Archive for October, 2011

Esther Armah’s Savior

Posted in Cultural Matters, Theater with tags , , , on October 24, 2011 by playthell

Panelist Lynn Nottage, Producer Voza Rivers,  Esther Armah

Pulling the Covers off Liberal Racism

Witnessing  Esther Armah’s new and timely play “Savior” reminds us why the theater is still relevant.  Of the myriad virtues of independent black theater is the fact that it is the only dramatic forum in which black folk actually control their image.  And when good actors get a worthy scrip something magical can happen.  In Ms. Armah’s play we are treated to an embarrassment of riches.  Possessed with the sharp eye of the good reporter, the language of a poet and a skilled sophisticated playwright’s understanding of the role of conflict as the engine of drama, Ms. Armah is well suited to her chosen craft.

 Savior’s appeal partly lies in it’s wit and humor and in the insightful way in which the play handles a variety of complex issues involving race, class and gender that allow Ms. Armah to give full reign to both her irreverent imagination –in that she dares to imagine the unimaginable – sharp intellect, and wide ranging knowledge of the world.  The lady is a true cosmopolite.  This is clearly apparent from her elegantly written memoir “Can I Be Me?”

A Black Brit of Ghanaian parentage, Ms. Armah is a world traveler and has observed race relations between whites and blacks in Africa, Europe and the Americas.  And she has developed a fine eye for all the ways in which the melanin deprived sector of humanity exercise power and privilege based on nothing more than melanin deprivation. Most of these observations were made when she was working as a journalist and was therefore in position to get a bird’s eye view of human relations in various societies.  All the things she has learned from her journalistic experiences have found their way into this play.

This  is clearly evident in both her choice of subject and the manner in which she explored it.  The play centers around a the struggle of a well know white male liberal who has been very active in causes for racial and economic justice.  It has become his life’s work as an executive in community organizations, but he has just been passed over for the CEO position in favor of a black woman.  In his mind the white male is certain that there is no way the black woman could be better qualified than him and was not awarded the position on merit; hence he views himself as a victim of reverse discrimination and decides to hire a lawyer to sue the organization.

Unable to get the high powered white lawyer he wanted he is assigned a black male lawyer who appears anxious to get the case because it is the kind of case that could make him famous.  He reasoned that although he has been doing brilliant legal work for years as a supporting player, white lawyers with less talent are always appointed to argue the cases in court.  He does the work but they take the bows.  At first the aggrieved white male doesn’t want the black lawyer, and only reluctantly accepts him as counsel after the lawyer convinces him that he is willing to resort to unprincipled gutter tactics to win.

The Cast and Director 

 The story is told with two actors Michael Green and Jimmy Aquino; who play Billy Hall the white plaintiff and Michael Jamal Williams III his black lawyer.  The brilliantly written dialogue between the two men explores all of the issues of sex, race and power in the contemporary American workplace in the age of our first black President.  Which many believe has moved US society into a post black phase.

The two men eventually hatch a diabolical plot to bring down the black female CEO by attacking her judgment in hiring another black woman as her assistant who is a deranged home wrecking ho, that is trying to break up the white male’s family with bogus charges of sexual harassment after he rejected her advances.  At first the white male is reluctant to pursue this course of action because, as it turns out, he and the woman he is about to attack has had a serious affair that ended badly.

The truth is that he has been stalking her to the extent of showing up at her house uninvited. The white male is obsessed with her but his estranged lover broke off the affair when she learned that he had lied to her about getting a divorce from his white wife, which he explains he had no intention of doing.  When he continues to stalk her she calls the cops and it gets in the press.

The white male finally agrees to throw his former lover under the bus when the black lawyer convinces him that this is a sure path to victory.  The upshot is that upon the direction of a callous overly ambitious black male lawyer they devise a plan to destroy the hard won success and wreck the careers of two highly qualified black women in order to maintain the structure of white male privilege.

During the course of the play we are confronted with all of the issues of racial and gender equity in the work place that presently plague American society but nobody wants to speak  about frankly.  It is the white elephant in the room that everybody pretends not to see.  What makes this play so explosive is that Ms. Armah does not present the typical white bigot who is the usual whipping boy in creative works about racism.  Rather Ms. Armah’s character is the kind of professional white liberal who is dedicated to eradicating racial inequality in America; the kind of know-it-all white guy who views himself as the Savior of black people.

Yet in the end the he is willing to destroy the careers of a longtime colleague and a former lover in order to preserve his privileged status as the boss.  The thought of working for a black woman was unbearable.  Yet he refused to see that his attitude was just as racist, and far more dangerous, as any redneck.  It is no accident that Ms. Armah chose such a character to tell this tale of racism, sexism, power and privilege; in fact her personal experience with liberal white males working as a journalist provided a unique perspective on the problem.

In her poignantly written memoir “Can I be Me” she reflects on her tenure as an Assistant Producer on “Panorama,” a current affairs program on the BBC in London.  When the question of racial equity in terms of hiring and promotion was broached a “senior colleague” who was white and male offered the following response.  “No one can accuse us of being racist, just look at the number of programs we’ve done on the far right.”

Ms. Armah was shocked that her white male colleague  saw racism “solely in crude and extreme terms. A truth dawned.” She recalls.  “So many white, middle class liberals defined racism in this fashion.  Their intention, it struck me, was to distance themselves from any possibility of being accused of displaying racism by defining it in such extreme terms.”  But, she concludes that their kind of racism was “far more poisonous, it had become a subtle, cancerous cloak that hovered and sheltered institutions: complex, dangerous, destroyer of dreams and much, much more difficult to actively fight.”

It is clear that the weapon Ms. Armah has chosen to fight this class of phenomenon – which she has observed in Africa and the US also – is the dramatist’s art.  She has put the whole mess on stage in a well-crafted highly intelligent play, and through the agency of two fine actors in a bravura performance engaged the audience, made us think about unpleasant problems some would rather avoid, held us in suspense, and completely fooled most of the audience – this writer included – with her surprise ending.

One of the surprising treats in this lay is the deep insight she provides into the machinations of the trained legal mind.  It is a unique view of how justice is arrived at in our legal system…or the appearance of justice.   One of the ways she achieves this is by her expert use of legal language and explanations of what they mean through the arguments of the lawyer.  This expertise, we would later learn in the panel discussion that followed the play, is because she grew up in a family of lawyers.  Under the insightful direction of Passion this is a splendid evening of theater at the Dwyer Cultural Center – a venue where cultural treasures are common fare.  Esther Armah’s Savior is at once an education and catharsis.  Bravo!

Director, Actor, Playwright

 Passion, Michael Green and Esther Armah 


Playthell Benjamin

Harlem, New York

October, 2011









On Wall Street Protests and the Legacy of Dr. King

Posted in Occupy Wall Street, Playthell on politics with tags , , on October 22, 2011 by playthell

King of the Great Mall

The dedication of the monument to Martin Luther King was unveiled on Sunday, October 16, 2011.  Forty-three years after his assassination, every segment of American society can identify with Martin Luther King, Jr.  Conservatives sing his praises and liberals honor his contributions to racial justice.  There is a remarkable consensus on the historical significance of the civil rights movement and the leadership of Martin Luther King, Jr.

Social movements are unpredictable.  Throughout American history, social movements have had a profound impact on American civilization.  Social movements tend to propel the society forward yet there are instances when social movements have been regressive.  The “Know Nothing” movement in the 1850s aimed at Catholics manifested a bigoted sense of who or what constituted America.  The Know Nothing’s were vehemently opposed to immigration that would ethnically diversify America.

Another social movement that kept America backwards was the “Jim Crow Movement that captured the race interest of southern whites in a strange quest to preserve the privileges of the ante-bellum life that supposedly flourished prior to the 1860s Civil War.  Jim Crow reigned supreme until the challenge of the civil rights movement of the late 1950s and early 1960s.  Regressive social movements are usually born of fear. Progressive social movements are born of hope.  Progressive social movements invariably deepen the democratic process.

Jim Crow!

The minstrel character that came to exemplify racial segregation

Although there is a certain unpredictability about social movements, there are discernible forces that serve as a catalyst for mass uprisings. At the end of World War II, there had occurred a sizeable expansion of the black industrial workforce who were organized into unions.  Many African Americans had fought in the war against the fascist undemocratic forces. Obviously, once they returned to American shores, they were quite strident about asserting their democratic rights.

Many from this burgeoning working class/middle class generation were sending their children to black colleges in the south and elsewhere.  Church leaders like Martin Luther King, Jr. were ready to throw off the yoke of racial subservience and take to the streets to demand fundamental changes in the cruel world of Jim Crow.  The world was changing rapidly. The Third World was breaking the shackles of colonialism and marching towards self-determination.

The civil rights movement was inspired by the anti-colonial struggles and challenged the Jim Crow status quo. America’s political establishment unwillingly accommodated themselves to the demands for equal accommodations, the right to participate in the political process, and for the statutory elimination of employment and housing discrimination.

Martin Luther King’s mass movement had precipitated historical changes and pushed American civilization closer to becoming that city on the hill.  But King’s vision of America took him beyond civil rights. He became increasingly critical of America’s involvement in the war in Viet-Nam and was incensed by the plight of the poor.  He became pre-occupied with rampant economic injustice.  He intervened in the strike of the sanitation workers in Memphis, Tennessee. He made plans for putting together the poor people’s campaign in the nation’s capital.  At that juncture in the midst of a new struggle that had yet to become a mass movement, Martin Luther King was assassinated!

The momentum for social justice was buried with Dr. King.  Nonetheless, other social movements deepening the democratic process in America emerged. The feminist movement sought to transform male hegemony in the home and in the public sphere.  Women sought to enter the workplace, equality, to shatter glass ceilings and to change the gender dynamic in American society.

The feminist movement changed the gender complexity of American society.  Nowhere is that more manifested than in the sphere of higher education.  Women are equally represented in undergraduate education, graduate education, and doctoral programs. In the case of black women, they have outdistanced the men.  In the words of Julius Nyerere, while the men walk, the women run.

The gay and lesbian movement has made painstaking progress in recent decades.  The struggle for sexual equality has been advanced but there is still great resistance in civil society, in religious circles, and in the political system. Those objectives are essential to deepening the democratic process.

The Occupy Wall Street Movement epitomizes the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr.  In an age of revolutionary technology, conventional political actors take the position that the jobless and powerless must wait for the magic of the marketplace.  The Nero-like Congress plays the fiddle while the circumstance of the sixteen million unemployed workers and the multitude of underemployed continue to deteriorate.

Occupy Wall Street has not only gone national. It has gone global.  Globalization as it took root bred a certain degree of mass paralysis.  Now the communication revolution that is an integral part of globalization is also instrumental in fostering a culture of resistance. At the time of his death, Martin Luther King, Jr. had become a drum major for justice and his life had a remarkable impact on America and across the world.

The Occupy Wall Street Movement is a clamor for social and economic justice.  At this juncture, the vision is not being projected by any one leader but by a grassroots mass uprising that has captured the imagination of what is left of Fanon’s wretched of the earth.

Night falls on tent city outside Philly’s City Hall

As the Occupy Wall Street Movement Spreads

Anti-Wall Street Protestors in Rome!

The wrath of the people in the Eternal City

The Protest Bug spreads to Asia

Anti-Wall Street ghosts On the streets of Seoul


By: Dr. Basil Wilson

Originally published in Carib News

Rev. Al and the Struggle for Justice

Posted in Playthell on politics with tags , on October 19, 2011 by playthell
The most moving orator in the public square

On The Role of Charismatic Leadership

When Reverend Sharpton took the podium on the Great Mall in Washington on Saturday to lead a march honoring  the installation of a monument to Dr. Martian Luther King, he was entering a tradition that included Frederick Douglass, Adam Clayton Powell, Martin Luther King, Jesse Jackson and Louis Farrakhan.  The greatest Orators in our  history!  I mean American history.  Rev. Al gave a splendid account of himself in a  performance that  enriched rather than detracted from that grand tradition.

The eloquence and power of his oratory inspired all who heard him – including hard boiled critical thinkers like myself.  In relying on biblical text to fashion a social gospel that speaks directly to the economic crisis that witnesses the rich getting richer while the poor grow more desperate, Sharpton was firmly in the tradition of Dr. King’s employment of the Afro-American sermonic art to advocate social justice in the secular sphere.

Dr. King forged this inspiring combination into a weapon capable of fundamentally changing the world’s most powerful society without ever firing a shot.  As the most visible heir to Dr. King’s activist legacy, it is both fitting and proper  that Reverend Sharpton should have convened this march.   And he delivered a speech that reminds us Dr. King was a peaceful but uncompromising warrior in defense of the poor and dispossessed.

Like Dr. King, Sharpton is doing just what Jesus Christ charged those who claim to be his followers to do: Minister unto the least among us!  Rescuing this message from the blasphemy of the Christian Right, who hijacked Jesus for avaricious billionaires who starve the poor – is clearly the work of progressive theologians like Cornell West.   Yet Corny rejects that role in favor of dispensing dangerous third rate political analysis.

While President Obama is the most moving orator to occupy the white house in my lifetime, Al Sharpton is the reigning master of the public square.  For the poor and powerless in the United States at this moment in history that’s a very good thing, because nobody presents their case to the
world more movingly and intelligently than Reverend Al.

I am not dismissing the case to be made by academicians, but they write treatises in obscure polysyllabic Latinate jargon that is understood  only by each other….and professional policy wonks.  While their work is surely indispensable; it is for the quiet deliberations of scholars in Ivy towers – which can become academic war rooms when engaged in solving real world problems.  But they cannot incite the masses to action!

If the masses make history, then they who can move the masses shape the contours of our history.  That’s what “Charismatic Revivalists” like Al Sharpton, and his role model Dr. Martin Luther King, are about. As a great salesman once told me: No business gets done until somebody sells something!

And right now, Reverend Al is the best salesman for progressive liberal agenda we have.  He is the most powerful and comvincing advocate  for the liberal welfare capitalist state that emerged in Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal of the 1930s, and was expanded during the Great Society years of Lyndon Johnson during the 1960’s.

Sharpton’s Keynesian view of the role of government in alleviating unemployment by becoming the employer of last resort when the private sector fails to provide adequate jobs at a living wage, is a powerful antidote to the 999 Mumbo Jumbo of Herman Cain and other rightwing lunacies advocated by Republicans. Furthermore Sharpton’s long experience in building movements has equipped him with the political acumen to put the outrage of the people into realizable demands.  The Grand Obstructionist Party argues that there is no legitimate role for government in mediating and regulating economic activity; in their view the financial fate of the nation should be left to the “economic royalists” who monopolize our nation’s wealth.

No one on the public stage says no to this vision of America more powerfully and effectively than Rev. Al! His is a voice that arises from the people; he remains close to the common  people and bears witness to their pain. That’s why Sharpton’s oratorical prowess embodies the spirit of the resistance movement and makes the word flesh; this is what moves the masses.  The white left has produced no comparable charismatic leader. This is why Reverend Al is indispensable to the success of the burgeoning movement for economic justice in America today.

 King of the Mall…Not Just a Memory in Stone

Rev Sharpton Reminded Us Dr. King is A Living Legacy


Playthell Benjamin

Harlem New York

October 19, 2011

Will The Great White Hope…

Posted in Playthell on politics with tags , , on October 17, 2011 by playthell

Mitt Romney and Chris Christie: A Republican dream team?

……Choose the Overweight White Dope!

It is a measure of the desperation the Republican establishment is feeling just now that they believe their salvation lies in a Mitt Romney Chris Christie ticket; that these two deeply flawed politicians represent a dream team which can defeat President Obama in the coming elections.  Especially since each passing day reveals new evidence that Mitt, the top of the ticket, is a political chameleon.

He was a job cutting corporate raider in the private sector, a failure as a job creator as Governor; against taxing the financial sector when he was a businessman; yet raised taxes on the financial industry as Governor, was pro-choice in reproductive issues and now oppose it, and he is running away from his greatest political achievement in creating the health care system in Massachusettes.

Since Mitt Romney’s campaign appearances are about as exciting as a game of croquet at an old folk’s home, the establishment Republicans look with great anticipation to Governor Christie entering the race to offset the dynamism of President Obama.  It has become an article of faith that Christie can add pizazz to a Republican ticket headed by Mitt the Stiff, since the governor won’t run himself.

They are anxious to hitch their fortune to this Rising star because they believe he is doing such a terrific job in New Jersey, and he exudes a pugnacious tough guy swagger that appeals to angry white dudes bewildered by their inability to get ahead in this stagnant economy.  However Christie’s performance as governor is viewed very differently by working people in his state; especially my sister Melba and her neighbor Joe the Fireman.  Both of them were public sector workers; Melba is a retired educator who served the parents and students of New Jersey for most of her adult life.

It is bad enough that she must listen to this impassioned charlatan denigrate teachers as if they were public enemies rather than vital public servants, but she is also worried about what Christie might do to further decimate the public schools and other essential public services.  As a highly educated homeowner and former Union organizer, Melba knew better than to vote for Christie; she was not at all impressed by his tough talking swagger.

Not so for her neighbor Joe, a blue collar Irish guy who is a second generation fireman.  He voted for Christie against my sister’s unvarnished advice.  Not long after Christie took office Joe was forced into early retirement.  For guys like Joe, his job is more than a gig: It is a mission.  It is his reason for living.

Now as he putters around the house aimlessly, Joe shares Melba’s view of Christie.  And Melba thinks a Christie presidency would be slightly less disastrous than a new outbreak of the Bubonic Plague!  This is the guy the Republicans are betting can give Mr. Chameleon a winning edge against the President?  Well…good luck with dat.  I’m putting my money on Chilly B!

The Chi Town Kid’s Got Game!

And he keeps his eyes on the prize


Playthell Benjamin

Harlem, New York

October 17, 2011

On Wall Street and Economic Inequality

Posted in Occupy Wall Street, Playthell on politics with tags , on October 14, 2011 by playthell

Civil Servants Struggling for Bread

Working Americans are Standing up to the Plutocrats!  

The Occupy Wall Street Movement has sprung up in a number of key cities after its genesis on September 17, 2011 in New York City.  The protesters in New York City have taken over John Zucotti Park and have triggered a grassroots movement that is appalled at the high level of social injustice in America.  The Movement is still a trickling tributary and some have argued that the objectives are too amorphous. On my visit to Zucotti Park, I was surprised by the miniscule nature of the Park. 

The people gathered in the Park had their cups runover.  They were mostly college educated middle class young men and women who had played by the rules, taking out loans to snatch an education, and had collided with a political system growing increasingly undemocratic, a system where money-lords controlled lopsided decision-making. One of the slogans repeated by the protesters is that they constitute ninety-nine percent of the population yet the one percent kept downloading the lion share of the nation’s wealth.

Will the Occupy Wall Street Movement capture the imagination of the quizzical American electorate and change the dialectic of electoral politics?  The movement represents the Winter of Working Class discontent.  They along with Americans of all stripes are contributing to sites on Facebook, on Twitter, and on internet sites established to facilitate and make the non-violent uprising into a mass movement.

In Zuccoti Park

All races and ages were representin!

During the Obama Presidential election of 2008, there was much talk about whether we had entered a post-racial America.  There are many aspects to this discourse but one critical aspect was young America getting to a point where race was declining in significance, to use William Julius Wilson’s words, and class was becoming increasingly salient.  The Occupy Wall Street Movement in the making is about class and democracy.  This burgeoning grassroots movement has within it the seeds to challenge the hegemony of Wall Street greed.

When the Tea Party popped out like a Jack-in-the Box after the election of Barack Obama, it began as a grassroots movement financed by big capital. It is is opposed to big  government, big spending, bank bail-outs and federalized health care.  After the 2010 election, the Tea Party elements elected to the United States Congress were instrumental in changing the conversation. They had the nation fixated on deficits and debt.  Joblessness took a back seat.  Legislation passed by the 2010 Congress focused on spending cuts and were oblivious to jobs.  Spending cuts in a time of economic downturn only makes the plight of the jobless more hellish.

There is a confederate syndrome to the Tea Party adherents.  They are for having everything settled at the state level yet they are supportive of corporate capital.  The Tea Party has not been able to put forward a jobs program to put Americans back to work.  These older, very white, fairly well-off supporters, as the Republican Presidential candidate Jon Huntsman remarked, have no sense of science and have no workable ideas about the business of governing other than to reduce the taxes on the wealthy and give them the opportunity to have more than 25 percent of the wealth.

President Obama after the Republicans took over the House of Representatives, calculated that to win a second term he had to run as a centrist with the expectation that he would hold his Democratic Party base and capture a majority of the independent voters. The center in American politics has come apart.  The Tea Party has dragged the Republican Party into looney right wing self-righteousness. The Occupy Wall Street movement, if it catches fire, is going to pull the Democratic Party to embrace critical issues of social justice.

It is not surprising in an age where class is trumping race that Herman Cain has emerged as a possible Presidential candidate for the Republican Party.  Cain, who slept through the civil rights movement of the 1960s, has become an articulate spokesperson for the Tea Party’s simplification of complex  American realities.  His solution to the economic crisis is reduce corporate taxes to 9 percent, income taxes to 9 percent, and a value added tax to 9 percent.

Right wing conservatives have been clamoring for a flat tax but are not in favor of flat bonuses, flat health care and a flat educational system.  Cain’s 999 plan to fix America’s economic woes would push up the Gini Index – a measure of the distribution of wealth in our society, which is one of the worse in the western world – and make the slice of the 99 percent even more miniscule.  It would wreck social security, Medicare and Medicaid.  It would turn America into a place where wealth would be so terribly skewed that Charles Dickens’s London would appear progressive!

Occupy Wall Street must take its time and explore a new paradigm for America.  We live in a time of great confusion.  Even as clear a thinker as Senator Bernie Sanders thinks that the solution to concentrated investment capital is to break up those holdings.  But there has been an inexorable tendency towards greater and greater concentrations of investment capital historically.

Thus the critical question for the Occupy Wall Street Movement is: what democratic interest  should that concentration of wealth should serve?  Underlying the newly surfaced voices is the demand that those entities must be structured in a way that is commensurate with democratic precepts.

“This is what Democracy Looks Like!”

The people chanted as they marched 

Steve Job didn’t settle for shopworn technology.  He invented gadgets that enriched human lives.  What the Occupy Wall Street Movement seeks is an America that enriches the lives of the 99 percent, not just the one percenters and not those who shamelessly cover up the moral bankruptcy of Wall Street.



* By: Dr. Basil Wilson, Political Scientist 

Originally published in Carib News, 10/15/11

Is the Liberal/Left Self Destructive?

Posted in My Struggle On the Left!, Occupy Wall Street, Playthell on politics with tags , on October 12, 2011 by playthell

Katrina Vanden Hueval: Editor of The Nation

Notes on the Folly of the Left

The protesters  in the nascent movement have been criticized for being too decentralized and lacking a clear list of demands.” writes Ms. Katrina Vanden Heuvel, editor of the influential left/liberal journal of opinion “The Nation” regarding the Wall Street rebels.  She goes on to pronounce: “But they are bearing witness to the corruption of our politics; if they made demands to those in power, it would suggest those in power could do something about it. This contradicts what is, perhaps, their most compelling point: that our institutions and politicians serve the top 1 percent, not the other 99.”

Not content with spewing this bit of spurious prattle – since it is only those in power that can solve our problems – alas Katrina’s analysis goes quickly downhill and descends into pure  foolishness: “The movement doesn’t need a policy or legislative agenda to send its message. The thrust of what it seeks—fueled both by anger and deep principles has moral clarity.”

This would be quite sufficient if we were discussing the mission of a Church or Synagogue, whose raison d’etre is helping their supplicants find “moral clarity.” But the aspirations and goals that she ascribes to the movement can only be achieved through the art of politics – which is the process by which relationships of power are formed.  To conclude otherwise is to retreat into fantasy!

Speaking of the burgeoning movement against criminal avarice of the Plutocracy symbolized by the anti-Wall Street Protests she tells us: “It wants corporate money out of politics. It wants the widening gap of income inequality to be narrowed substantially. And it wants meaningful solutions to the jobless crisis. In short, it wants a system that works for the 99 percent. Already Occupy Wall Street has sparked a conversation about reforms far more substantial than the stunted debate in Washington. Its energy will supercharge the arduous work other organizations have been doing for years, amplifying their actions as well as their agendas.”

Bill Mahr: An insightful, witty, comedian….

…..But no political philosopher!

Apologist for the apolitical confusion of the Wall Street activist appears to be  multiplying like wild rabbits.  The kind of well intentioned albiet confused blather we hear from Ms. Vanden Heuval is repeated ad nauseum among the liberal/left cognoscenti.  It is echoed in the smug too-clever-by-half drivel spouted by Bill Mahr on the Rachel Maddow show recently.  Silly Willy went to great lengths to poo poo the importance of politics, and gave but little indication that he clearly understood who the real enemy is, let alone how to develop a strategy to defeat them.

Indeed, intellectual leaders of the American left actually encourage this kind of misguided and dangerous thinking on the part of celebrity entertainers like Bill Mahr, whom Isometimes think is taken far too seriously – after all, clever and verbose fellow though he is, he remains a clown of renown, not a scholar whose opinions are based on years of serious study!

Ms. Vanden Heuval has no such excuse alas.  As the majority of her commentary on the anti-Wall Street rebels, “Will Occupy Wall Street’s spark reshape our politics”  demonstrates, Ms. Vanden Heuval is a woman of surpassing intelligence. And as Editor of the “Nation” magazine she has rich sources of information readily available to her

Yet these facts beg the question of how she could have concluded the following: “Many, if not most of the protesters are openly wary about the embrace of the progressive establishment.  Rightly so. The movement, unlike the Tea Party, is not based on electoral strategy, and there is a concern about being co-opted.” This kind of flawed thinking led the demonstrators to deny Congressman John Lewis the opportunity to speak in Atlanta, turning away a powerful natural ally.

When we consider that the Tea Party strategy resulted in the election of over eighty Congressman, who succeeded in blocking funding for President Obama’s regulatory regime to check the power of the Wall Street Bankers and stop them from driving the economy over a cliff again – and the American people being soaked for hundreds of billions to bail them out – plus just last night we saw the Grand Obstructionist Party kill the President’s jobs bill, it is fair to ask is the liberal left self-destructive?


Playthell Benjamin

Harlem, New York

October 12, 2011










Will Wall Street Rebels End Up like Jack the Bear…

Posted in Occupy Wall Street, Playthell on politics with tags , on October 12, 2011 by playthell

Great Passion but little Politics

…..Making tracks but getting nowhere?

In my first commentary on the Wall Street demonstrations I questioned whether this budding movement was revolutionary or anarchistic, and concluded that thus far it was closer to anarchy – which is a synonym for political chaos.  This observation elicited a howl from many of those who support the demonstrators; some even suggested that I opposed them.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

It is because I share their outrage at the Wall Street Robber Barons, and the decadent Plutocracy they serve, that I offer up critical analysis in the hope that it might have some effect on the debate about the direction of this budding movement that has now gone nationwide through the agency of social media.  I want them to succeed in curtailing the power of the Plutocrats, but I know from many years as a participant observer and serious student that all successful mass transformative movements must contain certain factors.

The most important of these factors, after defining the enemy, is to put forth a set of realizable demands around which one can rally and organize the masses.  These demands are defined by what the movement stands for, which is usually determined by ideology.  In the absence of a unifying ideology the movement lacks coherence and thus it becomes unclear what their objectives are and confuses the masses.

The demonstrators say they are patterning their movement after the Mid-East uprisings collectively labeled “The Arab Spring.”  Yet a close look at those social upheavals reveal a world of confusion which could easily end up with the cure being worse than the disease, as governments fall with no organized political formation capable of taking power and governing.

There is no chance of this in the US, because no unorganized rag tag force is going to bring down the American government.  And no highly organized force operating outside of the two party system is going to change the American capitalist system, whether armed or not.  This is the problem I have with the Occupy Wall Street movement.

Yesterday I spent considerable time among the demonstrators listening to their vision of the mission they have undertaken.  And I found them as confused as two weeks  before in both their objectives and how to achieve them.  The most common theme in their arguments is that there is no difference between the Democrats and Republicans; hence they are above politics!

When John Was their Age 

He was fighting against armed fascist! 

They demonstrators exposed the depth and pervasiveness of this belief by denying Democratic Congressman John Lewis the opportunity to address the demonstrators in Atlanta.  Not only does Lewis share their feelings about the criminal maldistribution of wealth in the US, but when he was their age he was the leader of an organization that played a critical role in a mass movement that qualitatively changed American society for the better.  Here was a staunch ally in Congress who could transform their demands into legislation and put it before the Congress for a vote.

Then the demonstrations would have specific achievable goals to organize their activism around!  They cannot achieve their hopes and dreams by any other method. Yet they turned Congressman Lewis away. If the anti-Wall street rebels do not soon get a grip on political reality –which is to understand how change is actually made in American society – their boisterous demonstrations will be all sound and fury…signifying nothing!  Like Jack the Bear, they will make tracks but get nowhere!

The Beat Goes On! 

Intoxicated by the Afrocentric Polyrhythms

An Aroused citizenry is on the March!

But where are they headed?


Text and Photos by: Playthell Benjamin

* Picture of John Lewis: Smithsonian Institute

October 10, 2011

Mitt is Not Only A Bore…He’s a Fraud!

Posted in Playthell on politics with tags , , , on October 10, 2011 by playthell

Destroying Jobs at Bain Capital


Is Mitt Romney the Answer?

There will be much speculation about what brought on the Texas bumbler Slick Rick’s demise, but I think putting his dumb verbose wife out front with her annoying Texas cracker drawl, explaining how Ricky was not properly prepared for the previous debates but he was really boning up for the next one, and solemnly promised he would do better, was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

From all appearances Ricky has waited too late to seek the aid of tutors, for he has been exposed to the world as an empty vessel; as one observer put it: “Rickey is a Texas cowboy who is all hat and no cattle!”  And like Humpty Dumpty after his great fall: all the Texas cattlemen and all the Texas Oil Men can’t put Ricky’s campaign back together again!

As Rick Perry’s star dramatically falls, threatening to crash and burn, Mitt Romney is on the rise. And when we look at the steady decline of the other contenders, Mitt emerges as the frontrunner by default. Although this does not insure that he will win the race to become the Republican candidate for the Oval Office, as I write he is the leader of the pack.  So the question facing the American electorate is whether Mitt has the answer to the protracted unemployment crisis that is gripping the country like an incurable disease?

Since he is building his campaign on the claim that his executive experience running companies in the private sector taught him how to devise  policies in government that will lead to a boom in job creation, this is a reasonable question to ask.  Mitt has even taken to scornfully dismissing his adversaries in the race as economic know nothings who have never managed a corner store.  The trouble with Mitt’s argument is that, unlike Herman Cain for instance, he has never run a corner store – or any store – either.

According to Eric A. Kriss, who was Mitt’s partner in Bain Capital where the Mittster made his enormous fortune, “Mitt ran a private equity firm, not a cement company.  He was not a business man in the sense of running a company.  He was a great presenter, a great spokesman and a great salesman.”  In fact Mitt was a corporate raider and job destroyer as Bain Capital bought and sold companies as if they were pig skins.  And as governor of Massachusetts his state was 47th of 50 states in Job creation!   Hence, contrary to his campaign claims: The Mittster is a flop as a job creator: He is all blow and no go on the economic front!!!

Furthermore this stiff, plastic, poseur is in the strange position of having to run away from his major achievement in establishing a health care system in Massachusetts when he was governor of the state.  The present Governor, Duval Patrick, says almost all citizens of the state are covered under this plan; it is the best in the nation. Yet here we see the ludicrous spectacle of Mitt running against Texas Governor Rick Perry for the Republican Presidential nomination, but is afraid to claim his achievement against a guy who presides over the state with the worst health  care coverage in the nation!

Mitt is also running away from his record as governor of the Bay State when he collected millions in taxes from his former corporate buddies by closing loopholes they previously enjoyed in order to eradicate budget deficits!   Both of these policies are examples of good government that any politician should be proud of, but because President Obama is pursing similar policies the Mittster is running away from his past achievements like foxes from a forest fire!

That’s why he is widely regarded as a fraud by many in the Republican Party – Dr. Rachel Maddow presented abundant evidence that Mitt is despised by people at all levels of the GOP – and is the object of open derision by the Tea Party types who make up a majority of the Republican base.  These yahoos regard Mitt the Stiff as a 24 karat phony and will tell anybody who asks!

The base is a major determinant in who wins the Republican nomination, and when the widespread perception that the Mittster is a fraud is coupled with the fact that many Evangelical Christians will not vote for a Mormon – their largest denomination, the southern Baptist, have called Mormonism “a cult” and their ministers are openly campaigning against him on religious grounds – there is a good chance that he could be knocked off by one of his two closest rivals.

However the Texas Governor exposes himself as a big numbskull every time he opens his mouth, which increases the possibility that Herman Cain could steal the nomination! Yet it is fairly easy to predict that Cain will be smoked  in the general election against President Obama! That’s why thePlutocrats, Mitt’s cronies, are desperately seeking an alternative.

They know that like a broken clock that’s right twice every day, the untutored mob that comprises the Republican base is right about Mitt.  Not only does he provide no solutions to the crippling problems that have the American working and middle classes in a death grip: he is being increasingly exposed as an unmitigated fraud!!

The Mittster: A Plastic Prick!

A 24 Karat Phony with no solutions!


Playthell Benjamin

Harlem New York

October 10, 2011

How Steve Jobs Changed My Life

Posted in Cultural Matters with tags , on October 7, 2011 by playthell
 Hooked Up!   My work station where the Commentaries are created

How I joined the Blogosphere

Although I wasn’t a Luddite, I was not one of those who immediately recognized the marvelous power of the personal computer.  And in any case they seemed impossible to operate without special training. This belief was shaped from my limited attempts to operate the computer we had in the crib, which was incomprehensible.

 It was an IBM, which in my mind was synonymous with computers having grown up with Univac, the big IBM main frame computer. The personal computer we had operated on a very complex program, yet while I stumbled my kids were operating it with ease because they were taught how to use the program in school.  While they were merrily typing away, I used to sit at my writing table scribbling with a ball point pen; then hiring a typist to type the manuscripts for my articles – which regularly appeared in the most prestiegous publications in the English language: the Village voice, Manchester Guardian and Sunday Times of London among them.

Several things happened that led me to the personal computer.  It began with a speech I delivered to an auditorium full of computer scientist at Bell Corps.  I decided to be a wise guy and get a laugh at their expense, as well as make a point about folks developing a fetish for technological gadgetry to the point that things we used to do very well before the technology now seemed impossible without digital toys.

So I gleefully told the scientist that I had a word processor that could write, make quick corrections, was compact enough to carry in your breast pocket and had a renewable power source.  Then I dramatically reached into my pocket and produced a lead pencil!  It got a big laugh, and to further beat the technocrats down I announced that Shakespeare had written 35 plays with a goose quill!

When the lecture on Jazz was over and Wynton and Ellis Marsalis performance concluded, one of the scientist, Larry Dillon, came over to me and said “I bet if Shakespeare was writing on my Mac he would have written 100 plays!”  Then a few weeks later he showed up on my birthday with a complete Mac set – computer and laser printer.  “This is my contribution to American culture” he announced.

 I was overwhelmed with gratitude but still continued to write with my ballpoint pen until I was talking with writer Elsa Boyd who had written an instructional book titled “Word Processing for Dummies.”  She told me I didn’t have to know how to type and that my machine was “user Friendly.”Well, I began to write on my Mac and it changed my life.

One of those computer scientists also worked on “The Information Super Highway,” which became the Internet as we know it.  The  Personal Computer and the Internet has provided me a worldwide audience…and a great incentive to write.  I am especially inspired when I think of the ordeal Fredrik Douglass went through to get his commentaries before the public.

 He had to own a press to begin with; then he had to set the type, choose different fonts, ink them down, churn out those broadsheets by hand, and send them by mail to distributers.  Thanks to Steve Jobs – a California counter-cultural free thinking quasi-hippie/tinkerer/businessman / genius –  I can sit right here at my desk and create a document with pictures and text, then publish it on the Internet so that my readers can read it all over the world instantaneously!   Every time I sit down to write I feel like the Greek philosopher Archimedes: “Give me a lever and a place to sit…and I will move the earth.”  The personal computer, a gift from the fertile imagination of Steve Jobs – is my lever!!!

The College Dropout Who Changed the World!

Steve Jobs


Platythell Benjamin

Harlem New York

October 2011

It’s a Barnum and Bailey World!

Posted in Occupy Wall Street, Playthell on politics with tags , on October 4, 2011 by playthell

Protesting the Wall Street Plutocrats in California

“The whole world is in trouble…and the danger zone is everywhere”
Percy Mayfield, Bluesman

Revolution or Anarchy?

As I look at the mass uprisings against government authority around the globe it is clear that they are a class of phenomena that share several fundamental features. They are leaderless, present no specific demands, and possess no ideology or theory of change that envisions the new society they wish to construct.  In other words they are spontaneous combustions directed by social media like Facebook and Twitter, which has bypassed the organizational stages that all the successful mass transformative movements in history have evolved through. Thus their prospects as agents for qualitative change appear more illusionary than real in spite of their zeal.

Although they often refer to themselves as revolutionaries, which mean they are about the  business of making a revolution, the young people who are participating in these uprisings appear fairly clueless about the history and character of successful revolutions in the modern world.  The most shocking sign of their naiveté is the belief that they can accomplish radical change in a complex mass society like the US while bypassing politics – which is a process that requires serious discipline and organization.

Yet we see this naiveté in youth driven uprisings around the world; it is no wonder that many participants describe themselves as “anarchist,” and sing the praises of anarchy despite the fact that anarchy is a synonym for chaos.  In Israel for instance, we hear 26 year old Yonatan Levy refer to the tent cities that have cropped up in urban areas to protests the concentration of wealth in a small elite, the domination of government by ultra-Orthodox Jews and the absence of affordable housing as “a beautiful anarchy.”

In Spain, where the official unemployment rate is 21% – the highest in the industrialized world – we hear Marta Solanas, a 27 year old demonstrator in Madrid declare “Our parents are grateful because they are voting…we’re the first generation to say voting is useless.”  Clearly these demonstrators, who were 70,000 strong, have not pondered the riddle of how they are going to persuade the masses of Spaniards to join a revolution when they can’t convince them to vote for the issues they deem of critical importance.

The real difference between the vision of these youths and their parents is that their parents lived through the fascist period under Generalissimo Francisco Franco, thus they know the difference having the right to vote for their leaders can make in the quality of life…or one’s chances in life. This naviete plagues the growing anti-establishment movement from Israel, to Greece, to India, to England to Wall Street.

And while the demonstrators in the “Arab Spring” were forced to resort to violence because there was no alternative avenue to change, such as in the democracies, their lack of a clear cut vision of the society they are ushering in is a contradiction they share with other demonstrators around the world This is abundantly clear in the statement that appears on the website recruiting people to join the Wall Street demonstrations, either as physical actors or support groups; which describe their nascent movement in the following terms:

“Occupy Wall Street is a leaderless resistance movement with people of many colors, genders and political persuasions. The one thing we all have in common is that We Are The 99% that will no longer tolerate the greed and corruption of the 1%. We are using the revolutionary Arab Spring   tactic to achieve our ends and encourage the use of nonviolence to maximize the safety of all participants.”

The apolitical confused nature of the burgeoning demonstrations on Wall Street was made crystal clear by the ubiquitous gadfly Michael Moore, who has long been a foe of the shenanigans of the “economic royalist.” When asked if they were demonstrating to force Congress to fund the agency
tasked with carrying out the President’s rigorous new regulations of Wall Street, or to force them to pass the President’s American Jobs Act, Big Mike glibly replied “We’re beyond all that.”

While one can sympathize with the demonstrator’s motivation and objectives, the serious student of revolutionary movements cannot fail to conclude that an unorganized headless host challenging the citadel of world financial power, but could not present a list of realizable demands if the Robber Barons capitulated and were willing to deal today, has about as much chance of changing the modus operandi of the financial elite as a chimp has of performing the Paganini Variations for solo violin.

Hence from all the observable evidence I am convinced that what we are witnessing is anarchy not revolution!  And if they don’t build an organization and coherent ideology they will not win the support of the public and they will be crushed by the police power of the state…a scenario that we are already beginning to witness.  Let us hope that the entrance of organized labor into the fray will give this populist revolt some real direction and increase their chances of having a positive impact.

The People are on the Move

But Where Are they Headed?


Playthell Benjamin

Harlem, New York

October 4, 2011