Archive for December, 2010

On Shooting The Wounded!

Posted in Playthell on politics, Uncategorized with tags , on December 10, 2010 by playthell
Unemployed workers Signing up for Compensation

Are Democrats Playing Russian Roulette with Workers?

Today Congressional Democrats rejected the tax deal President Obama worked out with the Republicans that would extend unemployment benefits for two million workers, preserve  tax cuts for the working and middle classes, and according to a wide range of economists of varying ideological persuasions, will stimulate job growth.  The reason House Democrats found this deal unacceptable is because it also preserved the Bush tax cuts for the top income brackets.  Now all of the firebrands and armchair revolutionaries on the left who wanted to see a fight around this issue have got one…but be careful what you wish for.

Ironically, nobody in the Obama Administration likes the idea of maintaining the Bush era tax rates for the filthy rich; the President has said this repeatedly, including when he announced the deal.  But he can envision no way to get the things he wants for those Americans most in need of government assistance without entering into this compromise.  Neither can I.   And based on the things they are saying the President’s critics are clueless too; they don’t know how to bust that grape either.   Since it is clear that the Grand Obstructionist Party doesn’t give a shit about these struggling Americans, they will let unemployment benefits die and let tax rates rise.  After all, the Plutocrats they serve will survive; it’s the working people, in whose interests the pugnacious self-righteous pols in the Democratic Party claim to labor, that will go down to wreck and ruin.

It is one thing to witness this kind of reckless behavior from irresponsible ideologues on the left, who continue to confuse their ideological constructs about the world with reality; but we have a right to expect far better from people whose stock- in – trade is politics!   Their behavior is especially puzzling because all of them understand that if they don’t take this deal they will soon be facing a Republican dominated House that may do no telling what.  The only thing that we can be absolutely certain about is that their choices will be far worse!  Hence the deal must be done now!

Only people who are not facing eminent ruin, or have any real memory of it, can believe this is a wise course of action – especially as they all admit that they must do the deal within the next month.  Now that the Democrats in the House have rejected a done deal lets see what their plan is.  I can see no way to avoid the disaster President Obama seeks to avoid that does not involve this compromise.  Anyone who thinks that if the Democrats allow two million workers lose their unemployment, and tax rates rise on 156 million Americans, they can win the national election in 2012 is dangerously deluded!  I think their ass will be grass come 2012, as it ought to be!

This is no time for ideological posturing; real people’s lives are at stake.  And any way you read the results of the recent election it does not add up to a vote for more pain.  Although the results of their decisions at the polls seems designed with more pain in mind.

Which is why I argued that the election results were irrational – a triumph of the untutored mob. Yet decisions made by the professional left also contributed to this disaster at the polls.  Like the petulant morons who counseled people to stay home and not work vigorously to elect Democrats!

These people never learn; and although I share much of their vision of the ideal society I am not about to cut off my nose to spite my face by deciding to sit on the sidelines while the Tea Party out organizes us.  Everybody has a wish list of things they would like to see come to pass in America.  If it was left up to me I would have lined everybody  who played a part in the recent economic disaster on one side, and those who started the bogus war in Iraq on the other, and force them to fire at each other!   And I would slash the military budget drastically.  But I know that’s a pipe dream so I don’t bring them up in serious arguments.

Most on the left are not so reasonable; they routinely debate their wildest fantasies as if they are real.  Perhaps this explains why I can detect no semblance of a plan of action that can arrest the resurrection of the radical right emanating from the left.  In the aftermath of the political devastation wreaked by the royal ass whipping progressive forces received at the polls, the left continues to engage in internecine warfare between those who approach politics as a process by which relationships of power are shaped – which means gaining control over state power.  And those who view politics as endless polemics over obtuse ideological issues that hold no meaning for average Americans whatsoever.

To these leftist ideologues – who act much more like religious crusaders than sober political strategist who base their strategy and demands on the political realities – “the people” are ideological abstractions.  In their view the masses are ready for revolution, all they need is an ideologically correct vanguard to lead them!  It takes a powerful capacity for self deception in order to blot out the transparent facts of the American political landscape; taking refuge in abstract theorizing about who the American electorate really is in order to see them as chomping at the bit for the kind of progressive changes envisioned by the left. Sadly for the country, this delusion has prevented them from becoming a real player in American politics, and they have become contented in the role of a national debating society!

This exercise in willful deception which conceptualizes the masses of American workers as repressed agents of social change awaiting only the right catalyst to burst forth and revolutionize the USA, creating a just society based on socialist democracy; rather than the empty headed, jaded, racist, befuddled seekers after bread and circuses that most of them are, is the kind of dangerous delusion that leads the most passionate leftist ideologues into theoretical cul de-sacs.

The late great American man of letters  H. L. Mencken, pegged them just right when he dubbed the American electorate “Boobus Americanus.”  And this was at a time when Utopian Marxist were celebrating the “wisdom” of the masses.  If there was any doubt that Mencken was right the results of the last elections supplied conclusive evidence of his deep insight into the flaws in American character.  (See “Our Dysfunctional Democracy” and “Triumph Of The Untutored Mob!” )  The failure of the left to accept this reality and see the American electorate as they really are, is what now leads them to such frustration that their response to the election results resembles that of a sheriff who leads his posse into a town that has been ravaged by criminal gangs…and shoots the wounded!


Playthell Benjamin

Harlem, New York

December 10, 2010

Between The Devil And The Deep Blue Sea!

Posted in Playthell on politics with tags , , on December 8, 2010 by playthell

Weighted Down by the Forces of History?

Barack Obama Strikes A Deal with GOP

At the risk of appearing wishy washy, I must confess that I agree with the compromise President Obama has struck with the Republicans regarding tax policy. I feel a need to declare this right off, since it was just day before yesterday that I demanded the President stand and fight; yield not another inch; even fall on his sword and be taken out bleeding on his shield: but never, never, give in: no more compromises with the evil doers who dwell in the dungeons of the Grand Obstructionist Party! I was encouraged in the moral righteousness and political correctness of my position by a swelling chorus on the left that seconded my emotions.

Everywhere I turned I found my conviction that the President should fight to the death before extending the Bush tax giveaways to the Plutocrats reinforced. The Democratic members of Congress echoed my thoughts like a Greek chorus.  I had even counted myself among those who would abandon the President should he refuse to take a stand – see “The President Must Stand And Fight!” –  especially since the latest poll showed that 56% of the public is opposed to extending Bush’s taxation folly, and 14% want to let all the tax cuts lapse.  That’s 70 % of the American public who are ready to back the President’s play if he chose to stand up to the Republican shills for the filthy rich.  And he has acknowledged this fact.  But it does nothing to help him achieve his critical objectives, which must be addressed immediately.

As I write the President is holding a press conference to explain his actions.  He presented his position with the clarity of a law professor enlightening his students about the workings of the American government.  His speech was clear and concise: he said the choice before him is to wage a fight that would eventually expose the Republicans as charlatans, but would also result in collateral damage to the millions of Americans who are depending on extended unemployment benefits, and millions more employed workers whose taxes would dramatically rise when all the tax cuts expire a month from now. Given these alternatives President Obama chose to address the critical needs of those whose economic survival depends on these benefits; even if it means that he has to compromise with the dreaded Republicans to do it.

The questions from the Washington press corps were predictable and some were too clever by half.  I think the President handled them like he was their daddy!   His attitude throughout was “I am the adult here, and this is no time for petulance.”  As I have said repeatedly Politics is the art of the possible; it is both art and science, a game for master players, and President Obama, guided by deep humanistic concerns, has played his hand just right.  Although neither he, nor I, like the deal he did, it was the only acceptable game on the table.  As Mr. Obama said “ Our country was born in compromise; without compromise we would have no union.”  All of this is true on its face.

Predictably, the know-it-all white boys – this time on the liberal left, are complaining about his style.  Mark Halpern, for instance, says the President “should have been bigger in his attitude.”  Halpern thought Mr. Obama was too confrontational; and this after all of the prattle about him being too easy. Even a guy as bright as Keith Olberman couldn’t resist taking cheap shots at the President for “getting angry with his democratic base.”

I have often said Keith is one of the smartest guys on television, but he is talking like a fool in this instance. The President expects the Republicans to oppose him no matter what he does; but he has every right to expect the Democrats to support him!  So when he pompously implored the President: “You are yelling at the wrong people,” I say Bullshit!  He is aiming his shots right where they belong!

The rest of the largely white left is also bitching and moaning – although the black left and reactionary racial nationalists are sometimes worst – yet none of them have any real solution to this dilemma.  Bernie Sanders, the independent socialist in the Senate, a man with whom I am normally in agreement, is actingly like a deluded ideologue by threatening to filibuster the bill that would consummate the deal.   The Senator, albiet well meaning, reminds me of the man who was running down the street and stumbled over the naked truth but ran on as if nothing had happened.   It is enough to make one wonder if these white boys cannot accept the fact that Barack Obama is way smarter than them – although white girls and many black girls are no better.   None of them seem to understand that that’s why he is the President and they are not!

These omnicient  pontificators conveniently forget that Barack won the most powerful office in the world even though he had to bear the burden of race on top of having to successfully negotiate all of the obstacles the white folks had to overcome.  I don’t think these guys can even imagine the troubles he’s seen; that’s why they don’t recognize that they are in the presence of a superior politician and theoretician.  Although Barack was forced by the political realities to extend the tax cuts for the Plutocrats for two more years, in return he got tax cuts for workers and the middle class – some of whose tax burdens would have doubled – extended unemployment benefits for the long term unemployed, and secured tax breaks for college expenses.  And judging from the predictions coming from the business sector, it may very well have the added advantage of stimulating investment in the US economy which will result in job creation.

Hence the President did not walk away empty handed; he struck quite a bargain on behalf of millions of Americans  – 156 million all told – who desperately need the benefits he is providing.  And I’ll bet they are ecstatic about it. I have heard nothing from the President’s critics that even make sense, let alone offer a better solution.  Beyond expressions of self-rightous anger and wishful thinking there is no there there!   Furthermore…. it has not escaped my notice that all the people in the press and peanut gallery who are screaming for the President to let the unemployment benefits for millions lapse, in order to teach the Republicans a lesson, are all gainfully employed.





Playthell Benjamin

Harlem, New York


Legros Honors Our Great Artist!

Posted in Cultural Matters, Theater with tags , on December 6, 2010 by playthell

Actress Vinie Burrows with Sierra Leone Ambassador and Friend

Legros Cultural Arts Inc. held their third  annual awards ceremony to honor outstanding artists at the elegant Gonzalez Y Gonzales, a Latin supper club on the lower east side of Manhattan.  It was a multi cultural affair covering a wide array of artists. The program began with a solo dance performance especially choreographed for this occasion.  It was both imaginative and dynamic and was an excellent way to begin the festivities.

Kamaria Dailey!

The Magic Of Movement


The Majesty Of Dance


Anu Anam!

A Visual Alchemist Synthesizing Two Worlds

The first recipient was Ms. Anu Annam, a beautiful and elegant East Indian woman who is a visual artist.  But like all of the artists honored here she is a socially conscious cultural worker who has worked on a number of projects such as Haitian relief.  She told of being bi-cultural, regularly traveling back and forth between India and the US.  Ms. Anum spoke of the experience as enriching, and noted the difference in the status of South Asians in the US.  She also spoke of the pressure from parents to do something “safe” like become a doctor or lawyer.  But after they saw the millions that performing artists like Beyonce is making they have accepted her choice.  She also paid high compliments to Legros for bringing her together with such a diverse group of Artists, thus broadening her cultural perspective.

The next honoree was the photographer Jocelyn Denis.  She was a jovial and loquacious lady, oozing with charm and beaming with intelligence.  Her remark about photography reminds me of  the legendary Afro-American photographer James Vanderzee, one of the great photographic artist of the twentieth century.  When she said  “If no body photographs an event how do you know it actually happened?”  I was reminded of Vanderzee’s comment when he looked around at the splendor of the Harlem Reniassance and observed: “A Picture will last forever.”


Ms. Jocelyn Denis: Photographer Of Our Cultural Life

Sharing a bright moment with her Lawyer



The Exquisite Ms. Noreen Crayton

Singer, Songwriter, Thespian

Ms. Crayton was one of the most eloquent of the recipients.  Having begun her singing career in the church, as has so many other great black singers, she was warm, charming and intelligent. And she give abundant props to Legos for creating this forum where multi-cultural  artists can meet and interact.  She was a delight to listen to.


Vinie Burrows: A Great Lady Of the American Stage

Actress, Playwright, Producer, Theater Founder, Freedom fighter!

Ms. Vinie Burrows has given 6,000 performances that she can document.  There is no greater American Thespian than this lady. Upon her introduction by the eloquent and erudite playwright J. E. Franklin, the audience gave her a rousing ovation.  She began by thanking the many people from varied walks of life who came out to honor her.  Then Ms. Burrows recalled that early on she began to understand that she “had to struggle not only as a black person but as a woman.” She said of upon receiving her Lifetime Award, “In my case, a life time is very long time.” Yet she chose to exercise the woman’s prerogative and leave us to guess at her age – which is superfluous in this instance because she is nimble of mind and young at heart.

Ms. Burrows recalls that she was primed for the life she has led in the theater with the mysterious rituals of the Catholic Church.  “My sense of struggle came from growing up during the Great Depression.” And her encounters with the racism of the commercial theater led her to concentrate on the one woman shows.  Of which she created eight: “I not only made a living; I made a great life.”

This is an important distinction that too many young actors do not understand.  For them its all about the “bling,” the glitter and glamour.  After lamenting the dreadful economic climate that young people are facing today, and reminding us of the need to struggle in behalf of the freedom of oppressed everywhere, she gave a dramatic reading of Margret Walker’s epic poem “For My People!”

It was a performance that at once captured both the pathos and joi de vivre of Afro-American life.  Ms. Walkers epic Poem, though written in the middle of the last century continues to ring true today.  It is only through those sensitive souls who can feel the pain of a people that we can experience the full depth of that people’s saga.  And in accurately capturing the hopes, dreams, pain and passions of a single people the poet becomes seer and her truth becomes universal!  Ms. Burrows brought the entire range of our experience to life and illuminated our humanity.

After Ms. Burrows retired to her seat, another great American thespian and engaged artist, the fabulous Ruby Dee, took the stage to sing her praises.  It was spiritually uplifting just to be in the presence of these great women; freedom fighters  whose art was forged in the fires of struggle.  After Ms. Dee concluded her remarks a lady singer with powerful pipes took the stage and sang “Feeling  Free,” which she said was a Nina Simone song.  She sang in a passionate voice that called our spirits to rejoice in the celebration of art.  The entire evening was testimony to the healing power of great art.  Bravo!


Sable Sisters Of The  American Theater

Grand Dames: Actress Ruby Dee and Playwright J. E. Franklin!


Eye Candy! Was Everywhere!

You can Always Tell Dancers By Their Splendid Bodies



A Trinidadian Face Man

The Lone Male Honoree

Stephen Hadeed Jr.  A Gentleman Thespian


In Recognition Of a Job Well Done!



Text and Photographs By:

Playthell Benjamin

Harlem, New York

Dec 1, 2010

President Obama Must Stand and Fight!

Posted in Playthell on politics on December 2, 2010 by playthell











Notes from the Class War


It is time for President Obama to act Presidential, to read the riot act to the Republican reactionaries who have seized control of the House.  It is clear from their comments after meeting with the President that the newly elected Republican Congressmen and Senators are in no mood to compromise with him on anything!   Listening to the optimistic comments from Mr. Obama alas, I was reminded of the old Chinese adage: “They were sleeping in the same bed but dreaming different dreams.”  Hence to the supporters of Mr. Obama, this writer included, the time for compromise with the Grand Obstructionist Party while they march in lock step around their backward agenda is over!

Pumped up by their dramatic victories in the last election, these right wing zealots believe that they have been given a mandate by “the American people” to reverse the dramatic gains the Democrats have made in the public interests.  The first big fight has already begun. The Republican threat to block the passage of any of the President’s proposals unless he agrees to extend the $700 billion tax cut to the rich and super rich – who comprise 2% of the populace – is a direct challenge to the President’s power and an insult to the broad masses of Americans – especially since he has frozen the wages of federal employees for two years by presidential edict!

While demanding this windfall for the plutocrats, the Republicans blocked the extension of unemployment benefits for two million Americans in an economy in which there are five applicants for every identifiable job, and new claims for unemployment relief has gone up by 26,000 this month, putting the number of new applicants at nearly half a million.  This in spite of the fact that the overwhelming majority of professional economists agree that unemployment benefits are a greater stimulus to the economy than tax cuts to the rich because the unemployed will spend the money immediately. Furthermore, if all of these people are thrown on the welfare rolls it will be more expensive than paying unemployment benefits.

Wall Street and the corporate sector are now enjoying the most profitable quarter in history, with an estimated trillion and a half dollars in their coffers, but are not investing in job producing ventures. Hence to suggest that giving them billions more will result in job creation is hocus pocus at best, and blasphemy at worst.  The issues under contention here expose the true colors of the Republicans.

After bombarding an angry, frustrated, frightened and clueless electorate with well crafted propaganda that managed to convince millions of working and middle class whites to vote against their economic interests by posing as their friends, Republican actions are telling a different story.  Now is the time for President Obama to use his bully pulpit to beat them down to the ground. Rather than seek further compromises with the Grand Obstructionist Party, whose leaders have pledged to do everything to insure that he will be a one term President, Barack Obama should finally give them a taste of their own medicine and let them know what it means to challenge a President who also controls the Senate.

Up to this point I have had no serious complaint against the governance style of the President, because he was getting monumental things accomplished.  Politicians can huff and puff all they want but they must pass legislation to convert their ideas into reality, and only verbose fools will argue with success.  But now Barack must stand and fight!  Yet to successfully wage this war against the “Economic Royalist,” as FDR labeled them, Barack Obama must change his dramatis personae.

With headline grabbing pomp and circumstance, Obama must retire the role of Othello, Shakespeare’s noble, trusting but naïve Moor who was victimized by his enemies, and adopt the role of Aaron, Shakespeare’s Machiavellian Moor whose cunning ruthlessness threw his enemies into disarray. And he must learn from the presidential machinations of Harry Truman and Lyndon Johnson, his Democratic predecessors in the Oval Office. Johnson let his congressional opponents know that they would never get a bill to benefit their district past his veto if they opposed him, and Truman forced his Republican opponents to reject every measure he put forth then denounced them as “a do nothing Congress.”

I believe his course of action will reenergize the coalition that elected the President, and put him on the road to victory in 2012.  But if he caves and extends the Bush tax cuts to the plutocrats, after he has frozen the wages for all civilian employees of the federal government for two years, he will lose many of his present supporters, especially in organized labor, and others will began to doubt if he has the will to engage in a no holds barred brawl and began to lose faith…this writer included.


Playthell Benjamin

Harlem, New York

November 2010