Archive for April, 2016

An Unexpurgated Letter to Nick Lento and other “Progressives”

Posted in On the 2016 Presidential Election with tags , , , on April 24, 2016 by playthell
Gorgeous George in the Magic City 001
The Voice of Reason

Suicide is Not Progressive!

Dear Nicky

Since you are an obviously a smart and well-meaning guy whose heart and mind is in the right place, I shan’t follow my first impulse and tell you to KISS MY ASS!   Instead I shall endure your rather snide and snarky attitude – which has become the rhetorical style of those acolytes “feelin the Bern” – because there is value in what you say….although at times you come perilously close to being like the proverbial cow that gives a great bucket of milk then kicks it over in the dung.

For instance, after some generally astute and thoughtful analysis you opine: “Generally speaking cursing and insulting people and trying to bully them with foul language is not a way to make friends and influence people. The reality is the further we can push the Democratic platform in a progressive Direction and the further we can push Hillary Clinton in a progressive Direction the more chance she will have of winning if she becomes the nominee in the general election. Crudely and rudely demanding Bernie Sanders and the many millions of people supporting him simply walk away and politically drop dead is not helpful.”

First of all I have not suggested that Bernie Sanders supporters should “drop dead.” I am merely calling for them to cease the character  assignation of Hillary Clinton because the way it looks she will be the democratic candidate for president of the United States. In which case, we are going to have to support her in the fight against the dreaded Republicans.   Secondly,  I have been making friends and influencing people here and abroad probably before you started coming out of the yard by yourself; hence I need no advice from you on that score.

Furthermore I have been an organizer in a mass movement that succeeded, taught seminars on the structure and dynamics of mass movements in GREAT UNIVERSITIES, and was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize TWICE for writing about mass movements – see the nominating letters at Playthell: A Thumbnail Sketch at the top of this page.   I have won other prizes for my writings on the subject that can also be seen there, and had two of my feature essays on mass movements studied in seminars AT THE COLUMBIA GRADUATE SCHOOL OF JOURNALISM!  Furthermore, if you read my essays on The mass movements of the “Arab Spring” and the “Occupy Wall Street Movement” on this site you will see that they read like Biblical Prophecy!  And I have also held professorships in History and Journalism.

Hence I need NO ADVICE from verbose amateurs who are a bit too full of themselves – either regarding the use of language or how to influence people in debate.  I am a seasoned master at both!  I said EXACTLY WHAT I MEANT TO SAY IN THE STYLE THAT I SAID IT!!!!!!  I disagree that the only people who are in danger of not supporting Hillary are people who would not have voted for her in the first place.   Hence I am trying to warn the undecided that some of Bernie’s followers are going off the beam and are DANGEROUS!!!!

Although it is true that the people you identify might not have voted for Hillary, there are many independents and fence straddlers that may be inclined to vote for Hillary but will be discouraged by the increasingly rancorous and reckless rhetoric emanating from the Sanders campaign. As Bernie’s numbers shrink beside Hillary’s they are beginning to talk like mindless self-righteous zealots!   In politics as in sports: You are what the numbers say you are.  And the numbers say that when it’s all over Bernie will be an also ran.

There are 2, 383 delegates needed to win the Democratic nomination.  At present according to Bloomberg News and the Associated Press Hillary Clinton has 1, 930 delegates, 502 of which are Superdelegates.  Bernie Sanders has 1,191 delegates including 38 Superdelegates and 1, 644 delegates remain to be allocated.  Clinton needs only 430 delegates to win outright, but Bernie needs 1,192 delegates to win.  I see NO path to victory for Bernie under the rules of the Democratic Party.  That’s why his supporters are going bonkers and spouting madness.  They are becoming loose cannons that represent more of an electoral danger to the Democrats than the Republicans.

Alas, otherwise sensible and principled people are beginning to sound like shameless charlatans and fumbling fools. Former head of the venerable NAACP Ben Jealous, a brilliant and thoughtful commentator/activists for the progressive vision, is talking like a charlatan in his unfair criticism of Hillary as a result of a joke told by New York Mayor de Blasio about “CP Time” i.e. “Colored People’s Time.”  It was an old joke among black Americans; I and everybody I know thought it was funny as hell.   And since Big Bill is married to a Soul Sista of the deepest dye most of us consider him “black by emersion!”

Bill and Charlene de Blasio
The Mayor and Charlene
The Mayor and First Lady of New York

So Ben made an asshole of himself with his fake outrage: IT WAS EMBARRASING!!!!  And then there is the matter of Nina Turner.  A former State Senator from Ohio, I first became aware of her from watching her emerge as a powerful spokesperson for progressive issues on television when she was in the Ohio legislature.  She impressed me as smart, feisty, politically astute, and fearless: a powerful advocate for the public interests, the working class and the powerless.

I found her admirable in every respect, a model public servant.  But here lately, as a surrogate for the Sander’s campaign, she has become shrill as a banshee, self-righteous as an evangelical preacher, and as judgmental as a hangman.  Then there are the actors who, by virtue of their fame have a large audience, however because they are used to reciting lines composed by others when left to think on their own they are subject to say ANTHING!

Susan Serandon and Dannie Glover are poignant cases in point.  In separate interviews on MSNBC Serandon hesitated when asked if she would support Hillary if Bernie didn’t get the nomination.  After fumbling around with the question, she said she was undecided and even saw a bright side to a Trump victory: “It would speed up the revolution.”

This is the kind of talk one expects to hear from clueless college kids enamored with the abstract revolutionary theories of the intellectual left promulgated by folks who claim to speak for the “revolutionary” proletariat.  Not surrogates for a politician vying for the nomination of a major American political party.  And although Danny Glover is a lot smarter than Suzy, a genuine intellectual with a deep understanding of the complexities of politics, he is also talking like a fool hedging on the question of supporting Hillary.

This is what self-righteous zealotry does to people.  The belief that one has some ultimate and unassailable truth, and that this truth is personified by a political leader that can do no wrong, has lead to unspeakable disasters.  The historical record is littered with such examples.  Alas, in their desperation Bernie’s acolytes increasingly seem convinced that by sliming Hillary they can improve his chances of victory.

They are even talking about trying to provoke a floor fight at the convention that mirror the Republican’s strategy to stop Trump.  Their strategy is based on the belief that they can provoke a fight at the Convention and convince enough super delegates to abandon Hillary and support Bernie.  However as I write Hillary needs only 430 delegates to win while Bernie needs 1, 192, hence they have a serious uphill fight ahead that will sow discord in the party in what’s seems destined to be a failing effort.

I think this is a wrongheaded strategy, a fool’s errand, that can seriously wound the party; imperiling our chancer at winning this critical election, especially since some of these zealots are talkng about starting a Third Party!  While I am an enthusiastic supporter who is feelin the Bern, I am first and foremost a political animal whose paramount objective is defeating the Republicans; a Yellow Dog Democrat who would vote for an old yellow dog before casting a ballot for a Republican.

Unlike a great many of Bernie’s acolytes – and you appear to be among their number – I do not see this as a contest between a saint and sinner they way yhall do. I see this as a contest between two ambitious politicians vying for the most powerful office in the world; neither of whom have a monopoly on virtue.

After all, most of the things that Bernie accuses Hillary of regarding raising money have been true OF EVERY SUCCESSFUL AMERICAN PRESIDENT!!!!!   Bernie is the sole exception….but then he ain’t won shit yet!   So you jokers need to CALM THA FUCK DOWN!  If Bernie don’t win he ain’t in: THAT’S THE LONG AND THE SHORT OF IT!   We must then fall in line behind Hillary and our marching ordrs must be “No Enemies on the Left!   Anything else is EXTREME FOLLY that will certainly lead to political disaster.

*********************

Playthell G. Benjamin
Harlem, New York
April 24, 2016

 

Resurrection of a Heavy-Weight

Posted in Cultural Matters, Theater with tags , , on April 11, 2016 by playthell

 

Jack Johnson - played by Tommy Moore II

Tommie J. Moore as Jack Johnson
Tommie Moore brings Jack Johnson to Life in “Dare to Be Black”

Of all the difficulties facing an actor in the theater, the one man play is arguably the greatest.  Without a cast of actors to play against, the lone thespian must hold the attention of the audience and create dramatic tensions on his own.  He must be able to create bathos and pathos – comedic and tragic moments – with his verbal delivery and body language alone.  With only stage props, and sometimes recorded music, the actor must create an imaginary world and purely on the basis of his telling of the tale transport us into that world and make it real.

It is a task that has much in common with a solo piano performance for the artist, in that any shortcoming will be magnified and thus only a consummate master can pull it off.  Tommie Moore pulls it off grand fashion; it is as if Jack Johnson sprang before us fully alive and complete….like the goddess Athena sprang into the world full blown from the forehead of Zeus.

Mr. Moore is also the playwright, and as Shakespeare warned us: “The play is the thing.”  Hence the fate of a theatrical work is sometimes dictated before the actor ever looks at the script.  For if a play is badly written – or fatally flawed – not even great actors can salvage it no matter the caliber of their performance.  In this instance Moore has scored on all points because the script is brilliantly written.  And the way Mr. Moore came to write this work was a serendipitous affair; like so many creative works, whether it be in the arts or scientific discoveries.

The play has its origins in a chance encounter he had with an actress, who he now remembers only as “Barbara,” who was performing a one woman show playing Harriet Tubman, the great female abolitionist and “Conductor on the Underground railroad” that ferried runaway slaves out of the South into “Free Territory.” It was she who gave him the idea of writing a one man play about Jack Johnson. He recalls:

She told me that I should write a 15 minute monologue about Jack Johnson. At this time, I knew very little about Jack Johnson. I did much research and I was amazed.  His life was so intriguing. As I continued to research Jack Johnson, I felt sorry for him. How is his story not told? Why is Hollywood staying away from his true story? Why are Blacks staying away from his true story? It was then, I made a commitment to write a full production play. I wanted people to see Jack’s power, charm, and intelligence. He was not only a great boxer. He was a one-man activist. His life was an activist. He refused segregation. Whatever whites could do, Jack did. So now, here I am trying to educate the world about our First Black Heavyweight Champion. As well, as get him a pardon”

The paramount problem for any artistic treatment of historical subjects is to capture the zeitgeist of the era, to recreate the historical milieu so that we can experience the tenor of the times.  The most important themes of that era of American history was white supremacy and the inferiority of peoples of color, especially black people who had only recently emerged from slavery, in fact Jack Johnson’s parent’s had been slaves.  It was a time when the ideology of white supremacy permeated all phases of worthwhile human endeavor.  And the belief that white men were not only smarter that black men, but physically stronger and more courageous, was conventional wisdom.

And it was taken as gospel truth that white men were naturally also more sexually desirable than black men, hence any white woman that had sex with a black man was either deranged white trash or it was rape. And this assumption, like the ideology of white supremacy itself, was an article of faith throughout the dominant white world, which had conquered and colonized the millions of people living in “Africa, Asia, the Americas and the Islands of the seas” as Johnson’s black great intellectual giant and contemporary would put it in his famous statement: “The Problem of the 20th century is the problem of the color line!”

The logic of white male sexual dominance was simply stated by the French General/Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte in the 18th century.  When Napoleon was informed that Alexander Dumas, a handsome black man who was his leading cavalry general and one of the greatest swordsmen in France, was banging his sister Bonaparte had him arrested.  He explained his actions thusly: “How can you convince a man that you are his superior if he is sleeping with your sister!”  While intellectuals like Dr. Dubois, Dr. Kelly Miller, James Weldon Johnson, Monroe Trotter, Ida B. Wells and others debated the veracity of the white supremacist myth, Jack Johnson shattered them by his actions: defeating Tommy Burns and winning the Undisputed World Heavy-Weight Championship and openly sleeping with white women.

Jack Johnson and Socialite Etta Durea
Jack and White Sweetie II
He openly violated the central Taboo of the era.

boxer-jack-johnson-and-wife

She turned her back on white America for black Johnson

Indeed Jack contemptuously flaunted his violation of this all American taboo.  According to historian Jeffry T. Sammons in his seminal book “Beyond the Ring: The Role of Boxing in American Civilization,” Johnson would routinely sleep with three white women after publicly humiliating white men in the ring.  Hence one of the enduring mysteries about Jack Johnson is why such a man was not lynched i.e. murdered in a public “ritual of blood” as the Harvard sociologist Orlando Patterson describes lynching in his chilling and insightful text “Rituals in Blood,” which he argues  is a form of “cannibalism” when black men were burned alive.

When Jack Johnson won the Heavy-Weight Championship in 1908 black men were being crucified in such murderous rituals at the rate of one every two and a half days, and as Dr. Rayford Logan shows in his masterwork “The Betrayal of the Negro,” this had been going on at that rate for twenty years!   That Johnson was able to do the things he did yet remain alive gave him the aura of a superman, and outraged white men of all classes.

He was a living breathing refutation of the white man’s claim to superiority over black men because they had acclaimed the Heavy-Weight Champion of the world the most potent man on earth!  Hence Johnson was the filthy black fly in their pristine bowl of white milk that must be removed at all cost. Yet, ironically, they only way to fully discredit Johnson and nullify the effects of his victory was to find a white man who could kick his black ass fair and square.  Thus began the search for “the great white hope.”

Amazingly Johnson was almost as interesting outside the ring; he was a bass player, bandleader, nightclub owner, aficionado of fast cars, a great dresser and lady’s man.  He was articulate, witty, cocky and was famous for his “golden smile – a reference to the gold crowns he wore on his teeth.  Tommie Moore manages to capture this unique outsized personality and his strange times in a bravura performance that brings this complex character to life and takes us back to the racially troubled milieu of early 20th Century America.

From the moment he walks out onstage, which is at the same level as the audience, except for the boxing ring that dominates this sparse set, he jokes with the audience and talks jive to the ladies in character.  Early on he hooked us and never let up as he spun tall tales about his life and times.

When he strips to the waist, displaying his finely muscled physique, the ladies squealed and we were amazed at how much he actually resembled Jack Johnson, who also possessed a sharply defined Physique.  Moore makes great use of the fact that Johnson fancied himself a thespian.  He aspired to play Othello, who like Johnson was a great black fighting man in a dominant white society who enraged some white men because he won the love of Desdemona, a beautiful white woman.

Choosing the scene where Othello is brought before the authorities and accused by her father of employing Black Magic to place her under his spell, Moore renders Othello’s explanation with a power that does justice to the Bard.  He also comes out in one scene, dressed to the nines in the fashion of the times, turns the music up on the radio and dances a dance that was au courant in that period.

Jack Johnson in fighting gear

Jack Johnson as a young fighter

He became the dominant sex symol of his day among white women

The play encapsulates the major issues that Johnson faced as a man who dared to be unapologetically black, and who whipped the toughest white men in public for a living.  Moore allows us to share Johnson’s disgust at the fact that after he defeated Tommy Burns for the World Heavy-Weight Championship the white press continued to refer to Jim Jefferies, who had retired while still Champion, as the Champ.  One of the things that make this play so powerful is the extent to which Moore incorporates Johnson’s actual words into his script, and here he renders them with perfect blend of amusement, anger and contempt.

This work is a tour de force that deserves a much wider audience, and unless all the producers in New York are blind, tasteless, spineless or racist in should find a path to Broadway.   As in all of his pearls of wisdom Shakespeare was certainly right when he observed “the play is the thing,” but it takes great actors to make it feel real….and Tommie Moore made us forget that he was just acting.  Which is what the Great British Thespian Sir Lawrence Olivier meant when he warned aspiring actors: “Acting is a noble profession…but a real actor must never be caught doing it.”

(See the Historic Johnson v Jefferies Fight)

https://youtu.be/esnq-orAvo8

***************

Playthell G. Benjamin
New York City
April 11, 2016

 

The World According to Hillary

Posted in On Foreign Affairs, On Israel, On War and Peace in the Mid East! with tags , , on April 3, 2016 by playthell
 Hillary Clinton at Stanford
Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton

 Hillary Clinton Reveals her Core Beliefs on Foreign Policy

Anyone who is listening to the contenders for the Democratic and Republican candidates for president will recognize that Hillary’s expertise cannot be matched by the Republican frontrunners.  Nevertheless, some of her policies make less sense that those of Donald Trump, a loose cannon whose misbegotten election to the US presidency most thoughtful observers of international relations around the world believe would be an unmitigated disaster.

The problem is that some of Hillary’s views on critical internationl issues are calcified relics of her history as a Cold War hawk.  She is committed to interventionist policies and says that NATO is America’s smartest investment.  For one who believes that the maintenance of NATO is a blunder of historical proportions that violates the spirit of the agreement with Russia ending the Cold War, and puts this nation in greater danger of a hot war with Russia than during the Communist era, a war which could go nuclear, the former Secretary of State sounds detached from political reality to me.

It is ironic that with her superior knowledge of foreign affairs Ms. Clinton should show less wisdom that Donald the Clown regarding the aims of US foreign policy.  For instance, Trump opposed the invasion of Iraq and correctly pointed out that the overthrow of Sadam Hussein would destabilize the region.  I had written the same thing on the eve of the invasion (See: “The Prophetic Commentary on Iraq,” on this site)   Today Trump went on the record stating his views on NATO, America’s most important and costly military alliance, and to my shock, surprise and profound disappointment  Trump’s ideas were decidedly more realistic and advanced than those of Clinton’s.

While Clinton champions NATO, Trump questions its continued existence, correctly pointing out that NATO is an anachronism that has outlived its original purpose.  In a recent “on the record” interview with the Editors of the Washington Post – where he first introduced his advisors on foreign policy and national security matters – Trump had this to say regarding America’s leadership of NATO:  “We certainly can’t afford to do this anymore, NATO is costing us a fortune, and yes, we’re protecting Europe with NATO, but we’re spending a lot of money.”  He also questioned the contributions of other members of the alliance “They are not doing anything,” he concludes.  On foreign policy Trump is like a broken clock that is wrong almost all the time but gets it right twice a day.

In order to point out the absurdity and danger of US commitment’s to NATO Trump had this to say regarding the conflict in the Ukraine, one of the most dangerous situations in the world: “

“Ukraine is a country that affects us far less than it affects other countries in NATO, and yet we’re doing all of the lifting. They’re not doing anything. And I say: ‘Why is it that Germany’s not dealing with NATO on Ukraine? Why is it that other countries that are in the vicinity of Ukraine, why aren’t they dealing? Why are we always the one that’s leading, potentially the third world war with Russia.’ “

A more accurate description would be to the second deployment of nuclear weapons in an international conflict, and this time it will be Dooms Day.  World wars are a phenomenon of the twentieth century, the next war between industrial nations will go nuclear and that will spell the end of the homo-sapiens species.  Although Trumps pronouncements lack elegance and are innocent of real erudition, despite their crudity some of them hit home.

His view of the Ukraine situation raises the fundamental questions that we should ask when evaluating America’s role there, a place where we could end up in an accidental war with a Russian military whose nuclear arsenal rivals our own.  And what is worse, because of our commitments to NATO we could become entangled in a military conflict with Russia should they have a military incident with Estonia!  Hence Trump is right to question both the relevance of this 20th century Cold War alliance designed to contain an enemy that has vanished from the face of the earth: The Soviet Union.

The fact that both Hillary Clinton and Ted Cruz quickly attacked Trump’s position on NATO, and foreign interventionism in general, testifies to the truth of the axiom “Politics make strange bedfellows.”  The truth is that, despite differences in approach, both Clinton and Cruz deeply believe in the myth of “American Exceptionalism” and they also believe the United States is the rightful leader of the world and all nations must fall in line behind us and follow our wise counsel.  They were unambiguous on this point, and therein lies the problem.  Ironically, Bernie Saunders and Donald Trump are closer in their views of the US role in the world than they are with their party counterparts Clinton and Cruz….and Kaisch too.

Trump’s skepticism about US military involvement in foreign countries is greatly influenced by the amount of American treasure expended on the security of our allies.  For instance he says of South Korea, a country where the US still maintains military bases after 60 years – a blunder the Republican chicken hawks are eager to repeat in Iraq – and has never signed a treaty ending the war we fought on the Korean Peninsula all those decades ago.  “South Korea is very rich, great industrial country,” says Trump,  “and yet we’re not reimbursed fairly for what we do.  We’re constantly sending our ships, sending our planes, doing our war games — we’re reimbursed a fraction of what this is all costing.”

Yet despite these insights Trump often comes across as some sort of idiot savant when discussing national security issues; he is like the proverbial cow that gives a good bucket of milk then kicks it over.  For example his insane in the brain suggestion that South Korea and Japan should develop their own nuclear arsenals!    And his whacko plan to construct a wall on the Mexican border and coerce the Mexican government into paying for it; or his proposal to ban over a billion Muslims from the US, despite the fact that many are coming from countries America considers valued allies; or his call to attack the families of terrorists – a war crime reminicent of the Nazis!

Alas, to the horror of thoughtful people all over the globe, Trump took his animus toward Muslims to the point of utter madness in suggesting that he may nuke ISIS, and refused to take the option of firing nukes in Europe “off the table.”  Anybody who understands anything about nuclear weapons knows that they are weapons of mass genocide against civilian populations!  Hence, to even contemplate such a crime against humanity makes Trump unfit to be President – either because he is a dangerous ignoramus who does not understand the implications of what he is proposing, or he is the type of morally deformed cretin that would casually commit mass murder.  Next to this guy, and Teddy Cruz too, Hillary looks like a paragon of Solomonic wisdom…as dangerous and antiquated as some of her core beliefs are!

We need only examine her views on the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians as expressed in her speech before AIPAC – American Israel Public Affairs Committee – the most important organization in the all-powerful Israel Lobby, which maintains an effective strangle hold over US Middle East Policy.  Her performance was a shameful genuflection before the policies of the Israeli government, no matter how outrageous those policies appear to thoughtful principled Americans interested in a just peace in that troubled region.

Hillary Goes Nuts at AIPAC!

Hillary Clinton speaks to AIPAC

The Beleagured Palestian People are Invisible to her
 While this is what the rest of the world is witnessing
Palestinian GirlA Palestinian town reduced to rubble with the advanced weapons supplied by the US

To hear Hillary tell it only the Israeli’s have justified grievances; she showed no objectivity at all and no empathy for the plight of the beleaguered Palestinian people.  It is hard to know how to evaluate her statements.

The Real World of Palestinian Children

Palestinia boy in the sights of Israeli Soldier

Forever in the Gunsights of armed Israeli Settlers and Soldiers!

If Hillary truly believes her version of the relations between Israel and the Palestinians she is a nincompoop who never should have been Secretary of State, because despite the voluminous intelligence reports available to her about the realities of the region she appears to have learned nothing alas.  On the other hand, if she does not believe this Barney and Bailey view of Israeli/Palestinian relations then she is a shameless charlatan.  Hence we are left to pick our poison: Charlatan or fool for president!

As I write Clinton is demonizing President Putin with a paranoid view of his designs on Europe  that is a relic of the Cold War era, while attacking Trump for his suggestion that the US greatly reduce its role in NATO.  Yet even a cursory interrogation into the nature of this alliance should raise a red flag for those who want to steer this country away from a policy of perpetual war – and the increasing possibility of a catastrophic war with Russia.   Alas, whatever the considerable virtues of Hillary Clinton, she is no dove in matters of war and peace.

*********************

 

Playthell G. Benjamin
Harlem New York
 March 25, 2016