Showing posts with label Martin Luther King. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Martin Luther King. Show all posts

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Obama at Howard: Best Speech of his Presidency?

President Barack Hussein Obama came to Howard University and delivered what many Black people will regard as the best speech of his presidency. (Click here for one absolutely hilarious reaction.) As with Larry Wilmore's White House Correspondents' Dinner Speech, we expect most white people to disagree. Here's why they are wrong on both.
In content, reference and tone, both the President and Wilmore were not speaking to white people. They were speaking directly to Black people. 
Mr. Obama started by name checking the resident student dormitories at Howard. In doing so, he speaks to the people who either lived in, partied at, heard about or wanted to party at one (or more) of the dorms. This may number 900,000 Black people, give or take...I'm not even kidding.
He also name checked the pantheon of Black activists and achievers: Thurgood Marshall, David Dinkins, Zora Neale Hurston, King, of course, but also Fanny Lou Hamer, and James Baldwin, just for starters. This was a profane and profound way to acknowledge the giants who came before him, contrary to those, black and white, who say he is unmindful of the debt he owes. 
He moved on to reference and name check Wilmore, currently experiencing some negative feedback: many white people simply did not get Wilmore's brilliant WHCA Dinner speech. Obama thus provided support (yo, Larry, my nig....) and cover . 
In the end, Mr. Obama remains a traditionalist and a conservative (this is why he did not mention Stokely Carmichael, BTW, another Howard graduate who passed on a full ride at Harvard...). Some of his key points are as follows:
1. Vote like you life depends on it. It does. As he noted, "In 2012, 2 out of 3 turned out to vote. In 2014, 2 out of 5 did. And you don't think this made a difference in who I had to deal with?" It matters, Mr. President. It matters.
He predicted voting will matter even more in the coming years, given efforts to deny the right to vote to a significant section of the population (read: Black people). As Mr. Obama noted, the US is the "only advanced democracy on earth that goes out of its way to make it difficult for people (read: Black people) to vote" 
2. Let the bigots talk, then rebuke them...hard. His subtext was that this might come in the form of exceptional and competent performance:
In this way, he syncs with Wilmore's WHCD talk. White people simply didn't get Wilmore's repeated references linking Ted Cruz to the Zodiac Killer, but Black people knew what he meant: you can look exactly like a serial killer and run for President of the US. As Cruz (and Trump) prove, you don't even have to be competent, as long as you (and your serial killer doppelganger) are white. 
This also explained Mr. Obama's operating philosophy for the last eight years: to get things done, you have to effectively deal with people with whom you disagree. It's tough, but it's just the way things work. Quoting Zora Neale Hurston, he reminded us that "nothing that God ever made is the same thing to more than one person."  The key takeaway here is that you must stay woke. As the President said, passion is no substitute for strategy. You MUST RESPOND. Mr. Obama suggests doing so in a polite way, which is, in general, good advice. (Of course, we still think Black Lives Matter has it mostly right....)
3. Keep fighting. Racism is not going away. As he noted, "I don't know who came up with that Post-racial thing. It wasn't me." No, Mr. President. It was the same people who will now become your post Presidential BFFs (Best Friends Forever): the bigoted conservatives who  did everything they could to make you a one term President (unsuccessfully, I might add) and are currently working to limit voting rights (successfully, I might add). These people will use your Presidency as proof that racism doesn't exist. As with global warming, immigration, Wall Street and the chances of Donald Trump becoming their nominee, they will be wrong. Very wrong. 
Not so for Mr. Obama, who ended where he began, with hope, with Yes We Can. To paraphrase Mr. Wilmore, Yes, you did, President. Yes, you did... 

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Martin Luther King's Philosophy on Investing

Capitalism and Equality 
As the civil rights movement expands to include investing and investments, I thought it would be an appropriate time to reflect on Martin Luther King, Jr.'s attitude toward investing. Though it may surprise some, Dr. King was one of capitalism's staunchest proponents. In this respect, his actions were fully consistent with his faith: as he noted in one of his speeches, "Jesus never made a universal indictment against all wealth." What's more, Dr. King's work made capital markets more efficient, as I discuss below.
 A Socially Responsible Investor
Martin Luther King was more concerned with how wealth was obtained and used. To him, the fact that one owned a Cadillac said nothing about one's faith or about one's character, for that matter. Worshiping the Cadillac, however, did. This certainly made him a socially responsible investor, specifically a values investor. His emphasis on values rested on a concern he expressed many times, that "material means have outdistanced spiritual ends, (does anyone really need a Gucci handbag?), that mentality has outdistanced morality (Goldman Sachs), and that civilization has outdistanced culture." ( Trump, some popular music, and most reality TV).
 Community Investing
Dr. King believed in both the power of community and in the power of the market. In fact, economic development projects started by Dr. King laid the foundation for future initiatives in socially responsible investing. Operation Breadbasket in Chicago combined ongoing dialog with boycotts and direct action targeting specific corporations. His efforts also strengthened and developed three African American banks, two in Chicago and one in Cleveland.
Finally, Dr. King helped people realize the economic power of their own spending. Or as he put it, "If you respect my dollar you must respect my person." As I noted in one of my earlier articles, I like Carver Bancorp (CNY). Carver is a small-cap bank operating in Harlem that is African-American owned. The bank has strong management, a solid balance sheet, and is well positioned to benefit from the continuing development of the Harlem real estate market.
Economic Impact
Martin Luther King's work also supported domestic economic growth. By my estimate, the elimination of Jim Crow laws and reduced employment discrimination boosted the U.S. economy by $20 trillion dollars over the 20 years after King's death. (This includes domestic spending and productive capacity between 1970 and 1990.) By contrast, in 2010 the US Treasury estimated that $19.2 trillion in wealth had been lost due to the impact of the financial crisis and corporate fraud.
This certainly puts the bursting of the housing bubble in perspective.
 1) "Why Jesus Called A Man A Fool", A Knock At Midnight: Inspiration from the Great Sermons of Rev. Martin Luther King. Warner Books, 1998, page 148.
 2) "Rediscovering Lost Values". Ibid. Page 11.
 3) "Paul's Letter To American Christians". Ibid. Page 27.
 4) "The Financial Crisis Response In Charts April 2012." US Treasury. Online at:
5) "The Birth of a New Nation", A Call to Conscience: The Landmark Speeches of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Edited by Clayborne Carson and Kris Shepard. Warner Books, 2001, page 18.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Financial Conflicts of Interest

We define a financial conflict of interest as a situation in which a person, institution or organization has more than one financial  interest in a particular investment vehicle or asset. The problem occurs when parties whose interests are singular, and thus not compromised, depend upon a conflicted individual or institution for primary advice concerning the purchase, sale or retention of the conflicted financial asset. The conflict "corrupts the motivation of the individual or organization" providing advice. 
According to the White House's Council of Economic Advisers, "conflicted retirement investment advice costs investors $17 billion each year,"
The US Department of Labor recently held a hearing on conflicts of interest in the provision of retirement investment advice. The goal of the hearing was to gather testimony on the Employee Benefits Security Administration's (EBSA) proposal to reduce conflicts of interest in the retirement advice marketplace.
As I noted in my testimony, and paraphrasing Martin Luther King, “All investors are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one investor directly, affects all investors indirectly.”
We agree with others who “see the need for better balance between short- and long-term investing.“  Unfortunately, little in the Department’s Conflict of Interest proposal serves to enhance that balance.
This is particularly important. As the market value of environmental, social and governance factors continues to grow, companies and investment managers will engage in fraudulent practices related to these factors. These practices will range from simple falsification of environmental, social and governance records to more sophisticated, but no less fraudulent methods related to environmental, social and governance ratings. We have provided evidence that unethical practices have flourished in capital market institutions, propelling ethical standards of behavior downward. Thus, unethical behavior has become standard in the financial services marketplace.
While the Department's proposal is flawed, it is the very least that can be done to begin to address the problem.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Your Freedom will not be brought to you by Comcast, Sprite or Google...

We are delighted that an idea and initiative we suggested has begun to get traction, as evidenced by an effort launched in July called “Venture DC 2015”. Sponsored by Comcast and supported by DC’s Department of Small and Local Business Development (DSLBD), the well funded Venture DC initiative claims to seek to “empower emerging entrepreneurs who are addressing and solving some of DC's most pressing challenges related to health care, education, housing, economic security and access to financial services, specifically in Wards 7 and 8.”

Perhaps a little background is in order. On January 19, 2015, Martin Luther King's Birthday, we convened several DC-based Black Tech firms, policy analysts and others at a meeting in Washington, DC to discuss social innovation and technology. For more, see:

“We focused on the role technology might play in addressing Black Male safety and security issues. The meeting resulted in a discussion about developing an app/apps to address Black Male Health Issues, specifically including the problem of elevated homicide.”As we noted at the time, this is extraordinarily difficult. But we also asked “what is the point of having tech skills if you cannot use them to improve lives, ALL lives, including the Black ones?”

(Besides, there's already an app that is being used to complain to police about Black and homeless people and to report non-crimes. We doubt this came up at the Comcast event.)

Venture DC 2015 probably did not address these issues. This is one reason having a truly diverse (race, gender, income) group discussing these issues, as we did on 1/19/15, matters. The picture below shows attendees at our meeting in contrast to one photo from the Venture DC 2015 meeting.

Left, Jan 2015. Right, Aug 2015

The Comcast event also follows my March 12, 2015 testimony to the DC City Council Government Oversight Committee on the lack of performance with respect to health care for DC residents, Black contracting. The video can be viewed at and the details of the testimony can be found at "DC's revealed Black Economic Development "Plan""

Unfortunately, if you are an African American male actually from Wards 7 or 8, the City’s revealed economic “development plan” for you is to offer limited low wage employment (I know..I know...better than nothing) while devoting millions of dollars in funding to non-minority companies. 

For example, the D.C. Council gave nearly $33 million in tax breaks to Living Social and "gave" several valuable public properties to a firm called Fundrise. See:  and

As we have noted before, our economic research reveals the following: there is not a single city in the United States of America where the majority of Black people resident before gentrification have been better off post-gentrification. Not one. See:

Clearly, the issues we raised in January and March remain unresolved, even after we outlined (for the Chair of the DC City Council and the head of DC's Economic Development Department) two entirely new socially responsible financial instruments to help with these problems, 

Unfortunately, issues of honest inclusion limit the ability of the Comcast-funded effort to legitimately serve the needs of the African American portions of the Ward 7 and 8 community. This is, of course, not surprising. Your freedom will not be brought to you by Comcast, Sprite, or Google.