of feet in the air, will mis-identify them as a terrorist, and as a consequence, eliminate them.

The Obama administration seems almost impervious to criticisms of its drone campaigns. For too many people of the U.S.A., drone warfare is an acceptable approach to the ugliness and confusion of the alleged war against terror. As a result, there is so little pressure on the administration. As has been demonstrated repeatedly since the end of the Vietnam War, when the body bags are not returning to the U.S.A., it is easy for most people here to believe that there is no crisis; there is no war. From the standpoint of those in the countries where the drones are deployed, there is a very different story.

As we learned in the aftermath of both the Gulf War of 1991 and the Iraq War of 2003, hi-tech warfare is far less accurate and ‘clean’ than it appears when watching selected clips on television. In viewing missile strikes on television we do not see the families blown apart or the survivors crying hysterically. All we actually hear is a number, that is, the number of alleged terrorists supposedly taken out.

We are then asked to go to sleep.

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. Follow him at www.billfletcherjr.com.

The 'D' is Silent – Django Unchained

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By Linda Tarrant-Reid
Special to the NNPA from The Westchester County Press

(NNPA) I went to see Quentin Tarantino’s latest film Django Unchained with some trepidation. I had no idea what kind of movie-going experience I was in for. I heard about the slavery – the whippings, the killings and the overall brutality. I also heard about the liberal use of the n-word which always gets my back up. I saw Spike Lee’s declaration on YouTube when asked about the film, he said “I can’t speak on it because I’m not gonna see it…It would be disrespectful to my ancestors to see that film…I can’t disrespect my ancestors.”

For those who are not familiar with the story, it is quintessential Quentin! The film has lots of blood and gore against a backdrop of cheeky dialogue, pop culture idioms and a slammin’ soundtrack.

Django Unchained, which is executive produced by Black producer/director Reginald Hudlin, and stars Jamie Foxx, Leonardo DiCaprio, Christoph Waltz, Samuel L. Jackson and Kerry Washington, has characters that are larger than life and some may say, a story larger than history. Extrapolated from or inspired by the 1966 spaghetti western Django starring Franco Nero (who has a small role in the film), which had nothing to do with slavery, Director Tarantino has re-imagined the storyline into a love story between a recently freed enslaved man searching for his enslaved wife set in the pre-Civil War South.

It’s a movie that has everyone talking about slavery and the love story between Foxx and Washington. At its core Django is an old fashion western complete with two strangers, Christoph Waltz as Dr. King Schultz and Jamie Foxx as Django, who ride into town and cause mayhem during their brief visit as they search for the beautiful Broomhilda (Kerry Washington). The twist is that Dr. Schultz, a bounty hunter, purchases Django to help him find some murderers who have a bounty on their heads in exchange for his freedom.

In a contentious January 10 interview on Britain’s Channel 4 with journalist Krishnan Guru-Murthy, Tarantino addressed the questions of why slavery and why a western. He responded by saying that he wanted to make a movie to “give Black American males a western hero, a cool folkloric hero that could actually be empowering.” When pressed about the controversy over the film, Quentin went on to say that he loves the discourse and that the film is “creating a nice debate…there is actually a dialogue going on about slavery right now that hasn’t been happening, at all…and now because of this movie people aren’t afraid to talk about it [slavery].”

The interviewer attempted to box Tarantino into a corner by asking him about all the violence in his movies, including Django. His response was that his movie dealt with the holocaustic aspects of the institution of slavery in America and that had never been done before. And slavery was a violent institution and in his film the agenda was payback, blood for blood.

Make no mistake, Django Unchained is a movie, an epic movie. It is entertainment, not a historic depiction of the horrific institution of slavery. There is no way on earth that a nearly 3-hour film could capture the anguish, pain, brutality and the dislocation, degradation and destruction of the millions of Africans who were transported to North America from Africa during the 17th and 18th century. Starting a dialogue is important and necessary to forge an understanding between races of folks. By putting slavery on the silver screen, a subject that has been hidden away, swept under the rug and distorted by storytellers, Django has started a conversation about a period of our history that has been taboo for far too long.

Linda Tarrant-Reid is an author, historian and photographer. Herlated book is Discovering Black America: From the Age of Exploration to the Twenty-First Century. Visit her blog at, www.discoverblackus.com. Send your comments to Linda Tarrant-Reid, c/o The Westchester County Press, P.O. Box 152, White Plains, N.Y. 10602.

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.

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