Sunday, May 31, 2015

Larry Davis: A Modern Day Anti-Hero

There is not one big Black nigger alive who has confronted law enforcement and lived to talk about it. Wait a minute now. There once lived an unlikely folk hero named Larry Davis from the boogie down Bronx who not only confronted but shot six White cops on a frigid Nov. 19, 1986 evening. Davis was out of control, and also out of his mind. But to us, he was a bona fide “revolutionary”-in-training.
We do not often get to pick our heroes most of whom are deeply flawed, complex and, often, conflicted characters that nonetheless manage by a quirk of fate to become an agent of change, catalyst for revolution, at an exact moment in time. Like El Hajj Malik El Shabazz better known as Malcolm X, Davis who changed his name to Adam Abdul-Hakeem in 1989, was a gun toting, drug dealing, high school dropout. By all objective accounts, Davis’ drug trade was supplied by crooked cops who stole, beat, shot and set up other dealers. There is no honor among thieves, though.
Davis promptly cheated these rogue cops out of their share of the drug money. They came after him with murderous intent. In an unusual turn of events, Davis successfully fended off what was most certainly going to become another “justifiable homicide” of a small time, Black hoodlum. Using a cache of small arms he had secreted in a sister’s apartment, Davis shot it out OK corral style with nine crooked cops in a blaze of over 150 shots between them making his escape through an adjoining apartment window near the shootout at 1231 Fulton Avenue and 168th Street, in Morrisania. New Yorkers sat riveted, rapturously watching events unfold like a prequel to “Empire” as Davis eluded capture - a massive manhunt  - for the next 17 days spearheaded by NYC's "finest." 
Virtually all majority owned print and television outlets conspicuously downplayed the police corruption angle from the very start shifting the onus for the gun battle entirely to Davis contending he was a violent thug. There is not a single person living in Morrisania who does not know at least one brutal, crooked cop. Here you can reasonably substitute that section of the Bronx for any other Ghetto in the United States. 
Fed up with over policing in which insensitive, prejudiced cops occupy minority communities employing terroristic tactics in clearly questionable police involved killings of Black and brown people invariably deemed “justifiable,” Black people cheered Davis on much to the chagrin of shocked Whites. The White dominated, establishment media responded predictably en mass writing dozens of frenzied, scathing reports demonizing Davis as a dangerous menace that needed to be put down like a rabid dog, who all along claimed he was being set up by crooked cops, showing how institutional racism works: white folk walk in lockstep, speaking in one cacophonous voice, to protect both their privilege as well as their interest. 
It also demonstrated another truism: whites are in denial about how white supremacy plays out in the Black community. An American investigative reporter for the San Jose Mercury News named Gary Stephen Webb (August 31, 1955 – December 10, 2004) wrote an explosive, provocative exposé that came to be known infamously as the "Dark Alliance" series. The exposé appeared in the Mercury News in 1996, and explored the origins of the crack-cocaine trade in Los Angeles claiming that members of the anti-government Contra rebels in Nicaragua had played a major role in creating the drug trade, using cocaine profits to finance their struggle. 
Webb’s “Dark Alliance” exposé strongly suggested that the Contra rebels acted in complicity with secret agents from the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). “According to Webb, in the 1980s when the CIA exerted a certain amount of control over Contra groups such as the FDN, the agency granted amnesty to and put on the agency’s bankroll important leaders known to be cocaine smugglers. Later, at the behest of Oliver North, the Reagan Administration began to use Contra drug money to support the Nicaraguan rebel’s efforts against the Sandinista government. The Sandinistas were disliked by the administration for their support of “Marxist” revolutions happening throughout Central and South America. 
Oscar Danilo Blandon, a cocaine smuggler who founded an FDN chapter in Los Angeles, was a major supplier for Freeway Ricky Ross. With access to cheap, pure cocaine and the idea to cook the cocaine into crack, Ross established a major drug network and recklessly drove the popularity of crack practically by his lonesome, which devastated entire communities and the families that comprised them. At his peak, Ross was selling $3 million worth of product a day. All the while, Webb alleges, the CIA was supporting the Contras supplying him with the cocaine.” The exposé instigated fury in Los Angeles generally and in the African-American community particularly. 
The damning charges in Webb’s exposé led to four major investigations of the exposé’s charges. The controversy came to a head when the Los Angeles Times and other major papers published articles - par for the course - implying Webb’s charges were fantastic. The resulting claims and counterclaims resulted in push back from vocal Black leaders like Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Cal) accusing the Los Angeles Times and other papers of focusing on editorial issues with the exposé instead of demanding that policymakers and stakeholders hold hearings looking into the questions the exposé raised. Many of Webb's supporters this writer included, while acknowledging errors in the exposé, also believe that the findings of the investigations substantiated Webb's basic thesis. Webb allegedly committed suicide on December 10, 2004 under highly questionable circumstances. 
There have always been deep, nagging suspicions in the progressive, conscious Black community of government sponsored pacification programs fueled by drugs to tamp down dissent in the wake of unrest prompted by assassinations of charismatic, influential Black leaders. These concerns have been dismissed out-of-hand by the majority media as unprovable conspiracy theories.

Nevertheless, in the immediate aftermath of the King assassination in April of 1968, drugs flooded virtually every urban area of this country launching a heroin epidemic that lasted almost twenty years causing wholesale destruction of families, which destroyed famous Black communities such as Harlem in New York City's Manhattan. Harlem had started to rebound just before the latest drug fueled [crack cocaine] epidemic mysteriously hit these same beleaguered communities twenty years later in the 1980s corresponding precisely to Abdul-Hakeem’s rise to infamy.
So the smoking gun - as evidence of this conspiracy - was quite literally in Abdul-Hakeem’s hands dramatized by an improbable shootout with rogue cops who were peddling death and destruction in our community instead of protecting and serving in bed with the intelligence community to quell resistance to economic inequality, criminal injustice, and racism that relentlessly plagues these Ghettos. Abdul-Hakeem was killed on Thursday, February 21, 2008 in a knife fight with another inmate at Shawangunk Correctional Facility in New York where he was serving a life sentence for murder the authorities were finally able to make stick. It does not close a sordid chapter of another failed revolution or revolutionary, but remains a compelling story in our quest for self-determination, economic equity and justice.






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Thursday, May 28, 2015

The Cultural Side of Economic Inequality

The debate swirling about income inequality reflects a tension drawn on simplistic conclusions from discredited conservative talking points, which upon deeper reflection are little more than cheap potshots against the “welfare state.” This flock of canards detracts us away from obvious truths. The Republicans and Democrats are flip sides of the same coin. And the body politic is rife with unbridled corruption by both.
A more important issue that is sadly missed in flawed analyses by both liberals and conservatives is a race and class divide that pits poor and working class Whites against working and middle class Blacks, who should be natural allies. They have more in common than not. Case in point, Scott Walker in Wisconsin was allowed free reign to engage in union busting activities by unilaterally eliminating collective bargaining for public sector workers.
Instead of working class Whites joining in the campaign to oust Scott, they cynically voted against their own best interest enviously figuring they did not enjoy what they mistakenly perceived as overly generous benefit packages and competitive salaries that some public sector workers did (interestingly, a labor pool where Blacks are over-represented), why should they care about collective bargaining.
Emboldened by Walker’s success, which was funded in large measure by rich vested interests through various PACS, Kasich in Ohio and Rick Snyder of Michigan both attempted to enact and push through similar legislation in their home states. Fortunately for public sector workers in those states, both Kasich and Snyder were soundly defeated.
Historically, union success in collective bargaining benefited all workers. However, this oligarchy cleverly employed an old divide and conquer strategy to prevent these two groups from aligning, effectively leveraging their resources to push back against race-to-the-bottom type wage concessions.
Through conservative think tanks hawking policy papers couching a conservative agenda in a far more palatable libertarian perspective, White working class Americans have for 40 years been indoctrinated by a false narrative vilifying the Social Security Act of 1935 as a communist inspired social experiment all dressed up in socialist garb, which was successfully expanded under every subsequent Democratic administration except Clinton's. Social engineering in the form of entitlements (read that: "hand-outs") had run its course. And these programs now needed to be reigned in under the guise of balancing the budget right on the backs of those least able to sustain such a devastating blow.
We have always had income redistribution in one form or the other in this country. Eliminating already slashed-to-the-bone entitlement programs funded by the Social Security Act would cause immense hardship for many vulnerable populations lacking the means to share resources or resources to stave off inflation, health care, energy and food costs, and daycare - all of the programs that are subsidized by the so-called "welfare state."
Widespread elimination of collective bargaining would have a similar disastrous effect in driving down wages, allowing employers to terminate employment with little or no cause, which would also be an unintended consequence of creating a hostile work environment, and increased participation costs for fringe benefits. We see significant evidence of worker protection erosion by looking at discouraging employment data from “right-to-work” states.
So, discussing economic inequality from a purely political perspective overly simplifies a complex problem, which is that Whites - especially males - are more concerned with being card carrying members of the White race than they are with realigning their worldview to appreciate that a rising tide lifts all boats... 
The documentary 740 Park Avenue illustrates this fact poignantly by virtue of exposing certain economic truths - e.g., Powell Memo - hitherto unknown to many folks. It reads like a manifesto to concentrate wealth in the hands of very few: an outrageously wealthy oligarchy who have methodically rigged the game against the average Joe who still naïvely buys into the individualistic, "lone hero" ethos characterized in Toni Morrison's classic 1997 novel "Paradise," which is an intrinsic component of the American psyche.
It is a spurious rallying cry that heroically calls us to pull "yourself up by your bootstraps…" "America is the land of opportunity..." We hardly have any bootstraps left, frayed as they have become - practically threadbare - from futilely trying to do so. 
Through an insidious strategy, really brilliant political maneuvering using Powell’s memo as a blueprint, a very small group of exceptionally wealthy people have taken a huge piece of the American pie leaving virtually nothing but crumbs for everyone else successfully masking the illusion that there is still something left for the average American.
The rich have gotten richer decimating the middle class in the process, while the have not’s, have practically nothing now... All the while in an ostentatious display of conspicuous consumption the top 1% of the 1% amasses more palatial estates, real estate holdings, investments, luxury vehicles, yachts, and jets. White males, who tend to vote overwhelmingly Republican, vicariously look on likened to a child outside of a candy shop irrationally believing social mobility exists because they are of course “White”.
They lash out angrily in frustration at groups that should be their natural allies when reality hits home. Race means a great deal, but class even more. The top 1% of the 1% (laughing all the way to the bank at the collective ignorance and naiveté) cynically exploits this racism, which is aggravated by parochialism knowing that this largely male group encouraged by White privilege can be easily duped because they vote aspirationally, not reasonably. The growth of the “Tea Party,” “take back my country” movement, huge mid-term defeats in 2010 and 2014 speak loudly to this disturbing trend.
News flash: Koch & Ilk hardly empathizes or identifies with working or even middle class Whites. It is counterintuitive. If they did they would not continue vehemently opposing a jobs bill proposed by Pres. Obama. It is an initiative similar in size and scope to Roosevelt's "New Deal" WPA providing "shovel ready" jobs benefiting a huge swath of down-on-their-luck working and middle class Whites - as well as Blacks and other Americans - by repairing a deteriorating infrastructure, which is crumbling all around us. America is becoming a third rate if not third world power as a direct consequence. Our infrastructure used to be the envy of the world, now it lags near the bottom.
But this same group demands approval of the Keystone pipeline, which would (contrary to their claims sell extracted crude oil on an open market) add very few jobs in comparison. But it would instantly impact their bottom lines. A jobs bill would not. Approving the pipeline would hold out the potential to do considerable environmental damage when - not if - a pipe bursts releasing thousands of gallons of highly toxic, viscous tar sands that would be virtually impossible to clean up contaminating the ground water in the affected area for a millennia leaving it uninhabitable with countless displaced residents uncompensated.
It is why I read with dismay writers who insist on coming at this issue from a purely political perspective. It is disingenuous. They know it.  The problem is socio-cultural with a generous dollop of venality thrown in for extra measure and, as such, can only be remediated by socio-cultural solutions. It is why I am not as fixated on politics, a given party, or anything but the "big picture," which is inevitable revolution. (“Let them eat cake…”)
If policy makers and stakeholders continue to wholesale our body politic with these compromised and, thereby, co-opted brought lock, stock and barrel politicos, we will have revolution in this country. Corrupt, venal demagogues are deeply in the pockets of special interests - i.e., lobbyists - paid for by the ultra-rich to promote their selfish interests driving us headlong like mindless lemmings toward the edge of a steep cliff. 
We see evidence of this inevitability playing out daily with rioting and social unrest in Baltimore recently capturing the nation's eye for a three week news cycle with the promise of more violence simmering restlessly in other disaffected communities throughout the country. 
We have to outlaw lobbying - Citizens United notwithstanding. It incentivizes corruption that inhibits the little man from getting a fair shake. Insurers use to only be allowed to go back and check your driving record for three years with no credit check. Now they are allowed to go back practically indefinitely using poor credit as a risk indicator to boost your premium - irrespective of the fact you may not have had a chargeable accident ever simply to unethically increase their bottom line with your "profitable account..."
Poor saps caught up in this shell game pay double what they ought to with far less coverage than they would like. This unfair business practice is directly attributable to sold out politicians letting the insurance lobby write minimum qualification standards in legislation lawyers for the insurance lobby actually draft... Here we can comfortably substitute any special interest for "insurance" because all lobbyists engage in the same corrupt practices.
The only way we can push back effectively against this entrenched corruption while leveling the playing field for every American is emblemized by our nation's motto E pluribus Unum. We need to set aside silly cultural differences. Irrelevant social constructs manifesting in White superiority to unite against bogus "job creators": Greedy ass billionaires who have taken America down a ruinous path for their own self-serving ends while finger wagging at critics who see their hegemonic agenda for what it is though they try hypocritically finger pointing at everyone else for the country's slow decline.






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Monday, May 11, 2015

Open Letter To The Rawling's Administration

We submitted a job creation proposal to the City of Baltimore Deputy Mayor for Economic Development on November 19, 2014 (and a few times thereafter). After numerous false starts, the current Rawling’s administration chief of staff finally directed the Deputy Mayor to respond to our proposal. A relatively low level assistant from his office contacted us shortly thereafter asking a series of predictable questions relative to what other organizations we had approached for assistance in Baltimore city.
We declined to answer specifically for obvious reasons but told her generally ‘all the economic development corporations’ encompassing Baltimore. In our experience progressive, fiscally responsible, well managed municipalities practically always entertain and, often, materially assist public-private partnerships that may (but not necessarily) lead to employment opportunities for its residents.
Both the low level functionary as well as the Deputy Mayor stridently insisted on demanding this information before scheduling a meeting as if their time was so invaluable intentionally mischaracterizing our request claiming that it was “extraordinary.” Being in business for well over twenty years, we were stunned because we knew it simply was not true. Cities large and small frequently enter into public-private partnerships to grow jobs. Fast forward, 8 months.
Baltimore erupts into rioting after a young, 25 year old Black man is killed by Baltimore City Police officers who lacked probable cause to stop and arrest him in the first place. An impoverished underclass weary at being victimized by a small violent segment of their community, who the police unfairly generalize to brutalize the remaining law abiding community, had had enough.
The consensus from every segment of the city is that people wanted jobs. Opportunities for upward mobility out of lead ridden, drug and crime drenched, rat, roach and bedbug infested Ghettos that characterize the abysmal mismanagement evident in Baltimore: a major East coast port city that has not been able to monetize that invaluable attribute like its sisters to the north - Philly and NYC - because of corruption, indolence, ineptitude and cronyism. Enter New York City where our home office is located. A city substantially larger than Baltimore with a police force ten (10) times its size as a consequence.
New York City’s Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen for Economic Development is creating a pathway of career success for thousands of local women who come from underserved communities. The new initiative, Women Entrepreneurs NYC, also known as WE NYC, will offer free training and business services to 5,000 female entrepreneurs in the next three years. Offering loan negotiation workshops, connections to capital, pro-bono legal assistance, and navigating government resources, Glen has partnered with the Department of Small Business Services (SBS), Citi and Goldman Sach’s 10,000 Small Business program to help make this new initiative possible.
Under this new partnership, Citi is providing $425,000 to help New York City Housing Authority Residents launch their own business, while Goldman Sach’s will help to educate the entrepreneurs on how to access capital. Grameen America will provide the women with further business-building services and LaGuardia Community College will offer intensive entrepreneurship classes to help the women successfully navigate their way in the marketplace.
The facts are immutable while the contradictions glaring. We do not do business by intimidation. But we are at a crossroads here with federal, state and local leadership that is utterly failing Baltimore city residents. Beyond being businesspersons, we are also vested in this city, have property here, lost a substantial amount of it, and cannot stand by in good faith and allow this mismanagement to continue unfettered negatively impacting our business, the city’s residents, while wholly unconcerned, inept policymakers and out-of-their-depth stakeholders ignore our pleas, insult our intelligence, and continue dissembling: fiddling while [Baltimore] burns.
We have had it. Perhaps our impatience stems from our New York roots where we do not tolerate fools lightly. But never have we seem such incompetence, inconsideration and shameful disregard for the residents of a city in over twenty (20) years in business in some of the worst areas of NYC. We want an investigation into this administration. How these high level policy makers are vetted, recruited and retained.
Baltimore is not a Boy’s club. It is a major American city. The seventh largest in the country and, as such, demands competent leadership. If we as a mature, seasoned business cannot get an audience with persons charged with the mission of expanding economic opportunity and development in Baltimore, need anyone wonder why the city looks like it does? Has the socio-economic issues it does? And residents feel disillusioned and hopeless as they do?
We will make ourselves available to answer questions from the media relative to these charges, which we bring with extreme regret. But fair is fair. And Baltimore – a city we've grown to love – deserves much better innovative, think outside-of-the-box leadership, not wet-behind-the-ears, in-over-their-head arrogant cronies of the current city administration antagonistically calling young, misguided, disaffected students “thugs” on national television…

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