Archive for November, 2011

Listen Up Anti-Wall Street Rebels!

Posted in Occupy Wall Street, Playthell on politics with tags , , , , on November 30, 2011 by playthell
 progressive Florida Democrat unseated by Republicans

 Working Americans have 3 friends in this world: God, Yo Mamma, and the Democrats!”  This simple declarative statement by former – and hopefully future – Democratic Congressman Alan Grayson of Florida, a former Wall Street whiz kid who has become their worst critic, appears to be very hard for many on the left to grasp, and totally beyond the comprehension of the most vocal elements of the Occupy Wall Street rebels. Yet it is fairly easy to demonstrate that the third assertion is true, because the Republicans are clearly the enemy of the working class and the public interests.

Despite spurious rhetoric about concern for “the American people,” which has no observable relation to their actions, the Republicans are unambiguous in their support for the filthy rich in the policies they propose. This is why the Super-Committee failed, and this is why the payroll tax break for working and middle class Americans is about to lapse.  The Republican position, which they repeat ad nauseum, is that unless the rich are exonerated from any increased tax burden they are quite willing to starve the poor!

This charge is not overblown rhetoric, it is an accurate description of policies that seeks to destroy unions; cut health and welfare benefits to the poor; reduce Social Security benefits for the elderly; raise taxes on the poor, and allow unemployment benefits to run out – during the Christmas season no less – while refusing to agree to any increased taxes on the rich; even if it just means allowing the ill-conceived avaricious Bush Tax Cuts to expire.

Furthermore, the raison d’etre of the anti-Wall Street movement is the gross and growing inequity in the distribution of wealth in American society, yet the Republicans have blocked the tough regulatory regime designed to keep the Wall Street bankers from driving the economy off a cliff again.

This legislation was passed by a Congress controlled by Democrats and signed into law by President Obama.  This bill also includes the toughest consumer protection legislation in American history.   Clearly it is the Democrats – people like Congressman Barney Frank and Senator Chris Dodd, Anthony Weiner and Professor Elizabeth Warren, the Congressional Black Caucus and Progressive Caucus, et al – who have waged the fight for goals that are implied in the rhetoric of the Occupy Wall Street protestors.

The fact that the rebels do not recognize this obvious connection, embrace the Democrats as allies and work for their empowerment in the coming elections by electing men like Alan Grayson to Congress, portends a real danger that this confused and slipshod rebellion will fail to metamorphose into an effective force capable of transforming economic relations in this country.

As I write most of these rebels are so clueless that don’t even know who the enemy is, let alone the path to victory.  And leftist ideologues – many of who claim to have a “science of society” that guides their actions – are not advancing the developmental process with their mindless prattle about the Democrats and Republicans being the same!  While simultaneously cheering any sign of an uprising against capitalism no matter how irrational it’s vision or improbable it’s success.

Alas the budding movement is in grave danger of missing this historic moment and squandering its revolutionary potential in meaningless street theater that will amount to little more than a collective temper tantrum, deserving little more than a footnote in the historical record.  Some members of the punditocracy, echoing spokesmen from the OWS movement, are attempting to compare the present uprising with the Civil Rights Movement.

These misguided wags argue that in the beginning the civil rights movement was just like OWS, and then they began to identify goals and formulate demands.  If ever there was a false analogy this is it!  The Civil Rights Movement had clearly defined goals and negotiable demands from the outset.  (See “Reflections on the Council of Elders”)

 Abbie Hoffman in his Hey Day

It Was All Theater!
 An OWS Protester

Will they go the way of the YIPPES?

The present movement has much more in common with the YIPPIES, who relied on consciousness raising “Guerilla Theater” as their sole strategy; remember Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin?  What is their legacy?   What lasting changes did they bring about?  What were their goals?   They got a lot of attention at the time and they didn’t have the internet.

Yet there were those at the time, this writer among them, who doubted that a group of disorganized acid head anarchist could bring down the American capitalist system.   Evidently Jerry Rubin also began to doubt; that’s when he wised up, sobered up, scrubbed up, and became a Wall Street Stock broker.

Rubin’s close comrade Abbie Hoffman refused to grow up and spent his post-Yippie days wandered about in a drug induced haze and died from an overdose of 150 Phenobarbital tablets washed down with alcohol.   He was fifty two years old and living in a converted Turkey coop in a Pennsylvania hick town far from the scenes of his glory days in the limelight.

While his acolytes have tried to conjure a more heroic ending for their fallen idol, the notes written by his own hand portray a youth obsessed man who couldn’t deal with the onset of middle age, and was bewildered by the right-wing conservative forces that had risen to power and was imposing their agenda on the nation.

The movement Abbie and Jerry “led” had descended into historical obscurity in their life time and is remembered by few today.  If the OWS rebels do not become political and develop a strategy for effective political action that can defeat the shills of the Plutocrats in the Republican Party, they too will be doomed to failure and historical irrelevance.  That would be a tragedy of incalculable proportions.



Playthell Benjamin

Harlem, New York

November 30, 2012

The Super Committee Fails!

Posted in Playthell on politics with tags , , on November 23, 2011 by playthell


Doomed from the Outset?

 But what is to be learned from this Fiasco?

The airways and editorial pages have been filled with commentary from the chattering classes speculating about the reasons why the Congressional Super-Committee failed.  This is of course expected; after all it’s their job.  No surprise in that. What is surprising however is the fact that anyone who has been paying attention to American politics since the last Congressional elections would be the least bit surprised by this outcome.

It is far more surprising to this observer that so many highly paid pundits, people who are tasked with explaining the great issues of the day to the American public, are puzzled about how and why this colossal failure has occurred.  Nothing that has happened surprised  this observer; in fact I expected failure.  I would have been shocked had this committee succeeded in resolving the looming budget crisis:  Would to God that the lottery numbers would be as easy to predict.

The seeds of failure were planted in the formation of the Super Committee, whose raison d’etre was the failure of the regular Congressional Committees tasked with negotiating fiscal matters.  Hence when the Super Committee members were chosen each side should have selected their most reasonable members, people who understand that the business they are about will require compromise to succeed.

In spite of the intransigence of ideologues, many of whom never tire of reciting verbatim passages from a Constitution whose deeper meaning and historical limitations they don’t understand, the architects of the American government planned our political system so that compromise is an essential element in the procss of governing..

This is the reason for the three fold division of power, and the checks and balances it provides, which make it difficult for any one branch of government – or political party – to monopolize power.  Alas, instead of seeking a path to compromise the Republicans stacked the Committee with hard core right-wing  ideologues who have all signed a pledge to anti-tax zealot Grover Norquist.

Even if the stability of our nation is at stake these pledgees will not vote to raise taxes.  They have maintained this absurd position even though there is absolutely no evidence that this tax policy will have the simulating effect on job creation that the Republicans say it will.

In fact, Nobel Laureates in economics Paul Krugman and Joseph Stieglitz, supported by the nation’s most successful investor Warren Buffett,  have argued persuasively that the Republican position is bunk.  All have argued that the taxes must be raised on the rich, and the avaricious Bush Tax cuts allowed to pass on into history.

They have recently been joined by a new organization calling themselves “Patriotic Millionaires” who say that they are willing to pay more taxes!  Yet the Republicans on the Super-Committee stood firm against raising taxes on the rich and insisted upon reducing the burgeoning government deficit by cutting entitlement programs that benefit the elderly and the poor.  The Democrats were right to stand their ground and oppose this!   I think it was their finest hour.

The failure of the Super-Committee was therefore destined.  The central lesson to be learned from this is that the Democrats and Republicans have fundamentally different views of the purposes of government, and which vision shall prevail is a matter for the electorate to decide.  After all, it is they who elected 85 Tea Party Zealots to Congress.

It is the people they chose who have pushed the Republicans so far to the right they have run the ship of state aground and stopped the President’s agenda – which accomplished great things for the American people in his first two years.   If we are to avoid disaster as a nation the American electorate will have to turn away from their bread and circuses and educate themselves about the realities of American politics.

The lesson the conservatives must learn is that you cannot elect people to govern who passionately hate government and expect them to govern well.  And zealots on the left must learn that politics is the art of the possible, and it’s not possible to elect revolutionary socialists just now; so it is a question of choosing the lesser evil!

If the Left can’t figure out that the Republicans have entered a Faustian bargain and sold their souls to the Plutocrats, then they are as much a danger to the interests of the working class as the Tea Party.  It is irrelevant that one reactionary force hails from the right and the other from the left of the American political spectrum, in the real world of politics it is a distinction without a difference.

The choice between the two great political parties that monopolize power in America has not been clearer since 1860, on the eve of the great Civil War.  The old carnard that the American system is able to function in spite of differences between the political parties, because the two major parties are nonideological no longer holds true. The present Congress cannot resolve the nation’s problems; compromise is impossible because the Republicans have gone on record saying that their ultimate goal is to make President Obama a one term President.

Furthermore the Republicans have convincingly demonstrated that they are willing to wreck the nation in their attempt to do it.  Hence the electorate must now decide which path our nation will take; which ideal of American society shall prevail.  If the Occupy Wall Street Movement wishes to play a significant role in this great decision they will have to grow up quick and become a political force, and fight to defeat the Republicans in the coming national elections.   Otherwise their actions will amount to no more than a collective temper tantrum!   As the political scientists like to say: In a participatory democracy a people will eventually get the kind of government they deserve!

 The Good Old Days!


Under Nancy Pelosi we had the most productive Congress ever!


Playthell Benjamin

Harlem, New York

November 23, 2011

Jazz Monday’s at the Dwyer!

Posted in Cultural Matters, Music Reviews, Photo-Essays with tags , on November 20, 2011 by playthell

        Craig Harris: Trombonist/Bandleader/Composer

 The Joint be Really Jumpin!!

 Every other Monday night at the Dwyer Cultural Center in Harlem you can hear some real Jazz.  Since most of the Jazz venues are downtown and charge hefty prices to see a show, the Dwyer has broken the pattern with excellent Jazz performance at a pittance: ten bucks!  The vibe is informal, the acoustics great, the room intimate.  It other words, it’s just the right atmosphere for Jazz Performance. And if you love Jazz you more than get your money’s worth.  In fact, it is no exaggeration to say it’s the best entertainment value in the Apple!

The Dwyer is a unique cultural institution that caters to the cultural needs of the Harlem community, and in a relatively short time it has become a new Mecca for a wide range of cultural activities.  Recently Esther Armah, playwright and host of WBAI’s morning drive time show Wake-Up Call, debuted a play that candidly explored the issues of racism, sexism and economic mobility in American society, and Visual alchemist Ademola Olugbefola is exhibiting a retrospective from his half century as a working artist in their gallery.  Every kind of creative activity can be found it this temple to art.

But Mondays are devoted to the art of Jazz, the classical art music of Afro-Americans and the quintessential American art that embodies in its philosophy and practice the most cherished ideals of American civilization.  The shows are held every other week and they have the atmosphere of an open workshop where new musical concepts are being explored.

Hence there is much experimentation and free expression within the organized ensemble concept.  When master musicians come together in this kind of environment magical things can happen, and there was much sonic alchemy produced in the Dwyer on the night I attended.  While I have long believed that no one loves their job more than musicians, there is a special joy in making music that allows for the maximum creative contribution of each player.  That’s why musicians like Bennie Goodman, Ron Carter, Hubert Laws and Wynton Marsalis gave up prestigious careers in European Classical Mucis to play jazz.

For dedicated musical virtuosos the joy of performance in collaboration with other masters is a natural high that no material reward can match.  That’s why serious musicians continue to play music when other career paths may offer more lucrative rewards.  While money has its virtues, it enables us to satisfy the material needs of life, creating great art elevates the soul.  Making music is feeling more addictive than dope, and nobody personifies this joy more exuberantly than Craig Harris.

With a broad smile that never seems to abandon his face, even Ray Charles could see the pure ecstasy that appears to engulf Harris as he strikes up the band  and swings his trombone like a magic wand.  He prances, dances, and plays all over the seven positions of the slide trombone making kinetic music that appeal to the eye as well as the ear, and thrills the musically tutored and untutored alike.

The other musicians in the band seem to catch the vibe and it inspires them to explore new ideas and attempt daring things.  One need only peruse the great variety of instruments on the band stand to recognize that they have come to explore new concepts of ensemble playing and expand the horizons of the small ensemble.  Unlike a lot on Jazz musicians Harris is no purist; like such master instrumentalists as Hubert Laws, Herbie Hancock and Branford Marsalis Harris appears to get off playing music whether in the spirit of James, Brown, John Coltrane or Sun Ra.

He is Master of all genres of Afro-American music, and slips from one to the other as easily as an actor changes costumes between scenes.  Thus Harris’ expansive concept of music making is an invitation to innovation, and the boys in the band make the most of it. Blending unique combinations of instrumental voices – alto and tenor saxophones blend with baritone sax, bass clarinet, trumpets and trombone – the musical performances at the Dwyer take on the aura of a revival meeting and you can feel it in yo soul.

When one listens to Harris talk about his conception of music and its purpose, it becomes clear that the deep spirituality one hears in the music is no accident. Harris is a profoundly spiritual guy and views music as a healing force that can shield one against life’s adversities; a balm to heal the sin sick soul.  He attributes the healing properties of instrumental music to the fact that it is pure sound, unencumbered by the specific concerns imposed upon it by adding lyrics.  Hence he believes that instrumental music can transcend the concerns of politics, philosophy, ideology and religion and provide a spiritual experience that is unique to each individual that hears it.

Yet on the other hand Harris also has a clear understanding of the power of music to enhance a lyric as well as inspire dancers.  He sums up this concept in the term “Total Artistic Integration,” and one can see it come together in his musical devoted to James Weldon Johnson’s classic text “God’s Trombones,” a series of epic poems based on the sermons of “old time southern Negro preachers” in the words of Johnson.  You can actually see the performance of Harris’s masterpiece by clicking the link at the bottom of this essay.

I was fascinated by the fact that Harris had chosen this work as a vehicle for his music because so few people make reference to this canonical text in Afro-American literature. In his explanation of what attracted him to this work we get a glimpse of a deeply spiritual man who views the integration of arts as a means of elevating the human condition. I can envision no nobler mission for art.

From the enthusiastic response of the audience, which ranged from open celebration and animated participation, to deep spiritual contemplation allowing the music to take your mind astral travelling, the evening was a joyous uplifting experience.  Our spirits danced to the vibes of magnificent   complex instrumental art music.  As I testified in the beginning, if you love great Afro-American music: Jazz Monday’s at the Dwyer is the best deal in town!!!!


 Portraits of the Band


Swinging the Bone


 Keepin it Funky!
Stomping the Blues

 Baritone Sax and Trumpet sing in Harmony




Tenor Madness!


 Echoes of John the Prophet

And Fast Johnny Griffin Too!


 The Alto-Sang as the Tenor Thundered


 No Nightingale Can Sing So Pretty
These Cats are Master Musicians
Who Can Read Around Corners


 The Trumpeter Filled the Room


With Staccato Fanfare


 Dizzy’s Progeny


The Evidence is in the bell of the Horn


 Flutes Chirped…..


 Like Euphoric Birds


 As the Saxophonists Switched Axes

And Serenaded us With Their Flutes


 Where the Swing Comes From!

Pushing the Band to the Outer Limits


 The Piano Man!


An imaginative Soloist and Great Accompanist


The Funk Meister!

360 Degrees of Rhythm: From Bootsy Collins to Charlie Mingus!



The Congregants


 In a Contemplative Mood


Astral Traveling: Bewitched by the Groove


 Great Musicians came out to hear the Band


Hammit Blueitt: Grand Master of the Baritone Saxophone


  Cultural Alchemists Lifting us Higher!
 Artist / Cultural Entrepreneur Ademola Embraces Music Makers



Double click To see Graig Harris’s “God’s Trombones.”

Text and Photos by Playthell Benjamin
Harlem,  New York
November, 20, 2011


Posted in Guest Commentators, Occupy Wall Street, On Foreign Affairs, Uncategorized with tags , , on November 15, 2011 by playthell
Australian Gendarmes Attack Demonstrators in Melbourne

The Occupy Wall Street Movement Down Under 

 Melbourne, Australia and Auckland, New Zealand – 95 people were arrested, over two dozen injured and Australia’s second city shocked, as mounted police moved-in on a band of protesters, numbering roughly about 200 in all. It was the sixth day of a nearly week-long occupation at  City Square in Melbourne.  City and state officials were determined to break it up.

It was the afternoon of October 21st, a Friday, as police on horseback had surged into the crowd with night sticks flailing, followed by a second wave of cops who used attack dogs and pepper spray when the mass arrests began. Robert Doyle, Melbourne’s Lord Mayor, stood at a City Hall window
flanked by staff members looking on approvingly. Citizens of Doyle’s city had made their point for six days in the Occupy Melbourne actions, now it was time to move-on….. Thus was his mantra in the hours and days that followed.

For most Melbournians the action by police to move the protesters out of the City Square was shocking, excessive, and even brutal. Yet Doyle, and later Ted Ballieau, the Premier of Australia’s Victoria state, had justified the actions of police as measured, controlled and professional. What was particularly striking about the actions of elected officials and police in Victoria was the stark contrast in the way ‘Occupy’ activists in Sydney and Brisbane were treated. They were allowed to continue their protests without police intervention. But that was soon to change in these two other Australian cities within a week’s time.

One reason for the abrupt decision to move the Occupy Melbourne protesters out of the City Square may have been the visit by Queen Elizabeth, whose long anticipated visit to Australia was already underway. The Queen was attending meetings, ceremonies, and formal affairs in Canberra, the Australian capital, when the Australian Occupy Wall Street spin-offs got started. Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane were among the large cities the Queen was slated to visit, and it is speculated that officials in all three cities were ordered from on high to ‘clean-up’ the sites where protesters had set-up camp before the British Royal was due to hit town.

In this global recession, Australia is a funny place when compared to the rest of the industrialized world. While calls by the Occupy Melbourne group focused on the issues of reigning-in corporate greed, and greater oversight of the banking industry that mirror those voiced by other ‘Occupy’ movements across the globe, Australians according to recent polls see themselves as somehow insulated.

This perception is fed in large part by the success of the country’s mining industry that drives this nation’s economy in ways both seen and unseen. Fuelled by Chinese demand for iron ore and other minerals, the mining industry is an engine in much the same way as the steel industry once was for the U.S. But even with that success, there may well be storm clouds on the economic horizon.

There are pockets of economic discontent inside Australian society that receive some news coverage. At the same time such coverage can be scant, spotty or even marginal. In many quarters it usually takes something dramatic to draw media attention. For example, Baiada Poultry, the largest chicken processing plant in Australia, is one such place where worker discontent over both company hiring practices and safety issues is slowly boiling to the surface. In August of this year, Sarel Signh, 36, a company employee was killed instantly when a Baiada Poultry company machine sucked him into a large valve and instantly decapitated him at a company plant just outside of Melbourne.

Occupy Marchers supporting Qantas Employees…


Then in late October following months of union backed worker slowdowns, Alan Joyce, the CEO of Australia’s largest airline, Qantas, ordered a company ‘lock-out’ of his employees. Joyce’s dramatic and abrupt call to shut down the airline was his way stemming the tide of worker slowdowns from baggage handlers and other Qantas employees that he said had cost the company millions of dollars. But his call for a sudden ‘lock out’ also had consequences as it stranded thousands of Qantas customers at airports across Australia, and around the globe.

The Occupy Melbourne group has since moved to Treasury Gardens, a public and green space area that sits south of Victoria’s State Parliament House. There are no tents allowed, let alone a media center, and one local activist, Alex Ettlinger, said that the Melbourne group had been threatened with further police action should even one tent be erected. This threat, says Ettlinger, has had a chilling effect on the Occupy Melbourne movement participants in the weeks since the clash with police.  What remains interesting for this writer is the way in which the call for greater scrutiny of the financial industry is played out in the media.

Much could be said about media critics of the Occupy Wall Street spin-offs on Australian shores, like, Chris Berg, the widely respected voice of reason found in The Age newspaper in Melbourne. Or Andrew Bolt, the Australian Rush Limbaugh-wannabe, whose shrill commentary aruges that absent  specific demands by the protesters the government is not obligated to take them seriously. Yet, reaction to the stance of both pundits has brought a surprising storm of criticism from readers of the newspapers that carry their critiques, and the broadcast organs that air their views.

The Rupert Murdock-owned Herald Sun screamed with the headline, MADNESS, as the Occupy Melbourne sit-ins reached a head with the arrest of 95 people. New York Daily News-like photos of the skirmish dominated the first seven pages of the paper. The more sedate broad sheet, The Age placed the story on page three, with few photos, and little commentary. While the national newspaper, The Weekend Australian – also a Murdoch owned Media organ – quite surprisingly, had no coverage of the dramatic events that took place in Melbourne’s central business district, at all.

In quotes right out of former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani’s playbook, Melbourne’s Lord Mayor, Robert Doyle, called the protesters “disruptive,” and charged the original group of occupiers had been taken over by “professional protesters who were likely to cause trouble in the City Square.”  He defended the tough tactics by the state-run Victorian police in clearing the City Square, tactics that have been widely criticized in the public arena. Despite a virtual mainstream media news blackout of the ‘Occupy Wall Street” Movement  since the Melbourne police actions, activity continues across Australia.

Occupy Perth gatherings, and sit-ins were allowed to proceed without a police crackdown. This is noteworthy in that Perth, a city that to Americans could be likened to San Diego as it is located on Australia’s west coast, is largely a politically conservative metro-area. The same could be said of actions in Adelaide, in South Australia, and in Hobart, the capital city of Tasmania, where Occupy Wall Street spin offs continue, although smaller than what is now taking place in Australia’s larger eastern cities.

Across the Tasman Sea, the scene is quite different than in Australia. Elected officials in New Zealand’s largest city have allowed the Occupy Auckland movement to proceed, and even to flourish. A campsite of over 50 tents just outside to City Hall in Auckland’s Central Business District, sit in an adjacent park, and remain in place as of this writing.

The site, known as Aotea Square, includes a kitchen area, a meeting tent, and even a fully operational media center that keeps tabs on similar gatherings across New Zealand. The Occupy Auckland group had been present in Aotea Square for 23 consecutive days without incident.

Street March in Auckland Queen

During a recent visit by this writer, a march along Auckland’s Queen Street, a major thoroughfare in that city was underway one Saturday morning. It was comprised of roughly 100 local residents who had marched peacefully along the way making frequent stops in front of bank offices where short speeches about the bank profits and questionable practices of the various financial institutions were voiced. Some of the marchers blew soap bubbles at the bank offices and at the handful of employees who had to work that day.

It was a humorous, yet symbolic display, referring to what many economists call the hype surrounding financial ‘bubbles’ of ‘runs’ covering the gamut of housing, business and financial bubbles that investors are drawn to. There were no more than two police cars present that had tagged along with the march, and the two vehicles quickly disappeared once the marchers had returned to the camp site at City Hall.

New Zealand banks, collectively, announced a fiscal year profit of over $2.6 billion Kiwi dollars just days before my arrival. The activists had said that these profits were derived largely from ‘interest margins,’ or the interest rates generated from the fees New Zealanders pay in bank interest for the use of credit cards, and other financial transactions.

Most of the profit, they said, was transferred out-of-country and shifted to other financial institutions across the Tasman Sea, most of which is based in Australia. And so, at least from the Kiwi activist viewpoint, such a practice flies in the face of the claim advanced by the banking groups who say their profits help to generate New Zealand jobs.

The practice of shipping money across the Tasman is one that even has officials of New Zealand’s Federal Reserve asking questions. Also important is that this is an election year in New Zealand. John Key, New Zealand’s sitting conservative Prime Minister is in a hotly contested race for re-election against Phil Goff, a Labor Party candidate. Key, who some believe will win re-election, has come under fire from the Occupy Auckland movement for his Wall Street connections, his policy of privatizing public assets, and his cozy relationship with the business community.

What is also a matter of note, and one issue that is largely unknown to people living in the Americas or other parts of the world, is the tensions between Australia and New Zealand. It s largely economic, but fair to liken it to the tensions between, say, Canada and the United States. In this scenario, New Zealand would be Canada, and Australia the U.S.

Occupy Auckland 15′

The Kiwi Occupy Auckland Camp

Since the late 1980’s Kiwis have flocked to Australia in large numbers. In the 1998 financial year 26,000 Kiwis moved across the Tasman to Australia in search of work. Last year that number nearly doubled to 45,000 New Zealanders who left their country for Australia. In the 13 years since 1998 nearly 483,000 Kiwis moved to Australia, essentially joining an estimated more than one million Aussie-Kiwis according to Statistics NZ. These are remarkable numbers when one considers the overall population of New Zealand, roughly just four million citizens. Most, who have left, according to the Auckland-based Sunday New Zealand Herald in a recent article, cannot come home.

“There are so many of us who want to come home,” says Jules Paalvast, whose husband Adrian works in the Australian forestry industry. “It’s just so hard to get (back) there. You just can’t afford things, and the pay isn’t as good,” She added. Her husband earns more than three times the salary of what a Kiwi would earn for the same job. In a recently televised political debate between Key and Goff neither man offered any solutions for the tens of thousands of New Zealanders drawn to Oz by higher wages, but who are essentially stuck there unable to return. It is families like the Paalvasts that members of the Occupy Auckland group say they speak for.

The contrast between what had happened in Melbourne on the 21st of October and what continues to take place in Auckland could not be more striking:  One government coming down hard against its citizens while another having a hands-off approach. Yet there are similarities in both message and tactics between the ‘leaderless’ leadership of the Occupy movements in Australia and New Zealand. In the case of both nations, input from the indigenous communities is noteworthy and significant. In Melbourne, noted Aboriginal activist Gary Foley has lent a sympathetic voice to the cause.  In Auckland it was Te Ariki-nui Te Kuru Pounmu, a leader of the Maori Wai Taha nation who spoke to the crowd at Aotea Square the day I attended that rally.

 Members of the Wai Taha Maori Nation

At the Aotea Square Rally.

It is hard to say just where the Occupy movements will go in the coming weeks and months ahead. Members of the Occupy Auckland group handed out leaflets that proudly proclaimed themselves as a “leaderless resistance.” Also, as in the United States, a platform of demands elected officials might take to the table to negotiate, are absent.Yet these related global movements inspired partially by the so-called Arab Spring, including the actions in New York this autumn, could very well morph into something very special not seen anywhere in the industrialized world. As the noted New York Radio News Broadcaster, Stan Brooks, might say on
all of this, “Stay Tuned.”


By: Eric Williams

Melbourne Australia

November 14, 2011

Reflections on the Council of Elders

Posted in Occupy Wall Street with tags , on November 14, 2011 by playthell

 In The Beginning: Greensboro  N. C. 1960

Militant Youths Need Mentors  not Cheerleaders!

I just watched a splendidly produced video on The Council of Elders, a newly minted group composed of people who led the heroic struggle to rid the South of Apartheid in the 1960’s.  These icons of the Civil Rights Movement have come together to express their solidarity with the youths in the Occupy Wall street Movement.  Alas, I am profoundly disappointed with what I heard:  A gathering of old warriors reflecting on past battles and wishing the youths well.

It goes without saying that this magnanimous gesture of recognition and support is a good and positive development.  And I want to make it clear at the outset that I am with them in spirit. The problem I have with this video however is that the anti-Wall Street activists need something more than mere boosterism and inspirational anecdotes about past victories from their elders; what the militant youths desperately need is guidance and instruction!

Alas, I am beginning to feel like the curmudgeonly Harold Cruse, when he was writing his masterpiece “The Crisis of the Negro Intellectual.” I met Harold in 1964, when he was in the process of composing this great book – which is indispensable reading for anyone trying to build a radical movement today, especially the chapter “On the Intellectuals and Force and Violence” – and he seemed something of a brilliant misanthrope at the time.

Cocksure of our purpose and methods, the way most impassioned self-righteous youths are, Cruse seemed to be pissing on our parade with his brutally honest criticism of our strategy and objectives.  I was one of those who had rejected the methods and “reformist” objectives of the Civil Rights Movement and was on the road to revolution –or so I thought. Cruse dismissed the idea that we were making a revolution as dangerous folly, and told me that he was writing the “Crisis” because my generation needed to understand our historical antecedents so that we wouldn’t repeat the same mistakes.  And that is precisely why I am writing these commentaries: IT IS AN ANCESTRAL IMPERATIVE!!!!!!

What the young people who are spearheading the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations now need from elders who were active in the Sixties movement that succeeded in changing America, is clear cut analysis and instruction about how to build an effective movement today.  The most critical thing they need to understand is that from the outset the Civil Rights movement – which was the most effective of all the social movements of the second half of the 20th century, and gave rise to the others – was an organized phenomenon that had specific demands from the outset.  And these demands were negotiable.

It was not a random act inspired by outrage when North Carolina A&T students Franklin McCain, Joseph McNeil, Ezell Blair Jr. and David Richmond sat down at the Woolworths’ lunch counter in Greensboro North Carolina in 1960.  This was a well organized well thought out action that was part of a larger strategy for attacking the racial caste system in the former Confederate states.  Furthermore, from the outset the Civil rights movement’s demands were based in deeply held American ideals of freedom and equality, and by their dress, speech and orderly behavior the Civil Rights demonstrators were a portrait of respectability.

Hence when Civil rights workers were attacked by southern racists they won the support of millions of whites elsewhere in the nation.  This movement became so powerful that eventually their demands were enshrined into law!!  The brilliant essayists Albert Murray called the Passive Resistance strategy advocated by Dr. King “moral jujitsu,” because they turned the violent aggression of southern rednecks into moral victories.  That didn’t happen by accident: It was a systematic movement!!!

It is important to inderstand that  The STUDENT MOVEMENT COULD NOT HAVE SUCCEEDED WITHOUT THE INPUT AND GUIDANCE OF OLDER CIVIL RIGHTS ORGANIZATIONS AND MOVEMENT VETERANS!!!!!   The Occupy Wall Street movement is also based in deeply held American beliefs about equality, but in order to induce change in the economic priorities of the United States the movement must win the  majority of Americans over to their cause and PUT THEIR OBJECTIVES INTO REALIZABLE POLITICAL DEMANDS THAT CAN BE TURNED INTO LAWS.

It is also important to draw a distinction between the Civil rights Movement from the counter-cultural movement – i.e. hippies – which was a drug fueled apolitical cultural movement with vague ideals that promoted anarchy.  That’s why we cannot point to any concrete achievements from that movement which even begin to compare with the civil rights movement – or the Anti-War, Feminist or Farm Workers movements that transformed America in the twentieth century.

Echoes of the 60’s Counter-Culture 

Fodder for Right-Wing Bloviators 

The drugged out craziness of the Hippies had the opposite effect of the Civil rights Movement and turned millions of Americans off.  As did the televised images of urban rebellions with cities in flames and black Panthers running around brandishing guns on television shouting slogans like “Political power comes from the barrel of a gun!” – a slogan lifted directly from Mao Tse Tung’s Red Book that was irrelevant to our actual situation – and “Off the Pig!” a public exhortation to kill the police.

Oakland BPP founders Bobby Seale and Huey Newton 

Fashionable Pop Icons or Real Revolutionaries? 

These developments appalled the majority of Americans – including quite a few Black Americans – and resulted in the destruction of the Panthers by the police power of the State and the election of Richard Nixon.  By adopting a “southern Strategy” and opportunistically manipulating white anger and resentments over the victories of the Civil Rights Movement, Republicans, which had been a northern based Party with moderate views on the Civil Rights question and helped pass the 1964 Omnibus Civil Rights Bill even while southern Democrats opposed it, transformed the south from solidly democratic to solidly Republican and moved the control of the government from the liberal left to the right. (For a serious analysis of how this happened read “Haley Barbour is a Lying Fat Redneck” on this blog”

We are still living with the tragic consequences of this development.  At present, the encampment at Zucotti Park and many others around the country, bear a closer resemblance to the Counter-Cultural movement than the Civil Rights Movement. Whereas the Civil rights movement was aimed at prodding the government to act in behalf of the people – the non-white and the poor of all colors – the Occupy Wall Street movement is anarchistic.

However the Occupy Wall Street Movement is a class based movement against economic injustice, which is an issue that transcends race, gender and ethnicity.  This is a good thing; that’s why the most integrated multi-ethnic organization in New York is the Tenants League, because all tenants suffer equally at the hands of rapacious landlords.  By virtue of this fact the OWS has the power to transform American society in fundamental ways.  But if it is to succeed it must become POLITICAL!

This is what the elders should be talking about.  We must do for this generation of activists what people like Ms. Ella Baker, Queen Mother Moore, Byard Rustin, A Phillip Randolph, James farmer, Roy Wilkins, and legions of other highly skilled seasoned organizers from the old left and peace movements did for our generation. Although the popular belief is that Ms. Rosa Parks just sat down one day because she was tired of white folks mess and the Montgomery Boycott, a seminal event in the birth of the Civil Rights Movement that transformed the South during the 1060’s, appeared into the world as a fully formed phenomenon like the goddess Athena sprang from the forehead of Zeus in classical Greek mythology.  Not so!

The Montgomery Bus boycott was a planned event, organized by the Montgomery Improvement Association, which was the brain child of E. D. Nixon, an organizer with the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters. Here was a master organizer who was part of a tradition that boasts one of the most successful stories in American labor history.

When the Pullman porters began to organize it was considered by almost everyone as an impossible dream.  After all, the Porters were hired when George Pullman introduced his new luxury car during the 1880’s to accommodate the rich, the  plutocrats, the American nouveau Riche of the “Gilded Age,” when the “Captains of Industry” amassed such great fortunes the were aptly named “The Robber Barons.”

Pullman’s idea was to create private cars so opulent it would be like a luxury liner on rails.  And to insure that the rich white folks he intended to cater to receive the best possible service, old George Pullman stipulated that all of his porters must be ex-slaves because they knew how to serve white people best!  This was his view of the men who would eventually confront him and demand that he recognize them as a collective bargaining unit.

The fact that the Pullman Car Company was the biggest corporation in the world at the time speaks to the heroism of the founders of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters.   One of their best moves was to approach A. Phillip Randolph, Publisher of The Messenger, which he billed as “The only Scientific Socialist magazine in the world published by Negroes,” and ask him to be the President and spokesman for the Union.

With his regal bearing and rich baritone voice trained for the Shakespearian stage, buttressed by his unshakable courage and unassailable integrity, Randolph became the perfect choice.  They chose him not because he was a great organizer, but because they believed he would be a great spokesman and negotiator for the Union.  It was a lesson well learned by E.D. Nixon.

He in turn recruited a brilliant young black Baptist preacher from Atlanta, who had come to Montgomery to finish a Ph.D. thesis and pastor a church for a year in order to experience what it was like to pastor a flock before returning to a cloistered life as a scholar at Boston University, where he was to become the first Afro-American professor in the school of theology.  Nixon talked the young Martin Luther King Jr. into becoming the spokes man for the Montgomery Improvement Association, and King emerged as the face of what became known around the world and preserved in history as “The Montgomery Bus Boycott.”

While it was Martin King’s grand and deeply moving oratory that stirred the conscience of the nation and won the sympathy of people of conscience around the world – which is the role of CHARISMATIC REVIVALISTS – it was the on the ground organizing of skilled labor operatives like E.D. Nixon, and the brilliant Bayard Rustin, who directed it all from a secret command post, plus the vehicles supplied by the United Auto Workers that ferried the boycotters around town, which together made the Montgomery Boycott a success.

It is critical that those who are trying to organize an effective movement today understand that the Civil Rights movement was not just some spontaneous eruption where everybody showed up and did their own thing!  Such as we are now witnessing in Zucotti Park and elsewhere around the country, where you have Ron Paul supporters calling for an end the Federal Reserve Bank; anarchists that believe no government can be trusted; 9/11 conspiracy theorist; Christian clergyman bearing witness to the evils of avarice and trying to live out the biblical commandment to minister unto the least of us – a critical element in the civil rights struggle – Marxist revolutionaries; left adventurers and agent provocateurs out to pick a fight with the cops.  And nobody is in charge!

A Ron Paul Acolyte


The evidence of profound confusion 

This is a new phenomenon, where huge crowds of protestors can be mobilized through social media to demonstrate in record time. It is not the same thing as the great mass movements that transformed American society in the Sixties. The down side of this approach to mass mobilization is that you skip critical stages that are necessary to successfully building a mass movement capable of transforming a complex mass society like the US.  (For a through explanation of this see the essays under Occupy Wall Street on this blog.) We are beginning to witness the shortcomings of this approach in Egypt – where the Occupy Wall Street movement says they took their inspiration and model for action.

The events in Egypt are reminding us that there are certain steps that cannot be avoided in building a successful mass movement – for instance clarifying your objectives with an ideology that spells out the ultimate goals of the movement.  Failure to do this in Egypt has set the stage for the anti-democratic Islamic theocrats to hijack the movement, because they have an all encompassing philosophy that adresses every aspect of human existence.  It is the role of movement elders to point these things out.  Standing on the sidelines acting like cheer leaders is insufficient: not when the youths in the streets require something different and something more!

Get out and rap with the militant youths

“Revolutionaries must swim among the people like fish in the sea”

The Great Helmsman


Playthell Benjamin

Harlem, New York

November 13, 2011

Smokin Joe Dances into History

Posted in On Sports! with tags , on November 9, 2011 by playthell

 Muhammad Ali vs. Joe Frazier: First meeting in the Garden 1971


 Setting the Record Straight on Ali and Joe Frazier

For serious fight fans, like yours truly, or even those with a casual interest in the “sweet science” of boxing – which is why you have so many fighters called “Sugar” – The death of Joe Frazier is a momentous event. To students of the boxing game the epic ring battles between “Smokin Joe” and Ali are exciting to watch on video tape even now, years after the events when we have all seen these fights many times.

Their lasting appeal results from the fact that they represent the highest expression of the art of pugilism.  We are witness to some magic moments in the history of heavy-weight boxing on the world championship level.  However, while Joe Frazier was a great fighter – undoubtably one of the all-time greats of the sport – the attempt by many sports commentators to say that he was a better fighter than Ali – some have even gone to the absurdity of saying a “better man” – is wishful thinking propagated either by members of Frazier’s entourage, die hard Philly fans, or vindictive white sports writers who never liked Ali’s political stances.

However I knew them both and saw all of their fights in real time and I am certain that Frazier would never have won that fight against Ali if the Champ hadn’t been forced out of the ring because he refused to go to Vietnam and was a member of the Nation of Islam!   Had Frazier fought the Ali that fought Sonny Liston he wouldn’t have been able to hit the Champ with a hand full of rice!  And nobody knew that better than Joe.

A week after the Boxing Commissioners took Ali’s title I ran into Joe Frazier in a popular West Philly night club “Mr. Silk’s,” run by that elegant Philly player the legendary Gus Lacy.  At the time Joe was a top contender.  I asked him point blank if he thought he was ready to take the title from Ali.  He grinned sheepishly, did his little country shuffle, and said “Naw, I ain’t quite ready for the Champ yet.”  When Frazier fought Ali the Champ had been exiled from the ring for 3 years! Among boxing wise guys, like yours truly, it was obvious that Ali was suffering from RING RUST!

Frazier’s Greatest Moment in the Ring!

A collective gasp went up the Garden when Joe dropped Ali
  Just look at what happened when Joe fought George Foreman.  Big George whipped Frazier like a runaway slave!  He flattened him several times then knocked his ass out in two rounds!!!!  I believe the same thing would have happened had Joe fought Sonny Liston.  Ali knocked both of these maulers out!!!  Here we see the true greatness of Ali.  Sonny Liston said he was shocked and confused by Ali’s blinding hand and foot speed.  Ali danced on Liston’s ass and hit him with punches from all angles.  He made the most feared fighter of his time look like a chump while taking the Undisputed Heavy-Weight title!!!   Then he whipped him even worse in the rematch.

Years later, near the twilight of his career, Ali did it one mo time against the Fearsome Foreman – who was even bigger and stronger than Liston – and had avoided a life of crime like Liston, who had been a mob enforcer in St. Louis – only because of the time he spent in the Job Corp.  In that fight Ali “roped the dope!”

Foreman now says that he never met anybody who could take a punch like Ali, who laid back on the ropes while George shot his best shots.   Big George says Ali kept whispering in his ears: “You hit like a girl…can’t you do better than that,” messing with his mind and causing George to lose his head.  George also recalls that he was also surprisedby  how hard Ali could punch as he found himself on the canvas with his head spinning like a merry- go – round!

The truth is that Joe Frazier was a brawler; he had an aggressive straight ahead style called “smoking,” but against BIG PUNCHERS smoking proved dangerous to his health!!!  So much for inside the ring.  Outside the ring i.e. the lives they led as men: THERE IS NO COMPARISION; JOE IS NOT IN ALI’S CLASS!!!   In a physical fight it would be a criminal mismatch: a Feather-Weight vs. a Super-Heavyweight, which would result in a public homicide and everyone involved with the promotion, would be jailed!!!   Ali was the perfect champion for our generation, a militant generation whose activism destroyed the legal racial caste system in America and restored the vote to black southerners.

These achievements changed America so fundamentally that we now have had a succession of black Mayors in Atlanta and Birmingham, and now enjoy the tenure of a brilliant black President in the Oval Office, and a gorgeous highly educated first lady – the best ever – directing the White House and their fabulous children are the envy of parents everywhere.

Ali was a major inspiration to Barack as a youth, who kept his picture on his wall even after he became a Senator!!!  Ali’s example of courage and conviction in the face of adversity – which manifested itself as grace, charm and elegance in the face of imminent bodily harm – inspired millions of people around the world of every race and creed!

However Ali is remembered today because of things he did outside the ring, the principled stands he took – like giving up the Heavy-Weight Crown and losing millions because he opposed the Vietnam War!!  Compared to Ali Joe Frazier was just a run of the mill pug!!   For the record, there was no chance that Ali would ever have been sent into combat, rather he would have been assigned to Special Services and used as a morale booster fighting exhibition bouts for the troops, and employed as a spokesman to hype the war and recruit other youths!

Hence Ali made his decision on principle alone!!!  I know some readers of this thread will consider it bad form to Praise Ali upon the passing of Joe Frazier.  But I shall take the position Fredrick Douglass took in his speech at the unveiling of the “Freedman’s Memorial” to Abraham Lincoln: “Truth is beautiful and proper in all places and all times, but it is never more beautiful or proper than when speaking of a man who will be commended to history!”

 Ali Slays the Mighty Liston

What’s my Name Sucker!!!


 Foreman Wipes out Frazier

Dispensed in two Rounds!


Ali Ropes a Dope!

And the Fearsome Foreman Crumbled


 Ali and Smokin Joe’s Last Dance!


The Thrilla in Manila

The Greatest and hisVictims!

A Mighty Three: Frazier, Foreman and Ali


However the Old Lion slowed down in Retirement


In my wildest Dreams!


Double click to see highlights from  Ali = Frazier Fights

Double Click to see Forman take Frazier’s Heavy weight Title

Double Click to see Ali take the Heavy Weight  title from Foreman


Playthell Benjamin

Harlem New York

November 9, 2911

Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?

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

Black Walnut and Vanilla Ice


Is Hermain Cain a Sexual Predator?

Clearly the most impressive development thus far in the presidential campaign is the rapid rise of Herman Cain from an obscure business lobbyist to the leading contender for the Republican nomination for President of the United States.  As I struggled to understand the reasons for his ascent, I was reminded of what Dr. WEB DuBois said about the rise of Booker T. Washington from a slave shack to the most powerful black man in America, who beguiled “Captains of Industry” and dined with Heads of State,  in the post Reconstruction period that followed the reunification of the nation after Civil War.

Dubois observed that Washington’s spectacular success was due to the fact that he was in step with the Zeitgeist – the spirit of the age – in America at the turn of the twentieth century.  “In an age of triumphant industrial capitalism,” said DuBois, “Washington preached a gospel of work and money.”  Dr. Kelly Miller, a contemporary of Dubois and a Dean at Howard University, described Washington’s success in similar if more poetic terms.

Comparing the “Great Accommodator” to his immediate predecessor Fredrik Douglass, Miller remarked “Douglass lived in an age of moral giants; Washington lives in an age of merchant princes.  Douglass lived in an age that honored the Golden Rule; Washington lives in the age that honors the rule of gold.”  Herman Cain embodies a major reactionary cultural trend; that’s why he gets big love from racist whites on the right who want to turn back the clock to some mythic time when white was always right and America ruled the world.

They are wild about Herman because he is willing to play Uncle Rhemus and tell dumb damaged white folk’s fables that confirm their view of themselves as exceptional, and their mythical view of an American society dominated by economic royalists and bible totin fanatics as the last best hope for mankind in a troubled world.  White Americans may once have abused black people they argue, but have long since put such attitudes and practices behind them.

I have come to believe that this passionate support for Uncle Herm by right wing whites is something of a collective public temper tantrum: ”By God if we’ve gotta have a darkie in the White House let’s have a real Jigaboo, one cast in our image that we can trust…a real southern Nigra, not some uppity Mulatto from Chicago!”  However it’s beginning to look like Brer Cain – who in his secret life is actually Brer Rabbit, the trickster – done played these silly white folks like a fiddle!  But after today, His world may come tumbling down!

Cain’s Accuser! Sharon Bailek

No Sugarcain For Her!

My man Herm is proving to be a worm; he now stands publicly accused of being a slimy sexual predator.  Alas, his accuser is a well-spoken voluptuous blond…. and it was a round unvarnished tale she told.  It sure wasn’t pretty, and I began to suspect that this coon might be cooked!  The majority of whites in Mississippi have recently gone on record stating that they believe interracial relationships should be illegal, and I suspect they mirror the feelings of many other Southern Tea Party types.  Of course, I don’t give a shit what they think…anybody should be free to hook up with whomever they want.  If they are consenting adults its nobody’s business!  But that’s the problem with the mess Uncle Herm is in.

One thing is for sure, this development will certainly tell us whether we are living in a post racial society.  For Uncle Herm has now been accused of violating the ultimate American taboo, the sexual violation of a white woman!  When he was a boy riding on the back of the bus in Georgia the white folks would be forming a possee to drag him out of his house and string him up on the nearest tree! Now he just sass the white folks on television and done call that white woman a lie!

If the white southerners whom Mississippi Governor, Haley Barbour, assures us would go overboard for Cain – “he would sweep the south said  the self-described  “fat redneck’ – continue to support Cain they we can safely assume that this nation has moved on from the bad old days of racial conflict….we’ll see.   But right now the question Uncle Herman must be asking his redneck Tea Party supporters is: “Will yhall still love me tomorrow?”


Playthell Benjamin

Harlem, New York

November 8, 2011

Praise Songs for a Gentle Warrior

Posted in Cultural Matters with tags , , , , , on November 5, 2011 by playthell
 Charles Ogletree:
Professor of Constitutional Law at Harvard

 Remembering Derrick Bell: A Legal Lion

I arrived at Riverside Church slightly after six o clock and hoped they were operating on CP time.  Luckily the memorial was just getting underway when I walked into the magnificent sanctuary, whose Gothic architecture owes so much to Paris’ Notre Dame.  Built by John the Baptist Rockefeller, it was intended as a smack in the face to the blue blooded Anglophillic WASP elite who attended church a few blocks away in the Cathedral of St. John The Divine.

I expected the event to be held in one of the meeting rooms for a relatively small crowd of activists, friends and intellectuals, because even great scholars rarely have large followings. Thus I was pleasantly surprised to find a packed sanctuary.   It didn’t take long to see that everybody in this audience knew Professor Bell’s work and deeply admired him.  After listening to the testimony of Derrick Bell’s students and colleagues, it was clear that I was witnessing a love fest of rare gravitas.

I don’t know what percentage of the audience were lawyers, but the legal profession was well represented.  Quite a few of the lawyers were Professor Bell’s former students.  One by one they testified to his brilliance, courage, unshakable integrity and commitment to his students.

The person that emerged was not only a towering intellect and innovative teacher, but a rare soul who may pass our way once in a century, a kind of father confessor and secular priests who treated the practice of law as a sacred calling; a true Christian who tried to heed the charge of Jesus Christ to minister unto the least among us.  Hence it is no accident that Derrick Bell chose to specialize  in Constitutional Law as his area of interests, both as litigator and scholar; for it is in this arena where the laws are crafted that determine our life’s chances.

Like his mentors Charles Hamilton Houston and Thurgood Marshall, the towering figures in shaping American Civil Rights law, Professor Bell was committed to training a cadre of young lawyers who would carry on the fight into the future.  In spite of the great changes he had witnessed in the legal status of Afro-Americans, much of which he helped bring about with his brilliant and fearless litigation in the deep south, Professor Bell remained skeptical about the intentions of white America and became more and more convinced that anti-black racism is so deeply entrenched in American culture it will remain a permanent feature of American life….no
matter what.

That’s because racism’s function is to justify white privilege.  Yet we were repeatedly told by his students, black and white, that it is a mistake to view the Professor as a pessimist; they assure us that he was just keepin it real.  And all attributed their life as successful lawyers to the agency of their great friend and mentor.

 Charles Hamilton Houston

The Father of Civil Rights Law


Thurgood Marshal and Team After Brown Decision


Legal Eagles Opening Doors for Their People

Derrick Bell

The Fruit of Their Tree

One after the other Professor Bell’s students mounted the podium and sang his praises.  In a series of highly intelligent, elegantly written, eloquently delivered testimonials that combined pathos and bathos in splendid balance as  they painted a portrait of a brilliant legal scholar with the instincts of a saint.  They also made the case that his scholarship has defined the field of race and the law in American society.  He is the father of a school of law known as Critical Race Theory – which claims some of the most brilliant legal minds in the nation – and his oeuvre is the brook of fire through which all Civil Rights lawyers must pass.

From his 1973 Magnum Opus Race, Racism, and American Law, to his learned 1980 treatise Brown V. Board of Education and the Interest Convergence Dilemma, a reassessment of the significance of that landmark 1954 decision desegregating the schools; to his fictional narratives in which the law professor employed the novelist’s tools to illuminate the problems of race he sought to remedy by the application of law. And then there were his poignant essays.

One of my   favorites is an essay in Gospel Choirs, in which Bell describes the marvelous spectacle of Afro-American women dancing the “Electric Slide,” that highly stylized line dance that is a staple at parties of the black bourgeoisie.  In this essay, as in much of his non-legal writings, Derrick Bell expressed his deep love for Afro-Americans and their culture; he was immersed in that culture even as he moved in the most rarified circles of the white intellectual elite.  In fact, it was a source of strength to him; the gift that never stopped enriching his life….and ours.

In the writings of Derrick Bell there is an ongoing celebration of the strength and beauty of black America that one finds in the poetry of Paul Lawrence Dunbar, James Weldon Johnson, Langston Hughes, Gwendolyn Brooks, Rita Dove, Sonya Sanchez, Amiri Baracka, et al.

His works exhibit the same combination of race pride and spiritual gravitas one finds in the folkloric studies and novels of Zora Neal Hurston, the sociology, fiction, poetry and essays of Dr. W.E.B. DuBois – especially The Souls of Black Folk – the brilliant essays of Albert Murray bursting with the wit and joi de vivre of  Afro-American culture;  the epic text of Isabelle Wilkerson which fairly bursts with black love as she chronicles how black folks left the cotton fields of the south and transformed the nation for the better.  It is the same race proud love one hears in the elegant tone poems of Duke Ellington ala  “Black and Tan Fantasy” and “Black, Brown and Beige Suite.” That’s the kind of love and celebration of black America that I feel in the work of Derrick Bell.

His students and colleagues repeatedly noted Bell’s constant reference to Afro-American folk wisdom, history, music, and favorite biblical passages in his learned legal arguments.  We also learned that the Professor understood music and could sing on key.  There seemed to be no end to the virtues of this remarkable man, and none seem to appreciate them more than his former students and colleagues. Eloquence and brilliance were common fare in their testimony from John Sexton, Bell’s former student who is now President of NYU, to Charles Ogletree, the Charles Hamilton Houston Professor of Constitutional Law at Harvard – one of the nation’s premier Constitutional scholars and tutor of the brilliant Barack Obama.

One of the most interesting anecdotes in an evening rife with gripping anecdotes was Professor Ogletree’s recollection of Barack calling Derrick Bell “the  Rosa Parks of the legal profession” because of his refusal to go along with the racist practices of American law schools with regard to hiring black female faculty.  It is difficult to select particular speakers for special accolades when confronted with such an embarrassment of riches.   Nevertheless Professors Patricia Williams, Keith Boykin and Charles Ogletree deserve special mention.  Author of the Remarkable text “The Alchemy of Race and Rights,” Patricia William’s gift for language enables her to turn a treatise on some ponderous arcane legal subject into poetry.

Her tribute to Professor Bell was a carefully crafted eulogy that blurred the lines between prose and poetry, epic mythmaking and solid history, all in the service of a greater truth. Professor Boykin’s tribute was transcendent, buoyed both by his exquisite command of English composition and his eloquent testimony about how Derrick Bell not only provided a splendid education in the law, but went far beyond the call of duty by standing up for his rights as a gay black man.

Charles Ogeltree, the Charles Hamilton Houston Professor of Law at Harvard, who was first a student then a colleague of Derrick Bell at Harvard, knew the great man best.   When he shared personal and professional memories with us in a rich baritone voice that easily employed all the “devices of eloquence” James Weldon Johnson heard in the sermons of Afro-American preachers, no one with half a heart could remain unmoved.

Among the myriad accolades heaped upon the Professor was a constant reference to the fact that Derrick Bell had walked away from a tenured Professorship from Harvard Law, because they would not award a professorship to a woman of color.  And he resigned as Dean of the University of Oregon’s law school for the same reason. The feelings of all who heard these heroic stories were summed up in the comment of yet another of his former students: “Who does something like that?”

No ordinary man for sure.  It was his constant championing of the interests of women that brought the feminist writer/activist Gloria Stienam out to add a white feminist voice to the swelling chorus of praise songs to the dearly departed legal lion.  I doubt that in a thousand speeches she could muster greater eloquence.  The poet/scholar/publisher Dr. Kaki Madhibuti flew in from Chi-town and read a poem crafted for the occasion.  It was Homeric in its grandeur as he captured in verse the meaning of the fantastic Odyssey that was the life of Derrick Bell, and the bard recited it with flawless eloquence.

The evening was a tribute worthy to a great soul. Derrick’s sons, Douglass DuBois Bell and Carter Robeson Bell – who are named after black heroes of our freedom struggle, which the Professor correctly concluded is the central theme of our history – read from some of his important letters, including his letter to the Dean of the Harvard Law School stating his intention to leave.  As I listened to this remarkable epistle, a singular act of principle which is sui generis for Harvard Law Professors, I was reminded of that scurrilous essay by Stanley Crouch, “Dumb Bell Blues,” in which Crouch not only questions Professor Bell’s integrity but ridicules his heroism.  He accused the Professor in print of simply “grandstanding!”

Ever since I first read that essay by my ambitious ex-friend, a black writer who has received the highest honors from the Euro-American literati, I suspected it was motivated by a profound sense of self-loathing inspired by the knowledge that he is an intellectual quisling, a fraud, what the old foks in Florida used to call “an ass kissing white folks nigger,” who is willing to buck dance on the graves of our ancestors for the fool’s gold of white adulation.

Alas, it is a pathological pattern of behavior that I have come to believe is the result of a deep seated inferiority complex.  If the man hates himself….how can he love us?   In any case, the late great jurist /poet Bruce Wright wrote a line that perfectly characterizes people like Crouch, Cain and Clarence Uncle Justice Thomas.  I would like to paraphrase it here: They are pious whores who denounce sin though do it well!

By the end of the program everyone understood that one of the mightiest trees in our forest had fallen, and this nation will be the worse for it.  Suddenly we heard what sounded like the voice of God…it seemed to descend from the sky high ceiling and slowly engulf the room.  It satisfied my soul and made my spirit dance.

It was the great dramatic soprano Jessye Norman, Prima Donna Absoluta of the Wagnarian Opera, singing the most soulful version I have ever heard of Amazing Grace.  It had the power to move even a wretch like me to tears….. as I bade this great man of the people hail and farewell.  We shall not soon see his like again!

Grand Diva Jessye Norman


 Killing us Softly with her Song


Patricia Williams: The Poet of Legal Discourse 


She would raise the level of discourse on the Supreme Court

Dr Haki Mhadibuti

The Chi Town Bard Lifted Us Higher

Judge Robert Carter


 Close Colleague of Derrick Bell  and friend of the Powerless




By: Playthell Benjamin

Harlem New York

November 5, 2011

****All Photographs by John Brathwaite

****** Except for the pictures of John Hamilton Huston and Turgood Marshall

******* Picture of Judge Robert Carter by: Playthell Benjamin


























Oaktown Takes the Movement Higher!

Posted in Occupy Wall Street, Playthell on politics with tags , on November 3, 2011 by playthell

 On Broadway: Downtown Oakland on a Normal Saturday


The Struggle Advances in Oakland but where is it headed?

The epicenter of the Occupy Wall Street movement has now shifted to Oakland California.  This is due to the fact that they have advanced the struggle by putting forth specific demands and seeking alliances with organized labor to organize a “general strike” designed to bring the economy of the city to a halt. This is a unique development because the AFL-CIO denounced the general strike long ago, dismissing it as a “communist tactic.”

Hence the emergence of the concept of a general strike in Oakland is a genuinely radical development.  It is a tactic that places the contradiction between the working class and the Plutocrats out in the open, and helps clarify fundamental issues for the mass electorate.  It is both an educational tool as well as a means of creating economic chaos.

It is not surprising that this movement would become radicalized in the Bay Area.  It was in Berkley that the “Free Speech Movement” began, which sent shock waves throughout the American student community in the early Sixties and served as a catalyst for student activism elsewhere.  The Counter-Cultural movement was born across the Bay in San Francisco, and the most influential of the armed resistance organizations the Black Panther Party for Self Defense, was founded in Oakland.  These activists  were heirs to an earlier history of leftist radicalism such as the Longshoreman Union led by the legendary Harry Bridges.  However it remains to be seen what lessons have been learned from these earlier radical movements.

Since the demonstrators managed to actually shut down the Oakland waterfront, the 5th largest seaport in the US, this action is most reminiscent of the four day San Francisco “General Strike” of 1934, led by the Longshoreman’s Unions.  This strike so crippled shipping all along the west coast that the police intervened to break the strike and violence broke out all over the city on “Bloody Thursday.”  However this violent confrontation resulted in great gains for the workers. This is because they were organized and had specific demands.

On the other hand, the present demonstrators who are engaging in violent clashes with the police have vague goals that span a wide range of issues and no disciplined organization with leaders skilled in negotiations who can speak on their behalf. And, just as in New York, they take pride in this unfortunate fact.

Hence this movement has much more in common with the contemporary San Francisco May Day group, who issued a statement describing an approach to struggle which – like the organizers of the original Occupy Wall Street protests in New York, who say they were inspired by the “Arab Spring” – views itself as part of the global revolt conducted through social media against an ill-defined enemy.

“Like fishermen turned pirates off the horn of Africa who have hijacked a primary artery of global capital as they defend their lives and communities, mass coordinated anti-capitalist attacks across Greece that illustrate how an anarchist initiated insurrection can bring a state to its knees, or crews of friends taking over the streets of downtown Oakland in resistance to police violence, the May Day mutiny in San Francisco has revealed weak points for us to take note of and exploit. The illusion of an invincible corporate state able to crush or undermine all its enemies has been shattered. The forces of repression have no real defense against our evolving rebellions.”

Alas, it is precisely this kind of misguided thinking that convinces the anti-wall street demonstrators they can achieve their objectives by organizing mass demonstrations alone; that they don’t need organization or ideology and are above politics.  It is a dangerous delusion that will lead this budding rebellion against the plutocracy into a blind alley, which will prove a road to defeat.  This is the pitfall that the nascent Oakland movement must successfully hurdle….if they are to achieve real rather than rhetorical  victories.

 The Power of the People!

Shutting Down the Port of Oakland


Playthell Benjamin

Harlem, New York

November 3, 2011

*** Photo of street muscian by: Playthell Benjamin

Raising Cain!

Posted in Black Republicans, Playthell on politics, Uncategorized with tags , , , on November 2, 2011 by playthell
The Great Pretender


Is Ignorance of the Electorate a Danger to National Security?

      Of the myriad dangers that imperil the national interests none is more frightening than the ignorance of the American electorate.  Looking at the state of American politics today, the thoughtful observer with a sense of history cannot help but marvel at the prophetic wisdom of Thomas Jefferson’s warning that a participatory democracy can’t work with an ignorant electorate because they will elect the worse people to power.   Nowhere is this more poignantly demonstrated than the astonishing rise of Herman Cain. A former pizza mogul and corporate lobbyist, Cain is the most conspicuous corporate shill to ever run for the Oval Office.

Cain’s ideas about economics are rooted in laizze faire free market dogma that would undo most of the social safety net created by the New Deal and Great Society legislation of the last century, devastating the working class and especially non-white minorities.  In Cain’s view if you are not rich or can’t find a job, it’s not due to the failures of those who own and manage the economy, “you should blame yourself!”  Not surprisingly, he is supported by the most reactionary factions of the plutocracy, such the Koch brothers.  During his career as a head of the National Restaurant Association he opposed public safety measures such as laws to curb cigarette advertising.

While his backward ideas on domestic policy are scary enough, Cain’s abysmal ignorance of foreign relations is horrifying!  Every time he opens his mouth he reveals a shocking ignorance about the world.  In a recent interview on PBS he was asked about  his plan for competing with China economically he said “we will outgrow them!”

When asked if he thought China was a military threat to the US, he replied yes because they “are beginning to build aircraft carriers like us.”  He also said he has also been told that the Chinese are trying to develop a nuclear capability.  Everybody who knows anything about China,  America’s main rival, knows they have had atomic weapons for half a century!   Yet Cain’s rival John Huntsman is not only a successful politician and businessman, but an expert on China who speaks fluent  Mandarin.  And he is virtually ignored by Republican voters!

 China Today! 


A Booming Economy with a  new Infrastructure

The Chinese Indeed  Are Building Aircraft Carriers  

Among The Best in the World! 

In other interviews Herm confessed that he hadn’t a clue what a neo-con is, and had never heard of “the right of return” question in Israel.  Considering that it was the neo-con cabal in the Bush Administration who were the architects of the illegal and disastrous invasion of Iraq, and the unresolved Palestinian/Israeli conflict will be a critical issue for any American President by virtue of the social forces unleashed in the “Arab Spring” upheaval that is transforming political reality in the region, this kind of ignorance is extremely dangerous.

Such shortcomings are more than enough to disqualify anybody from serious consideration for the presidency.  But then we catch Herm the Worm shamelessly lying on video tape about sexual harassment complaints against him.  Surely this was the last straw and this guy is gone.

Not so! Instead the right wing wolf pack is attacking the press, accusing the media of racism and a “hi tech lynching,” recycling the lame rhetoric of Uncle Justice Thomas.  Through it all Herm the worm’s approval ratings continue to soar over all other Republican Presidential contenders, and contributions to his campaign are skyrocketing.

Clearly any party that would vote this scurrilous ignoramus into the Oval Office is a danger to the stability of the United States. Yet the chances of preventing a Republican victory in 2012 are increasingly imperiled by the naiveté of the burgeoning movement for economic justice, whose activists  declare themselves above politics!!!   Thus they risk falling into irrelevance: all sound and fury achieving nothing!

Furthermore, a misguided leftist intelligentsia led by megalomaniacal political incompetents like Cornell West, is contemplating running an independent or third party candidate.  This will almost certainly result in repeating the fiasco of 2000, when support for Ralph Nader rather than Al Gore resulted in eight disastrous years of George Bush. And the usual suspects are involved!

Those who refuse to learn from history are certainly bound to repeat its mistakes George Santayana warned.  That’s why I am convinced that the greatest danger to the prospects for peace and prosperity in America is Boobus Americanus, as old Mencken aptly labeled them, the legions of ignoramuses armed with a ballot that comprise the American electorate!


Playthell Benjamin

Harlem, New York

November 2, 2011