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

 

A Sports Reporter’s Homage to Obama

Posted in Cultural Matters, On Sports! with tags , , , on March 3, 2017 by playthell
samori-interviews-raptorsSamori Benjamin interviewing Toronto Raptors shooting guard deMar DeRozan

Black NBA Stars Bid Obama Goodbye

Wise men may justifiably question if we have the right to feel pride in our ancestors; for what, after all, did we have to do with their achievements that would justify our gloating.  Hence one could argue that we are trying to “hitch a ride on their cool.”  But there is no question that we can justly take pride in our progeny; especially if one has been a present and active parent.  Whenever one is skillful enough to command the trust of your children, and well equipped to pass on wisdom, then none can deny that such a parent can claim some pride in their worth-while achievements.

My son Samori is a sports reporter, and like his cousin Jimmy Strawder, a distinguished architect, Samori has known what he wanted to do since he was a boy.  At first, like all boys who enthusiastically participate in organized sports, he aspired to become a professional athlete, a major-league baseball player. While he enjoys all sports I think his choice of baseball was determined by several specific things that I can see.

First, he grew up in Manhattan, which means that unlike the small Florida town that I grew up in there were not a lot of vacant fields where kids could play games like football – which was my sport of choice.  And in retrospect I can see that my choice of football was virtually inevitable growing up in Florida, where football is a civic religion, and a rite of passage into manhood – a demonstration of manly valor as well as a courtship ritual. But for Samori it was going to be baseball or basketball.

And since he could view the magnificent spectacle of Yankee Stadium, all lit up on summer nights, out of his living room windows, close enough to hear the cheers, he became curious as to what sort of wondrous magic was taking place in the giant arena that looked a lot like a space ship about to take off. Samori’s fate was sealed when he met the future Hall of Famer Dave Winfield on a trip to Yankee Stadium when he was five years old in an event sponsored by the Dave Winfield Foundation. 

Dave came out to greet the kids and gave them all baseball gloves, and thus began Samori’s love affair with baseball – which he played through Little League and High School- where he began to split his time with the art of Saber fencing.  After spending several years away at college he returned to the City and began to cover the Yankees as the Sports Reporter and Editor at WBAI FM radio in New York City.  He also wrote sports stories for The Black World Today.com and other outlets.  Now his writings and broadcast archives regularly appear on the website wbaisports.com.  Samori is also finishing a book on the disappearing Afro-American Major League baseball player based on extensive interviews of players and managers.

Hence as a sports reporter Samori’s work is sensitive to how developments in sport reflects what is happening in the wider society.  This feature, NBA Players Say Goodbye to President Obama, is a poignant example of the social consciousness that characterizes Samori’s work.  In this report he has systematically collected the heartfelt feelings of black professional basketball stars, and edited them into a seamless epic commentary that captures an important episode in American history, preserving the heartfelt testimony of rich, famous, young black men who are legends in their own time.

This is a moving tribute to President Obama and a historical document that, like the finest of wines….will continue to grow better and more valuable with time!

The Players Loved the fact that ‘Chilly B” is a Baller!

baracks-got-hops

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Kyle Lowry, Point Guard, Toronto Raptors

samori-and-nba-player

Toronto Raptors General Manager Masai Ujiri.
samori-and-raptors-general-manager He Spoke as a Friend of Obama and Painted a Moving Portrait 
 Click on link to hear their Tribute

 

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Introduction By: Playthell G. Benjamin
Writer, Producer and Host of the NBA Tribute
Playthell “Samori” Benjamin
March 2, 2017

 

 

 

 

 

How Rap Records First Got Made and Played

Posted in Cultural Matters, Music Reviews, Vingnettes From a Remarkable Life with tags , , , , , , , , on February 28, 2017 by playthell
sylvia-robinson
Sylvia Robinson: Godmother of Hip Hop
 On Political Players, Black Revolutionaries, and the Business of Music

The beautiful, shrewd businesswoman and former recording artist Sylvia Robinson is often referred to as “The Godmother” of Hip Hop.  True enough, but that was made possible because her husband Joe Robinson had been a big-time gangster before settling down as a music mogul! Although soft spoken with a bright smile, and always stylishly dressed with excellent taste, Joe was the kind of fearless tough guy who gave the impression that he would spit in a cracker sheriff’s face in Mississippi and tell him: “Kiss my rich black ass you cracker mother!” While he was in handcuffs and surrounded by a possee.

Joe was good friends with a close friend of mine, Clarence “Mooke” Jackson, who owned the premier black gangster hangout spot in New York during the 1970’s, “MISS LACY’S,” which was right next door to Carnegie Hall! These were for real gangsters: not play play hip hop gangsters. For them being a gangster was not a life style but a business!

Joe and Mookie were gentlemen gangsters, elegant of style and manners who wished a different and better life for the kids –  like the kind described by Drs. St. Claire Drake and Horace Cayton in their classic two volume sociological treatise on Chicago “Black Metropolis” – especially the chapter titled “The Upper Shadies,” in which they describe black gangsters who sent their kids to Europe for study.

In his historical masterpiece, When Harlem Was In Vogue,  David Leverling Lewis introduced us to an earlier example of the old school Black Gentleman Gangster, Casper Holstien.  Lewis, a Professor of History at Ruters University and a two times winner of the coveted Pulitzer Prize for History, paints a poignant portrait of Holstein – a west Indian immigrant who served as the model for the character Dr. Narssice, in the HBO series “Boardwalk Empire. ”  

Casper Holstien Circa 1928

casper-holstein

Policy King, Philanthropist, Patron of Harlem Renissance Artists

Professor Lewis recounts the fact that Holstien put up the money for the prizes in the high brow Urban League’s annual Harlem literary  competitions; held under the direction of the highly educated urbane scholar Dr. Charles Johnson, who published the winners in  Opportunity – a nationally distributed magazine he edited – published by the Urban League.

Gus Greenlee of Pittsburg, was another of this fraternity.  An elegant dresser and shrewd businessman, Greenlee was one of the most powerful team owners  in the Negro Baseball League.  He led the ressurrection of the National Negro League in 1933, and his team, the Homestead Greys, was one of the strongest franchises in the league.

Greenlee was a “Policy King;” which means that he ran a successful lottery in the black community based on illegal betting called playing the numbers or “Policy”  – the same business that Joe and Casper Holstien had made their fortunes in.  Greenlee was a prominent and much admired figure in the black community, and commanded respect from everyone, he had spent a few years in college and was a well spoken Gentlemen.  The two black managers of Heavy-Weight Champion, who was at one point the biggest star in the world, were also Policy Kings from Detroit and Chicago.

The classic American memoir “Really The Blues” by the Chi Town Jewish gangster and Al Capone strong arm man Milton “Mezz” Mezzrow, who became a jazz musician while serving time with black musicians in Illinois’ Joliet prison and got good enough on the clarinet to play with the great Louis Armstrong,we again encounter these black gentlemen gangsters. In Really the Blues Mezz compares the black gangsters he knew, especially in Harlem, with the top white gangsters he associated with – and he knew them all.  Mezz describes the black gangsters as being far superior in intellect and style to the whites. He said that in a racially just society they would have been lawyers, doctors and Captains of industry!

Mezz could have been describing Mookie and Joe. Although I only met Sylvia in passing, always looking stunning, I knew Joe fairly well.  I met him just as he  was completing work on the building that would house the record company. Mookie told me how Joe took a numbers district from the Mafia! The word on the street was that’s how he got the money to start the record company.

Mookie was the founder of the Fair Play Committee, a group of mostly black gangsters who were inspired by the Black Power Movement and RAM.  In fact, it was movement activist like the chemist and SNCC organizer George Ware, who also be a key figure in organizing the Black Music Association in the 1970’s, that advised Mookie on how to organize the FPC.

That’s how I met Mookie, as a result of movement activity.  After some of the leaders of the Revolutionary Action Movement began reading the writings of Dr. Franz Fanon, the French West Indian Psychaitrist who became the central theoritician of the great Algerian Revolution, and then saw the movie “The Battle of Algiers,” where the revolutionaries in the Algerian FLN recruited the Casbar gangsters into the movement, black ghetto gangsters all began to look like potential Malcolm X’s to us.

Thus, we made an effort to convert and recruit gangsters into the movement. We used to call Mookie and his associates “Political Players” because they wanted to do things that would advance eonomic development in the Black Community.  Hence they could relate to our Black Power message and was influenced by it.  We thought of them as “Economic Nationalist.”   Mookie also knew Malcolm X well when he was in the streets, first in Detroit and later in Harlem; he used to say with a chuckle: “It’s a damn good thing he became a political leader cause Malcolm couldn’t hustle his way across the George Washington Bridge!”

When the revolutionary activist H. “Rap” Brown – who along with Stokely Carmichael aka “Kwame Touré, founded the original Black Panther Party in Loundes County Alabama, the Oakland Black Panthers were an offshoot that came along later – and coined the “Black Power” slogan – was running from the FBI as a fugitive on their Top Ten Most Wanted List, remaining at large for years:  It was Mookie and his associates that hid him from the G-Men! Although he had virtually no formal education, coming from racist apartheid Alabama and growing up dirt poor: Mookie was one of the smartest people I ever met! And I have lectured at Harvard and the Sorbonne in Paris!

Stokely Carmichael and H. “Rap” Brown

stokeley-carmichael-h-rap-brown-meet-press1

The True Founders of the Black Panther Party

Mookie and I became dear friends until he died a natural death at 85!  If you read my fictional story “Lush Life” in the seminal anthology “Brotherman,” which includes 66 black male writers – everybody who was anybody –  compiled and edited by Dr. Harris, Senior Editor of the Black Scholar, and the prolific writer and venerable Public intellectual Herb Boyd, who also knew Mookie from Detroit – the black gangsters sitting around the table planning how to break into the record business are based on Mookie and his associates. The character “Boogie Woogie” is based on Mookie and “Beautiful Cody Jones” is based on Joe Robinson.

 Joe and Sylvia Robinson

joe-and-sylvaia-robinson

They Put Rap on Records

Me and Mookie were thick as thieves.  I taught Mookie’s son Michael, and his main enforcer “Tabby” – a former member of the US Marine Corps and a world class boxer who was an inter-service Champion and the most feared “gorilla” in the Apple  – to ride horses!  I was there on the scene, that’s how I know Fair Play were the ones who got independent black music labels like All Platinum Records,  the original company founded by Joe and Sylvia in 1968, played on the air. They also were responsible for getting Bob Law, the great nationally broadcast talk show host, on the radio.

Back in the Day

playthell-horse-2

Tabby’s facination with horses aparked a friendship between us

Joe Robinson and his beautiful brilliant wife Sylvia – who had a big hit when I was in high school during the 1950’s titled “Love is Strange” with a male partner under the stage name “Mickey and Sylvia” – would record the first Rap record ever – “Rappers Delight.” The artists were a local group in Inglewood New Jersey called “The Sugar Hill Gang.”

Joe and Sylvia first heard rap music on a visit to Harlem World as Mookie’s guest, as he was a part owner of the club, which “Puffy” talks about as one of the incubators of Rap.  On the night of Joe and Sylvia’s visit DJ Hollywood and Curtis Blow were controlling the mikes.  They immediately recognized the commercial value of this new black vernacular art form and began taking steps to record it.

I had failed to recognize the commercial value of Rap Music on an earlier visit to the club after Logan Westbrooks, Director of Special Markets for the CBS Records Group, had hooked me up with CBS staff producer Hank Crosby, who had been recruited from the Mo-Town stable.  I was trying to interest him in a demo recorded by Jade, the touring Band for Philadelphia International recording artist Jean Carn – who was distributed by CBS Records and marketed by Logan Westrooks’s department.  I was the leader and manager of Jade, and it was at the height of the disco craze, so we were aiming for that market.  But Disco music was becoming stale; with everybody beginning to sound alike.

Logan Westbrooks: HITMAKER!

Logan Westbrooks, hit maker

Chillin in his CBS Office with a Wall Covered With Gold and Platnam
Me and the Great Songtress Jean Carn circa 1977

Jean Carn

On the terrace of my Manhattan Apartment before performing at Linclon Center

Crosby was looking for the next big thing, and he told me he thought the rhythm section was very funky, and that I was “A clever lyricist.”   But he wasn’t interested in that record, which was titled “Just Keep on Dancing!” Crosby told me “If you write a few more stanzas to the song, then get one of those DJ’s in the clubs to recite them over just the rhythm section, I would be interested in hearing that.”

This was the mid 1970’s and the rap scene was well underway in the South Bronx – the true birthplace of Hip hop poets where newly minted MC’s like Grand Master Caz and Cool Herc, were already spittin def rhymes to the Bongo Band’s break beats,’ which were later incorperated into the  first Rap record.- and Rap was also beginning to make some noise in Harlem, but I had never heard of it.   And despite the fact that future music mogul Russell Simmons was beginning to promote hip hop concerts around town, I didn’t know what tha fuck Hank Crosby was talking about!

But when I mentioned it to Mookie he said “Oh he talking bout them rappers…sheet, we got tha best DJ’s in town doing that rap stuff up at the club!  Although Mookie was a Jazz fan, who dug Charlie Parker so much he once took Bird’s alto-saxophone back from a heroin dealer at gun point so Bird could make a gig.  Bird, who was badly strung out, had pawned his horn for dope and owed the dealer money, so he was keeping the horn as collateral.

But Mookie wanted to hear Bird wail at Minton’s Playhouse, the birth place of that extremely complex modern jazz genre called Bebop, so he strong armed his ax from the dealer.  Yet, despite his bias for jazz, Mookie, posessed an impressive gift for gab and might have become a rapper had he grown up in a Hip hop cultural milieu, could hear that something was happening with this “Rap thing,” by just watching the way it grooved the crowds in Harlem World.   So he told me: “Come on by and check em out; if you like em I’ll git em to do yo record and it won’t cost ya nothin…I’ll take care of it.”

Billboard for Forthcoming Movie on “Mookie” Jackson

mookie-jackson

Founder Of The Fair Play Committee

I went up to Harlem World, checked them out, and couldn’t believe that THIS was what Crosby was so excited about.  I told Mookie, “Man this shit ain’t goin nowhere.  We been reciting them kind of rhymes on street corners for years…why would anybody pay to hear that?”  Just like that I missed the chance to make history and a lot of money because I had a closed mind. The next big thing in popular music was staring me in the face and I slept on it, jussed played pass it.  I didn’t understand at the time that what the rappers were doing was a different art form from the kind of rhyming we had been doing.

We were reciting of verses from folk sagas like “The Signifying Monkey,”  “Shine on the Titanic” and The Dirty Dozens – verse that had been fashioned on the smithy of black folk culture.   These risque rhymes and been handed down for  generations and many black underground bards had contributed to their authorship. But what the Rappers were doing, I would later realize, is real artifice; the same kind of thing that poets do.

The major difference is that Rappers must flow over a preordained beat that is dance friendly; poets have absolute freedom over the rhythm of there verse, which is in the word itself and can become quite complex…it all depends upon the caliber of the poet!  Me and my writing partner Shelman Johnson, pianist and music director of the band, were trying to write clever elegant songs like Tommy Bell and Linda Creed – who wrote songs like “Betcha By Golly wow!”

Joe and Sylvia were not so precious in their taste.  While I was trying to be “an artist” first, believing the business side would take care of itself if we wrote good strong songs, Joe and Sylvia were business people who left the art to the artists but had good ears for a hit sound!  Plus, they had a complete record company, they not only had a studio but a record pressing plant. All they needed was distribution and especially air play. That was what killed independent record companies: They couldn’t get their records on the air, and they couldn’t collect all their money from Independent Distributors: The Fair Play Committee solved both problems!

There was a dramatic event that convinced black DJ’s, who decided what records they wanted to put on the air, to play the products from independent black labels.  Back in the day, before the rise of dictatorial Program Directors who alone decide the play list for the entire station, the “Personality Jocks,” who were larger than life characters, controlled playlist because their audiences were loyal to them.They had dramatic and grandiose radio monikers like: “Georgie Woods, The Guy with the Goods;” “Chatty Hattie;” “Daddyo Daley;” “Sir Lancelot;” “Jocko” “Johnny Shaw, The Devil’s Son-In-Law” et al.

In any instances this made them bigger than the station – especially if they were in a competitive market with more than one station.  These Jocks were represented by a professional organization known as NAFTRA – The National Association of Radio and Television Announcers – and it as at their annual convention held in Miami that their policy toward small independent black labels dramatically changed.

It was the smoldering Dog Days of August in1968, and the city of Miami had experienced a “race riot” just before the convention came to town.   Knowing this Mookie saw a unique opportunity.  Armed with what sociologists called He traveled down to Miami with 15 associates from the Fair Play Committee, all dressed like Wall street investment bankers,  and went straight to the sheriff’s office. Mookie was one of the most charming and persuasive men the God’s ever blew breath in, and he really turned it on with this southern cracker Sheriff.

A master bunko artist, Mookie understood the two basic elements of the con: Make your mark think he is smarter than you, and convince they are going to get something for nothing.  In fact, Mookie once told me: “You can’t con an honest person, because in order to get conned you have to have larceny I your heart.”

In this case the situation was perfect, and Mookie played that Peckerwood Sheriff like Bird played the alto-sax.   He told the sheriff that they were a private security team that came down to police the convention so that there wouldn’t be any more violent racial outbreaks, which was a real possibility with of of the wild show business Negroes coming to town.  And he convinced the Sheriff that if he deputized them they would assure him that there would be no incidents!

By the time Mookie was finished with his rap the Sheriff was convinced that he was getting the deal of the century and deputized these New York Gangsters.  Once they got their badges the Fair Play Committee went over to the convention and systematically terrorized the key players.  They hung some of them out of hotel windows by their feet – in fact, I believe that scene in the movie The five Heartbeats was taken from that incident.

Logan Westbrooks and his wife Jerry were there, although he was a salesman with Mercury Records at the time; he had had yet to become the head of black music markeing at CBS Records.  “I went down to the convention because it was an important event for anybody trying to sell black records,” says Logan.  However when he got there he found out that he was not properly registered,”I was trapped outside and could only attend events open to the public.  But I had a suite in the hotel where the conference was going on and knew all of the big players.  So although I wasn’t in the room when a lot of stuff went down, I heard about what was going on from my contacts”

Suddenly these Jocks began to play independent black labels.  As for the independent distributors, who rumor had it were all Jewish and Italian gangsters, they paid what they wanted when they wanted.   But that also changed after one of the biggest distributors  got thrown out of a four story window into a fireman’s net, held by some stragglers who they paid handsomely to  catch the flying body.  The dude had a heart attack, and everybody else got the message. Thus when Joe and Sylvia released ‘Rappers Delight,’ they got it played on the radio, no problem, and the got their money from the distributors.  And the rest made history.

This record literally came out of nowhere, since the Sugarhill Gang was from New Jersey, and the real artists, the creaters of this new and uniqe genre of Afro-American popular music, had never even heard of them until they dug the record on the radio.  And to make matters worse it was a smash!  Russell Simmons, who would emerge as the premiere Hip Hop producer and impersario, says he was distraigh when he heard the recoed because “I thought there was only going to be one Rap Record made.”

However Russel would go on to make hundreds of millions of dollars from producing Rap records on his Def Jam label.  And in time, all Hip Hop artists and entreprenuers that got rich from rap recognized that the release of “Rapper’s Delight” initiated the growth of the billion dollar Hip Hop industry.  And thus Sylvia Robinson, who produced Rapper’s Delight, well derserves the honorific “God Mother of Hip Hop.”

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Click on Link to hear the original Recording of Rappers Delight

The Record that Started it All!!
Watch the Sugarhill Gang Perform Rappers Delight

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Playthell G. Benjamin
Harlem, New York
Black History Month
February 27, 2017

From the White House to the Out House!

Posted in On Donald Trump with tags , on February 20, 2017 by playthell
mike-flynn
General Michael Flynn

On the Strange Fall of Mad Mike

The more fake President Trump tries to explain why he kicked his National Security Advisor to the curb the more confused the situation becomes. Like much of what the whacko in the White House, The Great Prevaricator, says it makes no sense and displays a flagrant disregard, if not outright hostility to verifiable facts.  At his news conference yesterday – a bizarre affair that left most who witnessed it befuddled and one Senator described as “a voice from a parallel universe” – The Donald told us “the leaks were true” but “the news was fake.” Alas, these paradoxical statements are common fare in the public pronouncements of the newly elected US President.

Trump also told us that the General – who was once a star in the military intelligence community as Head of the Defense Intelligence Agency – had done nothing wrong, except lie to Vice President Pence about his conversation with the Russian Ambassador, during the interim period between the election and inauguration of Trump.  The controversy arose because of the allegation – now verified by the FBI – that Flynn had discussed the Sanctions placed on Russia by President Obama as punishment for interfering in the recently concluded US presidential election.

President Obama imposed the economic sanctions after all 17 US intelligence agencies reported that the Russians had covertly intervened in the US election for the express purpose of crippling the campaign of Hillary Clinton and aiding the victory of Donald Trump.  The scandal here lay in the charge that Flynn offered assurances to the Russian government that once Trump took office he would scrap Obama’s sanctions, and that explains why Putin did not respond forcefully to the announcement of the US sanctions.

If that is true, then Flynn has not only violated long standing protocols regarding deference to the sitting president – i.e. we can only have one President at a time – but when Flynn denied having such a conversation with the Russian Ambassador, Sergey Kasleyev, to FBI interrogators he committee a felony! So what began as an embarrassment to the Trump Administration when Vice President Pence went on major television news shows and repeated the National Security Advisor’s denials and then Flynn later admitted that he was lying, has become a serious criminal matter after it was revealed that he also lied to the Federal Bureau of Investigation. 

If routine legal proceedings obtain Flynn will soon be indicted, its automatic. However, the charge must be brought by the Department of Justice, and given their contempt for laws they don’t like it remains to be seen if he is charged.   Trump’s position on this imbroglio stretches the boundaries of credibility.  For instance, he tells us that although he didn’t order Flynn to contact the Russians, he would have had Flynn mentioned it to him.

If this is true, that lying to the Vice President is Flynn’s only transgression, and that otherwise he is a “good man,” the obvious question is why did Trump fire him?  This issue takes on additional mystery when we discover that others in the White House, including Presidential Advisor Steve Bannon and the President himself both knew that Flynn was lying for three weeks but it only became an issue when the story was leaked to the Washington Post and the New York Times?  And the whole affair became an unfathomable enigma when Trump blamed the entire affair on the “fake news” promulgated by a hostile dishonest press.

Witnessing the President spouting this gibberish brought to mind the observations of Colin Powell – who has served as Chairman of the Joints Chiefs of Staff, National Security Advisor and Secretary of State – who said during the campaign “Donald Trump is a national disgrace…who talks to us as if he thinks we are fools!”  My feelings exactly.  The real question regarding former General Flynn is why was he chosen for such a vitally important position?

Given his personal history he should have been no-where near the Oval Office, let alone the top advisor to Donald Trump on the ways of the world. This is especially alarming when we consider the fact that Trump’s head is a blank slate when it comes to real knowledge of political affairs, foreign or domestic, and therefore in a real sense personal is policy.

Hence we have a guy who had unlimited access to the ear of the most powerful man on the planet who has publicly proclaimed that “Islam is not a religion it’s a political ideology” and it is “rational to fear Muslims.”  This kind of thinking will turn what is a regional fight with Arab Jihadists into a world-wide struggle against a billion Muslims of all nationalities.  This is the apocalyptic vision of the world promulgated by Harvard political scientist Samuel P. Huntington in his “Clash of Civilizations” thesis.

This is a view of the world that has been opposed by knowledgeable foreign policy wonks from Washington to Tel Aviv, both the analyst in the CIA and their counterparts in the Israeli Mossad.  This is why in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attack by Islamic Jihadists on Washington, President Bush visited a mosque and made it clear that our enemy was not the religion of Islam, which he pointed out means “peace.” Then Bush clearly identified our enemies as a rebel sect that had appropriated and distorted Islam for their own nefarious purposes. This attitude is just the opposite of those that want to start a war with entire the Islamic world like Flynn.

Yet even if Flynn didn’t hold these reckless and dangerous attitudes toward the Islamic world, his unhinged behavior and penchant for embracing outrageous conspiracy theories are reason enough to disqualify him for a vital position in the US government such as “National Security Advisor.” A cursory examination of conspiracy theories promoted by Flynn, based on a search of his Twitter account conducted by Politico, reveals that he tweeted accusations that Hillary Clinton was involved with a Satan worshipping child sex trafficking ring, run out of a Pizza Parlor in Washington D.C.

This outrageous lie provoked a shooting by an armed right-wing fanatic who said he was trying to rescue the imprisoned children in the basement!  Flynn also claimed that Hillary was involved in a secret war against the Catholic Church.  And President Obama was an undercover Muslim who secretly laundered money for the Islamic Jihadist. Flynn promoted the rumor that Hillary’s campaign manager participated in underground occult ritual where human bodily fluids were consumed!  And there was more, just as outrageous and just as crazy.

Yet this is the guy whom Donald Trump appointed as his most important advisor on how he should view critical events in the world, and even after firing him in less than a month, insists that he is a “good man” that was destroyed by a lying press spreading “fake news” about him.  Alas, this is not the first time Flynn was fired from a highly placed intelligence job by a US President, he was also fired from his previous position as Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency for insubordination by President Obama.

On this occasion he got into trouble by contradicting the official position of the Obama Administration on the state of the US war effort against the Islamic jihadist. And several former military colleagues, who hold Flynn in high regard as an intelligence strategist, say his bitter resentment about being fired explains his hostility toward Hillary Clinton, and embrace of Donald Trump.

In a wide ranging, well informed and insightful article on what motivates the retired general – “How Mike Flynn Became America’s Angriest General” – published by Politico (10/16/2016) and written by James Kitfield, a Senior Fellow at the Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress, and a seasoned reporter on foreign policy and national security matters, we are told:

“Those who’ve known Flynn for years wonder how a kid from an Irish Catholic family of blue-collar Democrats who went on to be a dedicated, much-admired soldier ended up being a top national-security adviser to a man widely viewed as a demagogue, friendly to Russia and widely seen as ignorant of foreign policy. They worry that in his political naivete and innate loyalty Flynn is being used—and will be branded as a radical himself. And some of them are concerned that Flynn, who believes he was pressed into early retirement for appearing to question the Obama administration’s public narrative that Al Qaeda was close to defeat, is being handed a national stage to play out his personal frustrations.”

This explains Flynn’s bizarre behavior in spreading insane in the brain nonsense about his former colleague Hillary Clinton running a child sex ring and leading the chant “Lock her up!” calling for her arrest at a Trump campaign rally; referring to President Obama as “weak and spineless;” while characterizing his leadership as “fumbling indecisiveness.”

It is this raging bitterness that sparked his embrace of Trump, and fueled his determination to undo Obama’s legacy that led Flynn to call the Russian Ambassador and diss the sitting President by telling him not to worry, because dat coon will soon be out the door and his sanctions are going with him!  Hence it is reasonable to conclude that Flynn’s loose lips sank his ship….again!

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Playthell G. Benjamin
Harlem, New York
February 20, 2016

An Evening of Triumph and Travesty

Posted in Cultural Matters, Music Reviews with tags , , on February 14, 2017 by playthell

beyonce-at-the-grammys

 Beyonce In Performance!

 Reflections on Queen B and the Grammys

Last Sunday night Beyoncé experienced both triumph and travesty at the Grammy Awards. Appearing on stage visibly pregnant the popular music Diva performed a moving tribute to motherhood that was so spectacular even the language of Shakespeare, Chaucer and the King James Bible seems bereft of superlatives sufficiently powerful to adequately describe it! But thanks to the magic of this cyber medium you can witness Beyoncé’s  performance.*

It will no doubt go down as one of the greatest performances of all times on this show that has hosted countless great performances, where marvelous musicians of all genres display their gifts before their peers. Although Beyoncé won a couple of awards she should have won at least one more: “Best Album of the Year,” a view shared by the winner Adele, the gifted British singer / songwriter who sang beautifully and walked away with the lion’s share of the prizes, a total of five.

In an unprecedented gesture of generosity and grace, Adele turned down the “BEST ALBUM” Award. Calling Beyoncé “The artist of my life…my idol,” Adele said that Beyoncé should rightly have won the award for “Her monumental album Lemonade.” Her declaration left everybody in the vast Staple Center in LA speechless! A reaction that was no doubt shared by the millions of viewers around the world who also witnessed it. Adele would later ask of Beyoncé: “What the fuck does she have to do to win?” My question exactly!!!

Monumental is precisely the word to describe “Lemonade,” a major work that expands the boundaries of what we previously believed could be achieved in this popular art form. I think it is no exaggeration to say that the video version – which won the “Best Video Award” for one of its segments “Formation,” a highly political statement that sparked a furor when it was performed live at the Super Bowl last year – is a work of fine cinematic art!

Formation!

ATLANTA, GA - MAY 01: Beyonce performs during the Formation World Tour at the Georgia Dome on May 01, 2016 in Atlanta, Georgia. Beyonce wears a custom lace corset and stockings by D Squared. (Photo by Kevin Mazur/WireImage )

(See Video at bottom of this essay)

However, the many faceted album was confined to the “Best Urban Contemporary” award. This is where the controversy arose and it raises many questions of sufficient depth regarding race, politics and art.  To begin with, like everything else in the USA, music marketing is segregated, with albums by black artists placed into certain categories that industry people recognize and this is how the product will be promoted.  Hence whether a record is promoted as “Pop.” “Rock” Rhythm & Blues,” “Urban Contemporary,” and so on.

Of course, white record company executives, promotion men and music journalists will deny that race plays any role in these designations; they will argue these categories are determined by musical styles alone. Yet if this were true you wouldn’t have black artists automatically assigned to the R&B category when their music sounds like Pop or Rock, and white musicians who are performing Rhythm & Blues classified as “Pop” or “Rock.”  Since virtually all popular music in the US and Britain spring from black roots – US or Caribbean – virtually all white popular music by artists from these countries contain black musical ingredients.  It’s just a matter of degree.

Even a cursory glance of US musical history will reveal the truth of that claim. From “Ragtime,” to “Dixieland Jazz,” to “Blues” to “Swing,” to “Modern Jazz i.e. “Bebop” to “Rhythm & Blues / Rock and Roll,” to “Hip Hop,” are all the creations of Afro-Americans.  Yet as soon as some white musicians learned to play it competently they were made “The “Original Dixie Land Jazz Band,” or “The King of Jazz,” or the “King of Swing,” or the “King of Rock and Roll,” or the “Queen of Hip Hop.” i.e.  Nick La Rocca, Paul Whiteman, Benny Goodman, Elvis Pressley and Iggy Azalea

White artists could get away with this cultural appropriation in the past because the white audience had no idea who the real original artists were.  Even after the advent of sound movies and television, black artist were so seldom presented in these media that this situation persisted to the extent that many white American Rock musicians with prodigious record sales said they had no idea that the Blues they were playing was invented by their black countrymen until white British Rockers like “Eric Clapton” told them so!

However, when it became no longer possible to deny the creative genius of Afro-American musicians the music industry came up with these different categories that allowed them to continue marketing their white artists to the lucrative white majority, while shunting black artists off into “Special Markets” departments.   All this tawdry history came to bear in determining how Beyoncé’s visionary musical masterpiece became confined to the “Urban Contemporary” category when it was clearly the “Best Album of the Year,” even in the eyes of the artist who was given the award!

Aside from “Lemonade’s” artistic excellence – the music, poetic lyrics, dazzling dance, splendid costumes, lush imaginative settings, stunning cinematography and excellent direction – the fact that it is officially Black History Month offers an additional rationale for presenting Beyoncé with the Grammy for Best Album.   The album is full of historical references and allusions to Afro-American culture and contemporary political issues.  However, let me hasten to say that this fact alone would not be reason enough to bestow this prestigious award on the record.

I agree with Mao Tse Tung in his “Lectures at the Yenan Forum on Literature and Art, where he addresses the role of art as propaganda designed to promote the goals of a mass movement for progressive change.  “All art is propaganda but all propaganda is not art,” Mao argues, “in order to be effective as propaganda it must first succeed as art.”

This explains why Beyoncé touched so many people with her album, which means it would be important as a cultural artifact in the Afro-America musical tradition even if had no higher ambition than making art for the sake of art.  And instead of condemnation she might well have been wildly applauded by those who do not wish to be emotionally disturbed by being forced to confront unpleasant realities that contradict the master narrative of American Exceptionalism.

After all, even the most racist white Americans have been seduced by the power and charm of Afro-American song and dance.   It is a strange paradox that compelled Dr. WEB DuBois to remark during the height of white terrorist attacks on innocent Black Americans in the early 20th century: “White Americans lynch the Negro while singing his songs.”

Hence so long as black artist just sing and dance but keep their mouths about the unpleasant realities of black life in the US all is well, but they are to be chastised if they dare to speak truth to white power.  I salute Beyoncé for not caving in to this well-known but unwritten rule: NOT EVEN A HUNDERD GRAMMYS WOULD HAVE BEEN WORTH IT!!!  The white cultural gate keepers may have denied her the Grammy but she has won the admiration and respect of her people…. and that is INFINITELY MORE VALUABLE!

 

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Click on links below to see:
Formation Performace at Super Bowl
https://youtu.be/c9cUytejf1k
* Beyonce’s Performance at the Grammy Awards
– http://www.independent.co.uk/…/grammy-awards-2017-beyonce-l…
The Album Lemonade
 https://youtu.be/gM89Q5Eng_M?list=PLxKHVMqMZqUSPF11Ghs0KqDfOGhB9Vw5E
 
Playthell G. Benjamin
 Black History Month
 February 14, 2017

Should Democrats Overhaul Their Party?

Posted in On Donald Trump, On the 2016 Presidential Election with tags , , on February 5, 2017 by playthell
donald-trumpPresident Elect: Donald John Trump

Reflections on the Trump Election: What is to be Done?

In one of the most improbable scenes in US history Donald Trump – New York Real Estate huckster, Reality Show Host and narcissistic bunko artist – raised his right hand and was sworn in as the 45th President of the United states of America. It was a day that will live forever in Infamy! His rise to the most powerful office in the world surprised both the wisest wags among the punditariat and scientific pollsters alike.

They all had assured us that there was “no path to 270 delegates” for Trump, a rank amateur at the art of politics who gave every indication of being clueless about the matter of governance.  An impression that has not changed despite the victory that has put him in the Oval Office.  This is a frightening reality to most thoughtful people that have some idea what the duties and responsibilities of the Presidency are.

As the Democrats recover from the shock of it all, the conversation is about what went wrong?  It is a question that is bound to result in a lot of soul searching and finger pointing. Some think the essential lesson of the electoral defeat is that the Democratic Party needs to be revamped, fire the leadership and remake itself. I disagree.  I think we should first of all adopt the position “no enemies on the left;” calmly assess the reasons for the Trump victory and devise a strategy to fight back and limit the damage that right-wing ideologues who dominate the Grand Obstructionist Party can do before we remove them from power in the election.

I insist that this is not the time to talk about “reforming” the Democratic party; for the election had virtually nothing to do with the shortcomings of the Democrats.  The fact is that they are already miles ahead of the Republicans in protecting and advancing the interests of the working and middle class demographic that voted for Trump. That’s why Hillary Clinton was endorsed and supported with manpower and money by the leadership of America’s great labor unions. Although much of their politically backward rank and file supports Trump, which could have been largely avoided if the unions offered political education classes and made them mandatory as a condition of Union membership wherever possible.

Yet, even so, Trump barely got elected by the skin of his teeth based on a peculiar algorithm employed by the Electoral College, who has the final word in deciding who shall be President.  Yet it is an unassailable fact that Donald Trump, now President of the richest and most powerful nation in the world, actually lost the popular vote registering the will of the American people to Hillary Clinton, who won by almost three million more votes than Trump!   This was by far the largest margin a candidate has ever polled in a US presidential election and yet lost to their opponent.

Ever the hype artist, Trump declared in a December 11th, interview on Fox News: “We had a massive landslide victory, as you know, in the Electoral College.” This is pure historical fantasy that wouldn’t be plausible as historical fiction; let alone real history.  The fact is that Trump won the Electoral College with a mere 306 votes, which is far from a landslide.  Trump got 56.88% of the Electoral College, while Barack Obama got 67.84%; this is 11 points higher.  Franklin Delano Roosevelt got 98% and George Washington got 100%.

These are landslides; Trumps victory actually ranks in the bottom quarter of all the Presidents that have followed George Washington!  Another measure of how far Trump’s anemic victory was from a landslide consider the fact that in 1964 Lyndon Johnson got 486 Elector’s votes to Barry Goldwater’s 52 votes.  In the election of 1972 “Dirty Dick” Nixon got 520 Electoral College votes to George McGovern’s 17!

Trump’s margin of victory was a mere 77 thousand votes, spread over three states in the rustbelt where the prolonged misery of structural unemployment led them to seek salvation in a fast-talking bunko artists cum real estate huckster who knows nothing of industrial production or running a government.  A sober assessment of the electoral numbers show that it is nonsense to talk about a sweeping Trump victory, such exaggerations run the risks of overestimating their mandate and underestimating their vulnerabilities.

One of their vulnerabilities that will become increaingly manifest is that Republican policies will inflict pain upon these voters because they are the most reliant on goverment programs.  For instance, the 500 counties that voted for Hillary Clinton produce 60% of the Gross Domestic Product, while the over 2000 counties that voted for Trump produce only 37%, and receives the lion’s share of government assistance!   Hence it’s only a matter of time before they begin to feel the pain.

I am not arguing that there is no room for improvement in the Democratic Party program, rather I am pointing out that this is not the main reason for Trump’s victory.  In fact, we can reduce Trump’s victory to two factors: The general ignorance and apathy of the electorate and the increasing disappearance of good paying blue collar jobs with benefits that were once commonplace in the industrial centers of the Mid-West. Yet by any objective measure President Obama’s management of the economy was outstanding; the best that could have been done under the circumstances.

When he came into office Obama inherited an economy in the worst state of crisis since the Great Depression of the 1930’s, a worldwide economic collapse initiated by the 1929 Wall Street crash.  Among the consequences of that economic crisis was the rise of Adolph Hitler in Germany, a panicked and desperate population was prepared to make a deal with the devil if he could end their suffering.  Although Barack Obama had nothing in common with Hitler, the election of an African American to the US presidency was also a radical act of desperation on the part of a populace that was thoroughly disillusioned with the conventional political leadership.

It turned out to be a very good choice President Obama rescued the economy from disaster, saved the US auto-industry from extinction; prevented millions of Americans from descending into poverty by virtue of the Economic Recovery Act – the most corruption free big money government program in history – signed the Dodd-Frank and also signed the Lillie Ledbetter Act making it illegal to pay women less than men for the same work, and passed the Affordable Health Care Act –which gave 20 million Americans life-saving health care for the first time in their lives. And as I write the final jobs report of the Obama era has come in at 4.8%, a great number that reflects the longest sustained period of job growth in the private sector in American history!

President Obama tracked down and killed Osama bin Laden, while devastating the leadership of Al Qaeda and rendering them virtually impotent.  He wound down the Iraq and Afghan wars while keeping us out of new wars in the Middle East by crafting foreign policy with Solomonic wisdom. The President also signed a Nuclear arms agreement with Russia that reduced the threat of nuclear annihilation which won him the Nobel Peace Prize

The benefits Barack Obama bequeathed to the American people – which are far too numerous to recount here – have been outstanding, despite the machinations of the Grand Obstructionist Party.  I have no doubt that historians of the future will look upon the presidency of Barack Obama as a golden age in American Civilization, one that could have matched the age of Pericles in ancient Greece had his vision for America not been throttled and his progressive program arrested by the Tea Party takeover of the Congress.

Hence the real lesson for progressives who now lament the victory of “The Donald”- an unmitigated disaster that will take this country backwards, the only question is how far – is to agitate and organize just as the Tea Party did.   The conditions are propitious for the success of such an effort.  Already the people are animated and rising up in a wave of spontaneous combustion.   Now it must be organized into a coherent political movement with clearly defined goals.  The polls show that this nascent resistance movement is more popular after two weeks that the Tea Party was at its peak: 43% to 60%!

Savvy organizers are already employing social media in highly effective ways.  One effort that offers great promise is posting the schedule of public appearances and Town Hall meetings of every member of Congress along with their voting records.  This will enable them to direct protestors to the meetings of elected representatives who opposed the progressive agenda and vote against the public interests.  This strategy will put their business in the streets; there will be nowhere to run and nowhere to hide.

Righteous Anger of the People

Anti-Donald Trump protest is held at Trump Tower in 5th Avenue in New York, as Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump has been calling for barring all Muslims from entering the United State. Dec 20, 2015, New York.

This is a good place to begin.  However, like all mass movements, the present uprising has many factions and leaders with varying views of the problem.  What unites us is the desire to put Trump in check and take back the Congress in two years the way the Tea Party did, and they accomplished this following what was arguably the most disastrous presidency in history!

Under George Bush the nation experienced the most devastating attack on American soil by a foreign force since the War of 1812; the second worst economic collapse in our history, and launched a disastrous war of choice in Iraq that has not only expanded the power of Iran in the region since it put the Shiite majority in power in Iraq, but also brought Al Qaeda into the area and created ISIS.  Furthermore, they squandered over two trillion dollars in this misbegotten foreign adventure which, according to the American Society of Civil Engineers, could have financed the rebuilding of the entire American infrastructure while putting a million or more Americans to work in its construction!

If the Tea Party could re-elect Republicans to control the nation’s purse strings in the face of such a recent disaster perpetrated by the Republican Party, organizing to take back the Congress in the face of the chaos that Donald Trump is unleashing upon the nation, and his obvious bait and switch in promising to “drain the swamp” and instead increasing the population of crocodiles from the previously vilified muck of Goldman Sachs, or promising not to repeal Obamacare before having a cheaper and better program in place “without missing a day,”  or to keep us out of foreign wars while taking steps that will surely lead us into a much wider war in the mid-east and increasingly hostile relations with China.  Not to mention the devastating effect that starting trade wars with Mexico and China will have on the pocketbooks of his long-suffering working class voters!

In view of these objective facts, all the talk about the need to completely rebuild the Democratic Party appears wrongheaded to me.  What we need to do is what we are doing, stay vigilant and oppose every effort to turn back the clock by taking away benefits from the American people won over a century of struggle. Then use these struggles to educate and organize!   As New York Times columinst Charles Blow warned: The enlightnement must not surrender to the ignorance and hysteria of the inquisition!  Yet we also must recognize that the Tea Party had a Trump card that progressives don’t: White racial resentments!

This is a recurrent pattern in American civilization where every dramatic advance by Afro-Americans have been met by a white reaction. But, fortunately, the election of Donald Trump does not just offend the sensibilities, injure the life’s chances and endanger the interests of Afro-Americans, but also jeopardizes the gains of a broad segment of the US population that transcends racial divisions. Hence coalition building around common goals must be our principal method of struggle.  Now is not the time to emphasize identity politics such as “Black Agendas,” our  slogans must promote inclusive themes: “No Enemies on the Left!”  “Unity in Diversity!”  “All Power to the People!”  “The People United Can Never be Defeated!”  “No justice No Peace!”

To avoid the pitfalls that led to the squandering of the vast potential of the Occupy Wall Street Movement, which died from the self-inflicted wound of apolitical folly, we should heed the advice of the Ghanaian political philosopher/activist Kwame Nkrumah: “Seek Ye first the Political Kingdom and all else will be added there unto!” And to accomplish this our method at this juncture we must take the advice of the great Frederick Douglass.  In 1895, a period  of political reaction much like our own, when Douglass was literally in his last days, some youths asked what should they do?   The great “Drum Major for Justice” summed it up in three words: AGITATE!  AGITATE!  AGITATE!

In this Douglas summarized what he had long preached, it is a message that has withstood the test of time without revision:

 “History holds no more august claim than where there is no struggle there is no progress. Men who profess to stand for freedom yet denigrate agitation are men who would have corn without plowing the fields; rain without thunder and lightning; the ocean without the awful roar of her many waters.  Where there is no struggle there is no progress!  The struggle may be moral, or physical, or it may be both: but there must be a struggle!   Power concedes nothing without demand, it never has and it never will.  Men may not always get what they pay for in this life, but we shall sure as hell pay for all that we get!!!” 

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THE STRUGGLE CONTINUES!!!

Playthell G. Benjamin

Harlem, New York

February 3, 2017

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Opposition Research Files

Posted in Guest Commentators with tags , on February 4, 2017 by playthell
donnie-trump-and-the-devil
A Convocation of Devils?
Notes on Trump’s Actions during his First Eight Days in Office

The best Organizers are the ones with the most knowledge on the issues. They are able to use the facts at their disposal to galvanize support, squelch opposition and sometimes even convert opponents. Because of the depth and breadth of Trump’s many actions against our country is hard to fathom.  Thus, I have checked off 15 actions or reactions to Trump that caught my attention in particular.  This does not include information purged off the White House and other and other government websites.

Pre-Inauguration Hype/Post-Inauguration letdown? (MLK Week January 15th-22nd):

I- Trump feuds with Civil Rights Icon and Congressman John Lewis. In the past year, Trump has gotten into public disputes with a beauty queen anthe Muslim parents of a dead soldier. But on the eve of the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, Trump went back and forth with a man whom John McCain once called “one of the most respected men in America.” – Cleve Wootson Jr. (Washington Post 01/15/2017).  Congrats Mr. President-Elect, for any political capital or good-will you might have even attempted to garner from the Progressive-Wing of The Democratic Party, was squandered right here before you even took one step in the Oval Office. Trump actually showed his true-self so effectively that out of 192 Democrats in the House of Representatives over 1/3rd of all members of the Democratic House Caucus, about 70 members, skipped the Inauguration, reports Simone Pathe, on rollcall.com 01/17/2017).

II –What is Trump’s Obsession with Crowd Size, anyhow? Delegitimizing the media is important to Trump because delegitimizing certain facts is important to Trump.”-Ezra Klein (Vox.com 1/21/17).
III – Monday January 23rd
On Trump’s first week-day on the job, Trump implemented a Hiring Freeze on all Federal Workers:
“President Trump’s hiring freeze will prevent many veterans from getting jobs. At the same time, it will cause longer waits for VA medical care, and increase the backlog on VA disability claims.” – Harry Stein. (The Hill.com 1/27/2017). I thought the goal was to put people to work, not put them out of work.

4-Killing TPP! “The US president, Donald Trump, has signed an executive order formally withdrawing the country from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal, following through on a promise from his presidential campaign.” – Al Jazeera 01/23/2017). TPP probably is one of the most widely debated issues we have going on, split among both major political parties. Democrat for President Bernie Sanders was very much opposed to it, as was Hillary Clinton. (Although, I’m not entirely sure Hillary had much conviction in opposition, or just went where the wind blowed, here).

5-Trump reinstates the “Global Gag-Rule”; Having Women’s Rights Groups Reeling.

“In the past, the global gag rule meant that foreign NGOs must disavow any involvement with abortion in order to receive U.S. family planning funding. Trump’s version of the global gag rule expands the policy to all global health funding. According to Ehlers, the new rule means that rather than impacting $600 million in U.S. foreign aid, the global gag rule will affect $9.5 billion” – Michelle Goldberg (Slate.com – 1/24/2017).  The re-enforcement of the Global Gag Rule, is not a surprise to anyone who has knowledge of this ruling. It was started by President Reagan in 1984 and has gone in and out of existence internationally depending on who is President of the USA and who isn’t. And if you didn’t notice, it is a favorite ruling of Republicans, but is swept away under Democrats.

VI -Tuesday January 24th
DAPL and the Keystone Pipeline is Resurrected

This action is yet another rung up the ladder towards our ever expanding Ecological Apocalypse. “President Donald Trump on Tuesday signed executive actions to advance approval of the Keystone XL and Dakota Access oil pipelines. The decision to advance the pipelines cast aside efforts by President Barack Obama’s administration to block construction of the two pipelines, while making good on one of Trump’s campaign promises” – Diamond, Jones, Krieg.”  (CNN.COM 1/24/17).

The long-term consequences of this could be potentially devastating. For a country and a world that already has such an over-dependence on Oil, I find this move equal to that of a Crack Addict moving from smoking it daily, to having an IV of it in both his legs and both of his arms to get a quicker longer-lasting sustainable high.

Not only that, but DAPL is further homogenizing our country and our world, displacing Native Americans from their home and deliberately trying to wipe out one of the few remaining indigenous populations we have left in the United States.“The outcome of this battle, and the way it gets told, may set the stage for similar environmental and humanitarian disputes yet to come. For members of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, the pipeline is a major environmental and cultural threat. In addition to trampling over ancestral lands, they are concerned a break near the Missouri River could pollute the reservation’s water supply.”- Cayte Bosler (11/23/16 Observer.com).

For more on Standing Rock, visit: http://www.ienearth.org/stand-with-standing-rock-no-dapl/
VIII-WEDNESDAY JANUARY 25th

 Build Walls not Bridges?  “President Trump has signed two executive orders related to immigration and border security, moving ahead with his plans to build a wall along the U.S. border with Mexico and to deport people who are in the country illegally” – Chappell, Keith, Kennedy (NPR.ORG 01/25/2017).  Aside from the diplomatic fall-out from this (noted on Thursday’s headlines) this just goes to the heart of the image people have of America. Depending on who you ask, they usually will give you an opinion on this matter one way or another.

IX -Trump and Immigration/Sanctuary Cities my blood is starting to boil over this one. “President Trump released an executive order on Wednesday to support immigration enforcement and punish local governments that don’t comply with federal authorities. 

In some so-called “sanctuary cities,” officials refuse to hand over illegal immigrants for deportation. Because jails are typically run by counties, rather than cities, county policies can matter more to immigrants.” – Darla Cameron (Washington Post 01/25/2017).  Again, here we see and can anticipate huge ripple effects.

X- THURSDAY JANUARY 26th

 American and Mexican Relations make a significantly sharp turn for the worse. “Peña Nieto said on Twitter on Thursday that his administration notified the White House that he won’t meet with Trump Tuesday, as originally planned. “The cancellation came after Trump tweeted earlier in the day that “If Mexico is unwilling to pay for the badly needed wall, then it would be better to cancel the upcoming meeting.” The cancellation of the long-awaited meeting between the two leaders marks the first significant diplomatic rift between the two countries in decades”. – DeCordoba, Montes. (WSJ/marketwatch.com 01/26/2017)

XI – FRIDAY Janury 27th

“Trump banned Refugees on Holocaust Remembrance Day. That says everything. Cecilla Wang.  (theguardian.com 1/28/2017).

XII -Public Officials Cowering to Trump’s Sanctuary Ban; the Miami-Dade Mayor is among the most notable political cowards!!!

XIII – And of course there is always more and more evidence that most of us suspected, Donald Trump is a Man-Child, and he and his people can’t keep secrets worth a damn! (WaPost 1/26/2017).

XIV – Probably the most damaging Anti-Obama Care Attack than any other hollow statement or non-binding resolution. “The Trump administration has pulled the plug on all Obamacare outreach and advertising in the crucial final days of the 2017 enrollment season, according to sources at Health and Human Services and on Capitol Hill. Even ads that had already been placed and paid for have been pulled, the sources told POLITICO. This decision sends the clearest signal yet that President Donald Trump is determined to fulfill his campaign pledge to repeal Obamacare”. – Paul Demko (politico.com 1/26/2017).  I mean this action by Trump right here, to pull ads already paid for to get people to enroll in the open-market to get health insurance. Why doesn’t Trump just pull the plug on Obama Care and deal with the consequences of it now?

15- Saturday January 28th

Let us not forget about the damaging Anti-Muslim Ban Trump implemented over the weekend, which has created mass-protests all across just about every International Airport in America.

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demonstrations

The Growing Opposition to Trump’s Folly!

Note:

I did not post anything about “The Women’s March” even though all across the country, it was lit!  I also didn’t post anything on Trump’s “Unfounded claims” on mass-voter fraud. Nor did I bring up this crazy 20% tariff Trump wants to put on Mexican goods, or Trump’s trashing of environmental protection laws and banking regulations under the Dodd-Frank Act, or repealing the ban against mentally ill people acquiring fire arms.  All of which endangers the safety of the American public that he has pledged to serve and protect!  I also didn’t bring up how California’s is more serious about leaving the Union than they have ever been.

Nor did I bring to attention any of the bruising confirmation fights ahead to fulfill Trump’s Cabinet.  Although, the confirmation hearings, I believe have been widely covered far and wide as these confirmation battles are often long simmering stories, but other News, traveling at the speed of light, doesn’t always get its due!

Also, if I were to assume we all knew about “ALL” of his actions and misdeeds, I’d be doing a disservice to all of us, by letting us forget how much damage he has already done during his already incredibly brief time in office. In fact the damage he’s done to this country started well before he got inaugurated, but I think some of our lasting memories of Trump and the staying power of “Trumpism” is best captured starting with the week leading up to his Inauguration.  Hence, why I started with Trump’s incorrigible behavior towards Congressman Lewis.

A Definition of Trumpism – “A gospel politicians preach to instill fear in locals: illegals are bringing crime and robbing their jobs, and radicals among Muslim refugees are terrorizing the “infidels.”  (Urbandictionary.com)

By: Joshua Pressman Jacobs
New York,  February 2017
*NOTE: No person or entity can re-publish this post without the expressed written consent of the author.