Was Sarin Gas Used in Syrian Attack?

Posted in Guest Commentators, On Foreign Affairs, On War and Peace in the Mid East! with tags , , on April 18, 2017 by playthell
  At the Scene of reported Sarin Gas Attack
 A Brief Clinical and Epidemiologic Comparison with the Japan Attacks

The June 27, 1994 sarin terrorist attacks in Matsumoto, Japan, and on March 20, 1995, in the Tokyo subway, provide the most through epidemiologic and pathologic case reports currently available for the evaluation of mass poisonings with this extremely toxic gas. The facts regarding the Japanese attacks are as follows.

  • In Matsumoto members of the Aum Shinrikyo group released sarin in a residential area. It was a) an attempt to murder magistrates deliberating a real estate dispute; and b) an assessment of the poison’s efficiency for mass murder. The logistics of the crime included a refurbished refrigerator truck containing a heater for vaporization of twelve liters of liquid sarin, and powerful fans to diffuse a thick cloud of gas near the residencies of the involved judges. The sarin was 70 percent pure.
  • Over six hundred residents and rescuers were poisoned, fifty-eight were hospitalized, and seven were killed. The calculated mortality-morbidity ratio was approximately 1.16 percent (7/600). (“Sarin Poisoning in Matsumoto, Japan, The Lancet 7/29/1995)
  • On March 20, 1995, during the peak of morning rush hour a second sarin attack disrupted several Tokyo subway lines. This attack was focused on the stations close to the Tokyo National Police Agency and other central government centers. Aum Shinrikyo members punctured plastic bags of liquid sarin in subway cars jammed with workers headed to government offices. The liquid sarin was 30 percent pure.
  • More than six thousand passengers and rescue workers were injured—eight hundred required hospital treatment or evaluation and twelve died. The mortality/morbidity ratio was 0.18 percent. (Yanagisawa, N. “Sarin Experiences in Japan,” Journal of Neurologic Science.
Sarin Victims in Tokyo Subway

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II – On April 4th, helicopters or airplanes of the Syrian Arab Army dropped airborne ordnance over the village of Khan Sheikhun, Idlib Provence, Syria. The village was under the supervision of several groups currently in armed opposition to the government of President Bashar Al-Assad. Mr. Assad’s government has secured the support of the Russian armed forces, the Lebanese Hezbullah, and Iranian forces under the command of the Iranian revolutionary guard.

  • Casualty reports were extremely variable. Injury numbers ranged from three hundred to more than five hundred, and reported deaths ranged from early accounts of fifty-eight to eighty-seven. Later sources reported fatalities in excess of one hundred, with children’s deaths ranging from ten to twenty-seven. Many of the major world journals, such as the New York Times have reported mortalities in the ranges above.
  • Thus the reported mortality-morbidity would range from approx 72/500 to 100/300. This gives a range of 14.4 percent and 33 percent. Expressed in percentages, this represents an increase between 1,241 percent and 16,666 percent. The purity was not reported. However, earlier studies of weaponized sarin, in this region, particularly in the Iran-Iraqi War, had a purity in the 30-60 percent range.

Discussion:

The reported Iblid mortality-morbidity ratios are incompatible with sarin use as the etiological agent in the attacks of April 4, 2017 Khan Sheikhoun, Iblid Provence, Syria.

This could be due to several reasons:

  1. Another unidentified chemical agent was used.

2- Differing mortality-morbidity due to the differing mechanisms of gas dissemination. However, the two Japanese poisonings had, markedly, more intensive, prolonged exposures, which should have produced higher mortality-morbidity rates.

3-The differing availability of treatment and evacuation? While the Japanese civil defense was better equipped overall, the organizations involved in Syrian rescue operations had basic response preparations for the gas attacks and were able to evacuate injured patients to better-equipped Turkish medical facilities.

4- The casualty count was exaggerated.

5- The 1994-95 Japanese studies were unreliable.

 

Conclusion:

Currently no credible evidence exists confirming sarin as the etiologic agent responsible. Hence the claim that sarin was the etiologic agent is highly unlikely.

Sources:

“At Least 58 Killed in Alleged Chemical Weapons Attack in Syria.” April 4, 2017.www.independent.co.uk, accessed April 4, 2017

Khaddar, Kareem, Schams Elwazer, et al. “Suspected Gas Attack in Syria Reportedly Kills Dozens.” CNN. April 7, 2017.

“Worst Chemical Attack in Years in Syria; U. S. Blames Assad.” April 4, 2017. New York Times.

Seto, Yasuo. “The Sarin Gas Attack in Japan and the Related Forensic Investigation.”www.opcw.org, accessed April 11, 2017.

“Scores Reported Killed in Gas Attack on Syrian Rebel Area.” April 4, 2017. Reuters.

Yanagisawa, N. “Sarin Experiences in Japan: Acute Toxicity and Long-term Effects.” Journal of Neurologic Science. November 1, 2006.

——. “Sarin Poisoning in Matsumoto, Japan” The Lancet, July 29, 1995.

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By: Dr. Joseph Harris, MD
April, 2017
Harlem, New York
Note: Dr. Harris has worked as a physician in Rawanda and other war zones. he was participant at Doctor’s Without Borders when the were awarded  the Nobel Peace Prize.

 

The Most Dangerous Nation on Earth!

Posted in On Donald Trump, On Foreign Affairs, On Nuclear War, Playthell on politics with tags on April 17, 2017 by playthell
American Nuclear Armed  Fleet Steaming for Korea: An Invincible Armada?

How Trump’s Policies Can Lead to Human Extinction

Recently I had a conversation with a professor of physics in Berkley about climate change; from his pained facial expressions and the resignation in his body language, I could tell this was not his favorite subject.  As it turns out the warming of our planet is something he had thought about quite a lot, and I would soon learn that physicist of all schools everywhere in the world are thinking about it.   And it soon became clear that not nearly enough people outside of the scientific community are thinking about the crisis seriously.

I knew the feeling.  For over half a century I have been trying to warn my fellow citizens, anybody who would listen really, that we are living in the absurd situation where our entire civilization…and all life on this planet, could be extinguished in a ball of radioactive fire hotter than the sun within an hour from now by nuclear weapons.  To my knowledge, I am the only pundit who writes about the looming catastrophe of nuclear war on a regular basis.  Most either don’t understand it, or are too depressed about its consequences to ponder the problem; it is too ghastly to contemplate.

In an important regard the Physicist and I shared a similar burden: having an intimate and sure knowledge of how the extinction of our species could occur.  He as a result of his profession, me because of my service on a Strategic Air Command base stationed at the DEW – Distance Early Warning – line in Glasgow Montana, a remote location in the Great Plains near the Canadian border.

Our mission was the nuclear destruction of the Soviet Union.  The fact that I enjoyed a Top-Secret security clearance and was in a unit tasked with the security of the planes and their nuclear payloads, as well as the war fighting plans, provided me a birds eye view of the results of a nuclear war.  It was terrifying, but it is much more dangerous now! The physicist also understands the devastating affect of  nuclear weapons, but he has no idea of the probability of its use; the scenarios whereby such an unspeakable event could happen.

However, when it comes to climate change his great fear is not simply that it is happening, but that it may already too late for any human action to reverse this calamity, this ticking ecological time bomb set in motion by the sustained human assault on mother nature.  He told me the ice caps at Earth’s poles are melting, and this will make life nearly unbearable in many parts of the world that are at, or below, sea level. Islands in the pacific, as well as American cities like Miami and New Orleans will disappear, low lying sections in Manhattan and Brooklyn will also be under water.

The planet will also experience highly destructive weather events that will make the worst hurricanes we have seen look like relatively mundane events.  And they will occur with far greater frequency.  But that was not the worst of it; he also said that there are vast quantities of methane gas stored under the icecaps sufficient to poison the air and make it unbreathable!  By the time he was through painting a vivid portrait of the horrors looming over the future of our planet, the reason for his pessimism became palpable.

An Inconvient Truth….

Although Trump Denies it…The Ice Caps are Melting!

Alas, I could feel his pain.   For we must live with the horror of knowing that it is a man-made disaster, and that this disaster is the creation of a hand full of arrogant, cold-blooded, know-it-all politicians, scientist and militarist.  This is but a small fraction of humanity, and in a democratic political system they can be stopped if it is the will of the majority.

Our only hope is to come together in a concerted action to stop them.  That’s why I write essays like this and post them on the internet for free; getting the word out is far more important than money. The fate of the earth is at stake.  Never was the political axiom truer: “In a popular democracy the people eventually get the kind of government they deserve!”

As I put the finish touch on this essay it is Easter Sunday morning, and the famous presidential historian David McCullough is being interviewed on CBS Sunday Morning.  He is quoting a past president who said: “Only men who are honest and wise should occupy this office.”  The crux of our problem is that we now have a man in office who is anthesis of wisdom or honesty!

And despite the pro-Trump, rah! Rah! America blather, I am listening to from Joe Scarborough this monday morning – who is supposedly the “thinking man’s conservative” – and an expert from the prestigious journal Foreign Affairs, at present Trump is doing some dumb and dangerous things.  at present he has ordered the nuclear armed US Navy to cruise off the coast of North Korea, whose government has issued a warning that if they believe they are about to be attack they will launch a preemptive strike with all their might…including nuclear weapons.  When this warning is considered in light of an impulsive belligerent Donald Trump’s announcement that his approach to international crisis is to be “unpredictable,” we have the perfect scenario for a catastrophe!

Hence instead of worrying about the “irrational North Korean leader with the funny haircut,” as one American commentator pompously put the problem; I think we should be terrified of the irrational American leader with the funny hairdo!  For so long as The Donald – a vain, ignorant, pugnacious, megalomaniacal charlatan –  remains in the Oval office with the power to remove the US from the international climate control treaty, and launch nuclear weapons, THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA IS THE MOST DANGEROUS NATION ON EARTH!

God Gave Noah the Rainbow Sign….

……No more Water, the Fire Next Time!

 

The USS Vincet leads the Fleet Steamimg Toward Korean Waters
http://www.cnn.com/videos/world/2017/04/11/us-warships-north-korea-uss-carl-vinson-sje-orig.cnn
Playthell G. Benjamin
Harlem, New York
April 17th, 2017

Geezers Going Wild!

Posted in Playthell on politics with tags , on April 12, 2017 by playthell

John McCain and John Lindsay

On the Mad Mutterings of Murderous Old Men

True to his campaign promises, Donald Trump is proving “unpredictable” in foreign relations; especially in the deployment of US armed forces.  The covert movement of troops into the Mid-East region and the sudden attack on Syria, which contradicts other often stated positions by Trump decrying US military intervention in that country and the Middle-East generally, is the essence of unpredictability.

From the outset these actions seemed unconnected to any stated policy or discernable strategy.  Now we have been told by Donnie’s Son Eric that his father decided to bomb Syria after daddy’s girl  Ivanka expressed her outrage at Assad.   The fact that this attack may have been ordered up by a clueless Barbie from the rag trade is shocking!  It leaves no doubt that the attack on Syria was an impulsive action whose consequences were not thought through, and thus it could well turn out to be a fool’s errand.

Nevertheless, Trumps assault on Syria is being enthusiastically applauded on both sides of the aisle. The leading ladies of the Democratic Party – Hillary Clinton and Nancy Pelosi – who normally find The Donald unfit for polite company, were dancing in the alise over Donnie’s demonstration of his manly prowess by going upside Assad’s head with a missile smack down.

Yet none of this hoopla has been more enthusiastic than the ringing endorsement from those two pillars of the Senate Republican establishment: John McCain and Lindsay Graham, both former military officers.  As the Senators from Arizona and South Carolina they represent gun totin constituencies for whom military conflict represents a kind of pornography that beguiles them the way sexual pornography bewitches the sex fiend.  These people seem bored with even the possibility of a protracted peace.

Right after the bombing of a Syrian airfield was made public the two Senators released a public statement clearly stating their support.  It begins with the declaration “We salute the skill and professionalism of the U.S. Armed Forces who carried out tonight’s strikes in Syria. Acting on the orders of their commander-in-chief, they have sent an important message the United States will no longer stand idly by as Assad, aided and abetted by Putin’s Russia, slaughters innocent Syrians with chemical weapons and barrel bombs”

To the careful observer there is much to be alarmed about in this paragraph, especially the passage praising Trump for sending “an important message” that “The United States will no longer stand idly by as Assad, aided and abetted by Putin’s Russia” slaughters the Syrian people. The obvious question is what do they mean by this? Is it all blow and no go; or does this signal a radical change of policy where the US will now take on an active military role in the Syrian Civil War?

While what Trump is thinking on the matter remains a deep mystery, since he has chosen to be unpredictable, the Senators are clear on what direction they think American policy in Syria should take.

“Unlike the previous administration, President Trump confronted a pivotal moment in Syria and took action. For that, he deserves the support of the American people. Building on tonight’s credible first step, we must finally learn the lessons of history and ensure that tactical success leads to strategic progress. That means following through with a new, comprehensive strategy in coordination with our allies and partners to end the conflict in Syria. The first measure in such a strategy must be to take Assad’s air force—which is responsible not just for the latest chemical weapons attack, but countless atrocities against the Syrian people—completely out of the fight.”

Reading this, the thoughtful observer of international relations and the laws that govern them, is forced to wonder by what rights does the US justify such acts of war against a nation that has committed no act of aggression against the US?  From all appearances one gets the impression that this would be a divinely ordained mission in which God has chosen America to set things aright.   This will be the second time a Republican President has decided to attack a Muslim country that has done us no harm, and there is abundant reason to believe that the conflict in Syria could turn out to be worse mess than Iraq, in terms of further inflaming and destabilizing the Middle-East by stimulating the militant jihadist movement.

Hence an expanding American military involvement in Syria could prove a bottomless sinkhole for American blood and treasure.  Yet despite their admonition that we should “learn from the lessons of history,” based on their policy proposals they appear to be ignoring them.  For instance, they propose that the US government “must also bolster support for the vetted Syrian opposition and establish safe zones to address the ongoing humanitarian crisis. As we do, we can and must continue the campaign to achieve ISIS’s lasting defeat.”

While this may sound good, these proposals are not supported by the lessons of US history in the Middle East.  Since John McCain has long advocated arming something called “The Free Syrian Army” – a motley collection of Syrians that oppose the Assad regime, and could well contain as many potential villains as heroes – we can reasonably assume that is what they are alluding to when they say we “must bolster support for the vetted Syrian opposition.”

Yet if there is any lasting lesson history teaches us about intervening in Middle-East conflicts, it is that there is no reliable method of “vetting” forces engaged in these armed conflicts.  And that is because we are interlopers widely despised by militants from all sides. Look at what happened in Afghanistan, where we armed and trained both the Taliban and Al Qaeda in their fight against Russia, only to end up with them using those weapons and training against us.  It was from this very country that the devastating 9/11 attack was organized and launched!

Furthermore, the attack was ordered by a Osama bin Laden, a rich Saudi Arabian civil engineer who was trained in terrorist tactics by the CIA, and carried out by citizens of Saudi Arabi and Egypt, America’s closest “allies” in the Arab world.  And the weapons that ISIS – which was created by the ill-fated and unnecessary American invasion of Iraq – uses to wreak havoc were originally given to “friendly forces” of the Iraqi government.  While these truths should be self-evident to any reasonably intelligent person who has been paying attention, it escapes members of Congress from both parties.

John Delaney, a democratic Congressman from Maryland, is a poignant example of this refusal to learn the lessons that history can teach us.  In an interview on MSNBC on Saturday morning he was asked about the statement by Tulsi Gabbard – a Congresswoman from Hawaii and former combat officer in Afghanistan – warning that expanded American military involvement in Syria could lead to a nuclear confrontation with Russia.  To my shock and dismay, Congressman Delaney argued that establishing American “leadership” in the Syrian quagmire is worth the risk of a military conflict with Russia.

Amaingly, this kind of jingoistic nonsense has been echoed throughout the broadcast press,with FOX “News” being the worst.  Listening to the fawning fiddle faddle of their commentators creaming in their jeans over Donnie’s derring-doo in Syria, I am reminded that the ranks of American journalism are to be found saints and charlatans. However my response is that either this Congressman is a madman obsessed with the dangerous delusion of “American Exceptionalism,” or an ignoramus with no real understanding of the danger a nuclear war with Russia poses to the survival of mankind.  Nothing that could happen in Syria would justify a war with Russia!

Since Delaney is balding, I suspect that he came of age at the apex of the American empire which after the fall of the Russian Communist Party, the dismantling of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pack – a military alliance among communist countries that served as a counter weight to NATO – resembled something akin to a Pax-America, where the US was the sole super power in a unipolar world.  This kind of thinking reflects a 21st century version of what the late Senator William Fulbright aptly called “The Arrogance of Power.”

It is a view of the world largely promulgated by deluded old heads like McCain, Lindsay and Trump: intellectually  pugnacious Geezers gone wild that could get us all killed as we follow their lead into a mass grave.  Which will be a short walk if Trump heeds Lindsay Graham’s advice to set up a no-fly one in Syria and if Russian planes fly into that space we should “shoot them down!”

Alas, giving a clueless, megalomaniacal, pugnacious, impulsive old man like Trump the idea that it is okay for him to attack other countries that have committed no offense against us, and pushing him to become more aggressive against a nuclear superpower like Russia, is the first step down that dangerous road to doomsday.

This is where we are headed….

……If we don’t change course

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Playthell G. Benjamin
Harlem, New York
April 8, 2017

 

 

 

 

 

 

The PA Prisons Gave Mumia Cirrhosis

Posted in On Mumia Abu Jamal with tags , on April 9, 2017 by playthell
Mumia Abu Jamaland Dr.Joseph Harris

 And This is How He Will Survive It

“The degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons.”
Fyodor Dostoevsky

I first saw Mumia Abu-Jamal in July 2015 in the Mahanoy Correctional Facility’s visiting room, in Frackville, Pennsylvania. His defense committee worked to get me placed on the list as a “regular visit,” because he was gravely ill, and the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (DOC) would not allow an outside physician to examine him. I couldn’t take anything with me into the visiting area—no stethoscope, no penlight, no blood-pressure cuff. Nothing.

To prepare for my visit, I studied every Internet image of Mumia that showed the severity of his illness and skin condition. It seemed familiar. Where had I seen this before? Was it the Fonn Hospital in Dakar, Senegal? Was it at the clinic I ran, while volunteering with Doctors without Borders in Junta, Valle de Cauca, Colombia? Then it hit me. It was in Mugonero, a one-goat town, in Rwanda, where I saw a patient covered with extensive hyper-pigmented scales similar to the ones on Mumia’s skin.

His attorney sent me his medical records, and I pored over each and every page of the hundreds of pages. One blood-work test result lit up all the lights in my mental hard drive—the lab report read, hepatitis C antibody: reactive. His exposure most likely happened through a blood transfusion in 1981, after the Philadelphia police shot him. In the 1980s, hepatitis C (hep C) had not been discovered, so there was no real testing for it. The terminology then was “non-A, non-B hepatitis,” and its prognosis was unknown.

Despite the fact that I had seen recent pictures of him ill, over the decades of his incarceration I had become accustomed to seeing the many images that show Mumia as tall, strapping, and strong, with a vibrant life force. As I stood waiting in the visiting room, a drawn, dark, aged man rolled toward me in a wheelchair. He appeared physically and spiritually broken. He was weak and his feet were painfully edematous. Suddenly, I realized that this man was Mumia.

We exchanged greetings and I pushed him in his wheelchair to a relatively quiet section of the room, which was also filled with prisoners and their visitors. When I first saw him he couldn’t stop scratching. I examined the skin lesions, listened to his heart and lungs, by pressing my ear to his chest and back. Since I didn’t have a pencil and paper, I quietly assessed him, taking detailed mental notes that I would transcribe later.

While the conditions in the Mahanoy visiting room were not “Third World,” they were not optimal for examining a patient with extensive skin lesions. The room was crowded with inmates wearing burgundy-and-yellow jumpsuits, with DOC, written in white on the back; and their friends and families. Children ran up and down. There was a din of conversations in English, Spanish, French, Garifuna, Arabic, and Russian. Corrections officers blasted instructions and announcements over the loudspeaker. There were rows of seats, with small tables interspersed throughout, where families played board games or cards, ate, or smooched on the Q-T. Peering around the room that reminded me of a high school auditorium, I was apprehensive. Would I be able to help this man out of his misery? Would my diagnosis be correct?

After my examination and after seeing and feeling the condition of his skin, I patted his face and said, “I got you. You have NAE.” As I explained this affliction to him, he became relieved because he finally knew that he could be cured. NAE or Necrolytic Acrial Erythemia is a skin disorder of hep C, and I was certain that NAE was the cause of Mumia’s skin condition. As I described this disease, I saw an instantaneous improvement in his countenance: His eyes brightened, he became more talkative, excited even.

A huge part of how patients heal from health challenges is frequently, “in the head,” as many doctors and other healthcare professionals will tell you. It was obvious that he felt better, because he finally knew what was going on. As I was leaving, I said to him, “If you don’t have hep C, I’m going to put on my hat and coat and say it’s beyond my clinical capacities and I’ll see you later.    A few months later, Mumia said, “I’ll never forget the tremendous sense of relief that I finally had something that none of the doctors, either in the prison infirmary or at Geisinger Medical Center could provide—a diagnosis.”

In the early part of 2015, Mumia developed severe fatigue, syncopy (loss of consciousness), and was hyperglycemic and nearly comatose. He was admitted to Geisinger, where he was shackled to the bed and placed in the intensive care unit (ICU). The initial diagnoses included new-onset Type 2 diabetes; some infectious process; possible ketoacidosis; and severe psoriasis. Before being admitted to the hospital, for more than a year, he experienced an extensive, intermittent— but worsening—pruritic skin rash, which caused open lesions on many parts of his body including his hands, forearms, and feet.

His skin was scaly. The pruritis was maddening and kept him awake at night, making it nearly impossible for him to carry out his work as a journalist and broadcast commentator. Most of the treatments prescribed for him by the DOC physicians had minimal response: High-potency corticosteroids, cyclosporin, oral prednisone, ultraviolet light therapy, and tar soaps were ineffective. Petroleum-gauze wraps afforded some relief. (The nurses affectionately called him “Mumia the Mummy.”)

The DOC’s prolonged refusal to treat Mumia, for hepatitis C, is medically indefensible, and is one of the clearest cases of malpractice that I have encountered or studied in my entire medical career. In addition, hundreds if not thousands of prisoners with hep C, who developed cirrhosis (severe scarring of the liver), while incarcerated by the DOC can now sue for medical malpractice, and will likely achieve success.

Another delay was caused when one of his “supporters” prevented me from visiting him for three months. The supporter decided that I was not qualified, so my evaluation of Mumia was hindered. This caused a delay in the medical-legal filing process, and, likely, contributed to the ultimate development of cirrhosis. Additionally, three days before the December 2015 hearing in Scranton, Pennsylvania, the supporter suggested I be replaced as an expert witness by a physician who works for Big Pharma: This would have caused even further delays.

Big Pharma is guilty of profit mongering. The cure for hep C is anywhere from $50K to $90K, in the United States, for a ninety-day course of treatment. This, coupled with the DOC medical system’s astonishing stupidity, cruelty, corruption, perjury, and cost-saving measures are directly responsible for the onset of Mumia’s cirrhosis. A private outfit, Corizon, runs the DOC’s healthcare “service.” The privatization of medical care in correctional settings is driven by profit hunger, which causes companies like Corizon to neglect the fundamental tenet of Hippocrates Oath, to “Do no harm.” It is through these behaviors that one arrives at an idea of the “degree of civilization” outside of the prison walls, and inside the corporate boardrooms.

Mumia is lucky. He’ll start treatment this week, but, because he now has cirrhosis, his life expectancy is markedly shortened, and he is at risk for other conditions in the future. However, his strength and revolutionary spirit, along with the love expressed for him by people from all over the world, cannot be underestimated in his ongoing fight for survival, justice, and freedom.

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By: Joseph Harris, MD
Harlem, New York
April 9,2017

 About Dr. Joseph Harris

Joseph Harris, MD is a diplomate, American Board of Internal Medicine, and an American Academy of HIV Medicine (AAHIVM) HIV Specialist. He received his medical education at the State University of New York Downstate Medical Center, and completed his residency in Social Internal Medicine at Montefiore Medical Center. Additionally, he completed one year in General Surgery at Harlem Hospital. He also received training in Tropical Disease at Fon Hospital in Dakar, Senegal, and Cochin in Paris, France. He was a member of Doctors without Borders the year the internationally regarded organization won the Nobel Prize. He is currently at work on a memoir.

 

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!
**************************

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

 

 

On Public Enemy Number One!

Posted in On Donald Trump, Playthell on politics with tags on March 22, 2017 by playthell

A lying, delusional, megalomaniacal buffoon!

 Reality Check: If you Elect a Dick You Gonna get Fucked!

If ever there were prophetic words uttered from the mouth of a politician it is Thomas Jefferson’s observation about the relationship between education and a successful popular democracy.  In the debate around whether the new republic should establish a system of free and compulsory education, most people thought that the ability to “read, write and cipher” would justify such a policy.

However, Thomas Jefferson, a leading figure of the American Enlightenment and arguably the most thoughtful of the Founding Fathers offered this rationale for the promotion of education as a government policy: “A democracy cannot work with an ignorant electorate, because they will elect and return the worst people to power.” He also argued “There never was a people who were ignorant and free.  There never was and their never shall be.”

Jefferson’s love of learning was such that he celebrated the work of the black mathematician and astronomer Benjamin Banneker, although it contradicted his previous speculations about black intelligence, and founded the University of Virginia, one of the world’s great universities.

A reverence for learning was also personified by Benjamin Franklin, who founded the University of Pennsylvania, another world class University from which our mentally handicapped President holds a degree in Real Estate awarded by the business school.  And although he often refers to his degree, he missed out on the best that this great university had to offer.  Since he came to U-Penn as a junior, he did not get the benefit of the university’s excellent humanities courses where he might have gained a more expansive view of human possibility and emerged as something more than an uncultured money grubbing churl.

Alas, by quitting his education at the undergraduate level “The Donald” was also deprived of the splendid education he would have gotten in management and finance had he pursued the MBA, for which the Wharton School of Business and Finance is world famous.   Hence whereas he might have become the kind of enlightened businessman who uses his fortune to promote the general welfare of our society – Andrew Carnegie, Julius Rosenwald, Reginal Lewis, Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, Mark Zuckerberg, et al – we get a vulgar braggart with delusions of grandeur whom almost three thousand shrinks have diagnosed as suffering from “malignant Narcissism” and “paranoia.”

The shrinks, who took the name, “Citizen Therapists Against Trumpism, disregarded a prohibition by the American Psychiatric Association against rendering diagnosis of people they have not personally examined.  Known as the “Goldwater Rule,” this prohibition was instituted in 1964, after 1, 189 psychiatrists rendered their diagnosis of presidential candidate Barry Goldwater, a far right Republican, in Fact Magazine.  Goldwater, who spoke recklessly about the use of nuclear weapons, had written a book titled “The Conscience of a Conservative,” and in a mocking play on words Fact Magazine published a special issue titled “The Unconscious of a Conservative: A Special Issue on the Mind of Barry Goldwater.”  The hundreds of psychiatrists that rendered an opinion on Goldwater were agreed that he was “psychologically unfit to be President.”  Goldwater was defeated by Lyndon Johnson in a landslide.

The howls of invective and protests hurled against psychiatrist by Goldwater supporters prompted the America Psychiatric Association to issue a statement that it was “unethical” to offer a “professional opinion” on the mental health of a person the psychiatrist has not personally examined.  However, the Psychiatrists who have issued an opinion on Trump, feel that their patriotic duty to warn the American public about the dangers of a mentally ill president, greatly out weight the ethical questions raised by the Goldwater Rule. 

Their position is clearly stated in a Public Manifesto. “We cannot remain silent as we witness the rise of an American form of fascism.”  The Psychiatrists go on to clearly state the characteristics of a fascistic personality: Scapegoating …, degrading, ridiculing, and demeaning rivals and critics, fostering a cult of the Strong Man who appeals to fear and anger, promises to solve our problems if we just trust in him, reinvents history and has little concern for truth (and) sees no need for rational persuasion.”

I think they are right on the money, but since I have no qualifications that suits me to comment on the psychology of a fascist, I have written two essays on the political manifestations of the fascistic personality by conducting a comparative analysis of the political style and aspirations of Donald Trump and twentieth century Fascist such as Adolph Hitler and Benito Mussolini.  See: “Is Donald Trump a Uniquely American Fascist?” and “Herr Drumpf and Herr Hitler: Birds of a Feather?’  Both essays are published on this site.

Some doctors were so alarmed by their diagnosis they felt compelled to warn the nation in a public statement that having a mentally impaired person in the Oval office presents a clear and present danger to America and the world – especially when we consider the fact that this deeply flawed person has the codes and “football” that empowers him to launch our doomsday nuclear arsenal that would destroy the world!  In view of this reality the doctors have called upon the vice-president and the cabinet to invoke the 25th Amendment and remove him from office on the grounds that he is unfit to carry out the duties of his office.

Although he has been in office for little over a month it is clear to everyone with a rudimentary education – who is not blinded by ideology, racist delusions or head up the ass syndrome – that the election of Donald J. Trump is an unmitigated disaster!  Yet from all appearances the worst is yet to come.  And it is a sad fact that many of the disastrous policies that Trump will sign into law are actually standard Republican approaches to governing, which they have repeatedly demonstrated cannot work.

However with a knowledgeable president possessed of a humane vision – such as Barack Obama – the most destructive impulses of right wing Republican ideologues can be checkmated.  In Donald J. Trump we have the opposite of Obama, a pugnacious ignoramus who does not appear to have ever contemplated the state of the human condition and how it might be made better.   Indeed, try as I might, I can find no evidence that Trump has ever been committed to any cause that does not involve self-enrichment and boosting his brand.

Upon close examination everything about The Donald that those who voted to elect him is revealed as false, the result of PR hyperbole, which is just a fancy way of saying it’s all bullshit!  In his seminal treatise on the subject “On Bullshit,” Dr. Harry G. Franks, a Professor of philosopher at Princeton, explains the phenomenon:

The realms of advertising and of public relations, and the nowadays closely related realm of politics, are replete with instances of bullshit so unmitigated that they can serve among the most indisputable and classic paradigms of the concept. And in these realms there are exquisitely sophisticated craftsmen who with the help of advanced and demanding techniques of market research, of public opinion polling, of psychological testing, and so forth dedicate themselves tirelessly to getting every word and image they produce exactly right. Yet there is something more to be said about this. However studiously and conscientiously the bullshitter proceeds, it remains true that he is also trying to get away with something.”

It would be difficult indeed to find anybody who has employed the techniques of bullshitting and lying more advantageously than the present occupant of the Oval Office.  While there is an embarrassment of riches to choose from, a virtual treasure trove, a couple of critical examples will suffice.  Donald Trump was largely elected on the basis of his claims as a great businessman and his image as a “blue collar billionaire who cares deeply about the working class and is devoted to advancing their interests.

The great Daily News columnist Jimmy Breslin, who passed on as I write, was a true tribune of the people who declared that his purpose was to “afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted.”  And he had the reputation of being so adept at detecting bullshit that he could see it coming before it left the bull’s ass!  Hence he was a master at unmasking charlatans, deflating the pompous and exposing frauds.  One of his favorite targets was Donald J. Trump, whose antics and narcissistic personality was sharply criticized in Breslin’s columns over the years.  Like Jimmy, The Donald was a Queens guy; although they hailed from different neighborhoods.

Breslin was from the same kind working class Irish neighborhood as Pete Hamill – another working class Irish writer from Brooklyn – who was an excellent observer of life in New York City.  In recounting a recent conversation with Breslin from his retirement home, Hamill tells us: Watching Trump in the White House left Breslin “a bit sour with what’s going on in our country. Mainly because (Trump was) the kind of guy that in my neighborhood in Brooklyn and (Breslin’s) in Queens we despisedThe bullshit tough guy. The guy is all mouth and couldn’t fight his way out of an empty lot.”   Well, there you have it straight from the mouths of two legendary New York Bullshit detectors, who observed Trump up close for decades!

If Trump’s “blue collar billionaire,” hype is classic bullshit the claim that he is a great businessman is a carefully concocted lie!  Trump’s reputation as a businessman rests on his past success as a builder and a brilliant deal maker.  The latter claim is based largely on the bestselling book “The Art of the Deal,” which Trump has repeatedly and shamelessly bragged about writing, declaring the only book more widely read is “the Bible.”  However, we now know that Trump didn’t write the book and his contribution to its contents was minimal.

We learned this when the real author of the book came forward and exposed Trump as a fraud, because he was horrified at the possibility that this shallow megalomaniacal charlatan might actually be elected President of the United States, and feared that he might have played a part in it.  Hence, as is recounted in The New Yorker, when Trump faced a crowd in front of Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue and said “We need a leader that wrote The Art of the Deal” Tony Schwartz, the real author, issued this statement: “Many thanks Donald Trump for suggesting I run for President, based on the fact that I wrote The Art of the Deal.”  According to Schwartz it was he, not trump, that coined the catchy title.

Schwartz felt so strongly that the nation was courting disaster by electing Trump to the presidency that he braved The Donald’s legendary litigious personality and risked a massive lawsuit in order to warn us.  He told us that Trump was a spiritually impoverished intellectual light-weight who did not read and could only concentrate on any subject for about 18 minutes before becoming bored and restless.  He described Trump as the kind of deluded personality who was born of third base but thought he hit a triple.  The person he described was the kind of narcissist who is incapable of truly empathizing with the problems of others, and is contemptuous of the truth unless it served his purpose; an unprincipled man devoid of moral gravitas.

The accuracy of this profile of the American president was verified by those who have dealt with him in business as well as his adversaries in the Republican presidential primary races.  The fact that he has been sued 4,000 times by business associates, and has filed four bankruptcies involving hundreds of millions of dollars, is a powerful statement on the way he does business.  Michel Bloomberg, founder of the Bloomberg LP, one of the most authoritative sources on American business, and is estimated to be worth 40 billion dollars, offered this assessment: “The founder of Bloomberg LP, who is worth an estimated $40 billion, criticized Trump’s business skills, saying, “Trump says he wants to run the nation like he’s running his business? God help us… Truth be told, the richest thing about Donald Trump is his hypocrisy.”

Mitt Romney, who runs an equity company whose business is evaluating the competence of corporate management, says of Trump: “A business genius he is not!”  This was echoed by Warren Buffett, the world’s most successful investor. In 1995 when Trump listed his Trump hotels and casino resorts on the New York Stock Exchange,” says Buffett, “he said the company lost money every year for the next decade. A monkey would have outperformed Trump’s company…if a monkey had thrown a dart at the stock page, the monkey on average would have made 150 percent.”

Paul Singer, the billionaire founder of the hedge fund Elliott Management Corp., said of Trump’s economic nationalist rhetoric during the 2016 Aspen Ideas Festival in Colorado: “I think if he actually stuck to those policies and gets elected president, it’s close to a guarantee of a global depression,” Alas, it appears that most people who think Donald Trump is a great businessman are the people least able to evaluate his abilities: Such as the poor working class white dupes that naively voted for him en masse.

And after competing with him on the campaign trail, where his debasement of political discourse sank to levels never witnessed before in 20th century presidential politics, the common theme in the descriptions of his adversaries was that Trump is a man with “no moral center,” or “core beliefs.”  A con-man who will say or do anything to win.  He was viewed as such an odious character by some long-standing members of the Republican establishment that they developed a “Never Trump” movement and some even openly endorsed Hillary, actively recruiting other Republicans to vote for her against their party’s candidate.

Now that Trump is in the Oval office we see that everything they said about him during the campaign is true.  He is a petulant, pugnacious, ignoramus who tells outrageous lies without conscience and apparently without forethought either, given how easily they are disproven.  It is symptomatic of his Narcissism and delusion that he thinks he can get away with it.  In any case, despite the lies and smokescreens, each day it becomes more obvious that Trump is not qualified for the job of governing a complex and diverse nation.

He has appointed a Director of the Environmental Protection Agency – a critically important job for the preservation of our planet since the US is a top polluter – who does not accept the basic scientific consensus on global warming and announced that Carbon emissions into the atmosphere has NOTHING to do with it!  Yet global warming is the second most dangerous threat to human existence next to nuclear war.  And his Secretary of Energy didn’t even know that the Department of Energy has the responsibility of managing our nuclear weapons arsenal!

He has appointed a Secretary of Health and Human Services who is a shill for the health care industry and engaged in corrupt insider trading as a member of Congress.  In fact, it is now being alleged that Trump’s decision to fire the Federal Attorney for the Southern District of New York, after having previously asked him to stay on, was prompted by that Attorney’s decision to investigate Secretary Price’s investment history.  If the probe had been further on Trump’s action could have been construed as “Obstruction of Justice,” a serious crime that brought Dick Nixon down.

His choice for Secretary of Education has no experience with public education except to try and destroy it. He has chosen a Secretary of State who has no experience in government or foreign affairs except as the CEO of a multi-national oil corporation with a 500 billion-dollar deal pending in Russia, that is presently blocked by the sanctions imposed by President Obama as a penalty for Russian intervention in our Presidential election.  His choice for Secretary of Housing and Urban Development – a critical agency that is responsible for managing housing for millions of city dwellers, is a surgeon with no experience in government, housing policy or managing a giant bureaucracy.  In other words, most of his appointments are unqualified amateurs just like him!

Aside from these horrendous appointments, Donald Trump has openly called for the US to commit war crimes such as seizing the natural resources of other nations by force of arms; torturing people suspected of engaging in terrorist acts or belonging to organizations that engage in terrorism, and murdering the families of terrorists.  He has clearly chosen belligerence over diplomacy as the main instrument of American foreign relations, returning the power to kill people with drones to CIA field officers.

President Obama had restricted the power to make “kills” by the CIA due to the number of civilian casualties.  Alas, saving the lives of innocent Arabs is of no concern to a racist President determined to use every bit of American military power, civilians be damned!   Trump’s priorities are reflected in his allocation of monies: proposing an additional 54 billion dollars to an already obscenely bloated and wasteful military budget, while cutting 37% of the State Department’s budget.  This means there will be an expansion of military power and a decrease in diplomacy and other “soft power” initiatives.   Already Trump has introduced American troops into Syria, a transparent fool’s errand that we shall surely come to regret, and now he is facing an unfolding crisis on the Korean peninsula that could result in catastrophe.

Spoiling for a fight abroad and launching an assault on the public interest at home, Trump is threating to sign a bill that takes away the health care of up to 24 million people according to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office.   And they are attempting to justify this atrocity by obscuring the truth about funding cuts behind a veil of lies.  They have proposed a bill, the America Healthcare Act, which contains one of the biggest tax giveaways to the rich in American history – hundreds of billions of dollars – while literally putting the poor and the elderly at risk of literally dying in the streets.

And they are attempting to justifying this crime against humanity by reciting bogus talking points about Obamacare being in eminent danger of collapse and thus they are actually engaging in “an act of mercy,” in the words of Lyin Paul Ryan, Republican speaker of the House.  Yet the American Actuarial Society, who are the foremost experts on this issue, says it ain’t so!  It is hard to imagine a worse image for the Republicans than billionaires taking away the health care of the poor while the get hundreds of billions in tax giveaways!   But, arrogant and full of themselves, they are marching happily down that road.  Let’s see if all the po whites who put Trump in office will make the GOP – Grand Obstructionist Party – pay at the polls come election day.

The Republican assault on the public interests knows no bounds.  They are enacting policies that could result in polluting our water supplies; just like in Flint Michigan, where a Republican businessman with no experience in government was elected governor and enacted policies that led to the poisoning the water with lead.  It was such a callous act that the people directly responsible for implementing the policy are being charged with felonies.

The GOP’s approach to supporting important cultural institutions face the same level of destruction if they carry through with plans to defund the National Endowment for the Arts, and slash the budget for the Public Broadcasting System.  These are national treasures that enrich the cultural and spiritual life of the nation, something a shallow philistine like Trump does not began to understand. We hear Trump’s Director of OBM –Office of Management and Budget – offer up absurd arguments to justify these backward policies like, “We can’t continue to ask single mothers and coal miners in West Virginia to continue to pay for Public Broadcasting.”

The tragic irony of this is that these are the people who need PBS the most, because this is the only shot that their children have to come in contact with high culture. These parents can’t take their children out to the Ballet, or Opera, or a concert by the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, or see great plays or art movies, etc.  And the tax burden on them is less than $2.00 a year!  It is the best deal they will ever get in this life.  The fact that Trump does not understand or care about this issue is a reflection of the fact that he is a vulgar materialist, an uncultured philistine who is indifferent to art and culture.  There is not a single cultural institution that he has endowed in his home town, the cultural capital of the world.

He is betraying all of the urban working class and poor rural whites that voted for him at every turn.  It is not enough that he is taking away their medical care and a valuable cultural resource, he is adopting polices that will diminish resources to the public schools upon which they depend for the education of their children, but he is even taking away “Meals on Wheels,” a program that feeds the elderly poor upon which 500,000 military veterans depend!

Asid from his cold-blooded betrayal of his working class base, Trump’s assault on the basic institutions of American democracy reveals the mind-set of a dictator.  He has blatantly attacked the independence of the Judiciary, and he has launched a sustained assault against the free press, constantly denouncing working reporters with scurrilous attacks at public gatherings and on Twitter.   He is obnoxious martinet who cannot distinguish between the dictatorial of a corporate CEO and the limited powers of the presidency.  This an obvious consequence of the fact that he has no experience in public service.

Thomas Jefferson said if he had a choice between a government and no free press, or a free press and no government, “I’ll take the free newspapers and no government!”  Trump says the fee press “is the enemy of the American people!”  Yet in all these atrocities and more, Donald J. Trump is daily demonstrating that he is the most dangerous threat to the public interest.  And that makes him Public Enemy Number One!!!

 **********************

 Click to see a Compilation of Trump’s Lies and Contradictions!

https://youtu.be/5wrEQhuzRDE

 

Here’s Johnny! An American Master

Posted in Cultural Matters, Film Criticism, On Sports! with tags , , , on March 12, 2017 by playthell
playthell-and-johnny-chocranPlaythell and Johnny hangin out at Katie Couric’s Party, in Manhattan

Notes on O.J. Made in America

Suddenly O. J. Simpson is in the news again, and from all appearances the “Trial of the Twentieth Century” is creeping into the 21st century. The “Juice” is being introduced to another generation in this new century by virtue of two films, one a documentary the other a feature film:  O.J. Simpson: Made in America, and The People Vs. O. J. Simpson.   I have not seen The People vs O.J. Simpson, but I am watching O.J. Made in America as I write.  When the documentary, directed by award winning film maker Ezra Benjamin Edelman, won the coveted Academy Award, I was shocked!

I had already seen Raoul Peck’s marvelous documentary on James Baldwin: “I’m Not Your Negro,” and I knew any movie that beat Peck’s documentary had to be great.  For Peck had provided us a poignant portrait of the turbulent history of race relations in 20th century America, told in the words of James Baldwin – one of the most powerful essayist of the last century, whose pen greatly enriched the English language – graphically illustrated with photographs and video. It was a powerful presentation: riveting, enlightening, uplifting, a sublime experience.  But the Academy chose the O. J. Documentary instead.  I couldn’t wait to see it.

As it turns out O.J. Made in America is a production of ESPN, the sports channel, it’s a part of their excellent 30 for 30 series, and the multi-part series is still being broadcast.  I stumbled upon the film when I awoke about five o-clock in the morning, after having fallen asleep with the television on, and found the documentary just beginning.  After watching about four hours of this seven-hour epic on race, class, sports and the power of American celebrity culture – which made a demi-god of O.J. and put Donald Trump in the White House – I agree with the Academy.   This is a great documentary!   I was unable to leave it except to run to the bathroom.

When I first heard about the film my reaction was: “What else is there to know about O.J. Simpson?  After all, the cat really ain’t that deep.”  I was wrong.  A great part of the insightfulness of this documentary is due to the unique perspective Edelman brings to this project. As the son of Marian Wright Edelman, the long-time Director of the Children Defense Fund, the inequities faced by many children at birth has long been a topic of conversation in his household.

His sense of justice is enhanced by the fact that his father Peter B. Edelman is a law professor at Georgetown University.  And by virtue of the fact that his mother is Afro-American and his father is a Jew, Ezra has seen the world from both sides. His maternal grandfather is a Baptist minister and his paternal grandfather was a Polish Rabbi who was killed in the holocaust.  He attended a Quaker high school and earned a degree from Yale.  He was born in Boston and raised in Washington DC. What a unique perspective from which to view American society.

Ezra Benjamin Edelman

ezra-benjamin-edelman

Academy Award winning Director

I welcome the arrival of this film with such an even-handed report because I have always advocated looking at the O.J. Simpson affair objectively; give him his day in court and try to live with the verdict.  During his dramatic trial for killing his blond wife and her young Jewish lover, I was not one of those black people who was running around chanting “Cut the Juice Loose!”  At the time of the trial I was an Editorial Page columnist with the New York Daily News, and I wrote three columns on the incident.  I remember well how I came to write them.

At first, like everybody else, I was shocked at the accusation that old smiley O.J. brutally slaughtered two innocent people; not this hail fellow well met.   And while I believed he should be assumed innocent, I didn’t insist upon it as an act of blind faith.  As the details of their relationship began to emerge, I found his brutality toward his wife Nicole both shocking and appalling.  Yet I was troubled by the swelling cries for O.J. Simpson’s head.  They reminded me too much of the southern lynch mobs that terrified me in my youth.

Although I had never personally witnessed a lynching, I read about them and saw grim pictures of the victims, and I was living in a southern town where you knew that such an atrocity could happen given the right circumstances – that there was an element of white men in the town, including the sheriff, who were quite capable of forming a lynch mob. So, I was turned off by the howl of the white mob.  In fact, my second Daily News Column on the O.J. affair addressed just this issue.  Not being a lawyer, I had no original legal insights to offer, so I concentrated on the issues that surrounded the trial.

Hence the first Column was an attempt to place the story of O. J. and Nicole in a historical and cultural context.  I talked about how a story about a hyper-masculine black man who marries and murders a beautiful innocent white woman would resonate deep in the collective psyche of Americans.  For anyone who studied English literature, as we all had, and is familiar with the classics of the western literary canon, Othello immediately comes to mind.  Although, to fully grasp O.J.’s personality, it would require referencing two of Shakespeare’s plays – Othello and Titus Andronicus.

While O.J. can be seen as Othello, because he is accused of murdering his white wife in a fit of jealous rage fueled by his suspicion that she had taken another lover, Othello is constantly referred to even by his enemies as “noble Othello,” or “The noble Moor.” But, alas, O.J.’s character has more in common with the treacherous Aron the Moor in Titus Andronicus.  A few years before O.J. was accused of killing his wife I had published a lengthy treatise titled “Did Shakespeare Intend Othello to be Black: Reflections on Blacks and the Bard,” that was anthologized in the text “Othello: New Essays by Black Writers,” edited by the distinguished Shakespearean scholar Dr. Maithili Kaul and published by Howard University Press.

On that occasion, I had argued that in the dramatis Personae of Shakespeare’s two Moors he invested the polarities of virtue and vice, hero and villain.  O.J. embodies aspects of both characters, and like them he is a warrior; not in the literal sense but symbolically.  Othello and Aron were both fighting men, soldiers; O.J. is a football player, a blood sport that is a metaphor for war.  And all of these images of violent black manhood, these cultural references, are embedded, along with recollections of Emitt Til and Willie Horton, in the racial memory of black and white Americans.

Alas, the most persistent theme in American history is racial conflict between African and European Americans.  This is why such intense interest in the Nicole Brown / O.J. Simpson murder case persists; it is powerful testimony to the truth of Nobel Laurate in Literature William Faulkner’s observation “The past isn’t even past.”

Hence when Johnny Cochran took on the defense of O.J. Simpson, he inherited all of the thorny issues surounding the history of race relations in American; including the instinct for mob Justice to exact retribution for what whites view as black offenses against their kith and kin.  This issue becomes as explosive as nitro-glycerin if the victim is a white woman, and it becomes even more explosive to the degree that she is blond, beautiful, and apparently innocent.  In the minds of many white men it is a blasphemy akin to befouling he precincts of heaven; hence many of them felt O.J. did not even deserve a trial at all.  They wanted to string him up from the nearest tree mucho pronto….if they had their druthers.

One of the most valuable achievements of this remarkable documentary film is the skillful ways in which the director weaves vignettes about the broader experience of Afro-Americans with racism  in the USA and how it affects the perceptions of Blacks and whites in the way they view the Simpson trial.  From the outset blacks viewed O.J.’s guilt with skepticism, and whites dismissed the assumption of innocence. Of course, it goes without saying that I am not talking about all whites or blacks; rather I am speaking in the aggregate based on opinion polls.  Hence Johnny Cochran was viewed with growing suspicion by whites, while blacks rooted for his success in defending O.J.

After the racist statements of Detective Mark Furman, who had found the bloody glove which the prosecution said was worn by O.J. while committing the crime, was exposed on an audio tape in the courtroom, the prosecution lost faith with most black Americans – including the Jury.  After listening to Detective Furman routinely calling Afro-Americans “niggers;” casually discussing how white cops brutalized and framed innocent black men; and declaring that he would like to see “all niggers killed,” the Black community became convinced that the fix was in and O.J. had been framed by the LAPD based on the lies of a racist white detective.

 A Dramatic Moment Tailor Made for A Professional Actor
o-j-simpson-iii
If it Don’t Fit…You Must Acquit!

johnny-cochran-iii

The Coup de Grace!

When this compelling evidence Furman’s racism was added to a major blunder by the prosecution, who ordered O.J. to try on the bloody glove and it didn’t fit, it gave Johnny Cochran the opening to charge the jury with the compelling rhyme: “If it doesn’t fit you must acquit!” The film examines this moment in a way that allows us to observe O.J., the experienced screen actor, at work. He recognized the high drama of the moment and made the most of it; turning to the camera and triumphantly thrusting his hands into the air to emphasize the fact that the glove didn’t fit!

His transparent effort to brazenly play to the cheap seats and milk the scene for all it would yield, conjured up the warning of that consummate thespian Sir Lawrence Olivier, who warned aspiring actors: “Acting is a noble profession but the actor must never be caught doing it!”   In the film, other members of the prosecution team all say they were against the disastrous courtroom demonstration because it went against a cardinal rule of good lawyering: “Don’t ask questions before a jury when you are not sure of the correct answer.”

But, alas, they say Darden saw this demonstration as an opportunity to kill two quails with one stone: to put O.J. away for murder, and salvage his reputation from the accusation that he was an “Uncle Tom,” who was being used by the white power structure to frame an innocent black star. Hence upon the insistence of Chris Darden, the only black attorney on the prosecution team, the other prosecutors went against their better judgement and allowed O.J. to try on the glove…and it sank their case!

However the thing that enraged white Americans most, was when Johnny Cochran dramatically compared Detective Mark Furman’s beliefs about black people to Adolph Hitler’s beliefs about Jews.  This was one of the most telling moments in the film, because it demonstrates the willful ignorance and denial of the obvious similarities of Hitler’s Master Race theories and the racist white supremacist ideology of white America.  Alas, the film maker missed a perfect opportunity to clarify this widespread misunderstanding.

The fact of the matter is that Hitler actually imported his racist ideology from the USA.  Never has the Afro-American historian Dr. Benjamin Quarles’ axiom rang truer: “He who would understand the complex realities of the present needs the added dimension of historical perspective.”  For it is well documented that Hitler adopted his Master race theories from a book by a leader in the American Eugenicist Movement: The Passing of the Great Race, by Madison Grant, published in 1917.  We know this because historians have found a letter from Hitler in Grant’s personal papers where the Nazi leader thanks Grant for writing the tome and enthusiatically declares: “Your book is my Bible!” Hence despite the opprobrium heaped upon him Johnny Cochran was right on target.  Nazi racial ideology and American white supremacy are the same class of phenomenon and it, like O.J. was made in the good old USA!

Despite this oversight however, the documentary does a good job of connecting the dots when it comes to white racism, Afro-Americans and the O.J. Simpson case.  And their inclusion of the brilliant litigator F. Lee Bailey’s cross examination of Mark Thurman on the stand, exposing him as a flaming racist sicko, is one of the outstanding episodes in the film.

They also spared no effort in exploring Johnny Cochran’s brilliance as a trial lawyer; his elegance and eloquence were fully on display. (see video clips of both lawyers in the courtroom at the bottom of this essay) As was the feelings of the jurors, the jubilation of the black community nationwide over O.J.’s acquittal, and the rage of white America that O.J. got away with “a double murder.”   The importance and power of this trial can still be seen in the intense emotions it evokes after all these years.

The Master at Work

johnny-cochran

Mesmerizing the Jurors with Erudition and the Magic Power of Speech

The shock, rage and outrage of white America upon the acquital of O.J.Simpson by a black Jury in Los Angeles is poignantly portrayed in this film.  It was as if the heat of white anger was fed by two blazing fires: O.J. got away with murdering some white folks, and the “niggers were laughing!”  It seemed that everywhere you looked black people were laughing; to white eyes it must have looked like every black person in the world was laughing!

Based on their comments, it sure sounded like that’s what they thought and it just seemed to piss them off more. I remember network television news reports showing students at the Howard University School of Law, and they were cheering like Howard had just won the annual “Whiskey Bowl” against their hated rival Lincoln University. What happened at Howard was of special interests to white commentators because of it’s venerable reputation as “The Capstone of Negro Higher Education.”

Under the leadership of it’s founding Dean, the brilliant and elegant Harvard trained lawyer Charles Hamilton Houston, Howard law laid the legal ground work for a team of Houston’s students led by gifted constitutional lawyer Thurgood Marshall – who would go on to become the first Black Justice on the Supreme Court – changed American society into a better place with their unanimous victory in the historic Brown V. The Board of Ed Decision.  

The white folks got so upset after repeated viewings of the jubilatiion at Howard that I felt compelled to write my third Daily News column on the history of white anxiety over black laughter in America.  My intention was to tutor my readers – and those who would hear me read and discuss the column on my radio show “Talk Back,” broadcast over WBAI FM – on the fact that white people have always gotten uptight when the see  black people laughing.

This has been discussed by white commentators going back to the 18th century, who pointed out that the source of white unease lay in the fact that they couldn’t see what was funny, and suspected that we might be laughing at them.  There are numerous references to this in the writings of white Americans from literary figures and journalists to private diaries.  Afro-American cultural critic Mel Watkins discusses this question in some depth in his seminal text on Afro-american comedy “On the Real Side: The Underground Tradition of Black Humor.”

At one point white anxiety over black laughter became so intense that “Laughing Barrels” were installed on the down town streets so if blacks felt like laughing in the presence of whites they had to rush to the barrels, stick their heads into them, and then laugh! None of this was mentioned in the film, but then this was my unique contribution to news commentary…I had been a history professor before I became a journalist.  Everything becomes clearer when viewed from the hindsight of history.

Among the special virtues of this film, which suffers an embarrassment of riches regarding virtue, is that it goes on to give us a good summation of O.J.’s life after the trial.  He tries desperately to regain the love of a white public that once adored the ground he walked on, but millions of his former fans were through with him for good.  And all the money he was making as the top pitchman in America evaporated.  For whether he killed his wife or not, the 911 tapes from Nicole left no doubt that he certainly battered and abused her; he would have been jailed for treating a dog that way.

One of the most shameful and embarrassing episodes in this richly sourced documentary is the hero’s embrace that O.J. received from the black community.  He did not deserve it!  O.J. Simpson had been running from any involvement with the black community as hard as he ran from defenders on the fotball field ever since he was in college, which is made clear in the film.  However, I became aware of this right after O.J. won the much coveted Heisman Trophy, which is annually awarde to “the best player in college football.”

I attended his party celebrating the event at USC, as the guest of my good friend Bobby Barnes, a baseball great and the father of Barry Bonds – who should be in the Hall of Fame – and I  noticed that O.J’s friends were virtually all white.  They shamelessly genuflected before him like a bronze God!  The white girls flocked around him like bees to honey, and he possessed the sort of arrogance that made him think any woman in the room was his for the asking.

I noticed this when he attempted to flirt with the lady I was with, a stunning beauty with a Ph.d in mathemetics.  However it was comical because she got off on brains not brawn, and had become mesmerized by a lecture I gave at UCLA on the dynamics of mass transformative movements as a class of phemomena by conducting a comparative analysis of the Black Liberation movement in the US, the American Feminist movement and the Chinese Revolution…which had inspired a standing ovation from the audience.  And since the country was aflame with mass protests this was a very hot topic  of broad interests….plus I was quite a physical specimen myself – a former highschool football player  six feet tall, a solid 215 pounds – and a silver tongued ladies man.  O.J. was a barely articulate square with no game off the football field, who got by on his looks and celebrity status.  I was amused at his futile attempts to impressed Dr. Fine.

Dr. Fine Braiding my Hair

The Juice bombed with this Brainiac

Shortly after the party, a friend of mine with the United Negro College Fund approached him about doing a public service spot soliciting money for Black colleges.  O.J. refused the request and frankly told her that he did not wish to be identified with anything racial.   My impression of him from that day forward was that he is what the old folks in Florida, when I was a boy, called: “A White Folks Nigger!”   Hence while this superb and candid film offered many new insights, it did nothing to change my initial impression….in fact the revelations of this in-depth documentary confirmed it.

 

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The Moment O.J. Tries on the Glove
https://youtu.be/16KaoVmVTPE
 F. Lee Bailey’s Exposes Furman’s Racism on the Stand
https://youtu.be/UyuqBOBM12s
 The Great Johnny Cochran in his Closing Argument
https://youtu.be/sBobchfpiVM

Playthel Benjamin Interviewed by NBC on O.J

In the Studio of WBAI FM, New York  circa 1994
Playthell G. Benjamin
Harlem, New York
March 5, 2017