Archive for July, 2018

Outclassed!

Posted in On Donald Trump with tags , on July 27, 2018 by playthell

Trump Receiving his Orders

Trump’s Meeting with Putin was a National Disgrace!

Donald Trump’s recent meeting with Vladimir Putin in Helsinki was a sad spectacle! Trump was completely OUTCLASSED!!! It was like watching a heavy-weight boxer in the ring with a fly-weight! Of course, I am not talking about physical size as Fat Donnie is much taller and his blubbery body looks swollen beside Putin’s fit physique. It is in the intellectual realm that Putin towers over Trump!

We got a hint of what was likely to happen when we saw that Putin was equipped with a pad and pencil and Trump’s hands was as empty as his head! When they appeared to issue statements on the meeting the extent to which Trump was outclassed became glaringly obvious. Putin’s statement was authoritative, broadly knowledgeable and delivered with ease; like a person who was really on top of his material.

Trump on the other hand was vague, hyperbolic in his praise of Putin and Russia, dismissive of US intelligence agencies and the press, and haltingly read from a text that sounded like it was written by Putin’s intelligence officer…which the translator probably was! Trump came across as a colossal dunce, a Russian dupe, or an American President committing treason before the world….I think it was all three. In fact. I believe what went on in that meeting was that Putin gave “The Moscow Candidate” his marching orders!

As bizarre as this may sound it is also the view of Malcolm Nance, former military counter-intelligence operative and author of two best selling books . The first analyzes the role of Russian military intelligence in subverting the US presidential election with the objective of insuring a Trump victory, “The Hacking of America,” and “The Plot to Destroy Democracy.” his second book dealing with efforts by the Russians to dismantle western democracies through cyber-warfare.
In an interview on WNBC, where he is a regular commentator on national security issues, Nance offered this uncanny prediction about Trump’s behavior in his forthcoming Summit with Putin:

“He’s just gonna lay down…we already know that based on his past statements. And he’s correct; he has been preparing for this his entire life for this…he went to the Soviet in 1987 trying to get Trump hotels. We know that he was taking Russian money and selling real estate to them For years. We also know that in 2013 he met with the top 12 Russian Oligarchs and received their version of events for over two hours and have been spouting it ever since.”

The prescience of Nance’s prediction is borne out by the response of Republican officials to Trump’s public genuflection before Vlad the Deceiver. Senator John McCain, a senior statesman of the party, described Trumps actions as:”“one of the most disgraceful performances by an American president in memory.” Senator Marco Rubio said Trump’s assessment of Russia was “not based in reality,” and his comments were “counterproductive, dangerous, and will fail.” And House Speaker Paul Ryan – who has displayed the spine of a jelly fish when commenting on Trump’s myriad failings and transgressions – remarked

But the most devastating criticism came from Texas Congressman Will Hurd, who asserts in a July 19, Op-Ed in the New York Times:

“Over the course of my career as an undercover officer in the C.I.A., I saw Russian intelligence manipulate many people. I never thought I would see the day when an American president would be one of them. The president’s failure to defend the United States intelligence community’s unanimous conclusions of Russian meddling in the 2016 election and condemn Russian covert counterinfluence campaigns and his standing idle on the world stage while a Russian dictator spouted lies confused many but should concern all Americans. By playing into Vladimir Putin’s hands, the leader of the free world actively participated in a Russian disinformation campaign that legitimized Russian denial and weakened the credibility of the United States to our foes abroad.”

The question thoughtful Americans who are paying attention are asking is: “What’s really going on with Donald Trump?” Not only has he insulted his American critics with a variety of insults including giving them demeaning nicknames, and trashed some of America’s oldest allies, but he has consistently refused to insult Vlad The Deceiver nor admit the full extend of Russian interference in our presidential election. For instance, even after the Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller issued a detailed 29 page indictment against 13 Russian military intelligence operatives, Trump continued to dismiss the investigation as “a witch hunt.”

Trump’s charge was so outrageous it prompted a spirited defense of the integrity of US intelligence products from Dan Coates, the Director of National Intelligence and Richard Burr, the Republican Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee. “We have been clear in our assessments of Russian meddling in the 2016 election and their ongoing,” says Coates. “pervasive efforts to undermine our democracy, and we will continue to provide unvarnished and objective intelligence in support of our national security.”

Senator Burr was equally clear in his disagreement with the President’s actions. “Vladimir Putin is not our friend and never has been. Nor does he want to be our friend. His regime’s actions prove it. We must make clear that the United States will not tolerate hostile Russian activities against us or our allies.”

Even more damming is the contention by Congressman Hurd in his Op-Ed:
“Moreover, the threat of Russian meddling in United States elections is not behind us. Just last week, Dan Coats, the director of national intelligence, cautioned that “the warning lights are blinking red” that Russia and other adversaries will undertake further cyberattacks on our digital infrastructure. This includes many of the energy companies in my home district in South and West Texas. Make no mistake, Russian disinformation campaigns are working.”

This Op-Ed is well worth the reading by all concerned US citizens, because this Congressman, a Republic who sits on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, offers both a candid assessment of the President’s failings in dealing with Russian intrusions into the US electoral process, and also recommends a number of measures to prevent it.

The most important of these recommendations are spelled out in this statement:
“Additionally, Congress must act to give the men and women of our intelligence agencies the tools they need to confront Moscow and prevent this from happening in the future. We can start by sending the Intelligence Authorization Act to the president’s desk, which authorizes funding to support critical national security programs across the intelligence community. It also requires regular public reports on foreign threats to federal election campaigns before those elections take place, mandatory notification to Congress within 14 days after a determination has been made with moderate or high confidence that a foreign cyberintrusion or active measures campaign to influence a federal election has taken place, and reports to the House and Senate Intelligence Committees on past and continuing Russian influence campaigns.”

The ongoing Russian interference in US politics is well established by our intelligence agencies, yet despite some good suggestions as to strategies for effectively combating this covert Cyber-war, the Republicans have thus far been mostly blow and no go. They appear to be paralyzed with terror at the possibility that the tweeting twit in the Oval Office will publicly crucify them on Twitter.

After all, the most recent polls show that “The Donald” has over 80% support in their party. Trump’s behavior prompted Malcolm Nance to conclude that his foreign policy is dictated from Moscow and ridicules the idea that a clueless ignoramus like Trump could have been doing anything but receiving instructions from a seasoned KGB officer and master political strategist like Putin during their two and a half hour secret meeting:”I think he has been co-opted by Russia…I think he works in the interests of Russia!”

Yet, despite mounting evidence of treason, no Republican member of the House or Senate seems willing to put the interests of the country over their personal political prospects and take steps to remove this traitorous charlatan from office. Hence Trump’s disgrace is also their own!

 

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RED ALERT!!!

Malcolm Nance’s Prediction on Trump-Putin
https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=8&v=tVp9ACinFpk

The Trump-Putin Press Conference
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cwxqOoIyWm0

Malcolm Nance on the Aftermath of Helinski
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aIz9TXzwY7I

It’s Time to Call It Treason!

Posted in On Donald Trump, On Foreign Affairs, Playthell on politics with tags , , on July 15, 2018 by playthell

Putin Instructing his Puppet?

Impeach the Moscow Candidate

The charge of treason is clearly defined in the US Constitution. Article 3 Section 3 states: 

“Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying war against them, or in adhering to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort. No person shall be convicted of Treason unless on the testimony of two witnesses to the same overt act.”

 Hence the question before the nation is what constitutes a state of war with a foreign country, and has Donald Trump given the enemy “aid and comfort.” First let us consider whether Russia committed an act of war against these United States of America. Like everything else in our lives, digitization has changed the nature of war as dramatically as it is changing the nature of work. Alas, it is quite enough to point out that a massive Cyber-attack by a hostile power has been added to the list of events that would justify a nuclear response. That is the ultimate act of war!  Yet the entire nation has witnessed our President giving “aid and comfort”  to the perpetrator.

Although commentators in and outside of government routinely refer to the Russian Cyber-attack that may well have determined the outcome of our presidential election as an act of war, they don’t respond to this attack with the same fervor and conviction they would have if the Russians had torpedoed an American submarine. Everyone would be up in arms demanding retaliation, and if the president dismissed the unanimous assessment of our intelligence agencies – the best in the world – and instead accepted the word of the leader of the hostile nation that launched the attack instead, there would be a deafening cry for his impeachment!

And if the President took no action to protect our nation’s assets from further attack, refused to even issue a scathing denunciation of the aggressor’s action; then arranged a meeting with the president of the hostile nation in which no one from the American government or press would be present; just the two presidents, there would be an urgent movement in Congress to impeach him for “giving aid and comfort to the enemy” Which is the definition of Treason!

All of these things are true in regard to Donald Trump’s response to the Russian Cyber-attack on our national election. Many astute observers believe the attack changed the course of American history by putting Trump in the Oval Office, and this now redounds to the benefit of the Russians. When we add the fact that US intelligence agencies unanimously concluded that the objective of the Russian attack was to help elect Donald Trump President, we have the motive for Treason! But what of the evidence people ask? Will the evidence support a charge as serious as treason?

Many legal scholars, former prosecuters and pundits – this writer included – believe the evidence is near overwhelming, a prima facie case.. However on the this a charge of such gravitas that many Americans are bewildered by the possible consequences. Indeed, Lawrence Tribe, Harvard Law Professor and the nation’s leading authority on the US Constitution, has just published a book on question in an attempt to clarify this complex process,To End a Presidency: The Power of Impeachment.” It is no picayune matter that there have been only two impeachments of presidents in American history, and in each instance, after the Bill of Impeachment from the House of Representatives was presented to the Senate and the President was be put on trail, they beat the rap. However none has ever been charged with treason.

Andrew Johnson, Abraham Lincoln’s Vice-President who ascended to the presidency after the assassination of Lincoln, was the first president to be impeached. However Johnson was impeached by the “Radical Republicans” of the Reconstruction period in the aftermath of the American Civil War, and his impeachment was the result of policy differences.The US Civil War was the most destructive and murderous war the world had ever witnessed by the mid-19th century. This is because it was the first modern war where arms could be mass produced by virtue of the development of an industrial base. Hence death and destruction could, and was, be dispensed on a massive scale.

Thus “Binding up the nations wounds” with “Malice toward none and charity for all,” as the martyred President had called for before before he was shot to death during a night out at Ford’s theater, was much easier said than done. The nation’s problems were monumental: complex, illusive, and in search of solutions in an atmosphere of inter-sectional and racial hatred, passionate resentments and despair. It was the kind of poisoned atmosphere in which there was little chance that “the better angels of our nature” would prevail, as President Lincoln had prayed.

President Johnson was a pro-union southerner who, like the northerner Lincoln, came from the poor white working class. However, although he hated the rich, arrogant, decadent, slave holding planter class he was also a virulent racist with no sympathy for Afro-Americans. Hence he opposed every effort of the Congress to help Afro-Americans overcome the handicaps resulting from 250 years of chattel slavery, a system the great freedom fighted Harriet Tubman said was “Worse than hell!” And the peerless Afro-American Abolitionist writer and orator Frederick Douglass said “would disgrace a nation of savages.” When the Radical Republican Congress, led by Pennsylvania’s Thaddeus Stevens in the House and Charles Sumner of Massachusetts in the Senate, had their fill of the Southern domcrat’s obstructionism they Impeached him! Although Johnson survived the Senate trial by one vote when Senator Edmund Ross of Kansas surprised his colleagues by voting “not guilty,” the great abolitionist Senator Charles Sumner said of him: Andrew Johnson is the impersonation of the tyrannical slave power. In him it lives again.”

A century later Richard M. Nixon, a Republican, had just won a second term in the presidency by a historic landslide when he faced imminent impeachment due to the Watergate scandal resulting from operatives working for The Committee to Reelect the President aka CREEP breaking into the Democratic Party Headquarters in Washington’s Watergate Hotel. The group, a motley crew led by former intelligence officers known to history as “The White House Plumbers,”was on a mission to find damaging information on the democratic Party that could be used to damage their presidential candidate.

Nixon’s attempt to cover up White house involvement in the crime led to Congress passing the first Article of Impeachment on July 27, 1974 for Obstruction of Justice – one of the charges now being considered against Trump. With Impeachment a certainty Nixon chose to resign instead….the only President in US history to do so. In a striking historical irony, 44 years later we have another Republican President under investigation for interfering in the campaign of a democratic candidate for president, and is also facing the possibility of Impeachment for Obstruction of Justice!

However whereas as the Nixon era Republicans used former US intelligence operatives, the Trump campaign is being investigated for colluding with active agents in the Russian military intelligence establishment, several of whom have just been indicted by Special Counsel Robert Mueller. This is no picayune matter, for whereas the Nixon operatives were guilty of a botched burglary, the Trump campaign is alleged to have conspired with a hostile foreign power to steal massive amounts of documents from the Democrats that were used in an attempt to sway the presidential election in favor of Donald Trump…which he won by a mere 77, 000 votes spread over three states while losing the popular election to Hillary Clinton by 3, 000,000 votes.

This was a political event that has no precedent in US history, nor has a US president ever chosen to believe the leader of a hostile foreign power over his own intelligence agencies. Yet Devious Donald has embarked on a campaign to discredit those agencies, comparing them to the evil genocidal Nazi gestapo, and labeling the American press “enemies of the people” for objectively reporting the facts about Russian cyber-aggression and the unfolding evidence of collusion by members of his campaign. In fact, many professional prosecutors have noted that Trump’s behavior fits the description of what they call “consciousness of guilt” on the part of suspects.

Alas, it has been repeatedly pointed out by a variety of observers that Trump is famous for coining demeaning nicknames for anyone with whom he has a disagreement, including many fellow Republicans – “Lyin Ted,” “Little Marco,” “Sloppy Steve,” Low Energy Jeb,” et al – and he still refers to his former Democratic adversary as “Crooked Hillary.” But Trump has NEVER called Vladimir Putin out of his name! “Whassup wit dat?” many people are asking. Speculation about the reasons for this abound, some people have even coined some sobriquets for him. My personal favorites are: “Putin’s Puppet” and “Putin’s Pussy!”

Yet whatever Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s and other investigations proves to be the case, on the face of it we can see there is a rottening in the Oval Office. It is clear from readily available facts that the President is violating his oath to “defend the Constitution from all enemies foreign and domestic.” Just now, he has become an enemy of the Constitution with his constant attacks on the legitimacy of the free press, whose independent role as a watch dog over those who govern us and a protector of the public interest is guaranteed in the Constitution.

Thomas Jefferson, one of the wisest of the Founding Fathers, thought it so important he said if given a choice between a free press and no government or a government and no free press, he would choose the free press and no government. By attacking the legitimacy of our free press and trashing US intelligence agencies, the front line soldiers in the Cyber-war against Russia, setting Americans at each other’s throats in the process, Donald J. Trump has failed in his pledge to “insure domestic tranquility,” as the Chief Excutive of the nation, and by refusing to confront the Russians about their military cyber-attack on our nation he has abdicated his constitutionally appointed role as “Commander-In-Chief.”

Yet in a couple of days Trump has the unmitigated gall to meet with Putin in private without a single representative of our government, military or press in attendance. This inexplicable folly will further disgrace his office and destroy confidence in our government for millions of Americans who are already greatly disillusioned by his behavior. For many loyal Americans who have served in the military- this writer included-Trump is a draft dodging coward; a blabbermouth chicken hawk who loves to wrap himself in the flag and claim to speak for veterans, but the chump is all blow and no go! Eric Watree – a writer an honorably discharged Marine who volunteered for service in our most audacious fighting force when Donnie Dipshit was using his daddy’s money and influence to escape military service – has penned a song titled “Draft Dodging Donnie,”which gives expression to how every veteran that I know feels about this slacker stinking up in the Oval Office.

We consider this meeting with Putin a far greater offense against flag and nation than NFL players taking a knee to protest white police murders of their unarmed black brothers, a fate that could easily befall them. After all, they are simply exercising their First Amendment rights under the Constitution that Trump has sworn to defend and instead he calls them “sons of bitches” on national television. On the other hand, Devious Dastardly Dirty Donnie’s cloak and dagger huddle with KGB Colonel Vladimir Putin has the stench of Treason!

Even former CIA Director John Brennan, and former military intelligence operative Malcolm Nance – author of two seminal books on the role of Russian intelligence agencies in engineering the Trump presidency – has openly suggested the possibility that Trump could actually be a Russian intelligence asset! A kind of modern “Manchrian candidate” made in Moscow. To me it is something of a moot question, because if he is not Putin’s puppet I cannot imagine what he would do differently if he were. Alas, enough of the shilly shally: I say if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, its a fuckin duck! If it talks like a traitor and acts like a traitor: It’s probably a goddamed traitor! In any case it’s time to charge Trump with treason and put his ignorant arrogant ass on trial; that is the only way to finally solve this enigma that poses a grave danger to our democratic Republic.

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Playthell G. Benjamin

Harlem, New York

July 15, 2018

On the Immigration Question

Posted in On Immigration with tags , on July 12, 2018 by playthell

Latin American Immigrants at the US Border

An Afro-American View

When the question of immigration is considered from the perspective of Afro-Americans it is clear that it is not in our interests. One need only look at the history of the traditional black community – those Afro-Americans who are the descendants of slaves, many of whom’s ancestors go back to the founding of the American republic – to recognize a distinct relationship between immigration and Afro-American economic development. Simply stated the pattern shows that African-Americans experience the most dramatic economic growth during periods of low foreign immigration.

Indeed, evidence of the inverse relationship between Afro-American economic advancement and immigration is not confined to statistics, but is also noted in the real time testimony of thoughtful Afro-American leaders. For instance, Frederick Douglass recalls European immigrants trying to run him off the job when he was working in the Baltimore shipyard as a skilled slave that his master hired out to collect his wages. The immigrants felt that Douglass – who soon escaped slavery and went on to become the most insightful commentator and critic of a hypocrital American society that perpetually preached the virtues of freedom while practicing a tyranny which Douglass said “would embarrass a nation of savages!”- had no right to work on the job because he was black.

Over a century later I would be told by an arrogant Eastern European immigrant on a New York construction site “you are only working here because you are black!” He was referring to the anti-discrimination laws that required the contractor to employ a racially diverse work force, which he resented. Although Douglass and I were born and raised in America, and the immigrants had literally just got off the boat, they felt they should be given preference over us in the job market.

In his 1895 speech at the World Exposition of Cotton Growing States held in Atlanta Georgia, Booker T. Washington, founder and principal of Tuskegee Institute in the black belt of Alabama, who would succeed Frederick Douglass as the most influential spokesman for black America, made a desperate plea for the economic salvation of Afro-Americans, who were trying to gain an economic foothold as a free people after enduring 250 years of chattel slavery. His famous refrain in the speech, “Cast down your buckets where you are,” was a warning to black Americans who were fleeing the increasing white terror and drudgery of rural southern peonage that the northern cities was no paradise.

Washington’s extensive visits to the north investigating the fate of Afro-Americans who had fled to the north convinced him that they were worse off in the unhealthy conditions of the wretched city slums. And he attributed their poverty to the fact that they were excluded from the employment opportunities offered by an industrializing America by the massive waves of poor immigrants from Europe!

This has been the experience of Afro-Americans with immigration. And there is no reason to believe it will be significantly different with Hispanic immigrants, a labor force made docile by the lash of hunger back home and often harboring racists attitudes toward black people, as Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. has shown in his revealing PBS documentary “Black in Latin America.”

Yet, despite the opposition of many Afro-Americans to immigration, the transparent racism of Donald Trump, and the odious spectacle of US government agents snatching the children of Hispanic immigrants seeking asylum, even separating toddlers from their mothers who are then confined to cages, has turned most Afro-Americans against his “Zero Tolerance” policy. Hence it is virtually impossible for black politicians and intellectuals to assert our interests in the ongoing debate over immigration without being tainted by the arguments and policies of the Trump administration. Yet Afro-Americans have a special truth to tell regarding the negative effects of mass immigration that grows out of our experience, and it must be told.

However I share the view and concerns of Robert Beck, author of the insightful book, The Case Againist Immigration, who noted:

Unfortunately, to write about the problems of immigration is to risk seeming to attack immigrants themselves. Even worse is the risk of inadvertently encouraging somebody else to show hostility toward the foreign born.” After noting his extensive relationships with immigrants, and the fact that his children’s friends were mostly immigrants or the children of immigrants, Beck writes,” Thus, as with the case for millions of other Americans, I have a very personal stake in not wanting to hostility or discrimination toward the foreign born who are already living among us. To be sure, this proximity to so many foreign born persons include some less than positive experiences, along with the delightful, which preclude me from from a superficial, romanticied view of immigration. The influx into my own community clearly has been too fast and in too large a volume.”

Alas, the way the debate has been shaped at the moment, one is either a racist right-wing Trump supporter who is hostile to immigrants from South of the border, or a left-wing radical who believes that anybody that presents themselves at the US border with a hard luck story should be allowed to enter. The former position is morally repugnant and the latter position is well meaning but unsustainable.

Anyone who has visited Latin America recognizes that there is a multitude of people trapped in appalling living conditions with no real prospect for change. And one does not have to agree with Trump’s silly ideas about building a wall across the Mexican border – which would cost millions – to recognize that since all people want a better life for themselves and their children, they would immigrate to the US en-mass if economic hardship were made the test for gaining admission to the US.

Many people will argue that this was the basis upon which millions of European immigrants entered this country including the grandfather of Donald Trump. While that is certainly true, it must be viewed in historical context. The massive European immigration of the late 19th and early 20th century occurred during a period of rapid industrialization centered in the city, and the massive expropriation of Indian lads by white settlers in the American West, hence the US economy could absorb the new immigrants.

Today neither condition exist, rather the US economy is rapidly moving toward a post-industrial phase in which jobs are being permanently eliminated due to digitization, in which people are being replaced by robots. This epochal change is rendering human labor obsolete. Jobs as diverse as professional drivers – trucks, trains, buses, cabs, etc – to behind the counter clerks; accountants and even newspaper editors. Man of these are jobs that were believed to require human workers not that long ago. The projections of scholars studying this development concur that millions of workers who are gainfully employed today will be obsolete in the not too distant future.

Hence any analogy between the great waves of European immigration in the 19th and twentieth centuries, and the immigrants now seeking to enter the US in the second decade of the 21st century, is a false one. Hence the question of immigration must be viewed in the light of contemporary American economic realities. And aside from farm work which native born Americans appear to be unwilling to do in sufficient numbers to meet the requirements of large scale farmers.

This would suggest that immigration policy should be adjusted to meet that economic need; some have proposed a guest worker program would address this problem. On the other hand, a policy of allowing large scale immigration into the US at this time that would pit foreign born workers against the native born for a dwindling number of jobs is bound to create social anxieties and conflict that give birth to reactionary right-wing nativist movements of the sort that put Donald Trump in the Oval Office.

Since this is a White Nationalists movement, Afro-Americans are bound to lose hard won ground as they enact racist policies. And should immigration policies favor “people from Norway,” as Donald Trump – a latter day eugenicist aka white supremacist – has proposed it would only swell the ranks of the white majority.

Alas, having lived under “The tyranny of the majority” – a term coined by Alexis de Tocqueville to distinguish mere majority rule from genuine democracy in his magisterial 1831 study Democracy in America –” increasing the ranks of whites in the US is not an outcome that would favor black Americans.

Then there is the fact that immigrants tend to band together and aid each other to the exclusion of native born Americans. This produces antagonisms, especially with Afro-Americans who are still struggling for full inclusion in American economic life. Hence, from any point of view, large scale immigration from any quarter is not in the interests of Afro-Americans.

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Playthell G. Benjamin

Harlem, New York

July 12, 2018

Queen Makeda Astounds the Cubanos!

Posted in Makeda Dancing in Cuba with tags on July 8, 2018 by playthell

Making Magic on the Dance Floor

 Queen Makeda Murders the Mambo in Old Habana!

It was a sultry summer afternoon in old Habana and the bright Caribbean sun bathed the old stone buildings as well as the black, brown and beige brick house bodies on display, in a shower of golden sunlight.  Afro-Cuban Cojuntos were ubiquitous, woven into the fabric of Cuban life, which seemed to move and groove to the rhythm of the Clave.  Grand Sonoros and Sonoras sang from street corners and open air cafes, captivating the promenaders with the sensuous sounds of Son…. not everywhere but anywhere….not all the time but anytime.

El Grande Sidewalk Sonoro!

 A Performance Worthy of Carnegie Hall

 As chance and the ancestors would have it, I was strolling through the elegant old city with my daughter Makeda when we happened upon a smoking Cojunto whose lead singer fancied himself something of a Mambo King, a monarch of movement who invited all comers to step to him in a friendly challenge dance and match his marvelous moves.  After bedazzling a couple of daring Cuban Senoras and Senoritas with his complex footwork, brazenly showing off his mastery of this sensuous dance of romance, he met his match.  Queen Makeda, the Renaissance Amazon from the Big Apple, whose Mambo skills were forged in the Ritmos Caliente of Spanish Harlem.   And I knew if he called her out she would step up and represent!

A great fan of dance, especially the Mambo, witnessing the dance well done is a natural high for a Congero like me; rooted in the Afro-Cuban vernacular dance tradition, upon whose rhythm’s the Mambo is dictated…along with the timbales, bass and clave.  Armed with my camera, and understanding that photography is often an art of chance, I clandestinely contrived to get Queen Makeda and the Cuban cock of the walk out on the dance floor…I knew it would be a great show!

I walked over to the gloating Mambo King and offered a simple suggestion: “Dance with her, she’s from New York.” The mystique of New York City is no less bewitching on the fascinating Ilse of Cuba than elsewhere in the world, thus with a devilish grin and graceful serpentine strut the Mambo Maestro proceeded to take my advice and invited Makeda to dance.

My intention was to capture their performance on film, but I was confronted with an important aesthetic decision: Should I go for still shots or video?  Given the hypnotic character of moving images with sound, and the widespread public fascination with the electronic spectacle, logic would seem to dictate that I produce an audio-visual presentation. But I was going for something different, and from my perspective something more.  I wanted to capture the intricacies of the dance and freeze them in time forever.  And I believe that still shots are the best way to do it.  Hence I took out my camera, popped in an 8 Giga-bite file, and prepared to shoot.

Queen Makeda: Renaissance Amazon
Dancer/Shaman/Scientist

What the Mambo Maestro didn’t understand was that he was jumping in the ring to do battle with a Black Magic Woman, who had a wide vocabulary of dance moves encompassing many genres at her command.  She is an Artist, Athlete, Scientist and Shaman and as her God-Father Mookie Jackson would say: “An she doos em all good!” Like her intellectual God Mothers Kathrine Dunham, Pearl Primus and Zora Neal Hurston, Makeda is interested in the values, mores and folkways of the Neo-African cultures of the Atlantic diaspora that produced the dances she performs.  Hence, she is an avid reader of scholarly treatises on the subject which allows her to experience the deeper meaning of the dance.  Her performance with a Haitian company in a powerful ritual to heal that devastated nation after the earthquake is a poignant case in point.

A quintessential Womanist named after the powerful Ethiopian Queen of Sheba, she prefers Goddesses to male Gods and feels a closer kinship to Oshun and Yemaja than Jesus or Allah.  And she danced a homage to Pele, the goddess of fire on the edge of the Volcano that is presently erupting in Hawaii.

Sacred Dancing in the Pacific Ring of Fire

A Homage to the Goddess Pele

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Ritual Dances to Heal Haiti

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The bold and fearless sense in which she approaches life also informs her attitude toward dance.  Her performance with the Afro-Cuban dancer/sonoro on that sunny afternoon in a case in point.  They delighted the crowd of onlookers, who applauded boisterously, as they expressed astonishment that an Afro-American girl could dance the Mambo so.  The pictures tell the story of that enchanted evening, magic moments in Old Habana.

Mambo Diablo!

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Their Performance was greeted by wonder and Surprise…. 

They asked: How can an American dance like that? 

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See: The band Makeda Danced With!

Mui Caliente!

But What the Cubanos Didn’t Know……

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Was Keda had Killed the Mambo Before

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At Club Camarrada

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In Spanish Harlem

Or, Dancing With Big Papi

To the Ritmos Caliente

Of Zon del Barrio

Rocked by “The Great Oreste” on Congas!

Dancing Under the Stars

At Manhattan’s South Street Seaport

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She’s Oshun’s Daughter…A Black Magic Woman

What a Wonderful Night for a Moon Dance!

A Renaissance Amazon: Scientist, Shaman, Athlete Artist

I Believe She Can Fly!!!

Jump up and Touch the Sky!!!

Although I was once an avid advocate of the idea that pride in one’s ancestors was essential to the development of self-esteem, observing it in practice over half a century I have begun to regard that argument with suspicion; to view it with a jaundiced eye.  Far too often I have witnessed pride in one’s ancestry degenerate into mere racial, national or ethnic chauvinism, or become a thin veil to camouflage one’s lack of individual achievement.  In which case it amounts to riding on somebody else’s cool.  Hence I have come to believe that we actually have no right to lay claim to our ancestors, or other members of our racial or national group’s achievements.

Alas, that’s not a foundation on which genuine self-esteem can be built. We may justly celebrate their great works, but in the end true self-esteem must involve worthwhile achievements on the part of the individual.  That being said, we may justly show pride in our children if they are outstanding, and if we were good parents that helped shape them into the what they have become.  Hence I am a shameless doting dad!

Despite the fact that words are my game – a claim repeatedly affirmed by great editors at distinguished journals in which my work has been published on both sides of the Atlantic – I can conjure no words to adequately express my pride in and admiration for my junior daughter Makeda.  And my handiwork is imprinted all over her; from her respect for scholarship in forming conclusions about important matters; her independent cast of mind, and her absolute refusal to be a slave to either social convention or conventional wisdom in her fields of interests; which are eclectic and spans art and science.  Although we have a similar approach to knowledge, our differences are  distinguished by the fact that she has spiritual proclivities that tend toward the mystical, while I am a cold rational materialists.

Although whenever I invoke the authority of the “scientific method” as the ultimate arbiter of truth, she is not shy about reminding me that she has the superior scientific education.  However there is one arena where we are completely simpatico, and that is our love of Afro-Cuban and other Neo-African music and dance traditions of the Black Atlantic diaspora. This is obviously because she is a dancer and I am a drummer who is not reluctant to get on the dance floor when he is not playing the Congas.

The Apple Didn’t Fall Far From the Tree!

El Chocolate and Fabulous Afro-Cuban Dancer Jasmine del Pino

El Chocolate Caliente: Congero!

That is why I composed this photo-essay on Makeda as a dancer, capturing an impromtu Mambo performance with an Afro-Cuban Conjunto in a recent visit to Old Habana; Mecca of the Son Montuno, which I love to play, and which is ideal for dancing the Mambo.  She more than held her own, she represented New York splendidly, just like I knew she would when I instigated the dance with the Afro-Cuban virtuoso.  But then, I believe she has the smarts and grit to be or do whatever she desires in the world.  The truth be told: I BELIEVE SHE CAN FLY!

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Watch Makeda Dance the Mambo with Miguel in Spanish Harlem

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Text, Video and photographs by: Playthell G. Benjamin**

**Except the photographs in Hawaii; Makeda in the Gold Lame dance Costume; the magnificent leaping shot; and the Moon Dance Silhouette.

Chicag