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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.

"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.

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