Archive for July, 2011

There is No Alternative to President Obama and the Democrats!

Posted in My Struggle On the Left!, On Dr. Cornell West, Playthell on politics with tags , , on July 31, 2011 by playthell


 He has brought about monumental changes for the American People


On Egotist and Fools Errands

There are rumors abroad that Dr. Cornell West AKA “Professor Longhair” and his sidekick Tavis Smylie, a verbose bald heated charlatan, are planning a demonstration to urge people not to support the reelection of President Obama.   Say what?  The last thing we need is another idiot movement among the hapless left to start some sort of Third Party, or even talk about running somebody against President Obama!

Both of these are self-defeating strategies, and I regard such talk as nothing more than a retreat into fantasy by a confused and impotent left that refuses to face the real problem in American politics: A Republican Party that hates the working class and is openly contemptuous of the public interests…yet millions of white workers voted to put them back in charge of the House of Representatives where all revenue bills must originate. This has not only brought the massive plans for reshaping American society to a halt, but has put him into a position where for the first time in American history the US will default on its debts!

Thomas Jefferson, whom I regard as the most thoughtful of the revolutionary Founding Fathers, put our problem succinctly in a prescient observation offered up two centuries ago.  “A democracy cannot work with an ignorant electorate,” he argued. “They will elect and return the worse people to power.”  Yet West and the confederacy of well credentialed dunces who egg him on like a deranged Greek chorus, think our problem is President Obama?

Try as I might, I cannot fathom a syllogism that explains how a reasonable person can arrive at such a conclusion.  How a Princeton Professor, who is actually smart enough to belong to that august assemblage of outstanding scholars, could arrive at this conclusion.  The Grand Obstructionist Party is wreaking havoc on the nation and they attack the President?

Because of their scorched earth policy the President is faced with signing a bill that cuts trillions of dollars from the federal budget with no tax increase for the rich, or face the first default by the United States government!  That’s the choice folks; I’d like to know what any of you all knowing readers would do.  But I warn you: If you do not answer that question at the top of your argument I shall immediately dismiss you as a fool or a charlatan!

Among the fanatics in the House are deranged whackos, like Michelle Bachman, who have threatened to bring impeachment proceedings against the President if he invokes section IV of the 14th Amendment to guarantee the nation’s debt, and thereby avoid the catastrophe of default. I think the reason that the loud mouths on the left who are dogging the President don’t want to discuss this is because they know that they bear some responsibility for the Republicans retaking the House only two years after they wrecked the economy!!!

Instead of doing the only thing that makes any sense in terms of realpolitique, support the President – who is the most progressive politician that has any chance of being elected in America today and return the House to the Democrats – the ‘wise guys” on the left help to confuse and demoralize people to the extent that they decided to sit out the election.

Not only did they not work to help elect Democrats as they had two years earlier when they made history…many of these nincompoops didn’t even vote!  Thereby assuring a Republican victory and the predictable horror show that followed!   Now the know nothing blabbermouths on the Left, led by the likes of Professor Longhair and his Greek Chorus, are at it again!

This is god damned foolishness…and if there is anyone who thinks it is anything but damn foolishness I dare you to tell us what it is!!!!!!    Cornell West really ought to sit down and shut tha fuck up!!!!!   He has yet to apologize for his role in electing Bush, yet has the unmitigated chutzpah to present himself as a reliable political theorist in the present crisis.

I have posted a piece the Commentaries I wrote ten years ago when Cornell was advising people to vote for Ralph Nader instead of Al Gore – see “On choosing the Lesser Evil”  on this blog.  The danger I warned of then came to pass. George bush was elected and everything went to shit!!!!!   Since I have written on the sins of the Bushmen ad nauseum, I shall not debate them again here.

Anyone who needs instruction on the Presidents outstanding achievements should read “Civilization or Savagery” on this blog.  Since we are still suffering from the decision of the left supporting Nader however, I felt compelled to write this commentary because I’m beginning to hear whispers of this kind of POLITICAL IDIOCY again!  And I shall stay on the asses of the verbose and reckless charlatans who are spouting it!

In an attempt to explain the embarrassing and perplexing actions of Dr. West, some people are speculating that West and Smylie are being paid by corporate interests to attack the President.  I tell them they are paranoid; that Dr. West would never party to such a scurrilous deal.  I argue that West is not an evil quisling but a deluded megalo-maniac!  But I quickly point out that this is a distinction without a difference, because fess Longhair couldn’t be of more assistance to the Tea Party agenda if he were a paid agent!

Is This Nigga Crazy?


Fess Longhair: High Brow Rapper


Playthell Benjamin

Harlem New York

July 31, 2011

Riding the Big Dog Through the Dirty South!

Posted in Cultural Matters, Travels in the New South on July 27, 2011 by playthell


 At the Greyhound Station in Savanna Georgia


 Rolling with the Wretched of the Earth

As the Grand Obstructionist Party threatens to throw the US treasury into default, and bring on a new Great Depression that professional economists tell us could be worse than the calamity of the 1930’s, the future looks increasingly bleak for the nation at large, but hopeless for the working class and the poor.  If you want to gain a first hand understanding of how the struggling masses already live, what their hopes and dreams are, and their increasingly hazardous fight to acquire the basic necessities of life: take a ride around the country on a Grey Hound bus.

I discovered this sociological and journalistic treasure trove by accident.  After missing a plane to Atlanta couple of years ago, and was unable to get another plane or train reservation that would get me to Atlanta for a meeting the next morning, I finally decided to take a bus.  The trip was a revelation and since then I have taken several bus trips through the south employing a favored method of the cultural anthropologist, the “participant observer.”  I am writing a series of essays about my experiences under the title “Journeys in the New South;” which will include the present essay.  These texts will be compiled into a book.  Several of them can now be read on this blog.   

While the Republicans in Congress assure us that “the people” are with them, I don’t believe it.  That’s not what I hear from the hordes of desperate Dead Enders riding the Grey Hound on any given day; people who are barely holding on in the vain hope that things will soon get better.  Like… maybe they will finally find a job that will permit them to lead a normal life.  Although the Republicans insist that they don’t want “fake government jobs” but “real jobs” in the private sector; from what working people are telling me in conversations riding the bus up and down the eastern seaboard of the United States: The Republicans are full of shit!  These people would give their right eye for a good government job with benefits. 

Alas, if you listen to them carefully, you will soon discover they haven’t a clue about the socio/political forces that conspire to push them out of the work force; perhaps permanently, except for the most menial, repetitive and soul deadening labor when they are fortunate enough to find it.  Thus they do not know how to organize and fight systematically for their interests. Yet they know they are trapped; that they are facing homelessness and starvation playing by the rules; and they know if they try to make ends meet by resorting to illegal means they will be beaten down and imprisoned by the police forces of the state. 

They may not know what a credit default swap or a derivative is; but they know that only the robber barons on Wall Street can get away with economic crimes. And they know the rich are getting richer and they are getting poorer.  They are the equivalent of social dynamite building up at the base of American society, which could explode and destabilize our society. Listening to their hopes and dreams for better days ahead I am reminded of Langston Hughes’ powerful poem A Dream Deferred: “What happens to a dream deferred? Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun? Or fester like a sore–and then run? Does it stink like rotten meat? Or crust and sugar over– like a syrupy sweet? Maybe it just sags like a heavy load? .Or does it explode? “

After all, these are the same class of people Dr. Franz Fanon described as “the wretched of the earth” in his seminal text on the process by which the downtrodden and docile masses rise up and destroy their oppressors. Although Fanon was looking at oppressed people in the colonial world, the disinherited in America today are almost as desperate.  The disparity in wealth between the rich and poor in America is the worst in the history of the world!!!  Yet, due to the power of right wing media – which employs highly paid fools, fops, frauds and charlatans posing as serious commentators on the news – much of the working and middle class who are being victimized by “Tea Party” politics are so confused by  disinformation they voted to put these fanatics in office.

Now these working class suckers are running round the rust belt like chickens with their heads freshly cut off trying like hell to recall them from power.  From what I am seeing and hearing as I roll with the wretched of the earth, a financial crash just now would unleash the dogs of chaos and seriously destabilize American society – I can envision food riots.  Already there is a war going on in the streets of impoverished communities, large and small, all over this country.  You hear about it riding the bus; reports from the front lines of the battle zone abound.  For instance, a thirty something white woman from a small impoverished town in upstate New York, told blood curdling tales about close friends and family who had been mugged or murdered.  She said that if she had her druthers she would get a little house out in the woods where she rarely saw anybody.

It should be said as a point of clarity however, not everybody riding the bus is tottering on the brink of disaster…just yet.  Middle class folks also travel on the big dog but they are few and far between.  Usually they are travelling short distances; like New York to Washington and Baltimore, or Richmond Virginia to Charlotte North Carolina.  Yet as their economic circumstances decline due to spreading unemployment that reduces their standard of living, middle-class travelers are showing up more and more on the bus.  Right now however, virtually all of the long distance travelers are poor folks. And they have some bizarre tales to tell as penurious strugglers in the richest society the world has ever seen. 

Many seem to be just blundering through life, with no real plan for the present and no vision for the future. Watching a young white couple in their twenties travelling with two children – one a toddler the other an infant of three weeks – I wondered what their story was.  My curiosity was sparked when I saw signs that they were loving parents on the one hand and reckless caretakers on the other.  I noticed them at a rest stop outside Baltimore.  It is the first opportunity to stretch your legs and take food and other refreshments after leaving New York on a trip south. 

Naturally the smokers, desperate to satisfy their “nicotine Jones,” scurry to the smoking areas and fire up.   I once won an award for “honesty and accuracy in drug reporting” when I was a columnist with the New York Daily News, and the medical experts I interviewed told me nicotine addiction is worse than cocaine and harder to get off than heroin.   That’s what came to mind when I saw the young mother holding her infant child on a large pillow spread over her lap as she puffed away on a cigarette; while the father blew a cloud of smoke over the infant and toddler from his stance just above their heads.  These kids had barely come into the world but their parents – upon whom they are totally dependent – were cavalierly assaulting their lungs and brains with toxic fumes. 

I wanted to take a picture of them because it would make a great illustration for an ad against subjecting young children to second hand smoke; but I felt it would be intruding on their privacy.   I reflected on the biblical adage: “Forgive them Lord for they know not what they do,” but not being religious I yearned to smack them upside the head and warn them that the destructive nature of second hand smoke, even on adults, is well established by medical science.  I wanted to tell them they are abusing their children in a particularly horrible way. If ever a picture was worth a thousand words this was it.  But I couldn’t muster the chutzpah to snap it.

When we resumed our trip the hapless parents ended up sitting on the same row as me; I took the seat next to the window so that the toddler could sit by the widow on her mother’s side, and the mother and father could occupy the aisle seats. One of the pleasures of travelling by bus – along with viewing scenes from a vanishing America and hearing “round unvarnished tales” from fellow travelers – is having long blocks of time to read.  I had begun to read a book of scholarly essays by black academics titled “Black Power In the Belly of the Beast” and the father of the clan became curious about my text.  I am fairly certain it was the title that intrigued him.  I saw him staring at the book’s cover out of the corner of my eye, and then he began to question me.  In a halting fashion that exposed his insecurity in the role of inquisitor he asked if I really enjoyed reading, where I was from and where I was going.  He seemed like he was itching to ask me what the book was about but couldn’t muster up the nerve.

When I told him I lived in New York, he said that he was from New York too…Albany New York; the capitol of the state, which seems as far away as Canada when I drove up there on business.   I told him I was from the city.  That seemed to really stoke his curiosity.  He wanted to know if I lived in the Bronx, Queens or Brooklyn.  When I told him I lived in Manhattan he sat up in his seat with a sort of wild eyed stare and asked me how much apartments were going for in Manhattan these days.  When I began to quote some of the rents I have seen posted in real estate listings lately, he seemed incredulous…as if I were describing another world far beyond his reach. 

A good old boy on his way back home to Alabama, wearing a cap with the logo of a tractor company emblazoned on its crown, turned around abruptly in his seat and asked: “You mean to tell me there’s thousands of people who can pay them kinda rents?”  Other questions about theManhattan life style followed.  The patriarch of the clan could not long resist asking what I did, what kind of job I had.  I told him I was a writer.  From the look on his face I might as well have said that I made special shoes for men on Mars.

I was somewhat wary of him in the beginning because he looked like a skin head. I know from having studied fascistic elements of the lunatic white supremacists that lurk on the ultra-right spectrum of American politics, their recruits often come from the white lumpen-proletariat.  Guys just like this dude sitting next to me.  However as he began to tell me his story I concluded that his peely head hair cut – which we use to call a “baldy scaldy” back in the day – was really determined more by his dire economic circumstances than his political ideology; which, as near as I could tell, was non-existent.   He just was trying to get the most bang for his buck, obviously a trip to the barber was no picayune affair for him. This dude put the D in desperate!  

He told me that he was going to live with his mother in Palatka Florida because there was no work in Albany New York.  I knew right off that he was in serious trouble if he was going to Palatka looking for work.  I have family in Palatka, well to-do black folks, and the last time I visited them it seemed like scenes from the 1930’s, with men in this depressed farm community standing around in the scorching Florida sun wearing overalls, in search of a day’s work.  And this was under Bill Clinton when the economy was booming – things have gone dramatically downhill since then!  As he spoke of the devastation of housing stock in the capitol of the Empire State, and the dire straits of his working class family and friends, I was reminded of the writer William Kennedy, who wrote the Pulitzer Prize winning novel Ironweed, a grim tale about the very class represented by my fellow traveler. 

When I asked him if he had ever heard of William Kennedy, he thought I was talking about a member of the famous political clan that produced a President and two Senators.  When I told him there was no relation he stared at me blankly.  I thought of the great struggle William Kennedy had getting his novel published.  He was rejected as much as thirty times I think, and I remembered his explanation as to why he persisted in trying to get the novel published; as he basked in the literary limelight after the book won the Pulitzer Prize and was made into a major motion picture starring Jack Nicholson and Merle Streep. 

Kennedy said he continued his struggle to get the novel published because he didn’t feel that the reason given for its rejection was a valid literary criticism: “Nobody wants to read about down and out white drunks inAlbanyNew York.”   However if they were relying on the subjects of the novel to read it they were right.  I’m sure the peely head patriarch had no interests in reading it after I told him of the text’s existence.  First of all he was too busy trying to survive to even consider reading a novel…especially one that told a tale he knew all to well and would only depress him further.  Talking to him I could see fear for the future of his family etched on his face.  It was reflected in the quiet panic in his eyes, as he looked languidly off at the passing country side out the window on my side of the bus.  He confessed that he had no idea what he would do if he didn’t find work in Palatka. 

As we talked he explained how he hadn’t done well in school so he dropped out and decided to go into the military, but his girlfriend got pregnant and he did the right thing and got married.  If sex is the poor man’s grand opera these two seemed to really enjoy the show.  Which is all well and good; the problem was that they seem to never have heard of birth control.  If you asked them about it I’d bet they would echo a comment I’ve heard many times before: “It just don’t feel as good using protection,” or “she forgot to take her pills.”  The hapless husband went on to explain that he had gone to a technical school to train as a diesel mechanic, but had to drop out when their daughter was born.  He says that he wants to return but can’t gain the economic stability that is a perquisite to continuing his training.  Knowing what I knew about the economic conditions in Palatka Florida, it was hard for me to conjure encouraging words. 

As we barreled down the highway deeper into the South I reflected on the thesis of Dr. William J. Wilson – my old colleague at the University of Massachusetts, who is now Professor of Social Policy at Harvard’s  Kennedy School – in his book “The Declining significance of Race.”  Although Professor Wilson suffered a great deal of abuse when he reported that race was no longer the all powerful determinant of one’s life chances in American society that it once was, these people supplied irrrefutible evidence for his claim.  

It was obvious that the education and reproductive decisions of these young white people had far more to do with their station and chances in life than their race.   As I write a new study has revealed that per capita white family wealth is 20 times that of blacks; it recently doubled. since the economic collapse.  The deck is still stacked in their favor alas, yet there are millions of Afro-Americans doing better than the white lumpen just now.  Back in the era of industrial prosperity before the Civil rights movement, this would not have been true.  For the system of segregation undergirded by an ideology of white supremacy often favored borderline white retards over black college graduates.


 Educational attainment and reproductive decisions were also critical factors in the present predicament and future life chances of Guadalupe, a young Mexican American woman who described herself as “A bitch on a mission.”  I was taken aback at her self-description, because she was quite pretty, stylishly dressed and looked like a college girl on Holiday.  She was barely twenty years old but she had a hard tale to tell.  It was, to say the least, a tangle of pathology.  She was coming from Buffalo New York, where her parents had immigrated when she was a little girl, and was by now 100% American.  I thought of the struggle her parents must have endured to make it possible for her to grow up in the Promised Land.  For as she talked it was clear that she had squandered the opportunities her parents had tried to provide. 

Guadalupe was on her way to surprise her “baby daddy” in Jacksonville Florida, where he was shacked up with another woman that he had impregnated.  It seems that she had learned his whereabouts from talking with his mother, with whom she was on good terms.  She also revealed that her guy had three other kids by three other women, and they had warrants out on him for child support.  She was undecided as to whether she would drop a dime on him to the authorities as to his whereabouts; that would depend on whether he chose her or the woman he was shacked up with inFlorida.  Here we see how the inability of people to make the right choices impact upon their chances in life.  It is also clear that abortion should remain a safe, legal and convenient choice for women. 

As “Lupe” was raised Catholic, abortion was out of the question; which is a powerful statement about the dangers of blind adherence to religious dogma.  Whatever the virtues of Catholicism, the Catholic Church is a mess when it comes to handling sexual matters.  After all, this is a church whose priest are prevented from marrying and having normal sexual relations with consenting adults, and thus routinely rape the children in their charge. While she insisted that she had no plans to fight with the other woman, whom she wisely viewed as a fellow victim of the duplicity and treachery of their Babies daddy, her plan to recruit the woman to her side as an ally against him sounded risky at best and delusional at worst. 

Yet the question that perplexed me was: “Why are you even considering getting back together with this guy?”  Here was a case where the mother and child would be far better off if the father was not in the house.  When I put this question to her point blank she said that because he was the father of her unborn child she should at least give him another chance to straighten up and fly right.  By which she meant marry her, take care of the rest of his children, and don’t “knock up anymore females.”

What was most frightening about these young people is that they are not unique.  Their stories of pathos and pathology are repeated ad infinitum among the lumpen proletariat – or the expanding American “under class” in the jargon of contemporary sociologist.  Yet in a society where the job market is so tight college grads who have made all the right choices are having a hard time finding a descent job with security and benefits: what is to become of these people with little useful education to equip them for a job and have made all the wrong decisions?

We know from the employment statistics following the recent recession, which the economist tell us by their indices has been over for two years, that it was a “jobless” recovery.   Literally millions of people who were employed when the economy tanked are still unemployed!  This is because of the changing nature of theUS economy, in which technological advances and globalization are rendering large segments of the American working class obsolete.  Hence the sustained unemployment that we are now witnessing is “structural” not “cyclical.”  This is to say that it is not caused by the forces that have resulted in periods of mass unemployment in the past, where the “boom and bust” intervals of the American capitalist business cycle were the culprit. 

In the present grim scenario the fundamental causes of unemployment are due to  changes in the structure of the American economy.  Thus the present unemployment rate will be permanent unless a new economy emerges. In order for this to occur the government must become the employer of last resort; hiring the unemployed to rebuild the American infrastructure to support a new economy.  The only person among those presently seeking the presidency who understands this is Barack Obama; yet even if he wins the coming election he will be helpless to implement his vision unless the democrats control both houses of Congress.  This is the grim reality facing American society. 


Speaker Boehner’s attitude is typical of Republicans

The Republicans have opted out of trying to find solutions to these monumental problems that threaten to make the US a second rate nation.  They are contemptuous of the role of government, as the present fiasco in Congress around raising the debt ceiling that threatens to plunge the economy into a deep depress demonstrates.  Having abandoned the public interests they seek to privatize everything from medical care for the elderly to the post office.  Increasingly they live in gated communities with armed private security; send their children to private schools; use private mail delivery services; employ private doctors; etc.  This model of social organization increasingly resembles the trends in Third World societies like Pakistan- where wealthy people ride around with armed guards.

Since Republicans represent the interests of the investor class – in spite of the poor white dupes that make up much of their “base” – they care not where their money is invested so long as it returns the highest interests i e. rent for the use of their money. Thus they have no interest in solving the employment crisis of the working class.  The class incidentally, who fight the nation’s endless wars started by politicians whose corporate cronies make billions servicing the war machine – the dreaded “military/industrial complex” President Eisenhower warned about in his final address to the nation. The tawdry and perhaps criminal relationship between “Dirty Dick’ Cheney, the architect of Iraq war policy, and Halliburton Industries, is a classic case in point.

 Unemployed Workers About to Become Cannon Fodder

Apocolypse Now!  From Fayetville to Afghanistan

There are two groups of passengers one is likely to meet when travelling interstate on the bus: newly released convicts and soldiers going to, or coming from, a war zone.  Both are, more often than not, victims of the ongoing crisis in the American economy. If you go through Fayetteville North Carolina you are certain to encounter Para-troopers from Fort Bragg, all of whom hail from the impoverished post industrial cities whose economies have gone from good paying manufacturing jobs to low wage service jobs for blue collar workers; or the economically devastated rural areas, where small farmers struggle to survive in a market dominated by giant agri-business corporations. That’s why the only hope I can see for solving the monumental problems facing an increasingly obsolete American working class is the Democratic Party under the leadership of a humane visionary like President Obama. 

There is absolutely no reason to be believe, based on the observable facts, that the Grand Obstructionist Party has either the will or the way to provide workable solutions to this crisis.  All they do is recite the same old bogus gospel of tax cuts for the rich as the solution for everything; they persist in this dangerous foolishness in spite of the fact that we are ten years into the massive Bush tax cuts to the rich that squandered the eight trillion dollar surplus bequeathed to them by the Clinton Administration and wrecked the economy.  Yet an abysmally ignorant electorate placed the Republicans back in Charge of the House of Representatives, which control all revenue bills, two years into the Obama Administration.  This blunder at the polls brought his sweeping measures to restore the nation’s economic health to a screeching halt.  It is eloquent testimony to the truth of Thomas Jeffersons warning: “An ignorant electorate will elect and return the worst people to power!”


It was clear that the dead end kids on the bus were almost totally oblivious to these realities – thus they are incapable of fighting for their interests.  As near as I could tell, from the questions I casually but systematically put to them about politics during rest stops and bus changes when we were watching the flat screen televisions posted on the walls around the waiting rooms and permanently tuned to CNN, they were clueless and could care less.  The one person I talked to that was surprisingly aware of the difference between the Democrats and the Republicans was a twenty something black B-Boy whom I nicknamed “Hip Hop.”  He was, by far, the most interesting character I encountered on this ride.  I met more interesting people at my destinations, but not on the bus.  Hip hop sat next to me on the way back to the Big Apple. He got on the bus in the smallGeorgiatown ofHinesvilleand was decked out in classic B-Boy gear that looked recently purchased. 

 The Hip Hop Kid

He has the intellect to be anything but no opportunity

He was vague about where he was coming from and didn’t appear to be that certain where he was going.  As I expected him to be empty headed I kept the conversation very light, blowing his mind with my analysis of the growth of Rap music and discussing the difference in lyrics, beat and flow between East and West coast rappers.  However when I pulled out a special edition of the journal “Socialism and Democracy” he was all eyes.  Billed as “The Journal of the Research Group on Socialism and Democracy,” this edition was devoted to the topic: “What is African American Studies, Its Focus, and Future. 

Edited by John H. McClendon and Yusef Nuruddin, the volume is a collection of scholarly papers which are inter-disciplinary in focus and authored by Afro-American scholars with a Marxist bent.  As I began to engage Sociologist Tony Montero’s text, The Epistemic Crisis of Afro-American Studies: A Duboisian Resolution- A dense academic essay that I approached in much the same manner that one takes cod liver oil – Hip Hop began to ask questions about it.  I cavalierly brushed him off with grunts and mumbles, making no attempt to engage him; certain that it would all be way over his head.

 I suppose Hip Hop must have peeped my game because he told me that he loved to read and announced that he had recently finished reading “The Prince,” by Machiavelli – a canonical political treatise in the western intellectual tradition.   Needless to say, I was taken aback by his claim and began to quiz him about the text.  His analysis was thoughtful and left no doubt that he had indeed read it even if he didn’t fully understand it.  Then he spoke of other weighty texts, among them Marx’s Das Kapital.  Naturally, I began to wonder where he got the inclination and leisure to do such heavy reading outside of an academic setting; especially since he had told me he didn’t go to college.  There were curious gaps in his story and the vibe I picked up from him was pure gangsta, a gorilla to his heart; the kind of guy you wanted to have your back in a knife fight.  I wanted to question him systematically and find out what he was really about.  But we both fell asleep.

When we awoke we were at Raleigh North Carolina, it was after mid-night. Raleigh is evidently a dangerous town – the guards in the station always warn passengers not to wander away from the station during layovers when we go outside for smoking breaks, and tell tales about Para-troopers stationed at Fort Bragg who have survived tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan only to be murdered by street thugs in Raleigh.  So it was not altogether surprising when Hip Hop was pulled aside by the cops and searched as we stood outside.  He was cool as an Arctic night, like he was used to the routine.  But when they left he was pissed off.  And all he wanted to talk about was the abuse of police power on our trip toRichmond Virginia. I asked him if he understood that he fit the police profile for a young male criminal?  He wasn’t trying to hear the science I was droppin and I soon fell off to sleep. 

When we reached Richmond he made a phone call, announced that he was splittin the scene, slapped me fives and disappeared into the night.  As I continued my journey to New York I could overhear the conversation of another young man decked out in hip hop gear.  He was arguing with his baby mama, instructing her to have his seven year old daughter’s things clean and packed or he would put the police on her because the Family Court inNewarkNew Jersey– a gun totin town that seems more dangerous than Baghdad– had given him full custody because of her trifling ways!  He told her that they would be leaving immediately for Miami Florida. 

The mere idea of taking the  trip to Florida back to back was exhausting.  But such is life among the lumpen.  As we pulled out of Newark heading for “The Fruit,” as hip black Philadelphians of my generation called New York City, I remained more firmly convinced than ever of two things: Marx was right, the Lumpen can’t be organized into an effective progressive force – no matter what the black Panthers say.  And the most pressing problem confronting Black Americans is to honor the ancestral imperative to stop the values of the lumpen class from obliterating the values of the “Talented Tenth;” who guided the black community through our golden age of struggle and progress and produced the tallest trees yet seen in our forest!!!!

 The Challenge for Black Americans

 Virtuosso Saxophonist, Wes “Warm Daddy” Anderson

  Shall our youths aspire to this….


 ………or this?

Lil Wayne: Barbarian Thug Rapper 


To Be or Not to Be: That is the Question! 


 “Vanilla Ice “Wannabe: Hip Hop Style is Embraced by All Youths


Uneducated country white boys are in the same boat as black urban underclass

 Smoke Break: The Prophet Abraham’s Joy Weed Was Everywhere 


 Dead End Kids: Not in the main stream and don’t give a shit!



Text and Photos by: Playthell Benjamin*

On the Road in the USA

July 26; 2011

* Photo of Warm Daddy by Frank Stewart

Photo of house speaker John Boehner – Google Images

Blues For The Weeper

Posted in Playthell on politics with tags , , , on July 20, 2011 by playthell


 Man on a Hot Seat


John Boehner Can’t Deliver His Caucus and Chaos May Follow

Like Beckett, who rose from the King’s butler to the Archbishop of Canterbury, John Boehner, a small town boy from Ohio who became Speaker of the House of Representatives, must reject the call of his benefactors and rise to the demands of his high office. In the case of Beckett that meant serving God and placing the interests of the Church above the King.  In Speaker Boehner’s case it means putting the interests of the American people and the welfare of our nation above the partisan concerns of the Grand Obstructionist Party.   Unless he is every inch the soulless dullard that he appears to be, John Boehner must now be torn between his loyalty to the radical budget agenda of his party and saving our nation from economic collapse.

Republicans are beginning to look more and more like the Communist Party of Russia, whose official ideologist at the time of the Soviet Union’s collapse said they had chosen ideology over reality.  One need only listen to the rhetoric of Republican Congressman to recognize that they are clearly choosing fealty to their anti-tax trickle down economic dogma over the clear and present danger of destroying the “full faith and credit” of the US government.  Having signed the pledge authored by the anti-tax fanatic Grover Norquist as the price of their office, they now seem determined to remain true to this pledge no matter what. This is especially so for the eighty-five freshman in Congress who owe their existence to the ultra-reactionary “Tea Party” faction.

In their blind ambition to regain control of the House, the Republican establishment made a Faustian Bargain with these self styled right-wing anti-government fanatics.  Pugnacious paranoid and economically illiterate, they seem convinced that the dire predictions of economic apocalypse, should Congress fail to raise the debt ceiling, is nothing more than a self serving fiction conjured up by a lying President and his puppet who runs the treasury department.   John Boehner knows better.

Considering his tears at the time of his elevation we know that Boehner also understands the gravitas of his office, and he is aware that history will judge his performance against every House speaker who preceded him and those who will follow. His immediate Predecessor, Nancy Pelosi, may be the best ever…and who knows what the future will bring.  For this reason Boehner wants to make a deal on the budget but may not be able to deliver the votes due to the Tea Party faction, some of whom seem to believe that a US default will be a dream come true because it will finally put an end to government spending and force a radical restructuring of the social safety net.

In justifying their reckless decision to force the nation into default, these iconoclasts claim the legacy of Ronald Reagan as their guide, exposing the fact that they are as ignorant of history as economics.  Ronald Reagan raised the budget ceiling 18 times and severely castigated the recalcitrant Republicans in Congress.  He warned of the economic chaos that would result from a US government default and wrote in his diary that he had threatened to veto every piece of legislation that congress put on his desk if they didn’t give him a “clean” bill to raise the debt ceiling!   Hence their evocation of the legacy of Reagan to justify their self-destructive behavior is as bogus as their economic philosophy.

Political Scientist have long argued that a people will eventually get the government they deserve, this is especially true in a participatory democracy like the US.  The Democrats must stand firm and reject the House vote, handing the speaker a humiliating defeat.  This will foil the reactionary agenda of the GOP, and if default is the result it will teach Americans that putting people who hate government in charge of governing is dangerous folly!   Should this come to pass it will be tragic for the nation, suicide for the Republicans and crying time for the Weeper of the House.

 Ronald Reagan

A highly skilled politician, Reagan would be appalled at the Tea Party fanatics



 Playthell  Benjamin

Harlem, New York

 July 20, 2011


Social Fridays At The Gallery!

Posted in Cultural Matters, Travels in the New South with tags , , , on July 18, 2011 by playthell


 It Was Al Smiles

Promoting Culture as a Civic Religion

Social Fridays at The Gallery is the place to be if you are looking for a hip place to hang out after work in Brunswick Georgia; it’s a great way to begin the weekend.  Promoted by the progressive young entrepreneur Luke Engram – an Atlanta transplant who was tutored in the entertainment business by Dallas Austin – Atlanta showbiz mogul and Executive Producer of that marvelous film and cultural treasure on black college life and culture, “Drum Line” – Social Fridays is both a chic and culturally unique affair.  It is a reflection of the values of the best and brightest in the Afro-American community; that Brother Luke embodies those values is readily apparent in the choices he has made as to what these stylish soirées are about.

I attended one last Friday and as the program progressed I began to feel like I was in some sort of secular church, which was devoted to a fruitful marriage between culture and commerce that will take us higher as a people.  There were poets, authors, a master musician, and black entrepreneurs – both males and female. The crowd was stylish, intelligent and charming: elegant black, brown and beige beauties were everywhere!  Some pecan tans and teasing browns too.  It was a boottlious affair!  The setting seemed made to serve as the background for this smart affair; the ambiance was perfect.

The evening was filled with poetry, dramatically rendered with pathos, passion, joy and pain.  In the interludes between the Poetess’ songs we heard testimony from highly motivated positive people who are trying to do great things.  They had our rapt attention because they embody our highest hopes and dreams….”the better angels of our nature.”  People were given prizes…good books!  It was a celebration of outstanding members in our community who are neither entertainers nor athletes.  Not to disparage these noble professions in which Afro-Americans have found unparalleled success and amassed great wealth.  Yet they get more than their share of recognition in the black community, and it’s hurting us!

Although this is also true in the white community, white kids can easily identify with people in many fields of lucrative endeavor.  That’s why Afro-Americans must recognize people who are in less glamorous or exotic fields yet are doing the good work that is critical for a community to advance.  For, unless we quickly and consciously replace the wildly influential hip/hop nihilist model with an ethic that values discipline, industry and hope, we are going to experience a disaster in the very near future.  All the data shows that there will be virtually no descent jobs in America for people with less than two years of college training, yet we have record drop out rates.  Hence it is an ancestral imperative that we celebrate intelligence and the power of the mind to create a good and productive life.  That’s the over whelming message Social Fridays is designed to convey.  It epitomizes Tom Joyner’s slogan: “Party with a purpose!”

The evening was capped off with my speech on why we should work our asses off to reelect President Obama and return the House of Representatives to the Democrats.  A combination of P.T. Barnum and successful entrepreneurs everywhere, Luke has the promotional instincts and style of a carnival barker and the habits of a conservative bean counting businessman.  But he has another dimension as a cultural promoter with a genuine interest in promoting the best in Afro-American culture.  A product of the Hip/Hop generation, Luke prefers the lyrical insights and gravitas of “Common” to “Wacca Flacca;” whose non-sense lyrics and banal beats he says is driving him crazy, blaring out of loudspeakers everywhere he turns.

His fight with the ignorance and negativity that threatens to overwhelm the black underclass is out in the open.  But he also understands that the black bourgeoisie has got to pull its head out of its butt and become politically active before we look up and find that we’ve been robbed of all the gains made by working Americans – especially black folks – over the past fifty years.  That’s why he invited me to rap with them.  I viewed the opportunity as a chance to enlist some capable black folk in the fight to re-elect President Obama, by explaining to them in no uncertain terms the dimension and character of the looming catastrophe we will face should the Republicans succeed in taking over the Senate and the Presidency in the 2012 election cycle.

As is always the case when people come out expecting to party and are hit with a political speech, I recognized that some portion of the crowd – the exact or even approximate percentage being unknown to me – would be politically disengaged and even wear their ignorance of politics as a source of pride.  But political ignorance and apathy are old problems to me and represent an inviting challenge to my teaching skills; being a compulsive pedagogue I welcome the challenge. First I define the minimal essential goals I’d like to accomplish in the speech and craft a strategy to accomplish it.  No matter how eloquent and exciting the oratory: If there is no learning going on there is no teaching going on.

I wanted the audience to understand several basic things: The Republican Party represents the interests of the super-rich!  Their professed concern for working people is a lie; a purely rhetorical exercise designed to camouflage their virulent anti-working class policies.  The far right segment of the GOP is driven by the so-called “Tea Party Patriots,” who are deeply racist and are willing to shut down the government and destroy the “good faith and credit of the United States” in order to wreck the Obama Presidency.  They continue to speak of him as if he is a secret alien committed to the destruction of America when all the facts show he has presided over some of the worst crisis’ in American history with Solomonic wisdom.

My job therefore was to convince them that Republicans are irrational. They cannot govern because they hate government and are pledged to fatally wound the institution so that it will have the power to do little other than make the world safe for the rich by turning the government into one giant national security apparatus.  Thus to not support the reelection of this President and restore the House of Representatives to the Democrats is self-destructive folly!  The smart progressive audience got it: I wish all of my battles were so easy.



Pretty Georgia Peaches Were Everywhere

Styling and Profiling

Black, Brown and Beige Beauties


 Strutted Their Stuff


Competing With The Art Works


 For Roving Eyes


Some Cambodian Flava!

 Raw Like Shushi


High Style!


 A Lady Of Class


Queen Of the Ball!

 A Splendid Hostess


Hospitality Can Be An Art

The Way Alicia Does It


The Setting Was Spectacular!

 A Temple to Art


Elegantly Framed Paintings Cover The Walls


 Slices Of Real Life


Reality Cast in Black and White


And Shades Of Grey


A Magical Space Where Beautiful Birds…


 …Take Flight In Your Mind


Pulchritude and Beauty

Was Everywhere On Display


Brother Luke

Makes It Happen!


The Promoter and the Poet


Promoting Serious Culture


A Black and Tan Fantasy

 Mr. and Mrs. Luke Engram…Power Couple!


An Author Displays Her Text

 She Tells Poignant Tales about the Trials of Love and Marriage


Music Filled The Air!

  As Master Saxophonist “Travis” Made Magic Vibes


At the Art Downtown Gallery and Theater!

Promoter Luke Engram and Gallery Owner Lynda Dalton-Gallagher


It Happens One Enchanted Friday Each Month

Down Town in Beautiful Brunswick Georgia


If You are Ever In Brunswick on A “Social Friday”


 Check Brother Luke Out



Text and Photos by: Playthell  Benjamin

Brunswick Georgia

July 18, 2011


Silent But Deadly!

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


A Real Cool Killer

Once again no drama Obama has quietly out maneuvered the Grand Obstructionist Party.  He did it with the stimulus; he did it with Health Care; he did it with the auto-bail out, and now he has tricked them into making moves that could prove suicidal on the debt ceiling issue.  As always, ideologues mistake their ideology for reality.  It is unreal to believe that it is a good political strategy to demand draconian cuts in government programs that benefit the poor, elderly, working and middle class Americans – the overwhelming majority – while refusing to ask the rich and super-rich to pay a dime more in taxes.  This is especially true at time when the distribution of wealth between the richest and poorest Americans exceeds that of many Third World “Banana Republics.” Still the GOP continues to insist that they are willing to allow the US treasury to default and destroy the “full faith and credit” of the United States for the first time in our history rather than raise taxes on the rich!

As always President Obama has shown a steely calm as he called the Republican’s hand and proposed a historic budget reduction plan of four trillion dollars, which exceeded anything the Republicans have proposed in spite of their budget cutting zealotry.  However this plan would include tax increases on the richest Americans, and eliminate the absurd tax subsidies to the rich that presently distort the tax code and reduces the effective tax rate at a time when the stated tax rates are at an all time low.

For instance, during the Eisenhower years when the great American inter state highway system was built and the economy flourished, the tax rate on the top earners was 91%!  Furthermore, there is absolutely no evidence for the Republican claims that reducing taxes on the rich will produce jobs in theUnited States– especially in this age of globalism when amoral multi-national corporations can make higher profits investing overseas.  The proof that this argument is a dangerous myth is that we have ten years of the Bush tax cuts and  it has led to a collapse of the financial system and one of the highest sustained unemployment rates since the great depression of the 1930’s!

By presenting the Republicans with a plan for historic reductions in the deficit the President has put the Republicans on the spot…and the leaders of the Republican Congressional caucus don’t know what to do next.  Especially since the President has put them on notice that he will veto any short term gimmicks that the Republicans come up with to save face by avoiding the disaster that will result from a US Government default.  And last night he got up and walked out of the meeting with an intransigent Eric Cantor – a dangerous ideologue and transparent fool – admonishing the Republicans to call him when they are serious about tackling real solutions to the debt ceiling crisis.

The Republican plan to blame the President for the failure to find a solution to the debt crisis is now in shambles and it is clear that they are courting disaster – economic and political.  The real pros in the Republican Party know this, that’s why the leaders in the House and Senate – McConnell and Bohner – are desperately seeking a way out.  Not only is the business community turning against them, many CEO’s and Wall Street bankers have gone on record stating that they would rather pay more taxes than suffer the disastrous consequences of a US government default.  And the recent threat from moodys, the all powerful credit rating agency, to lower the Triple A credit rating of the US government – which would dramatically increase the interests rate we would have to pay to sell the bonds that finance the daily obligations of our government – has the entire financial community on edge.

But as the economic illiterates in the Tea Party Republican cabal continue to insist that they will force a default rather than vote for any tax increase, the American people are beginning to slowly recognize how dangerous and irresponsible the Grand Obstructionist party really is.   That growing realization may well explain why contributions to President Obama’s reelection campaign has now exceeded the record breaking contributions of his first campaign…which set an all time record at the time!

All the polls show that most Americans, including quite a few rank and file Republicans, think the rich should pay more and don’t want any cuts in Medicare.  Although the polls show that at the moment most Americans think the Republicans are right on the budget, conservative columnist David Brooks is also right when he says that this support will evaporate like a snowball in a pizza oven when people actually experience the consequences of a government default.  Forcing the government into default has no foreseeable benefit except that it allows Republican politicians to honor their pledge to anti-tax fanatics like Grover Norquist and the Tea Party zealots – who have promised to run primary candidates against any Republican who votes for a tax increase of any kind.  Obviously this is no way to run a great nation.

Earlier in the day Senate majority leader Harry Reed got these shameless Republican lackeys of the plutocrats to actually go on record opposing raising the tax rates on the wealthiest Americans. They took this vote after Senator Reed read an analysis detailing how the rich are getter much richer as the income of working class Americans have dramatically decreased. It was a masterful piece of statesmanship conducted by the soft spoken tough guy from Nevada, who many forget was once a prize fighter. This experience provides certain insights into human character and the nature of combat that can be useful in politics.  The first lesson is to maintain your cool while provoking your opponent to get angry, lose their head and do something stupid that you can turn to your advantage.

That’s what happened when Senator Reed got the Republicans to vote on a “Sense of the Senate” resolution on tax equity.  I think that this vote could prove suicidal for the Grand Obstructionist Party; unless the American electorate is even dumber than I think.  Hence the President timed his walk out just right.  He has refused to bow to the hostage takers who thought they could bully him.  Now, like all bullies once you smack them in the face, they don’t know what to do.  Mr. Obama says he is willing to stake his presidency on this issue.  As well he should!

The question is whether the Republicans are willing to stake the future of their party on it.  These guys refuse to learn from even recent history.  For the last time Barack was confronted with hostage takers – remember the Somali Pirates? – he ordered them shot through the head!  Now he is forcing the Republicans in Congress to shoot themselves through the head. It appears the Grand Obstructionist Party will have to learn the hard way: No Drama Obama is a master at the blood sport of politics and he is silent but deadly!


An Open Letter to President Obama

Posted in Playthell on politics with tags , on July 6, 2011 by playthell

Its’ Time to Go Gangsta!


The Embattled President and the Fighting Preacher


You must Use the Power We Gave You!

Dear Mr. President

Few people have followed your career closer than I have.  I remember the first time I ever saw you.  It was when you spoke to the Democratic National Convention that nominated John Kerry, a good enough guy but, an insufferably boring speaker.  After having listened to more than my share of his drone like speeches, it was a blast to hear you.  I was so impressed with both your mastery of the art of oratory, as well as the deep humanity in your vision and the gravitas of your argument; I sat right down to my computer and wrote “Hope is Reborn in Bean Town.”  The thesis of this essay was that whatever future the Democratic Party had, if it was going to be triumphal, you would play a major role in it. 

I don’t claim any special insight; I was not the only one who was captivated by your charisma. Yet not in my most imaginative moments did I ever think that you would become President of the United States four years later.  On that night at the convention you painted a picture of a bi-partisan politics that could bring the nation together and bind up the wounds of the past, then march into a bold new world a strong and united nation – “with liberty and justice for all.”  And you said it with such eloquence and passion that even cynical old political pros began to believe it.  Yet when you announced your intention to run for President I wondered if it was going to be like all the other black candidates who have run for President, you’d make a little splash among black folks and some white progressives then it would be all over.

I was certainly not unique in my pessimism; everybody I knew felt that way in the beginning.  My longtime friend Hank Thomas, the heroic Freedom Rider from St. Augustine Florida, says “When somebody first came to me and asked for a donation for “Baraka Obama” I took one look at his picture and said ‘Barack Obama huh?…This guy’s real name is probably Willie Jones and his street name is “Sweet Pea.'”  His response was typical among those who didn’t see you speak that night.  Before you came along Hank used to call himself “a Colin Powell Republican!”  Now he is an avid Obamaite. 

So let the impetuous youngsters and armchair revolutionaries make light of your ascendancy to the pinnacle of power in the most powerful nation in the world; after all, what do they know of real struggle.  Iyago’s description of Cassio in Shakespeare’s Othello describes them perfectly: bookish theorics who know no more of real struggle than a spinster!  But to those of us who grew up in apartheid America and fought to change it: you represent the fruition of our dreams; the rare and priceless fruit of our labors.  We know that governing is not easy; we understand the political process, and we marvel at your skill at the game.  We admire your humanity and intellectual gravitas, and share your vision for America and the world.  I have publicly offered to beat down anybody who says otherwise, and thus far I have no takers in spite of numerous brazen provocations.  I have repeated slapped your main antagonist Cornell West in public; I done beat that silly bushy head boy like a runaway slave!  But I have yet to hear a peep out of him. I about to conclude that he’s all blow and no go!

The reason that I have been publicly flagellating Dr. West, and trying my best to goad him into a fight, is  not only because he is the most prominent of your critics on the left, but also because his arguments reveal all of the flaws in their case against you.  Listening to Dr. West one gets the impression that he thinks you are an emperor who can shake his scepter and make their dreams come true; not an American President who has countervailing forces that check his power both in the Congress and the Federal Judiciary – which are all co-equal branches of our government.  Dr. West and his cohort of hysterics and ideological automatons on the left resemble no one as much as their fanatical counterparts on the right who have the unmitigated gall to call themselves “Tea Party Patriots.” I regard them as equally dangerous to your enlightened democratic agenda; thus I implore you to continue to ignore them all.  For I have no doubt that that would be in the best interests of this nation.

However, there has never been a time when Thomas Jefferson’s warnings about the dangers of an ignorant electorate were more relevant than right now!  There are two warnings that are especially relevant: An ignorant electorate will elect and return the worst people to power, and A people cannot be ignorant and free, it never was and never will be!  The last congressional elections demonstrated the awful truth of both prescient observations.  Hence your task is clear Mr. President.  You should call the bluff of the intransigent Republicans in the House and use this as “a teachable moment!”  You are professor of Constitutional Law, and you should turn the country into a class room again.   

Teach this nation how the constitution is structured so that a majority in house of Congress cannot dictate policy. That in order to become law a measure has to be passed in both houses and signed by the President. Explain how threatening to bring down the world financial system by allowing the US to default on our debts because they can’t have their way is a violation of the spirit and letter of the Constitution and the intent of the founders. Then you should stand on the provision in the 14th Amendment which clearly states that the legally acquired debts of the US government must be paid, and guarantee the debt yourself!  The Republican ideologues love to wave the Constitution around…well there is no clearer statement on how the Constitution mandates that our debts be handled.  In other words: stare the Grand Obstructionist Party down and dare them to refuse to raise the debt ceiling!  

The Republicans are clearly delusional about how such a reckless policy will benefit them politically. The recent polls show that most Americans correctly blame the disastrous economic policies of George Bush for the economic crisis, and the next largest block of voters blame Wall Street.  The next group blames Congress and hardly anybody blames you! Now is the time to stand up to the right-wing anti-government Republican fanatics!   Channel Harry Truman in 1948, when he denounced the Republican controlled House as “A do-nothing Congress” and drove them into oblivion. 

Take to the bully pulpit Mr. President; you are twice as smart as your Republican opponents, you are the best orator in American politics, and the truth is on your side!  Explain to the people the difference between the stated corporate tax rate and the “effective tax rate.”  Jack Smith, a Harvard trained tax attorney, explained it to me this way: “The difference between the stated tax rate and the “effective tax rate” is what percentage of the stated rate is actually collected after all of the tax loopholes corporations enjoy; which is about 5% on average.  By this standard the US has one of the lowest corporate tax rates in the world.  Look at GE, the most profitable corporation tn America…yet they paid nothing in taxes.  You can’t get any lower than that!!!”

Go for it Mr. President!  Speak to the people and explain that this is what happens when you put people who passionately hate government – and are therefore contemptuous of the complex art and science of governing – in charge of the most complex society in the world.  You will have all the evidence you need to show that such people cannot govern effectively.  It’s time to go Gangsta!!




Playthell Benjamin

Harlem New York

July 6, 2011