Archive for June, 2011

On The Fog of War

Posted in On Foreign Affairs, On War and Peace in the Mid East!, Playthell on politics with tags , , on June 30, 2011 by playthell
Caught in a Quagmire: Dammed if he do and Damned if he don’t!


No Easy Way Out of Iraq and Afghanistan

It was clear from his solemn and tortured attempt to explain the complexities of American policy in Afghanistan that President Obama is trapped between “a rock and a hard place.” On the one hand he is confronted with the “get out now whatever the cost crowd” on the left, and the chicken hawks on the right who will accept nothing short of “victory.”  Even if nobody has any idea what victory looks like.

Theirs is a world view that will lead to perpetual war, which in the present era of American diplomacy has tragically become our modus operandi.  It is clear from all that we know of President Obama’s long held beliefs about what constitutes an ideal world, and America’s place in it, that he would like all of the wars to just go away.  I have no doubt that in his heart of hearts he would love to “beat our swords into plow shares and study war no more!”

But then there are the realities of the international order and American national interests and security.  As President of the United States, the burden of crafting policies to address these vital issues falls squarely upon the shoulders of Barack Obama.  And his paramount objective must always be to do what he deems in the best interest of the USA. That’s what virtually all Americans demand – this writer included.

Naturally, there are going to be differences of opinion as to how this is best achieved.  As is his fashion, “No Drama Obama” is trying to steer a middle course between the two extremes of packing up and leaving right now – “declaring victory and going home” as Kissinger advised Nixon on Vietnam – or waging an endless war.  Yet there is no comfort zone to be found in the middle: with the left denouncing him as a war monger and the right accusing him of caving in to the enemy; thus betraying the soldiers who were wounded or killed in these conflicts.

The President has wisely ignored both extremes as he struggles to find the best way out the Mid-East quagmires. The ideologues on the left must understand that in the world of realpolitique there are often no ideal solutions to complex problems.  And whatever disagreements we may have with President Obama, a Republican takeover of the government would result in policies – foreign and domestic – that would be infinitely worse!  This is the reality we face.

It is enough to hear their constant mantra imploring the President to defer to the opinions of the Generals in making his decision as to when he should withdraw American forces for Iraq and Afghanistan, in order to get a pretty good idea of the mess we would be in if the Republicans controlled the Presidency.

In spite of their constant exaltation of the US Constitution, it’s all talk.  Most of them who shout the loudest don’t really know that much about what the constitution actually provides.  And it does not appear that they have a clue as to why the Founding Fathers placed the military firmly under the President’s control; who the Constitution defines as the Commander-In-Chief of the armed forces.

It is clear that the architects of the Constitution intended to prevent a military caste from seizing control of the instruments of state power.  They were prescient enough to see that military rule would be disastrous because, among other undesirable features, the Generals could declare war.  And as the late great French Prime Minister Georges Clemenceau observed: War is too serious a matter to entrust to military men.”

What this statement means in essence is that war involves the entire society, most directly through military conscription and the great expenditures it requires; therefore the decision to wage war should be made by the representatives of the people not professional soldiers.  To place such power in the hands of Generals is like putting the hawk in charge of the chicken coop.  It is folly to ask military leaders if they believe they can win a war!  What can you reasonably expect them to say?

After all the billions the nation has spent on military hardware and paying a standing army; plus the endless training and practicing of war scenarios, when it come to the real thing you expect them to admit that they can’t bust the grape?  It goes against everything we understand about human nature.  It is a matter of professional pride to accomplish the mission.  And it is especially galling when the enemy is a rag tag band of “towel head camel drivers.”

The leaders on the US military will never admit to defeat at the hands of so inferior a military power.  That’s why to suggest that the President allow them to decide when we should end a conflict without accomplishing the mission, especially after so much blood and treasure has been wasted, would be a spineless abdication of the President’s constitutional prerogatives as commander-In-Chief. Yet the Republicans are more than willing to genuflect before the military brass.  And we will be perpetually at war if they are in charge.

Although he has been solicitous of the General’s views, and respectful of their advice, this President does not appear to be willing to abdicate his Constitutional powers over the military; and that’s very good news. So all of the hysterical chatter on the left, in which people are threatening not to support President Obama and the Democrats in the next election, is just so much mindless fiddle/faddle.

If you can’t live with the Democrats you will surely die under the Republicans; we must hang together or we will hang separately!   If anything is certain it is that this nation will go bankrupt if we keep pouring hundreds of billions down the sink hole of foreign wars. The American electorate is becoming conscious of the fact that while we are firing thousands of school teachers and other vital public servants, and the infrastructure of the nation is crumbling all around us, we are squandering the nation’s wealth on futile adventures in strange lands.

Hence I am opposed to continued American involvement in foreign military expeditions.  I opposed the Bush invasion of Iraq – See “The Prophetic Commentary on Iraq,” and I have called for the US to withdraw from Afghanistan – See “It’s Time to Quit Afghanistan” – and I argued against the Libyan intervention.  Not that I don’t think that Mummar Ghadafy is a murderous madman who ought to be toppled; I just don’t think that we can afford another war – see “On Operation Odyssey Dawn.”

As for the arguments of the left that the NATO force that is presently supporting the Libyan rebels is just another example of  “Western Imperialism,” or the hysterical Black Nationalist claim that “Obama is bombing Africa!, it is irrefutable proof of their moral and intellectual bankruptcy.  The “imperialism” motive is irrational, since the leaders who are being overthrown are the clients of the West!

And the suggestion that western intelligence forces are directing the mass uprisings that constitute the “Arab Spring” reeks of cultural chauvinism and perhaps racism.  It reminds me of nothing so much as the white racist rednecks in Florida who said “communist” were fomenting the Civil Rights Movement!  It is the same sort of thing,


However the thing that disturbed me about the President’s speech is his conception of America’s role in the world.  “Already this decade of war has caused many to question the nature of America’s engagement around the world.” He tells us.  “Some would have America retreat from our responsibility as an anchor of global security, and embrace an isolation that ignores the very real threats that we face.  Others would have America over-extended, confronting every evil that can be found abroad.”  To many Americans this sounds like a perfectly reasonable position, and when compared to the attitudes of the Republican candidates for President it seems like Solomonic wisdom.

These pugnacious Republicans are committed to endless foreign wars in a futile attempt to maintain the Pax-Americana envisioned by the neo-con crowd from the Project for a New American Century that seized control of American foreign policy when George Bush panicked after the 9/11 disaster.  When I listen to the Tim Pawlenty, Mitt Romney, Michelle Bachman or Rick Santorum talk I here echoes of the foreign policy prescriptions outlined in the comprehensive PNC policy paper “Redesigning America’s Defenses,” which served as the blueprint for getting us into the disastrous war of choice in Iraq, and the deepening quagmire in Afghanistan.

On the other hand, President Obama is much more restrained in his ambitions and would eschew the promiscuous deployment of American’s armed forces.  “We must chart a more centered course” he argues.  “Like generations before, we must embrace America’s singular role in the course of human events.  But we must be as pragmatic as we are passionate; as strategic as we are resolute.

When threatened, we must respond with force –- but when that force can be targeted, we need not deploy large armies overseas.  When innocents are being slaughtered and global security endangered, we don’t have to choose between standing idly by or acting on our own.  Instead, we must rally international action, which we’re doing in Libya, where we do not have a single soldier on the ground, but are supporting allies in protecting the Libyan people and giving them the chance to determine their own destiny. “

However I believe that even this vision is far to ambitious, and it shows the difficulty we face in changing the pattern of American interventionism that characterized American foreign policy in the twentieth century, when the US engaged in over 100 military incursions in foreign countries and many covert actions designed to shape the politics of other nations – including assassinations of foreign leaders with whose policies we disagreed.

If anything is certain, it is that this nation cannot afford to continue the role of planetary policeman.  We cannot afford it.  Since the greatest threat to American security is economic stagnation and a crumbling infrastructure, which threatens our internal peace and stability, it is imperative that we re-imagine our role in the world and radically revise our priorities.

If we devised a foreign policy more like that of China, which is based on non-interference in the internal affairs of other nations, instead of the evangelicalism the presently characterize our foreign policy, we could reduce our military budget dramatically.  My goal would be to cut it by half!   If we envisioned our military forces as primarily for the defense of our homeland we could close all of the bases in foreign countries.  The cold war is long over; do why do we still maintain bases in Europe and Asia?  These bases are the signature of empire; it is reminiscent of the Roman Empire in the age of Pax Romana, when ‘all roads led to Rome.”

Like the US Empire, the Romans did not generally colonize countries like the modern European colonists who occupied and governed other peoples.  Rather they forced weaker nations to concede territory on which the Romans could build military bases.  Then they imposed Rome’s will on the ancient world from those military installations, just like the US did in the twentieth century – as the great British historian, Dr. Arnold Toynbee, was fond of pointing out. The weight of empire, the cost of trying to rule the world, helped to hasten the fall of Rome and will lead to the decline of America as the supreme power in the world if we continue down the path of continuous wars in foreign countries.

Fortunately President Obama understands this, but even he seems unable to envision a time when the US will no longer be the “anchor of global security.” That’s how he blundered into Libya, propelled by the intention of setting things right.  It is critical that we withdraw our soldiers from all of the present conflicts and return them to their barracks for our own good.  This is clear enough for any intelligent observer to see….unless your vision is clouded by the fog of war.


Playthell G. Benjamin

Harlem, New York

June 30, 2011

Chain Of Fools!

Posted in Playthell on politics with tags , , , on June 21, 2011 by playthell

 Leader Of the Pack


Why the Republican Party Can’t Solve Unemployment

Well, the Republicans have now provided the nation with our first opportunity to hear from the candidates from which an opponent will be selected to run against President Obama in 2012.  If there were not an epidemic of ignorance engulfing our country just now I’d say they are all sacrificial lambs.  Only which lamb to be slaughtered would remain in question. They all made stiff, unimaginative, silly speeches that were entirely predictable for anyone who has been paying attention to what the Grand Obstructionist Party has been up to; especially since President Obama has been President.  Although they seem not to have noticed; they exposed themselves as the enemy of workers; indifferent to the sick; contemptuous of the poor, and hostile to the public interests.  I cannot imagine a more clueless and insulting bunch of pretenders to the Oval office.

It is astonishing that a major American political party could put forth candidates with the “let them eat cake” positions of these pompous, verbose, buffoons while the country is experiencing a widespread economic crisis that has millions of good, law abiding, patriotic American citizens – many of whom are combat veterans from the Bush wars – on the brink of desperation.  It convincingly demonstrates that these people are such slaves to wacky rightwing ideology that they are badly misreading the real concerns of the majority of Americans. 

The economic rhetoric of the Republican candidates for the Presidency begs the question as to whether they really understand economic realities and the type of policies needed to address the crisis that we are presently experiencing. The first thing they obviously do not understand is that millions of Americans are not going to settle for a life of quiet desperation, constantly struggling against hunger and homelessness.  After listening to the statistics on the increasing disparity in the distribution of wealth on a recent episode of MSNBC’s Morning Joe, Micah Berezniki wondered bewilderingly if this country will degenerate into class warfare.

It has long been my position that we are already in a state of class war; it’s just that the rich are the only one’s fighting.  Let’s consider the opinions of the two frontrunners: Mitt and Michelle.  What are we to make of Mitt Romney’s position on the auto-industry for instance?  When confronted with the fact that theUS auto industry is now flourishing when he had predicted in a New York Times Op-ED that President Obama’s policies would bankrupt the auto industry, Mitt continued to insist that Obama had failed because he should have forced the auto-makers to go through bankruptcy proceedings.  Mitt cared not a whit that up to three million people could have lost their livilihoods, so long as it destroyed the United Auto Workers!

How can a rational person pursue such an argument and yet claim to be a patriot who cares about the future of this country?  The auto industry represents the last bastion of the American manufacturing sector that was once the most innovative and productive in the world!  Mitt justifies this reckless and cold blooded position by arguing that bankruptcy would have allowed the company to abrogate their contracts with the United Auto Workers.  And he described President Obama’s successful rescue of the industry using government funds to purchase the auto-companies a giveaway to the UAW. 

If this ain’t open class warfare the pope ain’t Catholic and the Mittster ain’t reading The Book Of Mormon!   These are arguments for morons; their only importance is in demonstrating that the Republicans believe their constituents are imbeciles. And judging by the economic demographics of the most far right segment of the party – poor whites voting anti-union plutocrats and their lackey’s into office, enabling them to control the government  and use the power of the state to drive a stake through the heart of their dreams – they are right in their belief alas!

But the Grand Obstructionist Party is playing with dynamite. The people voted for Barack Obama because they thought he had the solution to their problems…the salve for their pain, which was caused by Republican mismanagement of the economy.  If they switch their votes to Mitt, or some other Republican dunderhead, they are bound to be disappointed.  For they will never receive the relief they are desperately seeking and things will plunge downhill fast for the working class.  The economic policies the Republicans are proposing are reckless to the point of criminality. 

They have sworn not to raise the ceiling on the national debt unless the President accedes to their ideologically driven demands, which would eviscerate government programs that are critical to the life’s chances of many Americans.  Rather than putting the financial security of theUS first, they are driven by far right ideological dogma and have threatened to bring down the world financial system through an American default.  Mitt Romney, who wants us to take him seriously, says he is willing to let the nation default if they can’t get their way.  Even though he knows that to sell American government bonds after the default will cost the tax payers hundreds of millions more in interests.

That’s a crazy as Michelle Bachman’s declaration that she is for a Constitutional Amendment banning gay marriage but then contradicts herself: “I would not go into the states and tell them what to do,”   It would be hard to find a bigger bunch of boobs anywhere. Michelle Bachman argued in defense of laws forcing women to give birth conceived in rape or incest!  A former corporate tax attorney she is viscerally opposed to taxing corporations while posing as a friend and advocate of the working class.  and while denouncing President Obama’s health care plan as the epitome of the much maligned “socialism” she recently wrote a letter to Obama’s Secretary of agriculture praising the Administration for intervening into the pork market by buying up a lot of the meat in order to stabalize the price of pork!

This is as clear an example of hypocrisy as one is likely to find in public life.  This crazy paleface talks out of both sodes of her mouth sayng different things at the same time.  She speaks with forked tongue!  Although Bachman is well educated on paper, every time I hear her talk it supplies further evidence that the liberal philosophy of education has failed.  Here I am talking about the broad based education in the humanities guided by reason and science, which was supposed to make people think!  Instead the scientific method has been replaced by a slavish devotion to ideology.  Newt Gingrich is a classic case in point: he has perverted the historian’s profession with shameless sophistry; confused prattle about “Freedom” being a function of “Free Markets.” 

 A Political chameleon that constantly changes colors

 This charlatan hasn’t a prayer of becoming President

 The truth is that the Republican economic plan cannot possibly work!  This is because they have so badly misdiagnosed the problem that the cure will surely turn out to exacerbate the disease. The most obvious flaw in the Republican prescription for curing the economic maladies presently crippling theUS economic system is that it is the same economic approach employed by George Bush.  The major features of their economic  policy – if we can flatter such nonsense with the term – is to cut taxes to corporations even more, retain the Bush tax cuts that gave  a windfall of hundreds of Billions to the rich, and no regulation of the Wall Street Robber Barons who recently plundered the economy and almost brought the world financial system down. 

The Republican takeover of the House of Representatives in the last election has put them in charge of the public purse, and they have refused to fund the new regulatory agency whose role is to prevent the kind of wild and often barely legal speculations that wrecked the economy and drove the nation to the brink of collapse just a couple of years ago.  All of these measures will make the rich richer if they don’t smash up the economic system like they did before when the economy went into a free fall.  But these policies cannot solve the problem of unemployment, because they fail to address the root causes of the crisis.  The Republicans present a simple – actually simple minded – analysis of the economy that amount to little more than right-wing dogma.  They argue that further cuts in the corporate tax rate will spur new investment in the economy and presto millions of new jobs will appear.

However the corporate sector is already enjoying record profits, with an estimated two trillion dollars in their coffers.  But they are not investing it in the American economy.   This is why we have a jobless recovery.  The old model of boom and bust business cycles that saw employment rise during an economic boom and decrease during the periodic recessions is a thing of the past. The causes of today’s unemployment figures are structural; which means that it is due to changes in the structure of the economy that has eliminated the jobs formerly held by unemployed workers.  This situation is not just the result of impersonal economic forces, but the consequences of decisions made by businessmen in their amoral efforts to maximize profits.  This explains why the economy is back to the same level of productivity as before the “Great Recession” – which, according to the economist, have been officially over for two years – but has accomplished this with seven million fewer workers!

A front page story in the New York Times of June 10, 2011 explains how this was achieved.  Titled Companies Spend on Equipment Not Workers, we are told, “Workers are getting more expensive while equipment is getting cheaper, and the combination is encouraging companies to spend on machines rather than people.”   Among the people who were interviewed for the article was Dan Mishek, the managing director of Vista Technologies, a company located in Minnesota.  Mishek told the Times “I want to have as few people touching our products as possible.  Everything should be as automated as can be.  We just can’t afford to compete with countries like China on labor costs, especially when workers are getting even more expensive.” 

This is a telling and frightening admission; it portends the bleak future facing the American working class.  Although they have managed to disguise their true position in the American economy, middle class white collar workers are beginning to discover that they are increasingly vulnerable to the phenomenon of economic “Globalism.”  This is because the internet has obliterated the obstacles of time and space that kept their jobs safe. However it is blue collar workers whose livelihood is rapidly disappearing in real time.  “Since the recovery began,” says the Times, “businesses spending on employees has grown 2 percent as equipment and software spending has swelled 26 percent, according to the Commerce Department.”  The Times goes on to tell us “A capital rebound that sharp and a labor rebound that slow have been recorded only once before.”

The Times writer, Ms. Catherine Rampell, observes, “With equipment prices dropping, and tax incentives to subsidize capital investments, these trends seem likely to continue.”  Dean Maki, the chief United States economist at Barclay’s Capital is quoted with the following assessment of the situation: “Firms are just responding to incentives.  And capital has gotten much cheaper than labor.”  The article goes on to show that “equipment and software has dipped 2.4 percent since the recovery began, thanks largely to foreign manufacturing, labor costs on the other hand, have risen 6.7 percent.” 

The upshot of all this is that American companies, despite record profits and abundant cash reserves, are not interested in hiring American workers.  “Many of the companies that are considering hiring say they are scared off by future costs of health care and other benefits.,” says the Times article.  However a single payer national health care system would remove that fear, but the Republicans are passionately opposed to such a program and mislabel it a “job killer.”

The attitudes expressed by people interviewed for this solidly reported article all point to a bleak future for American workers without massive public works projects to rebuild the nation’s infrastructure, plus well funded research and development to create an innovative new “green economy” which will produce millions of new jobs, and massive investment in education to produce an American work force that can compete in an increasingly technologically sophisticated global marketplace.  Only the government can undertake a project of this sort.  Just like building the Transcontinental Railroad, the Atomic Bomb, the Interstate Highway System, The Space Program, Boulder Dam, etc. 

The private corporate sector cannot accomplish this and to continue to promote them as the only solution to the protracted economic crisis in America is a prescription for disaster on a scale that we have never witnessed in this country.  It is a formula for the decline of American civilization as an economic and scientific leader in the world.  Just consider the implications of this statement by a top corporate executive: “I dread the process we have to go through when we want to bring somebody on.  When we have a job posting these days, we get a flurry of resumes from people who are not qualified at all: people with misspellings on their resumes who have never been in the industry and want a career move…It’s a huge distraction to sort through all those.”  And these are the people unemployed workers are counseled to turn to?  It is all a cruel hoax! 

Perhaps the comment that workers ought to pay closest attention to was made by Dr. Claudia Goldin, an economics Professor at Harvard, “If you’re doing something that can be written down in a programmatic, algorithmic manner, you’re going to be substituted for quickly.”  And the times writer observes “To add insult to injury, much of the equipment used to replace American workers is made by workers abroad, meaning that capital spending is going overseas.”  Ironically, all of this was predicted by James Boggs over fifty years ago in his prescient book “The American Revolution: Pages from a Negro Worker’s Notebook.” 

James Boggs: Proletarian Prophet

With wife and Collaborator Dr. Grace Lee Boggs

Boggs was a genuine working class intellectual; he was based in Detroit and worked on the assembly line at an auto plant.  From this vantage point, armed with Marxist theory and a free thinking disposition, he predicted the “cybernation” of America’s economy and the elimination of millions of manufacturing jobs.  Boggs argued that Americans were going to have to accept that there were going to be people who are permanently shut out of the work force because the economy would not generate enough jobs.  And then the true character of our civilization will be put to a test. 

That time has arrived; however it is even worse than Boggs had imagined because today’s American worker is not only facing a loss of work through the spread of technology, but they must also compete with workers all over the globe, many of whom are living in a kind of industrial serfdom.  This means that American workers must be willing to give up many of the gains they have won over the last century just to get a job.  Boggs also argued that instead of a conflict between labor and capital as Marx had predicted, we will witness a fight between the employed and the unemployed for the scarce work that exist.  This is where we are in America today…and Republican economic policies can only make things worse!

Bachman: Just Another Ditzy Corporate Shill?

 Or Crazy Like a Fox?



Playthell Benjamin

Harlem, New York

June 21. 2011            

Some Reflections on Fatherhood

Posted in Cultural Matters on June 20, 2011 by playthell


 My Mother Queen Elizabeth, My Son, Me and My Daughter 1993

Song for My Father

Sorry I didn’t get a chance to know you

Alas, you danced and joined the ancestors too soon

But I know you musta been a real cool cat

Cause you ended up marrying the queen!

Sometimes I wish there really was a heaven out there

Where good folks go when they die

Cause I know I’d run into you somewhere

Talkin smack and decked out fly

I hear tell you had the gift of gab

And everybody know I talk mucho shit

So even tho I didn’t get to know you

Seems Heredity sure did its bit!

Folks say you was a zoot suit wearing ebony black hep cat

And moms a foxy pecan tan queen

I know yhall musta did it to death

Like Duke Ellington’s fantasy in black and tan

Yep I know for sho

Cause I done seen yhall strollin

In the cinema of my mind!


Of all my favorite things in this life, being a daddy is at the top of the list.  My twins, Makeda and Samori, got lucky: they were raised by two parents who had each lost a parent to the grim reaper during early childhood.  Their mother lost her mother and I lost my father.  Both before we were five years old.   Hence we were devoted to providing our children with the experience of a two parent family that was denied to us.  Although our parents were heroic in their role, all children with a single parent looks at those with both parents and wonder what the experience is like.  I know that those who have decided to be single parents as a lifestyle choice – an increasingly popular phenomenon now days – don’t like to hear this.  But unless human nature has changed…it’s true.

Yesterday I heard Reverend Al Sharpton address the question of Fatherhood at his regular Saturday morning soul session in The House Of Justice; he told a deeply moving story about the day his father left their family.  He recounted the years of agony and confusion he experienced trying to figure out why his dad had abandoned him.  Then, like a good blues singer, he ended the tale of woe on a note of triumph.  He spoke with transparent pride about receiving an honorary degree from Bethune-Cookman University in Daytona Florida, and inviting his 81 year old dad to accompany him to the ceremony.

His talk brought back a flood of memories for me.  Bethune-Cookman was just up the highway from St. Augustine, and several women in my family were good friends with Mary McCloud Bethune, the Founder of the College.  Listening to Reverend Al’s story I couldn’t help but reflect upon my own.  I would give almost anything if my daddy could see me now.  Although my mom assures me that he would be as proud of me as I am of my son Samori – and that’s really saying something!

Yet I am compelled to laugh about a story my mother tells about a prediction my father made about where my future was heading on the first day I began to walk.  There was a beautiful potted plant on the windowsill that I had often pointed to inquisitively.   My sister Melba, who is a little more than a year older, had been walking for a while but she would just walk up to the plant and stare.  The first time I walked I went straight over to the plant and conducted an experiment with the laws of gravity: I pushed the plant out of the window and it smashed on the ground!   Whereupon my father remarked: “That boy will never let things be as they are…he has come into this world to shake things up.”  I guess he’d be feeling like a prophet if he was around just now.

However, there is a point at which Al Sharpton’s story radically diverged from mine.  My daddy died, and from all I hear about the kind of husband and father he was I cannot imagine him ever leaving us short of an untimely death; he seems to have been born to the role.  My mom and dad were high school sweethearts and when my mom boarded the train from St. Augustine Florida headed for Howard University, where she would have been a high brown fly girl and probably snagged a doctor or lawyer, she stayed on board until the East Coast Champion steamed into Penn Station in Philadelphia and eloped with George Benjamin Jr.  Theirs was a Sunday Kind Of Love, not only would it last past Saturday night, but would endure unto death.

In all of my life I have never heard my mother say a bad word about him…and nobody else in the beautiful little Spanish Village of St. Augustine Florida where they grew up.  And this was a close knit community where everybody knew everybody else’s business.  If you were “doing dirt it would come out in the wash” as the old folks used to say.  People would put your business in the street: If you were living double you were in a world of trouble.  Of course, my dad left St. Augustine after high school so they knew little of his short adult life; which was over at 25.  What I know of my father as an adult I learned from my aunts, uncles, grandparents and their friends who had moved “up north” as a part of “The Great Migration” in the first half of the twentieth century.

At twenty five years old my father was a married man with two children and buying a home in a predominately Italian section of South Philadelphia.  The home was sold to them by a young Afro-American real estate broker named Lenert Roberts, who later became Paul Robeson’s liaison to the world after he went into seclusion, and my mother says they never had a moment’s troubles with their Italian neighbors.  In fact, she says each afternoon, at my father’s insistence she would dress up sharp and he would promenade about the neighborhood showing us off.  He had a reputation as a very proud papa among his Italian neighbors.  My mother says my sister Melba and I were his greatest treasures.

The there are the stories “Grand daddy George” my Dad’s father, and my uncles would tell about him.  My granddad had an unorthodox approach to the English language, being born as he recalled “In the first year of freedom” and not having much formal education.  When he talked about my daddy he would say “George was the most famous boy in St. Augustine!”   Then he would tell me of my father’s exploits.

One story that comes to mind is how, when we were looking out on the San Sebastian River from the docks on Riberia Street, he would say “George was such a great swimmer he could jump of this dock with the Holy Bible in his hand and float across the river to the other bank and never get a single page wet.”  He lived next door to a tennis court and was a feared tennis hustler that regularly relieved the game fellows of their coin.

Uncle Jimmy Strawder, himself an extraordinary guy that had a great influence on my life, told me about a different side of my father.  He talks about my father’s gift of gab, love of reading, and how he had an opinion about everything.  He also had an irreverent sense of humor.  Once, Uncle Jimmy recalled, he and my father were contestants in a high school talent show.  They were to perform a comedy routine but all Uncle Jimmy had been told was to just say “rubber” to every question my Daddy put to him.

So when dad asked “What stretches the farthest skin or rubber?  Uncle Jimmy said “Rubber.”  Dad said “No man skin.”  “Rubber!” insisted Uncle Jimmy.”  Whereupon Dad whipped out a Bible and said “You see Jim, the proof is right here in the Bible.  It says ‘Jesus tied his ass to a tree and walked from Jerusalem to Galilee: can’t no rubber in the world stretch that far!”  The student body cracked up, even the teachers couldn’t fully restrain their laughter.  However the stern Principal was not amused and they were expelled from school for a few days.

There are endless stories about what a sharp dresser he was, my high school home room teacher Ms. Mills, who had also taught my father, used to say “your father was such a great dresser he looked as if he had just stepped out of a band box every morning.”  It is obvious from some of the things that he did early on that he thought himself someone special.

The most impressive example of this is his decision to take a middle name the first time that he earned his own money, which was when he went off to the “CC” camp during the Great Depression.  Upon his return he hired a lawyer to add a middle name of his invention.  Hence he was thereafter legally known as George “Chermopolese” Benjamin.   It was he that also invented my name.  Whereas I would be delighted to be known “George Benjamin III,” my Father thought George was too common a name and decided to give me a name that “would be fitting for an unusual person” according to my mother.  Hence Playthell George Benjamin came on the scene.


Seventy two years later I’m still on the scene; still movin and groovin.  And I have sired the next generation, who are going strong!   So the genes of George Chermopolese Benjamin are carrying on into the future.  My mother is still alive and doing swell at 89.  There is nothing that pleases me more than when she says I am as good a daddy as my daddy was.  As far as I am concerned, tough talk and brandishing guns don’t make you a man.  It ain’t hardly got nothing to do with it in my book, as Uncle Dude used to say. And spouting militant rhetoric don’t make you a revolutionary either.  But one sure way to become a truly revolutionary black man is to marry a black woman and raise some children into good and productive citizens!

Anybody who believes that we can flourish as a community if the black family structure collapses is a dangerously deluded fool.  I once heard Rev. T. D. Jakes deliver a powerful sermon on this issue.  The statistics he recited were not pretty, especially the one about 68% of all black mothers are single at the birth of their child!   You don’t have to be a sociologist, or even know what sociology is, in order to understand that this is a disaster!   In fact, there is no society on record with such a high incidence of fatherless children!  Hence if you have sired a child out of wedlock and you are not stepping up to the plate and playing a father’s role, then you are part of the problem that plagues the black community.

I know the problems the absence of meaningful involvement in your child’s development can cause firsthand.  When I was twenty years old I sired a daughter out of wedlock.  At the time I was just becoming a political radical and had declared the revolutionary cause the first priority in my life, and if I had to choose between the baby’s mother and the “revolution” I wouldn’t hesitate to choose the revolution.  Anything less would be succumbing to “bourgeois sentimentalism.”  The situation was this: my daughter’s mother wanted nothing to do with my evolving “revolutionary” politics.  However  all we asked her to do was to dress up fine and hand out leaflets to RAM – Revolutionary Action Movement – meetings along with Max Stanford’s beautiful girl friend.  The guys flocked in expecting to find a posse of beautiful ladies, but were subjected to an afternoon of indoctrination in radical political theories

And when she became pregnant – which was not supposed to happen because she was supposed to be protected – she insisted that I cut out this “revolutionary” foolishness and seek a respectable middle class career.  I refused and she split.  I refused to follow her to Florida and she married another man.  I had never even seen my daughter so I justified allowing her mother to make all the decisions about her life as the price demanded by the “revolution.”  I would later learn that this was a bad decision.  I felt that the fact I was willing to marry her mother was enough to satisfy my responsibility.  I would later learn that I was wrong; it was a bad decision.  Although we have a great relationship today and I will be giving her away in marriage down in a lovely little Georgia town just a few weeks from now.

A lot of people made some terrible decisions using that kind of flawed reasoning.  For instance, Leroi Jones abandoned his white wife and “black” children when he decided to switch roles from Greenwich Village poet and publisher of the white “Beat Poets” and become Imamu Amiri Baraka, Black Nationalist Revolutionary and leading light of the “Black Arts Movement.”  What I intend to say here, on this Father’s Day,” is that the crisis of the black family is such that the most manly and revolutionary thing you can do is marry a black woman and be a real father to your children!

A Great Father!

 Magic Moments
This is How You Do it!

 A Joy Like None Other

 It’s About Family
 There Is No Greater Love


 Parenting: I Love every Moment Of It!

 This is why simple minded leftist ideologues, like Comrade Dix of the Revolutionary communist Party, who attack President Obama for speaking out to black American men about the responsibilities of fatherhood, are badly misguided.  In his discussion of the subject last Saturday morning, Rev Sharpton said that “Father’s Day” was not established to honor guys who just make babies the wander on off.  He recounted the history of this holiday and pointed out that this day was for the fathers who stayed with their children and successfully negotiated the trials and tribulations that come with raising black children in America.  Finally, Rev Al said the other guys, the ones who make babies all over the place like wild dogs, should have a national sperm donor day, because that’s all they are!

My Children All Grown Up!

Makeda: Sports Scientist, Track Athlete, Professional Dancer
Samori: Sportswriter, Broadcaster/Producer/former two Sport Athlete
Interviewing Hall Of Fame Yankee Reggie Jackson
 My Senior Daughter Sandra:  Poet, Playwright, Director Costume Designer, Singer

Congratulating one of her young performers after a successful show


Playthell Benjamin
Father’s Day 2014
Harlem, New York

Message From The Grass Roots!

Posted in Cultural Matters, Playthell on politics with tags , , , on June 13, 2011 by playthell

Sharpton Walks with the High and Mighty…Yet Retains the Common Touch


 Keeping it Real!

Last Saturday morning, I attended the regular weekly meeting of the National Action Network, an organization headed by the dynamic Reverend Al Sharpton.  Headquarted in the heart of Harlem, its meeting hall is just up the block from where my son Samori learned to play the game of baseball in the Harlem Little League on Saturday mornings.  The distinguished Harlem writer, editor, and  teacher Herb Boyd was one the his earliest coaches that taught him to play the game – now Samori is writing an important book about the disappearance of African American athletes in Major League baseball.  The National Action Movement’s headquarters is also just a hop skip and jump from the world renowned Dance Theater of Harlem, The Schomburg Research Center for Black Culture, and the Harlem School of the Arts.

This is an area of New York City where important things are happening; where seeds are being planted that will grow into strong fruitful trees and beautiful flowers.  With the proper motivation and cultivation they regularly sprout up from the grass roots.  And it is here, deep in the grass roots, that Rev. Al has cast his anchor.  NAN’s headquarters is unpretentious, a store front with a nice size auditorium that can hold a few hundred people.  There is a loudspeaker out front so that people waiting to catch the cross town bus, or getting off at that stop, cannot help but hear the speeches inside.

I wasn’t quite sure where the building was because the last time I had been to a NAN meeting they were still over on 5th Avenue.  But it was no matter; from the moment I stepped off the bus at Lennox Avenue I could hear the sound of Rev. Al’s voice, marked by soaring triumphal rhetoric and sermonic cadences.  I had tried to be there at 9 o-clock when the meeting started, but it appeared that the forces of nature had intervened to prevent it.

By the time I eased into the auditorium Rev was fired up and going into his out chorus.  As I sat and listened I was immediately struck by how much the meeting had the ambiance of a church service, a Pentecostal Holiness church.  It reminded me of my Grandfather’s church when I was a boy in Florida, except back then people wore their “Sunday go to meeting” clothes. Given the fact that most places in town were off limits to us due to the system of racial segregation, they didn’t have a lot of occasions to get dressed up.

This crowd was casually dressed for the most part.  But as in my grandfather’s church it was alright to make a joyful noise unto the Lord.  The NAN even had a small band.  And our group rendition of “Amazing Grace,” accompanied by the band at the end of the meeting, was so moving you could feel the spirits of the people being uplifted and fortified. This is what’s missing from the program of the intellectual left.

Interestingly enough, Cornell West pointed this out when he wrote that the white left lacked “dynamic orality.”  Here we had an embarrassment of riches.  When the Reverend Al Sharpton takes to the podium, holding forth in an oratorical tradition that is the most dynamic in the world, he cajoles, charms, instructs, and finally commands the audience.  By now, after a career as a public orator that started when he was the “Wonder Boy Preacher” – footage of which was shown on the recent CBS 60 Minute Feature – Sharpton is a seasoned pro at the art of oratory, and a master of the Afro-American sermonic tradition.

The great Poet, lawyer, cultural critic, and freedom fighter James Weldon Johnson said black American preachers have “all the devices of eloquence at their command.” This is good description of Rev. Sharpton on the podium.  Like a great singer, he can carry the audience wherever he wants to take them.  Where he took them on this occasion was to higher ground; a belief that there is a better future on the horizon if we continue to struggle.

Rev Al In Full Effect!

His oratory has the power to inspire, uplift and move people to action

Many in attendance were people who needed to hear this message because they live in the hood and are witnessing the devastation caused by the Great Recession brought on by eight years of Republican mismanagement of the economy.  For them this trial is not a theoretical abstraction, induced by reading statistics, but a living reality and daily tribulation.  Rev. Al is right there to hear their fears, hopes and dreams, and he gets an earful.  The poor and powerless know who to call if they are victimized by the powerful, especially the police power of the state. Hence when he is confronted by armchair revolutionaries spouting abstractions; talking crazy, like there’s some alternative to reelecting Barack Obama and the Democrats, Rev has little patience with their sanctimonious drivel.

Sharpton, like everybody I know who is actually on the front lines of the struggle witnessing the increasingly Darwinian struggle for bread among the working class, and battling the attempts by Republican officials to destroy the labor unions that give them power and dignity in the work place, has little patience with the public temper tantrums and philosophical Jeremiads of megalomaniacal professors, militant poseurs who dwell in the posh precincts of far away Whitelandia.  That’s why he and Cornel West nearly came to blows on the Recent “Black Agenda Special.”  Cornel West takes the position that nobody in the Black community wants to criticize President Obama; so he figures its left to him to set things right.

Well, the fact that Cornel thinks that is an indication of just how far out of touch he is with what goes on in the hood.  But what worries Rev. Sharpton – and this writer too – is the subjective, picayune and often silly nature of his comments. I’m sure Rev. Sharpton would have little objection to anyone criticizing the President if it’s justified.  And if Cornell and the Ivy League Gang would just preface their criticism with a simple declaration: “There is no acceptable alternative to voting for President Obama and returning the Congress to the Democrats, because a Republican victory would be an unmitigated disaster!”  Then the criticism could take on a constructive character; right now alas, it is irresponsible and dangerously destructive. On that point me and the Reverend see eye to eye.

This was not always so.  My first Pulitzer Prize nomination was for a 8,000 word cover story in the Village Voice that was highly critical of Rev. Sharpton’s actions around the Tawana Brawley affair.  At that time I thought him an unrepentant charlatan and said so in no uncertain terms.  However as I watched him grow over the years my opinion of the Reverend changed.  The turning point for me came when Al was stabbed by a white racist while leading a peaceful March in Brooklyn.  Outraged Black and Puerto Rican New Yorkers were ready to burn this city down; one inflammatory word from Rev. Al and the city would have been thrown into chaos.  But as he lay wounded in his hospital bed he called for calm and reconciliation, preventing riots from breaking out.  There would be many other good works and struggles on the part of the Reverend that won my support, but that’s when I began to view him differently.

What I came to see was that when the least among us needed a place to turn in order to get justice from the high and mighty, it was always Rev. Al who came to the rescue.  They feel that they have a friend and ally in him, somebody who will argue their cause in the court of public opinion and help them find legal Counsel to argue their case in court. He refused to be intimidated by charges of “race hustler” by racists who wanted to violate the rights of black people through violence and discrimination with impunity – people eho wanted to shut him up because  their dirty deeds could not stand the light of day.

Often times it was only the intervention of Rev. Al that brought the injustice to light.  Hence by any calculation the good that Rev. has done far outweighs the “Evil” that reporter Wayne Barrett continued to carp about in the recent CBS 60 Minute feature story on Sharpton.  I have decided to flip the script of Marc Anthony’s speech in Julius Caesar, and let the good live on while the evil be buried in the dustbin of history.  After all, there are people who are guilty of crimes like squandering the nation’s blood and treasure committing mass murder – Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, George Bush, Codolezza Rice, et al and from the look of things just now it appears that I am not alone in reaching this decision.  Reverend Sharpton has become a major player in national politics, with enough clout to summon the President to speak at his rally.

Although he is a welcome, even courted, figure among the high and mighty, completely at home in the corridors of power, he yet retains the common touch.  This was all too obvious last Saturday, as the folks from the hood went up and shook his hand after the meeting, just before he went off to meet with a group of teenagers.  To him he was their friend, Reverend Al, a friend in good times and bad.  The reason that President Obama listens to Al Sharpton rather than Cornell West when he wants to know what working and unemployed people are thinking is simple.  His choice was influenced by his stint as an urban community organizer in Chicago; he knows the insights one gains into those with little wealth or power- and are therefore voiceless in the corridors of power – when you are down in the trenches struggling with them to solve serious problems.   On the one hand he will be getting the pompous speculations of a bourgeois academic with no credentials as a policy wonk, and on the other he is getting a message from the grass roots!

A Genuine Man Of the People


Bustin a move with the God Father Of Soul!


** Playthell Benjamin

Harlem New York

June 13, 2011

On Weiner’s Weenie!

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

The Brooklyn Flasher Confesses his Sins

Reflections on Sex, Politics and Common Sense

What does it tell us about Americans, and the society we have built, that the biggest political news story which has the country atwitter is a tawdry tale about a Congressman who likes to flash his manly assets on Twitter.  We have just received word that the American economy has experienced a jobless recovery with record corporate profits and a rising unemployment rate; yet the Republicans will not allow any more government help for the desperately unemployed – even if they will be building the new American infrastructure to support the “New Economy” envisioned by President Obama.

The intelligence has also recently reached our ears that yet another American missile has flown astray and killed innocent civilians – including children – in the course of prosecuting our endless war in Afghanistan. American soldiers were ambushed and slaughtered in Iraq just days ago, and the Alaskan Barbarian who pretends to the Presidency thought Paul Revere’s ride was to warn the British! Yet the entire nation seems mesmerized by the revelation that Congressman Wiener has been flashing his weenie – albeit like a pig in a blanket – in private tete a tetes with consenting adult women online.

While the grownups are outraged, shocked, or otherwise scandalized by the revelation, its old news to their kids; they do it all the time: It’s called “Sexting!”  In spite of the growing alarm, which threatens to become mass hysteria on the part of parents and school officials about this salacious activity: It’s the safest form of sex presently known to man!  And in this age of deadly sexually transmitted diseases it certainly beats swapping bodily fluids, like many of my generation did!  The most important revelation in Wiener’s public confession of his sins is that he has had no bodily contact with the Ladies before whom he flashed his weenie.

And unless you are the sort of religious fanatic who believes it is possible to have sinful thoughts which can condemn you to hell, this is a big difference. It was just good clean sexting; albeit a bit naughty – which is after all the object of the flirtation – but has also proven to be politically injurious alas.  Yet unlike those self-righteous pillars of moral rectitude and holier than thou pious prigs; I think whatever danger the Congressman’s behavior poses to the moral development of American youths is more than countered by the idea that it’s alright to get off on Cyber-Sex – that you don’t actually have to do it for real!  The benefits of such a revelation should be obvious to all but religious fanatics or ideological prudes!

Furthermore, those who are most likely to go bonkers over this with silly pious prattle about masturbation being a mortal sin, like the Catholic church for instance, would do well to counsel their Priests that it is far better to wiggle your weenie at consenting adults in cyberspace, than bugger a boy in the butt who is a member of your congregation and mesmerized by the divinely ordained authority of the Priesthood!  In the first instance there are no victims – as was the case when Wiener flashed his weenie – and in the second case you have stolen the innocence of youth and damaged the person for life!  So who are they to talk?

Unlike some our greatest leaders of the past – King David, Samson, King Solomon, Thomas Jefferson, Dwight Eisenhower, John Kennedy, Sugar Willie Clinton, need I go on? –  Wiener’s transgression was a sin of the mind rather than the flesh!  As far as I am concerned this is principally a matter between Congressman Wiener and his wife – it’s nobody else’s’ business!  Thus far she does not appear to have decided to quit him – at least that’s what he says, although his word is not exactly reliable just now.   Yet who among us wouldn’t lie if caught with yo drawers and yo Johnson at the ready?  But if it be true that his wife is not quitting, that should serve as a guide for the rest of us.  Otherwise we shall end up like the stranger the old Ibo proverb, “who comes to the funeral and cries louder than the bereaved family!”  The wise proverbial voice warns us to be suspicious of such poseurs.

If it be true that the Congressman’s wife, who is an orthodox Muslim, has not quite the Congressman, I cannot be more royal than the Queen!  If his wife is not quitting I’ll perish the thought.  Anyway, what really matters most to me is not whether Wiener gets off flashing his weenie online, which, in any case, I believe is now behind him; but the positions he fights for in the Congress.  By that measure he is a paragon of virtue!

Fighting the Good Fight

A Brilliant Progressive Voice!


Playthell Benjamin

Harlem, New York

June 7, 2011