Archive for the Uncategorized Category

On Breaking the Tyranny of Sin

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on September 3, 2017 by playthell
Marching Against White Supremacy in Charlottesville Virginia

A White Priest Preaches to Whites about Racial Justice

Then Joseph could no longer control himself before all those who stood by him, and he cried out, “Send everyone away from me.” So no one stayed with him when Joseph made himself known to his brothers. And he wept so loudly that the Egyptians heard it, and the household of Pharaoh heard it. Joseph said to his brothers, “I am Joseph. Is my father still alive?” But his brothers could not answer him, so dismayed were they at his presence.

Then Joseph said to his brothers, “Come closer to me.” And they came closer. He said, “I am your brother, Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt. And now do not be distressed, or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life. For the famine has been in the land these two years; and there are five more years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvest.

“God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors. So it was not you who sent me here, but God; he has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house and ruler over all the land of Egypt. Hurry and go up to my father and say to him, ‘Thus says your son Joseph, God has made me lord of all Egypt; come down to me, do not delay. You shall settle in the land of Goshen, and you shall be near me, you and your children and your children’s children, as well as your flocks, your herds, and all that you have.

I will provide for you there—since there are five more years of famine to come—so that you and your household, and all that you have, will not come to poverty.’ And now your eyes and the eyes of my brother Benjamin see that it is my own mouth that speaks to you. You must tell my father how greatly I am honored in Egypt, and all that you have seen. Hurry and bring my father down here.” Then he fell upon his brother Benjamin’s neck and wept, while Benjamin wept upon his neck. And he kissed all his brothers and wept upon them; and after that his brothers talked with him.” NRSV Genesis 45:1-15

Jesus went to the district of Tyre and Sidon. Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.” But he did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and urged him, saying, “Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.” He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”

But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” He answered, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” Then Jesus answered her, “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed instantly.” NRSV Matthew 15:21-28
“Breaking the Tyranny of Sin”

Almighty God, you have broken the tyranny of sin and sent into our hearts the Spirit of your Son. Give us grace to dedicate our freedom to your service that all people may know the glorious liberty of the children of God; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Today’s prayers teach us something profound about being a Christian. They tell us that God has broken the tyranny of sin, and we ask for grace to live in that freedom from tyranny, as faithful inheritors of the Kingdom that’s been promised to us. What does it mean, what does it take, to break the tyranny of sin? And how do we live our lives in a way that shows that we are free from the ruthless hold that sin can have on us?
This morning we heard the end of the Joseph story. Joseph was betrayed by his own brothers. They sold him as a slave, and he could have been dead for all they knew. Yet he forgave them, embraced them and saved their whole tribe from starvation. Joseph broke the tyranny of sin. This story is a pivotal change in the whole thrust of the Old Testament. It was normal in that society, to be competitive. It was normal to put yourself and your own family first. It was normal to get revenge, and they even had lists of rules about how much revenge you were allowed to take on another family or tribe. But Joseph was close to God’s heart and he took a completely different path.

Love, forgiveness and grace shattered the cruel, tyrannical hold sin had on that family. And then in today’s gospel, we follow Jesus up the coast, from familiar territory up into Tyre and Sidon – foreign lands. And a woman from a different race, from a foreign religion with strange customs, insinuates herself in Jesus’ path and demands attention. We’re not used to Jesus being snippy with people, but he gives her a hard time, suggesting that his healing is exclusive – it’s only for the chosen people of God.

What a slap in the face! Was Jesus having a bad day? Did he mean to push her away like that? But she persisted…even the dogs get the children’s crumbs, she said. And look what happens here – look how quickly Jesus heals her daughter. Instantly. That very moment. So, did her retort change his mind, or was Matthew up to something clever in how he shaped this story?

Perhaps the exchange was about teaching the disciples back then, and you and me now – teaching us to recognize our own tendency to ignore people we think of as outsiders. The disciples felt no responsibility for this woman’s problem. She’s not one of us, she worships foreign gods and strange idols, so we won’t waste God’s grace here. We owe her nothing so let’s move on.

To see what the author is up to here, let’s step back and look at Jesus’ whole ministry. All throughout the gospels, Jesus consistently crashed through the boundaries and barriers humans put up against one another…..bringing the ‘sinful’ blind man into the Synagogue and then we found out that he wasn’t the sinful one – it was the religious leaders who had excluded him; then Jesus chose the shamed women at the well to bring God’s truth to the whole town; he had dinner with people that the religious leaders thought were unworthy – hookers and charlatans; and the most interesting part – in a society where the only people lower on the social scale than the shepherds were the fishermen, and Jesus chose a bunch of them as his disciples.

The list goes on and on – whoever was excluded, Jesus pulled right into the centre of the community. This looks like a very intentional story, designed to show Jesus, once again, crashing through the tyranny of sin by including someone the disciples wanted to exclude. So, how do we live this out? Today we’re taught to stretch our understanding of who’s in, who belongs, who is worthy, who God includes…a message the world is crying out for, right now.

Today both Joseph and Jesus say no to hateful exclusion – Joseph won’t exclude his treacherous brothers. Jesus won’t exclude the foreigner who worships strange idols. I so appreciated Judy’s entry in this week’s Happenings. Judy sent us a quote from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. who said, “Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable. Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals.” Judy was accurately taking the pulse of our times.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at Washington March
A 20th Century Prophet Speaking Truth to Power

When there’s trouble in the world, it takes commitment to stand up and speak out, and to bring change. And Judy’s not the only one responding to the chaos of Charlottesville. In fact, most of the world, including Christian leaders from many countries, are responding to what happened – not only because Heather Heyer died, but because the vilest form of hate – represented by the swastika and the white robes of the KKK – has risen up to claim a voice in the streets of that powerful country that sets itself up as the moral leader of the world – a form of hate which many veterans gave their lives to resist in the war – a form of hate that led to the slaughter of millions – a form of hate that would string a man up, torture, mutilate and kill him because of the colour of his skin. These things happened – we humans did this to one another – and not so long ago.

Heather Heyer
Murdered by Nazi’s in America standing up for Justice
American Exceptionalism…
Torch Bearing Nazis March in the Night in 2017!

My friends, this has nothing to do with politics, because we know that there’s good and bad in every political platform. This has to do with right and wrong! This has to do with a rising ethos of white supremacy that decent human beings thought had been at least quieted decades ago. This has to do with decent people saying it’s not okay that our Jewish or Asian or Brown or Black brothers and sisters are pushed aside. And for you and me, this has to do with Christians taking a stand against something that is in complete opposition to everything Jesus taught.

It’s hard for me, for white people, to see the severity of this threat of white supremacy, because it doesn’t threaten me – it doesn’t personally or directly threaten me. Those of us with white privilege can live our lives blindly and happily completely unaware of what’s happening to other people. It’s so easy for us to say “Everything looks just fine to me – what’s all the fuss about?”
We must take a hard lesson from history here, and remember early Nazi Germany, when the Christian Church turned a blind eye as the government slowly and insidiously started segregating the Jewish people. First, they made it mandatory that they be marked with patches of the Star of David, and arm bands, taking away their autonomy by denying them the right to individual anonymity.

Then you’d find that your Jewish neighbors no longer lived in their house next door because they were pulled out of their homes, away from their possessions, and gradually isolated, pushed out to the fringes of the cities. Their rights were compromised one by one, until they had lost their freedom. There was a slow and steady normalization of placing the Aryan race above, and Jews and others beneath. But why should the church be concerned? It wasn’t affecting them. Can we hear that?

The Signs of those Terrible Times were EVERYWHERE!
But the Church Turned it’s Head!

Just like the rise of White Supremacists and the re-emerging KKK doesn’t affect us white people right now. Back then, the church was left alone by the powers in charge, and so they bought the deal. And to this day, they bear the shame and the guilt of that choice. Dietrich Bonhoeffer didn’t buy it, though. He was a humble German pastor who spoke out against the evil of Hitler because he saw where it was heading – to the ruthless torture, degradation and slaughter of millions of innocent human beings. He stood up and said, “Christians! Wake up! This is as far away from the gospel as one can get!” He was executed in prison for speaking out.

Reverend Dr. Dietrich Bonhoeffer

A Righteous German Churchman who Gave his Life Opposing Hitler

I’m not going to talk about how or why these hate groups have felt empowered to rise up again – that would take hours – but every expert out there is telling us that they are rising up again, threatening to become much bigger than Charlottesville. As of yesterday, there were at least 9 more rallies planned by white supremacists across the States. And here in Canada, there are similar rallies planned in Vancouver and Montreal, and the Canadian white supremacy websites are lighting up like a carnival.

Similar things are happening in England and elsewhere, so I’m afraid, my friends, that this is a thing. It’s happening. To be indifferent at this time in history when the whole world is challenging what’s happening just south of us – to be indifferent is just as dangerous to our moral integrity as it was for those Christians in Nazi Germany. But don’t take my word for it…here’s what Christian leaders and others are saying….
Debra Kolb says the opposite of love is not hate, its indifference. To be silent is to take a side.

One of the most respected Christian leaders and theologians of our time, Brian McLaren, says, clergy, church leaders, it’s time. It’s actually past time. It would have been good if Christians had seen throughout history that loving their Indigenous and African American neighbors would not mean genocide or enslavement or white supremacy or lynching. But we failed to understand the most basic message of Christ’s teaching … love for everyone – no exceptions. So white supremacy became systematically embedded in our systems and structures and we see the results today. It’s long past time for Christians to resist.
Long-respected news anchor Dan Rather says he covered the civil rights movement in the 60’s and he says tragically, what happened in Charlottesville demonstrates that history might be repeated. He remembers that Dr. Martin Luther King felt that if people who are unaffected by racism could see the true depth of the hatred, could see what it looked like, they would recoil. But he says, we are once again peering into an abyss. Perhaps we needed to see how easily our moral order can break down. This is a moment for moral clarity – a time for everyone to line up and be counted. Are you on the side of love or hate? The world is watching. History is watching. I hope we’re up to the challenge, he says, and I think we are.

A huge gathering of North American Christian clergy made this statement: All humans are created in the image of God, and yet in Charlottesville, white hatred, anti-Semitism and violence were on bold display. This hateful rally of white supremacists seeks to destroy the very soul of the country. White supremacist beliefs, the KKK, Neo-Nazis, the alt-right, are antithetical to our scriptures. One cannot serve God and embrace hate and inequality. Most importantly, one cannot be silent.
Our own Anglican Primate, Archbishop Fred Hiltz says: The events in Charlottesville, Virginia and the very real threat of more activities on the part of white supremacy movements, have been a painful reminder that racialized violence is a sad reality of our time, not only in the United States, but in our own country too. The escalation of racial tension causes great anxiety. Let us pray for the Church’s witness in the midst of this growing crisis. May we be united, courageous and unwavering, in denouncing racism and in proclaiming the God-given dignity all people deserve.

My regular theologians, Dr’s. Lewis, Skinner and Jacobsen said this: This is a moment when the church has to speak up. We cannot be vague and careful about this; we can’t be afraid because some people want church to be comfortable and safe. We must be faithful to the gospel we are paid to preach. White supremacy is a sin in all its forms, rooted in the worst, most erroneous theology imaginable. If the church does not speak up against Neo Nazism, the KKK, white supremacy and anti-Semitism, we will be complicit in our silence.

And finally, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” When evil rises up, Christians are called to respond from the core of our teaching. This is why the church exists – to name what is broken in the world and to stand up for justice.

Friends, this is about more than one or two little protests gone wrong. This is about the re-emergence of an evil that, if ignored by indifference, if allowed to become normalized in small steps, can take the whole world down an amoral pathway to the purest evil. But now we return to our earlier question…..how do we break the tyranny of sin? How do we remain faithful heirs of God’s kind of justice? How do we respond to this encroaching craziness?

• By opening our eyes to see that, even if a movement doesn’t hurt you, if it hurts your fellow man, it is your problem too.
• By teaching your children and your grandchildren what Jesus taught – that everyone belongs in God’s kingdom, without exception. By talking to them about Charlottesville, white supremacy, the truth about the KKK, what the Nazi flag actually represents. These lessons will spread out into the future and affect the world through those you influence with your words of truth.
• By speaking up at work or in your neighbourhood or amongst friends and colleagues when you hear talk of any religion, race or culture being excluded, isolated or oppressed.
• By praying for wisdom and guidance to respond to hate with God’s powerful love.
• By letting leaders know that we will not stand for the intolerance or oppression of any group of human beings; that we will not vote for leaders who do.
• By working hard to become a community right here, where people don’t even have to think about whether or not they’ll be fully welcomed…they just feel the love from the moment they walk in.
Joseph broke the tyranny of sin by forgiving in love instead of seeking vengeance in hate.

Jesus broke the tyranny of sin by embracing someone that everyone else wanted to exclude. The church cannot be a place that ignores the pain of the world. We cannot escape the suffering of our brothers and sisters, no matter how comfortable things might be for us personally. The church must speak out when the tyranny of sin from the past threatens to become the tyranny of sin in the present.

But our God is a great God, who always brings good news. And the good news for us today is this. Love will always prevail in the long run, because hate eats people up from the inside, and exhausts them. Love is far more powerful and enduring. Love fulfills us and transforms us and brings peace to us and to those around us. That holy love can even touch the hearts of the haters and bring them peace, because in the end Love Trumps hate! It is God’s love, my dear friends, working in us and through us, that will break the tyranny of sin.
Thanks be to God. Amen

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Sermon TSP ELEVENTH Sunday After Pentecost Year A 20 August 2017
By: Reverend Susanne
Priest in the Anglican Communion of Canada.

 

IN REMEMBRANCE OF MY BABY SISTER….

Posted in Uncategorized with tags on July 7, 2017 by playthell

Finally She is done with the Troubles of This World. Now she dwells in that mysterious realm…where righteous spirits rest

A couple of days ago my baby sis, Claudia Morton, whom I loved more than any words I know can express, danced and joined the ancestors. Being an atheist, I cannot claim to know the name of “that mysterious realm where each shall take his chamber in the silent halls of death,” as the poet William Cullen Bryant put it in his epic contemplation of death “Thanatopsis.” Yet what I can say for certain is that if there is a paradise beyond this world, where good folks go when they leave us for an afterlife, Baby Sis is there.

I know this because I have never met a finer person in my life. Yet I have met people from all over the world, got to know many of them, and sometimes feel that I have greeted everybody twice. Hence, I have observed a representative sample of what the homo Sapien species has to offer. And Claudia represented the crème de la crème. She was smart, courageous, strong, generous, competent, loving and loyal. Plus she was a chocolate beauty who was elegant of style and manner like her gorgeous pecan tan mom – who shaped and cultivated her and my older sister Melba as if they were rare orchids.

Both of them grew up to be leaders in the educational professions because they deeply believed in the power of education to help all people make full and productive lives. It is a family value, passed on by two generations of female educators that preceded them. Yet beyond all these things Claudia was something different and something more, alas it must go unnamed because I can conjure up no suitable superlatives to accurately describe it – even tho I have command of the language that has nourished many the world’s greatest poets, novelists and dramatist – Shakespeare, Tony Morrison and the King James Bible.

Aside from Claudia’s magnificence as a person, there was the love and admiration she always showered on me; no big brother was ever more richly rewarded with an adoring little sister. About seven years my junior, I was twelve when Claudia was five and she would just tag along behind me all over the house and yard – we lived in Florida at the time and enjoyed spacious front and back yards. And she thought I could do anything!

When I have had some time to reflect, I will have more to say about my baby sister, for there is much worth recounting of her story. She spent her life helping others gain a better life, and there are many success stories that have resulted from her efforts. But at the moment, I must confess that I am puzzled. I am at a lost to explain by what cosmic accident I have outlived her; it seems the natural order of things is out of order…as if the sun suddenly began to revolve around the earth.

Claudia came into this world at the height of the hurricane season in Florida, and departed amidst the fireworks of the 4th of July.  It is no wonder that she was a bundle of energy that was prone to shake things up wherever she went. To make a difference.  Claudia’s memory will live forever in my heart and mind; my unbridled love and admiration for her will never die; and her departure leaves a hole in my soul that can never be filled. And I am certain that if there is any truth to the Bible, when the Saints come marching in…. Claudia will be in their number.

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Playthell G. Benjamin
July 7, 2017
Carliase Pa

April Fools?

Posted in On Donald Trump, On Foreign Affairs, On War and Peace in the Mid East!, Uncategorized with tags , on April 7, 2017 by playthell

Dumb and Dumber

Trump Strikes Syria!

“All Motion is Not Progress” observed Mao Tse Tung, a revolutionary philosopher and leader of the great Chinese Revolution.  Americans who are applauding the strike on Syria with 59 Cruise missiles, at a cost of nearly 30 million dollars for the missiles alone, should take a pause and consider the implications of this action by our government.  The paramount questions that begs an answer is: what is the strategic objective of US policy in Syria, and what role does this strike play in achieving that goal?

Based upon the public pronouncements of Donald Trump, who ordered the strike, and his surrogates the answers to these questions are elusive.  This is because we have a President for whom the complexities of international relations are at best a mystery, as is the art and science of governing in general.  Hence for years he has been an ardent opponent of the US taking any action against the Assad government.  The comments of this tweeting twit on Twitter are prolific on this question.

Yet when a chemical weapon was dropped on a group of Syrian civilians, some reports claim in was the deadly Sarin gas, Trump was quick to blame it on President Obama’s weakness in failing to act in 2013, when somebody launched a gas attack in Syria. The criticism of President Obama’s failure to take military action is based on the fact that he had drawn a “Red Line” in the sand that would prompt an American military response if Assad crossed it.

However, President Obama’s reluctance to act militarily in this case was based on several factors: Uncertainty as to who employed the gas; the fact that he had pledged to voters that he would end America’s protracted wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and keep us out of new wars in the Middle-East, and failure of the US Congress to authorize a military attack on Syria which he requested.  Many people who voted for Obama did so based upon his promise of pursuing peace, I know I did.

Hence in my view, President Obama’s management of the Syrian situation displayed Solomonic wisdom. Furthermore, I would argue that this was characteristic of his approach to foreign policy in a turbulent time that witnessed the revolutionary outburst of mass movements collectively called the “Arab Spring,” the conflict in the Ukraine which could have thrown us into a military conflict with a nuclear armed Russia, and the rise of the militant Islamic Caliphate called ISIS, which arose from the ashes of the misbegotten US attack on Iraq.  How fortunate we would be if only Trump were only half as wise.

All objective observers of US foreign policy during the Obama administration agree that his actions were well thought out and based on a strategic vision of international relations; he sought to build effective alliances with concerned parties in troubled areas of the world, and acted deliberately not impulsively.   None of this is true of Donald Trump.  He has no strategic vision because he does not appear to have ever thought deeply about anything beyond his next real estate or branding deal.  His abdominal ignorance of the problems that he must now address is exemplified by his recent observation “Nobody knew that health care could be so complicated,” and his sudden discovery that there are atrocities being committed against children in Syria.

Trump’s ignorance and indifference to the enormity and complexity of the Syrian conflict was exemplified in the policy statement by his Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson: “The fate of President Assad will be determined by the Syrian people.”  To begin with, this was a repudiation of the Obama doctrine that the pre-condition for a permanent settlement which could bring peace to Syria was the removal of Assad from office. Tillerson’s announcement was no fluke; it was a restatement of a long-held belief of his boss, whose views on the matter are widely documented in the public record.

Hence Trump’s attempt to blame President Obama for the recent gas attack is the acme of hypocrisy! It is the pronouncement of a shameless charlatan and pathological liar. At the time, while others condemned Obama for his restraint in Syria, “The Donald” praised it!   His attempt to cast blame on Obama now is a transparent attempt to shift the blame from his ill-conceived policy of support for Assad expressed by Tillerson: Which is the real cause of the chemical attack. Since both Trump and Tillerson are novices at politics and foreign affairs, they failed to recognize that their statement was viewed by Assad as a green light to do whatever he wanted!

Viewed from this perspective, Trump’s attack on Syria must be seen as a smoke screen designed to deflect his responsibility for the horrendous gas attack on Syrian civilians; which the whole world viewed with stunned horror.  Hence, like the clueless scatter brain that he is, Trump acted on impulse and attacked Syria.  This is not part of any strategic plan because he has none.  This is verified by the fact that just a few days ago he had no problem with Assad’s leadership – as Tillerson’s policy statement nad Trump’s long record of support for the Syrian butcher will testify.

All observable evidence suggest that Trump gave no more thought to this assault on a sovereign country – with no attempt to get the support of the United Nations, the Arab League, the US Congress, or any of the regional powers – than his pre-dawn Twitter attacks.  It is an erratic, irrational, temper tantrum with no thought about its consequences.  And as the dawn of a new day approaches – Alas, I am writing this in the wee hours because the gravitas of the questions raised by this latest American military assault invades my dreams and destroys any attempt to sleep – we can only wonder what new dramas it will bring.

Just as when George W. Bush invaded Iraq with the spectacular bombing spree labeled “Shock and Awe,” millions of Americans are applauding this attack on Syria by American military forces.  I titled my essay on Bush’s attack “March Madness,” and I warned of its unintended consequences;which verily came to pass pretty much as I predicted.  I am titling this essay “April Fools?”  The title reflects my contention that this strike is not well thought out and the unintended consequences could prove disastrous.

Aside from the fact that we might have injured or killed some Russian military personnel, which would throw us into a crisis with a nuclear armed Russia that can reduce every city in the United States to a pile of radio-active rubble in a half hour from now, this attack on Syria is as illegal under international law as was the invasion of Iraq.  Yet after all is said and done, the most alarming thing about this attack is the real possibility that Trump launched it to improve his popularity in the opinion polls, where his approval rating is at a historic low.

As cynical as this sounds, when we consider the fact that Trump closed America’s doors to the children of war torn Syria seeking refuge in America, despite pictures every bit as horrible as those from the gassing, a thoughtful person cannot help but view his present concern for their welfare with a jaundiced eye, a cynical attempt to benefit from their tragedy.  As depraved as this seems, it is typical behavior for a “con man” with “no moral center;” which is how Donald J. Trump was routinely described by his fellow Republicans…..before he won the election, moved into the Oval Office, and promised to make all their right-wing dreams come true.

One of the most troubling questions raised by this attack is, if Trump can so quickly turn on a Head of State whom he has supported for years, what effect will this have on other nations at whom Trump has directed a steady stream of threats and invective such as North Korea, Iran and even China.

As I write the Chinese leader is visiting with Trump at his palatial estate in Florida, where he spends almost as much time as he spends in Washington, at great expense to American tax payers.  Although his home town, New York City, is much closer: he dare not come here.   In fact, Trump is so dispised in this city he may never be able to come home again!  It will be interesting to hear what Chinese President, Xi Jinpin, has to say about the attack on Syria.  Being a disciplined political actor skilled at the art of diplomacy I suspect his remarks will be restrained, respectful of the norms that mediate relations between nations.

Xi Jinping is here on a mission to improve relations with the US, China’s main trading partner.  As the leader of a nation with 20% of the world’s population, the Chinese are very careful to avoid military conflicts despite their formidable armed forces.  It is a policy that serves them well; it has allowed them to modernize at a rapid pace and grow the second largest economy in the world, which is predicted to surpass the US in GDP by 2050.

The paramount principle that guides Chinese foreign policy is non-interference in the affairs of other sovereign countries.  And they stick to this policy without significant deviation.  They have the largest army in the world but no foreign bases or troop deployments.  On the other hand, the US, with a fraction of China’s population have bases and soldiers all over the world and are fighting in multiple wars that seem unending.

The amount of blood and treasure we expend on foreign military adventures – along with the failure of the plutocrats to pay their fair share of taxes – is the principal reason why we cannot afford to rebuild our aging crumbling infrastructure, which is essential to our prosperity.  The Chinese see this all to clearly, and they are determined not to follow our example of meddling in everyone’s affairs as if the Gods gave America a mandate to rule the world.

This is why I am convinced that the Chinese will not play the role of disciplining North Korea for developing a nuclear weapons program that the US has assigned them. And given the US attack on Syria, the North Koreans are probably going on a war footing for real, imperiling the future of South Korea, which would be devastated if a war broke out on the Korean peninsula.

However listening to the pundits and the politicians on both sides of the aisle, as they raise their voices in something resembling victory cheers, I dispair for the prospects of peace.  The danger of perpetual war is real and is reflected in the comment of that old warmongering chameleon John McCain: “This is not the beginning of the end….but the end of the beginning.”  

History will judge Trump and his belicose confederates with unrelenting candor…and their deadly devious deeds will be duly noted.  But, alas, dealing with the unintended consequences of the Twittering Twit’s impulsive bombing of Syria, remains the burden of all Americans at this moment.

It’s On!

The US War on Syria has begun!
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Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard Dissents

Tellin it like it is!

There is an avalanche of opinions now being expressed on Trump’s attack on Syria, but none is more compelling than that of Congresswonam Tulsi Gabbard, a Democratic Representative from Hawaii.   Congresswoman Gabbard’s remarks are especially important because she is a former combat officer from the Afghan war,  Her experience in combat there has made he a passionate non-interventionists who is hostile to “Chicken Hawks” who promote wars for other’s to fight.  Like Donnie Trump . a notorious Vietnam era draft dodger, who avoided the war not for principled philosophical or religious reasons. but because he was a rich, entitled, cowardly party boy.  The great columnist and native New Yorker, who also hailed from Queens like Donnie, had this to say of his Homie: “Trump is a fake tough guy who couldn’t fight his way out of an empty lot!!!”
Athough celebrated corporate pudits such as Thomas Friedman, the three time Pulitzer Prize winning Foreign Affairs columnist at the New York Times, Joined by David Ignacious and Bob Woodward of the Washington Post, are gushing over the reckless bravado of Donald Trump,  I remain highly skeptical about the mission’s motive, utility and consequences.
Yet because he is such a pompous know-it-all the contrarian in my soul cannot resist pointing out that Tommy Friedman was grieveously mistaken about the Iraq War; he went so far off the beam in supporting Bush’s war of choice with spurious ahistorical arguments that he was forced to write a column apologizng to his readers for having led them astray  by “not asking the right questions.”  On the other hand my essay, written on the eve of the invasion, has withstood the test of time and been confirmed by history.   Titled “The Iraq Attack: Bush’s March of Folly,” it reads as if it were written by Nostradamus, and can be read on this site under the heading “The Prophetic Commentary on Iraq.”
What Friedman and other “major” corporate  mooks of both of both political pursuasions had to say on that subject is analyzed in my essay “How the Iraq War Was Hatched in a Think Tank.”   The fun part of this essay is when their views about the Iraq War is compared to mine!   Alas, what these same pundits had  to say on Trump’s bombing of Syria last night sounds like pompous American exceptionalist bullshit when compared to what  Tulsi Gabbad had this to say about the fake President’s military adventure:
 “It angers and saddens me that President Trump has taken the advice of war hawks and escalated our illegal regime change war to overthrow the Syrian government. This escalation is short-sighted and will lead to more dead civilians, more refugees, the strengthening of al-Qaeda and other terrorists, and a possible nuclear war between the United States and Russia.
This Administration has acted recklessly without care or consideration of the dire consequences of the United States’ attack on Syria without waiting for the collection of evidence from the scene of the chemical poisoning. If President Assad is indeed guilty of this horrible chemical attack on innocent civilians, I will be the first to call for his prosecution and execution by the International Criminal Court. However, because of our attack on Syria, this investigation may now not even be possible. And without such evidence, a successful prosecution will be much harder.”
A Decorated Combat Officer

For more on this remarkable woman search her name on this site.
Playthell G. Benjamin
Harlem, New York
April 7, 2017

 

 

In the Sorceress Workshop

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on December 25, 2015 by playthell

In the Wizards Workshop

Marvelous Conjurations in Clay

 Revealing the Secret Beauty Of Clay

A couple of years ago I thought of ceramics as tiles – floors, walls and ceilings – and ceramic artists were the marvelous Italian tile men that did the fabulous works in fine homes and commercial buildings in New York City – of which I had seen many during my forays into the construction industry as a member of the Society of Master Painters, Local 18 District Council 37 of the Brotherhood of Painters, Plasterers and Allied Trades.

Despite my acknowledged skill as a writer I often found myself laboring alongside my Blue Collar brethren after writing something that pissed an editor or publisher off and abruptly caused a parting of the ways.  Since I thought virtually all of them were intellectual lightweights I was usually beating them down whenever fate would have us cross swords – Alas, I regard intellectual polemics as a blood sport and neither ask, nor give, any quarter.

As a result we often came to a parting of the ways and I returned to the construction business, where I got to see the greatest artisans in the world lay tile in fantastic color coded patterns, especially the Italians, who seemed to have passed their techniques down from Roman times.  I thought I had witnessed the best of the achievement of ceramicists….and then I discovered Ceramic Sculpture!  It was a revelation when I first saw the works of Susannah Israel, an internationally renowned ceramic Sculptor and Professor of Sculpture.

I would later learn that she was part of a venerable tradition of mud magicians who could fashion works of fine art from clay.   This was all the more surprising since all of the sculptors that I knew in New York were into bronze and used clay only as a throwaway material employed to create models for the molds that produced the bronze sculptures.  The works of Susannah and her colleague Michelle Gregor first captured my imagination and I composed multi-media photo essays on their works

Under the careful direction of Professor Israel, the Resident Artist Director of the budding Oakland Museum of Ceramics – which was the original vision of her late husband Bill Lassell, who sought to provide a permanent home for the many works of Susannah and her colleaguesI have been carefully documenting these works of art for a forthcoming multi-volume photo essay on the artists and their works.  Since I find the fashioning of fine art from mud a splendid alchemy indeed, this has been a real labor of love.  Here are some selected photographs of Susannah’s work from my forthcoming book “Molding Marvels from Clay.” Some of them will be displayed in a show here in New York this winter; the invitation has been extended to me and accepted.  I will announce the time and place as soon as a firm date has been agreed upon.  This is a Christmas card for art lovers designed to make your spirit dance!

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In the Wizard's Workshop III

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Poseidon’s Daughter

Posieden's Daughter Edit

A Freshly Fired Beauty…..

Posieden's Daughter II

Still in the Kiln
The Marvel is….

Posieden's Horses rear view

….. Susannah Conjures the horse’s form and spirit from all perspectives

The Royals!

Royals Standing Tall

Standing Head and Shoulders above
Above the Common Lot
Royals Exacting Tribute
Their Nobility…..
Is Reflected….
Royals Presiding over their subjects
In their Regal Bearing
Wisdom and Confidence is Projected
Royals Standing Tall
In their faces and body language
An Enchanted Place where Natural and Supernatural Creatures….

The Soul Patrol III

Commune with one Another
All Manner of Visual Alchemy is Conjured Here
Fire Horse I
Even Multi-Media Marvels
Like Horses flying through Fire Clouds

Fire Horse II

Stuff that Messes wit yo Mind!
Through Imaginative  Multi-Media Minipulations….

Mimo's horde

We can make Clay horses flee New Guinea Ghosts!
Or Fly through Silver Clouds
First Choice
Like Mythic Apparitions
Then Descend to Earth under the Omnipotent Gaze of Ceramic Idols
Descending to Earth
Landing with elegance of movement and figure
Sometimes they fly in the window to escape the storms
DSCN8036
Anything can happen in the Sorcerer’s Workshop
They Even Run through Cosmic Fires
Fl
And Emerge Magically Unscathed!
Sometimes they just Cavort About
 First choice
 Racing through an enchanted Forest
The Intrepid Art Collector
Posieden's Daughter and Suitor
Will discover many rare treasures 
At the Oakland Museum of Ceramics!
 At the Oakland Museum of Ceramics
A Tent of Aesthetic Miracles!

Edit I

Where endless art treasures are fashioned from clay!
Even the Light is Magical 
Light and Shadows A Place where Light and Shadows play Hide and Seek
 Kristopher Mandell: The Sorceress’ Apprentice

The Sorceror's Apprentice

A budding Ceramic Artist
The Sorceress!

The Wizard V

Sculptor Susannah Israel Chillin in a Contemplative Mood
Or Planning her Next Magic Show

First Choice 

Bill Lassell
Bill Lassell
The Visionary who Conceived the Oakland Museum of Ceramics
PhotographerPlaythell Benjamin
DSC06963
Photographed by Susannah Israel

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Playthell George Benjamin
Harlem, New York
Christmas Morning 2015

US Employing Wrong Strategy Against ISIS

Posted in On Foreign Affairs, On War and Peace in the Mid East!, Uncategorized with tags , , on September 6, 2015 by playthell
Abu-Bakr-al-Baghdadi-Al-Qaeda-Iraq-ISIS-400x330
ISIS Leader Caliph Ibrahim: The Sword of Allah

On Repeating the Mistakes of History

American foreign policy and diplomacy seems to have lost its way. While we spend thousands of hours in league with other nations negotiating a treaty to prevent Iran from acquiring a single primitive atomic bomb – which the US Senate is threatening to reject – a US led NATO is engaging in activities in Eastern Europe that could accidently lead to a nuclear war that would destroy all life on this planet in an hour!  And our search for an effective strategy against ISIS, a clear and present menace to much of the world, has proved an exercise in futility characterized by a series of fool’s errands alas.  In fact, all the evidence suggests that US policy makers have learned nothing from the disastrous adventure in Iraq under George Bush.

While there are myriad lessons to be learned from that catastrophe, I believe the most important is to understand that the US invasion of Iraq as a response to Al Qaeda, the perpetrator of the 9/11 attack on the US, was a cold and cynical deception.   It was clear to all serious students of politics in the Islamic world that Iraq had no relationship to al Qaeda; yet Dirty Dick Cheney, Donny Rumsfeld and their henchmen among the policy wonks like Dr. Paul Wolfowitz argued that their objective was to prevent Al Qaeda from obtaining weapons of mass destruction.  Hence these incompetent ideologues invaded Iraq, when subsequent events have shown that the wisest course of action for US policy would have been to form a military alliance with Sadam Hussein against Osama bin Ladin.  This would have been a piece of cake!

In Sadam we would have found a wise, willing and ruthless ally; exactly what we needed to defeat the Jihadists in al Qaeda.  He was wise because no one had been more effective in suppressing Muslim fundamentalist militants i.e. “Jihadists” than the secular military strongmen of the Islamic world.   Abdel Gamel Nasser of Egypt, and his successors Anwar Sadat (who was assassinated by a Muslim fanatic) and Honsi  Mubarak.  Mummar Quadafi of Lybia; General Musharif in Pakistan, and Sadam Hussein in Iraq were all cut from the same mold as anti-Jihadist strongmen.

Sadam and al Qaeda were natural enemies because according to the theology of al Qaeda all Arab heads of secular states are apostates.  And the penalty for apostasy is death!    The only legitimate governments are those based on Sharia Law in their view.  Hence if al Qaeda came to power in Iraq Sadam was a dead man. Thus it was either madness, or a grand deception, guided by the advice of right-wing Republican policy wonks in The Project for a New American Century, that led George Bush to invade Iraq in response to an attack by Jihadists from Egypt and Saudi Arabia, America’s closest allies in the Middle-East.  (See: “How the Iraq War was Hatched in a Think Tank” on this blog)  It would be like us getting attacked by Canadian terrorists and invading Mexico in retaliation.  As silly as it sounds, the decision to invade Iraq was not a jot or tittle smarter.

Now we are facing a far more deadly Jihadist enemy that al Qaeda, The Islamic State of Iraq, Syria and the Levant aka ISIL or ISIS.  Whereas al Qaeda is a stateless organization consisting of loosely coordinated cells spread around the world that can be activated to carry out clandestine surprise attacks, ISIL is an actual 21st century Islamic Caliphate with a government structure that is divided into civilian and military departments, a tax collection system and a sizable territorial base that is divided into provinces.  But most of all it is a base for revolutionary Islamic forces who ae pledged to cleanse the Islamic world of apostates and then spread the law of Muhammad to the entire world.

Ready to die for Islam…..
ISIS Militants II
And Kill Too!

ISIS Burns Pilot

Even Committ Mass Murders….

ISIS Mass Killings

In the Name of God!

As with al Qaeda, ISIS is first of all concerned with its enemies in the Muslim world, those who refuse to accept their version of Islam as the one true doctrine.  The question of what sacred edicts and scripture actually mean in the real world has been the cause of much bloodshed throughout history – especially among the Semitic monotheists i.e. Christians, Muslims and Jews – but with ISIS it has become a matter of life and death as it was in the medieval world.  And to make matters even more horrifying they have greatly expanded the definition as to which acts qualify as apostasy.

Originally apostasy had to do with denying the divine mission of the Prophet Muhammad or rejecting his teachings, but under ISIS’s theology it can range from selling alcohol and shaving your beard, to voting for a Muslim candidate in an election and being s Shite.  All Shiites are considered Apostates because they innovated on the original teachings of the prophets such as praying at the gravesides of departed Imams, and the public self-flagellation rituals that are central to Shiite religious practice.  For these eighteen hundred year old theological disputes Caliph Ibrahim, the absolute ruler of ISIS who holds a PhD in Sharia Law, thinks all Shiites should be put to the sword.  Hence it is perfectly acceptable to blow up their Mosques and murder them where the practice their apostasy!

Who could make better allies against ISIS than Iran: the greatest nation of Shiites in the world?  Try as I might I can conjure no rival to the Shiite Persians as allies against the Sunni Jihadists.   An August 27 article by Rick Francona – a former air-force intelligence officer and CIA operative stationed in Iraq during the Iraqi invasion of Iran, who now works as a military analyst for CNN – titled “Is your Government lying to you about ISIS?” supplies further evidence in support of my position.  After questioning “the rosy portrayal” of American successes against ISIS forces “coming out of the pentagon,” assuring us that ISIS forces are on the defensive, Col Francona tells us:

I remember the reports of the “success” of the Iraqi Army in ejecting ISIS from the city of Tikrit, when most of the actual fighting was done by Iranian-trained and led Shi’a militias. As the Pentagon assured us that ISIS was now contained, the Islamists mounted a successful assault on the city of al-Ramadi, the capital of al-Anbar province, located on the Euphrates River just 65 miles from Baghdad – all the while under attack from the air. This hardly fits the definition of ‘on the defensive’”

From all observable signs and measurable activities the US is not winning the war against ISIS; they are growing more powerful as I write alas.  And the Republicans are sure to attempt to block any workable strategy.  They are to blinded by ideology, racism and Iranophobia that they propose absurd self-defeating policies and oppose strategies that could lead to success.  It would be crazy to arm the so-called “Free Syrian Army” because if we employ history as our guide it is easy to predict that those arms will end up in the hands of ISIS.

However if victory is the goal of US policy against ISIS an alliance with Iran will insure it!  President Obama’s looming success on the nuclear treaty with Iran will avert the probability of war just now,  but the Republican’s show no signs of concede defeat on Iran policy; the Coker-Cardin bill , which attempts to bar President Obama from waiving the sanctions that were imposed by Congress is their latest effort.  But because this legislation, pretentiously titled “the Iran Nuclear Agreement Act of 2015,” would violate the terms of the treaty, it has no real chance of becoming law unless the Republicans hold the Congress and elect a Republican president in 2016.

However, I believe that running on a platform of repealing the treaty and starting a war with Iran may help win the Republican primary, it will prove a milestone around the necks of Republican candidates that could well sink the Grand Obstructionist Party in the general election.  And that would be a good thing for America….and the world.

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Playthell G. Benjamin

On the Road in Cali

September 6, 2015

Reflections on Abraham Lincoln and Slavery

Posted in Uncategorized on January 5, 2015 by playthell

 

Rappin with Robert Allen Jones, Janie Jones and Miss Barbra 002 The First Baptist Church of St. Augustine Florida

 A New Year’s Remembrance circa 2015

When I was a boy the black churches in Florida used to hold a “Watchman” service every New Year’s Eve. As I remember it we would gather in First Baptist Church around ten o’clock, and there would be singing and sermons and communal prayers. At some point the electric lights would be turned off and we would sit by candle light as the preacher would call out “Watchman what time it is!” And the Watchman would reply “It’s eleven o’clock” and so on at various intervals growing shorter as we got round bout midnight until the New Year dawned and the congregation rejoiced in jubilation. Then we would enjoy a delicious repast prepared by the sisters in the basement of the church.

Held in the shadow of the old slave market, whose iron and stone structure was still standing a few blocks away just as it was during ante-bellum times, the Watchman ceremony had real meaning to the people at First Baptist. For unlike today, when young black people talk so glibly about how “nothing has changed” and a New York Times sports writer who ought to know better titles his book about rich black professional athletes “Forty Million Dollar Slaves,” there were still people in our community who had been been born into slavery and they and their children, grandchildren and great grandchildren were among those huddled in the church waiting for the clock to strike midnight.

The Old Slave Market in Downtown St. Augustine

My Trip to florida with Makeda ETC 509

We viewed this as a sobering symbol of how far we had come

 I have no doubt that if these people who carried the memories of slavery in their hearts and minds could hear 21st century Afro-Americans, living in a time when a black family occupies the White House and many other black people doing everything they are good enough to do, comparing their problems to those of slaves they would surely have regarded such words as the mutterings of fools or a scandalous attempt to mock their ordeal in the hell of American slavery – one of the worse systems of human bondage ever devised by the minds of evil men. Harriet Tubman said it was “worse than hell” and Frederick Douglass told a white audience “One minute” as an American slave “was worse than centuries of that which your forefathers arose in armed revolt against.” Hence to anybody that actually experienced slavery – like my Aunts Gussie and Sally, who showed me the lash marks from the overseer’s whip – the casual equations of their conditions with the problems faced by present day Afro-Americans would be viewed as blasphemy.

They would also have looked upon the denigration of Abraham Lincoln’s role in ending their bondage and bringing about the Day of Jubilee, when the Emancipation Proclamation became law, as sacrilegious. The reverence with which President Lincoln was held by Afro-Americans in St. Augustine Florida is self-evident in the name they chose for their community, the oldest in the nation, which before the Civil War was known as “Little Africa,” but after Emancipation was renamed “Lincolnville.” Even Frederick Douglass – who famously spoke in the city after the Civil War put an end to slavery – and was quite candid in his criticism of Lincoln, had this to say about the assassinated president at the Washington dedication of the statue by Thomas Ball known as the “Freedman’s Memorial,” on April 14, 1876:

“We are here in the District of Columbia, here in the city of Washington, the most luminous point of American territory; a city recently transformed and made beautiful in its body and in its spirit; we are here in the place where the ablest and best men of the country are sent to devise the policy, enact the laws, and shape the destiny of the Republic; we are here, with the stately pillars and majestic dome of the Capitol of the nation looking down upon us; we are here, with the broad earth freshly adorned with the foliage and flowers of spring for our church, and all races, colors, and conditions of men for our congregation — in a word, we are here to express, as best we may, by appropriate forms and ceremonies, our grateful sense of the vast, high, and preeminent services rendered to ourselves, to our race, to our country, and to the whole world by Abraham Lincoln.”

Douglass would go on to say: “we, the colored people, newly emancipated and rejoicing in our blood-bought freedom, near the close of the first century in the life of this Republic, have now and here unveiled, set apart, and dedicated a monument of enduring granite and bronze, in every line, feature, and figure of which the men of this generation may read, and those of aftercoming generations may read, something of the exalted character and great works of Abraham Lincoln, the first martyr President of the United States.”

The Freedman’s Memorial

Freedman's Memorial II

A Commemoration by Former Slaves

Having begun by unambiguously enumerating Lincoln’s virtues, Douglass, the most incisive and thoughtful commentator on the great issues of his time, understood that in order to learn from history one had to first tell it like it was. Hence he made no attempt to mask Lincoln’s shortcomings. He told the august gathering:

We fully comprehend the relation of Abraham Lincoln both to ourselves and to the white people of the United States. Truth is proper and beautiful at all times and in all places, and it is never more proper and beautiful in any case than when speaking of a great public man whose example is likely to be commended for honor and imitation long after his departure to the solemn shades, the silent continents of eternity. It must be admitted, truth compels me to admit, even here in the presence of the monument we have erected to his memory, Abraham Lincoln was not, in the fullest sense of the word, either our man or our model. In his interests, in his associations, in his habits of thought, and in his prejudices, he was a white man.

He was preeminently the white man’s President, entirely devoted to the welfare of white men. He was ready and willing at any time during the first years of his administration to deny, postpone, and sacrifice the rights of humanity in the colored people to promote the welfare of the white people of this country. In all his education and feeling he was an American of the Americans. He came into the Presidential chair upon one principle alone, namely, opposition to the extension of slavery.

His arguments in furtherance of this policy had their motive and mainspring in his patriotic devotion to the interests of his own race. To protect, defend, and perpetuate slavery in the states where it existed Abraham Lincoln was not less ready than any other President to draw the sword of the nation. He was ready to execute all the supposed guarantees of the United States Constitution in favor of the slave system anywhere inside the slave states. He was willing to pursue, recapture, and send back the fugitive slave to his master, and to suppress a slave rising for liberty, though his guilty master were already in arms against the Government.

The race to which we belong were not the special objects of his consideration. Knowing this, I concede to you, my white fellow-citizens, a pre-eminence in this worship at once full and supreme. First, midst, and last, you and yours were the objects of his deepest affection and his most earnest solicitude. You are the children of Abraham Lincoln. We are at best only his step-children; children by adoption, children by forces of circumstances and necessity.”

Frederick Douglass

Frederick douglass III

The Wisest Voice in the Nation

Then with his characteristic eloquence and unfailing evenhanded approach to argument, he noted:

“When, therefore, it shall be asked what we have to do with the memory of Abraham Lincoln, or what Abraham Lincoln had to do with us, the answer is ready, full, and complete. Though he loved Caesar less than Rome, though the Union was more to him than our freedom or our future, under his wise and beneficent rule we saw ourselves gradually lifted from the depths of slavery to the heights of liberty and manhood; under his wise and beneficent rule, and by measures approved and vigorously pressed by him, we saw that the handwriting of ages, in the form of prejudice and proscription, was rapidly fading away from the face of our whole country; under his rule, and in due time, about as soon after all as the country could tolerate the strange spectacle, we saw our brave sons and brothers laying off the rags of bondage, and being clothed all over in the blue uniforms of the soldiers of the United States; under his rule we saw two hundred thousand of our dark and dusky people responding to the call of Abraham Lincoln, and with muskets on their shoulders, and eagles on their buttons, timing their high footsteps to liberty and union under the national flag; under his rule we saw the independence of the black republic of Haiti, the special object of slave-holding aversion and horror, fully recognized, and her minister, a colored gentleman, duly received here in the city of Washington; under his rule we saw the internal slave-trade, which so long disgraced the nation, abolished, and slavery abolished in the District of Columbia; under his rule we saw for the first time the law enforced against the foreign slave trade, and the first slave-trader hanged like any other pirate or murderer; under his rule, assisted by the greatest captain of our age, and his inspiration, we saw the Confederate States, based upon the idea that our race must be slaves, and slaves forever, battered to pieces and scattered to the four winds; under his rule, and in the fullness of time, we saw Abraham Lincoln, after giving the slave-holders three months’ grace in which to save their hateful slave system, penning the immortal paper, which, though special in its language, was general in its principles and effect, making slavery forever impossible in the United States. Though we waited long, we saw all this and more.”

The wise and candid Douglass, who had devoted his entire adult life to the struggle for the abolition of slavery, who had rejected the call to African emigration issued by the nationalist intellectuals who opted for “African Redemption,” a euphemism for Afro-American colonization of Africa supported by the white racist in the American Colonization Society, asked if free blacks left America: “who would speak for the millions in chains.” Having been a slave – unlike the African Redemptionist such as Reverend Alexander Crummell, Dr. Martin R. Delany, and Reverend Edward Wilmont Blyden -no one was more emotionally invested in the evolution of the Emancipation Proclamation in a land where the enslavement of Africans and their descendants was a life sentence.   And he provides us moving first hand testimony as to the mood of African Americans on the eve of the Emancipation…the first “Watch Night.”

Can any colored man, or any white man friendly to the freedom of all men, ever forget the night which followed the first day of January, 1863,” he asks, “when the world was to see if Abraham Lincoln would prove to be as good as his word? I shall never forget that memorable night, when in a distant city I waited and watched at a public meeting, with three thousand others not less anxious than myself, for the word of deliverance which we have heard read today. Nor shall I ever forget the outburst of joy and thanksgiving that rent the air when the lightning brought to us the emancipation proclamation. In that happy hour we forgot all delay, and forgot all tardiness, forgot that the President had bribed the rebels to lay down their arms by a promise to withhold the bolt which would smite the slave-system with destruction; and we were thenceforward willing to allow the President all the latitude of time, phraseology, and every honorable device that statesmanship might require for the achievement of a great and beneficent measure of liberty and progress.”

Black Folk at Watchman Ceremony

Watchman Service on New Year's Eve

A black southern church in the early 20th century

For anyone interested in a balanced assessment of Abraham Lincoln this speech by Frederick Douglass is a must read; the text can be easily found on Google. But for the purpose of this essay I shall offer but one other quote. It was selected for its clarity in stating a fact that few of Lincoln’s contemporary critics recognize: Politics is the art of the possible! Douglas, astute political analyst that he was, understood that Lincoln was not a king; that his power was checked by two other branches of government, and that powerful members of both branches vehemently opposed any attempt at emancipating black slaves. Given that reality he had to make deals, enter into compromises that offended moral purists. He did not always understand this and was wont to condemn these vacillations, but in the end Douglass saw the light.

I have said that President Lincoln was a white man, and shared the prejudices common to his countrymen towards the colored race. Looking back to his times and to the condition of his country, we are compelled to admit that this unfriendly feeling on his part may be safely set down as one element of his wonderful success in organizing the loyal American people for the tremendous conflict before them, and bringing them safely through that conflict. His great mission was to accomplish two things: first, to save his country from dismemberment and ruin; and, second, to free his country from the great crime of slavery. To do one or the other, or both, he must have the earnest sympathy and the powerful cooperation of his loyal fellow-countrymen. Without this primary and essential condition to success his efforts must have been vain and utterly fruitless. Had he put the abolition of slavery before the salvation of the Union, he would have inevitably driven from him a powerful class of the American people and rendered resistance to rebellion impossible. Viewed from the genuine abolition ground, Mr. Lincoln seemed tardy, cold, dull, and indifferent; but measuring him by the sentiment of his country, a sentiment he was bound as a statesman to consult, he was swift, zealous, radical, and determined.”

Alas, as the learned and insightful social/intellectual historian and thoughtful commentator on America politics and culture Harold Cruse has observed: Americans are anti-intellectual and anti-historical. Thus people who regard themselves as well educated enough to post their opinions about weighty historical matters on Facebook – that great unmediated forum of opinion – do not take the time to read what Frederick Douglass thought of President Lincoln, despite the fact that they were contemporaries and Douglass watched his every move because ending slavery was the grand crusade of his life. Instead they seek the opinion of popular historians and magazine writers and swear by them.

Indeed, the raison d’etre of this essay is just such an opinion posted on Facebook. The self-assured commentator is convinced that he has found out “the truth” about Lincoln he feels compelled to spread it with the conviction of a Jack legged preacher proclaiming “the good news,” and with no less conviction.

“Folks really need to read Lerone Bennett’s book on Lincoln, “Forced Into Glory.” the writer tells us, “People like Lyman Trumball, Wendell Phillips, Thaddeus Stevens, all more progressive than Lincoln on race. Lincoln used nigger more than Richard Pryor and refused to sign two of the Confiscation Acts which would have doomed slavery years before the Emancipation Proclamation. And the emancipation thing enslaved a half million black people when it was enacted and freed none. But yeah I get the popular mythology of Lincoln”

President Lincoln at Antietam Battlefield

Abraham Lincoln Antietam

The Civil War….and Lincoln’s prosecution of it is no myth

Like most polemics that prize passion over reason this argument misses the mark by a mile.  From the outset our self-styled savant is fatally handicapped by his ignorance of history.    Lyrone Bennet Jr, a friend and respected scribe with whom I shared the podium on several occasions, was a very compelling magazine feature writer, not a professional historian.  This is a distinction that laymen are not equipped to understand but is in a very real distinction nonetheless.

In a nutshell what it boils down to is that historians go to the original records and attempt to present objective arguments based on that evidence regardless of their personal feelings about the subject.  And the work they produce is subjected to rigorous peer review.  Stacking the evidence in order to make a polemical point is called “Special Pleading.”  In its worst manifestation it is called “popular mythology,” which is what magazine writers do.  It is an approach to historical writing that is universally rejected by professional historians, and for very good reason.

Lyrone Bennett was Senior Editor of Ebony Magazine, whose role as stated by its founder and longtime publisher, John Johnson, is to report positive news about black Americans and denounce racist discrimination.  It is a noble goal but it is not what professional historians are about.  The failure to understand this distinction is what led so many black writers to attack Dr. Manning Marable’s book on Malcolm X.  If you really want to understand something about the writing of modern scientific history read my essay “Is Dr. Marable’s Malcolm yet another Reinvention?” on this blog. ( And by the way, if you wish to know what qualifies me to present  this analysis read my resume on this site under “A thumbnail Sketch”)

For anyone to suggest that Abraham Lincoln was a passive figure in the emancipation of American slaves reveals an embarrassing ignorance.  The Emancipation Proclamation was a war time executive order, which ONLY a president could issue.  That way Lincoln could avoid the machinations of a contentious Congress, which would NEVER have voted to end slavery!  Furthermore Lincoln’s position on slavery evolved while he was in office.  When the South started the war he was a “Free Soiler” who mainly looked at slavery as an economic issue, although he personally abhorred the system he was a lawyer who recognized that it was LEGAL and thus had no intention of overthrowing it where it was already established, but he was opposed to its expansion onto “free soil” i.e. non slaveholding states.  However during the war he became a passionate abolitionist who believed that slavery was a mortal sin.

There is no better indication of the depth of his commitment to ending slavery everywhere in the US than his refusal to make a compromise with the Confederates to end the war by allowing them to retain their slaves.  To those that know but little of history this may not seem like a big deal.  However let me point out a couple of facts that should be considered in assessing Lincoln’s opposition to slavery on moral grounds. The US Civil War was the most destructive war in the history of the world at the time, because it was the first war that used modern methods of production, transportation and technology.

Before it began nobody could envision what a bloody affair it would become.  That’s why Lincoln was urged by his closet advisors to end the war by compromising with the Confederates and allowing them to retain their slaves but he refused their advice! This is a compromise that he would have readily made BEFORE the war, but during the travails of war Lincoln spent his evenings reading Shakespeare and the Bible; he came to believe that the horrors of the war was God’s punishment of America for the “sin” of slavery – just as the “Founding Father” Thomas Jefferson, a former president and slave holder had earlier confessed regarding slavery: “I shudder for my nation when I reflect upon the fact that God is just.”   And Lincoln believed: “The judgments of the Lord are always right and just.”

Like everybody that ever lived Lincoln had his contradictions, but for a white man of his time he was enlightened in his view of race, otherwise he would NEVER have invited Douglass to the Inaugural Ball – the first black American to attend that prestigious gathering of the nation’s power elite – and definitely not proclaim him “the most meritorious man in the nation.”  These were radical acts by 19th century standards and cannot be dismissed with simple minded, ahistorical rhetoric based on 21st century standards.  That kind of thinking is mindless propaganda designed to make points in contemporary polemics not scholarly history.

Such tampering with the historical record may help win political arguments but does little to help us understand our past. Of course, I do not expect the average person to understand these distinctions, and thus to recognize their value, but being a compulsive pedagogue who is genetically predisposed to combat ignorance wherever I find it – especially about things that really matter – I feel compelled to offer this explanation of the difference between history and propaganda….i.e. “popular mythology.”

I reiterate: the greatest justification for presenting history based on rigorous adherence to the evidence is that this is the only way for us to learn the lessons it can teach. For instance the criticism made of President Lincoln by our Facebook savant is strongly reminiscent of the criticisms made of his fellow Illinois native Barack Obama today.  When the Facebook savant argues:“People like Lyman Trumball, Wendell Phillips, Thaddeus Stevens, all more progressive than Lincoln on race. Lincoln used nigger more than Richard Pryor and refused to sign two of the Confiscation Acts which would have doomed slavery years before the Emancipation Proclamation. And the emancipation thing enslaved a half million black people when it was enacted and freed none.”

In this one passage we can discern the basic themes in the anti-Obama polemics endlessly reiterated by critics among black and white leftists and Black Nationalists, who have accused him of everything from being a tragic mulatto with divided racial loyalties, to “the brown face of American imperialism.” The comparison with Trumbull, Phillips and Stevens with no mention of the powerful opposition Lincoln faced, is echoed in Cornel West’s criticism of President Obama for not being like Dr. Martin Luther King and other “black prophetic voices” of the past. It is an absurd expectation, the product of a mind trained in theology and philosophy and appears to have no idea of the complexities of politics or the different roles philosophers and politicians must play in society – for a thoughtful discussion of this difference see “On Moral Preachment vs. Political Realities” on this blog.

Then there is the ever present problem of “presentism” when layman discusses historical figures.  The charge that Lincoln used nigger more than Richard Pryor “ is a classic case in point.  Our Facebook savant obviously did not take into account the fact that the use of “nigger” to describe black folks was au courant at the time and was used by a wide variety of people of varying political views, including abolitionists passionately fighting to end slavery.  It was certainly not the subject of near universal condemnation as it was when Richard Pryor was using it in his monologues like a stuck record.  Yet there is no one who believes that Pryor’s intention was to insult or injure black people.  Here the commentator does not appear to make any distinction between words and deeds in assessing the intentions of the speaker or taking the measure of a man, only the race of the speaker is considered….and he is totally indifferent to historical context.

Randall Kennedy, an Afro-American Professor of law at Harvard, has made such distinctions in a thoughtful and provocative discussion in his book titled “Nigger.”  Professor Kennedy selects two white American historical figures that made monumental contributions to the political and cultural advancement of Afro-Americans, and thus based on their deeds cannot reasonably be accused of seeking to injure or insult us despite their documented use of the word “nigger”: Carl Van Vechten and Lyndon B. Johnson.

Van Vechten is well known to students of the Afro-American cultural movement of the 1920’s known to history as the Harlem Renaissance,  because he was one on the men who helped make it happen by introducing the works of black writers to major white publishers, and arranging salons in his downtown digs so that black artists could meet and fraternize with the patrons and exhibiters in the downtown art world, etc.    Yet Professor Kennedy tells us “Carl Van Vetchen, for instance, wrote of ‘niggers’ in correspondence with his friend Langston Hughes and Hughes did not object…should he have objected?” asks Kennedy.  To wit he replies “No. Van Vecthen, a key supporter of the Harlem Renaissance, had shown time and time again that he abhorred racial prejudice, would do what he could to improve the fortunes of Afro-Americans, and treasured his black friends.”

We see this same  attitude about the use of “nigger” by whites who are considered friends in the position taken by black players on the Miami Dolphins football team during the dispute between the Afro-American tackle Johnathan Martin and the white defensive end Richie Icognito.  When Johnathan Martin accused Incognito of hurling racist epithets at him the black players said it was cool for Ritchie to call them “niggers” because he was “more of a brother” than Martin. While this all sounds crazy to me, because I am not down with any white folks calling me nigger under any circumstance, we can see that other black people view the use of the word by some whites differently.

For Professor Kennedy it is purely the intent of the speaker that matters.  In President Lyndon Johnson he provides another compelling example of a friend of Afro-Americans who used the word “nigger” liberally in private conversation; about as often as Abraham Lincoln is said to have used it.   He tells us “In 1967, President Lyndon Baines Johnson decided to appoint an African American to the Supreme Court for the first time in American history.  First on Johnson’s list of candidates was Thurgood Marshall – “Mr. Civil Rights” the hero of Brown v. Board of Education and, of course, the man he ended up putting on the Court.  But before he announced his selection, Johnson asked an assistant to identify some other possible candidates.  The aide mentioned A. Leon Higginbotham, whom Johnson had appointed to the federal trial bench.  Reportedly, the President dismissed the suggestion with the comment “The only two people who ever heard of Judge Higginbotham are you and his mamma.  When I appoint a nigger to the Supreme Court, I want everyone to know he is a nigger.”

It ought to be obvious to all thoughtful readers by now that it is folly to equate Abraham Lincoln’s use of the word nigger with a hatred for black people.  And it ought to be abundantly clear that all talk about President Lincoln and the Emancipation Proclamation having nothing to do with the abolition of slavery is nothing more than ignorant prattle that reveals an innocence of any knowledge of the history of the period, alas.

Those who care to read a biography of Abraham Lincoln that reveals this complex man in all of his virtues and flaws, a man of conviction who vacillated to accommodate the realities of politics, read With Malice Toward None by Dr. Steven Oates.  And for an excellent account of how Lincoln was viewed by the abolitionist movement read Black Abolitionists, by the pioneering black historian and first biographer of Frederick Douglas Dr. Benjamin Quarles.  And finally, whatever contemporary Afro—Americans may believe about Abraham Lincoln, to those who endured American slavery and witnessed the coming of freedom, the people who huddled with their descendants in black southern churches as the Watchman called out the hour of night…Abraham Lincoln was their deliverer. Of this the great Frederick Douglass left no doubt:

Had Abraham Lincoln died from any of the numerous ills to which flesh is heir; had he reached that good old age of which his vigorous constitution and his temperate habits gave promise; had he been permitted to see the end of his great work; had the solemn curtain of death come down but gradually — we should still have been smitten with a heavy grief, and treasured his name lovingly. But dying as he did die, by the red hand of violence, killed, assassinated, taken off without warning, not because of personal hate — for no man who knew Abraham Lincoln could hate him — but because of his fidelity to union and liberty, he is doubly dear to us, and his memory will be precious forever.

Fellow-citizens, I end, as I began, with congratulations. We have done a good work for our race today. In doing honor to the memory of our friend and liberator, we have been doing highest honors to ourselves and those who come after us; we have been fastening ourselves to a name and fame imperishable and immortal; we have also been defending ourselves from a blighting scandal. When now it shall be said that the colored man is soulless, that he has no appreciation of benefits or benefactors; when the foul reproach of ingratitude is hurled at us, and it is attempted to scourge us beyond the range of human brotherhood, we may calmly point to the monument we have this day erected to the memory of Abraham Lincoln

 

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

Playthell G. Benjamin
Harlem, New York
 January 4, 2015

Putin, Obama and the Ukrainian Crisis

Posted in On Foreign Affairs, Uncategorized with tags , , , on March 8, 2014 by playthell

Barack - putin-obama_2252410b

Can Barack and Putin work it out?

 Successful Diplomacy or Nuclear Apocolypse?

The Ukrainian crisis is a very complex affair, dramatic changes are occurring so quickly things could fall apart. In the past few weeks we have witnessed a democratically elected president driven from office and into exile by raging mobs in the street who disagreed with his decision to form closer economic ties with Russia, rather than seizing an opportunity to form closer economic ties with the European Union.  A new government of questionable legitimacy has been hastily cobbled together, with the new President, Arseniy Yatseniuk, also holding the office of Chairman of the Parliament, although the Fatherland Party, which he represents, only holds 25% of the seats in the Ukrainian parliament.

This is equivalent to President Obama being overthrown by an armed right-wing mob and somebody from the Tea Party becoming President, Speaker of the House and the Majority leader of the Senate.  While the US accepts this arrangement, albeit temporarily until new elections can be held, the Russians do not, they view these developments as an illegal coup engineered in Washington and the European Union, with Andrea Merkle of Germany playing a major role.

The American role in manipulating events that led to the overthrow of the elected president Ukraine, Victor Yanukovych, is confirmed in statements made on the phone by Undersecretary of State for Europe,Victoria Nuland, which was tapped by some hacker and put on the internet.  Nuland’s conversation with the American ambassador to the Ukraine, Geoffrey Pyatt, leave no doubt that Washington was moving people and parties as if the Ukraine were a chessboard….they were involved in the overthrow of the president up to their teeth.  I have attached the transcript of Secretary Nuland’s conversation with Ambassador Pyatt’s conversation to the bottom of this essay, so the reader can see for themselves the extent of American meddling.

Victoria Nuland and Geoffrey Pyatt
American diplomats Victoria Nuland and Geoffrey Pyatt Plotting the future of Ukraine with Vitali Klitchko and Arseniy Yatseniuk

 Now the question is whether the country will break up, when the predominately Russian-speaking population in the Crimea region votes on whether to rejoin Great Russia in the upcoming referendum. This is such a volatile issue the country could quickly descend into civil war. In such a scenario the Russians will certainly become militarily involved, and the fact is that an American guided missile ship is steaming by the Crimean Peninsula right now –  probably armed with nuclear missiles – right through the shipping lanes where the Russian naval vessels routinely patrol.

This strikes me as an extraordinarily reckless move, and I am surprised that President Obama let his military advisors talk him into it – or maybe he ordered this despite the advice of the Joint Chiefs. In any case, despite the lame explanation that this voyage had been planned before the Ukrainian conflict began, I find the President’s decision to order an American warship into these troubled waters impossible to reconcile with the geo-political realities of this historical moment.

The USS Tuxton Cruising the Black Sea
American Missile Ship in Black Sea
An American Missile Ship armed with Tomahawks and other weaponry
A Russian Delta Class Nuclear Submarine
N1401-SCN-S94-011
Playing A Deadly Game of cat and Mouse on the High Seas

I becomes even more puzzling when we learn that the Tuxton, which is armed with Tomahawk Cruise missiles, is steaming to the Black Sea in order to participate in joint naval exercise with the Romanian and Bulgarian navies.  The US government has announced that we will be sending in 12 F-16 fighter planes and 3oo air-force service personnel to Poland, at the request of Polish Minister of Defense Tomaz Simoniak, who is concerned about the Russian takeover of Crimea.  And the US sent five F-15 fighter planes to Lithuania last Thursday, because their Minister of Defense was alarmed by “Russian Aggression in the in Ukraine.”

The Pentagon has also announced that these American fighter planes will be patrolling the skies over the Baltic nations of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.  What we the people desperately need to know is what are their orders, what are the rules of engagement and with whom are they to engage.  We need to know the answers to these questions because if these American fighter planses have orders to engage Russian aircraft this is a scenario that could spark a nuclear confrontation!  Yet the US cannot avoid these actions because of NATO.

The essential problem with NATO,  for the US government, goes back to a decision made a decade ago on May 2, 2004, when the 19 member states of NATO decided to admit seven former members of the Warsaw Pact, including former Soviet Republics which had become independent states after the collapse of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, whose center of power was Moscow, thirteen years earlier.  Latvia, Estonia, Romania, Lithuania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Bulgaria all joined the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Many observers thought this was a bad idea at the time – this writer included – and believed that it would come back to haunt us.

Well, we were right.  In the euphoria following the collapse of Communism, when talk of a “new world order” based on a unipolar world where all roads led to Washington, and projections for “a new American Century” appeared to be simply acknowledging the obvious, people forgot that nationalism and religious fanaticism have led to more wars than communism ever did.  These are the forces that America now struggles to deal with in the Mid-East and  in Eastern Europe, with the eye of the storm in Russia, which is well armed with nuclear weapons and whose armies are invincible on Russian soil.  Hence bombing Russia or invading her are both out of the question.

Yet the US is committed to an organization whose fundamental objective is mutual defense.  And NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer left no doubt when he told the Foreign Ministers assembled for the admission of the former Russian allies: “The accession of Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia demonstrates the principle that freedom is irrepressible.   From now on, 26 Allies will be joined in a commitment to defend each others’ security and territorial integrity. This is the strongest, most solemn commitment nations can undertake.”

Herein lies our problem and it is a mess.  This commitment means that should any of these former Soviet Republics get in an armed dispute with Russia, the US is bound by NATO protocol to act as if the attack was against America!  And yet, as if we are not  in enough of a quagmire, there are Republican Senators calling for the Ukraine to be admitted to NATO.   It is an invitation to disaster!

The dangers portended by Ukrainian events require the most calm and thoughtful deliberation, exactly the kind of approach that President Obama has been pursuing.  Unfortunately, he is not indifferent to the vicissitudes of American domestic politics and this crisis is unfolding just as the Republicans are holding their C-Pac convention.

This is where all those who pretend to the presidency hold forth before the most rabidly right-wing sector of the Party – the so called Republican base – who are rabid Obama-haters.  A parade of presidential hopefuls seeking to seduce this crowd and gain their support try to out-do each other in rushing to the far right of the American political continuum.

They all know that the easiest way to get some love from this crowd is to bash President Obama, so we see the President trying to conduct very difficult and dangerous diplomatic relations with Russia while assailed by a constant chorus of ridicule from Republicans Rudy Giuliani and John McCain, to Lindsay Graham and the Alaskan Barbarian Sarah Palin.

There are two themes that run through their attacks on the president. “The Ukraine crisis is the result of Barack Obama’s “weakness” in asserting American military power in promoting US foreign policy objectives in places like Syria and Iran, and this has emboldened America’s adversaries around the world.”  And “he is being bullied in the Ukrainian conflict because President Putin knows Obama is a punk.”

These vociferous denunciations of President Obama are accompanied by praise songs for the “toughness and decisiveness” of Putin; one wise media wag has labeled the phenomenon “Putin Love.”  None dare call it by its proper name: disloyal opposition bordering on treason! When you consider that far from doing nothing,  as the Republicans charge repeatedly, the evidence shows that President is doing far too much in the Ukrainian mess; this baseless criticism exposes the same deep-seated racist attitudes that compelled white American soldiers to permit German Nazi prisoners of war to share bathrooms with them, while the black American soldiers guarding them had to relieve themselves in ditches beside the road!

What Dr. DuBois said of Jack Johnson, the first black Heavyweight Boxing Champion of the world, is also true of Barack Obama, the first son of an African father to become President of the most powerful nation in the world.  Whites didn’t hate Jack Johnson because of anything he did, because they had done far worse; the source of their hatred is his “unforgivable blackness.”  Hence they see in Barack things that are not there, but are projected onto him  – by envious, racist whites who become hysterical at the very thought of a black First Family in the White House,   an uppity nigger with an African name who is way smarter than they are, running the USA….which they believe is a white man’s job and it just drives them bonkers!

The Republican warmongers hold an Oxymoronic position regarding the President: on the one hand they hate Putin and call him a ruthless dictator – House Speaker John Boehner call the Russian President “a thug” – but they are pissed off because President Obama is not more like him.   Sarah Palin, one of the loudest and most mindless voices on the right, denounces Obama as “a tyrant who ignores the constitution and constantly violates the law”, but gushes over Putin: “He rides bare-chested on a horse, wrestles bears and drills for oil….while Obama walks around in Mommy Jeans.”  This white trash debutante who nearly became vice-president on the US appears to cream in her jeans when she rhapsodizes about the manly virtues of the Russian President…Putin Love indeed.

 Alexander Putin: Tough Guy or…..
Alexander Putin on horseback  Just A Wrinkled old White Boy Riding a Nag

The more we hear from these twisted people the more obvious it becomes how lucky we are that Barack Obama and not John McCain became president five years ago. Under a McCain presidency we would be in wars everywhere, and the Alaskan Barbarian would be a heartbeat away from the Oval Office.  When viewed from the perspective of the Bush Administration’s foreign policy, Barack’s wisdom in managing this nation’s foreign affairs has been Solomonic.

He has found and offed Osama bin Laden, something the tough talking Bushmen never managed to do…in fact George Bush gave up trying to find him. The former President said he wasn’t even thinking about him anymore as he waged a war of choice against Sadam Hussein and Osama bin Laden became “Osama been Forgotten.”

Barack has also devastated Al Qaeda’s leadership, successfully wound down two wars the Republicans started that have become by far the longest running wars in our history – over twice as long as World War II – and he has kept us out of other foreign wars that John McCain would have eagerly waded into.  And Barack is the only American President to have been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.  He was awarded the Prize even while waging two wars, but they were wars that he inherited from the Bush years and the wise members of the Nobel Prize committee were prescient in their vision of Barack as a peacemaker who would steer American away from the war path.  In his acceptance speech President Obama displayed his gift for reconciling contending forces that he has employed in his diplomacy. (See: “Hooray for the Juggler!”)*

Alas, with the Ukrainian crisis we are witnessing the return of all the warmongering cretins from the neo-con cabal hatched in The Project for a New American Century – see “How the Iraq War was Hatched in a Think Tank” – that pushed a clueless George W Bush into invading Iraq; the same crew that his wiser father George I called “The Crazies” – Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, John Bolton, et al.

Once again the Grand Obstructionist Party is sending in the clowns….and they are a murderous bunch with blood and gore on their hands…..much of it innocent blood from the needless slaughter of women and children.  And these homicidal jokers are itching to start another war.  Just look at that madman John Bolton, Bush’s UN Ambassador, whining about President Obama’s reluctance to intervene in every crisis that arises in the world with armed forces, or that little grinning jackal Bill Kristol, who, from his position as Editor of the influential right-wing Journal The Weekly Standard and Director of the Project for a New American Century, played a major role in convincing Bush to invade Iraq on phony information.

Now here he is again, while the nation is still recovering from that criminal folly, recklessly calling for ratcheting up tensions with the Russians by “humiliating Putin.”  These neo-con clowns never learn; they are stuck on stupid.

Bill Kristol
 Bill Kristol
A tough talkin mouse
 Dirty Dick Cheney
Dirty Dick Cheney
War Criminal!

However this little poot-butt provocateur, Wee Willie Kristol, who like Dirty Dick Cheney has never spent a day in the military, does not seem to understand that provoking a military conflict in the Ukraine is a very different class of event from invading Iraq, because within such a conflict lies the seeds of our own destruction; which was never a possibility in the invasions of Iraq, Afghanistan, or even Vietnam.

Yet any military conflict with Russia could devolve into nuclear war; a prognosis that has been greeted with disbelief, even ridicule, by some really smart and thoughtful people. They are certain that the mostly straight white males who monopolize the instruments of power are rational actors, and supreme egotists, committed to self-preservation.  Therefore any mention of the possiblilty of a nuclear exchange between the US and Russia over the Ukraine is prima facie “absurd.”

It is fairly certain that no rational person would make a decision to destroy modern civilization.  I even had a wag with a PhD in political science tell me as much in this very language as he dismissed my concerns, and I must confess that on the face of it he appears to be right.  Yet the leading nations are well-armed with nuclear weapons and nuclear war remains an option, despite their awareness of the fact that all mankind has achieved during our history on earth would evaporate in a flash.  And those who survive would be struggling to sustain life on a radioactive planet with Stone Age technology.  This could be our fate an hour from now if the US and Russia had a nuclear exchange.

Such an event is, in fact, unthinkable.  Until you begin to consider that the mere possession of nuclear weapons is evidence of a collective madness among our leaders, who are prepared to perpetrate a massive crime against humanity, a catastrophe of biblical proportions, for their deployment would be worse than the sum total of all the atrocities man has committed against man in the history of the world.  An attack with nuclear weapons would instantaneously achieve mass murder on a scale that would make the Nazi holocaust look like a minor event.

Yet the most advanced civilizations in the world are awash in these weapons and cannot find a way to rid mankind of this horror!  This means that all of these “rational actors” in whom my friend has placed his confidence are ready and willing to slaughter millions of innocent civilians; all they need is the right scenario to develop on a computer screen and they will launch.  And since I have been in the room with the people who are assigned this task during a stint in Strategic Air Command at the height of the Cold War, right on the cusp of the Cuban Missile Crisis, I have no doubt that they will do it.

I would have done it!   That’s the way we were trained and I, like everybody else in Central Security Control, would have been convinced that I was serving the best interests of my country.  Yet I would not have raped a woman, mugged anybody and robbed them of their coin, and would readily give the elderly or handicapped my seat on the bus…in fact I was something of a Good Samaritan in everyday life…but I would have pushed the button and launched a nuclear attack on Russia upon command. This is what the philosopher Hanna Arendt meant by “The banality of evil.”

The real danger here is not that a group of men will sit quietly around a table ensconced underneath a mountain somewhere and decide to launch a nuclear attack, even though I believe the only reason they won’t is not moral restraint but the MAD doctrine: Mutual Assured Destruction, because I know men are indeed capable of such evil.  The clear and present danger that confronts us is that it could all happen by accident.

In the event of a serious miscommunication where a computer says the other side has launched an attack ,there is so little time to retaliate by those who believe that their nation is under attack they would have to launch immediately.  This is why fomenting hostility and mistrust between the US and Russia is akin to playing Russian roulette with the whole world.

Hence all the talk from Republicans about building anti-missile systems on the doorstep of Russia in places like Poland, and recruiting Poland, Georgia and Ukraine into the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, NATO, is a doomsday scenario.  The people who advocate this madness often talk as if the rest of us are fools.

For instance Lindsay Graham, a Republican Senator from South Carolina, often talks this way. A smart man, albeit unprincipled, this former Air Force lawyer is openly calling on President Obama to invite former Republics that were a part of the Soviet Union until the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991 – and they became independent nations – to join NATO.  We are left to speculate as to what the senator’s motives are, but he talks like a man who is intoxicated on the opiate of “American Exceptionalism,” terrified by a Tea Party threat to “primary” him, and seduced by the limelight that follows actors on the stage of national politics.

Professor Stephen Cohen – the Director of Russian Studies Centers at Princeton and Columbia Universities –is convinced that should the US pursue this course it will lead to nuclear catastrophe.  Dr. Cohen – whom I regard as a cut above former  functionaries in the US foreign policy establishment like Madeline Albright, Ziebnew Brzezinski, and Hilary Clinton – argues that if the US put troops in  Poland, which has now joined  NATO, the Russians will militarily occupy the Ukraine and they will be prepared to defend their position at all cost, including nuclear holocaust!

Since Romania and Bulgaria, who were formerly Russia’s allies in the now disloved Warsaw Pact, have also joined  NATO, should the US gain control of the Ukraine they would have succeeded in bringing their forward military position to Russia’s front door.  The Russians will resist this advance and any conflict between Russia and one of these new NATO countries would immediately become a military confrontation between the US and Russia. It is in the nature and letter of the agreement.

This is a plausible scenario of how a nuclear war could begin, because when there are military tensions between nuclear armed nations they put their nuclear forces on Alert. And once this happens the possibilities for an accidental nuclear conflagration greatly increases.  That’s why we need careful diplomacy in times like these and any suggestion of introducing military forces into the equation, such as conducting military maneuvers in the area, deploying American forces on Polish soil, or promoting any military activity in Crimea is destabilizing.

The Crimean Peninsula

Crimea -

Is it worth risking war with Russia

Never has this nation needed the calm deliberative style of President Obama more than now. His choice of quiet diplomacy over saber-rattling and caustic rhetoric calms the situation and gives everybody time to think. If John McCain were president just now the world would be in a state of nuclear terror as the destruction of our planet hung in the balance. Rejecting this old whacko warmonger in favor of the humanist visionary Barack Obama was the American electorate’s finest hour!

One of the greatest dangers of the American Exceptionalist doctrine is that it encourages national chauvinism and prevents Americans from recognizing the just claims and interests of other nations; they view the world with blinders on, like a draft horse pulling a wagon in city traffic that you want to look in only one direction. Alas, while this may be a good thing for draft horses it is suicidal in international politics where nuclear weapons are involved.

In order to understand how Putin would view the Ukraine entering NATO, one need only recall the US response when the Russians deployed missiles in Cuba.  The US government under President Kennedy was prepared to start a nuclear war over it.  When Kennedy ordered the US Navy to blockade Cuba and challenge a nuclear armed Russian fleet on the high seas, the world came so close to destruction the Cuban Missile Crisis –as it has become known in historyhad a lasting effect on Robert McNamara, the American Secretary of Defense at the time.

Before coming into government Robert McNamara was a hot shot corporate Titan, a former Air Force captain who was computer savvy – which was unique in the early 1960’s – McNamara was president of the Ford Motor Company, but after he left government he spent the rest of his life promoting peaceful development among the world’s poorest countries by employing the resources of the World Bank, which he headed.

Later in life he produced a documentary film titled “The Fog of War” in which he recounts how close they came to destroying the world during the Cuban Crisis.  He even traveled to Russia and Cuba and talked to his counterparts on the other side.  The question he most wanted them to answer was “would you really have launched your nuclear weapons?”  The fact that they said yes, as did he, shook him to the core, this question hounded him to his dying day is: “how could a group of rational, intelligent, sane, men even consider such a crime against the earth?

I believe the answer lies in our basic instinct for survival and the strong impulse to protect home and family.  The US government felt Americans could not live with the threat of Russian nuclear weapons just 90 miles away on the Island of Cuba because it threatened our national existence.  Hence no measure was too extreme to prevent it….even gambling with the fate of the earth.  That’s how the Russians feel about American incursions into their spheres of influence: and there is every reason to believe they will use any means necessary to prevent Americans from gaining military hegemony on their door step.

This is why President Obama must remain steady as she goes in steering the American ship of state through these troubled waters, and he must pay the Republican clowns screaming on the sidelines no mind.  First of all their criticisms of his foreign policy, like their claims that he is a lawless dictator who has usurped the Constitutional powers of the government, are all a damned lie!  These jackanapes –who chatter on ad nauseum spouting putrid nonsense like drunken magpies – foam at the mouth as they denounce the president’s “weakness” and “indecisiveness” in refusing to “do something” about the Russian transgressions.  This, like all of the criticism in their narrative of the Obama residency is a balantant lie!

They conveniently forget – and some are so ignorant of US history they never knew – that the Russians invaded several Eastern European nations while Republican Presidents occupied the Oval Office –and these were actual invasions, not like this little walkabout in the Crimea, where nobody will even admit they are Russian soldiers. There was the 1956 invasion of Hungary under Eisenhower – a Five Star general who only a decade earlier had led the victory over Nazi Germany as the Supreme Commander of Allied Forces in Europe.  But he refused to intervene despite many calls to do so.  Ike weighted the costs – a possible nuclear war with Russia – against the nebulous benefits, and decided to chill out despite the shrill cries for intervention on the right.

General Eisenhower
Eisenhower
Ike Maintained his Cool

When the Warsaw Pact forces – a group of five Eastern European countries led by the Soviet Union – invaded Czechoslovakia during the presidential elections of 1968, Richard Nixon did nothing to intervene in the situation after he won by a landslide.  Nixon, who had been Ike’s vice-president when the Soviets invaded Hungary, was no stranger to Russian invasions and was enraged by the Czech affair, but made no attempt to intervene in the situation because he knew that the Soviets had gained parity in nuclear weapons with the US.

Furthermore, given American actions in invading Cuba after the Revolution led by Fidel Castro turned in a socialist direction, Nixon, a very bright but morally deformed man, must have recognized that the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia to overthrow the Dubcek government, which was moving away from the Russian communist model, mirrored US actions in Cuba, although they would never admit this obvious parallel.  So he sought the friendship of China, breaking an American policy of ignoring mainland, or “Red China,” that had prevailed since the triumph of the Communist Revolution led by Mao Tse Tung, and promoted the absurd fiction that “the real China” was the off shore island of Taiwan. 

The strategy of exploiting serious ideological difference between the two communist titans, China and Russia,  by cozying up to China,  led  to an American rapprochement with China and Detente with Russia. This artful foreign policy was possible because Nixon was advised by Henry Kissinger, whereas George Bush was advised by people like Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and their Guru, the neo-con warmonger Paul Wolfowitz and his PNAC cabal.

In 2008 the Russian army invaded the former Soviet Republic of Georgia, and Bush, already burdened with two wars that he started, did nothing!  And although Senator John McCain is demanding an investigation of the CIA to find out why they didn’t predict a situation that erupted at rapid speed, a question whose answer does not require a costly congressional investigation; the answer is obvious to any reasonably informed person looking objectively upon the situation rather than through a veil of bias.

The fact is that there is nothing unusual about the CIA getting caught off guard: they got caught off guard in each of the full scale Russian Invasions under three Republican presidents. Thus all of this self-righteous posturing and demonstrations of outrage from people like John McCain,  that smug Howdy Doody looking charlatan that sits in the governor’s mansion in Louisiana, that fat dumb dope fiend Rush Limbaugh and that evil hysterical anorexic witch Gun Boat Annie Coulter are pure bullshit, as the Princeton Philosopher Harry G. Franks describes bullshit arguments in his book  “Bullshit”.

Consider the account of Daniel Fata – the assistant secretary of defense for European and NATO policy from September 2005 to September 2008, which was most of George Bush’s second term.  He recalls in an interview with Professor Stephen Benedict Dyson, a Professor of political science at the University of Connecticut,  that when the Russian Army invaded Georgia ““We were scrambling for information during these critical initial hours. My desk officer, who had great personal ties at the highest levels in Tbilisi, had the most usable real time information via texts from his friends in Georgia.” And he went on to observe “Putin was never punished by the international community.”  Notice he said nothing about the Bush Administration punishing Putin…it appears to have never entered their minds!

Bush evidently decided that he had gotten in enough trouble listening to Cheney, Rumsfeld, and their neo-con crew.  In view of the history of Republican presidential inaction in the face of actual Russian invasions…..why are these chattering clowns so hard on President Obama, who has not even been confronted with a “Russian invasion?”  At worse, thus far, the president is dealing with a pooty-pop police action.  And as I have shown: Barack has already done far too much!

To treat the Crimean situation as some major aggression by the Russians that threatens US interests, and therefore requires our intervention, is surely some species of madness. This peculiar madness is magnified when you reflect upon the fact that American officials travelled to the Ukraine and openly encouraged the insurgents to overthrow the pro-Russian President

Yet given the level of routine obfuscation and outright lying, the massive and systematic disinformation campaign being conducted by the right-wing media complex, and the fact that the overwhelming majority of their listeners are pugnacious airheads whose understanding of political reality is akin to the man who couldn’t tell his rectum from a hole in the ground, you have an untutored impassioned mob who can be manipulated into believing anything.  Hence the Republican politicians who are hurling slanders at the President that have not a trace of truth, but plays big with their audience, could just be playing politics.

If that is true, and given the intellectual shallowness and situational ethics that inform the actions of many Republican politicians in could well be true – then they are even more dangerous than the true believers.  Intelligent people who hold sincere beliefs can be persuaded to change their view, but a soulless, ignorant, charlatan has nothing there.  They’ve got a hole in their soul, and thus could demagogue a grave issue of national security for partisan political advantage.

These are people for whom only money and power are sacred; so even now they are trying their best to tie the conflict in the Ukraine to the refusal of President Obama to sign the Canadian pipeline deal.  Aside from confusing the foreign policy debate, their constant chatter, scripted lines repeated ad nauseum,  paid for by plutocrats and beamed into the skulls of the vast untutored working class – and that includes many white collar “professionals” – shamelessly plays on their fears in order to panic them into voting reactionaries into political office who despise them and constantly injure their interests.

President Obama is in a tight predicament.  He is bound by an attitude of fear and suspicion toward Russia that has long been cultivated in this country. The ignorance of Americans regarding Russia is abominable, hence they are prepared to believe the worst.  When coupled with the sense of American Exceptionalism that almost all Americans in their smug self-righteousness believe in, it makes sense to them when the Republican clowns cry out about President Obama’s weakness in the face of Russian aggression.

Since they know nothing of American history, they really believe that Putin would never have committed such a criminal act of aggression if that “lily livered; mommy jean wearing; secret agent for Al Queda; European socialist communist low down dirty half-breed mongrel nigger” had not “duped the American people and wormed his way into the White House”.

Yet even if we discounted all the other madness in this description of our fabulous President, arguably the best ever, and simply accepted that they believe Barack could deceive the Secret Service, the FBI, the National Immigration Service, the National Security agency et al, even  believed that Donald Trump’s alleged private investigators could detect such fraud, is frightening testimony of the epidemic of irrational thinking among millions of Americans who come out aggressively and vote!

Barak Obama’s actions and pronouncements regarding the Ukrainian situation are formulated with an eye toward domestic politics.  After all, he is not only a politician but a great one….perhaps the greatest of all times.  In fact I have argued this very point elsewhere see: “The GOAT: Greatest of All Times” on this blog.  And the first step in being a successful politician is to recognize that politics is the art of the possible!  Barack not only recognizes this, he understands how to win elections.

The fact that fact a young black guy who looks like he might be hanging out on the basketball, courts in Chicago waiting for a pick-up game, and is married to a big fine chocolate, brilliant, sassy soul sister who can dance her ass off and will bust a move anywhere, getting himself elected president twice, is driving a lot of these white boys like Donald Trump – who was born to the purple but can’t get elected to the villager dogcatcher’s post in Washington – clear out of their  minds!

So the Republican propaganda machine, disguised as news sources, make up lies about him and broadcast them on a non-stop loop, right into the fickle brains of Dumb Dora and Joe Six Pack.  And they have done it so well that millions of Americans – most white but some black leftist too – actually believe it.  And that is part of my evidence for his greatness: with all of their researchers they cannot come up with an authentic complaint against Obama.  Yet perception is reality in the eyes of the beholder.  Hence President Obama must pay homage to the prevailing American myth….because it is firmly rooted in the Master Narrative of American civilization.

Hence we see President Obama, a brilliant man who must recognize that Russia has a legitimate right to their Sphere of Influence, and that Putin is doing nothing that the US has not done –and far worse – all over the world!  Yet he must pay lip service to the American Exceptionalists vision or be labeled a traitor and hung if they had their druthers. And he knows that none of his major policy objectives can be realized so long as Republicans control the House of Representatives, and should they take the senate in the elections this year he will spend the rest of his second term mainly casting vetoes, Barack must pay attention to domestic politics.  All of these factors figure strongly in the presidents public posture toward Russia.

As important as these other issues are, they are picayune matters compared to a military conflict with Russia.  This is as serious as it gets.  Things on the ground in the Ukraine are changing so fast the President must focus on the fundamental issues involved here and correctly decide where American interests truly lie. Considering that he has ordered an American guided missile ship into waters off the coast of Crimea, one wonders if he is becoming confused on this issue.  Hilary Clinton, his recently retired Secretary of State is obviously confused by the Ukrainian affair because she is talking like a babbling idiot….  spouting dangerous and misleading nonsense comparing Putin to Hitler and muttering about the similarity to the Munich Conference?

This kind of crazy talk invites comparison of President Obama to the British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain. I am expecting to hear cries of “appeasement” from the Republicans any day now.  Although she has tried to equivocate on here statement, saying she was not implying an exact comparison, Hilary comes across as either a fool or an opportunist.  Conversations about Hitler and Munich conferences from the middle of the last century is not the conversation we should be having now….for it confuses far more than it clarifies and provides fuel for the verbal arsonists in right-wing media.

All of this is a distraction.  The thing that should remain uppermost in President Obama’s mind and that of all American political leaders is whatever happens in the Ukraine it is not worth one ounce of American blood, nor the profligate squandering of American treasure. President Obama should also be aware that many thoughtful Americans, this writer included, resent the fact that the Republicans who control the House of Representatives quickly voted a billion dollars in emergency aid to the Ukraine, while denying benefits to American workers suffering long term unemployment, and kills every program President Obama proposes to help desperate Americans and rebuild the nation’s crumbling infrastructure.

Yet above and beyond all everything else, no matter what, the President must constantly think about avoiding any action that could make the Russians nervous about their national security, because they will surely put more nuclear weapons on alert….alas some are already on alert.   For most people these weapons are like something out of science fiction like the transformers firing laser beams, that explains why most are going merrily about their business totally unaware that 40 minutes from now our world go up in radioactive flames. They are like sheep quietly going to slaughter; for if they had any idea what a nuclear war means they would out in the streets demanding that President Obama call off the proposed naval exercise involving the US and Romanian forces in the Black Sea.

Ignorance about the world is dangerous in any case, but ignorance about the nuclear forces of the US and Russia could prove fatal.  Both nations have triple threat strike forces that consists of Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles, Long range bombers, and naval forces composed of nuclear submarines and missile ships that fire from surface platforms.  The IBMs can be launched from silos on land or beneath the sea; they go up out of the earth’s atmosphere and return to earth to hit their targets.  They also have MIRVED warheads – Multiple Independent Reentry Vehicles – which means that a single missile carry up to eight separate warheads capable of being programmed to strike different targets.

In order to gain some understanding of the scale of destruction a single missile can wreak consider the following facts.  The atomic bombs dropped on Japanese cities had an explosive power equivalent to 20, 000 tons of high explosive TNT, plus the intense heat from the nuclear reaction and the radioactive fallout. The nuclear warheads carried by the MIRVED missiles are 5 megatons each, which amounts to 45 million tons of TNT per missile!   And we have thousands of them ready to launch at a moment’s notice….and so do the Russians.  And since this is a neutron hydrogen bomb, the radiation is immeasurably more intense.

I can still remember the day I first found out about all this.  It was in an orientation class for those of us with Top Secret security clearances when I arrived on the Strategic Air Command base in Glasgow Montana, up on the DEW line – Distance Early Warning – out in the Great Plains near the Canadian Border, where I would be stationed.  At the time SAC was the center of the US nuclear strike force and from where we were the giant B-52 Strato-Bombers, which flew at supersonic speeds at very high altitudes, could be over Moscow in less than an hour.  After showing us the official SAC films on the atomic bombing of Japan, an unspeakably horrible event, the colonel conducting the class said, “Or this is nothing…those bombs are like firecrackers compared to the ordinance we have on this base.”

After seeing the giant radioactive fireball rise up over Japanese cities, and heard the tales of poisonous black rain and the nuclear night that followed the atomic flash upon detonation, creating such intense heat people who saw it eyeballs melted and people were bursting into flames everywhere.  And all this was from the little 20,000 tons of TNT bomb; the instructor pointed out that we had bombs of 100 million ton capacity!  I thought it was madness, and I have never changed my views on the matter of nuclear weapons.  As I have said previously, I consider the mere possession of them to be a crime against humanity.

However the bombers, while still active, are third in destructive capacity in the tripartite US nuclear war machine. There are the missiles I described, and then there are the nuclear submarines, marvelous frightening instruments of mass destruction, one of which has more firepower than all of the ordinance exploded in World War II, including the two atomic bombs dropped on Japan.  And we have about a dozen of them prowling under the world’s ocean seas.

Should a nuclear exchange begin there will be two chain reactions: the atomic one and a human one.   For once it starts the computers will take overs and both sides will empty their arsenals in order to make sure the other side will not survive….the computers are programmed to see to that.  It is such an unspeakable horror, the destruction of all life on our planet, it is no wonder people don’t want to think about it, but I’m just keepin it real!  It is no exaggeration to say that those who do survive for a while will envy the dead.  This is the possibility we are playing with as I write.

The way things are developing in terms of the rapid deterioration of US/Russian relations over the crisis in the Ukraine is frightening to those who pay attention to the possibility of blundering into an accidental nuclear war.  As I said early on in this essay I was prompted to write it because of an exchange I had with a friend who smugly assured me that a nuclear exchange between the US and Russia couldn’t happen.  However I take my cue from the people who understand this problem best: The Bulletin of Atomic Scientist.  Their views regarding the danger of an outbreak of nuclear war – which is to say its probability – is succinctly expressed by the position of the hands on the Doomsday Clock.

This clock was created in 1947 by the scientists from the Manhattan Project, the guys who invented the atomic bombs that were dropped on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki only two years earlier, the only time atomic weapons have been used in human history.  Over the last 67 years the hands on the clock have been moved 18 times by the scientists affiliated with the Bulletin, which includes 18 Nobel Laureates, an astonishing number for any organization.  The scientists move the hands on the Doomsday Clock based on their assessment of how close human beings have come to self-annihilation.

At present the hands on the clock stands at five minutes to mid-night! And, despite so major changes in US/Russian relations, the nuclear arsenals possessed by these nations remain the most dangerous threat to continued human existence.  The Bulletin of Atomic Scientist sums it up thusly:

“Today, the mind-numbing possibility of nuclear annihilation as a result of a deliberate attack on the other by the United States or Russia seems a thing of the past, yet the potential for an accidental, unauthorized, or inadvertent nuclear exchange between the United States and Russia remains, with both countries anachronistically maintaining more than 800 warheads on high alert, ready to launch within tens of minutes”.

That’s why President Obama had better move with the greatest caution in his policy choices regarding the Ukraine.  He must maintain his fabled cool as – “No Drama Obama” – pay the hysterical hawks on the Republican right no mind and make keeping the peace his first priority.  Because as we know from former Defense Secretary Bob McNamara: things get confusing in the fog of war. And before you know what happened we could be the late….great….planet earth.

 Doomsday!!!

Atomic_bomb_explosion-SPL

It could come to this!

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

Playthell G. Benjamin
Harlem, New York
March 8, 2014

****** Transcript from hacked phone conversation between Undersecretary of State for Europe, Victoria Nuland for and the US Ambassador as they secretly  minipulate the political events in Ukraine.

An apparently bugged phone conversation in which a senior US diplomat disparages the EU over the Ukraine crisis has been posted online. The alleged conversation between Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland and the US Ambassador to Ukraine, Geoffrey Pyatt, appeared on YouTube on Thursday. It is not clearly when the alleged conversation took place.

Here is a transcript, with analysis by BBC diplomatic correspondent Jonathan Marcus:

Warning: This transcript contains swearing.

Voice thought to be Nuland’s: What do you think?

  • Jonathan Marcus: At the outset it should be clear that this is a fragment of what may well be a larger phone conversation. But the US has not denied its veracity and has been quick to point a finger at the Russian authorities for being behind its interception and leak.

Voice thought to be Pyatt’s: I think we’re in play. The Klitschko [Vitaly Klitschko, one of three main opposition leaders] piece is obviously the complicated electron here. Especially the announcement of him as deputy prime minister and you’ve seen some of my notes on the troubles in the marriage right now so we’re trying to get a read really fast on where he is on this stuff. But I think your argument to him, which you’ll need to make, I think that’s the next phone call you want to set up, is exactly the one you made to Yats [Arseniy Yatseniuk, another opposition leader]. And I’m glad you sort of put him on the spot on where he fits in this scenario. And I’m very glad that he said what he said in response.

Jonathan Marcus: The US says that it is working with all sides in the crisis to reach a peaceful solution, noting that “ultimately it is up to the Ukrainian people to decide their future”. However this transcript suggests that the US has very clear ideas about what the outcome should be and is striving to achieve these goals. Russian spokesmen have insisted that the US is meddling in Ukraine’s affairs – no more than Moscow, the cynic might say – but Washington clearly has its own game-plan. The clear purpose in leaking this conversation is to embarrass Washington and for audiences susceptible to Moscow’s message to portray the US as interfering in Ukraine’s domestic affairs.

Nuland: Good. I don’t think Klitsch should go into the government. I don’t think it’s necessary, I don’t think it’s a good idea.

Pyatt: Yeah. I guess… in terms of him not going into the government, just let him stay out and do his political homework and stuff. I’m just thinking in terms of sort of the process moving ahead we want to keep the moderate democrats together. The problem is going to be Tyahnybok [Oleh Tyahnybok, the other opposition leader] and his guys and I’m sure that’s part of what [President Viktor] Yanukovych is calculating on all this.

Continue reading the main story

Ukraine unrest: Timeline

21 November 2013: Protests start after Ukraine announces it will not sign a deal aimed at strengthening ties with the EU

17 December: Russia agrees to buy $15bn of Ukrainian government bonds and slash the price of gas it sells to the country

16 January 2014: Parliament passes law restricting the right to protest

22 January: Two protesters die from bullet wounds during clashes with police in Kiev; protests spread across many cities

25 January: President Yanukovych offers seniorjobs to the opposition, including that of prime minister, but these are rejected

28 January: Parliament votes to annul protest law and President Yanukovych accepts resignation of PM and cabinet

29 January: Parliament passes amnesty law for detained protesters, under the condition occupied buildings are vacated

Nuland: [Breaks in] I think Yats is the guy who’s got the economic experience, the governing experience. He’s the… what he needs is Klitsch and Tyahnybok on the outside. He needs to be talking to them four times a week, you know. I just think Klitsch going in… he’s going to be at that level working for Yatseniuk, it’s just not going to work.

Pyatt: Yeah, no, I think that’s right. OK. Good. Do you want us to set up a call with him as the next step?

Nuland: My understanding from that call – but you tell me – was that the big three were going into their own meeting and that Yats was going to offer in that context a… three-plus-one conversation or three-plus-two with you. Is that not how you understood it?

Pyatt: No. I think… I mean that’s what he proposed but I think, just knowing the dynamic that’s been with them where Klitschko has been the top dog, he’s going to take a while to show up for whatever meeting they’ve got and he’s probably talking to his guys at this point, so I think you reaching out directly to him helps with the personality management among the three and it gives you also a chance to move fast on all this stuff and put us behind it before they all sit down and he explains why he doesn’t like it.

Nuland: OK, good. I’m happy. Why don’t you reach out to him and see if he wants to talk before or after.

Pyatt: OK, will do. Thanks.

Nuland: OK… one more wrinkle for you Geoff. [A click can be heard] I can’t remember if I told you this, or if I only told Washington this, that when I talked to Jeff Feltman [United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs] this morning, he had a new name for the UN guy Robert Serry did I write you that this morning?

  • Jonathan Marcus: An intriguing insight into the foreign policy process with work going on at a number of levels: Various officials attempting to marshal the Ukrainian opposition; efforts to get the UN to play an active role in bolstering a deal; and (as you can see below) the big guns waiting in the wings – US Vice-President Joe Biden clearly being lined up to give private words of encouragement at the appropriate moment.

Pyatt: Yeah I saw that.

Nuland: OK. He’s now gotten both Serry and [UN Secretary General] Ban Ki-moon to agree that Serry could come in Monday or Tuesday. So that would be great, I think, to help glue this thing and to have the UN help glue it and, you know, Fuck the EU.

Jonathan Marcus: Not for the first time in an international crisis, the US expresses frustration at the EU’s efforts. Washington and Brussels have not been completely in step during the Ukraine crisis. The EU is divided and to some extent hesitant about picking a fight with Moscow. It certainly cannot win a short-term battle for Ukraine’s affections with Moscow – it just does not have the cash inducements available. The EU has sought to play a longer game; banking on its attraction over time. But the US clearly is determined to take a much more activist role.

Pyatt: No, exactly. And I think we’ve got to do something to make it stick together because you can be pretty sure that if it does start to gain altitude, that the Russians will be working behind the scenes to try to torpedo it. And again the fact that this is out there right now, I’m still trying to figure out in my mind why Yanukovych (garbled) that. In the meantime there’s a Party of Regions faction meeting going on right now and I’m sure there’s a lively argument going on in that group at this point. But anyway we could land jelly side up on this one if we move fast. So let me work on Klitschko and if you can just keep… we want to try to get somebody with an international personality to come out here and help to midwife this thing. The other issue is some kind of outreach to Yanukovych but we probably regroup on that tomorrow as we see how things start to fall into place.

Nuland: So on that piece Geoff, when I wrote the note [US vice-president’s national security adviser Jake] Sullivan’s come back to me VFR [direct to me], saying you need [US Vice-President Joe] Biden and I said probably tomorrow for an atta-boy and to get the deets [details] to stick. So Biden’s willing.

Pyatt: OK. Great. Thanks.

Jonathan Marcus: Overall this is a damaging episode between Washington and Moscow. Nobody really emerges with any credit. The US is clearly much more involved in trying to broker a deal in Ukraine than it publicly lets on. There is some embarrassment too for the Americans given the ease with which their communications were hacked. But is the interception and leaking of communications really the way Russia wants to conduct its foreign policy ? Goodness – after Wikileaks, Edward Snowden and the like could the Russian government be joining the radical apostles of open government? I doubt it. Though given some of the comments from Vladimir Putin’s adviser on Ukraine Sergei Glazyev – for example his interview with the Kommersant-Ukraine newspaper the other day – you don’t need your own listening station to be clear about Russia’s intentions. Russia he said “must interfere in Ukraine” and the authorities there should use force against the demonstrators.