Bonfire Of The Vanities, West Coast Edition
I pointed out yesterday the amusing fact of the degenerate Los Angeles rich guy Snoop Dogg rising out of the moral muck to denounce the degenerate Los Angeles rich guy Donald Sterling for his racism. The Tom Wolfe-ian qualities of the controversy get even starker. From TPM:
In an excruciating example of bad timing, the Los Angeles chapter of the NAACP was scheduled to bestow its Lifetime Achievement Award to Donald Sterling, owner of the Los Angeles Clippers basketball team, at its May 15 banquet. Sterling is now under fire for racist comments caught on a recording that surfaced on the TMZ website. Even President Barack Obama weighed in, condemning Sterling’s remarks as “incredibly offensive.” The NBA is now investigating Sterling’s remarks and could invoke sanctions, including removing him as Clippers’ owner.
Embarrassed by the controversy, the NAACP announced Sunday morning, via Twitter, that is was withdrawing the award, which was to be presented at the Millennium Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles as part of the celebration of the chapter’s 100th anniversary. The NAACP also plans to honor Rev. Al Sharpton and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti — as well as Walmart’s local charity and political operative and a top Fed Ex executive — at the gala event.
In addition to this track record of civil rights and tenants’ rights violations, as well as blatant indifference to human suffering, Sterling has a shameful reputation as a man who abuses his employees, acknowledges paying for sex with prostitutes, and has had a string of girlfriends who live in expensive homes and drive luxury cars paid for by the real estate mogul.
Why, asks TPM, is the NAACP in bed with Donald Sterling, who has a notorious record of racist remarks and legal trouble having to do with housing discrimination? Easy peasy:
Given his reputation and this history, why would the Los Angeles NAACP honor Sterling for “lifetime achievement”? The answer? For the same reason that the NAACP is scheduled to honor Javier Angulo, Walmart’s director of community affairs, at the same May 15 banquet. Sterling and Walmart are both NAACP benefactors and the civil rights organization has been happy to take these corporate donations.
This is no surprise to anybody with the slightest acquaintance with Jesse Jackson’s Wall Street Project, an epic shakedown in which rich Wall Street white guys bought racial goodwill by contributing to Jesse Jackson, Inc. Back at the beginning of the Wall Street Project, years before Jackson fell from grace in scandal, George Packer in The New York Times, wrote about how the Rev. Jackson was moving up in the world, creating a niche for himself within the one percent. Not everybody was pleased:
The most striking thing about the Wall Street Project is that hardly anyone is against it. A few conservatives call it a quota. A few liberals, like Senator Paul Wellstone of Minnesota, propose far greater levels of government involvement. A few finance experts have questioned whether the investment funds and tax credits can overcome entrenched poverty. A few C.E.O.’s have grumbled privately about the pressure they’ve come under. But on the whole, Jackson is no longer controversial.
One morning in Chicago, I went to visit Tyrone Galtney, a resident of the Robert Taylor Homes, where 16,000 black Chicagoans are packed into the 16-story high rises in one of the country’s worst concentrations of misery. I had met Galtney between events at the Rainbow/PUSH conference, where, in the available three seconds, he was trying to get Jackson’s support to resist the demolition of the projects. Hundreds of petitioners write, call or approach Jackson every day; he gave Galtney a name to call. Three weeks later, he hadn’t heard back.
”You never see Jesse Jackson coming through here saying, Stop the violence, stop the killing,” he complained in his cramped room, surrounded by stereo equipment, computer hardware and piles of papers for the degree he’s pursuing in urban planning. ”If you can go to Kosovo, Bosnia, why can’t you come to the Robert Taylor Homes?”
I began to understand why Belgrade under NATO bombing might be preferable when Galtney gave me a tour of the high rises. His purpose was to show me that ”it’s totally a normal life” and that the answer was honest management, not demolition. But the smell of urine in the hallways and sewage in the courtyards, the out-of-service elevators, the pitch-black stairwell, the prison-grade steel webbing that encased the buildings, the young drug courier grinning boyishly at us as he played hide-and-seek with plainclothes cops — an hour and a half into Galtney’s tour, his case was in ruins.
When I raised the issue of the Robert Taylor Homes as a tough test case for the Wall Street Project, Jackson pointed out that Deval Patrick, former assistant attorney general for civil rights and now a corporate counsel at the recently diversified Texaco, grew up near there. ”What separates these kids from success is opportunity, nothing else,” he said.
Don Rose, Jackson’s former associate, is perhaps more candid. ”There are problems in the black community for which he has no solution,” he says. ”Drugs, crime, not just unemployment but unemployability — that’s a pretty gritty level to deal on, and no one has any programmatic answer. Jesse doesn’t. Trickle-down isn’t going to change that. The sociopathy of the ghetto is hard core.” Contrasting those problems with the Wall Street Project, Rose says, ”I believe they’re beyond him, and this is something he can do.”
Back in 2001, Harold Doley, at the time one of the most powerful black men on Wall Street, told me that even though he had helped Jackson found the Wall Street Project back in 1997, he quit because he considered it to be a kind of racial shakedown operation:
Doley, head of his own securities firm, says he agreed with the Wall Street Project’s stated goals of expanding financial-sector job opportunities for blacks. But he bailed out when he became concerned that the initiative might be turning into “racketeering.”
Yesterday, at a Manhattan press conference held to announce a new Rainbow/PUSH project, Jackson refused to comment on his old friend’s allegations of possible racketeering.
“I’m not sure what that means. That’s illegal,” a stunned Jackson replied. “People who make statements like that are not dealing in reality.”
Doley laughed when I repeated Jackson’s response.
“Let me bring Rev. Jackson back to reality,” Doley said. “He’s using African-Americans to enrich himself.
“His effectiveness is in shaking down corporate America. His income for his operations, since he’s come to Wall Street, has gone from $695,000 to over $17 million last year. There is no dot-com stock I’m aware of that has had that kind of success.”
Doley recounted a familiar litany of backroom deals in which Jackson allegedly secured special access and favors for his allies and contributors by threatening, if only by implication, racial trouble if white-owned firms didn’t play along.
“I saw the way he operated. I saw some of the draconian deals that he cut,” Doley said.
Back in 2001, the Washington Post did a long piece on the happy coincidence between Jackson’s civil rights work, and the interests of wealthy corporations that made donations to his organizations. Excerpt:
In 1998, as federal regulators prepared to approve the $751 billion merger of Citicorp and Travelers Group Inc. into the nation’s largest financial services company, many black leaders, including New York’s Al Sharpton, vigorously opposed the deal. They argued that the new company, Citigroup, was pledging $115 billion for community investment, compared with the $350 billion in community investment pledged by the Bank of America and NationsBank as part of their merger.
But Jackson angered Sharpton and other community leaders by applauding the new company for its “leadership position.” They were further angered when they heard later that Jackson had flown to a meeting in New York with then-Travelers head Sandy Weill on Weill’s private jet.
When they learned that Citicorp and Travelers had agreed to donate $150,000 to Jackson’s CEF, some African American community leaders complained that Jackson had sold his support of the merger to the two corporations. Jackson denied the charge, saying there was no quid pro quo and that the merger benefited minority communities.
Jackson opponents invariably raise the $82 million workplace discrimination lawsuit filed by nearly 13,000 black employees or ex-employees of Boeing Co. Boeing executives unsuccessfully tried to reach a settlement of the suit for nearly a year. In early 1999, Jackson flew to Seattle and within days negotiated a $15 million settlement, which 1,600 minority employees quickly challenged, saying that Jackson had become too cozy with management and had pushed his own agenda to their detriment.
After the settlement terms were announced, Boeing donated $50,000 to Jackson’s CEF and announced it was steering two multimillion-dollar pension funds to black-owned investment firms that have financially supported Jackson’s organizations.
Jackson said his role in settling the discrimination lawsuit had nothing to do with Boeing’s support of his movement, but merely reflected his progress in pressuring companies to be more inclusive of minorities. A Boeing spokesman, Peter Conte, said company chairman Philip M. Condit “came to recognize and appreciate Reverend Jackson’s viewpoint.”
What does this have to do with the NAACP and Donald Sterling? This: rich guys like Sterling know they can buy goodwill — and sometimes influence — by paying off the right people and organizations to whitewash (so to speak) their reputations. True, the NAACP of southern California could not have known that this tape of Sterling’s private racist dirtbaggery was going to come to light just before they honored him. But it has been no secret that Sterling was a bad man, and likely a racist one. It’s amazing the kind of absolution that being a financial supporter of the local NAACP will buy a man like Sterling. If you want to know what kind of a racist sleaze Sterling is, read this 2009 Deadspin piece about allegations against him in lawsuits and depositions; these were things that were known five years ago, about the 2014 NAACP of Southern California Lifetime Achievement Award honoree.
The Sterling embarrassment ought to cause the media to shine a light on prominent activist groups — not just civil rights groups, but groups across the spectrum of causes, from left to right — to see if there’s any connection between their going soft on the kind of rich people and corporations they should be challenging, and donations by those same people to those organizations. Not everybody’s integrity is for sale, but some people’s is. And there are always buyers like Sterling.
In the meantime, let’s go light on the pious outrage. These are all sophisticated people, most of them richer than you or I will ever be, playing a sophisticated game. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar puts all this into proper perspective. He hopes that Sterling loses his Clippers franchise over this, but he is not impressed by the tunic-tearing hysterics around this issue. Excerpt:
What bothers me about this whole Donald Sterling affair isn’t just his racism. I’m bothered that everyone acts as if it’s a huge surprise. Now there’s all this dramatic and very public rending of clothing about whether they should keep their expensive Clippers season tickets. Really? All this other stuff I listed above has been going on for years and this ridiculous conversation with his girlfriend is what puts you over the edge? That’s the smoking gun?
He was discriminating against black and Hispanic families for years, preventing them from getting housing. It was public record. We did nothing. Suddenly he says he doesn’t want his girlfriend posing with Magic Johnson on Instagram and we bring out the torches and rope. Shouldn’t we have all called for his resignation back then?
Shouldn’t we be equally angered by the fact that his private, intimate conversation was taped and then leaked to the media? Didn’t we just call to task the NSA for intruding into American citizen’s privacy in such an un-American way? Although the impact is similar to Mitt Romney’s comments that were secretly taped, the difference is that Romney was giving a public speech. The making and release of this tape is so sleazy that just listening to it makes me feel like an accomplice to the crime. We didn’t steal the cake but we’re all gorging ourselves on it.
(Hey, readers, I’m traveling for most of the day, and won’t be able to check comments often. Please be patient.)