Archive for September, 2011

A Love Supreme!

Posted in Cultural Matters, Playthell on politics with tags , on September 28, 2011 by playthell

 President Obama: Droppin Science and Blowin Soul

Chilly B” Raps to his Peeps

When President Obama spoke to the Congressional Black Caucus it wasall blues and soul, rendered in elegant sermonic cadences.  There was a lot of jokin, jiving, and testifying, but he was also droppin science….and signifyin for days!  His oratory was informed with so many inside Afro-American cultural references, esoteric nuances and complex allusions to our tradition of struggle, that most of the white pundits who monopolize the commentary on his speech are clueless and miss the point altogether.  In one headline after another the corporate media confidently portrayed the event as a pissed off President chastising his ungrateful black brothers and sisters in a “do-nothing” Congress: but it was no such thing!

These were Barack’s oldest and closest political comrades, some of whom mentored him in the art of playing politics in Washington. He knows they share his hopes and dreams for America. They were the ones who never doubted that he could be a great President, and except for the few who felt bound by long-time political alliances to the Clintons, they all wished him well and offered support.

It was in this caucus that Barack had found refuge as the lone Afro-American in the Senate.  Watching him speak to his old comrades I saw a love fest, a celebration of Afro-American style, language, humor, verbal virtuosity, and  hip body language – all the things that have made us the most imitated people in the world  were prominently on display.  What I saw was a man who could not only go home again…but return in style to a rousing welcome.

From the moment Barack stepped onto the podium, the audience gave him a boisterous ovation worthy of a hero.  The first thing our President said was how he enjoyed visiting “the conscience of the Congress,” a compliment of great generosity and gravitas.  He went on to personally thank the leaders of the Black Caucus for inviting him in the most effusive language. These kind accolades are reserved for those whom one holds in highest esteem.  When he laid out his jobs program, explaining the moral basis upon which it is designed, ridiculing Republican duplicity and dissecting the shameless sophistry of their arguments, he was repeatedly applauded by the audience.

As he spoke, this master orator and serious student of Afro-American history and culture constantly called upon our traditions to make his point and carry the crowd with him.  It was a remarkable performance, an intoxicating blend of highbrow erudition and folksy humor. Once he  connected with the audience he held them spellbound; he was part Richard Pryor, part Malcolm X,  part Thurgood Marshall and part Martin Luther King.

It was as grand a performance in the Afro-American oratorical tradition – the most dynamic in the world – as I have ever witnessed in a professional politician.   At times he reminded me of that silver tongued preacher/politician from Harlem – who also would have made a great President – the Reverend Doctor Adam Clayton Powell Jr.

The comparison was most compelling in his use of irreverent humor to expose the shameless hypocrisy of the Republicans, and his use of repetition to sell a particular idea.  His refrain “Pass this bill” reminded me of Powell’s “what’s in your hand” speech when he was imploring black folks to get out and vote.

The President’s speech was at once a panegyric to the heroism of the Afro-American struggle and a sanitized trip through the Dirty Dozens for the Grand Obstructionist Party.  The audience was with him every step of the way.  When he admonished the crowd to buck up, stop crying and complaining, and join him in the fight; this was not a put down of the audience but a call to battle!

It was another way of saying: don’t  get mad get even.  Life is not fair but we still got to struggle
and win with the hand we were dealt, and crying won’t help.  So don’t tell me your troubles because I’ve got my own.  Just put your shoulder to the wheel and keep on pushing: I got yo back!  As Barack’s voice rose to a crescendo at the conclusion of his speech, he issued a call to action.

So I don’t know about you, CBC, but the future rewards those who press on. With patient and firm determination, I am going to press on for jobs. I’m going to press on for equality.  I’m going to press on for the sake of our children.  I’m going to press on for the sake of all those families who are struggling right now. I don’t have time to feel sorry for myself. I don’t have time to complain. I am going to press on.  I expect all of you to march with me and press on.  Take off your bedroom slippers, put on your marching shoes. Shake it off. Stop complaining, stop grumbling, stop crying. We are going to press on. We’ve got work to do, CBC! “

The President’s defiant and triumphant tone in the face of adversity was a life affirming pep-talk.  It reminded me of what the Black Nationalist firebrand Minister Khalid Muhammad used to say to black audiences down on their luck: “No matter what we are confronted with we will survive!  We’re Bey Bey’s kids…we don’t die we multiply!”

Far from a put-down, Barack’s speech was an expression of a love supreme.  And the constant applause was proof positive that the audience returned the love.  So how could the major media get it so wrong?  Except for the right wing press, I believe it was the result of confusion rather than animosity. After all, what do most Euro-Americans really know about Afro-Americans?

The most enlightened think of us as just white people with dark skins, and are quite proud of themselves for it.  Most recognize that we are  very good at singing, dancing,  playing basketball and Jazz.  Few understand that we have been the strongest voices in support of the most cherished ideals of American civilization: personal freedom, social equality, democratic governance, innovation and freedom in diversity.

Yet you can hear these values clearly celebrated in our classical music – the quintessential American art of jazz – which realizes these values more successfully than any other American cultural form.  When I watched Barack speak to the Congressional Black Caucus, with his soaring lyricism and skillful use of pauses between virtuosic riffs, I was reminded of another Pres, Lester Young, who became world famous as President of the tenor saxophone, during his days with the fabulous Count Basie Orchestra.

When Pres took center stage to speak his piece, the orchestra  listened intently and responded to his statements in ways that energized the groove and lifted him higher, until both he and the band were inspired to tackle greater obstacles and attempt heroic things. Some times they hit the notes they were aiming at; sometimes they missed.  But they were always inspired to try again… no matter the obstacles.  That’s what really happened  when Barack gave a shout out to his peeps in the CBC.

Barack Paying Homage to his Distinguished Elders

He knows he is standing on their shoulders


Playthell G. Benjamin

Harlem, New York

September 28, 2011

The Case For Palestinian Statehood

Posted in On Foreign Affairs, On War and Peace in the Mid East! with tags , , , , on September 24, 2011 by playthell

 Bright Moments: Mahmoud Rappin with Barack


He told “a round unvarnished tale”

For those with any understanding of the facts in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, President Obama’s speech before the United Nations on Wednesday was an embarrassment.  And for Americans of conscience who value truth, freedom and justice it was shameful if not sinful.

In the President’s speech only the security concerns of the Israeli’s was discussed; a nation with one of the world’s top military establishments armed with the most advanced weaponry and a nuclear arsenal larger than Great Britain’s.  It was left therefore to President Mahmoud Abbas to present the counter-narrative, to tell the Palestinian side of the story.  And, like Othello, what a round unvarnished tale he told.

Those Americans who took the time to watch the speech on CNN got an extremely rare opportunity to hear the Palestinian case presented unfiltered by an American media that is openly biased in favor of Israel; in fact most of their copy sounds as if it was written in the Israeli embassy.   Hence for many Americans President Abbas must sound like a man from Mars.  For the picture he painted so vividly is one of a victimized people; a people whose lands and wealth was plundered by foreign invaders.

He told how the Palestinian people are the victims of colonial/settlers, the European and American Zionist, who disposssed them of their lands, instituted a racist Apartheid system, and in spite of 60 years of resolutions and agreements, many of which originated in agreements supervised by the UN, the Palestinian people continue languish under Israeli military occupation and are forced to stand idly by as Israeli settlers,  Zionist Jews from all over the world, continue to gobble up Palestinian lands by building new settlements and carving up their territory with “security walls.”

It sounded as if Mahmoud and Barack were talking about two different worlds; as if the situation looked different ways on different days.  The narratives are so radically different that there seems little reason to hope that a catastrophe can be avoided in the Middle-East.  Thus while the American President spouted nonsense, putting forth an argument that can only make sense if viewed from the imperatives of an American domestic politics dominated by the Israel Lobby, arguing that there is no road to Palestinian Statehood except through bilateral negotiations with an intransigent Israeli government, Mahmoud Abbas took his case to the United Nations General Assembly and asked the world to recognize their inherent right to a national existence as a sovereign people with all the rights and privileges that are accorded independent nations.

His overview of the crisis beginning with the founding of the Zionist state of Israel in Palestine was heart rending, a damming case of conquest, colonial occupation, and racial apartheid.  By the time Mr. Abbas announced his intention to apply for membership, proudly holding up the document for the assembly to see, the wildly applauding crowd stood in ovation.  As far as I can see, only the American and Israeli delegations remained quiet.  Thus we can clearly see the intractability of the crisis in the Middle East.

If the response of Richard Hass, Editor of Foreign Affairs, one of Americas most distinguished journals devoted to international relations, is any measure things look grim indeed. Mr. Hass, who is widely regarded as one of our nation’s most knowledgeable and prescient foreign policy analyst, expressed disappointment with Mr. Abbas’s speech and assured us that while it inspired ovations in the UN General Assembly, and will inspire cheers on the West Bank and Gaza: It would only harden the Israeli resolve to maintain the status quo. And he appeared to think this was a reasonable stance.

I see it differently; it is a course of action that can only swell the ranks of the Jihadist all over the Middle East.  There is no question that this will happen, because that is how mass transformative movements work.  Of the many factors that contribute to the growth of a movement the most potent factor is the presence of a clearly identified enemy. And that means real trouble for the US, since we are regarded as Israel’s enabler in the region.

Not long after President Abbas ended his triumphant speech, the Israeli Prime Minister took the stage and presented yet another narrative in which Israel is the victim and the Arabs are the dangerous ones.  He skillfully painted a picture of a beleaguered Jewish homeland besieged by crazy murderous Muslims.  I say Muslims because his attacks were not confined to the Arabs, aside from the Jihadists his greatest invective was reserved for Iran, which is Persian.

And  the Israeli Prime Minister willfully misrepresented some critical facts. The worst of which is to suggest that Iran, a Shiite nation, would give a nuclear weapon to Sunni Jihadist; it is a claim that defies history and denies present realities.  But it is a great ploy to rile up a millions of Americans who are already dwelling on the verge of anti-Muslim hysteria.

Yet at the end of the speechifying, I had the funny feeling that all three political actors were playing to audiences that were not present in the General Assembly.  They are all tightrope walkers who must delicately balance their performance to appeal to several audiences.  I believe that, if left to their own devices, these three rational and skilled statesmen could work out a deal.  But if they wish to survive in their high office each of them must do the bidding of constituencies that are irrational, and if their hopes and dreams are not addressed they may do no telling what.

In President Obama’s case, failure to veto the Palestinian resolution would make him political enemy #1 to the Israel Lobby and Christian Zionist.  The President cannot afford to make such powerful enemies just now; not at a time when he is conducting three wars abroad and trying to devise a cure for the protracted crisis in American capitalism.

And the situation threatens to get worse in an economy with recession level unemployment.  Furthermore he has the bizarre problem of trying to raise his approval rating among the Israeli populace; lest they give the order to the Israel Lobby and Christian soldiers of Zion the order to ice him – a call that would energize and mobilize their troops against the President’s reelection.

Prime Minister Netanyahu sent the President a strong message when he came to Washington recently and addressed a joint-session of Congress and got 18 standing ovations – more than the President got on his last State of the Union Address!  The not so subtle message was: “I own your Congress Mr. President!”   As sad as the situation is, it is nonetheless true that a failure to veto the Palestinian proposal was tantamount to committing political suicide!

Since politics is the art of the possible and I am a political animal, I fully support the President’s decision to veto the Palestinian proposal in the spirit of a circus performer who holds his nose and kisses a skunk because that’s what the script calls for!  It is, by far, a lesser evil than a Republican victory in the 2012 election.  If Mahmoud Abbas thinks that the Palestinian people will ever have a better friend in the White House than Barack Obama he is delusional.

That’s why, in spite of the undeniable righteousness of his cause, Mr. Abbas may well have injured that cause by not acceding  to the President’s request to delay his proposal for statehood a while longer so that he can try to work other options.  An American veto of this proposal will almost certainly strengthen Hamas, Mr. Abbas’ nemesis, as well as swell the ranks of Jihadists, who are the avowed enemies of secular democratic leaders like Mr. Abbas.  But once the independence motion became an option, there is no way he could have withdrawn it.  That would surely have finished him with the cheering crowd massed in Ramallah.

Ironically, Bibi Netanyahu may have won this test of wills with Barack Obama, but he imperiled the security of Israel in doing so.  It was a pyrrhic victory and Netanyahu is too smart not to know it.  Hopelessness spawned from long standing injustice is the incubator of terrorist!  Simply because justice too long delayed becomes justice denied and in such situations the oppressed will resist by any means at their disposal including suicide bombers!

Yet Bibi must bow to the will of his Likud Party – which an article in the September 23 New York Times describes as “a governing coalition dominated by right-wing and religious parties” – or face a revolt from right wing fanatics that could bring down his government Mucho Pronto.

Alas, there are positions Bibi must take in deference to the realities of Israeli politics even if he thinks he has better options.  That’s the fundamental problem with courting unthinking fanatics who operate from an irrational perspective…such as religious dogma.  We can see that the Israeli Prime Minister is concerned about the optics of their intransigence; it explains his impassioned plea for Mahmoud to return to the bargaining table…and his surprising offer to conduct the talks right here in New York right now.

However his refusal to address the issue of expanding settlements his peripatetic rant, suggest that his overtures were purely cosmetic. In the end it appears that we are witnessing a real life drama that combines elements of classical tragedy, Shakespearean intrigues and a post-modern theater of the absurd!  Only one thing is certain:  unless these three leaders can find a way to elevate reason, courage and integrity over the imperatives of political survival, an unspeakable catastrophe looms on the horizon.

Barack and Bibi: Who’s the Boss?

Is the tail wagging the dog here?


Playthell Benjamin

Harlem, New York

September 24, 2011

Man on a Tight Rope!

Posted in On Foreign Affairs, On War and Peace in the Mid East!, Playthell on politics with tags , , , on September 22, 2011 by playthell
  Speaking before the General Assembly


On the contradictions of War, Peace and Freedom

It was a herculean task the President undertook when he addressed the United Nations this morning.  He had come to celebrate the virtues of human freedom and the unique role the UN must play in promoting the freedom and welfare of all peoples.  His central challenge was to craft a speech that would sound convincing to a room full of seasoned and somewhat cynical diplomats; all of whom were aware that he has vowed to veto the Palestinian people’s petition for national recognition before that same august body on Friday.

Yet there is no one who deserves the intervention of the United Nations more than the long suffering Palestinians.  Since everybody present knew that the Israeli’s would collapse without the agency of the United States, President Obama was viewed as a shameless hypocrite by many of the delegates in the hall before he ever opened his mouth.  As much as I believe in the power of great oratory, and Barack is a verbal virtuoso of the first order, I couldn’t imagine how he could possibly pull it off.

I was saved from despair only because I had already witnessed him weave irresolvable contradictions into a convincing polemic when he defended war in his acceptance speech for the Nobel Peace Prize.  Barack has a brilliant mind that can grasp the complexities of things, and the eloquence to explain them in poetic language.  These gifts were never more finely displayed than on this occasion, especially in his impressive grasp of the great issues that define the human condition at the beginning of the 21st century.

The Speech was a celebration of cherished American ideals designed to appeal to reasonable people everywhere.  But most Arabs are in no mood to be reasonable: especially the Palestinians.  Alas, they have been more than reasonable for decades now to no avail.

The President was at his best recounting the march of freedom in the world since his last speech before them, and the role the UN played in facilitating that march with full US support.  Unfortunately, the narrative of the Israeli/Arab conflict offered up by the President was a burlesque on serious historical analysis.  To listen to him tell it one would think that it was the Palestinians who came from Europe and invaded Jewish lands, dispossessed them of their country by brute force and now seeks to deny their national identity after 60 years of struggle – forcing them to live in wretched refugee camps abroad and under military occupation on their native soil.

Barack’s message to the Palestinians was not to petition for UN recognition because the US will veto it; their only option is to return to the negotiating table with Bebe Netanyahu, the arrogant Israeli leader who has all but told the American President to fuck off!  Although he heaped praises upon his head after he dissed the Palestinians in his UN speech. Dr. Ziebniew Brzezinski, a former National Security Advisor to President Jimmy Carter and one of America’s most able foreign policy analysts, recently called Netanyahu’s hard line position on the Palestinians “Suicidal!”  And this is a man who was an architect of the Israeli / Egyptian peace accord, which is the most important diplomatic achievement in the region since the 1948 UN resolution that created the state of Israel.

Hence despite the president’s soaring eloquence and impressive intellect, his proposal was ludicrous.   Stuff like that might play well in Washington, Tel Aviv and the 9th Congressional District of New York; but judging by the immediate rejection of the President’s proposal by  Palestinian representatives, it appears his recommendation will go over like a lead balloon in the Arab World.

The only hope of averting a diplomatic disaster of historic proportions is for President Obama to work out a deal with the Israelis and Palestinians before President Abbas speaks to the UN General Assembly on Friday. Should he fail to cut a deal, and the US vetoes the Palestinian petition, I suspect the armed insurgents of the “Arab Spring” will greet his decision as a callous betrayal; Al Qaeda will welcome it as a gift from Allah, and the Iranians will reference it as irrefutable evidence of their charge that US presidents are slaves to the Israel lobby!

 What the future Holds for the Mid-East



Playthell G. Benjamin

Harlem, New York

September 21, 2011



Nowhere to Run…Nowhere to Hide!

Posted in On Foreign Affairs, On War and Peace in the Mid East!, Playthell on politics, Uncategorized with tags , , , on September 20, 2011 by playthell

 Barack at the Wailing Wall

On Israel, the Arabs and American National Interests

The leader of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, will petition the United Nations for admission in a speech before the General Assembly on Friday.  The problem is that only nation states are admitted to the Assembly.  Hence recognition of the Palestinian Authority is tantamount to acknowledging their claim to national sovereignty; which the Israeli’s vociferously oppose and the US government has vowed to veto.

According to the Chief UN Envoy of the Palestinian Authority, Rashid Areikat, their resolution “will talk about the Palestinian state in the West Bank, the Gaza Strip with East Jerusalem as its capital. It will call for two-state solution, two states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security. And I believe it will also emphasize the need for negotiations to resolve the outstanding issues.” If the Palestinian resolution is put to a vote and the US stands alone with Israel, it will have disastrous consequences for U.S. National interest and security.

Anyone who has been closely following the populist upheavals in the Middle East understands that these revolts could take several directions; some good for the US and others spell real trouble.  Since the root of our conflict with the Arab world is the US government’s uncritical support for Israel, no matter what they do, the spectacle of America vetoing the Palestinian petition for diplomatic recognition will surely inflame anti-American passions throughout an instable Arab world experiencing cataclysmic political change, and serve as recruiting posters for the Jihadists.  While simultaneously promoting cynicism among middle class cosmopolitan intellectuals who are tasked with winning the hearts and minds of the “Arab masses” for a liberal western style democracy, as opposed to militant Islamic theocracies!

 The paramount objectives of US policy in the region is to keep the oil supply flowing at a cheap price and defeating the militant Islamic Jihadists; hence a veto of the Palestinian petition is manifestly against the national interests of the United States.  Why then is our government pursuing this self-destructive policy?  Professors John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt of Harvard and University of Chicago offer the most plausible explanation for this transparent folly in their seminal study, The Israel Lobby: 

The combination of unwavering support for Israel and the related effort to spread ‘democracy’ throughout the region has inflamed Arab and Islamic opinion and jeopardized not only US security but that of much of the rest of the world. This situation has no equal in American political history. Why has the US been willing to set aside its own security and that of many of its allies in order to advance the interests of another state?”  The professors’ conclusions are unambiguous: “…the thrust of US policy in the region derives almost entirely from domestic politics, and especially the activities of the ‘Israel Lobby’.

The power of that lobby was made clear to President Obama when long-time democratic warhorse “Crazy Eddie” Koch helped elect a right-wing pro-Zionist Republican in the 9th Congressional Ward; which Democrats have controlled for nearly a century!  Thus the President is faced with a policy conundrum and moral dilemma: Should he stand on the principle of equal justice he has proclaimed in supporting military action against Khadafy and denouncing tyranny throughout the Muslim world, or bow to domestic political realities.

On the one had President Obama’s moral authority will be enhanced with the emerging leadership of the Arab world, propelled forward by the tectonic forces unleashed by the Arab Spring.  But should he choose the morally duplicitous position of chastisimg Arabs, but turning a blind eye to Israeli transgressions  in order to appease Israel Lobby in the US, it will destroy his credibility with the Arab masses and also alienate much of the intelligentsia.

Alas, our President will not only have destroyed the credibility of his administration to act as honest broker in the protracted Arab/Israeli conflict, but will also make the task of those forces fighting to establish secular democracies in the Arab world infinitely harder.  Thus the President is literally trapped between The Devil and the deep blue sea, and there is no easy way out of this moral dilemma and political quagmire.

The confederacy of charlatans who are campaigning for the Party’s presidential nomination, are clearly prepared to genuflect before the Israel Lobby, and in doing so they are also appealing to a wide swath of the Christian right, millions of whom are evangelical “Christian Zionists,” fanatical closet anti-Semites who care not a whit about the Jews but love Israel because they see its emergence as the fulfillment of biblical prophecy. As for the Jews – such as the Ortodox crowd Sick Rick was with when he denounced the Presidents’s middle East policy as “arogant and dangerous -” well…if they don’t convert to Christianity before the Rapture their fundamentalist Christian allies believe they are gonna all burn in the eternal fires of hell for refusing to accept Jesus as the Messiah!

That’s the crazy crowd that Sick Slick Rick Perry was really giving a shout out to when he was pandering to his Zionist boosters  in New York today; spouting simple minded demagogic attacks on the President’s effort to develop a Middle East policy that would bring some sense of coherence and justice to American diplomacy in the region.  In a classic case of shortsightedness, Zionist zealots among the American Jewish leadership have  entered into a Faustian Bargain with Christian Zionist crackpots, such as those who surround Rick Perry,  who even the Israsli Mosaad are worried about.

This is because these American Christian zealots – motivated by visions of armmageddon and inspired by “End Time” theology – encourage the most fanatical elements of the Israeli population,  The intelligence professionals fear that they may provoke some atrocity against the Arabs that will cause the entire Muslim world to declare Jihad against Israel; thus propelling a local conflict with the Arabs into a war with a billion Muslims around the world!   All eyes  will be watching to see what policy the President will pursue; if he will really veto Mahmoud Abbas’s rather modest and imminently reasonable proposal, even as the rest of the world stands with the Palestinian People.  And none will be paying closer attention than those on the Arab street!

 Mahmoud Abbas will plead the cause of the Palestinian people


A reasonable Man at the end of his rope


 Playthell Benjamin

Harlem, New York

September, 20, 2011


What Does The Brooklyn Election Mean?

Posted in Playthell on politics with tags , , , , , on September 14, 2011 by playthell


 Strange Bedfellows: Bobby T and Booster ‘Crazy Eddie” Koch


 Politics Make Strange Bedfellows!

The Republican victory in the 9th Congressional District, which straddles Brooklyn and Queens, is an unmitigated disaster!  This CD has never sent a Republican to Congress since it’s establishment nearly a century ago, and the previous Congressman, Anthony Weiner, was one of the most effective advocates for the cherished ideals of the progressive liberal/left.

The loss of Anthony Wiener in the House of Representatives is the real catastrophe, not, as many verbose but simple minded pundits are crowing this morning, that the victory of Republican businessman Bob Turner over Democratic State Assemblyman David Weprin signals a retreat of the democratic base from President Obama.  This is a unique district; issues such as gay marriage and especially support for Israel, which rouse the passions of voters here, will not resonate among the wider electorate. 

“The results of this election are not reflective of what will happen in November 2012 when Democratic challengers run against Republican incumbents who voted to end Medicare and cut Social Security while protecting tax loopholes for big corporations and the ultra-wealthy,” argues Congressman Steve Israel, Chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.  This view is supported by the observations of David Harris, CEO of the National Jewish Democratic Council, who argues that many people who voted for Turner were expressing their disdain for the sexual antics of former Congressman Wiener, the Brooklyn Flasher. 

Like Congressman Israel, Harris argues that this election is a fluke and economic issues will decide the 2012 election.  “In the end,” he says “in this difficult economy, Americans — including in New York’s Ninth District — are hurting. In this atypical district, they’ve reacted atypically.”  To accentuate his point that the issues which swayed this election has little meaning in a general election, Harris cites a recent poll conducted by the Siena Research Institute showing that only 7% of the electorate says that a candidate’s position on Israel would determine their vote. 

Yet to Zionist Zealots like State Assemblyman Doug Hakin and former Mayor “Crazy Eddie” Koch, both long time Democrats, it was enough for them to abandon the Democratic Party and form an alliance with Republican ethnics Rudy Giuliani and Congressman Peter King, just as many orthodox Rabbis and neo-con Jewish intellectuals have formed alliances with Christian Zionist preachers who believe Jews will burn in hell if they do not repudiate Judaism and embrace Jesus Christ as the Messiah before the Rapture. Politics does indeed make strange bedfellows!

The lesson for the progressive liberal/left is that we should never decide whether to support a candidate for political office based on non-political issues like sexual peccadillos – especially since there was no actual sex involved here, Weiner’s sin was flashing his weenie in cyberspace.  For that we kicked a champion of the people to the curb and got a Republican businessman who is certain to commit far worse sins in the public arena than Weiner ever committed in his private life. 

When Turner gets through screwing the public he won’t have the time or energy to screw around on his wife.   Yet we will all be the worse for it. Hence joining the Republican cry to drive Congressman Weiner from office is the very definition of dangerous self-destructive folly! 

To add insult to injury, the outrage over Congressman Weiner’s virtual sex greatly exceeded that of a Republican Senator who has admitted to having Real Sex with DC hookers in violation of the law.  But he is still a sitting Senator!  Finally there is the absurdity of it all.  This is the clear message of the newly published book “One Nation Under Sex,” co-written by Hustler Magazine publisher and free speech advocate Larry Flint, with award winning Presidential historian and Columbia University Professor Dr. David Eisenbach. 

Speaking of the importance of this text, which closely examines the sexual behavior of our Presidents and First Ladies, Rutgers University Presidential Historian Dr. David Greenberg offered the following observation:

“Americans often like to think that extra-marital sex – or even a strong libido – is somehow a sign of poor character in our presidents.  One Nation Under Sex explodes that Myth.  From Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson onward, our most respected leaders have always engaged in bedroom behavior that would outrage the cultural commisars – at no harm to the republic.”

While we all know about Thomas Jefferson siring seven children by his slave concubine Sally Hemmings, and they remained the property of his white family like his farm animals.  And Dap Sugar Willie Clinton got impeached for getting his knob polished in the Oval Office, and the word has long been out that both Bobby and Jack Kennedy were banging blond bombshell Marylyn Monroe, plus Jack smoked pot during Ménage a trios in the White House when Jackie and the kids were away; it comes as news to my ears that President James Buchanan and Senator William King had a 31 year homosexual affair, or that the August Eleanor Roosevelt may have liked pussy better than dick!!!  Compared to these raunchy romps, Anthony Weiner flashing his weenie on twitter is really much ado about nothing!

Sugar Willie and Monica Superhead!

 Who knew she was polishing his knob in the Oval Office?        




Playthell Benjamin

Harlem, New York

September 2011

Forever Love…A 9/11 Reflection

Posted in Cultural Matters with tags on September 12, 2011 by playthell


Me and my First Wife Dorothy as Newly Weds in 1966


Reflections On The Way We Were

I owe the existence of this essay to  my Facebook Friends, whose  moving heart felt sentiments in response to a brief notice in memory of my first wife Dorothy – which I posted on my face book wall along with a picture of me and her  together – caused me to reflect on the extraordinary times in which we lived.  I began to dissect the political /cultural forces that shaped us and brought us together and wound up putting my thoughts in writing.   The result is this remembrance of that halcyon era of struggle and hope when black Americans redifined themselves and changed America forever.

Dorothy was a victim of the great terrorist attack on down town Manhattan by Islamic Jihadist ten years ago.   I posted the memorial because I wanted to put a face on one of the victims; to show that these were real lives that were lost that day. The numbers don’t tell the whole story – as horrendous and awe inspiring as they are.  I wanted to remind folks that somebody loved them, and that some of these victims were the best and brightest among us…the tallest trees in our forest.

Dorothy was one of those great souls. When I met her she was on a “Freedom High” just like me.  She was Afro-Cuban and I was Afro-American but we were Pan-Africanist and saw our union as proof that Neo-African cultures in the Diaspora had definite spiritual and historical affinities. She dug Jazz and could boogie down to James Brown, and I thought I was the Mambo King, whether playing the Congas or dancing!

Playing with the great Mongo Santa Maria’s Orchestra 1966

I loved Afro-Cuban culture and Dorothy Loved Afro-America culture

Like me Dorothy was also a fan of European classical music. She was a graduate of Music and Art, a special New York high school that recruited the most artistically gifted students in New York City. And exacting standard for sure. The television series “Fame,” starring Debbie Allen was based on that High School. Dorothy was admitted and studied piano and cello. But her experience with white cultural chauvinism and racism turned Dorothy off to the world of European classical music, an alienation that heightened when the great trumpeter Donald Bird came to the school to create a Jazz department.

Trumpet Virtuoso Donald Bird

He blew Dorothy’s mind and changed her Life!

On his first meeting with the students to announce the aims of his department Donald, a master musician in every respect, decided to tackle the conceits about the superiority of European classical music to the great art music of America – which is an invention of Afro-Americans.  To accomplish this he introduced the students to a young, bespeckled, soft spoken black pianist. The 18 year old sat down at the Steinway Grand and first played one of the Concert Etudes composed by the great Franz Liszt, which are known to piano aficionados as the “Transcendental Etudes.”

This is one of the most difficult works for solo piano ever composed. Like all etudes it is a complex technical exercise and thus the pianist must have monster skills to even think about playing it. Herbie played it flawlessly, and then he performed variations on the oeuvre of the eccentric Afro-American genius Theolonius Monk, who grew up just blocks away from where Dorothy grew up. She never got over it, and she became good friends with “Herbie and Donald.” To her it was a demonstration of Black Genius!

Piano Virtuoso Herbie Hancock


Herbie displayed genius at an early age

It changed her life. After that it was like… “Roll over Beethoven;” all she wanted to do was swing: Do Bird and Dizzy’s thing!  However she would discover that if you are completely steeped in the vocabulary and technique of European Classical music it is virtually impossible to master the vocabulary, rhythms and technique required in order to perform the great Afro-American classic art of Jazz. That’s why musicians like Wynton, Herbie, Chucho Valdez, Hubert Laws, Paquito d’ Rivera, Valerie Capers, Nina Simone, Dorothy Donnegan, Benny Goodman, Ron Carter, et al who can perform in both genres without accent are geniuses of a rare order!

In any case, the love of clasical music was something unique that we shared. But I was exposed to European art music by Afro-American musicians.  The first time I heard a Liszt etude it was performed by my aunt Marie in her parlor. She could play Professor Thomas Dorsey’s Gospel music and Scott Joplin’s Ragtime compositions too. And naturally she turned me on to music at an early age. After she handed me over to one of her most talented students to be instructed, a beautiful college student named Miss Brown, I became perhaps the only nine year old boy in America who could not wait to spend Saturday mornings taking piano lessons.

I practiced diligently during the week in preparation for my classes with Miss Brown and developed a passionate crush on her. When she would stand behind me and place my hands properly upon the keyboard my heart skipped beats, and when she sat next to me on the piano bench my spirit took flight.  When she played a dreamy Chopin Polanaise she seemed to become an angel with supernatural powers.  I was totally smitten!  But, alas, she graduated, got married and split town. I felt heartbroken and betrayed, And I couldn’t stand the sound of the piano for a couple of years!

After that traumatic experience I lost all desire to play the piano and decided to take up the trumpet. I found a new love…until I heard Clifford Brown and switched to the drums!  But since I chose Max Roach as my artistic role model I had adopted a standard of achievement that would take the most gifted percussionist a lifetime of study and practice to master!   When the black liberation movement erupted in this country I was swept up by it and my ambitions changed.  Malcolm X replaced Miles Davis as my idea of a cool black rebel, and after meeting Queen Mother Moore I decided to become a professional revolutionary!  

So Dorothy and I had both given up playing an instrument, and like all failed musicians, we became great fans! When we met she had graduated from City College with a degree in Psychology, and I was a college dropout who was teaching a twenty week seminar on African and Afro-American history at the Labor Institute at Rutgers under a grant from one of Lyndon Johnson’s “Great Society Programs. ” I also had a regular gig as the Director of the “Minority History Project” for the Opportunities Industrial Centers” -a national jobs training program founded by the Reverend Doctor Leon Sullivan: One of the greatest men to live in America during the twentieth century! Minister Farrakhan calls him: “The Lion of Zion!”

The night I met Dorothy I had just left from presenting a lecture on the African liberation movement.  As was always the case after presenting a good lecture I was on a high, bouyed by the electricity that’s generated when an orator really connects with  the audience. Since I was speaking to a large group in a auditorium filled with adminstrators in community action agencies that were in the front lines of the “War on Poverty,” listening to an hour and a half lecture was not part of their normal routine. So I had to work to get their attention.  Hence when things went really well I got an adreneline high. 

As soon as I arrived in the Big Apple I would take the A Train straight to Harlem and drop by my man Pablo’s crib.  An Afro-Cuban who grew up in New York like Dorothy, Pab was a master of the Conga drums and always had the latest latin sounds – from Cuba and the New York Salsa scene.  That was not the only thing that attracted me to his crib however: Pablo alwas had the high grade killer herb!  He was the drummer with a very hip group of Black Americans who played Afro-Cuban music, “Pucho and his Latin Soul Brother’s,” and I checked them out whenever they were performing. 

Since “Pab”  lived in a plush pad in Lennox Terrace, he was right around the corner from “The Truth” Coffee House.  So I charged up my head at Pablo’s pad and headed for “The Truth.”  A couple of hours earlier I had listend to Frank Sinatra’s hit record “That Was A Very Good Year” while waitin on the New York train in a bar.  I thought he was singing my song.

The Truth Coffe House was where the hip black activist, artists and movement intellectuals congregated to see and be seen, make connections, listen to poets spout revolutionary verse, and Jazzmen playing straight ahead in the tradition and beyond to the avant garde.  Everybody was listening to John Coltrane and Miles Davis, but cats like Byard Lancaster, Don Pullin, Milford Graves and Archie Sheep were already headed out in space.  They were following Ornette Coleman and Sun Ra, who said “space is the place!” You could see anybody in the movement drop by The Truth – from Muhammad Ali to James Meredith; whom I saw in The Truth a few days after he was shot in Mississippi.  One of our favorite tunes on the juke box was a song by a young Muslim Minister named Louis X from Boston. 

He played the violin with a deep lush tone and a wide vibrato that gave it a mysterious “Eastern” sound.  And he sang with a beautiful tenor voice, the effect was such that it fed the imagination of those attracted to stories about the ancient glories of the Moors.  He had a record that was a big hit with the revolutionary nationalist crowd: “The white Man’s Heaven is the Black Man’s Hell!”   On the night that Dorthy and I met I was sitting at a table with the African historian John Hendrik Clarke and the great poet Larry Neal, who along with Amiri Baraka, Yusef Rachman, Askia Muhammad Toure, Calvin Hernton, Ishmael Reed, et al invented the “new black esthetic” in literature.  When Dorothy walked in she atrracted quite a bit of attention because she had her hair in a huge curly Afro and was my idea of what an Ethiopian Queen must have looked like in bliblical times.

It was a magical time and it seemed anything was possible.  We met when she sat down at the table next to us with her girlfriends and soon boldly interjected herself into our conversation, directly challenging something I said.  Bewitched by her beauty and facinated by her spunk, I surrended and conceded the argument without a fight.  I wanted to get on with this woman and I was not interested in winning any battles that might lose the war!  We talked, bewitched each other, and I walked her home….only to discover that she lived with her parents.  Since I was living in Philadelphia at the time it began as a weekend romance, but our passion for each other soon grew to such intensity we could no longer bear it and was married six weeks later!

Such was the culturally rich fascinating world in which Dorothy and I met and fell in love.  Things were changing, the Third world was in revolution, Africa was rising, and we were all on a “Freedom High.”   We viewed ourselves as Pan-African revolutionaries on a mission to uplift the race!  A hip New Yorker deep into the cultural scene, and outrageously fine to boot – about 5/9 in her stocking feet with dangerous curves — Dorothy knew everybody and more than a few of the intellectuals and artist had a crush on her.

Harold Cruse: The Master Teacher

An original thinker who enlightened a generation

She introduced me to Clayton Reilly, a wonderful writer and cosmopolite who was writing theater criticism for the New York Times, and the peerless polymath Harold Cruse, when he was working on his Magnum Opus “The Crisis of the Negro Intellectual,” which the great historian Christopher Lash calls “A masterpiece of 20th century American historical and cultural criticism!” Lash said it would have taken him 20 years to cover and interpret all of the information and ideas Cruse deals with in this book.

Well, it took Harold 28 years to write it!  Because of Dorothy I got to spend many evenings arguing with Harold – and being intellectually brutalized by Cruse, who resented me at first me because he had a crush on Dorothy but she chose me!   I was so dazzled by Harold’s unique brilliance I viewed his ridicule of my half-baked ideas, and his shameless showing off by droppin science on my ignorant ass, as just the price I had to pay for sitting at the feet of a major American thinker! 

The education I got on politics and culture, as well as the science of revolution and what that meant in the American context, has served me so well that it is undoubtly a great reason why I have never lost a debate in almost half a century!  Many of the things we talked about on those occasions were ideas that appear in Cruse’s great book.  That’s how hanging out in the Big Apple with the beautiful, brilliant, gracious; gifted Dorothy Bannister open doors for me that I might otherwise have found closed.  

 Max Roach and Abbey Lincoln


 Dorothy and I thought they were the epitome of cool!

 We were married amidst the flowering of the Black Arts Movement; as hip asethetes and cultural nationalists, we chose the first couple of that movement – the greatest improvisational percussionist of the twentieth century: bandleader/composer Max Roach, and his beautiful  singer /songwriter /actress wife Abbey Lincoln as our role models.  Queen Mother Moore loved and tutored her, and my good friend Mongo Santamaria adored her as a sterling example of Afro-Cuban womanhood.  It is this rich and unique experience that Dorothy brought to the college students she inspired as a director of councelling. They will miss her dearly….. and so shall  I. 

 Four Who Made A Revolution circa 2011 

During the 1960’s Dorothy was Close Comrades with Three!

Playthell, Prof. John Bracy, Dr. Muhammad Ahmed, Poet Askia Muhammad

Founders: Revolutionary Action Movement, Black Arts Movement and Black Studies




Playthell Benjamin

Harlem, New York

September 11, 2011

The Spirit of 21st Century American Labor

Posted in Playthell on politics with tags , , on September 11, 2011 by playthell


 June Watson: International Representative, United Auto Workers

Ready to Rumble!

Oganize!  Build Power!  Win Justice!

Last Saturday the great Unions observed their annual Labor Day celebrations as they marched, banners unfurled down Fifth Avenue, past the grand edifices where the Robber Barons who fancied themselves “Captains of Industry” once resided.  It was the ruthless actions these men employed against American workers that spurred the growth of the Union Movement in the US and inspired the creation of “Labor Day.”  The first parade celebrating working people was held in 1882, when workers were little more than industrial serfs. 

These associations of working people were barely legal in most of the country and were regarded as a conspiracy against the rights of private by the capitalist class, the plutocrats who did not hesitate to employ thugs, private police such as the Pinkerton agency, and strike breakers composed of men who were outside of the particular association that was fighting for better wages and working conditions for their members.  Many times these strike breakers were black, because the racist policies of the white dominated Unions denied them membership; which meant they were prevented from earning their daily bread in closed union shops. 

 Booker T. Washington

He Opposed White Only Unions!

That’s why Booker T. Washington, the most powerful Afro-American leader at the turn of the 20th Century, opposed unionization and counseled black workers to view enlightened capitalists like Andrew Carnegie and Julius Rosenwald, who sympathized with black people and were generous in their philanthropy, as their true friends. These racial practices of white labor manufactured opponents even from blacks who were socialist and thus their natural allies. Yet enlightened Afro-Americans clearly understood that objectively white and black workers had the same enemies and interests as a class.  That’s why men like A. Phillip Randolph of The Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, whose founding is one of the most heroic stories of the labor movement, continued to work with white unionists and eventually became a top official of the giant AFL-CIO.

Nevertheless, the union movement with all its flaws raised all American workers from modern serfs to empowered actors by virtue of the recognition of their right to bargain collectively with the passage of the Wagner Act of 1937.  The gains made by labor unions benefits all workers – whether they belong to a union or not.  Virtually every benefit American workers now take for granted – sick leave, paid vacations, eight hour work weeks, medical insurance, workplace safety regulations, abolition of child labor, minimum wage, seniority rules, job security, grievances procedures, etc – are the result of union bargaining with the capitalists! 

That’s why the Republican shills of the Plutocrats are trying their best – using every sort of lies, subversion and dirty tricks – to destroy unionism in America.  It is not for nothing that Billionaires like the Koch brothers, the very incarnation of evil, are spending millions to thwart the efforts by unions to organize workers, and is now targeting the public sector in an attempt to destroy the labor base for the Democratic Party!  There is no question that Unions enhance the lives of workers, and President Eisenhower, one of the greatest Republicans, said that unions were a legitimate part of American life and any political party who opposed it would have no future in America.

It is the responsibility of labor to make Ike’s prediction come true by mobilizing the working class against anti-labor Republican shills for plutocrats like the Koch brothers, who are determined to return America to the days of sweat shops.  We have seen labor flexing its muscles in Wisconsin and Ohio; now the battle must be waged nationwide.  What we need is a new invigorated labor movement.  Ironically, a great part of the problem with mobilizing unionized workers for a real fight is that the leadership of organized labor succeeded too well!  

American workers have come to expect benefits that are the result of bloody battles in the past, and they have been so well compensated that blue collar workers began to think of themselves as “middle class.”  The term “working class” has practically disappeared from our public discourse, so unionized American workers are suffering an identity crisis.  It goes without saying that if you don’t know who you are you cannot know what your demands should be.  Before his death the late president of the Machinist Union, William Winpisinger, said the AFL-CIO made a serious mistake when they removed the term “class struggle” from their language.

A visionary labor leader who fought the Nazi’s in World War II, “Wimpy” as he was affectionately known to his union brothers, help rid his union of racist policies, was a board member of the Democratic Socialists of America and spoke out against the increasing concentration of wealth in the upper class.  Wimpy also called for the US to develop alternative energy sources in order to free the US economy from the tyranny of the oil cartels.  He recognized the growing trend of what we now call “globalization” and denounced it as danger to the security and prosperity of American workers. 

American workers didn’t fight on the issue then – I mean a real life and death fight that would have included a national strike – and now American corporations have exported much of the manufacturing sector overseas, employing over ten million workers abroad at substandard wages while millions of Americans are unemployed!  And to add insult to injury, after the American taxpayers  – which include millions of workers – bailed out the private sector they are now sitting on a couple of trillion dollars which they refuse to invest in this country unless we give them even more obscene concessions in terms of tax cuts!  Yet inequality in the distribution of wealth is the worst on record.

Wimpey’s 1984 warning reads like prophecy now:

“Worker rights are indivisible from human rights. It should be implicit in all the GATT agreements, in every unilateral trade agreement we have with anybody. How can an American worker maintain an American standard of living if he has to pit himself against a rice and beans, twenty-some a week native somewhere in the world, who is forced to work for starvation conditions of that kind? And produce for our market? And never develops the indigenous consumer power to have us sell him anything? That’s exactly what happens to them.”

It is time for American workers – white and blue collar – to stand and fight! First by organizing against the Republican reactionaries in Congress who refuse to vote for President Obama’s Jobs bill, and working to elect more people to the congress who think like Senator Bernie Sanders, Congressman Dennis Kucinich and members of the Black and Progressive  Caucuses.   An indispensable element in the growth of any movement is a clear and present enemy who is easily identifiable.  In the President’s jobs bill we have the issue that will force everybody to show where they stand, and labor should organize vigorously against their enemies!  That is the spirit we need from the working class, a fighting spirit!  And progressive international unions like the United Auto Workers are ready to lead this great struggle!


Labor’s Day In New York City

Fighting the Plutocrats!


 1932: The Way We Were!


 Organized Labor Today!

Still fighting the Plutocrats!


Representin on Fifth Avenue

  The Foundation of a Strong Nation


Elevator Mechanics: Lifting us Higher!


 Stepping Out For Labor


If You Hear A Little Noise


 It’s Just the Elevator Boys!


 Standing Tall!


 For Worker’s Power!


Teamsters: The  Real Tough Guys of Labor!


 Yo!  Hoffa was Right…That’s what it is!!


 It’s A Family Affair!


 Fighting for their Future


 A Different Story at the Labor Day Parade 1909


 Fighting Against Child Labor Back in the Day!

 How far we have come…but some would take us back!


 With a Clash Of Cymbals!

 Youth March in Lockstep


And A Bang Of the Drums!

  They Strutted With Fortitude Toward the Future!


Led by the UAW Labor Marches On!


 “Forward Ever!”   “Backward Never


The Spirit Of Jose Marti: Poet Liberator of Cuba


 Blessed the Marchers with his Fighting Soul!


At the Labor Day Parade circa 2011




Playthell Benjamin

Member Local 18, District Councol 37, Painters, Plasterers and Allied Trades

Indefatigable Defender of the Working Class!!

On Fifth Avenue, New York City

At the Labor Day Parade

September 9, 2011



Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 154 other followers