According to press accounts, Micah Johnson is a former army reservist who was a carpentry and masonry specialist which has nothing at all to do with tactical weapons training and usage. It’s clear that he acquired those skills somewhere and according to the Chicago Tribune, he acquired those skills from an outfit known as the Academy of Combative Warrior Arts. It wasn’t clear how long he attended there or how extensive his training was, however, that training would have been far more extensive than anything the police would have had to undergo given the number of police he killed and wounded. Here’s a description of the Tactical Applications Program class he took from ACWA’s website:
What if I am new to all this?
No prior experience is necessary, but even if you have experience, you will get some great practical trigger time in. After all its the fundamentals you NEED to train so you have the skills to do what you WANT to train.
What is a normal class like?
Once a month, every month we will book a 2 hour session for the group and go over a variety of topics and drills that will allow you to gain and hone your ability with a firearm in a real world situation.
So after a few two hour monthly sessions, Johnson has the same sorts of skills as if he had gone to special forces training. Let’s keep in mind that getting that sort of training in the service tends to be highly selective and I don’t think comparing his skills to special forces is a stretch. Again, he’s supposed to have killed five and wounded seven armed police officers all by himself. Is there something missing from this story? I think so.
As to his supposed black radical leanings, the picture I’ve included above is the one that’s been blasted throughout the mainstream media. It’s one from central casting as far as a black radical is concerned with the raised fist and dashiki. It reeks of caricature and one that’s far too convenient. Assuming someone was inclined to do this, would they really have to be a prototypical “black radical”?
Obviously, I’m skeptical and for good reason.
I’m a long time entrepreneur and most of us in small business spend time thinking about ways to make money. For me that sort of mindset makes me very observant when it comes to business and watching what other people are doing. One thing I’ve come to learn that what you do to make money doesn’t have to be glamorous and fancy or even particularly big, although with success it may wind up that way. More often than not, it’s preconceived notions about what a business should be that actually prevents success. At bottom, a good business either solves a problem or offers a compelling convenience. That’s what one must start off with rather than preconceived notions about glamour and other stuff that has nothing to do with making money.
There are two Lowes that are near me and I’m in either store two or three times weekly and at both locations, I notice a hotdog stand right outside of each store. I also notice that he’s pretty busy. I normally don’t deal with processed meat, but I decided one day to stop a get a hot dog and engage the guy. He tells me he lost his job one year and simply decided to go into business with the hot dog stand and cut a deal with Lowes to let him sell them outside of the store. As we’re talking, he tells me he’s sold 500 hot dogs that day. His average price per sandwich is about $ 7.00 per sandwich, so that means he grossed about $ 3500 for that day. This is a 100% cash business and the margins are huge. How much does a package of hot dogs, buns and condiments cost? On $ 3500 gross, I’m guessing cost is about $ 500-$700, so he’s cleared around $ 3000 just in one day from one location. His initial investment in the cart itself was probably around $ 2000 to $ 4000. The guy is out there everyday all year long come rain, snow, cold or shine. He covers two Lowes stores in my area and traffic is heavy at both with contractors and consumers constantly flowing in and out. Did I mention that this is an 100% cash business? Who would think a hot dog cart would do that kind of business? He has some risk though as a change in management at Lowes could end a very lucrative arrangement overnight. If I were him, I’d be channeling that money into other ventures
We can talk the 1%, unequal wealth distribution, the broken political system and etc. All the criticism of that is true and can have an affect on lives, but there is a limit and sometimes we grant more power to these things than we do to our own abilities to impact our own lives. Simply put, it’s our choices that have the greatest impact on our lives and livelihoods. This guy lost his job and came up with an alternative way to make a living. Moreover, he wasn’t limited by what he chose to do. For many folks, running a hot dog stand is “beneath them” or isn’t glamorous enough. A lot of this comes from popular media portrayals of “successful entrepreneurs” which tend to overlook the everyday small businesses that are decidedly unglamorous but making money. This is a perfect example of someone fixing his own problem.
Did I mention this is a 100% cash business with a relative low capital requirements? Many people I talk to have elaborate unworkable schemes for going into business that require a bunch of capital or will choose low capital stuff like multi level marketing which haven’t the slightest chance of generating profit. A simple business model that provides a good or service folks buy everyday is the best.
Britain’s exit from the European Union is a reflection of several things; joblessness caused by”free trade”, a rejection of the push for austerity to save the banks and a tide of anti-immigrant sentiment. The latter is much easier to latch onto for blame as it is here in the US. No one gives much thought to the fact that economic policies pushing cheap labor to drive profits is the reason for immigration. In the case of Europe, no one gives much thought to the fact that wars conducted by NATO in the middle east have also driven people into their countries. No one explains this which leaves a vacuum to be filled by right wing demagogues like Trump or Nigel Farage both of whom put the blame squarely on immigration. What their followers don’t realize is that throwing out the immigrants will do little to improve their lot. They’ll continue working for slave wages or be unemployed.
For the European periphery (i.e the PIIGS) and increasingly the core, the EU has been treating them in a manner very similar to policies commonly deployed in Africa, Latin America and the rest of the so called third world. In short, those policies have been to load them up with debt and then demand natural resources, privatization and austerity when the debt burden can’t be paid back. Where does the money to give these countries come from? Out of the same thin air that all other debt comes from. This money is just printed, so in essence very valuable physical resources and entire nations are enslaved and impoverished in exchange for essentially nothing. In other words, if I have the power to print money that everyone accepts as a medium of exchange, all I have to do to acquire assets is merely to print more of it, loan it to you and take your real resources when you can’t pay it back. In essence, I get your stuff for absolutely nothing.
The entire economic relationship with much of the third world is constructed on this very basis, but a Brexit is not available for them. This is the main reason that we see so many brutal dictators and strong men in Africa, the middle east and elsewhere. An outbreak of democracy would lead to many nations exiting from this scheme and the strongman’s purpose—and let’s not be under any illusions here, these people are put in place by European powers— is to keep this system in place. The result is permanent impoverishment and retarded economic and social development of entire nations. Britain enjoys white privilege in that it can exit, but not all whites are the same as Greece can’t exit although they could consider it. Considering it in Africa, Latin America or the middle east is the quickest route to either a coup or war. So, let’s not forget to acknowledge the fact that the majority of the globe can not “exit” from a system that creates wealth for a few at the great expense of the many.
The Fourth Amendment to the US Constitution used to bar illegal search and seizure by the police under what’s commonly referred to as the Exclusionary Rule; which meant that any evidence of law breaking was tainted and inadmissible in court if the search wasn’t legal under the requirement of “reasonable suspicion” which was formerly required for investigatory stops. That’s all changed now. Here’s what Justice Sonia Sotomayor said in her dissent:
The Court today holds that the discovery of a warrant for an unpaid parking ticket will forgive a police officer’s violation of your Fourth Amendment rights. Do not be soothed by the opinion’s technical language: This case allows the police to stop you on the street, demand your identification, and check it for outstanding traffic warrants—even if you are doing nothing wrong. If the officer discovers a warrant for a fine you forgot to pay, courts will now excuse his illegal stop and will admit into evidence anything he happens to find by searching you after arresting you on the warrant. Because the Fourth Amendment should prohibit, not permit, such misconduct, I dissent.
Basically, we’ve entered a police state and it’s my feeling that this is basically a function of the economic situation we find ourselves in. As wealth and inequality centralizes in the hands of a few, the bread and circuses diversions aren’t going to be enough to stave off a season of discontent. I feel the idea is the simply warehouse folks in jail to prevent dissent from being expressed in the streets. This will fall disproportionately on black and brown, but ultimately this setup is going to target far more than just black and brown.
It’s been a little while since I’ve written anything here. In part, my absence was due to just being busy with work, but that’s not the only reason. Sometimes, I just need to stop and just soak in what others are writing, so I’ve been doing quite a bit of reading during my hiatus and that was what I was doing today when I ran across a piece by economist Joseph Stiglitz entitled “The 1 Percent’s Problem”. I don’t know much about Stiglitz other than what he’s written. I suppose the reason I say that is that he’s formerly the chief economist of the World Bank; an institution that clearly serves the same 1% he derides in his op-ed, so it’s hard to understand his motivations in light of that. The fact that I have that question in my mind speaks directly to the mistrust problem that he cogently outlines in the excerpt below:
The Mistrust Problem
One of the puzzles in modern political economy is why anyone bothers to vote. Very few elections actually turn on the ballot of a single individual. There is a cost to voting—no state has an explicit penalty for staying home, but it takes time and effort to get to the polls—and there is seemingly almost never a benefit. Modern political and economic theory assumes the existence of rational, self-interested actors. On that basis, why anyone would vote is a mystery.
The answer is that we’ve been inculcated with notions of “civic virtue.” It is our responsibility to vote. But civic virtue is fragile. If the belief takes hold that the political and economic systems are stacked, individuals will feel released from their civic obligations. When that social contract is abrogated—when trust between a government and its citizens fails—disillusionment, disengagement, or worse is sure to follow. In the United States today, and in many other democracies around the world, mistrust is on the ascendant.
It’s even built in. The head of Goldman Sachs, Lloyd Blankfein, made it perfectly clear: sophisticated investors don’t, or at least shouldn’t, rely on trust. Those who bought the products his bank sold were consenting adults who should have known better. They should have known that Goldman Sachs had the means, and the incentive, to design products that would fail; that they had the means and the incentive to create asymmetries of information—where they knew more about the products than the buyers did—and the means and the incentive to take advantage of those asymmetries. The people who fell victim to the investment banks were, for the most part, well-off investors. But deceptive credit-card practices and predatory lending have left Americans more broadly with a sense that banks are not to be trusted.
Economists often underestimate the role of trust in making our economy work. If every contract had to be enforced by one party taking the other to court, our economy would be in gridlock. Throughout history, the economies that have flourished are those where a handshake is a deal. Without trust, business arrangements based on an understanding that complex details will be worked out later are no longer feasible. Without trust, each participant looks around to see how and when those with whom he is dealing will betray him.
Widening inequality is corrosive of trust: in its economic impact, think of it as the universal solvent. It creates an economic world in which even the winners are wary. But the losers! In every transaction—in every encounter with a boss or business or bureaucrat—they see the hand of someone out to take advantage of them.
Nowhere is trust more important than in politics and the public sphere. There, we have to act together. It’s easier to act together when most individuals are in similar situations—when most of us are, if not in the same boat, at least in boats within a range of like sizes. But growing inequality makes it clear that our fleet looks different—it’s a few mega-yachts surrounded by masses of people in dugout canoes, or clinging to flotsam—which helps explain our vastly differing views of what the government should do.
This excerpt describes how I feel about a great many things and particularly about national politics. I don’t advocate people not voting as it’s really not my place to do so, but disinterest in the process arises naturally when mistrust and irrelevance sets in.
The political parties and their candidates sell us their brand and we only have a choice between two brands; a democrat or a republican. But behind each brand, there’s a sameness or a oneness that really doesn’t distinguish the two in any significant way. In other words, the branding sells the electorate on a difference that really doesn’t exist where it really matters and the staged fights that we see are actually designed to reinforce the branding more than anything else. The nation has lurched towards a vast concentration of wealth and power with the assistance of both parties. We’re in imperialist entanglements due to a very consistent foreign policy pursued by both parties. That foreign policy has saddled us with trillions of dollars of debt and that is leading to a fiscal train wreck that’s been overseen by both parties. There is really no difference between the two where it matters and the differences that are plied to us by the corporate controlled press are on issues that mostly don’t matter while the issues that do matter can’t even be discussed. I liken it to a house that has a leaky faucet in the kitchen while it sits in the path of a raging forest fire. The press and the politicians only talk about the leaky faucet, which is an issue, but it happens to not be as big of an issue as the fire. So, we wind up voting for whoever convinces us that they’re the best person to fix the faucet while no one acknowledges the fire. That’s not rational.
No, there’s no need to advocate that someone not vote, but awareness can lead one to the very rational conclusion that engagement with a broken political process that amounts to a fiction is a waste of time—particularly when there’s a fire lapping at the door. It’s far better to make preparations to escape the flames.
I took a break from my busy schedule a couple of weeks ago to attend an event sponsored by the Philadelphia African-American Chamber of Commerce where Maggie Anderson, author of Our Black Year was a guest speaker. I picked up a copy of her book, which I highly recommend, and have just finished reading it. Ms. Anderson is a dynamic speaker and her book is thought provoking, however, given the backdrop of my own experiences both as a business person and as one who’s had a level of involvement in the community, some of her conclusions and observations aren’t particularly surprising.
Our Black Year recounts the experience of Anderson and her family as they went on a buy black campaign by directing much of their everyday spending to black businesses in the Chicagoland area. To accomplish this, the family really inconvenienced themselves by going out their way and traveling far from home to even find black businesses to patronize. Much of this additional effort was the result of the sheer paucity of black business representation in basic industries such as grocery stores, specialty shops and the like. Although studies have shown that African-Americans are forming businesses at a rapid rate, there’s still a very long way to go to build a significant presence in the business world and in local neighborhoods where small businesses normally thrive. The single greatest challenge that the Anderson family faced was just being able to find black owned businesses to patronize and in many instances, they came up with none. The Andersons also found that support for this effort from other African Americans and certain civil rights organizations to be mixed.
Ms. Anderson’s call for upper and middle income African-Americans to “buy black” has not been without controversy. There have been accusations that this call amounts to racism and I suppose that if this is seen as the equivalent of a call to “buy white”, I can see how that argument could be made, but that really misreads what she’s calling for. Anderson is really calling for self help economic development in the African-American community. Unfortunately, the accusations of racism were loud enough to result in a threatened lawsuit from Ebony magazine forcing her to remove the “Ebony” from name of the foundation she developed to study and promote self help economic development within African-American communities. Apparently, the buy black campaign that was being run under the name “Ebony Experiment” resulted in the magazine being under pressure from advertisers who thought that the campaign was being run under the magazine’s aegis and that gave rise to the threatened lawsuit unless the name of the foundation was changed. That experience along with a waivered commitment by some wealthy African-Americans to financially support the foundation introduced a cold slap of reality to Anderson who may have had some naiveté when it came to idealistic notions of what might be possible when dealing with certain elements within the community. Clearly, not everyone is ready to board the bus, so to speak.
That cold slap of reality continued as it dawned on the Andersons just how few quality black businesses existed that could be supported even though Chicago has one of the largest African-American populations in the country. And the few quality ones that did exist struggled to survive due to lack of support, ineffective marketing, insufficient capital and a myriad of other reasons. Anderson describes in depth the situation of an African-American owned grocery named Farmer’s Best. This was a quality black business that was competently managed that wound up folding due to lack of sales and insufficient capital for staying power. Anderson attributes the grocer’s failure to the lack of support from the African-American community, even though she and the grocer went all out with their marketing efforts by holding fairs and free events to build foot traffic to no avail. Particularly galling to Anderson was the brisk business being done by Hispanic grocers while Farmer’s Best suffered.
I’m not so sure that this grocer’s failure can be ascribed totally to lack of African-American support and the comparison to Hispanic grocers may not be entirely valid. First, Hispanics have an ethnic food thing going that isn’t necessarily replicated in major stores while African Americans lack the same entre. The food we eat is more “American” and that means a small grocer without the ethnic hook is competing against the vast marketing and buying power of the major chains. Once you combine the competitive disadvantages on marketing and buying power with lack of capital, a smaller grocer will simply not have the staying power to make it. Having more support from the community might have helped, but the competitive disadvantages would have been tough to overcome even with that. The grocer might have fared better as a scaled down operation specializing in certain products only. The overall trend in the economy towards consolidation makes it tough for smaller business and that ultimately may impact Hispanic grocers also unless they scale up and put a vice grip on their market. So there’s a lesson in the failure of this particular black grocer that’s not entirely attributable to a lack of African-American support. Ironically, in a twist, Anderson describes how the grocer himself felt that being identified as a black business may have actually hurt him in getting black customers.
Unfortunately, some of the other business that the Anderson family patronized during their odyssey also folded due to lack of sales which is almost always symptomatic of something else. Some of the businesses were headed for failure anyway merely as a function of not really being ready for prime time, while others were ready and just simply lacked the capital to make a go of it. Toward the of end of the book, it almost seems that Anderson has gotten so disappointed and dejected by the experience that she ends up with a call for more supplier diversity from larger corporations—which falls outside of the normal buy black mantra, but doesn’t note that the same issues she ran into attempting to patronize quality black businesses will likely be the same ones the supplier diversity people will run into. As a matter of fact, and speaking from experience, that’s guaranteed to be a certainty.
Ms. Anderson reminds me of a modern day Marcus Garvey. Students of history will recollect that Marcus Garvey was one of the first Black Nationalists who called for black economic empowerment. Although I really admire Anderson’s courage and tenacity here. I believe her call to “buy black” is somewhat misdirected. I believe this to be so because economic development of the African-American community isn’t necessarily a function of people buying black– rather it’s a function of people just buying. Once you begin looking at things in the context of the broader market, then there’s some clarity developed around what needs to happen to set that up.
Anderson is really calling for investment in the African-American community through black to black consumerism. I think the call really needs to one for investment of capital. In other words, there’s needs to be an investment of money, time and effort in building the types of businesses that can be supported by everyone. Basically, we need to develop trade both within and outside of the community. The end result of that is the same that Ms. Anderson really desires—the economic development of the African-American community to make a dent in the pernicious problems that exist.
When I think about this call to “buy black”, I’m forced to think about the Chinese or the Indians from the subcontinent. Both of these groups have thriving business communities, yet we’ve not heard similar calls from these groups for others to “buy Chinese” or “buy Indian”. First, they don’t have the numbers where this sort of call would even be viable, but more importantly, they’ve focused their businesses on the broader market by effectively trading their unique ethnic food/culture to those who like to partake of it. African-Americans do something similar in the fields of sports and entertainment, however, we mostly don’t control those industries and that’s the major difference. For example, you’ll notice that Chinese restaurants seem to be never franchised or subjected to the forces that eliminated neighborhood hardware stores and small retailers. As I understand it, this is a function of the manner in which the food is cooked as well as their firm control over all aspects of the Chinese restaurant industry. Essentially, they’ve created a high barrier to entry. On the whole African-Americans lack that sort of impregnable barrier to entry and that key difference accounts for why we don’t hear calls from the Chinese to “buy Chinese”. They’ve got the thing set up where they don’t have to do that. Our focus needs to be along the same lines. So the call really isn’t about buying black so much as creating the compelling reasons for anyone to buy—and that takes serious work and planning.
From my observations, the greatest challenge in developing the African-American community revolve around a few things—a leadership gap, an expertise gap and a capital gap. You can buy black all day, but if those issues aren’t addressed, all that effort will amount to is a study in frustration—which happens to be largely the story told by Anderson in her book. Of these three, closing the leadership and expertise gaps are the most critical. It must be understood that the bulk of the community’s issues arise from the absence of Dubois’ talented tenth. The best and the brightest aren’t deployed or focused on building and investing in the African-American community as they’re pre-occupied with their jobs and the trappings of success that are fueling someone else’s economic success. In effect, that often leaves the second string in control of the politics, the businesses and everything else within and just as you can’t expect to win a basketball game with your second string when the other team is fielding its starters, so it is when it comes to a community. The absence and lack of meaningful engagement of the best and brightest—our intelligentsia—is quite evident and this is the main difference between the African-American community when it comes to any comparison to other communities. It is our best and most talented who possess the organizational ability and the know how to run the businesses, politics and anything else. They’re not on the scene and this figures prominently—very prominently—in the conditions that exist within the African-American community. Basically, we need to take our MBA’s and our training and begin investing and executing within.
This thing is far more complex and is going to require far more work than just calling for folks to buy black. But having said all of that, there’s another notion that must be challenged and that revolves around the idea that black people don’t support black business. I happen to own a business and that’s not been my experience. But black business not being supported by African-Americans is not that the only fallacy that needs to be dispensed with. The other one relates to the fact that racism is so pervasive, that whites will not patronize a black business unless forced to with some diversity program. That has also not been my experience.
Here’s what my experience informs me of—a real business is not about civil rights, buying black or any other romantic notions. It’s about business and that means offering competitive services that the public wants. If you’re not absolutely clear on that, you won’t be in business very long. Now, once you’ve successfully done that, there may be some romantic notions you support—but that’s different, separate and apart from business.
When I started this post originally, my intent was to review Ms. Anderson’s book for the reader rather than insert my own thoughts, but as I began writing, that wasn’t possible. There are a few other things as a business person of color that I can and should share. I’ll do that in successive posts over the next few months.
This falls into the category of the sort of news that’s significant, but is relegated to the back pages, while the diversionary infotainment that informs you of nothing is in the headlines. Here’s the story:
While many sports fans are preparing for Sunday’s Super Bowl by organizing parties and shopping for TVs, the U.S. government is preparing in a different way. Just yesterday, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency seized 307 different domains suspected of violating NFL copyrights. Of those, 16 were suspected of illegal streaming. The rest were allegedly selling counterfeit NFL merchandise.
The seizure was conducted under U.S. civil law, not criminal law. That means the affected parties need to prove that the internet domains were not engaging in illegal activity to get them back — an ugly mirror image of the country’s usual “innocent until proven guilty” right. Many of the domains were not being operated by U.S. groups. Because they used U.S. domain suffixes .net, .com, and .org, however, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency was empowered to act.
Visitors to any of the seized domains are now greeted by a message from ICE explaining the takedown. According to the government, these messages have already been viewed over 77 million times yesterday alone.
The story indicates that “many” domains were being operated by groups outside the US, hence the involvement of Homeland Security and US Immigration, but doesn’t say exactly how many. “Many” is a sort of word that’s highly subjective and doesn’t preclude that there may have also ”many” groups that were US based. Regardless of where they were based, all have to prove that they weren’t engaging in illegal activity—in other words, they’re guilty until they establish innocence. For the legitimate US based businesses, that won’t do them much good at this point as by the time they get around to that, the Super Bowl and the money making opportunity it provides will have passed. I read somewhere that the way to get around this is to have a foreign domain, but it’s a bit late in the day for that at this point as well. So what we have here is the US Government security infrastructure protecting private business interests by deciding who’s going to be in business and who will not. If you needed confirmation why our vast and growing security state exists, this would appear to give an insight to its purpose and function.
This same security state, which includes the justice department, seemingly couldn’t do anything to prosecute those responsible for the robo-signing mortgage frauds— which have far broader impacts in the economy and which are largely responsible for the mess we’re in now — until here of late and it’s uncertain at this point whether or not this is merely a populist election year ploy. The point in making this comment is to not get into a partisan fray here as I truly believe that there’s really very little difference between what the current administration has done on this front versus what a McCain administration, a Romney administration or a Clinton administration would have done. So the indictment here is really not against the Obama administration so much as the political system in its entirety. Those who happen to occupy key positions in the executive and legislative branches of our government are figureheads and are there for us to vent our anger on and fight about in the left-right paradigm. The real control, which is behind the scenes, is constant and controls that paradigm. This is why certain policies are consistent across so called liberal or conservative majorities/administrations.