In the political marketplace, Heath Ledger’s Joker meets the black voter

18 July 2008. That is the date most movie audiences got the chance to see, in my opinion, one of the finest performances in cinema. That day, “The Dark Knight” was released. It starred the late Heath Ledger as the iconic villain, “Joker.” The movie, released after Mr Ledger’s death, would garner him the Academy Award the following year. I can’t tell you how many times I have seen the movie over the past ten years. I always found the anarchy narrative intriguing. Joker’s appeal that we were supposed to live in a world without rules sits well with me. There is something else that I have noticed about the character. Joker lives in the past and is quick to let anyone within earshot, or his knife blade, know about his scars.

‘You wanna know how I got these scars?’ The interrogative served as a preamble to Joker taking a victim’s life. It also let the audience know they were going to take a trip down memory lane, into a past filled with pain and suffering. His physical scars, if one listens closely, were emblematic of the emotional scarring he suffered from childhood into his adult life. Authority had not only failed him but had also taken its anger out on him.  As a result, it appeared that Joker decided to go it alone, engaging only in temporary alliances, and discarding them when a job was done.

Joker’s preoccupation with the past reminds me of the preoccupation black American voters have with their historical and political past.  When you listen to a prominent black political leader, you are tempted to pull out your smartphone and check the calendar to verify whether the year is 2018 or 1968.  White Americans probably feel like the character, Michael Jai White’s character, “Gambol”, listening to black politicians and civil rights leaders wax on about past injustices before the knife blade stained with talk of reparations, income and wealth inequality, police brutality, and the never experienced (on both sides) trauma of slavery is slashed across their political necks.

White America in general and the conservative Republican Party in particular do not have political philosophies that require they labor in the pains of the past. In addition, the GOP still hold on to the narrative of less government intervention and more of the Ronald Reagan “up by your bootstraps” approach to solving household financial and economic issues.

Blacks would argue that the GOP would like to take America back to 1958 and the era of Jim Crow segregation, but again, given that the GOP has no past pains to ponder on, they and black American voters will fail to connect because their frequencies are different.

And I don’t see the GOP tuning in to black America past pain anytime soon. They don’t have to in order to get votes. Their lack of effective outreach over numerous past election cycles to black voters is evidence that I won’t be seeing any national or even state GOP candidates in Atlanta’s 30310 zip code.

Besides, if the GOP needs to leverage the pain narrative for votes, all they have to do is focus on the current dilemma facing white men. Although the economy has recovered, white working age men in rural areas are feeling the impact of long term unemployment and lower wages. They have turned to opioids as a coping mechanism. I don’t see the Democratic Party reaching out to this group meaning an opportunity for Republicans to dust off the plate and take a few swings for the bases this fall.

And what would Joker advise? He would probably say try a little aggressive expansion, dump the rules, and go your own way.

The physics of capital

Is capital is fixed? Like energy can it neither be created or destroyed? In an hour from this writing financial markets in the United States will open up for trading. These markets act as the medium for converting cash into stocks or bonds. The law of energy would describe this conversion as the creation of a disordered state where the original form of matter, in this case cash, is turned into a more disordered state, in this case a security.

The market process does not follow the law of energy precisely. Whereas after converting matter into a disordered state means that the resulting products cannot be recombined into the original form, the stocks and bonds purchased with cash can be sold in the markets with the result being the original form, cash.

The market provides a conduit for energy transfer, the transfer between cash and securities. I consider the energy transfer that we see in the financial markets as an echo of the original and most important form of capital: information and knowledge. Information and knowledge are the “big bang” of our capital universe. The information that we derive about and from the land allow us to create and use knowledge about farming, mining, fishing. As the land becomes increasingly valuable as a source of goods and services, we use this knowledge about productivity as leverage for creating banks and banking and payment systems. Through lending and borrowing money is created and these funds can be used to expand productive capacity or invest in stocks or bonds.

Information isn’t the capital of the 21st century. It has been the premier capital of human existence. All other substance we refer to as capital emanates from this origin and is a reflection of the value of information.

I would argue that knowledge and information represent another divergence away from the laws of energy. Knowledge and information are not fixed. Man is always discovering something new whether about himself as a sovereign or about the universe around her. The more she discovers and the better she is at communicating her discoveries, the more capital in the form of currency that she can accumulate.

Currency transmits to the markets the value its holder has. It should also signal us to look behind the currency to determine who the holder is.  The rapper who has $300,000 in currency but owns no productive property and has no prospects for another hit album in a year has low value. The markets will not want to trade with him on a continuous basis versus a writer with $50,000 in coin but also owns land that she rents out for farming and is able to write software apps when not writing music. The market will see her as high value and will trade her currency.

This creates a political dilemma for politicians who claim to represent the interests of the poor. They must now come to terms with an information gap spurred on by a lack of critical thinking skills in America. Solving real world problems not only benefits the individual but benefits communities overall as solutions are distributed throughout communities. The ability to bring solutions to real world problems enhances value and creates currency. For the poor access to quality education or other resources that provide a conduit to knowledge should be at the top of the policy agenda if they are to survive an economy that asserts a greater need for knowledge and information talent.

Capital may, after all, not be fixed and can be created. Information is the most important source of capital and like energy needs an infrastructure that allows its generators to signal and transmit value.

 

The Caribbean as dumping ground for sovereign independents

Current residents of the #Caribbean should consider that the goal of those accepting citizenship by investment or pursuing policies of population reduction as a recovery policy post Hurricanes Irma y Maria may have as an end game the creation of independent jurisdictions that support sovereign individualism.

By combining cryptocurrency, renewable energy, and tax exempt jurisdiction schemes, such off-grid independence can be created for the wealthy. Declining liberal welfare nation-states such as the United States and the United Kingdom will serve as the dumping ground for Caribbean nationals who cannot push back against the onslaught of invading #capital entering the Caribbean under the initial disguise of “seeking a better life, diversity, and getting a deeper tan”, the bulwarks of gentrification.

Be mindful of the invader reciting the mantra peace, love, and soul as her agenda. Those were merely the closing words of a TV show. It is the nightmare of the horror movie of cultural usurpation that you should be concerned about…

Black America’s wrong approach to STEM

Black America needs more engineers but not for the reasons we typically hear on the panel discussion stump. On the panel discussion stump, you typically find well dressed and articulate black men and women speaking on the importance of going to college and picking up degrees in science, technology, engineering, or math in order to get a job with a corporation and make six-figures. Going into six-figure debt to get a six-figure job. Where did this school of thought come from?

Black America’s approach to learning about technology favors consumption of the applications that run over broadband networks. That is what I see particularly among poor blacks here in the West End and the Old Fourth Ward. We are using broadband voice applications to share the latest gossip or evangelizing on life. We are keeping occupied reading news items, watching sports highlights, or playing video games as we pass time on MARTA heading to work. Just about everyone has a cellphone and if you don’t, worry not. If you meet income eligibility requirements, you can buy one from a vendor at the corner of York Avenue and Lee Highway.

This propensity to consume technology is not relegated to the Black American poor. According to a 2016 report released by Nielsen,  Black Millennials are expected to help drive the leveraging of $1.2 billion in Black American buying power. With a cellphone ownership penetration rate of 91%, Nielsen sees Black Americans continuing to use the technology to extend black cultural identity and, with Millennials leading the way, continue efforts at civic or institutional change in America. Black America is also expected to buy more beauty and hair care products versus their white counterparts.

Millennials are expected to take their higher incomes into supermarkets as well. Black Americans demonstrate a propensity for cooking from scratch, planning meals ahead, and using fresh ingredients.

In short, the Nielsen report paints a picture of a Black America that furthers consumer centrism. Since release from their status as chattel slaves, blacks in America have slowly become a population over-indexed on consumption. And to further fuel its $1.2 billion in buying power, Black America has embarked on a campaign to get more of its young people into STEM jobs.

STEM employment pays well, according to a report written by the U.S. Department of Education. The average STEM employee pulls in approximately $65,000 a year. Those specializing in engineering or engineering technology average $73,700 a year. Great incomes for hair and makeup and cultural expression. But what is more important, in my view, is STEM driven creation of resources placed in black communities for blacks.

We don’t hear enough about the entrepreneurial side of STEM although we have examples out there. Firms such as Logistics Systems Incorporated and ATS-Chester Engineers have been providing engineering services for decades. They are demonstrating that blacks can do more than consume technology but design technology solutions as well. Production and ownership of technology assets lie at the heart of wealth creation for blacks and if properly deployed can be the basis for the creation of real black communities in the United States.

Unfortunately for current black communities, their leadership is tainted. Legacy black civil rights organizations that have a leadership class still living in 1968 are still focusing on how best to break into corporate America, or in the case of establishing minority-owned firms, maintaining affirmative action programs that provide set asides from government contracts. To paraphrase Yuval Noah Harari, they do not even have realistic ideas of what the job market looks like in two decades because they cannot see. Black leadership is still nostalgic about the civil rights battles of the 1960s when the focus should be on the resource and capital battles of the 21st century.

One example of a leadership not understanding STEM’s practical use is the lack of solar in the West End. I have yet to see a community solar farm. I see more historic district designations on houses than I see solar panels or wind turbines. Finding low cost energy solutions by pooling more STEM talent into black owned firms is a start. Current legacy black-owned engineering firms should consider investing in new black-owned start-ups that are committed to serving distressed communities. No community should be without its own locally owned energy source and this is one approach toward developing one.

Black America’s one-prong approach to STEM needs an upgrade and new leadership.

America doesn’t have a race problem. Blacks have an expectations problem

Black people expect to be loved. A couple days ago I was standing in a cashier line at a neighborhood grocery. A man ahead of me lamented to the cashier that whites were trickling in to the majority black West End section of Atlanta. He found their perceived behavior toward him and other blacks disturbing. “They look at us as if to say, ‘Why are you here?'” The cashier responded, “Well, they can’t make you move?”

The cashier is right in that blacks cannot be forced to move, but the reality of the economy is that more blacks in West End may have to as Atlanta’s political economy continues to experience demographic shifts. More whites are moving to the Atlanta metropolitan area and the core city can no longer be referred to as “Chocolate City.” It is increasingly mocha, strawberry, and vanilla.

To the gentleman who was line with me, he probably perceives that whites have a distaste for dark chocolate. To some white palates the taste of chocolate is bitter and for many blacks this signals a race problem. If, as a black person, I am not accepted by whites, then there is a national problem with race. I don’t think so. Rather, I argue that white society’s attitude towards blacks is in keeping with their expectations as to how the American political economy is supposed to work. Black expectations as to being accepted and loved holds no water because blacks were never a part of the American political economy’s marketing plan from the beginning.

Citing data from the Federal Reserve, The Washington Post reported last October that one in seven whites in America had a net worth of one million dollars versus one in fifty black Americans enjoying the same status. What is more telling is that the percentage of white households enjoying this status has doubled over the last 25 years while the percentage of black households worth at least a million has remained stagnant during this same period.

I wouldn’t expect many whites to be shocked at this number. They will be the first to tell you that this is a result of hard work and discipline mixed in with a little luck. They and their ancestors took the opportunity provided them in this land to increase their wealth and income. Blacks, they might argue, did not.

And these expectations and attitudes are reinforced by real social networks. Citing research from the Public Religion Research Institute, The Washington Post reported that out of 100 friends, the average white person will have 91 white friends and one black friend. Blacks are a bit more friendlier. Out of 100 friends, 83 are black and eight are white.

Blacks, in my opinion, expect the creed as expressed in either the airy words of Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence or Dr Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech to be lived up to, especially in the 21st century where the United States has elected a president of East African descent and descendants of slaves imported from West Africa now have multi-million dollar sport contracts and hundreds of vice-presidents in corporate human resources departments driving a BMW or a Mercedes Benz.

But even with the lofty speeches and the one-zee, two-zees of Black material success, full incorporation into the American political economy has not occurred and won’t because an invitation was never issued to blacks. For whites, race is not a problem not only because they don’t see race as they have done a good job creating an exclusive bubble but because the liquor flowing from the open bar that was promised to them is still flowing their way. The social contract between whites and the American political economy is still being honored.

Blacks should expect no real love ….

Atlanta’s ninety-four percent have no leadership

On the occasions that I ride MARTA, I am always saddened by what I see in the ridership. It is mostly black, overweight, loud, low to middle income in dress and carriage. The body language of the ridership transmits defeat and a lack of control over its resources. Hell. We have no resources.

When blacks engage each other on the train, bus, or the grocery aisles, the conversation tends to center on food prices and domestic turmoil. Social media outlets such as Facebook and Twitter have only served to increase the noise, giving a platform for ratchetness in text and in video.

On social media, it seems like blacks are interested in becoming video stars, drinking the Kool-Aid that Atlanta’s “Black Hollywood” narrative transmits. It is not uncommon now to see a bunch of twenty-somethings walking around the West End posing in front of cameras and smartphones shooting videos to be posted on Instagram or Facebook.

But when I visit Peachtree Center I see much less swag and more of “playing it safe, gotta keep this job” demeanor from the few blacks that I see there versus whites and Asians who carry themselves with more confidence likely due to their much greater representation in much higher paying jobs. If Atlanta is the “Black Mecca”, then its tribal chiefs are doing a poor job of representing it.

I say poor job because Atlanta’s black elite have forgotten the basic rule of leadership: you are only as valid as the prosperity of the people around you. Assuming that Atlanta’s black wealth is reflected in national statistics, then blacks are in pretty bad shape. According to U.S. Census Bureau data, 57.6% of blacks own an interest earning account, while 78% of their white counterparts and 78.5% of Asians own such an account. Fifty eight percent of Hispanics own an interest earning account.

Blacks are not as diversified as whites and Asians in terms of participation in the equity markets. Just over six percent of blacks own stock or mutual fund shares, according to U.S. Census data, while 25.2% of whites and 26% of Asians own stocks or mutual funds. Hispanics come in at 5.5% of their population investing directly in stocks or mutual funds.

Blacks have not gotten into the game of owning their federal or local governments’ debt. Three percent of blacks own U.S. government bonds while 0.5% own municipal bonds. Ten percent of whites own U.S. government bonds while three percent of whites own municipal bonds. Other ethnic groups are in the single digits as well when it comes to owning public debt. Four and one-half percent of Asians own U.S. government bonds while just one percent of Asians own municipal bonds. A little over two percent of Hispanics own U.S. government bonds while 0.3% of their population own municipal bonds.

Even with their numerical majority (which is waning with each passing year), black Atlanta couldn’t influence a political outcome without blowing its basic house budget. One is naive about American politics if they believe the vote alone can sustain any level of political power.

Decreased political power is a boat with a big hole in it, rudderless, with a stalling engine and a navigator that cannot read a compass. For 44 years, the Atlanta black political elite have benefited from enjoying a political largess that is increasingly scarce. Rather than dominance, the political elite appears willing to settle on being the minority pivotal vote. Will the Atlanta black political establishment fare well at its future deal maker role and will new pluralities in the future be willing to pay the bribe?

 

Does Atlanta’s mayor have any influence in the Georgia legislature?

It is still early, but the decision of the Georgia General Assembly to make Delta Air Lines an example of what happens when you enter their gun rights cross-hairs has me puzzled about Atlanta mayor Keisha Lance Bottom’s influence at the Capital. A major economic driver for Atlanta and the state of Georgia sits in her back yard and her public response to the general assembly’s actions have been very cautious. Mayor Bottoms recently said the following to the Atlanta Business Chronicle:

“We are grateful for the partnership we have with Delta. So much of what we do in Atlanta is with the corporate community, including Delta. Atlanta will remain a city that is welcoming, inclusive, and diverse.”

“We value our partnerships and relationships with our corporate partners. We have mutual respect for the positions they take on any number of matters. Anytime there are discussions on issues that are divisive, there are concerns not just in Atlanta, but at the state level.”

“I know that Delta has navigated this before. The City of Atlanta remains open for business, and we remain a committed partner with Delta.”

The Mayor did not issue a press statement on her own website. Her comments to the Atlanta Business Chronicle sounded canned; like messaging that a politician would issue during some social strife involving race or sexual orientation discrimination. In addition, there was nothing in her messaging that tells me that she or her staff went up to the Capital to speak with Lt. Governor Cagle, the architect of the campaign against extending a fuel tax exemption for Delta. The usual language like, “We implored the Lt. Governor to blah, blah, blah…” or, “We are working with our Atlanta delegation to the general assembly to yada, yada, yada …” was not uttered in the interview or anywhere else in public. Even if the Mayor tried to work behind the scenes to head off Mr Cagle’s retaliation, Mrs Bottoms blew an opportunity to create the appropriate political optics.

Mrs Bottoms will need to start working more authoritative optics if she is to survive politically the dawn of a new political era in Atlanta. Changes in Atlanta’s demographics will weaken “The Black Slate” that helped Mrs Bottoms defeat fellow Democrat Mary Norwood last November. Mrs Norwood lost, for the second time, her bid to become Atlanta’s first white mayor since 1974. Mrs Bottoms might not find it easier in 2021 as a city, formerly known as “The Black Mecca” becomes increasing white and beige.

Atlanta’s black population made up 57.4% of the city’s populace in 2000. By 2010, according to U.S. Census data, Blacks made up 54% of the city’s population. The proportion of the city’s non-Hispanic white population increased from 31.3% in 2000 to 33.3% in 2010.  Asians saw their share go from 3.9% in 2000 to 5.1% in 2010.

Anyone doubting the increase in the Latino population need only take a jaunt up Buford Highway to see for themselves. Atlanta’s Latino population share has gone from 7.5% in 2000 to 10.2% in 2010.

And speaking further of optics, Mrs Bottoms looks less in tune with the 12.8% of the Atlanta population that describes itself as gay or bisexual. I suspect a married Black American woman with four children and a husband has a personal philosophy out of touch with the LGBTQ community, where her messages about inclusiveness and diversity may become increasingly vacuous.

Lastly, her calls for affordable housing may find themselves falling on deaf ears. When my son and I moved to Atlanta in 2008, you nary saw a white person in the Fourth Ward unless they were visiting the King Memorial or driving down Boulevard to hang a right on Ponce de Leon on their way to Whole Foods. Blacks were in abundance then, much less so now.

The Fourth Ward has been gentrifying for a decade. One of the first signals was the establishment of an elementary grade level charter school off of Pine Street. The school failed but gentrification is succeeding. More whites have moved into the area. Even the Taco Bell on Ponce has gotten a facelift as a result. Even as city development agencies such as Invest Atlanta divert bond financed funding to support the development of “affordable” residential housing, increased demand for city services and creeping yields on bonds will mean selecting potential home buyers that can afford the interest rates. Except for a few bourgeoisie Blacks, I suspect that most of the people taking advantage of “affordable” housing will be white and Asian.

Mrs Bottoms hasn’t come out swinging. She is acting more like a house sitter than the mayor of a growing city with a significant level of poverty among the Black Slate that elected her. To validate the usefulness of government as a provider of “protective services” and to avoid losing political consumers from the political markets, Mrs Bottoms will have to step up.