Saturday reflection on Santa Monica, race and identity politics

Rosalind Helderman’s excellent Stephen Miller profile in the Washington Post got me sitting down to write this morning before heading out. That profile was just as inspirational as an impromptu visit to a Gardena music studio yesterday for a Grammy Week party to watch a showcase with organized by a black female violinist who shared the stage with Brooke Valentine, who performed a cover of the timeless Groove Theory joint “Tell Me.”

And that’s nothing to say of the fact that I shared my Eric Grant (RIP)-It Was Written story with an emcee named Cassius, whose business partner in the said Gardena studio is named Clay and reminded of Clay from a NoHo topless party at which all I remember was saying allah akbar before getting being sucker punched by a gang member/s who turned that party into a riot. Cassius and his band performed an interpolation of Pac’s “Dear Mama” that transported me back to 1996 and Downtown Business Magnets English class.

So, here I am, today, listening to dead prez’ M1 f/ K’naan and Stori James “Til We Get There” in my headpones and reading the WaPo profile of Miller, marveling at who this unknown 31-year old political operative that came up in Santa Monica to liberal Jew parents,was a sore outlier as a conservative and ingratiated himself with Larry Elder on the radio and penned some editorials in the Santa Monica Mirror. Mind you, I worked as the education and sports editor between 2010-2011, a little after Miller was a student there. He is clearly a smart guy, accepted and matriculated to Duke University, where he really stepped up his conservative game. The plug from David Horowitz to Jeff Sessions, who is now the AG of the U.S., seems like plausible progress. (If I wasn’t such as loser, I wouldn’t have impregnated a married Tanzanian national when I was a 22 year old reporter at the San Fernando Valley Business Journal. Maybe by now, I’d be working at The Camstoll Group).

Ironically, today another story really struck me. As reported by ESPN.com, Michael Bennett has declined the NFL trip to Israel explicitly because the Zionist government is underwriting it. The cool thing is that Bennett, a Super Bowl champion with a platform is not just taking a position, but is also able to articulate it like a seasoned crisis PR pro.

Perhaps foolishly, I accepted the opportunity to travel to Israel as part of Project Interchange in 2002, underwritten by the American Jewish Committee. I was looking to find my Jewish roots, but instead produced a feature story that started out with a paragraph set in a Arab Israeli town living room. Yep, I took what was clearly an Israeli propaganda trip and flipped it into foreign reporting. CSUN journalism department chair Cynthia Rawitch made sure that my work was awarded several department awards and even surprised me with a $2,500 Los Angeles Times Fund Scholarship at a dinner. I was, and still am, kinda shocked at how that happened.

Fourteen years after that article was published, Israel is still up to the same tactics, lol. Not to be selfish, but it’s amazing how far a first-generation Ukrainian – a naturalized U.S. citizen – can come in this ‘Make America First’ era yet support the underdogs, the marginalized and powerless. It goes way above Obama, guys.The difference between Stephen Miller and myself is that I actually embrace and feel embraced in the multicultural and very hip-hop community in Santa Monica. In fact, today, I’m about to head back to CSUN, my alma mater, for a meet up with fellow journalism alumni and tour the campus facilities. Then, I plan to head out to a Hip Hop Caucus event, organized by Jordan Eversley, a former student-athlete who is a prototype of a political communication strategist similar to Stephen Miller had Miller came out of the hood in Chicago. Yep, Jordan is my dude, although when I was brought in to do web copywriting and blogging on the Supreme Justice campaign, there had been plenty of times when I wanted to smack him. Still, it’s all love bro. Much respect to you and keep fighting for the people.

I want to make this last point very, very, very clear: I am not a Stephen Miller hater. As a University of Maryland University College graduate student who hopes to be continue his education at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government beginning in 2018 or 2019, I believe that civil engagement is at the very foundation of a democracy in this great country of ours. I respect conservatives. Santa Monica to Foggy Bottom to Vermont to Miami. I actually want to commend Stephen Miller for his political success, not chide him. His time in the spotlight is going to end, though, and he will not be on the right side of history. I wholeheartedly disagree with his position against Muslims, as we all know, the federal judge and the appeals courts are on the side of the majority. Bottom line is that I, a Ukrainian-American with a Tanzanian baby mama, see a vastly different world than what Miller see. I am steadfast and will always remain steadfast in seeing myself in a role to support friends and associates in the Latinx community.

Why?

Because it has guys like Alex Aldana, a USC Marshall grad student, who was the organizer of the One Nation Hip Hop Summit in Santa Monica. In 2010, following an introduction by friend and confidante Leila Steinberg – who is not Jewish, contrary to popular belief, because her mother is Mexican – I teamed up with Alex and other volunteers to organize that event. It was hella memorable, and not just because it was headlined by Pete Rock and CL Smooth with a budget from the Pico Youth Family Center. But, because the executive director, the esteemed Oscar de la Torre, a board member of the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District, supported it. It was a community building effort, one that connected black, Latino, Jewish and all cultures the way that only hip-hop can.

That’s power.

I wish Stephen Miller read this and whispered about it to his boss in the White House – for good laughs, for betterment of the nation, because it is the right thing to do.

Lady Liberty is destined to be black in more ways than one

Peace.

Follow my new Instagram account for more frequent updates than this blog. I’m trying! The #DirtyHarvardSessions at Unplugdla last night was simply unforgettable and ineffable. You had to be there. Besides the American Voices look I’ve helped champion the band for, I am of the opinion it needs a booking agent and a domestic and world tour. Can I be y’all publicist/road manager/whatever? LOL.

Back to what’s in the headline about the U.S. Mint. I came across a Washington Post report earlier about the Black Lady Liberty that actually made news in the NYT also back on Jan. 13, so fresh news it ain’t – although the coin actually drops in April. In my opinion, the very idea of a black Lady Liberty represented on a $100 collectible coin is the equivalent of any of the futuristic concept car I’ve written about for Car Fanatics Blog. Peep the archive.

Generally speaking: It isn’t ready for production and mass consumption, but previews what’s to come and imagines the future. Plus, it’s going to generate some serious coin because it’s gold and collectors are suckers for unique items. This is definitely better than sneakers, right?

The bigger picture is that this U.S. Mint move is purely a marketing carrot stick with some serious effect social innovation (that’s a phrase I heard in today’s Harvard Kennedy School of Government’s Center for Public Leadership info webinar).

Of course, Harriet Tubman is headed to the dub first.

Just like concept cars are meant to be ‘out there,’ creating a coin with an American-African woman is a gesture of powerful symbolism that hopefully trickles down at a time when its needed most.

Even under an executive branch as controversial and apparently, reckless, as President Donald Trump’s.

Donald Trump is to hip-hop like Russell Simmons is to yoga?

That’s my theory. At least, having sat five feet away from Russell last Sunday and geekin’ at his patience in signing books after a hot yoga class. Now, with that plug out of the way, here’s one of the most rational pieces of media depicting that ‘Trump is actually the epitome of hip-hop and capitalism.’ It came via a WhatsApp from my brother Camilo Smith, a Columbia j-school grad based down in Houston, Texas, these days.

I have been saying that Trump’s the quintessential American opportunist, ladies and gentlemen. Now, someone with a larger platform than myself is saying it, too.

Remind me to quote from Mr. Simmons’  Nelson George-penned 2002 biography when you see me. Or ask Russell yourself if you catch him over at Tantris studio in West Hollywood (not from his Beverly Hills residence, I presume). It’s aight that Russ is about that yoga life and while I feel it may be perceived as a cult, I don’t think of that as a bad thing.

Although at $23 per class, it sure sounds a whole lot better than $200 per month.

More on this story later, I’m sure. Hey, The Source, you still do journalism?

What I Learned From Harvard Kennedy School PolicyCast While Eating Lunch at Sweety Pie’s In North Hollywood

First and foremost, here are facts on the ground. John Coltrane’s “How Deep Is The Ocean” tune is playing on Pandora. I am plopped down here at a chain eatery at the corner of Lankershim and Chandler boulevards in North Hollywood’s spiritually rejuvenated Arts District. Next, I’d like to quote from Travels, a manuscript published in 1988 by my favorite Harvard-educated-doctor-turned-novelist. This quote sums up my outlook and worldview moving forward in this existence pretty well. Before upcoming travel to Tanzania via Ukraine, or U.S. politics, African politics, religion politics, business and death, I offer you this:

“It is my intention to write about the interstices of my life, about the events that occurred while what I imagined to be the real business of my life was taking place.”

-Michael Crichton, Travels, p. xi

Fact is, while I pay attention to HKS podcast to gauge where Harvard’s bright minds are today because I am interested in being accepted to HKS for 2018-19 to become one, I come from a media background and will never been able to ween away from it. Fact is, I am one phone call-in away from having 2009 national champion North Carolina Tar Heels player and four-year NBA veteran Rashad McCants on the line. Rashad’s my guy, even though our business relationship has yet to truly take shape. He needs to reconcile with UNC board of trustees to be able to win over Michael Jordan and introduce us into East Africa.

Which brings me to the topic of trust. Today and for the foreseeable future – through at least Jan. 20, 2021, when POTUS Donald J. Trump will either enter a second term or a new president will rise – facts remain that the U.S is still the most diverse, embittered, conflicted and awesomely powerful nation on the planet known as Earth. But, let me defer to HKS’ roundtable participant, Roger Porter, who should not to be confused with Harvard Business School’s Michael Porter, the genius whose Five Forces concept is the paradigm underneath the mindset of global business.

When RP says that the U.S. is  “a nation that’s roughly 50/50,” he’s talking about half of the people wanting democracy and the other half wanting a republic. It’s the that finely-aged realism versus liberalism dilemma. For the uninitiated and uneducated, these  different sets of governments can govern a democracy.

“Democracy takes the preferences and priorities of all sorts of people and tries to meld them together.”

Elsewhere in the podcast, the fellas and a lady – named Barbara – bring up the good ol’ D.C. slang I’ve heard many times from R.M.D. in Northwest DC: low-hanging fruit. Even further down, I heard them bring up “the importance of strategic ambiguity,” which is a key phrase POTUS candidate Hillary Clinton has given in speeches to Goldman Sachs investment bankers.

I love how the entire roundtable laughed at the mambo jambo that Mama Chelsea uses to fundraise for her nonprofit organization Clinton Global Initiative, which I think should employ my good friend and family member Cecilia Membe in Tanzania to actually do some private sector that benefits that East African republic.

As far as POTUS Donald J. Trump’s concerned, I am actually a fan of the guy. I understand his professed appreciation of Russian leader Vladimir Putin (we share in that), sarcasm, his sexual innuendos, his vilification. He is a typical albeit oddly Scottish and niggafied New York City raised real estate developer, through and through.

Trump and I have a few things in common in that we play a villain to some and are grandiose to others. I was an Inland Empire commercial real estate reporter at the California Real Estate Journal from March to May 2007, hired and unceremoniously fired by Michael Gottlieb because he needed to churn through yet another reporter after burning a bridge with my predecessor. That’s my only basis for comparing myself to Trump, since I have yet to develop an inch of commercial real estate.

This post’s getting too long but let’s just say that blogging is a lot like hedge fund target practice when you have family in Tanzania and Ukraine. Furthermore, I have aspirations to give rise to the first POTUS born to a Ukrainian-American father and a Tanzanian national in the state of Ohio. Galion, Ohio, to be exact.

Now, if you will excuse me, let me go figure out the last quip I learned from Harvard Kennedy School of Government’s last PolicyCast, used by a participant as a reference to the 45th President of the United States of America:

“I think he’s strategically ambiguous to his benefit.”

 

 

A Kremlin foreign minister offers propagandist points on the U.S. adoption ban, and I’m cool with it

Too bad this Kremlin government media stunt is presented on a Russian Federation-controlled website, but I can overlook that, because in 2017, fake news can come from anywhere. If the Kremlin is dictating U.S. political agenda via the Trump Administration, can we at least see that psychic distance is something that intelligence services like the CIA simply are incapable of creating in Russia. Why? Because U.S. is not doing enough licensing deals with Russian businesses. I personally would like to see that changed, and if that means buying a Yukuma power bank with my own money, then so be it.

Fun fact. Here is an excerpt of speech that can be interpreted as undue pressure that Russian  officials should rethink. Otherwise, there’s no mitigation in status quo to change the consumer mindset in the U.S. against those to the right of Ukraine.

Even the US Department of State recorded cases of negligence that led to Russian children being deprived of their rights. But the State Department remained silent in response to our appeals for assistance. Under Barack Obama, this agency was taking what was generally an extremely passive, if not destructive, stance on these child cases. We did not see any willingness or ability on the part of the US authorities to take the necessary measures to hand down just punishments to those guilty or prevent these situations from recurring in the future. And this was the main motive behind approving the fully justified adoption ban. We still see absolutely no reasons for adjusting or repealing it.

-Konstantin Dolgov, foreign minister commissioner for (blah-blah-blah)

Btw, I can pull up a reported feature I did for the Bucyrus Telegraph-Forum in Ohio about a Russian adoption in the U.S. gone right. Also, my former editor at the Orange County Register, Susan Gill Vardon, completed a successful adoption of a son with the same first name as moi. Cultural attuning is a parental project I know quite a lot about considering I’m Ukrainian with a Tanzanian common law “CIA project,” if you will, LOL. C’mon people.

Woop-woop: John Lewis memoir sells out on Amazon, niggas

For every commercial real estate developer quip out of PEOTUS Donald J. Trump’s mouth, there’s a corollary effect. In terms of DJT’s shade at living legend John Lewis, that translates to *HUUUUUUUUUUUUGE* Amazon book sales for “Walking In The Wind,” which is a dope story I see reported by Laurel Raymond on ThinkProgress.org. How this all benefits or doesn’t benefit American national security interests is something I would personally like to ask Terry Lenzner or Terry Lenzner Jr. But Millie Jefferson at Audible, an Amazon company, should do just fine. I mean, she went to USC Annenberg School of Communication. I just live in my head, like Rohan Marley once told me he does (I still haven’t figured out how to say that in Russian, but will try some Frank Partnoy-worthy delay tactics in negotiations).

Justice Department finds ‘racial bias’ in Chicago, and that’s generally a good thing

It’s not exactly rocket science that the Justice Department is policing the police in Chicago – that is its function in the federal system of governance. Subjectively, the POTUS is a Chicagoan through and through despite writing about his experiences growing up in Hawaii, Indonesia and back in Eagle Rock, California, before transferring to Columbia University in New York and taking a $15,000 a year job in Chicago as a community organizer (I hope my guy Hustle at Hip Hop Caucus makes five times that, for real). When Barack appointed Loretta Lynch as attorney general, of course Justice Department would want to come down on CPD extra hard. That’s just human nature of political variety. In reality, how does one actually come down on police – you know, the people some of you call “pigs” or “jake” or “five-oh” – other than words, when the police have power?

The answer is nuanced. I can think of several, quite different calibered reasons why going against police is a bad idea. But that’s neither here in North Hollywood or Hyde Park in Inglewood or near Englewood, where one of my favorite exes, Tanika, is from. The homicide of Laquan McDonald was abhorrent and unjustified. That this police officer fired 15 times too many and shot to kill is beyond reproach.

As far as facts on the ground are concerned, my point of view is that of a seasoned business journalist who first started reporting news as a police reporter for City News Service. Right there, in the aging press room of the Los Angeles Police Department’s press room, I made ‘beat calls’ to various law enforcement agencies in the Los Angeles basin. After four years of work at CNS I realized that the formula to get the biggest stories was to call the LAPD’s 77th Station and ask how many bodies dropped. This is not hyperbole. Facts on the ground are that violent death happens often in the ‘hood and cops aren’t always at fault. Guns and black rage that turns white hot is.

In any event, that the Justice Department is coming down on Chicago Police Department should have an volatile effect in the media, but it shouldn’t be that way. For one, McDonald’s shooter, Officer Jason Van Dyke is already off the streets and facing prison time with a first-degree murder charge hanging over him since 2015.

As a Ukrainian-American who lost a Gardena/Compton-residing, gang-affiliated friend to a fatal stabbing in high school, I generally see the course of events unfolding differently because I am also a journalist. African-Americans in general — not the entire group, since some have realized it — that the newly announced consent decree was positioned by the Justice Department purposefully to see Barack Hussein Obama off into the sunset. However, the work of Chicago police must go forward, as well. No one’s gutting the department here. There are criminals, thugs, gangsters, wannabes, kids, domestic violence perpetrators who civil members of society need to be separated from. There’s a reason police departments exist and recruit out of the community.

I really hope the Chicago community can embrace its public officials and police officers alike as this consent decree moves forward. And, I’d love to know what Hustle of Hip Hop Caucus thinks, because he’s, you know, from Chi city. S/o to Malik Yusef for the plug. Forever a fan, bro. Love.