Archive for April, 2011

Jazz Around The World!

Posted in Cultural Matters, Music Reviews on April 28, 2011 by playthell
The First Family of Jazz: Ellis Marsalis and his Boys

A Classic Afro-American Art Wins Hearts Everywhere!

As the learned and insightful music critic Henry Pleasants tells us in his seminal book on modern music “Serious Music and All That Jazz,” the Afro-American musicians who created jazz were the only musicians to introduce a new musical terminology since the Italians did it back during the Renaissance.  The point Mr. Pleasants was making is that Jazzmen created an art music using instruments of European origin, as well as their system of melody and harmony, yet invented something really different from anything Europeans had ever heard…or imagined.

Pleasants was uniquely positioned to see this because of his extensive training in the classical music of Europe, and he was writing about the modern music scene in Europe for the New York Times.  And he has much to say about the way Jazz influenced modern European composers.  However, apart from whatever influence Jazz may have had on European composers, the way in which jazz captured the imagination of musicians and won the allegiance of music lovers around the world, is the real story.

Whether we are talking about writers, businessmen, diplomats, Presidents, artists, intellectuals or kings, Jazz has found passionate devotees. It is safe to say Jazz musicians do wondrous things that fascinate both priest and poets, wisemen and fools. The British critic Stanley Dance devoted his career to writing about Jazz. Ahmet Ertegun – who founded Atlantic Records and first recorded Ray Charles and Aretha Franklin – was the son of a Turkish Ambassador to the US who was such an avid Jazz fan he once expelled a white Southern Senator from his diplomatic residence because he insulted a black jazz musician that was his guest!

Ahmet expressed his life long love affair with this music by contributing the “Hall Of Fame Room,” a multi-million dollar interactive display of the great virtuosos of the tradition.  It is located in Jazz at Lincoln Center, 60th and Broadway, in the heart of Manhattan. The curious viewer can just push the panel with portraits of their favorite artist and a video of them in performance will appear, accompanied by a biographical essay.

I interviewed Ahmet at the grand opening of the 150 million dollar edifice to Jazz, and it can be read in a forth coming book “Jazz At Lincoln Center: Magic Moments In The House Of Swing,” with photographs by the extraordinary Frank Stewart and text by this writer.  In a nutshell Etergun said: “Jazz is the greatest music in the world.  It is America’s contribution to the great artistic heritage of mankind.  And it has influenced more musicians than any other music…I know, because I have heard the greatest of them all over the world.”

King Bhumibol and Queen Sirikit

The King Jamming with Benny Goodman

Then there is the legendary Jazz crazy king of Thailand, Bhumibol Adulyadej – “”Strength of the Land, Incomparable Power” – and his Queen Sirikit.  At a time when Jazz virtuosos were ignored by the princes and powers who fashion cultural policy in the US, and the thought of playing in the White house was unimaginable, Jazz musicians were hanging out in the Palace jamming with King Bhumibol, who was a devoted multi-reed Jazz instrumentalist.  The King is very proud of the fact that he played with clarinetist Benny Goodman and Saxophone master Wayne Shorter. Although the King is believed to have descended from the Gods, he is democratic in political style and philosophy. Some observers attribute these democratic instincts to his deep involvement with the art of Jazz.

In Eastern Europe Jazz music became a metaphor for freedom and democracy, especially in Czechoslovakia where a whole school of philosophy based on the democratic principles of jazz developed as a counter-statement to communist totalitarian rule.  They were known as “The Velvet Philosophers,” and they were part of an organization know as “The Jazz Section.”

With Dr. Henry Louis Gates And Other Distinguished Black Intellectuals

At La Laguna

At Americans Studies Conference On Afro-American Research Spanish Tinerefe

In 1995, I participated in a seminar with one of those philosophers at a conference sponsored by the European Association of American Studies, chaired by Dr. Justine Talley at the University of La Laguna in the Spanish Canary Islands, and heard him tell how they used the values and ethics of jazz to teach lessons about the advantages of democracy and the virtues of individual liberty. The authorities felt so threatened by it they arrested and imprisoned the philosophers in the Jazz Section.

It is not surprising that people who crave freedom and democracy would be attracted to Jazz. After all, as the quintessential American art, Jazz embodies the most cherished ideals of American civilization. In fact, I would argue that it is only in the art of Jazz that these ideals are fully realized. Jazz is democratic, values individual freedom, promotes invention, and grooves to the complex rhythms of a modern urban milieu. As a genre of western art music Jazz distinguishes itself by overthrowing the tyranny of the composer and the iron discipline of the conductor’s baton.

The emphasis on freedom and democracy in Jazz is both a reflection of the American creed, and the persistent struggle for freedom waged by African Americans against white oppression.  This struggle is the major theme of African American history.  And since, as the Afro-American cultural theorist and brilliant Jazz Critic Albert Murray notes: “an art style is the refinement and elaboration of a lifestyle,” it is in the nature of things that the highest creative achievement of Afro-American culture is an art that celebrates freedom and practices democracy.

Thus the jazz man is always looking to free himself from the restraints of convention and explore new territories. But, as it turns out, this search for freedom is a universal value; which is why Jazz appeals to serious musicians, music lovers and intellectuals across the boundaries of class, color, nationality and geography. Along with freedom and improvisation jazz also conveys a unique blues sensibility that speaks to something so profoundly human that it touches the hearts of people everywhere.

This explains the appeal of Jazz to South African musicians under apartheid as well as French musicians in the aftermath of World War I, a period when one writer recalls that had they been left to listen to strictly ordered, heirachical, European Classical music they would all have committed suicide!  It was the heroic optimism and freedom in the spirit of Jazz that spoke to disillusioned European intellectuals and artists, who were deeply depressed after witnessing their civilization degenerate into barbarism and mass murder sparked by anti-democratic forces.

Another reason for the universal appeal of Jazz early on in the twentieth century is that it is a synthesis of several musical idioms and offers the opportunity for musicians to add their flavor to the performance of the music.  Hence if you listen to Jazz harpist Edmar Casteneda on the album “Cuarto de Colores” you will hear a Columbian approach to Jazz composition and performance.

The harp Edmar plays is of Colombian origin and is very different from the European harp that one hears in symphony orchestras or magnificently played by great Afro-American artists such as Dorothy Ashby and Alice Coltrane.  When I first head him perform at Dizzy’s, a beautiful night club located in Jazz at Lincoln Center which is especially engineered for the acoustic requirements of Jazz, I kept looking for the bass player.

Eventually I discovered that Edmar was playing the bass with his left hand, along with chords and even on solos.  The sound was amplified so that it sounded like an acoustic bass fiddle, and the complexity of the rhythms he was playing sounded as if he were playing the bass line with both hands.  The rhythms ran the gamut from swing to Samba, and his wife sang in voices that came deep from her Afro-Indio culture.  They were no doubt playing Jazz, but it had a decidedly Colombian flavor.

Edmar Castedada and Wife

Japanese Virtuoso Chimi Nakai
She is a Master of Electric and Acoustic Keyboards
Hanging Backstage With Chimi Following a Great Performance

At The “Cuban Overtures” Concert.  Produced by Cuban Cultural Center

The nation that is producing the most impressive crop of young Jazz virtuosi outside of the United States is Japan.  It seems that every time I look up I see another gifted young Japanese jazz artist.  And they are distinguished by the fact that so many of these virtuoso instrumentalists are women, especially key board players.  One of the most impressive of these is Chimi Nakai, a consummate master of the acoustic piano.   Ms. Nakai is one of the new jazz virtuosi who are multi-lingual in musical terms.  She is equally at home in Jazz, European classical and Afro-Cuban music.

Cuban Virtuoso Carlos Del Pino

A Multi-lingual Virtuso Instrumentalist

I have seen her perform on several occasions with the great Afro-Cuban contra-bassist Carlos Del Pino.  Carlos is a top shelf jazz bassist – Afro-American virtuoso’s Ray Brown and Paul Chambers were his inspiration and tutors via recordings – but he is equally brilliant playing the classical European repertoire for the double bass violin, and he is a master of his native Afro-Cuban Son Montuno and other forms.

However the premiere example of the multi-lingual virtuoso instrumentalist Jazz star is Wynton Marsalis, arguably the greatest trumpet player in the world.  That is certainly the opinion I got from the great composer, arranger, bandleader and virtuoso trumpeter Gerald Wilson.  and this opinion has been repeatedly echoed in my interviews with other great trumpet trumpet players, classical and jazz artists – professors who teach advanced courses on the instrument, as well as vintage Jazz masters on all instruments.

Because Wynton has won nine Grammys – four for European classical music and five for Jazz – plus a much coveted Pulitzer Prize for composition, musicians and music lovers all over the world are interested in his work. Hence great performances by Wynton are all over internet on You Tube, where musicians and fans can see him perform on video at will!

As a result of this vast exposure, sharp intellect, knowledge of Jazz tradition – he was born and raised in New Orleans, the birthplace of Jazz – easy eloquence, and genuine warmth and southern charm, Wynton is the most effective ambassador Jazz has ever known.   His position as the Artistic Director of Jazz at Lincoln Center and leader of the JALC Orchestra provides a powerful platform for his lectures on the art of Jazz, accompanied by live performances from great musicians, around the world.  I consider the Marsalis family the First Family of Jazz.  Their contribution to keeping the Jazz tradition alive is so important that on January 11, 2011 the National Endowment for the Arts bestowed the prestigious “Jazz Masters Award on the entire family.

Wynton Marsalis: Trumpet Virtuoso

Artistic Director Of The World Famous JALC Orchestra

Aside from his four sons, Ellis Marsalis, the patriach of the clan, has trained other world famous Jazz musicians like the pianist / singer Harry Connick Jr. and the great trumpeter and prolific composer of movie scores, Terrance Blanchard.   These New Orleans bred Jazz musicians are constantly travelling the globe and exposing audiences to the classical tradition of American Jazz, the gift of African Americans to world culture. As the representative anecdote for American civilization, “America as she is swung” in the words of Albert Murray, Jazz is also the great American contribution to the classic arts.


Double click on Link to see the Duke Ellington Orchestra live in Switzerland

Double click to See Dizzy Gilesspie and Theolonius Monk in Copenhagen

 Double Click to see Art blakey and Jazz Messengers in Italy

The Cannonball Adderly Sextet Live on the BBC, London
Wynton Marsalis and Chucho Valdez in Cuba
The Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra in Germany

The Great Hank Jones and Friends at Tokyo Jazz Festival

 Swinging Marvelously!

By: Playthell Benjamin

Harlem , New York

April 28, 2011

** This essay was published in the 2011 edition of Centerpoint Now
A publication of WPUN, World People for the United Nations.
It is circulated to the Heads of State,  for all member nations of the UN
*** Photos of the Marsalis Family and Wynton Solo
by: Frank Stewart
Photos pg Carlos Del Pino and Chimi Nakai
by: Hakim Mutlaq

Civilization Or Savagery?

Posted in My Struggle On the Left!, Playthell on politics with tags , , on April 24, 2011 by playthell

Contemplating Questions from the Audience

Why we should Support President Obama and the Democrats

When Sister Betty Dopson called me about participating in a debate evaluating the performance of President Barack Obama I told her that I would welcome a chance to engage this question with thoughtful black folks under certain conditions.  Then I wrote the conditions out and posted them on Face Book.

The rules are simple.  Our debate must center on politics and policy; not religion, philosophy, ideology, our hopes and dreams, or political fantasies.  If these issues were going to be the topics of discussion I felt she would fare far better by calling Drs. Cornell West and Michael Eric Dyson; who are popping up everywhere these days bashing Obama; spouting mumbo jumbo masquerading as wisdom.

The increasing theatricality of this duos performance is creating a sensation on the political chittlin circuit; the boys are really rocking the house.  One learned friend and well seasoned soldier in the struggle said he checked them out recently and they looked like a high brow rap duo.  So I decided to give them stage names befitting their act: “Professor Longhair and Chilly D. Knowledge, the Hip Hop Philosophers!” Professor Longhair has already recorded a rap album, which hastened his departure from Harvard Yard, from whence he fled to Princeton, one of the whitest towns in the world; in spite of George Curry’s futile pleas for him to spend some time at a black college.

Chilly D Knowledge has not only publicly expressed his desire to record a rap record, he is subject to break out in a rap routine right in the middle of an academic discourse. I’ve witness his act on more than one occasion.  Since Fess Longhair has called for critiques of President Obama, I decided to give them a taste of their own medicine and critique them!

Alas, after subjecting their pugnacious polemics to rigorous examination, I don’t find that these Hip-Hop philosopher’s critique of President Obama makes much more sense than the nonsense routinely spouted by other rappers …which, needless to say, portends disaster!  If that’s the best we can expect from our most highly trained minds, we are in big trouble indeed!  But I am getting ahead of the story; I shall have more to say about these two Ivy League trained rappers later.

I have come before you this afternoon to talk about the President’s politics and policy, viewed within the context of the political realities of American society at the moment.  Something usually left out and ignored by Obama’s critics.  They simply select those facts that fit their ideological predispositions devoid of context; yet facts mean nothing without the proper context.

Let me begin by offering a working definition of what I mean by politics and policy.  By politics I am referring to the process by which human beings create and shape relationships of power.  And power is the ability to do what you want to do when you want to do it; the ability to get others to do what you want them to do when you want them to do it, and the ability to get the most and the best of whatever there is to get.  Last, but certainly not least: Politics is the art of the possible!

If it is not possible it is not politics and belongs in the realm of religion, philosophy or wishful thinking!  Areas of debate that I have vowed to avoid.  However just for the record: As a human being I too have hopes, dreams and fantasies. But I know how to distinguish them from reality. Unfortunately, the political ideologues and religious mystics cannot.   It is this distinction that I wish to make clear today.

By policy, I am referring to the choices the Obama Administration has made in addressing major problems – foreign and domestic.  I am speaking to the President’s Agenda, his vision for the nation and the world, as expressed in presidential edicts, legislative initiatives and international diplomacy. I have followed his presidency closely; in fact I have posted over 150 essays online analyzing all of his major moves in foreign and domestic policy.

It is as if I have been looking over his shoulder while also watching the opposition’s hand in the mirror. The central question I seek to address today is whether President Obama has played the horrendous hand he was dealt upon entering the Oval Office as well as it could be played under the circumstances – the realpolitique.

My admiration for the brilliance of the President’s vision, and his performance in trying to convert his vision into the policy of the US government and the law of the land, is unambiguous and unequivocal.  Barack Hussein Obama is the most humane, talented and visionary President in the history of the United States!  And he is the most progressive Chief Executive who is likely to occupy the Oval Office in our lifetime.  Hence I believe we must seize this moment and rally round the president and the democrats…the consequences of the Tea Party taking over the government are too horrifying to contemplate.

On the other hand, I am convinced that if we restore the People’s House – where all revenue bills originate – to the Democratic Party, and reelect the President, we will witness a neo-Periclean age in America!  Like the rule of Pericles during the golden age of ancient Greece, with a Democratic Congress supporting him, President Obama’s second term would be characterized by a halcyon era of public building and radical but humane restructuring of the American economy so that we would again lead the world in economic productivity and technological innovation.

Our lives would also be immeasurably enhanced by a flourishing of science and the arts.  All this would be made possibly through the agency of the government and paid for from the public purse.   This is anathema to the Republicans, who took the country in a very different direction for eight years. Thus it will require a radical reversal from the course the Republicans have set the country on, and that has caused the President to spend much of the first two years just trying to turn the ship of state around.

That’s why the President is trying his best to repeal the Bush tax cuts, withdraw the troops from Iraq and Afghanistan, and cease open ended American involvement in foreign wars.  He wants to invest these resources in rebuilding our nation instead. One need only look at the major themes of Barack Obama’s vision for America in order to recognize what he is about. The President is a visionary, a man with his eyes planted firmly on the prize: and that prize is winning the future. He is a pragmatic technocrat not an ideologue; he is interested in getting things done; not winning name calling contests or esoteric ideological debates.

This is what has gotten him in trouble with the left intelligentsia and many Black Nationalists – who are content with being confined to effete debating societies on the fringe of American political life, with no hope of taking power and actually having to solve real problems.  Sometimes I get the feeling that they would be satisfied if Barack would just haul off and tell those racist right-wing white folks to kiss him where the sun don’t shine, even if he never passed a Bill!  But such people are clueless about the political process; they simply don’t understand how the game goes.  We must not listen to them!

Barack on the other hand is a master of the game; he is a highly intelligent man who does his homework.  A refreshing alternative to George Bush:  Dirty Dick Cheney’s poodle who couldn’t tell his rectum from a hole in the ground!  This President fully comprehends the issues.  For instance, Barack clearly understands that much of the unemployment problem is structural rather than cyclical.

Hence the real answer to the employment problem in the short term is to use the government as employer of last resort and put people to work rebuilding the nation’s crumbling infrastructure, while fully funding our scientific community to conduct the research and development that will create the new economy and produce the jobs of the future.

That’s what the stimulus bill was all about.  Although Paul Krugman – a Nobel Laureate in Economics, Princeton Professor and New York Times columnist – argued the stimulus should have been twice as large, and history has proved him right, the Republicans are still using it against the President, even among people his measures  has helped.  But Barack did the best he could with the Congress refusing to add more.

Further evidence that the president has his eye on the future can be found in the fact that he has placed the highest priority on educational excellence and is willing to fully fund a system that can dramatically raise the level of educational achievement.  Nobody knows better than him the value of a great education – indeed he and our First Lady are the quintessential examples of what a great education can do.

Thus their very presence in the public eye is an inspiration to millions of American youths who were not born to wealthy or influential families. The President also understands that some of our brightest minds are born into poor families, and he knows that in order for our country to compete with the rest of the world – especially the emerging Asian countries – we are going to have to make a first class education available to all of our children.

This is of special importance to African Americans, who desperately need all of the help we can get in the matter of education!   Barack Obama sitting in the Oval Office is the only thing that prevents the Republicans from further defunding public education in favor of a voucher system that will fund private segregated schools with public money.  He is trying his best, against odds that often appear insurmountable, to transform his vision for educating American children into government policy.


Yet when discussing policy choices one must be ever mindful that there is an opposition party, the Republicans aka the GOP – Grand Obstructionist Party! –  and their leadership vowed from the outset that their paramount goal will be  to see to it that Barack Obama’s presidency fails, forcing him to leave office in defeat and disgrace after one term.  They would then nullify every gain the American people have made under President Obama; as they have already begun to do in the Republican controlled House of Representatives where they are refusing to fund the new health initiative, the Evironmental Protection Agency and the new financial regulation laws aimed at curbing the excesses of Wall Street.

Then these radical, racist, White Nationalists would use Barack’s failure as irrefutable evidence that no black man, or half black man sired by a full blooded African, can manage the affairs of the most powerful nation in the world – even if he and his African father both earned graduate degrees from Harvard.  The widely respected right wing pundit Patrick J. Buchanan has already said as much in his vociferous criticism of the President’s appointment of Justice Sotomayor to the Supreme Court.  He insisted that she was unqualified in spite of having graduated with honors  from Yale, the nation’s most respected school for the study of Constitutional Law.

For most of the history of this country it was taken as a scientific certainty that mixed blood people were inferior to both full blooded whites and blacks.  In the 19th century both black and white intellectuals believed this.  This conception of mixed race people was unique to the world.  Everywhere else – Africa, Asia and Latin America – people who are mixed with Europeans, Arabs or Asians were considered inferior to whites but superior to blacks.

As Dr. Renee C. Romano shows in her book, “Race Mixing, a seminal text published by the Harvard University Press, all through the twentieth century it was considered a disgrace for a white woman to bear a black man’s child.  It was almost invariably viewed as evidence of a character flaw or mental illness in the white woman.

Given this history, need I argue that if Barack should go down in flames and disgrace it would be an existential disaster for the status of all African peoples in the estimation of a racist world; a world that  has justified our oppression for centuries on the argument that we are inherently inferior to the lighter races in intellectual capacity. This is an inconvenient truth for the rabid black Obama bashers.  Some folks might even view their reckless rhetoric as evidence that blacks are so confused if just left alone they will destroy each other on their own.

But the White Nationalist are not going to leave it to misguided blacks, they are determined to do all they can to destroy the Presidency of Barack Obama too.  The brilliant comedian Wanda Sykes put it best when she observed at the White house Correspondent’s Dinner last year, some of the things said by Republican politicians and their shills at the FOX Television Network, and WABC AM – the White Apartheid Broadcast company, border on treason.  But they hide behind the First Amendment.

Thus the government can do nothing to restrain them as the sow discord among the American people for a living. The media corporations employ them for as long as they can because they get great ratings. But considering the potential these guys have for destabilizing the country by inciting the untutored mob to irrational acts, these media corporations are proof of Karl Marx’s observation: “A true capitalist will sell a hangman the rope to hang him with if he thinks he can make a profit!

The unceasing racist invective hurled at this President, and the mounting death threats are unprecedented.  Barack’s picture is the favorite target used by white militiamen, and the Secret Service says they are getting four times the volume of assassination threats they have received for every other President!  I have publicly accused Sean Hannity of trying to get the President assassinated.

You can witness it on YouTube, when me and the activist media watchdog Scott Pellegrino tried to crash the “Talkers Magazine” convention and disrupt the presentation of a “Lifetime Achievement” Award to Bob Grant – the father of the present generation of racist verbal arsonists!  I notice that all of the Barack’s critics were missing in action on that one, when he was only a candidate.  And they are still missing in action now that he is President, when it comes to opposing or critiquing the verbal arsonists who launch barrages of racist lies about him every day!

These media myth makers are creating a separate reality, fabricating “facts” that don’t exist.  They are confusing a lot of people who simply are not paying close enough attention, or have the basic knowledge of the issues to distinguish fact from fiction.  One wise wag has observed: “It is not what you don’t know that is most dangerous; it is what you think you know that is untrue which constitutes the greatest danger!”

This is why racist right wing verbal arsonist like Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck, Bill O’Reilly and others of their ilk must be opposed.  They are spreading dangerous disinformation, and it is the responsibility of progressive intellectuals and artist to respond with counter-statements.

As Harold Cruse pointed out nearly fifty years ago, the mass media can be as formidable a weapon as the military in persuading people to do one’s bidding.  In America today, where the masses are addicted to bread and circuses, the comedians can play a powerful role in parodying and ridiculing the Republican reactionaries. Yet while Saturday Night Live has been great at this, Wanda Sykes is the only black stand-up comedian that I’ve see who is ridiculing some of these characters on the right with brilliance, candor, and even militancy.

She riotously funny too; which is of critical importance, because as Mao Tse Tung pointed out during the great revolution that ushered China into the modern world: “All art is propaganda, but not all propaganda is art.  In order for art to be effective as propaganda, it must first succeed as art!”  This is why we need our greatest artists in the fight.

I was waiting for a killer routine from the gifted comic Chris Rock. But then I saw him on Oprah yesterday.  After telling us how brilliant she thinks Mr. Rock’s commentaries on the News are, the Queen of Empty Headed Chatter asked him about three big stories in the news: Charlie Sheen, Donald Trump, and the Tea Party.   It didn’t take long to recognize the sad fact that the killer routine that could reduce the Republican icons to cartoon characters, figures of ridicule, would not be forthcoming from this comic. The rappers could also be a powerful weapon against right-wing reactionaries; with their vast popularity among youths of all colors and nationalities… but they are too busy selling wolf tickets to each other.

Therefore the responsibility of repudiating the dangerous propaganda of the right wing Republican shills in the media – print and broadcast – falls to the writers and intellectuals,  who are best equipped to do it.  But the three most vocal black intellectuals – Drs. Cornell West, Michael Eric Dyson and Boyce Watkins, all pampered professors in rich white Universities – are avid Obama bashers!  Instead of opposing and exposing the lies of the Tea Party Republicans, who are out to crush us all and strangle our dreams, they appear to be competing with racist far right fanatics to see who can dog Barack the most!  Right now, as far as I can see, they are running neck and neck!

It matters but little that the Tea Party is coming from the right, and the black Obama bashers are coming from the left, when we look at the results it is a distinction without a difference!  As the black numbers wizard Charles Blow, an op-ed columnist with the New York Times, recently pointed out: If all other groups vote just as they did in the last election, but ten percent of black people stay home, Barack will lose the next election and the Republicans will assume the reins of power.

Hence the black Obama bashers will have aided the Tea Party takeover of the government.  And while they will suffer little from the fallout in their plush academic enclaves, removed from the turmoil that will follow, unemployed working class and formerly middle class public sector workers in general, and black people in particular, will face a cavalcade of horrors!

Right-wing mass media has been a critical force in manufacturing and shaping the rage against President Obama amongst racist economically insecure working and middle class whites; the people who make up the core of the Tea Party.  Some of their propaganda has even influenced the opinions of a segment of the African American population too.  KRS1 and some other clueless rappers have been distributing a video produced by right-wing propagandists for instance.

I fell out of favor with a friend in Atlanta because she objected to my writing a commentary calling Glen Beck a con-man who was inciting mentally instable whites to violence.  She wrote me a scathing letter telling me that Beck was “A man of God who was speaking for all Americans who think the country was heading in the wrong direction.”   I cannot repeat what I told her in the House of God, but suffice it to say that we unfriended each other on Facebook and have not spoken since!

The right-wing media have a fertile field to work in, since well over 50% of white folks voted against Barack.  These disgruntled whites have been outraged about their loss ever since.  They remind me of the “Lost Cause” crowd among white southerners in the years following their defeat in the Civil War.  In fact their language and the language the Lost Cause fanatics employed are similar: “We want our country back!”

They talk as if the United States has been occupied by a foreign power.  I am convinced that millions of white Americans feel a physical revulsion every time they see a picture of the President or the first family chilling in the White House; even as beautiful as they are.   In a country where millions of citizens were not blinded by racism they would be the model of the family that every parent dreamed their kids would have.  Cause there may be bugs on some of those Washington mugs…but ain’t no flies on the Obama’s.


Yet, despite all of the hatred flowing from the right-wing media, and the wish washy support from the left, Barack Obama has amassed an impressive record of achievement that will be given high marks by future historians.  The day after he won the Presidency I presented a commentary on WBAI raising the question “What Is To Be Done?”  I said the two most pressing problems that commanded the immediate attention of the new president was stabilizing the crumbling world financial structure, which would stave off a devastating economic collapse, and negotiating a New Nuclear Arms agreement with Russia.

Barack handled both of these monumental problems with the intelligence and grace of an experienced Statesman.  Watching him perform I had the same feeling I felt when I first saw him speak at the Democratic convention that nominated John Kerry.  I was so impressed that I sat right down and wrote a commentary titled “Hope Is Reborn In Bean Town,” in which I argued that he was the future of the Democratic party!  Four years later he was President of the United States! And he has met every challenge in the same way, with great intelligence and exceptional judgment, as he won one victory after another on behalf of the American people.

Of all the spurious and unfair charges leveled against the President, the most bizarre is the charge from the black Obama bashers that “He ain’t done nothing for black people!”  My first response to this bogus charge is to say to the accusers: “You define your humanity too narrowly.”  I am a homo Saipan, an inhabitant of planet earth, a citizen of the United States of America, a senior citizen, and a black man who is a member of the working class.

Hence anything the President does to save the planet is good for me.  Anything he does that strengthens America is good for me.  Anything he does that helps senior citizens is good for me.  Anything he does that benefits the working class is good for me.  And they are good for all black people.  Since the last time I looked, like the 18th century scientist Benjamin Banneker described himself to Thomas Jefferson: “I am a negro of the deepest dye.”

Anything the President does for women, Like the Lilly Ledbetter Act for instance, which makes it illegal to pay a female worker less money for the same work as a male, is a Godsend for the black community, because most black children are living in female headed households.  Thus, like most of the benefits from the President’s legislative victories, black people benefit as much or more than any other group of Americans.

Anything the President does to make health care more affordable, or extend the age under which children can stay on their parent’s health insurance is good for the black community. Removing banks from the college loan business and thus reducing the payments on student loans is good for us. Drastically reducing the disparity between the penalties for powder and crack cocaine helps the black community!

The 20 billion dollar clean-up fund for the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico helps the blacks who make their living in the sea food business.  Approving the payout of 1.5 billion to black farmers for past discrimination against them by the Agricultural Department obviously benefits black people.  When president Obama saved the Auto-industry he saved three million jobs in the mid-west, many of them held by black workers who would have been reduced to poverty!

Barack also signed an executive order – “The President’s Initiative on Historically Black colleges and Universities” – which increased government aid to these critical institutions by 100 million dollars and rescued many of them from bankruptcy.  This will save more than a few of our future scholars and leaders.  The President has also has resurrected the moribund EEOC, and doubled its budget!  Plus he appointed a brilliant black attorney to head the Justice Department, which explains why these white militiamen can’t take a crap without the FBI watching!

Alas, instead of applause for a job well done under extraordinarily difficult circumstances, the President has been called everything but a child of God by fire breathing racist and free market zealots on the right, and petulant disgruntled ideologues on the left.  He is always judged by the things he has been unable to achieve rather than his spectacular successes.

Even his humanitarian mission on behalf of the beleaguered Libyan rebels is being painted as an imperialist attack on an African nation by the left and clueless Black Nationalists.  Before he acted much of the left was calling for him to aid the rebels.  By the way, I opposed the mission; but not for the reasons given by these factions.  I opposed it because we can’t afford it.

We cannot continue to expend American blood and treasure in foreign wars attempting to reshape the world in our image.  I believe that we should reduce the vast military budget by half and scrap the idea that we are the planetary policemen.  Which is a worldview anchored in the dangerous and bogus doctrine of “American Exceptionalism!”

In fact, I think we should follow the Chinese example and quit meddling in the internal affairs of other nations.  But as a member of a minority in a racist country whose people have faced the possibility of genocide, and my Native American ancestors were the victims of genocidal treatment by the European settlers who became white Americans, I can never be against intervention wherever there is the possibility of genocide.  I say send in the Marines to stop it!  Preferably with UN sanction.

However it has not escaped my notice that many of the same characters, who are denouncing the humanitarian mission in Libya, are the same people who denounced President Clinton for not preventing the genocide in Rawanda.    Even though the only way that genocidal attack could have been prevented was by attacking the would be perpetrators before they launched their attack. Had this happened I’m certain that we would have heard the same hue and cry of “imperialist aggression” on the part of the US.

Unfortunately the subject of American foreign policy is too complex for me to tackle within the time frame allotted to me.  But I have written at length on the foreign policy of the Obama administration, and I have written nine pieces analyzing the complexities of the present uprising in the Arab world.  My three thousand word commentary, “The Iraq Attack: Bush’s March of folly,” published on the eve of the invasion of Iraq and presented over WBAI, now reads like prophecy. They are all posted on my blog. But if you are interested in my views on the subject put your questions to me during the Q&A.

It is enough to recognize that the Republicans opposed everything that President Obama has achieved on our behalf.  And these are life enhancing – indeed life saving – achievements.  It does not require a novelist’s imagination to conceptualize how different life would be if the Republicans controlled the white house and the Congress.

All you need do is look at the savagery of the so-called “Prosperity Budget” of Congressman Paul Ryan to understand that the choice in the coming presidential elections is a choice between civilization and savagery. I believe that any black person who advises other black people not to work and vote for Barack Obama and the democrats is a fool, a charlatan, or a traitor to their race!


A Speech by Playthell Benjamin

Presented to the Committee Against Media Offensive to African People

Queens New York City, April 24, 2011

Barack Obama’s Record as a State Senator and US Senator

During the first -8- eight years of his elected service Senator Obama has written 890 bills and co-sponsored another 1096. Now, I would list them all but Obama’s list is simply too long, so I’ll mainly categorize them.
He either wrote or co-sponsored the following as a State Senator:
233 bills regarding healthcare reform,
125 bills on poverty and public assistance,
112 crime fighting bills,
97 economic bills,
60 human rights and anti-discrimination bills,
21 ethics reform bills,
15 gun control,
6 veteran’s affairs and many others.

His first year in the U.S. Senate, he authored 152 bills and co-sponsored another 427. These included:
**the Coburn-Obama Government Transparency Act of 2006 – became law,
**The Lugar-Obama Nuclear Non-proliferation and Conventional Weapons Threat Reduction Act, – became law,
**The Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act, passed the Senate,
**The 2007 Government Ethics Bill, – became law, and

**The Protection Against Excessive Executive Compensation Bill, In committee


Barack’s Accomplishments As President


On the environment:

* Included funding for “green” jobs in the stimulus bill

* Initiated first steps to develop a legally-binding treaty to reduce mercury emissions worldwide

* Dedicated more than $60 billion for clean energy

* Instituted “cash for clunkers,” getting more fuel efficient cars on the street

* Acknowledges reality of climate change and his desire to work on an international policy like Kyoto

* Emphasized the value of science (not political opinion) within the EPA

* Allocated $2 billion in stimulus cash for advanced batteries systems (for automobiles)

* Declared (via EPA) carbon dioxide a threat to health, the first step towards regulating greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act

* Funded Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant, which gives $2.8 billion to cities

* Put over 2 million acres of wilderness, thousands of miles of river and a host of national trails and parks under federal protection, the largest conservation effort in 15 years
* Funding a $475 million initiative to restore and clean the Great Lakes

On healthcare:

* Overturned the federal funding ban for stem cell research

* Instituted better standards for comparative research in medicine and an agency to handle this

* Added staff to the FDA and brought back emphasis on science

* Allocated over $1 billion to the National Institutes of Health, whose budget Bush let stagnate

* Eliminated funding for abstinence-only education

* Signed an executive order repealing the “Mexico City policy” or “global gag rule” that withheld U.S. funds from organizations that discuss or provide family planning services abroad

* Announced US would resume contributions to the UN population fund for family planning and more than double the previous contribution made in 2001

* Appropriated $19 billion in the stimulus package to help implement an electronic medical record system

* Set aside billions in budget to overhaul the health care system

* Enacted Children’s Health Insurance Program Reauthorization, providing healthcare to 11 million children

* Established 65% COBRA subsidy for 7 million unemployed Americans

* Allocated $1 billion for prevention and wellness programs

* Provided $87 billion to states to bolster their Medicaid programs during the downturn

* Increased funding for urban HIV/AIDS Prevention and Awareness

On Education, Equality, Public Safety, Families, etc.:

* Expressed a desire to overturn Don’t Ask Don’t Tell

* Described the Defense of Marriage Act as “unfair” and “discriminatory” and said they supported it being overturned

* Includes atheists in his definition of Americans

* Extended tax credits for mothers to return to college, for tuition, and for college textbook purchases

* Has agreed to make the visitors’ lists to the White House public

* Signed executive order requiring Guantanamo to be closed within 1 year and allocated funds/personnel for that purpose

* Included provision in stimulus legislation that, for the first time, supported the ideas of Net Neutrality-like non-discrimination and openness for the Internet

* The administration demonstrated a new commitment to fighting for change on the UN Human Rights Council by announcing it will run for a seat next year, reversing the Bush administration boycott

* Announced that the U.S. will support a United Nations declaration urging nations to decriminalize homosexuality

* Created office of Urban Policy

* Gave Department of Justice $2 billion for Byrne Grants, which funds anti-gang and anti-gun task forces (cut during Bush years)

* Allocated $5 billion for early learning programs, including Head Start, Early Head Start, child care, and programs for children with special needs

* Signed the Credit Card Accountability, Responsibility, and Disclosure (CARD) Act to protect Americans from unfair and deceptive credit card practices

* Enacted the Making Homes Affordable Program

* Boosted credit flow to small businesses

* Increased focus on funding for high speed rail

* Funded the Community Oriented Police program (COPS)
* Appointed first Hispanic justice to the Supreme Court and most qualified Supreme Court candidate in decades

On foreign affairs (see link for more complete list):

* Secured $5 billion in aid commitments “to bolster [Pakistan’s] economy and help it fight terror and Islamic radicalism”

* Foreign affairs experts insist that Obama’s engagement with the Muslim world has been at once remarkable and under-appreciated…”He has been able to dramatically change America’s image in that region”

* Led global response to the economic crisis through the G20, obtaining commitments of $1.1 trillion to safeguard the world’s most vulnerable economies


An Open Letter to Daaim Shabazz!

Posted in Cultural Matters, On Foreign Affairs with tags , on April 17, 2011 by playthell

Black African enslaved by Arabs In Mauritania Right Now!

Yo Shabazz, you are not only a shameless apologist for the racism of the Arabs, you are also quite silly. Do you suppose that you can get around the fact that black Christians have a rich tradition of critiquing racism in Christianity and Back Muslims have none beyond Farrakhan’s statement that I am aware of – you obviously know of none either or you would surely produce them here. Now on the African continent the situation is different. African Muslims are beginning to speak out about it, and in the Sudan there has been a raging battle with the Arab enslavers. There are videos of armed African women fighting their Muslim rapists and enslaves with AK 47’s, and they tell their story to anyone who cares to know. Why don’t you know this Shabazz? It is because you are a black holocaust denier!!!!!!

The great Senegalese film maker -Ousmane Sembene has examined the destructive role of Islam in Africa. But there is none so blind as he who refuses to see! I know that once you have built your world vision on a fallacy it’s hard to change – especially if it is an all embracing dogma like Islam…or Marxism for that matter!  Now, as to my authoritative tone: have you read my resume? Have you read my Mission statement? Better still have you read the 245 essays I have posted on the Commentaries. If so, you will find the widest range of erudite commentary written by any pundit in the nation over the last two years since I launched the blog. There is no one who can match the intellectual range of these commentaries. Furthermore if you read the letter nominating me for the Pulitzer Prize for Commentary – my second nomination by the way, and in two different genres of writing, which is practically unheard of! – you will see that one of the main things they remark about is the intellectual breadth of my work…and the even handedness of it!  Both of my Pulitzer Prize nominations are right there on my blog!  Along with some of my other awards! I always call it like it is and even give the Devil his due.

I know this sounds immodest but you asked for it. The reason you don’t know these things is because unlike some folks I never talk about my history unless something prompts it…like now!!  Plus I have many essays that are in print and do not appear online; some have been included in important anthologies.  Many were published in the leading news journals in the English speaking world!  And two of my award winng feature stories were slected for study at the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism: Yo Kwame!  That’s like having your business deal studied at the Harvard Business School!  I know that will impress you since you make it a point to let everybody know that you went o Harvard!  This is why I speak with authority Shabazz!  When you have a resume like mine you too can speak with authority too! The question here is not why I speak with authority…the evidence is there for all to see…the real question is why is an obviously light weight Neo-Uncle Tom ( cause you are shamelessly tomming for the Arabs! No foot shuffling Uncle Tom for American white folks had a damn thing on you!) getting up in my face talking the kind of muddled, silly, prattle you are spouting here? However for the record, not even Uncle Tom willfully apologized for the enslavers of his people. Hence I supposed that in your case I have slandered Uncle Tom!!

Slavery among Europeans occurred from the 16th to the 19th century, and everybody knows about it! That’s why I feel no need to discuss it here.  And the reason that everybody knows is because of the work of white and black Christian scholars – there is a treasure trove of great scholarly work on the subject of white European and American slavery. The first volume of the Harvard’s distinguished “New World Historical Studies” is “The suppression of the African Slave Trade, by Dr. WEB DuBois. It is a devastating critique of white American Christians; where is the critique of the enslavement of black Africans by Arabs that continues even as I write?   Among the Arabs the enslavement of blacks began in the 8th century and continues until today!!!!! Look at the records of the British abolition society Iabolish –  incidently the British used warships to suppress the African slave trade in the 19th century – and you will see a ton of evidence about slavery in the Islamic world today…but you want to talk about Europeans who got out of the business over a century and a half before?

What do you take the people on this page to be….. fools?  You don’t even know that it is far better to be thought a fool than open yo mouth and remove all doubt!! I was talking and teaching – since I was a founder of the first full fledged degree granting department of African American Studies in the world! – before you started coming out of the yard by yourself!!   We are celebrating our 40th anniversary year this year!!!!   When the WEB DuBois Department, at UMass Amherst was founded Professor Henry Louis Gates, the Director of the DuBois Institute at Harvard, was a sophomore at Yale.  It just so happens that I have a very long record of radical struggle and institution building which is far too expensive to began to state it here, and is only partially listed on my blog – which I call ” A thumbnail sketch.” But know this: even by the standards of a romance novel my life has been a fascinating affair…you should live so!

I am going to post a much more extensive biographical essay online so that I won’t have to discuss this with precocious Johnny-come-latelys like you again. Professor Bernard Bell, the world’s leading authority on the Afro-American novel, is writing a book about the founding of the first full fledged degree granting Black Studies Department at UMass.  I suppose you will be green with envy when you read what he has to say about my role in it.  And I had some extraordinary colleagues who worked with me in that effort.  Bernard Bell was on the committee that hired me, which also included Dr. William J. Wilson, Professor of Social Policy at Harvard.  I was 27, a college dropout, and hadn’t written a line.  But I had read every serious text in African and Afro-american history then in print…and I could recall everything I ever read in detail.  My nickname among my colleagues was “Univac!”  After the great mainframe computer that dominated the field of computer science at the time.   One of my girlfriends was a brilliant mathematician who helped write the language for it.  Need I say more about where my “air of authority” comes from…. Are you a masochist or something?

The fact is that you have offered no critique of my piece “Racism and the Arabs,” which is fact based, says it all.  What you have offered instead is the equivalent of a public scream of pain that accompanies the death of illusions!  And, and while it may provide you some relief from the factual fire I have lit under yo butt, it is no substitute for a substantive critique!  What you have done Shabazz is shamelessly Tom for the Arabs. It may interest you to know that the main complaint I heard from the black Africans who had escaped from Arab slaver right now is “Our black American Muslim brothers will not hear our pleas: They are all pro-Arab!”  You Shabazz are exibit A! Now go away silly boy and come back with a serious critique of my piece…including the video clips…one of which features the brilliant John Hendrick Clarke. Until you do that I am going to ignore you!!!!!!!!   By the way, is the extent of your written opinions comfined to  this awkward graffiti  you scribble here on facebook?  Where might I read some of your analytical essays treating this topic? Or any topic? 

You can find me in print discussing everything from the color symbolism in the plays and sonnets of Shakespeare, to the Roots of German fascism in the romanticism found in the Music’Festival/Dramas of Ricard Wagner: the greatest of the composers in the marvelous age of romanticism in European Art music.  You can also find thoughtful treatises on Jazz, which I call “The Quintessential American Art.”  You can even read my anthologized fiction and get a real inside look at how black gangsters were affected by the black power movement in the late sixties and early seventies – which is the raison d’ etre for my appearance on “American Gangster,” the excellent documentary series on the African-American underworld produced by the award winning cultural critic Nelson George.  You can also experience vicariously the exquisite joys of a ménage a trios with two beautiful women!  But of course, being an uptight puritan that would shock yo drawers off!  But I am a cosmopolite and free thinker; I feel like I’ve been around the world and spoke to everybody twice!

 However for the other readers of this track please read my multi-media essay at Put the title “Racism and the Arabs in the search engine. Read it, check out the video clips at the end of the essay and decide who you want to believe: Shabazz or your lying eyes!  If you check it out you will see what a silly little Uncle Tom holocaust denier our friend Shabazz really is!!!!   If you want to really get deep into the matter go to the website I-Abolish and check them out.  And if you want some heavy historic grounding in this subject read _ “The Other Diaspora,” by Paul Segal. It is a brilliant scholarly history of the Muslim Arab slave trade in Africa. Then you will see what a shameless apologist Shabazz is for the enslavement of his people!

Yo Shabazz, the mere fact that you exchanged the name of one group of slave masters for another shows just how confused you are. When I decided to change my name – which social scientists who study mass transformative movements understand to be “a commitment ritual” signifying a change of world view – I took a West African name: “Adetunji Adaniji…that was in 1963…how old were you then?  The indisputable evidence that you are hopelessly confused is that you don’t even know better than to pick a fight with your intellectual superior on face book…where everybody can witness you get yo butt whipped!.

It ought to be obvious, even to somebody as clueless as you, that when you are in a hole you should stop digging! I am giving you fair warning: you can’t win cause of the shape you in…and I can’t lose because of the science I use!  I am droppin science and you are engaging in special pleading! It is a term of art employed by historians to describe arguments that are based on emotion and wishful thinking but is not supported by the facts!!!! If you continue to challenge me I shall rock yo world!  Not only will your intellectual reputation end up in shambles, but your mental stability too!!!!!  So go away junior and pick on somebody in your class!  I agree with Ismael Reed – the most inventive novelist of his generation, whom the Nation magazine called “the greatest American Satirist since Mark Twain, and the distinguished literary critic Leslie Fiedler rightly dubbed:”A highbrow ironist” – “Writin is fightin!”  And nobody but a careless fool would match a featherweight with a heavy weight!  Now go away junior and work on yo game!!!!!!!!!!!!

Please view this video of African women waging armed struggle against Islamic Arabs and Afro-Arabs in the Sudan! 

This is what Shabazz and all of the black Muslim apologist for the Arabs are denying!


This is the post by Daaim shabazz that I am replying to.  It was posted on the site

Malcolm X: A life of Reinvention.

Mr. Benjamin… I hate to tell you this, but you are blinded by your own prejudice. I hear them just about every day. I already mentioned that there is racism in Islam (just as there is in any social system), but you want me to point you t…o critiques? For what? You are an “old head” and set in your thinking. I have read your writings and it is amazing how you flaunt your “authority” around. No humility at all in the tone of your writings. You then protect white enslavers by saying Arabs enslaved Africans longer. What kind of backward thinking is that? Do you know the history of what happened to us during the Middle Passage. No… the Arabs didn’t do that and we lost about 10-100 million Africans. Yes… both histories are abhorrent, but do not build a refuge for whites who committing one of the worst human atrocities known to man. Anyway, that is not the issue here. The issue is your lack of understanding of what motivates people to accept a faith. That is their choice, but to say someone accepts a belief because of naive escapism is imputable to your own arrogance. You are no expert in this area and do not pretend to be, nor are you an expert on Malcolm X.

Less Preachers and More Policy Wonks!

Posted in My Struggle On the Left!, On Dr. Cornell West, Playthell on politics with tags , , , , on April 13, 2011 by playthell

Dr William Julius Wilson: Sociologist

Reflections on the Black Agenda Special

Last Sunday MSNBC aired a special on “The Black Agenda” hosted by Ed Shultz, who is rapidly emerging as the foremost advocate of working class interests in the commercial media.  The usual suspects from the black community were called upon once again to plead the cause of African Americans before the nation.  Although there were a variety of black voices – some would say a cacophony – the stars were a small group of preachers and philosophers.

Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton were the elder statesman of this group, but Drs. Michael Eric Dyson and Cornell West were the brightest stars of the moment.  As I analyzed the composition of these panels, I knew the chances were better than even that the discussion would soon degenerate into a tower of Babel.  Alas Dr. West and Rev. Sharpton did have a smack down before it was over.  I thought they were about to slap each other for a minute!

Observing the panels tasked with discussing the economic plight of the black community, and what social policy options the government should adopt to deal with such nagging problems as sub-standard education, out of wedlock births and the ‘Prison Industrial complex,” which is the term of art for the high incidence of incarceration among young black men, I wondered why Dr. Dyson and West were there at all.

Did we not have enough preachers dominating the discourse among black Americans already?  For the last half century the discourse about the fate of black Americans have been monopolized by clerical voices. Martin Luther King, Leon Sullivan, Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson, Malcolm X, and Louis Farrakhan are all men of the cloth.

Hence the thoughtful observer is compelled to wonder: In a discussion about policy matters in the Twenty First Century do we really need to hear from a Princeton trained philosopher, who is also an ordained Baptist minister and a Princeton Professor of Religion who talks like a Baptist preacher – such as Dyson and West?  Well, if I had been putting the panel together neither would have been on it.  As a former Professor of Afro-American history, I am well aware of the historic and contemporary importance of the black church, but it is high time for a separation of the affairs of church and state in the black community.

Some preachers, like Jackson and Sharpton, are able to clearly separate the two realms. And by virtue of their long history in the struggle, where they participated in bringing about monumental changes, they have earned an honored place in any important discussion on the present condition and collective strivings of black Americans.   Yet if we are to find solutions to these intractable problems we need less rhapsodizing about our hopes and dreams, and more strategizing about realizable policy options. This means, of course, that we have to begin to choose spokesman on the basis of expertise rather than their public relations profile.

If I’d had my druthers Cornell West would have been replaced with William Julius Wilson, Professor of social Policy at Harvard’s Kennedy School and the world’s foremost authority on the problems of the postindustrial city and the plight of the black poor. And Michael Eric Dyson would have been replaced by Dr. Bernard Anderson, author of the economic section in the annual Urban League’s “State Of Black America” report.

Anderson holds a PhD in economics from the prestigious Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, and is the foremost authority in the world on the position of black Americans in the American economy…especially black workers.  Dr. Anderson began his career with a land mark scholarly study “The Negro in the Public Utility Industry” which was published over forty years ago.  He has written many scholarly papers.

Reigning Authority on Black Economic Issues!

At a recent conference on the economic crisis in America Dr. Anderson, now a Professor in the Wharton school, stressed several critical points: The depth and breadth of the economic crisis has worsened, increasing racial disparities, and threatening to wipe out gains made towards reducing those disparities in the 1990s. The unemployment crisis reflects a structural change in our economy.The link between job creation and economy growth has been weakened. Economic growth no longer results in job creation. Thus in recent recessions we have experienced the phenomenon of “jobless recovery.”  Direct public job creation by the government is imperative to economic recovery.

I first met Bernard Anderson during the mid1960’s when we were both working with the Reverend Doctor Leon Sullivan in developing the Opportunities Industrialization Centers in Philadelphia. Bernie was writing his PhD thesis at the time, and I was developing a “Minority History” curriculum, which was adopted by the Philadelphia Board Of Education under the leadership of Dr. Connie Clayton, then spread to 100 cities through OIC.  Many of these ideas would find their way into the formation of the first full fledged degree granting Black Studies department in America, at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

It was in Amherst that I first met Bill Wilson in 1969; he was on the committee that interviewed me and recommended me for a Professorship, although I was only twenty seven and a college dropout!  Dr. Wilson set out to bring a new understanding of the causes of urban poverty and its influence on the disorganization of the family and other deviant behavior among the “underclass,” which is the fashionable term for what Karl Marx called the “lumpenproletariat.”  Way back then Dr. Wilson was driven by a desire to understand the role that social forces like class, education, geography, cultural values and racial discrimination, played in the persistence of widespread poverty among black Americans in the world’s most affluent society.

Over the last few decades Professor Wilson has written a series of scholarly books, each a seminal text in the field of race relations i.e. color and class in America. In these in-depth cutting edge works Dr. Wilson has instructed the nation on the problems on race and poverty in American cities:   “The Declining significance of Race,”  “The Truly Disadvantaged,”  “When Work Disappears,”  “Sociology and the Public interests,” etc.  And early on he wrote book which presents a comparative analysis of instititional racism in South Africa and the USA: “Racism, Power and Privilege,”

When compared to the weighty works of William J. Wilson and Bernard Anderson, the writings of Cornell West and Michael Dyson is light weight pretentious prattle!  Yet even if one finds the writings of these men profound; they do not address serious policy questions with any depth.  On the other hand both Wilson and Anderson are eminent scholars who have been seriously studying these problems for nearly half a century!!!!!

Need I say more?  While charismatic leaders are an essential element in building mass transformative movements, in order to succeed one must also have able theoreticians to properly assess the situation, identify the critical problems, and devise systematic solutions based upon the prevailing relationship of forces.  To accomplish this we need fewer preachers – sacred or secular – and more hardnosed policy wonks!


Playthell Benjamin
Harlem New York
April 13, 2011

On Dr. West And Comrade Dix

Posted in My Struggle On the Left!, On Dr. Cornell West, Playthell on politics with tags , , , on April 11, 2011 by playthell

A Modern Neo-Leftist Minstrel Show?

Some Reflections on the Black Left

Although I had read, met and talked to the ubiquitous Dr. Cornel West on several occasions – and even spanked him in print on three occasions – I had never heard of Carl Dix until I began to get requests from shills for the Revolutionary Communist Party posing as interested fans of my radio show “Round Bout Midnight,” imploring me to have him on.  When I asked them to send me some information on Comrade Dix I got a torrent of propaganda from the RCP.

After quickly perusing the pamphlets my first reaction was to throw them all in the trash and go on about my business; since communist theory had proven not to be the science communist claimed it is, and I once believed it was. Furthermore, the proto-typical communist society – the Soviet Union – had been thrown in the trash bin of history by the people who had lived under it for half a century!  But because I am not a knee jerk anti-communist, in the Pavlovian way most Americans have been successfully programmed to react upon mention of the word; plus I believe in giving the devil his due, I carefully read the propaganda tracts……and then quickly threw it in the trash!

Right away I could see that the most impressive thing about these people was not their intellectual grasp of the world situation – I expect that from any communist worth his salt – or their elaborate, albeit mechanistic and dogmatic, critique of capitalist society.  What impressed me the most about the RCP was their total lack of any sense of reality!

To begin with, anybody who does not know that the best way to insure that you will not be taken seriously by anybody except a lunatic fringe in American society if you label yourself a “revolutionary Communist,” has probably been living in a cave in the Australian Outback and can’t figure out what time the 3:15 comes in. That’s the most charitable explanation for this clueless communist presenting himself as someone that thoughtful people will take seriously in 21st century America politics.

Furthermore there is an outbreak of religious revivalism sweeping the country – with blacks and Hispanics in the vanguard. Thus standing up and dissing God from the podium, the way Comrade Dix is inclined to do, reduce the already scant appeal he has with what he defines as his core constituency.  In America communist and communism was so successfully demonized and discredited in the twentieth century, that identifying oneself as a Communist today is like confessing to child molestation in the public mind…if not worse: a godless blasphemer!

Hence I was naturally hesitant, suspecting that a conversation with the shadowy Comrade Dix would probably be a bit bizarre, and perhaps more than a bit of a bore.  So I dragged my feet on the matter and put it on the back burner.  After all, it was a weekly show and there were so many fascinating things to discuss in the world of politics and culture.  Especially since I was often partnered with Dr. Gerald Horne, whom I believe to be the most versatile and prolific historian presently writing in America …and perhaps the most learned man in the nation on world politics.

However the call for Dix’s appearance by party apparatchiks, who consider him a wise man with a vital message, continued unabated.  Communist are relentless in pursuing their agenda once they target you – something the great Afro-American labor Leader and democratic socialist A. Phillip Randolph learned early in the last century. This realization led Randolph to break with the Communist Party, although he had previously considered them an ally.

I guess I was a natural target since I was on the only non-college radio station in New York where a self-confessed communist revolutionary could express his views uncensored.  So, just to be rid of them, and because I had begun to suspect it might be interesting to debate with an articulate intellectual anachronism, I invited Comrade Dix onto the show.  Just as I expected he turned out to be an impassioned ideologue who thinks in terms of Marxist clichés.

Aside from the gravitas of his argument, which was not wholly without merit, his ideas about how to get his message across were not significantly different from those employed by the Bolsheviks who made the Russian Revolution in 1917!  The guy actually thought he could indoctrinate a mass audience and direct a revolutionary movement with a little obscure newspaper.  As I recall the on-air encounter it was all I could do to resist the temptation to reduce him to a figure of ridicule.  But as I was taken by his sincerity I could not bring myself to do it.

I thought of what the great political theorist and cultural historian Harold Cruse told Max Stanford aka Dr. Muhammad Ahmed and me back in 1967.  Committed to a Maoist conception of armed revolution at the time, we were mightily distressed by an essay analyzing the role of mass media in shaping mass consciousness in Cruse’s path breaking book on black political and cultural thought, “The Crisis Of the Negro Intellectual.” Cruise had argued that in the geo-political circumstances of the USA, the mass media was as formidable weapon of the ruling class as the police power of the state.

Professor Harold Cruse

The Premiere Theoretician of the Left

When we confronted him point blank with the question: “Do you think a revolution in the USA is possible or not?”  Harold thought for a moment and said with a wry smile:” Sure I believe a revolution is possible…if you can figure out a way to take over or neutralize ABC, NBC and CBS!”  That was over forty years ago, before 24/7 cable Television, talk radio networks and the internet.  So if the mass media was that formidable back in the day, imagine its power of persuasion now.

However there is a silver lining to some of these developments in terms of providing relatively poor and powerless groups with the means to fight back and get their message out – especially the internet! Judging by his presence on You Tube, Comrade Dix and the RCP seem to be coming into the 21st century – although they could use some lessons in video and still picture production.  As Chairman Mao counsels’: “All art is propaganda, but not all propaganda is art.  In order for art to succeed as propaganda, it must first succeed as art.”  Thus if the RCP posted well produced videos online it would attract more viewers and spark their curiosity.

In any case “The Crisis” is a book that I get the strong impression Comrade Dix either has not read, or is so blinded by Marxist dogma and fantasies of Communist revolution in America he refuses to believe it.  However had the intrepid revolutionary read Professor Cruse’s text there are several things he would understand that he apparently does not.

For instance, his relationship to the even more obscure Bob Avakian appears to mirror the subservience of black communist cadres to white theoreticians that Cruse disdainfully describes in the old Communist Party – which by the way was a far more effective organization.  For one thing they understood the art of politics far better than Comrade Dix appears too.  But more about that later.

Cornell West and Comrade Dix

Plotting the Revolution

Since Dr. Cornel West is academia’s version of a superstar, he is already well known.  Thus there is no need for such an extensive introduction.  The product of an elite Ivy league education, Dr. West moves easily between the campuses of top tier rich white universities and the black community. He is surprisingly unpretentious in his demeanor, and I believe he is sincere in his commitment to building the Beloved Christian community envisioned by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

As an avowed democratic socialist he is devoted to limiting the power of the capitalist class over our lives and livelihoods, a goal that I share.  Despite the fact that, unlike Comrade Dix, Dr. west understands that socialism can only come to America by democratic means, he too is inept at the game of real politics.  Since he and Dix appear to prefer abstract theorizing to engaging the actual political realities that presently exists in the US, they make a good team on the talk fest circuit…a veritable movable feast.

Ordinarily I don’t pick fights with Marxist, because aside from the fact that they are true believers not unlike religious fanatics, I see the fascist minded white racist as a far greater danger. Unlike Dr. West and Comrade Dix – who apparently think President Obama and the Democrats pose the greatest danger!  However, when these Marxist prophets of perpetual gloom and doom began to spread their nihilistic views to the greater black, Hispanic and student communities, then they must be challenged and critiqued.  This is the raison d’être of this essay.

Except for their affection for engaging in abstract analysis – which strikes me as the intellectual equivalent of a group jerk off session – the elegant, dramatic and somewhat eccentric Dr. West, and the droll dumpy Comrade Dix, is about as different as one can imagine.  And they come off almost like cartoon characters – Mutt and Jeff for instance; or a more intellectual version of the comedy team Stump and Stumpy.  While I am not a Marxist – I have been off that drug for over thirty years now – I am not one of those fools who insist that Marxist revolutionaries have been wrong about everything.

Only an ignoramus or a charlatan would deny that the Marxist Revolutions – along with the rise of African peoples from colonial slavery and apartheid both in Africa and the Atlantic Diaspora – were the most dynamic transformative movements of the twentieth century. The most impressive African liberations struggles were also led by Marxist, with the struggle in Portuguese Africa ranking right up at the top with the most impressive revolutionary struggles of the last century.  And I consider the great Chinese Revolution to be the most impressive social transformation in human history!

In spite of attempts to minimize this event by simple minded American Exceptionalists, it was a marvelous example of human will and ingenuity.  Mao Tse Tung’s leadership of that protracted struggle of hundreds of millions of Chinese was an elegant combination of iron discipline, art and science, penning complex theoretical treatises with scientific accuracy and poetic language – directing the revolutionary masses by culling proverbs from Chinese culture and employing them as if they were scientific axioms.  He may well have been the best ever in the use of slogans to deliver complex theoretical concepts to the masses: “A revolutionary must swim among the people like a fish in the sea;”  “Imperialism is a collusus with feet of clay” etc.  His use of the graphic metaphor was no less powerful: “The atomic bomb is a paper tiger.”

Chairman Mao

The Great Helmsman

However as Harold Cruse argued, Marxism, which is a 19th century European ideology, was never a really good fit for American society.  This is a question of sociology.  The United States is a far more multi-racial and multi-ethnic society than the Russian society which made the first Communist Revolution, an event that served as the model for American communist. In the US the relationship between class, ethnicity and race created a far different social dynamic than was the case in Russia.

For instance, Cruse points out that ones position in the American class structure was determined more by group status than personal qualities like talent and diligence, but the Constitution only recognized the rights of individuals, it was one’s group status that determined the individuals life chances.  Dr. W.E.B. DuBois, the father of American sociology, had observed this phenomenon in the 1920’s, when black intellectuals were becoming enamored with Marxist ideology.

Although Dr. DuBois was as enraged by the oppressive racial caste system in America as any communist militant, he concluded that black and white workers joining hands to make a communist revolution was a pipe dream.  Because, as the learned Doctor pointed out, white workers were far more likely to identify with millionaires of their own race and ethnic group than unite with black workers to overthrow them. This was a prescient observation that does much to explain the participation of working class whites in the Tea Party Movement today.  Herein lay the Achilles heel of what passes for critical analysis with Dr. West and Comrade Dix.

While they blather on ad-nuseum about the short comings of President Obama and the Democrats – with Dr, West often rolling his eyes and mugging for the audience like a minstrel clown – these two ideological iconoclasts have little to say about the nature of the opposition they are up against.  To listen to them talk you would think that President Obama really is “Barack the Magic Negro,” and all he has to do is wave his magic wand and make all our dreams come true. Yet whether they actually believe this or not makes little difference in the way they discuss his policy options; which often strikes me as a burlesque on serious analysis.

When Comrade Dix discusses the president he sometimes becomes so excited he appears to be foaming at the mouth.  His speeches, such as his response to the President’s Father’s Day admonition to black men, are little more than impassioned diatribes in which facts are manipulated like silly putty to create whatever reality that serves his objectives.   He appears to loose his grip on reality as he spews a torrent of invective at the President for challenging black men to man up and act like responsible fathers; stop making babies out of wed lock; committing senseless violence against their communities and get their lessons in school because they “can’t all  be Lil Wayne!”  Well, I live in the Hood, and I think it is sage advice, and much needed at this moment in our history!

“It was bullshit when that comedian Bill Cosby said it; and its bullshit when President Obama says it!” Comrade Dix declared.  Although I wrote a reply to Bill Cosby in the form of an open letter, because I thought he did not sufficiently consider certain critical socio/economic factors in his critique of the black underclass – Lumpen proletariat is the Marxist term of art – I think Comrade Dix is full of shit!

His analysis of the realities facing black youths in this society is every bit as skewered as Bill Cosby’s, and I believe far more dangerous!   Black males are in dire straits, every serious study that considers the hard facts of the matter paint a grim picture.  However it is also true that much of it is self inflicted!  And the advice given by President Obama is exactly what their fathers would tell them…if they are worthy of the name!

If I were a young black or Hispanic person and listened to what Comrade Dix had to say I would conclude that any chance of advancing in this society as a result of hard work, discipline and study was nil.  According to the learned communist cadre my only option is to become a revolutionary. Yet if I concluded that this was too risky a business for the dubious rewards, considering the fact that a communist revolution in America is a very long shot, I might just decide to become an outlaw where my prospects would be much better.  And if I pondered too much over the grim picture that Comrade Dix paints so well, I might just cut my throat.  I know even at my age if I bought the Comrade’s rap hook, line and sinker I’d get up straight away and leap out of my high rise window!


Dr. West’s vision is not so bleak. That’s because as a Christian he is fortified with a heroic optimism based in an unfaltering faith that the Lord will make a way somehow if we keep the faith.  Although I believe that both communism and Christianity are equally fanciful; by far the Christian message is the more hopeful and inspiring.  It is a life enhancing messages that enables the believer to overcome all manner of adversity and keep on keeping on.  It is no accident that Jesse Jackson, a Christian minister whose contribution to the advancement of African Americans is immeasurable, advanced the slogan “keep hope alive!”

Rev Jackson, like Langston Hughes, understood that where there is no hope human beings lose their ability to cope with adversity.   And the message from Comrade Dix is that there is no hope for our youths but to become a communist revolution.  This is what he advocates, not to fight for the visionary programs President Obama is trying desperately to implement; programs that will create the new industries that will create the good jobs in the future.

Perhaps Comrade Dix has not noticed that Communist countries are experiencing economic stagnation too.  In fact the best managed societies in the world, with the highest concern for social welfare and individual freedom, are the democratic socialist societies of Scandinavia.  This is a goal that is within reach fror American society if we conciously choose to take the necissary measures and tax the rich to pay for them.  People will quiclkly learn to love these benefits and demand more; just like social security, unemployment compensation and other socialistic reforms that were inspired by the great depression paved the way for medicare and Medicaid decades later.  This is the only path to real reform in this society.   Of course, Dr. West recognizes this; that’s why he is a Democratic Socialist not a revolutionary communist.

In his zeal to convince young black and Hispanic people that  Communist revolution is their only option Comrade Dix sacrifices context, nuance, and ultimately truth upon the alter of expedience.  Hence his analysis of the life chances of black and Hispanic youths in American society leaves no room for them to envision success in their society; even as immigrants from all over the world flock here because they find it the richest and most open society on earth – a place where they come to realize their dreams.  And this hopeless scenario is accompanied by a dismissal of anyone who attempts to counsel our youths against the negative habits that they have bought into; behavior which will insure that Dix’s grim predictions become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

While there is undoubtedly some truth in Comrade Dix’s analysis of America’s racist restrictions on the life’s chances of our youths, it is astonishing that Comrade Dix presents this as primarily a question of race rather than class.  Nowhere does he make obvious distinctions. Are the children of the black middle class in just as hopeless a situation?  Are white youths who drop out of school, have out of wedlock babies, and do dope all day likely to succeed in this society?

There is a clear path to the middle class under normal circumstances, when the country is not in an economic recession, and that path is a college education. I have a friend in Atlanta, he is a hero of the civil rights movement and a decorated Viet Nam war hero, he was the poorest person in my high school graduating class but is now by far the richest – a multi-millionaire.  Life for him wasn’t no crystal stair, and he cannot understand why people don’t get it: “You can move from poverty to the middle class just by obtaining a college education!” he always says.

Countless Americans from all backgrounds have travelled this road to Success.  And many black folks did so when there was much less opportunity.  But, alas, an accurate analysis of the racial situation in America is not Comrade Dix’s objective; he is, after all, trying to recruit our youths into a Communist conspiracy to overthrow the American capitalist system.

Therefore any suggestion that a young black or Hispanic person might advance in America by turning off the fucking television, reading books, studying hard, avoiding unwanted pregnancies, obeying the law and making college graduation their top priority – all the things President Obama told them – is presented as a fantasy beyond their reach.

Instead, what Dix believes is a realistic goal to which our youths should commit their lives is spelled out by his leader Bob Avakian in their document laying out a new American constitution:

““In the final analysis, as Engels once expressed it, the proletariat must win its emancipation on the battlefield…It will come to this: we will have to face him in the trenches and defeat him amidst terrible destruction but we must not in the process annihilate the fundamental difference between the enemy and ourselves. We must be able to maintain our firmness of principles but at the same time our flexibility, our materialism and our dialectics, our realism and our romanticism, our solemn sense of purpose and our sense of humor.”

This is pure fantasy!  Ideological fiddle faddle!  It is a reliable measure of just how removed from reality Comrade Dix and his co-conspirators really are.  As I write 66% of Americans say they are satisfied with the results of the election.  And they were most heavily represented among blue collar white workers!  They think the government is too powerful and they want Republicans to put a brake on the critical reforms President Obama is making which would improve their lives.  And these are the people the RCP are going to make a communist revolution with?

I’d bet that if the American people ever vote for the kind of super state it would require to implement the kind of radical changes Comrade Dix is advocating they are far more likely to choose some uniquely American form of fascism than communism!  Among their target audience of white workers – who comprise the majority of the industrial proletariat – racism will always trump class consciousness.

President Obama won despite these clowns.  While we know that the Republicans have no solutions to the problems that face this country, there is no telling what the response of the ignorant, racist white mob will be when they finally realize this.  These are truly dangerous times and, as the last election demonstrates, any thing can happen. That’s why the only rational strategy for progressives was to support the President and the democrats, but the combined forces of naysayers on the right and the left has defeated the Democrat’s heroic efforts to tackle the critical problems that are leading the nation to ruin.  An astute strategy for the left should have been to try and solidify these gains and press for more.

From what I see comrade Dix is leading our youths down a dead end.   He is trying his best to rob our youths of their dreams and substitute them for his dreams of Communist Revolution. Comrade Dix even has the unmitigated gall to quote Langston Hughes poem “A Dream Deferred,” which was written at a very different time; a time when racial restrictions were so severe they are beyond the wildest imagination of today’s youths.  However I have a different message for our youths, and a different quote from Langston Hughes.  First I’d like to tell the youths: Fuck these naddering nabobs of negativism!  And “Hold fast to dreams, for if dreams die/ life is like a bird with broken wings /and cannot fly!”

Then I would point to President Obama, the first Lady, and Dr. Cornel West, et al as examples of what they can become.  If the stay sober, set their standards high, and work like hell to achieve their goals.  I don’t know if Comrade Dix is a fool or a hustler – or both – but based on the things he is saying I have no doubt that he is one or the other.

Hence I shall do my best to counter his narrative that cast our youths as dead end kids before they ever attempt to realize their aspirations.  I want them to know that it is far easier to become a doctor, lawyer, scientist, architect, plumber, or President of the USA, than it is to be a successful Communist Revolutionary in America. O want to convince them that hey are not destined to end up a deluded old fool pushing a passé ideology, trying to rob the youths of their dreams!


Playthell Benjamin

Harlem, New York

April 11, 2011

Back From The Brink!

Posted in Playthell on politics, Uncategorized with tags , on April 9, 2011 by playthell

Harry Reid and John Boehner: Men in the Hot Seat

The nation narrowly avoided disaster last night when the House and Senate leaders finally hammered out a deal to prevent the shutdown of the federal government.  For impassioned ideologues on the left and right, the compromise they made to stave off the looming catastrophe at the eleventh hour is viewed as a sellout.  Predictably, the far right Tea Party faction in the Republican Party not only denounced the deal as a sellout, but has vowed to run an opponent against Speaker Boehner in his next primary election.  And Barack Obama will surely be cursed and denounced by the firebrands on the left, then burned in effigy and branded “The brown face of American imperialism by black “revolutionaries.”

But these are people who live in a fantasyland and thus cannot be taken seriously.  They are dreamers seeking a land of milk and honey where all their fantasies will come true and we will live happily ever after. Like religious people waiting for the return of the Messiah, these ideologues are serching for the “Promised Land.”  The problem is, they don’t quite know exactly where this Shangri La is located in the real world and they have no compass that can guide them on their misbegotten journey.  And in spite of their vitriolic mutual denunciations, the truth is that the impassioned ideologues on the left and right mirror each other.

Both are mindless bomb throwers who would impose their ideas on an electorate who are only concerned about achieving economic stability that will produce good jobs which pay a living wage.  They are totally uninterested in the ideological obsessions and grand visions of the “revolutionary” iconoclasts.  Most of the electorate is single mindedly fixated on how to pay their bills, keep food on the table, a roof over their heads, and have a few dollars left over to enjoy their common pleasures.  Bread and circuses!  And they will support anyone who can convince them they can provide those things.

In spite of all the hokum about the “wisdom of the people” that political operators of the left and right love to celebrate…I see no evidence of it.  In fact, the central message of the last congressional elections is that the masses of the American electorate are fairly clueless.  They voted by the millions against the things they said they wanted in opinion surveys.  I have written thoughtfully about this bizarre phenomenon. (See “On Our Dysfunctional Democracy” and “Triumph of the Untutored Mob!”)

The reality is that we are witnessing the fulfillment of Thomas Jefferson’s prescient warning that a participatory Democracy can’t work with an ignorant electorate because “they will elect and return the worst people to power.”  This explains why the Republicans were put back in charge of the House – from whence all revenue bills originate – only two years after they fucked the country up to the point that we were literally on the verge of economic collapse when Barack Obama took office.

However the leftist intellectuals who sit in the peanut gallery of American politics and throw ideological spitballs at the President seem oblivious to this fact.  They need to get their heads out of their asses long enough to recognize the political realities that President Obama and the Democrats are facing.  Everybody who wants to chime in with criticisms of the President’s politics should read the recent survey by Newsweek: “How Dumb Are We?”  The results of this scientifically sampled poll is shocking and disheartening, and should be a wake-up call to anyone who expects to win a majority of Americans over to some intellectually complicated Marxist based ideology…or anything that requires people to think beyond their most basic needs, ala satisfying their materialistic appetites.

For instance, the Newsweek survey showed that 29 percent of Americans couldn’t name the vice president. Seventy-three percent couldn’t correctly say why we fought the Cold War. Forty-four percent were unable to define the Bill of Rights. And 6 percent couldn’t even circle Independence Day on a calendar!  Need I say more?  This is the reality that President Obama is faced with. Aside from the persistent question of his race; which is a very big deal for millions of die hard white racists.   Let me remind you folks: Politics is the art of the possible!  Given the hand that the President was dealt, he has played the game of politics as well as a progressive politician can play it in America today.  Former Admiral and Congressman Joe Sestak is right when he says the reason a lot of the people in the Tea Party opposed the President’s health care program is because they just didn’t understand it!  It is certainly in their interests.

The fact that the Supreme Court ruled in the “Citizens United” case that corporations can give unlimited funds to the campaigns of their favorite politicians – who are nothing more than Republican shills for the plutocrats – which further complicates the President’s attempts to make the kind of progressive moves that he is committed to.  The arguments about money is no picayune matter; because the success or failure of political campaigns today have everything to do with a contender’s ability to get their message across to a mass audience.  Since most of the electorate has heads like empty blackboards upon which anything can be posted, whoever has the most access to them will win the day.  That’s why President Obama took the rare step of saying the Citizen’s United case was “wrongly decided” by the Supreme Court in his state Of the Union Address; prompting some justices to threaten a boycott against the President’s next speech.  It is also why he has set out to raise a billion dollars for his next campaign.

Added to the vast amount of political ads targeted at the untutored mostly white mob, many of whom joined the Tea Party – which was organized by corporate lobbyist and successfully passed off as a legitimate “grass roots movement – there are the verbal arsonists on WABC radio and the FOX Network: Limbaugh, Sanity, Beck and those lesser mugs who imitate them on local radio stations across the nation.  These talking who heads that stir up the racist untutored white mob and convinces them to vote against their own interests are a thorn in President Obama’s side; they have managed to convince the majority of Republicans that Barack Obama is not a true American because he was born in Africa.  And in spite of all efforts to show that this is untrue, you’ve got Donald Trump going around passionately arguing that the President’s birth records are fraudulent and leading all but one of the Republican Presidential contenders in the polls as a result.

Considering that the propaganda machine on the right has convinced millions of Americans that the President is some sort of Fascist/Communist/Islamic Arab who, as Trump has said, “pulled off the greatest con in history;” it is clear that they will support any opposition to President Obama’s efforts.  I think that some of them would love to see him assassinated!  And I have publicly accused Sean Hannity of trying to provoke it.  (See: “Playthell challenges White Racist Commentators” on YouTube) If I believed the shit Rush, and Glenn Beck say about him I’d want to off him myself.

Hence I believe all of the Obama bashing on the left gives aid and comfort to our enemies on the right and advance their causes.  The fact that the Left spends more time crying in their beer because “Barack The Magic Negro” can’t wave his wand and make all their dreams come true is an embarrassment at best and dangerous folly at worse.  Whenever they pull out their wish list they should remember the fact that there is an active and well funded opposition on the right who are out to destroy his presidency and thwart his agenda.  The challenge for the left, if they ever want to become something more than a hysterical debating society standing on the sideline talking shit, is to organize to Reelect the President, and to take the house back so that he will have a congress he can work with.  Put the brilliant and wildly effective Nancy Pelosi back in the Speaker’s chair!!  The alternative is to give the entire government back to the Republicans.  We have already seen how that will work out.  This is the choice…all else is spurious fantasy and dangerous bullshit!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

The crisis we just averted was only the first skirmish…the real fight s are just ahead…The Ryan budget Proposal that calls for 6 trillion dollars in cuts to the federal budget, and the vote to raise the US government debt ceiling…which if not raised on time will be an even bigger disaster than the government shutdown.  The way President Obama handled the present flirtation with disaster is one of the finest examples of states craft I have ever seen…by arguably the most able and skillful politician in American history!  While the militants on the left, and assorted black nationalists, anarchists and other fringe groups would prefer that the President tell the Republicans to kiss his brilliant black ass and let the government come tumbling down, Barack finessed the best agreement he could get and came out of the fray looking like the wise father who has successfully negotiated a truce between squabbling children.

The Voice Of Reason

The most skillful politician in American history?

I’ll bet his ratings soar above those of either party in congress, and this will give him the political clout he will desperately need to take the Republicans on about the larger issues looming on the horizon.  He has successfully managed to come out of this donnybrook looking like the most reasonable man in the American government.  And that, my people, is a good thing: a very good thing indeed, because he has won the undecided voters and they, not the Tea Party fanatics, will make the difference in the next elections.  Bravo Barack…world class stuff!!  A jolly good show!!!



Playthell Benjamin

Harlem New York

April 9, 2011

Man on a Tight Rope!

Posted in Playthell on politics with tags , , , , on April 7, 2011 by playthell

Headed for a Shutdown?

John Boehner is a caught between the Devil and the deep blue sea.  He knows that should the intransigence of the Republican majority in the house cause a shutdown of the government on Friday it will be widely viewed as evidence that the majority leader can’t control his caucus.   He can also take no comfort from his knowledge of the fate that befell Newt Gingrich, the last Republican leader who caused a shutdown of the Federal Government and virtually assured the reelection of Bill Clinton.  Beyond these unpleasant facts there is the very real possibility that the majority of the electorate will finally conclude that the Republicans simply cannot govern because they hate government. That is certainly my position; I have been arguing this for some time. Hence I believe that, being the sober political horse trader that he is in his heart of hearts, Speaker Boehner wants to make a deal as desperately as a drowning man wants a lifeline.

Alas, as I have noted elsewhere, the Republicans struck a Faustian bargain with the Tea Party fanatics in order to gain a majority in congress; now the monster they created has come back to devour them.  That certainly seemed to be the case when Speaker Boehner emerged from the white House meeting with the President today and started talking like he had lost his mind.  Surely the Devil made him do it!   That’s the only other thing I can think of that would make him flirt with the disastrous option of shutting down the national government because they can’t have their way.  After all, that’s how spoiled kids behave when they stomp down sand castles because they didn’t get what they wanted.  We have a right to expect something different and something more from our statesmen.

The position of the Grand Obstructionist Party is that although they control neither the Senate nor the White House, they are still going to impose their will through their ability to obstruct the government from doing the people’s business.  Dr. Rachel Maddow on MSNBC – whose nightly program is a treasure trove of vital information that citizens must know in order to make intelligent decisions – showed a wide variety of Right Wing Republicans telling their constituents in no uncertain terms that they plan to shut down the government if the Democratic Senate and the White House do not acquiesce to their draconian cuts.  For people who are always going around quoting the Constitution, the Republicans appear not to understand, or accept, that our government was designed to require compromise and consensus – a point the militant professional left does not appear to understand either.

The Country Club Republicans understand this well enough, but the Tea Party crowd is clueless. These militant airheads – who know as much about American history as Sarah Palin and Michele Bachman – consider compromise treason; and have taken fanatical hard line positions from which they refuse to budge.  They have even threatened not to raise the debt ceiling; this would be an unmitigated disaster!    If the US government defaults on its debt obligations the entire international finance system will collapse, creating a worldwide depression and ending economic recovery at home.

President Obama has presided over the myriad crises he inherited from eight years of Bush league rule with Solomonic wisdom, consummate political skill and compassion, but he has been opposed every step of the way by the Republicans, who employed some of the dirtiest tactics in the history of American politics.  Yet from the poll results it does not appear that millions of Americans have any idea what he has achieved on behalf of the nation.  This is explains how they could vote in a Republican controlled congress that made Texas Congressman John Doe Chairman of the Energy Committee that oversees the oil industry. This is the same man who called the $20 billion dollar clean-up fund President Obama demanded that BP establish to compensate those who were injured by the Gulf oil rig explosion, and the disastrous spill that resulted, “a Chicago style shakedown” and apologized to the management of British Petroleum.  It was such a shameless act of contempt for the public interests that the CEO of BP quickly disassociated himself from the Congressman’s comment!

Clearly the Congressional election results have emboldened the Republican ideologues on the radical right, who take this as a sign that they can get away with a frontal assault on the public interests under the guise of “getting big government off our backs.”  In spite of the persistent attacks on President Obama about his inability to solve the unemployment problem, the Republicans have not made job creation a major priority; beyond cutting taxes to wealthy individuals and giant multi-national corporations – measures that President Obama was forced to go along with or witness millions of economically desperate unemployed workers lose their benefits – they have offered no plans for job growth.  Their solution to everything is to cut taxes and let the magic of the “free market” do its thing; despite the fact that there is no evidence that this policy works, and none of the leading economist – including two Nobel Laureates -believe it will work.

On the other hand, what is incontestably true is that the measures proposed by Republicans will result in the lost of several hundred thousand jobs by people who are now gainfully employed performing vital work in the public sector.  Even a cursory glance at the proposed cuts to the federal budget offered up by the Grand Obstructionist Party will reveal that they are guided by ideological obsessions rather than economic imperatives.  There is no sound economic evidence that would suggests cutting government spending and throwing people out of work in a recession, where a low demand for goods and services is the root cause of economic stagnation, spurs economic recovery.  Yet when speaker Boehner was asked about the fate of fired workers he said if they lost their jobs “So be it!”

The most reliable model we have for dealing with this recession is that which brought us out of the Great Depression of the 1930’s.  This policy was called “Keynesian economics,” in recognition of the British economist John Maynard Keynes who was its author.  This policy holds that in an economic recession brought on by the recurrent crisis in capitalism the government must become the “employer of last resort.”  This policy kills two birds with one stone – unemployment and lack of demand – and gets money circulating within the domestic economic, which is essential to jump starting the economy.  Although this model has a record of success that is well known to historians and economists, the Republicans prefer the Laffer Curve, which holds that all financial breaks and subsidies should go to the wealthy because only they possess the wisdom to create jobs.

They gave this spurious ahistorical theory the name “Supply Side Economics,” which is just a high falutin term for the old “trickle down” theory of economics.  “Supply Side Economics” was introduced by Ronnie Reagan, a man once called “an amiable dunce” by the powerful Washington Lawyer and former cabinet member in the Carter Administration Clarke Clifford.  And as the Republican strategist and statistician Kevin Phillips, who helped elect Reagan, would later conclude: Reagan’s economic policies resulted in the most dramatic transfer of wealth from the poor to the rich in American history! It also created the largest deficit in history!  Yet this nonsense persists in spite of the lack of any evidence that such policies will work – and the fate of the nation hangs in the balance!

There is every reason to believe the current budget that Republicans are proposing would produce the same results as the Reagan Administration at best; or the even more disastrous results of the recently departed Bushmen and lead to the impoverishment of even more Americans.  Furthermore the Republican budget – in which the principle interest of the Republicans is to use the Federal budget to nullify liberal policies that are now law – will seriously injure the public interests.  For instance they propose to eviscerate or eliminate Head Start, Planned Parenthood, the Environmental Protection Agency, Pell Grants to assist college students and National Public Radio.  Furthermore they want to repeal President Obama’s historic health care legislation by defunding it and also defund the enforcement of the new financial regulation laws.  The fact that the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office has estimated that the President’s health care plan will save the government 130 billion over the next decade, and repeal will cost $230 billion, has been dismissed by the Republican shills for the filth rich, should be a wake-up call to everybody who cares about affordable health care.

All the programs that serve the working folks that the Republicans have put on the chopping block comprise a miniscule portion of the Federal government’s budget, especially when compared to the wasteful military budget.  This fact is well understood by all political factions; yet it is ignored by the warmongering Republican ideologues.  The Republican vision for America is a country where everything is privately owned, unorganized workers are held hostage to the whims, prejudices and quirks of their employers, and waging endless wars based on the flawed dangerous theory of “American Exceptionalism.”  This scenario may well be a wet dream for hawkish right wing Plutocrats, but for most Americans it portends a bleak future indeed.

Yet in the final analysis this is a disaster that Americans have made for themselves.  Looking at what the Republicans plan for the working people of this country – which is most of us when we can find a job – it ought to be clear to even fuzzy headed black intellectuals like some of those who met recently at the “Black Agenda” conference, that only President Obama and the Senate Democrats stand between the Republican ideologues and disaster for the broad masses of the American people.  It does not require exceptional intellect, extensive academic training, or a novelist’s imagination to envision what a nightmare life in America would be had John McCain and Sarah Palin – the Mack Man and Silly Sarah – won the White House and enjoyed a Congressional majority.  We need only take a look at the budget proposals of Congressman Ryan, a wild eyed fanatic from Wisconsin who Chairs the House Budget Committee and wants to cut six trillion dollars from the President’s budget – to get a glimpse of the twisted vision of the GOP’s contract on working Americans, as well as it’s assaults on all attempts to rescue our endangered natural environment.

Congressman Ryan: A wild eyed fanatic!

When compared to this gang it should be relatively easy to recognize that the American people have been given a great gift in President Obama – a smart, deeply humane, visionary, and remarkably productive politician.   That is why I routinely dismiss the persistent bitching and moaning from pampered bourgeois black academics, armchair revolutionaries with no experience in actual struggle, clueless white paternalists on the liberal left; militant Marxists and pseudo-Marxists, black nationalists suffering from rejection anxiety, and other do-nothing obscurantist with diarrhea of the mouth. If the whiney ineffective debating society on the Left fucks around with their heads stuck up their assholes believing that Barack Obama is the enemy, and let the Republicans take the White House and the Senate in 2014, it will really be crying time for the working classes.

Unfortunately, the old axiom “A people will eventually get the government they deserve” is proving true for the people of the US.  They keep voting in the Grand Obstructionist Party, no matter how bad they screw up. It’s as if they are a tribe of Rip Van Winkle’s, who have slept through the history of the last 40 years. The present Republican budget plan is clearly an assault on the public interests and the working classes – here I am talking about white collar workers too. The Republican contempt for the public interest is being clearly expressed in the policies they are trying to enact, and the Tea Party faction is so fanatical that Speaker Boehner looks like a man on a tight rope trying to manage the Republican caucus.  Clearly, anything can happen.   Although many white workers are crying about how things are working out for them now…judging by the way they voted a few months ago, it is fair to say: They asked for it!




Playthell Benjamin

Harlem, New York

April 7, 2011

On Donald the Clown!

Posted in Playthell on politics with tags , , on April 4, 2011 by playthell

The Loud mouthed Jackass who would be king


A Triumph Of Vulgar Materialism?

Recently one of the night time comedians put up pictures of American businessman Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jung Ill and asked: “which one of these guys has the strangest haircut?”  It was close; six on the one hand and a half dozen on the other, as my grandfather used to say.  Both of them are some silly looking buffoons!    But that’s not all these two mugs have in common: both are megalomaniacal autocrats; both are bullies; both live in vulgar opulence while many of their countrymen are engaged in a Darwinian struggle to put bread on the table; and both are enamored with celebrities in the entertainment world.  The biggest difference between them is that one is the head of a government and the other it’s not.  And we must do all that we can to keep it that way!

Who’s got the Silliest Haircut

The Donald                                                Kim Jung Ill

Although there is every reason to believe that the promise of a Trump Presidential campaign is a cynical hoax by the biggest hype artist since P.T. Barnum, with no higher purpose than self- aggrandizement, Donald’s cry for attention is further polluting the standing cesspool of Republican political rhetoric.  Trump is appealing to the oldest of American prejudices: nativism and racism.  By making an issue of the place of Barack Obama’s birth, thus calling into question the legitimacy of his Presidency, Donald the Clown is tapping into the racist rage of the clueless clowns on the Republican right; where 50% of  the Party believes that our President was born in Kenya!  This is dangerous stuff; trump is playing with dynamite.    Especially in the crude way that he is going about it.  Not only is it the sort of tasteless ignorant prattle that should disqualify anyone form serious consideration for the US presidency, it could incite unstable racist to violence.

The question we need to ask ourselves is what does it tell us about the character of contemporary American society that and odoriferous scoundrel and pugnacious poseur like Donald Trump could be considered presidential material?   A pompous plutocrat with no record of public service – in or out government – the only thing Donald trump has to run on is his fame and his fortune, which according to several savvy business observers is grossly exaggerated.

For instance, Trump filed a lawsuit against Timothy O’Brien, the author of “Trump Nation: The Art of Being the Donald, because the crack investigative reporter argued that “The Donald’ is not a multi-billionaire, in fact he’s not a billionaire at all.  O’Brien estimates that Trump’s fortune is somewhere between 150 and 250 thousand dollars.   When Trump could produce no documentary evidence to support his extravagant claims that he was worth around five billion, he said the difference between his verifiable evidence and his claims was based on the value of his brand!

By which he means the Trump name.  However many financial analyst argue that his name is in fact Trumps most valuable asset, because it allows him to shill for real business organizations by renting out his name to projects for a fee.  But even if his fortune was what he said it is, that does not qualify him to be President. The fact that many Americans find Trump’s assets, such as they are, to be sufficient qualifications to represent this nation in the most powerful office in the world, verifies the prophetic nature of Dr. WEB DuBois’ warning in 1903.

As the American industrial revolution matured and the new robber barons were dubbed “Captains of Industry,” they became the nation’s role models and worship of wealth became a civic religion.  Writing in a 1903 essay titled “On the Wings of Atlanta,” Dr. Dubois warned that the worship of wealth was sweeping aside all other values, and if that trend continued there would come a time when wealth would be considered the cure for everything in the minds of Americans.  Dr. Dubois’ prognosis about the moral corruption and confusion resulting from the mindless and obscene worship of money was echoed in the observations of his fellow Afro-American sociologist, and Howard University Dean, Kelly Miller.

Comparing the leadership styles of the great abolitionist Frederick Douglass, Miller observed: Douglass lived in a time of moral giants, when men revered the golden rule.  Washington lives in an age of Merchant princes, who are only concerned with the rule of gold.    Douglass had passed away earlier in 1895, before Washington gave his famous speech at “The World Exposition Of Cotton Growing States,” which DuBois called “The Atlanta Compromise” because Washington bartered away hard won Civil Rights for black Americans in exchange for them being able to fully participate in America’s economy and bring an end to the murderous reign of white terror directed against African Americans.  This single speech made Booker T. Washington Douglass’ successor as the spokesman for black Americans in the eyes of the white males that ruled the nation.

Although DuBois admired Washington’s devotion to uplifting the masses of blacks in America, who had only recently emerged from slavery, he was skeptical of Washington’s vision of the education of black Americans.  Hence in his seminal essay “Of Mr. Booker T. Washington and Others,” he observed that while Washington’s rise to power was the most spectacular development in southern history since the end of the Civil War, he attributed his success to being in step with the Zeitgeist- the spirit of his times.  In a nation of triumphant capitalism he observed: “Washington preaches a gospel of work and money.”  Dubois went on to observe: “If you teach a people to only make money you will produce money makers but not men!”

Alas, this is what all education is becoming, as corporate money increasingly shapes the research priorities of Americas great universities; lavishly funding their chosen academic programs while starving the humanities.  And many of our best and brightest students are no longer majoring in science and industrial engineering – which made the twentieth century the “American century” – but are concentrating in finance and flocking to Wall Street in the hope of making a fortune manipulating paper in a burlesque of an economy whose manufacturing base continues to shrink like a two dollar shirt!

In such an economic environment a morally handicapped vain braggart like Donald Trump becomes a role model to be widely emulated.  This is the consequence of the worship of personal wealth, and the preoccupation with “the rule of gold” Miller and Dubois  observed at the dawning of the twentieth century.  The trend they identified over a century ago – which I think is an indication of the onset of decadence – has intensified to the point that we are once again living in an era when Plutocracy – the domination of the nations’ affairs by the rich – is ascendant. The emergence of “Donald the Clown” as a presidential prospect – despite his shallow understanding of politics and macro-economics, plus an appalling lack of personal integrity – is irrefutable evidence that the triumph of vulgar materialism in America is complete!




Playthell Benjamin

Harlem, New York

April 4, 2011