Jon Jeter

International Relations Expert
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JON JETER is a published book author and two-time Pulitzer Prize finalist with more than 20 years of journalistic experience. He is a former Washington Post bureau chief and award-winning foreign correspondent on two continents, as well as a former radio and television producer for Chicago Public Media’s “THIS AMERICAN LIFE.”

Jeter is a Knight Fellowship recipient – Stanford University’s highest professional journalism award — as well as author of FLAT BROKE IN THE FREE MARKET (WW Norton, 2009) and co-author of A DAY LATE AND A DOLLAR SHORT (Wiley & Sons, 2010).

Jon works with both non-profit and for profit brands, utilizing his vast knowledge and experience in web, radio, and television content and production to drive communications strategies and develop stories that highlight the important work of these organizations. He is based out of the San Francisco Bay Area.

Jon Jeter, USA 02/15/2018 0

From Malmstrom AFB to Charlottesville: Racism Metastasizes from Military to the Streets

MALMSTROM AFB, MONTANA — An Air Force Sergeant is under investigation for twice posting racist messages to the Facebook group of the Los Angeles chapter of Black Lives Matter (BLM). It’s the second time in less than a week that a Sergeant in the U.S. Air Force has come under fire for making derogatory remarks about African-Americans on social media.

In the latest incident, a photoshopped photograph from the popular game show Wheel of Fortune shows a puzzle board that reads N_GGERS; underneath is a caption that says “People Who Annoy You.” The photo was posted once on Sunday (Jan. 28) and again on Monday (Jan. 29), and discovered by Thandisizwe Chimurenga, an administrator for BLM’s Los Angeles Facebook group, who is also a writer for MintPress News.

Screenshots from left to right, Staff Sergeant Nicholas Pineda's racist post on BLM Los Angeles' Facebook group, a photo of his Air Force staff sergeant cert., and a photo of Pineda from his Facebook profile.

Screenshots from left to right, Staff Sergeant Nicholas Pineda’s racist post on BLM Los Angeles’ Facebook group, a photo of his Air Force staff sergeant cert., and a photo of Pineda from his Facebook profile.

Chimurenga traced the post to the Facebook page of Staff Sergeant Nicholas Pineda, and filed a written grievance with the USAF via email.

Earlier this week, the New York Post reported that Air Force Tech. Sgt. Geraldine Lovely was removed from her supervisory role at Nellis Air Force base in Las Vegas after posting a video to social media last weekend in which she admonished lower-ranking “black females” for not treating her respectfully.

“They’re talking down to me,” the uniformed Lovely said in the video, which received nearly 2 million views.  “I’m trying to tread lightly as a … higher-ranking [non-commissioned officer] to not blow the fuck up and start a fight club.”

Continuing on, she said:

Why is it that every time I encounter … my subordinates that are black females, they have a giant fucking attitude? Every time I fucking talk to them, it’s like I’m just some fucking stupid-ass girl that doesn’t even … deserve to be talked to as a person.”


(4,600,000+ views) UPDATE: “I’m Maj Chris Sukach, Nellis Public Affairs. This is inappropriate and unacceptable behavior in today’s society & especially for anyone in uniform. Leadership is aware and is taking appropriate action.” WARNING: language in video and context is completely unbecoming of a United States Air Force Non-Commissioned Officer. From Admin: I just received something that has no place in the Air Force. I served over 20 years and will be damned if I let this go without addressing it and leadership better handle this NOW! There is absolutely no place to demean Airmen of any race, let alone do so in uniform. This video and comments are sickening and utterly unbecoming of an NCO in the United States Air Force. I apologize to anyone under her supervision as no one deserves to deal with this ignorance and I assure you that I will not rest until I get confirmation this is handled and I mean handled TONIGHT!From the Inbox: “So this morning she went “live” in the group with the video. Then a few of the African American girls commented how racist she was, so she removed the video. After that, people were still mad so they flooded the anonymous link to the page to complain about TSgt Geraldine Lovely without having to actually confront her. Lovely is an admin of the page so she posted the anonymous complaints in the two posts above. She works at the Nellis AFB Fitness Center.”

Posted by Air Force amn/nco/snco on Sunday, January 28, 2018


The Las Vegas Sun said that the Air Force had expanded the scope of its investigation into Lovely to determine “if this is a broader issue on the base,” according to a statement.

“While the actions of [Lovely] are inappropriate and unacceptable, we are using this unfortunate situation to continue a dialogue with our Airmen about the topic of good order and discipline, as well as adherence to the Air Force Core Values,” the Air Force said.

Chimurenga told MintPress that while the litany of racist remarks posted on social media might resemble high school pranks, it is important not to trivialize them:

They’re not ‘harmless,’ they’re very deliberate. Sending around links to photos of someone getting a watermelon as a gift or being called racial slurs is akin to death by a thousand paper cuts; they’re almost as traumatizing as the videos of Black people being brutalized and murdered by police. They’re tiring and frustrating but they still have to be challenged because, left unchallenged, they kill your soul. These people need to know that they will answer for their actions. Black peoples’ spirit of resistance is very much alive.”

In an emailed response to Chimurenga, Colonel Ronald G. Allen, Commander of the Air Force’s 341st Missile Wing Division wrote:

Thank you for notifying us yesterday regarding the inappropriate social media post made by one of our Airmen. We are taking the appropriate steps to hold this Airman accountable.

Our existing standards of mutual respect apply to social media and electronic communication. The United States Government, the Department of Defense and the Air Force will neither condone nor tolerate unlawful discrimination of any kind. Airmen are accountable for their words and actions, including those conveyed by means of electronic communication.

The Air Force needs to ensure its culture is inclusive, enabling all Airmen to make their greatest contributions to mission success and allowing them to fully engage their talents in solving the complex challenges we face. Equity, dignity, respect, and cooperation among all individuals are essential and expected values for all Malmstrom personnel.”

On Friday a USAF spokeswoman followed up with this email to MintPress:

Senior Airman Nicholas Pineda is assigned to the 341st Missile Wing Staff Agency. SrA Pineda has been at Malmstrom AFB since July 2014. We relied upon the information provided by Thandisizwe Chimurenga and took disciplinary administrative actions to hold SrA Pineda accountable. A military member’s disciplinary administrative history, if one exists, is protected by the Privacy Act of 1974 and is not releasable.”

Jeffrey Smith, a member of Iraqi Veterans for Peace, testified at the 2008 Winter Soldier hearings that “physical force was used on a daily basis,” and Iraqi civilians were sometimes herded, like cattle, into open-air, barbed wire pens that were too small to hold the mass of detainees. Once, he said, he clotheslined an Iraqi truck driver who was merely trying to communicate something to another driver, “and I was congratulated by my unit and told this was exactly the way we should behave.”

Racism is Metastasizing from the US Military and on to Streets

This Sept. 2010 photo shows members of Charlie Company, 1st Reconnaissance Battalion, out of Camp Pendleton, Calif. in Sangin, Helmand province, Afghanistan. The Marine Corps later confirmed that one of its scout sniper teams posed for a photograph in front of a flag with a logo resembling that of the notorious Nazi SS. (AP/knightarmco.com)

Moreover, soldiers desensitized to violence often bring home the racism that was learned or deepened in overseas combat. Anti-apartheid activists note that South Africa’s Eastern Cape region was home to some of the worst racial violence during white-minority rule, including the fatal beating  of Steve Biko (murdered in a police station) and the 1984 slayings of the dissident Matthew Goniwe and three of his comrades in the town of Cradock. Many attribute that to the apartheid government’s propensity for drafting white men living in the Eastern Cape, a farming region, and assigning them to the frontlines of the Angolan Civil War, where some of the worst fighting took place.

Similarly, Jon Burge, a military police investigator in the Vietnam War, was a commander of a Chicago Police Department Unit on the city’s South Side. Between 1972 and 1981, Burge and his men used torture techniques — including suffocation and electrical shock to detainees’ genitals — to elicit confessions from more than 110 African-American men. One of his victims, Anthony Holmes, provided this description of his treatment to prosecutors investigating the case:

[Burge] put some handcuffs on my ankles, then he took one wire and put it on my ankles, he took the other wire and put it behind my back, on the handcuffs behind my back. Then after that, when he — then he went and got a plastic bag, put it over my head … so I bit through it. So he went and got another bag and put it on my head and he twisted it. When he twisted it, it cut my air off and I started shaking. … So then he hit me with the voltage. When he hit me with the voltage, that’s when I started gritting, crying, hollering … It feel [sic] like a thousand needles going through my body. And then after that, it just feel like, you know — it feel like something just burning me from the inside, and, um, I shook, I gritted, I hollered, then I passed out.”

Writing in the Huffington Post last year, David Fagin noted that security for the neo-Nazi protesters in Charlottesville in August of 2017 was provided by many veterans of wars in Afghanistan and Iraq:

[T]o think we’re not only welcoming home members of the armed forces whose opinions and beliefs have been shattered and damaged due to their perilous environment, but who find solace in a President willing to condone those twisted beliefs, rather than make it his mission to do everything he can to help them, makes one worry about where the next Charlottesville will be, and who, exactly, we’ll be fighting.”

Top Photo | Soldiers and Airmen from the Arizona National Guard assemble in mass formation during the Arizona National Guard Muster at Arizona State University’s Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe, Ariz. (U.S. Army/Brian A. Barbour)

The links between the disciplinary records of military members and those of police officers which are not made available to the public don’t go unnoticed. The links between racism, militarism and poverty are also well-established. The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke often of the relationship between the three, and infantrymen and commissioned officers alike — many of whom return to “civilian life” to become police officers — have said that the military has for generations relied on racist depictions of the “Other” — japs, gooks and rag/towelheads — to dehumanize the enemy, who in the post-World War II era have typically been people of color.

Jon Jeter, USA 02/07/2018 0

Obama, Being Black, Was Perfectly Suited to Deliver the Racist Message

There was the time the president scolded black parents in Texas:

Y’all have Popeyes out in Beaumont? I know some of y’all you got that cold Popeyes out for breakfast. I know. That’s why y’all laughing. … You can’t do that. Children have to have proper nutrition. That affects also how they study, how they learn in school.”

And then there was the time he condescendingly lectured black men on Father’s Day:

We need fathers to realize that responsibility does not end at conception. We need them to realize that what makes you a man is not the ability to have a child — it’s the courage to raise one. . . .don’t just sit in the house and watch “Sports Center” all weekend long. That’s why so many children are growing up in front of the television. As fathers and parents, we’ve got to spend more time with them, and help them with their homework, and replace the video game or the remote control with a book once in a while.”

And at an event to commemorate the 1963 March on Washington, he blamed the victim:

Legitimate grievances against police brutality tipped into excuse-making for criminal behavior. Racial politics could cut both ways as the transformative message of unity and brotherhood was drowned out by the language of recrimination. And what had once been a call for equality of opportunity, the chance for all Americans to work hard and get ahead was too often framed as a mere desire for government support, as if [they] had no agency in [their] own liberation, as if poverty was an excuse for not raising your child and the bigotry of others was reason to give up on yourself.“

Even the First Lady got in on the act, bizarrely deploying folkloric imagery of lazy African-Americans to address graduates of a historically-black university:

Instead of walking miles every day to school, they’re sitting on couches for hours playing video games, watching TV. Instead of dreaming of being a teacher or a lawyer or a business leader, they’re fantasizing about being a baller or a rapper.”

The speaker at Bowie State University’s 2013 commencement was none other than Michelle Obama, not Melania Trump, and the other utterances were attributed not to Donald Trump but to his predecessor, the nation’s first black president, Barack Obama. And yet, the Obamas’ racially-insensitive and polarizing language was met with virtually none of the opprobrium that social media, politicians and pundits have rained down on Trump following revelations that he privately described as “shitholes” a raft of countries with majority black and mestizo populations in Africa and the Caribbean, comparing their immigrants unfavorably to immigrants from heavily white countries like Norway.

In fact, a year into the Trump administration, you can make a credible argument that Obama was more heavily invested in both racist narratives and racist policies than any president since at least Ronald Reagan. Yet, outside of the left-leaning Black Agenda Report, no media outlets in the U.S. have made a fuss about it.

Was Obama an avatar of white supremacy?

Barack Obama shakes hands with supporters at the University of New Hampshire, Nov. 7, 2016 in Durham, N.H., during a campaign rally for Hillary Clinton. (AP/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

Barack Obama shakes hands with supporters at the University of New Hampshire, Nov. 7, 2016 in Durham, N.H., during a campaign rally for Hillary Clinton. (AP/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

To be sure, Trump is the quintessential “creepy cracker,” a throwback to white-supremacist demagogues of the Jim Crow era like “Pitchfork” Ben Tillman. But in his eight years in the White House, Obama clearly made a conscious effort to depict blacks as a thing apart, and the children of a lesser God, who were deserving of their material misfortune at the hands of banks — and police.

It’s unfathomable, for instance, that the famously smart Obama was unaware of a 2007 study by sociologist Rebekah Levine Coley that found that black fathers who don’t live in the same home as their children are more involved in their children’s lives than those of any other racial group. Nor is it likely that Obama was unaware of FBI crime statistics that indicate that whites commit violent crimes at a rate that is significantly higher than that of blacks on a per capita basis.

And in terms of policies, there is, as of yet anyway, no comparison to be made between Obama and Trump. In destroying the continent’s most prosperous country and toppling the wildly popular pan-Africanist leader, Muammar Gaddafi, Obama recruited Arab insurgents who tortured, lynched, and decapitated the darker-skinned Africans living in Libya who were supporters of the Gaddafi regime. In Brazil — a country with more African-descended people than any other save Nigeria — the Obama administration endorsed a coup orchestrated by a cabal of wealthy white business executives who ginned up allegations of corruption against the country’s first black woman president.

In Honduras, Obama helped white coup-plotters consolidate power after they ousted the Central American country’s democratically-elected moderate president, who had raised the country’s minimum wage. Later, assassins with ties to the business-friendly government would be charged with the murder of Berta Caceres, a woman of color who led a grassroots campaign to oppose the construction of a dam.

In Venezuela, Obama sided with the white opposition in its efforts to unseat the socialist government supported by the country’s black and mestizo majority. And, in his final year in office, Obama handed the illegal Israeli occupation — described by a contingent of former South African dissidents as “worse than apartheid”– with the largest foreign aid package in history.

So what explains the disparate reactions to Trump and Obama’s racial rhetoric?

The answer can be discerned by following the money.


Who better to drive the eternal wedges through working class solidarity?

Barack and Michelle Obama are applauded during the Kennedy Center Honors gala in Washington, Dec. 4, 2016. (AP/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

Barack and Michelle Obama are applauded during the Kennedy Center Honors gala in Washington, Dec. 4, 2016. (AP/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

Unlike their counterparts in Canada, France, Germany, or Japan, the richest one percent in the United States has staved off anything resembling a social democracy by consistently using racist tropes to drive a wedge through working class solidarity. From the standpoint of the one percenters, the threat posed by such rainbow coalitions, is existential: even a soft rapprochement between black and white workers has produced redistributive achievements as spectacular as public education, open admissions at the City University of New York, or the New Deal-era organizing that led to the most prosperous middle class of the Industrial Age.

The financial crisis of 2008 is typically compared to the Great Depression but the better analogue is really the economic slowdown that began in September of 1873. While the 1929 crash was more of a classical capitalist contraction grounded in overproduction at American factories and mills, the 1873 Panic was the pre-industrial counterpart to 2008’s post-industrial recession — with both being triggered by speculators’ irrational investments in real estate and tech stocks, represented in the late 19th century by the intercontinental railroad.

Of the scores of financial institutions fearing bank-runs from nervous depositors, Freedman’s Savings and Loan was especially at-risk due in large measure to the mismanagement and outright financial fraud of its top executives and board of directors, virtually all-white. Hoping to reassure black depositors — many of whom had stashed everything they had accumulated since Emancipation in the bank — Freedman’s top management hit on a master stroke: what if they hired the most high-profile freed slave as the bank president?

Misled about the bank’s true financial position, Frederick Douglass exhorted Freedmen’s depositors to stay the course. They did for the most part, and when the bank inevitably folded in June of 1874, Freedmen’s black depositors lost nearly everything they owned.

When Obama emerged as the frontrunner for the presidency, the United States was in the midst of a similar banking crisis. A 2009 FBI report estimated the total of losses due to mortgage fraud at $14 billion, and according to a report by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development,  “[b]orrowers in upper-income black neighborhoods were twice as likely as homeowners in low-income white neighborhoods to refinance with a subprime loan.”

Similar to Douglass more than a century earlier, Obama was tasked with reassuring blacks that everything would be fine if they only continued to believe in a system that was, at that very moment, robbing them blind. But Obama was also charged with isolating a radical polity that has a track record of inspiring working-class revolutions when exposed to a wider white world that is also in crisis. To bolster his refusal to prosecute bankers for fraud or provide homeowners with any kind of relief, and to justify his insistence on shoveling  low-interest loans at institutions his administration deemed “too big to fail,” Obama, as much as any of his predecessors, needed a scapegoat.

And yet, as a result of his complexion, Obama was given a pass for his racial demagoguery, similar to conservatives forgiving Richard Nixon for his entreaties to China. In a sense, only the impeccably anti-communist Nixon could go to China and, in that same sense, only the phenotypically black Obama could hang blacks in effigy in such a manner.

The result of his efforts is that African-Americans have scarcely had it so bad. A 2016 report by the National Association of Real Estate Brokers states that 41.7 percent of black households own their home, a rate lower than it was during the Great Depression.  Half of all black households in the U.S. have a total net worth of less than $1,700; for the median white household the figure is nearly $100,000; and even for whites living near the poverty line, median household wealth exceeds $10,000.

Nothing in the scientific world can explain these kinds of disparities; only pernicious and persistent racial discrimination does. Obama’s racial demagoguery, like Trump’s, represents a remapping of the known world to ensure that America’s working class continues to travel in circles, never reaching the promised land.

Top Photo |President Barack Obama gestures as he speaks during the Morehouse College 129th Commencement ceremony, May 19, 2013, in Atlanta. (AP/Carolyn Kaster)

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Jon Jeter, USA 02/04/2018 0

Black Faces in High Places While the Nation Circles the Drain

No strangers to winter’s tempestuousness, Chicagoans were nonetheless caught unprepared for the blizzard that blanketed the city with nearly two feet of snow over two days beginning Saturday, January 13, 1979 — pelting the prairie with flakes so big and white they seemed a hallucination. Despite assurances from City Hall that the Chicago Transit Authority was fully operational, commuters on their way to work Monday morning watched with both bemusement and white-hot rage as the El trains bypassed stations on the city’s mostly black South Side, leaving thousands, literally, out in the cold.

Chicago’s Democratic machine had never been responsive to the needs of its black constituents, but the death three years earlier of the city’s pharaoh, Mayor Richard J. Daley, had only exacerbated the problem, leaving African-Americans to wonder whether, if they merely continued to show up at the polls every four years to cast a ballot, they would be buried alive by the avalanche of racial animus emanating from City Hall.

Led by a muckraking black journalist named Lutrelle “Lu” Palmer, Chicago’s black community decided to field their own candidate to take on the Democratic machine in a city that was roughly a third white, a third Black, and a third Latino.

Harold Washington and his Chicago mini-revolution

Harold Washington waves to cheering supporters as he announced victory in his bid for re-election as mayor of Chicago. At left is Rev, Jesse Jackson, April 7, 1987. (AP/Fred Jewell)

Harold Washington waves to cheering supporters as he announced victory in his bid for re-election as mayor of Chicago. At left is Rev, Jesse Jackson, April 7, 1987. (AP/Fred Jewell)

With his Motown baritone, the soaring cadence of a Baptist preacher — and a striking resemblance to Ossie Davis — a congressman representing Chicago’s 1st District, Harold Washington, had them at hello. As part of the Daley machine, Washington had dutifully complied with orders to shun Martin Luther King Jr’s 1966 visit to Chicago, but that experience — combined with the 1969 police assassination of the charismatic 21-year-old chairman of the Illinois chapter of the Black Panthers, Fred Hampton — had caused Washington to defect.

Still, Washington was a pragmatist and a mayoral bid struck him as a tad quixotic; he agreed to the campaign but only if the group registered at least 100,000 new voters and raised $200,000 by the fall of 1982.

Palmer, and his wife, Jorja, accepted the challenge, and began teaching political education classes — modeled on the Black Panthers’ efforts — at the nonprofit organization the couple had founded and funded, Chicago Black United Communities, on the city’s South Side. As Palmer recalled in a 1992 interview:

After every four-week period we would have a graduation, and every graduation speaker was Harold Washington. He’d come by, make a nice little speech, give out the citations. The first graduation we had was on the coldest day in Chicago history when the wind-chill factor went down to 80 something below zero. We were so poor we had no heat in the building and so the people kept their scarves on, and I mean you could see the breath coming out of their mouths.

But nobody left. I turned to Jorja and said ‘these brothas and sistas are ready’ because you know how our people are about the cold.”

By the fall of 1982 — as Chicago’s black radio station, WVON, crackled with Palmer’s clever taunt, “We shall see in 83” — the CBUC had unleashed 2,000 trained grassroots organizers on the streets, who not only met Washington’s initial demands but eclipsed them, adding 180,000 new voters to the city’s registration rolls, and delivering a war chest of nearly half-a-million dollars.

With the incumbent Jane Byrne and the late Mayor Richard J. Daley’s son Richard M. dividing white Democrats, Washington won a bitter primary, then squeezed just enough white votes from his Rainbow Coalition to win the general election against a bipartisan white electorate that was unified in its contempt for him. For black Chicago, said Robert Starks, a political science professor at Northeastern University and a key political strategist for Washington, the campaign “took on almost a religious or gospel character . . It became almost a civic religion.”

Despite stiff opposition from white aldermen and state lawmakers, Washington’s administration began to deliver the spoils to his constituents almost immediately, as he worked assiduously to cut everyone in on a sweet deal that had previously been reserved for a privileged few. He rescinded a municipal ordinance prohibiting street musicians from putting out a hat, issued an executive order forbidding municipal employees from enforcing immigration laws, computerized city departments, and extended collective bargaining rights for public trade unions whose rank-and-file members were often kept in the dark about the labor contracts struck between their corrupt leadership and the Daley machine.

He opened up the city’s budget process by holding public hearings around the city, increased the number of women and Blacks at City Hall, capped campaign contributions for contractors doing business with the city at $1,500, and professionalized the city’s workforce by banning patronage hiring and firing — all of which would’ve been unimaginable under the old machine. He even mothballed the city’s limousine, for an Oldsmobile 98.

“We had built Chicago to a peak of Black solidarity by the time it came to elect Harold,” Palmer said in 1992. “You’d better not even think about not voting for Harold Washington. I mean it better not even come in your mind, or somebody would go upside your head.”

Short-lived as it was, Harold Washington’s City Hall was the crowning achievement of a nationwide revolution that had begun 50-years earlier at the height of the Great Depression, when organized labor integrated its ranks and its leadership, and workers of all races banded together to transform bad jobs into good ones.  The essential actors in that rebellion were the descendants of chattel slaves, who not only helped imbue the economy with unprecedented buying power, but articulated a coherent, shimmering vision of what a racial democracy — a Beloved Community —  might look like in practice.


Barack Obama and the counter-revolution

Delegates cheer as keynote speaker Barack Obama, candidate for the Senate from Illinois, speaks during the Democratic National Convention at the FleetCenter in Boston, July 27, 2004. (AP/Laura Rauch)

Delegates cheer as keynote speaker Barack Obama, candidate for the Senate from Illinois, speaks during the Democratic National Convention at the FleetCenter in Boston, July 27, 2004. (AP/Laura Rauch)

A year to the day after another son of black Chicago, Barack Obama, vacated the White House, his enigmatic legacy can only be understood as a response to this insurrection, and any serious interrogation of his record makes it painfully clear that Obama was the titular head of a counterrevolution, intended to undo the democratizing efforts of a generation of Americans who found their voice in the the transformative post war years.

You cannot, in other words, begin to make sense of the Republic’s first black president without understanding Chicago’s first black mayor, can’t get your arms around what has transpired over the last decade without examining the eight decades that preceded it, and cannot appreciate the arc of America’s political universe without some clarity on both the top-down movement that catapulted Obama into the catbird seat and the bottom-up populist movement that produced Washington.

Washington was everything that Obama was not — reversing public policies steeped in white supremacy, while Obama deepened them. Washington weakened the influence of money in politics, Obama strengthened it. Washington accommodated immigrants and helped transform Chicago into a sanctuary, while Obama deported more than any president in history. Washington rewarded organized labor for its efforts to elect him, Obama gave labor unions the cold shoulder, when he wasn’t trying to bust them altogether. Washington opened space for women, people of color, and even workers in the informal sector trying to make a living any way they could in an enervated economy; on Obama’s watch, the nation witnessed an unemployed black man lynched on a Staten Island street corner merely for selling loose cigarettes.

Washington invoked the anti-colonial theories of Fanon, exalted the messianic quality of the African’s experience in the Americas, and exhorted people of color to never give up the fight against injustice and oppression; Obama invoked Reagan, trafficked in folklore, and scolded black men for feeding their children cold Popeye’s chicken for breakfast. Washington embodied Bessie Smith’s Blues, Obama the mediocre hip-hop of Drake.

None of this was by chance. If Washington’s election is viewed in its most irreducible form — namely, the pinnacle of what the Rev. William Barber characterizes as the nation’s second Reconstruction — then Obama can only be contextualized as the plutocrats’ man in the White House, installed for the singular purpose of preventing a third.


The Empire fights back

At a rally outside the U.S. Courthouse October 29, 1969, Dr. Benjamin Spock, background, listens to Fred Hampton, chairman of the Illinois Black Panther party speak at a protest against the trial of eight persons accused of conspiracy to cause a riot during the Democratic National Convention in 1968. (AP/stf)

Fred Hampton, chairman of the Illinois Black Panther party speaks at a protest against the trial of eight persons accused of conspiracy to cause a riot during the Democratic National Convention in 1968. (AP Photo)

The assassination of Martin Luther King, coupled with the twilight of American industry’s global dominance, ratcheted up both working class militancy, and the elites’ crackdown on it. Mineworkers in Appalachia and autoworkers in Detroit were fighting to reclaim their trade unions from a reactionary leadership that was in bed with management; communists were on the march in North Carolina, Black Panthers in Oakland; militant white college students protested the war in Berkeley, and black parents and teachers fought for community control of their school curriculums in Brooklyn. Fred Hampton was organizing black street gangs and black professionals, Latinos, poor alienated white youths, and college students and blue-collar workers of all races into a Rainbow Coalition intent on socialist revolution. Black voters capitalized on white flight following the season of unrest that began with the Watts riots to elect black mayors in Detroit, Newark, Cleveland, Gary, and Atlanta, and Puerto Ricans joined with Blacks and Italians to force the City University of New York to guarantee admission and free tuition for every New York city public high school graduate.

It took all of three months.

With Blacks accounting for a third of the country’s unionized workforce and taking on leadership responsibilities to boot, organized labor’s demand for a bigger share of the pie was causing wage inflation to spike and, combined with the Arab world’s demands that the West pay more for its oil, slicing into the oligarchs’ profit margins.

Something had to be done.

The Empire began fighting back. Nixon’s southern strategy, the FBI’s counterintelligence program, and an infamous memo to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce by Lewis Powell, whom Nixon would later appoint to the Supreme Court, got the ball rolling, isolating the radical black polity from polite society. New York City’s bankers and corporate executives doubled down on polarizing racial narratives in executing a takeover of New York City’s finances in 1975 — scapegoating the pensions, wages and subsidies won by public sector unions for a financial crisis triggered by an overheated real estate market. That same year, the publisher of The Washington Post, Katherine Graham, broke the pressman’s union to fatten profits for Warren Buffett and other shareholders.


The Mel Reynolds mold

U.S. Rep. Mel Reynolds (D-Ill.) and President Bill Clinton answer questions posed by a student at suburban Hillcrest High School in Country Club Hills, Ill., Feb. 28, 1994. (AP/Tim Boyle)

U.S. Rep. Mel Reynolds (D-Ill.) and President Bill Clinton answer questions posed by a student at Hillcrest High School in Country Club Hills, a south Chicago suburb, Feb. 28, 1994. (AP/Tim Boyle)

The year after Washington keeled over dead from a heart attack while working at his desk on Thanksgiving Eve of 1987, a Harvard-educated black Rhodes scholar named Mel Reynolds challenged a Washington ally, Gus Savage, for Illinois’ 2nd Congressional District, which included a swath of Chicago’s South Side lakefront. It would take Reynolds three tries to finally unseat Savage but — as Frederick Harris wrote in his 2014 book, The Price of the Ticket: Barack Obama and the Rise and Decline of Black Politics — the city’s two major daily newspapers, the Chicago Tribune and Sun-Times endorsed Reynolds, as did conservative Washington Post columnist George Will. The main business daily, Crain’s, did not endorse him, but went out of its way to praise him for his tendency to “downplay race as a factor in politics.”

Feted by foundations, bankrolled by wealthy campaign contributors, and championed widely by the media and the affluent Hyde Park neighborhood that is home to the University of Chicago, Reynolds’ meteoric rise led one political rival to wonder aloud how an unknown who’d never held public office could amass such campaign cash and name-recognition:

White politicians have bought and paid for a novice who wasn’t even a block captain, or community leader, or even a member of a recognized church. There’s something wrong. His whole staff comes from City Hall, which tells you they’re being supplied to get rid of Gus Savage.”

Reynold’s career would ultimately be derailed by a sex scandal involving a teenage girl, but in his three years on Capitol Hill he amassed a voting record that was solidly neoliberal, voting for the Clinton Administration’s North American Free Trade Act and the omnibus crime bill, both of which were catastrophic for Chicago’s working class and communities of color.

The same year that Reynolds won his Congressional seat, a young, 31-year-old community organizer named Barack Obama approached Lu Palmer asking for his support for a voter registration effort. As Palmer told the story, he thought the Harvard-trained lawyer both arrogant and unoriginal, and sent him on his way. But three years later, he would encounter Obama again. An old ally in the Washington campaign, Alice Palmer (no relation) had finished third in the special election to succeed the now-disgraced Reynolds, and she wanted to return to Springfield. Palmer asked Obama to withdraw his name from the state senate race out of respect for the widely-respected Alice Palmer, but Obama refused. Palmer couldn’t recall Obama’s exact words but something about the way he spoke sounded oddly familiar. That’s when it clicked.

“Man, you sound like Mel Reynolds!” Palmer told Obama.


Obama and the new breed of foundation-hatched black voices

While surrounded by campaign supporters, Illinois Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate, Barack Obama, left, jokingly shows off his Tae Kwon-Do skills while attending a Christian County Democrats rally in Taylorville, Ill., Aug 4, 2004. (AP/Seth Perlman)

While surrounded by campaign supporters, Illinois Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate, Barack Obama, left, jokingly shows off his Tae Kwon-Do skills while attending a Christian County Democrats rally in Taylorville, Ill., Aug 4, 2004. (AP/Seth Perlman)

The political scientist Adolph Reed met Obama shortly after his election to the Illinois Senate and he was no more impressed than was Lu Palmer. He wrote in a 1996 article:

In Chicago, for instance, we’ve gotten a foretaste of the new breed of foundation-hatched black communitarian voices; one of them, a smooth Harvard lawyer with impeccable do-good credentials and vacuous-to-repressive neoliberal politics, has won a state senate seat on a base mainly in the liberal foundation and development worlds.

His fundamentally bootstrap line was softened by a patina of the rhetoric of authentic community, talk about meeting in kitchens, small-scale solutions to social problems, and the predictable elevation of process over program — the point where identity politics converges with old-fashioned middle-class reform in favoring form over substance.

I suspect that his ilk is the wave of the future in U.S. black politics, as in Haiti and wherever else the International Monetary Fund has sway. So far the black activist response hasn’t been up to the challenge. We have to do better.”

Three years later, Obama challenged Bobby Rush for his congressional seat, and the battle lines were sharply drawn much as they were in Reynolds’ congressional campaigns.

“A dozen years after the death of Harold Washington, there is a generational shift in the leadership of the black community, ”Chicago Sun-Times columnist Steve Neal wrote in late 1999, as the campaign season was just gearing up in Chicago.

Chicago’s black community was less impressed, however.

“Barack is viewed in part to be the white man in Black face in our community,” said Donne Trotter, an Illinois state legislator who was also challenging Rush for the 1st Congressional District. “Who pushed him to get where he is so fast? It’s these individuals in Hyde Park who don’t always have the best interests of our community in mind.”

And while Washington auditioned for his job with Palmer and a ragtag group of grassroots organizers in a southside Chicago community center, Obama’s close-up moment was at a 2003 fundraiser at the home of Democratic fixer and Bill Clinton BFF Vernon Jordan — getting face-time with such Democratic establishment fixtures as former White House Counsel Greg Craig; Mike Williams, a lobbyist for a Bondholders’ Association; and Tom Quinn and Robert Harmala, partners at one of DC’s most connected firms, Venable LLP.


A “reasonableness” about him

Former U.S. Presidents, from left, Barack Obama, George Bush and Bill Clinton greet spectators on the first tee before the first round of the Presidents Cup at Liberty National Golf Club in Jersey City, N.J., Sept. 28, 2017. (AP/Julio Cortez)

Former U.S. Presidents, from left, Barack Obama, George Bush and Bill Clinton greet spectators on the first tee before the first round of the Presidents Cup at Liberty National Golf Club in Jersey City, N.J., Sept. 28, 2017. (AP/Julio Cortez)

In a 2006 article for Harper’s Magazine, Ken Silverstein noted that Craig “liked the fact that Obama was not a racial polarizer on the model of Jesse Jackson or Al Sharpton,” and Williams was “soothed by Obama’s reassurances that he was not anti-business.”

“There’s a reasonableness about him,” Harmala told Silverstein. “I don’t see him being on the liberal fringe.”

In the year since he’s left office, Obama has spent his leisure time “yachting with Tom Hanks and Bruce Springsteen in Tahiti, kitesurfing with Richard Branson in the Virgin Islands, rafting in Indonesia, golfing on the Scottish coast, and biking under the Tuscan sun,” New York Times columnist Frank Bruni wrote recently, all of which stands in sharp contrast to the spartan lifestyles of the previous generation of black political actors.

In a 1992 interview, 12 years before his death at the age of 82, Palmer spoke of how he purchased most of his clothes on consignment: ”I can buy a suit for $10 [rather than $200 and] see, the way I look at it that leaves me with $190 I can put back into the struggle.” Palmer recounted how his father was fired from his job as an administrator at an all-black high school in Virginia, for no reason other than that he protested the vastly different pay scales for black and white teachers.

“I have given my life, as did my father, to this movement and that’s why it hurts so much to see our people give this city back to white folks,” he said. “Bad enough to give it to white folks but to give it to a Daley.”

“I’m actually depressed now because everything we fought for between 1981 and 1989 has been wiped away, destroyed, stepped on, stomped on.” Palmer said. He sighed heavily, and said almost prophetically:

I don’t know what’ it’s going to take to bring our people back together.”

Top Photo | President Barack Obama walks along the colonnade of the White House in Washington, Jan. 12, 2016, to the residence from the Oval Office, hours before giving his State Of The Union address. (AP/Carolyn Kaster)

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Jon Jeter, USA 02/01/2018 0

Left, Undone: As Women March, Blacks Increasingly Question the Quality of their Allies

Forty years ago last fall, the late Richard Pryor took the stage at the Hollywood Bowl for a gay rights fundraiser and delivered what was perhaps the most incendiary monologue of a career that was both famously — and literally — combustible.

What the audience of 17,000 mostly gay, white men anticipated was to be regaled by the virtuoso in his prime. What they in fact got was a conflagration, as Pryor lit into the LGBT community for what he characterized as their indifference to African-Americans’ struggle.

Amazingly enough, it didn’t begin that way. As Scott Saul wrote in his 2015 book, Becoming Richard Pryor, the headliner ambled onto centerstage late on the evening of September 18, 1977,  and after prowling the stage briefly like a caged big cat, he spoke, finally:

“I came here for human rights and I found out what it was really about was not getting caught with a dick in your mouth.” The crowd roared with laughter. Pryor continued:

You don’t want the police to kick your ass if you’re sucking the dick, and that’s fair. You’ve got the right to suck anything you want! I sucked one dick. Back in 1952. Sucked Wilbur Harp’s dick. It was beautiful, but I couldn’t deal with it. Had to leave it alone. It was beautiful because Wilbur has the best booty in the world. Now I’m saying booty to be nice. I’m talking about ass-hole. Wilbur had some good ass-hole. And Wilbur would give it up so good and put his thighs against your waist. That would make you come quick.”

The crowd erupted, half in delight, half in disbelief. “I was the only motherfucker that took Wilbur roses. Everybody else was bullshitting. I took Wilbur [the roses] and said, ‘Here, dear.’”

At this point, as Saul described the scene, Pryor paused, and the monologue took a sharp detour into some dark recess of the comedian’s mind. While waiting backstage to go on, Pryor had noticed how the white stagehands had ignored an all-black dance troupe known as the Lockers when the dancers asked for help adjusting the stage lights. And when they returned after what Pryor thought a spectacular performance — one dancer jumped over six chairs — the comedian watched incredulously as the show’s promoters did nothing to defend the Lockers who were dressed down by a fire marshal for detonating a small explosive as a special effect.

And then, an hour later, just before Pryor was scheduled to go on, the stagehands who earlier couldn’t be bothered by the Lockers’ appeal for help, suddenly leapt into action when two white ballet dancers asked for help with the very same light fixture.

By the time he reached the stage, Pryor — who it’s safe to assume had snorted, smoked or imbibed something of a chemical nature before going on that night — was fuming. As the crowd laughed at his recollections of Wilbur Harp, Pryor mumbled softly into the microphone, surveilling the sea of white faces, as though in a catatonic trance.

Comedian Richard Pryor gestures to the audience, after the audience jeered him for his remarks at a gathering billed as A Star Spangled Night for Rights, Sept. 19, 1977, Hollywood Bowl, Los Angeles, Calif. After the gesture, Pryor slammed the mike down and left the show. (AP/Lennox McLendon)

Comedian Richard Pryor gestures to the audience, after the audience jeered him for his remarks at a gathering billed as A Star Spangled Night for Rights, Sept. 19, 1977, Hollywood Bowl, Los Angeles, Calif. After the gesture, Pryor slammed the mike down and left the show. (AP/Lennox McLendon)

“How can faggots be racists?” he asked. “How can faggots be racists?”

And then, he exploded.

“I hope the police catch you motherfuckers and shoot your ass accidentally, because you motherfuckers ain’t helpin’ niggers at all.” The audience howled, but was clearly puzzled, Saul wrote. “When the niggers were burning down Watts, you motherfuckers were doing what you wanted on Hollywood Boulevard, didn’t give a shit about it.” By this point, some clarity had begun to wash over the audience and the laughter was beginning to turn to hissing, and boos.

Pryor continued, addressing a feminist movement defined largely by the concerns of white, suburban women. “Motherfuck women’s rights. The bitches don’t need no rights. What they need to do is pay the people on welfare.” Again, the crowd roared its disapproval. Pryor shot back with his own rage.

“Yeah, get mad. ’Cause you’re going to be madder than that when (police chief) Ed Davis catches you motherfuckers coming out of here in the lot.” By this point, all confusion on the part of the crowd had dissipated, with hecklers not just taunting Pryor but openly threatening to do him bodily-harm. Undaunted, Pryor pivoted on his heels, exhorted the enemy combatants to “kiss my happy, rich, Black ass,” and walked off the stage.

In the days that followed, the Los Angeles Times, Vanity Fair magazine and the Hollywood media mostly excoriated the comedian as “rude,” deranged, and even homophobic. The first allegation is most certainly true, the second arguable, but the last, given his stunning public admission of his own same-sex experience with a lifelong friend, was way wide of the mark.


The splintering of the suffering

A group of protesters hold signs before a women's march during the first full day of Donald Trump's presidency in San Francisco, Jan. 21, 2017. (AP/Jeff Chiu)

A group of protesters hold signs before a women’s march during the first full day of Donald Trump’s presidency in San Francisco, Jan. 21, 2017. (AP/Jeff Chiu)

However crude, Pryor’s reproach of Southern California’s gay community prophesied the tallest hurdle confronting progressives as they prepare to assemble Saturday in the nation’s capital for the second consecutive Women’s March, as part of a grassroots attempt to regroup to effectively challenge a White House openly flirting with despotism.

If class solidarity has historically been the greatest strength of American liberalism, the tendency for progressive social movements to splinter along racial lines has been its most glaring weakness. Never has this cleavage been more evident than now, as a de-industrializing economy conspires with isolating technology and a quisling media to unplug Americans from each other like never before.

Those fissures so far have stalled any mobilization of progressives in the year since millions of dissidents, mostly women, marched on Washington and cities across North America to protest the Trump administration.

“I didn’t want to be a part of the march if it was going to be a white woman’s kumbaya march,” Jo Ann Hardesty, the president of the Portland NAACP chapter told a reporter for the Willamette Week. “Don’t forget,” read a sign held by an African-American woman, Angela People, as she nonchalantly sucked on a lollipop at the women’s rally at the nation’s capitol, “white women voted for Trump.”


Afro-Pessimism through the era of “progress”

A young man is taken into custody while protesting a day after murder charges were brought against police officer Jason Van Dyke in the murder of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald by Chicago Police, Nov. 25, 2015. (AP/Charles Rex Arbogast)

A young man is taken into custody while protesting a day after murder charges were brought against police officer Jason Van Dyke in the murder of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald by Chicago Police, Nov. 25, 2015. (AP/Charles Rex Arbogast)

The tension has come to be known in recent years as Afro-Pessimism, and indeed it has gained a certain cachet both in academic circles and among the Black Lives Matter generation, reared on a steady diet of videotaped police terror, shrinking job and educational opportunities, and a duopolistic political system that is, on its best day, wholly indifferent to black suffering. On its most molecular level, Afro-Pessimism is the understanding — as the late, great historian John Henrik-Clarke posited — that the descendants of Africa have “no friends nowhere,” a  precept that is hardly new and, in fact, was learned tragically, and to great dramatic effect, by Bigger Thomas in Richard Wright’s 1940 novel Native Son.

Wright aimed his pen at the Communists who had joined with African-Americans to energize the transformative labor movements of the New Deal era, only to retreat to the comfortable confines of white privilege when blacks tried to expand the battleground from the factory floor to the voting booth. By putting the LGBT community on notice, Pryor’s Hollywood Bowl monologue bookends Wright’s foreshadowing of the fly-in-the-ointment just as the formula for modern liberalism was being finalized.

Alternately, Pryor’s critique was a petition for divorce, citing the irreconcilable differences that resulted from the 1 percent’s 70-year counteroffensive to drive a wedge between liberal allies. That campaign escalated sharply beginning in 1969 with the Nixon Administration’s Southern Strategy; J. Edgar Hoover’s pogrom against dissidents; U.S. Supreme Court Justice Lewis Powell’s infamous blueprint for combating progressive orthodoxy; and the media’s constant drumbeat depicting black savagery, as exemplified by Clint Eastwood’s Dirty Harry franchise, or the Washington Post’s fictional profile of a black 8-year-old heroin addict. By the time Pryor took the stage at the Hollywood Bowl, the liberal body politic in the U.S. lay mortally wounded on the operating table, its most vital arteries irrevocably severed and bleeding out.

The contradictions have only deepened in the years since, with blacks losing virtually all of the economic ground we’d gained in the postwar years, and then some. Born the same year that Wright published Native Son, Pryor came of age in a country that was, however tentatively, finding its Blues — be it the Beat Poets discovering their artistic voice in the music of Charlie Parker, or poor white Chicagoans from the foothills of Appalachia identifying common ground with the Black Panthers. Pryor himself was known for his collaborations and close friendships with Gene Wilder, Lily Tomlin and Robin Williams, and proposed marriage to his white girlfriend only days after the Hollywood debacle.

Afro-Pessimism doesn’t provide a treatment plan, or an organizing strategy, but rather serves as a diagnosis of what fundamentally ails the African in the Americas. “Afro-pessimism is primarily concerned with the question ‘what does it mean to suffer?’” said Frank Wilderson, a best-selling author and professor of African-American studies at the University of California at Irvine, who is widely considered the father of the discipline:

Marx assumes the essential oppressed unit in any society is the worker, and radical feminism posits that women suffer because they are, in fact, women. But Marxism and theories of feminist subjugation have an inadequate analysis of violence and are concerned chiefly with exploitation and alienation.

Neither addresses the essential nature of black subjugation, which is murder.”

Anecdotally, the principle that undergirds Afro-pessimism seems to be spreading like wildfire, particularly among black youths who’ve come of age in an era when societal indifference to the desecration of the black body is broadcast on YouTube, Facebook Live and Instagram. Wilderson travels the world explaining Afro-pessimism, which has especially taken hold among the Black Lives Matter crowd, and the ideology has begun to inform college debate competitions, film studies, and hip-hop:

What we’re seeing is that the world secures its rights and privileges through this ritualistic violence against black people. It is through our reproduction of the idea of a slave that we come to understand freedom. Violence against black people is absolutely necessary to build a sense of community and assure the psychic health of everybody else.”

“The point for me,” said one 41-year-old African-American who works in Silicon Valley and wanted to be identified only as “Shaka,” “is that black people in America can trust no one but each other. This world means us harm and nobody has our back; you’d have to be a fool to believe otherwise.”

Midway through Pryor’s stemwinder at the Hollywood Bowl, he digressed from any pretense of comedy for a moment, and made clear the true intent of his appearance that night. With a pained expression on his face, he momentarily transformed the auditorium into a church, the stage into a pulpit, and, as though pleading the blood, he testified.

“I wanted to test you,’ he said, his face disfigured in some amalgam of sorrow and rage,  “to your motherfuckin’ soul.”

Top Photo | Skylar Barrett walks alone with an American flag in the middle of the street during a march through the Buckhead neighborhood against the recent police shootings of African-Americans on July 11, 2016, in Atlanta. (AP/David Goldman)

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Jon Jeter, USA 01/13/2018 0

Since 2008 Financial Crisis, Wall Street Is The Grinch That Keeps Stealing Christmas

BERKELEY, CALIFORNIA — From his post at the edge of the bus-shelter bench, James Anderson spotted the two police patrol cars heading slowly towards him and snapped briskly to attention, or at least as briskly as humanly possible for a 53-year-old man with a bad back. He reached for his cane and struggled unsteadily to his feet, shielding his eyes from the vehicle’s blinding head beams.

Hauling everything they owned in two grocery carts, Anderson and his three teenage children had put in a good 12 hours in their trek from Silicon Valley’s northern edge en route to the Promised Land, Berkeley, which was still another 14 miles away as the crow flies. Fueled only by a 20-piece Chicken McNuggets divided unevenly among the four of them, they were bone-tired by nightfall, and had decided to settle down for the evening in the Bay Area suburb of San Leandro.

It was two days before Christmas, 2014.


The sleeping arrangements were strategic, almost militaristic. James and his oldest child, 18-year-old Khalid, would man the perimeter – bus benches were preferable to park benches since they’re typically canopied and located at well-lit intersections – flanking the youngest, 13-year old Malik, and his big sister, Malika, who’d just celebrated her 15th birthday a few weeks before. “My baby girl sleeps next to me,” James insisted, “always by me.”

Uneasy since they’d been evicted from their Union City motel earlier that day, James viewed the wee hours of the morning as a sentinel might regard the graveyard shift at a watchtower, getting only a few winks here and there to keep an eye out for trouble – ”I’ll sleep when we get where we need to be; if I was gonna drop, I was gonna drop,” he would say later to describe his approach – and he and Malika were still awake when the two patrol cars materialized like a hallucination from the blue-black of a winter’s night.

Both would acknowledge later that they were a bit apprehensive in that moment. For months, cable and network television newscasts back at the motel had been preoccupied with the protests that followed the fatal police shooting of an unarmed Black teenager named Michael Brown in a St. Louis suburb, and the videotaped strangulation of a Staten Island man, Eric Garner, by a lynch mob of New York City cops, simply for selling loose cigarettes.

Concerned that police might accuse him and the kids of stealing the two grocery carts they’d found abandoned on the streets, James had earlier in the day tried, unsuccessfully, to pry the nameplate from one of the shopping carts. The cold night air seemed pregnant with menace as the San Leandro police officers unfurled from separate patrol cars.

“Good evening, officers,” James said, as disarmingly as he could, before proceeding to explain the situation to the patrolmen. But before he could finish, one of the officers held his hand up to interrupt.

“We’re not here to hassle you, sir, “ he said. “Someone saw you here and called it in because they were worried about you. We just wanted to know if you needed anything?”

Poor but proud, James thanked the officers but told them that they were fine; they just needed a little rest.

The officers, however, would have none of it. “Wait here,” said one. “We’ll be right back.”

Climbing back into their police cars, they sped off, returning a few minutes later with a coffee and three hot chocolates from Starbucks, and a 12-pack of tacos from Taco Bell. It was an unusually cold winter in Northern California, and the officers asked James to take the kids to the nearby Starbucks to eat and wait for the officers to return. Again, they raced off, and returned an hour later with four sleeping bags. Discreetly slipping $100 into James’ hand, one officer hugged James, followed by the other, and as they returned to their patrol vehicles, they both wished him and the kids a happy holiday.

From home to motel to bus shelter: the forces behind the fall

Anonymous Feed Homeless

The Anderson family Christmas three years ago was the product of the 2008 global financial meltdown. While the recession that followed is often compared to the Great Depression, African-Americans in actuality had not had it so bad since the 1873 stock market crash wiped out the Freedman’s bank. Similar to the most recent downturn, that meltdown was also triggered by easy credit, and bad investments in an overheated real estate market.

What often goes unsaid in the media’s accounting of the subprime mortgage scandal is that banks swindled black and brown borrowers with fraudulent loans at rates that were exponentially higher than those offered to Whites. And while lenders were largely made whole, their victims, overwhelmingly, were not. A 2016 study by the Institute for Policy Studies and the Corporation For Economic Development found that the typical black household in the U.S. will need 228 years to accumulate as much wealth as their white counterparts hold today.

Consequently, the U.S. today is experiencing a binary, best-of-times, worst-of-times narrative, in which finance capital, like the pharaohs of old, feasts on the land’s finest wines, meats and cheeses, while families like the Andersons strike out on a long journey, looking for a better life.

James Anderson was born in San Francisco’s storied Fillmore neighborhood, known as the “Harlem of the West” — a showcase for entertainers and public figures as diverse as Etta James and Malcolm X. James’ birth also coincided with an effort by the San Francisco Redevelopment Authority to raze thousands of “blighted” homes in the neighborhood, forcing nearly 10,000 mostly black households to relocate, just as it had the Japanese a generation before, and transforming Geary Street into an eight-lane monstrosity that sealed off the Fillmore from whiter and wealthier Pacific Heights.

“They told us they were just going to make some improvements and we could come back when everything was ready,” said Anderson. “We never got the call to come back. “

Working as a municipal bus driver in 1996, a few months after Khalid’s birth, James drove over some railroad tracks and a searing pain thundered through his entire body from the base of his skull to the heels of his feet. He tried surgery and rehab to repair the three ruptured discs but nothing took.

Medically retired and unable to work, James had only a monthly SSI check to support a wife and three children in the most expensive metropolitan area in the country. The Andersons were evicted from their suburban Oakland apartment in October of 2014 when their landlord raised the rent. Estranged from his wife, James moved the kids to a Union City motel near her job, where the four of them squeezed into a single room that cost $400 per week.

That endured for two months. James’ wife had been helping pay for the motel but decided, abruptly, to stop just days before Christmas unless he relinquished custody of their children. Believing that her lifestyle had grown increasingly volatile, James told her, essentially, that if she wanted to kill her fool self, she could go right ahead, but the kids stayed with him.

That meant no more room at the inn — or, more accurately, the Islander Motel on the border of Union City and Hayward — with only two days left before Christmas. Checkout was at 11 a.m. and so, in the morning, James had the kids stuff everything that would fit – crockpot, an electric skillet, shoes, clothes, everything – into two suitcases and a green duffel bag for the journey to Berkeley, a college town that James remembered from his youth as the hub of Bay Area liberalism, and a place relatively hospitable to the homeless. Already thinking ahead, Malika days earlier had spotted a discarded shopping cart lying on its side in a shallow ditch along a nearby frontage road and made a mental note that it might come in handy should they need to relocate. She and Malik ran to retrieve it, wiping it down with some of their clothes that they couldn’t manage to squeeze in the luggage.

And then, some time before noon, the Anderson family headed north.

James had $20 in his pocket.



This far by faith


“Can I buy you a coffee?”

James was a bit startled by the middle-aged white woman who approached him – in broad daylight no less – as the family trudged up a major thoroughfare, Hesperian Boulevard, in Hayward. They had only left their hotel hours earlier.

“Uh, no, I’m okay, thank you,” James said. But much like the two police officers in San Leandro later that day, the woman simply wouldn’t entertain the notion. With her well-coiffed hair and natty attire, Malika sized her up as a professional, perhaps in the growing tech sector that was again firing on all cylinders by late 2014. The woman returned minutes later with a steaming cup of coffee, and clasped James’ hand in both of hers as she handed him the Starbucks cup, discreetly slipping him two $20 bills.

“Can I hug you?” she asked and no sooner had James gotten the word out of his mouth, she had pulled his towering 6-foot-3 inch frame close to hers for an embrace so deep and sincere that the kids started to wonder if they wouldn’t need a crowbar to extricate their father.

As they continued on, a pickup truck approached not three minutes later.

“Can I help you?” the man asked.

Unsure of his meaning, James politely replied that they were okay. Undeterred, the man stepped from the car, handed James two $20 bills, and wished them well.

“We never asked anybody for anything,” James said. “Some of it was people saying ‘we’re so glad to see a father with his kids doing this,’ and some people just wanted a hug or to wish us well. But we got a lot of help. I hadn’t counted on that.”

The only asset the Andersons had, he said, was each other. Of all his children, James says that Malika’s antenna is the most sensitive; she would know almost immediately when her father’s mood had darkened, and she would just encourage him, reassure him that they would be okay as long as they stuck together, or engage him in banalities such as wondering aloud about the odd green flash of light that flickered in the night sky, whether it was a flare or a UFO.

And James would return the favor when he felt the kids’ energy ebb. One night, with the family hunkered down on a bus bench, an Asian man walked by and James pretended to greet him in Chinese with a nonsensical “phong chow yong fat”  that cracked the kids up with raucous laughter. The man smiled as he walked by, Malika would say later, and seemed to understand that the greeting wasn’t intended as a racist taunt.

By midday on Christmas Eve, the Andersons had reached Emeryville and were closing in on Oakland just south of Berkeley. The only food available was the chips and sodas they managed to round up from an off-brand convenience store. As if on cue, food began to just appear out of thin air: motorists dropped off sandwiches and drinks, and homeowners who lived within view of Telegraph Avenue began pouring out of their homes to deliver big platters of food. One woman even delivered a plate of her jambalaya.

The family arrived at Wall Peace Park in downtown Berkeley on Christmas Day with nearly $300 in donations.

Berkeley was no longer the accommodating college town that James remembered, however. Indeed the police harassed the Andersons almost daily and it would be more than two months before the family could get into a shelter.

Still, the family has done remarkably well, considering. Both Malik and Malika are honor-roll students at one of the better area high schools and Khalid has enrolled in college courses. At the homeless shelter, Malika will often wake her brother for school by playing tunes from The Sound of Music, one of her favorite movies.

“I tell them all the time,” James Anderson said 18 months after their ordeal, “that we’re going to get through this, that we’re going to be okay. And we will. I really and truly believe that. The only thing I need them to do is believe it as well.

Because when you get right down to it, what choice do we have?”

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Jon Jeter, USA 12/19/2017 0

As Trump and GOP Further Eviscerate US Public Sector, Canada Stops Imitating

OTTAWA, CANADA — While U.S. lawmakers debate a Trump administration tax cut that will inexorably deepen the bone-deep budget cuts that have been eroding American living standards for nearly 40 years, Canadians are going on a bit of a spending spree.

Quebec’s Premier this week proposed a guaranteed minimum income of $14,000 annually for disabled adults as part of the provincial government’s $2.4 billion effort to combat poverty. Last week, Ontario’s transportation minister said his agency would double public spending on new bike lanes from $35 million to $70 million. And last month, the leader of Ontario’s conservatives said that if his party, the Progressive Conservatives, is elected next June, lawmakers will provide parents with an annual subsidy of $5,256 per child to offset soaring childcare costs.

Just the day before the Tories unveiled their campaign platform, the Liberal Party’s Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau announced that his administration would invest $8.72 billion to build or repair 400,000 units of affordable rental housing over the next decade, as part of the federal government’s initiative to ultimately reduce Canada’s homeless population by half.


In September, provincial leaders in British Columbia called a press conference to gleefully correct earlier forecasts of $2.4 billion in new social spending on health care, K-12 education and affordable housing.  The finance minister was happy to inform reporters that the province was actually on course to spend $1.5 billion more than initially anticipated.

“It’s a budget that puts people first,” said the minister, Carole James. Not to worry, however, as the expenditures are to be fully funded with a tax increase on personal incomes of more than $117,000 annually, from 14.7 to 16.8 percent, and on corporations, which will see their rate inch up from 11 to 12 percent.


An end to economic mimicry

What’s happening here in Canada is the phasing out of a ruinous national experiment in austerity that took its cue from the default position of the political class in the United States for two generations and counting. The GOP’s tax proposal is merely the last of a thousand deadly cuts inflicted by both Republicans and Democrats since Wall Street effectively organized a coup and assumed responsibility for New York City’s budget in 1975.

Conversely, Canada didn’t abandon the consensus that shaped North America’s postwar prosperity until 1995 in the aftermath of a deep recession. In his 1994 budget speech, the Finance Minister Paul Martin — who would go on to succeed Jean Chretien as Prime Minister in 2003 — introduced a landmark budget that mirrored the Clinton Administration’s own deficit hawkishness:

It is now time for government to get its fiscal house in order. For years, governments have been promising more than they can deliver, and delivering more than they can afford. That has to end. We are ending it . . . Over the next three years, for every one dollar raised in new revenues we will cut five dollars in government expenditures.”

Canada’s Liberal Party went on to slash the spending of virtually every federal department over a three-year span, reducing government expenditures by more than $19 billion – including nearly $6 billion in federal transfers to the provinces for health and education — and eliminating 45,000 public-service jobs. Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper followed the Liberals’ 13-year deficit-reduction scheme with nine years of his own.

The Trudeau government’s gradual restoration of government infrastructure investments — combined with the Conservatives’ embrace of increased government spending — represents a political response to cost-cutting measures that have proven deeply unpopular with Canada’s electorate, and a blunt acknowledgement that budget cuts, far from energizing an economy, sap it of the buying power it needs to grow.

“Our government will not repeat the ideological cuts of the former Conservative government,” a spokesman for Canada’s Treasury Secretary told reporters, to defend adding more than 3,700 new workers to the government payroll this year.


Political traditions driving economic policy

Family members are helped into Canada by Royal Canadian Mounted Police officers along the U.S.-Canada border near Hemmingford, Quebec. (Canadian Press via AP)

Family members are helped into Canada by Royal Canadian Mounted Police officers along the U.S.-Canada border near Hemmingford, Quebec. (Canadian Press via AP)

Polls show that nearly two-thirds of Americans disapprove of President Donald Trump’s tax proposal, which will surely double down on the Reagan Administration’s discredited trickle-down economic theory. So why is it that political support for austerity measures in the U.S. remains impregnable while their governmental counterparts just across the northern border are denouncing laissez-faire economics like the plague?

The answer can be found in the differing political traditions of the two neighboring nation states, said Bryan Evans, director for the Centre for Policy Innovation and Public Engagement at Toronto’s Ryerson University.

Ask any indigenous or Caribbean person living here and they will surely tell you that Canada is no racial utopia. But neither is it as deeply invested as is the United States in polarizing tribal narratives that undermine working-class solidarity, and allow the country’s wealthiest one percent to divide, and conquer, everyone else.

Take the province of Ontario for example. Of a total workforce of roughly 8 million people, 1 million are employed in the public sector. Inevitably, said Evans, few households are untouched by government layoffs.  “That’s my daughter, that’s my nephew, that’s my wife,” said Evans, describing Canadians’ typical response to provincial budget cuts.

While genocide of Native Americans was central to Canada’s colonial enterprise, the country’s relatively small population — 37 million people, according to the most recent Census figures — and abundant land meant that white settlers never relied on the triangular slave trade as much as did other colonial enterprises in the New World, such as Brazil or Haiti or, of course, the U.S. Consequently, Blacks never represented much of a threat to the landowning elite, either through violent slave revolts or as the most consistently liberal voting bloc in elections in which whites are often evenly split.

The banks’ takeover of New York City’s finances in 1975 is a case in point. As the historian Kim Phillips-Fein and others have noted, New York’s fiscal crisis, which began in 1973, was largely the result of exuberant real estate speculation and crony capitalism that awarded increasingly lucrative contracts to political donors. Wages were high, especially in the public sector, causing inflation to spike, but workers and their employers tend to view rising prices in sharply different ways. Economists say that moderate levels of inflation don’t impact economic growth, but an annual inflation of 5 percent means that a $100 loan this year is worth only $95 next year. Unsurprisingly, borrowers are unbothered by such a prospect while creditors often view price instability as a type of fraud.


“Donald Trump wouldn’t be possible here”

Yet, in making their case to white labor leaders and Democratic politicians, financiers portrayed African-Americans and Latinos in the public sector trade unions as reckless, selfish, and unpatriotic. Repeated endlessly as if on a tape loop — in vehicles such as the 1915 classic film, Birth of a Nation; the political consultant Lee Atwater’s campaign ads stoking fears of the black sexual menace; or Hillary Clinton’s depiction of the “super-predator” — such racist appeals have been seen to drive U.S. politics but simply don’t go over in Canada.

“Donald Trump wouldn’t be possible here,” said Evans. “In Canada we’ve had that tradition where government is not a dirty word. We do have our moments where we lurch to the right to fix a crisis but then everyone gets over their anger and says, ‘what have we done here?’”

The result is that Africans, Arabs and Asians tend to regard Canada far more favorably than they do other countries governed by European settlers. A 30-year-old South African refugee who fled political violence in Cape Town’s taxi industry and lived for awhile in North Carolina, before arriving in Toronto earlier this year, told me that “there is racism here, but the white settler in Canada is a better class of white settler than you’ll find either in America or South Africa.”

That said, there is a feeling among Canadians of a certain age that the damage done by neoliberalism is irreversible, even if not as severe as that done to the United States. The role of the financial sector in the economy is as outsized in Canada as it is in the U.S. and — while efforts to privatize education or shortchange the country’s famed universal health care system seem unlikely — labor is being increasingly casualized.

“I have a nephew who has a college degree and has done everything right, and his big ambition is to be part-time permanent,” said Evans. “There is a feeling in Canada that our best days are behind us.”

Top photo | President Donald Trump walks with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau along the Colonnade to the Oval Office at the White House on Oct. 11, 2017. (AP Photo)

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