Archive for August, 2017

Race baiting for hire plays in South Africa; US next?

August 4, 2017

BBC Newsnight broadcast a troubling report on how British public relations firm Bell Pottinger stoked racial tension in South Africa to deflect attention from its client, the Gupta family, under scrutiny for its relationship with President Jacob Zuma.

According to the BBC report, instead of dealing directly with the issue of the Guptas’ influence on Zuma’s government, Bell Pottinger created a bogus movement against “white monopoly capitalism.” The bogus movement was rolled out across South Africa, complete with phony grassroots advocacy groups sporting fiery (hired) spokespersons, social media memes fueled by bots and harassment campaigns against opponents of the Guptas and Zuma, with no mention of either, under the banner of opposing white monopoly capitalism.

This tale of race baiting to protect a president and a family close to him may be a preview of what to expect from the Trump administration as its woes deepen. Donald Trump made his political bones claiming an American president with a black father was born in Kenya, then called Mexicans “rapists” to kick off a campaign that combined racial buzz words with slurs, innuendo and outright falsehoods. The president’s chief strategist previously ran a website that proudly caters to white supremacists. Trump now presides over a White House (and Twitter account) that regularly creates and exploits wedge issues to divide Americans – just this week the administration promised action to protect white rights against affirmative action and proposes a “merit based” immigration policy favoring people who speak English (they speak English in Kenya, folks) – and where telling the truth ranks among the least favored options.

And there is Kellyanne Conway and her history of racial bomb tossing. During the 2008 primary campaign, after Democratic presidential contenders Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama each obligingly said they would welcome the other as a running mate, Conway vilely spun that to declare with a sneer, “Hillary Clinton says Barack Obama can ride in the back of her bus.”

As a Republican pollster, Conway had no direct interest in either Democratic candidate’s success, begging the question of why she crafted this despicable sound bite. Perhaps Conway aimed to create strife in the Democratic Party, but the Clinton-Obama contest was doing fine on that score without outside help. Perhaps Conway erroneously believed that Clinton presented a greater threat to win the election over any eventual Republican nominee, even though the former New York Senator daily demonstrated her inadequacy as a political candidate. Perhaps Conway’s worldview precluded her from imaging that a black man could be elected president. Or perhaps Conway believes that an America full of hate and fear serves Republican interests.

Personally, I believe in that shameful 2008 moment, Conway cynically chose to manufacture and inject gratuitous racism into the American political dialogue simply because she could. Imagine the lengths to which Conway might go if she really had some skin in the game, something to protect like a presidency giving her a big salary and even bigger prestige. In that context, given the track record of this White House, South Africa’s fake white monopoly capitalism seems mild.

Nevertheless, I wouldn’t be surprised if someone in the White House has Bell Pottinger’s number on speed dial.

Totally globalized native New Yorker and former broadcast news producer Muhammad Cohen is a blogger for Forbes, editor at large for Inside Asian Gaming and author of Hong Kong On Air, a novel set in his adopted hometown during the 1997 handover about television news, love, betrayal, high finance, and cheap lingerie. See his bio, online archive and more at; follow him on Facebook and Twitter @MuhammadCohen.

You Humps Quit Badmouthing Queens

August 1, 2017

I submitted this column to several major news outlets before Anthony Scaramucci again did me dirty by leaving the White House. Good riddance.

As a native of Elmhurst, I won’t stand for Donald Trump and his new mouthpiece Anthony Scaramucci tossing shade on Queens. We are not a county of “front-stabbers,” as you told a BBC reporter, Mr Scaramucci. If a boor from Nassau County like you or your Manhattan wannabe boss think you can distort Queens in your image, I got one word for you: fuggedabouddit.

Queens is not a place where people curse through hired spokespersons to prove their toughness. Queens is where 2.3 million people, nearly half born in another country and almost evenly split among Hispanics, Asians, blacks and whites, live together in the most diverse large jurisdiction on earth. For them, Queens represents a key step up the ladder toward the American Dream. It’s a place for a first job, first child, first home and, often a second language.

It was pretty much that same way 60 years ago when I was growing up between the 90th Street and Junction Boulevard stops on the Flushing line, in a row of two family houses. Our closest neighbors were Italian, Greek, Irish and a Yugoslavian-Irish couple, plus a new apartment house full of Cubans fleeing Castro around the corner. I didn’t meet a white Protestant until I got to college.

My elementary school, PS 19, served Corona’s Italian and African American enclaves, the latter thanks to the area’s relative absence of racial discrimination that drew Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald. PS 19 also resembled the United Nations, literally, since back then, a fair number of the world body’s personnel resided in Elmhurst. We had Japanese, Haitians, Indians, and Jerry from Ghana who wouldn’t say the Pledge of the Allegiance to the American flag that began every school day.

For junior high, I was bused to Maspeth, a double fare zone dominated by Eastern Europeans. But our class president was a black girl, our class sweetheart was Irish, the top clique was an Italian, Greek, Hawaiian Japanese and Korean-Irish, and I attended a half-dozen classmates’ bar mitzvahs. As part of Queens’ next immigration surge, Maurice joined us in seventh grade from Peru, learned basketball from us and went on to turn his father’s jewelry store into a chain.

Newtown High School, with 5,000 kids on two shifts plus an annex in an old bowling alley, embraced the Latin influx. After decades of mediocrity, Newtown’s soccer and baseball teams became championship contenders. Although the school still had plenty of Levines, Learys and Leones, the most popular surname in my graduating class was Lee, previewing Queens’ next immigration wave.

By the time I went to work for the Queens Borough President a dozen years later, the Flushing Line was known as the Orient Express, and my father, relocated to Jackson Heights, saw Little Bombay blossom alongside one of New York’s biggest Latin American clusters.

It’s this constant change, renewal and integration – that in just one ordinary family produced the bar mitzvah of my cousin Eddie Hernandez, Larry Cohen from Brooklyn marrying a Brazilian woman after my mother died and some guy named Muhammad Cohen – that make Queens and America great. There’s no question about that. What we have to ask is how Donald Trump grew up in Queens and missed it?

During high school, when I was working as a stock boy in a drugstore at the far end of Elmhurst, I remember our self-styled class radical feminist, who would attend Barnard College, being mortified as I saw her come out of the neighboring store, her parents’ Chinese laundry. But she should have been proud, because Queens is all about working hard and doing the job right so that your kids never have to starch other people’s shirts or schlep cartons of baby formula up flights of stairs.

The hardest work Donald Trump has ever done likely involved skulking around New York and Atlantic City by limo and helicopter to cheat on the mother of his first three children. He did a better job duping voters than he did fooling Ivana Trump, he lost money in the casino business and would have gotten a better return on his inheritance if he’d put his father’s money in a stock index fund rather than creating monuments to himself bearing his name in big gold letters. So naturally Trump doesn’t understand Queens values.

Even though two of his wives were born abroad, it’s no surprise Trump can’t comprehend how embracing differences, dialogue and tolerance are the keys to growth and renaissance because he’s never looked beyond himself and the patchwork of lies and misconceptions he and lackeys like Scaramucci craft to fit his worldview. Trump may believe that Queens really is the home of 1970s TV bigot Archie Bunker, brilliantly portrayed and consistently derided by Newtown High graduate Carroll O’Connor. In his nightmare of tribal hatred, Trump can’t recognize people who look or speak or act differently from him pursuing the American dream.

Or it may be as simple as what Will Rogers, who lived in Queens’ Kew Gardens a century ago, said: “A fool and his money are soon elected.”

Totally globalized native New Yorker and former broadcast news producer Muhammad Cohen is a blogger for Forbes, editor at large for Inside Asian Gaming and author of Hong Kong On Air, a novel set in his adopted hometown during the 1997 handover about television news, love, betrayal, high finance, and cheap lingerie. See his bio, online archive and more at; follow him on Facebook and Twitter @MuhammadCohen.

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