Through A Lens Darkly

Posted in Film Criticism, Movie Reviews with tags , , on September 18, 2014 by playthell

Black Model for Lens Darkly

A Photo Featured in the Film

Black Photographers and the Emergence of a People

Through a Lens Darkly: Black Photographers and the Emergence of a People – directed and narrated by the Afro-American photographer and filmaker Thomas Allen Harris, based on a screen play written in collaboration with scholar/playwright Paul Carter Harrison and Don Perry –  is a splendid example of the power of the documentary film as a teaching tool. As a method of teaching history to a mass audience it is unequalled, notwithstanding the arguements of some  who favor the feature film. Although it is no less a work of art than any feature film, it does not take license with the facts in the way a creative work of fiction does.

On the contrary,  this film handles historical facts with exquisite care,  employing narrators who are outstanding historians such as Dr. Nell Painter, Professor Emeritus of History at Princeton, and Dr. Robin G. Kelly, a Professor of History at Columbia, among others.  Some of the commentators, like Dr. Dawson and Dr. Deborah Willis are photographers as well as scholars.

Dr. Willis, an award winning photographer and scholar who heads the photography program at NYU, is a co-producer and guiding light behind this project, which is based on her 2002 book Reflections in Black.  The many black photographers who appear in the film constantly sing her praises like a Buddhist chant, and they assure us that without her efforts as scholar and champion of black photographers their work would be unknown and many of them would be doing something else.

The resulting film is a visually beautiful, intellectually stimulating, spiritually moving documentary that manages to capsulize our history through the images of Afro-American photographers and the stories of how they came to make these poignant portraits of Afro-American life.  It was a wonderful revelation!   It is no exaggeration to claim that if I learned important things about our history from this film after having studied the history of Black Americans for over half a century, and taught that history in the first degree granting Black Studies in the world, the WEB Dubois Department at the University Of Massachusetts at Amherst – see Dr. DuBois: Then and Now on this blog – it is a certainty that anyone else watching the film will be mightily instructed about the black experience in the USA.

The film places the rise of Afro-American photographers within the context of their times, which is to say the story is told from a historical perspective. And that accounts for its importance.  Among the amazing things we learn is that the art and science of photography – which would change the world and redefine the role of painters – was invented in Paris in 1839, and introduced into the USA by an Afro-American in New Orleans, who had the first known photographic studio in America.  At the time photographic images were made through a method called daguerreotypes, which differed from the film that would later become the preferred medium because it is a simpler more efficient method.

Another thing we learn is that the great abolitionist Frederick Douglass considered photographers to be a vital force in the struggle for the full freedom and dignity of Afro-Americans – and thus he became one of the most photographed men in 19th century America.  Douglass, whose prolific and well crafted prose offers seemingly endless quotes on the vicissitudes of life –  biographer Dr. Benjamin Quarles went through those voluminous writings with a fine tooth comb and said “I couldn’t find a bad line” – argued that in their quest to demonstrate their superiority whites always put forth the most attractive images of themselves…and so should black folks.

Pretty Fred
Frederick_Douglass_by_Samuel_J_Miller,_1847-52
The Best Dressed Man in America?

We have but to look at the photographs of Douglass to see that he practiced what he preached.  Standing 6’ 4” and weighing 250 pounds, Douglass was the size of a pro-football linebacker.  With a well-muscled frame forged over his anvil during his tenure as a blacksmith in his youth, and a full curly Afro coif, Frederick Douglass was one of the handsomest men in America.  And the brother ragged his ass off; he was always “clean as the board of health” as we used to say back in the day.  Check out the photograph above.

Watching this film I learned where the tradition of Black male elegance in America originated; a tradition I inherited from the men in my family, my mother’s exquisite taste, other men in the community who were sharp dressers or “sports” and famous entertainers and athletes like Duke Ellington, Nat King Cole, Mile Davis, Sugar Ray Robinson, Joe Louis, Jackie Robinson, fashion plates all.  These were the men who set the standard of sartorial elegance for all males in America.

However I learned from viewing this film that the love of elegance among earlier generations of black men was no accident;it was a deliberate attempt to counteract the slave/Sambo image that white America projected of us in an unending campaign of psychological warfare to convince us that we were inferior to whites.  Alas, this conciousness has been lost on young black males who ushered in the fashion disaster of the Hip Hop era.

The film makes clear, in a way that I have never seen the point made, that all of the early champions of black America, those stalwart soldiers in the fight to uplift the race, understood the power of photography to assist them in their struggle.  In the 19th century, when the majority of Afro-Americans were slaves, both black male and female leaders understood this; but they also understood something else: elegance must be accompanied by intelligence.

Hence Frederick Douglass risked death in order to learn to read, and once he escaped slavery he devoured books like a piranha in a gold fish pond. And he systematically mastered the art of public speaking in order to better plead the case of America’s slaves, from whose ranks he arose.  Blessed with a sonorous bass/baritone voice – ala James Earl Jones and Paul Robeson – Douglass was the most spellbinding orator of his time, a golden age in American oratory.

However the Consciousness of the power of photography was no less apparent to Black women.  Historian Nell Painter, who wrote the definitive biography of the great abolitionist Sojourner Truth, who also rose up from slavery albeit in New York not the south, discusses the fact that Sojourner also understood the power of photography to define a people and was therefore very careful about the image she projected.  Sojourner was especially careful to project an image of strength, dignity and propriety.  Having been a slave, and as Dr. Painter reveals in her biography, the sexual plaything of both her master and mistress, it is easy to see why a dignified public image was of great importance to her.  Thus we see that the most widely circulated image of her embodies these values.

Sojourner Truth
Sojourner_truth_c1870
A Portrait of Rectitude and Strength

In the aftermath of slavery, which was ended only after a bloody Civil war that tore the nation apart, Afro-Americans experienced a brief period when they were permitted to participate in the American democratic process as voting citizens.  However the die-hard racists in the south immediately began a covert struggle to take away the vote and severely limit the new found Freedom of Afro-Americans.  A major part of their strategy was to prove that Afro-Americans were sub-human and therefore unfit to live as free citizens in American society.

The film brilliantly shows how one of the most effective strategies in this reactionary program was to obliterate the heroic images of black men who fought for and won their freedom by defeating the southern slave masters as soldiers in the Union army.  In their place they substituted racist images, which were already well established in the blackface minstrel show where white men “blacked up” to perform degrading parodies of black life and character.

 Armed Black Liberators
       Black Union Soldiers        
A Dangerous Image White Supremacists
 Typical Images of Afro-Americans at turn of 20th Century
Racist Icons III
These images gave support to white racist ideology
 All black people were Fair Game

Racist Iconography II

Even Black Children

While black men were the main target of racist defamation, black women and children were also considered fair game.  The film shows how the proliferation of these images reached its apogee in the wildly popular D.W. Griffith movie “The Birth of a Nation.”   This movie falsified the role of black legislators during the Reconstruction period in the South following the Civil War – a monstrous lie that Dr. WEB DuBois corrected in his magesterial study Black Reconstruction a couple of decades later – glorified the Ku Klux Klan and justified the lynching of black men at a time when such public crucifixions were occurring at the rate of one every two and a half days.

In fact, it is no exaggeration to say that D.W. Griffith used the cinema to promote mass murder against the Afro-American  minority group here in America three deacades before Lenni Feifensthal produced Triumph of the Will, a film that glorified Hitler and the Nazi’s , inciting the Holocaust against European Jews.  I would not be surprised if she learned her tecnique from Griffith, just as Hitler copied his master race theories from the racist tome “The Passing of the Great Race,” published in 1917 by the American Eugenicist Madison Grant, who served as President of the New York Zoological Society.

This is not a matter of conjecture, as historian have uncovered a letter from Hitler in the papers of Grant, in which Der Fuhrer exclaimed: “Your book is my Bible!”  One need onlr read the racist theories in Mein Kempt and compare them to the arguments in The Passing of the Great Race to see the origins Hitlers Master Race pseudoscience.  Had the writers of this otherwise excellent script explored this bit of America’s racial history it would have greatly strenghtened the narrative.  The violent racist reactions to The Birth of a Natiom prompted Booker T. Washington to launch a photography project to counteract it.  As the founder of Tuskegee Institute, a college in the “Black Belt” of rural Alabama, and the most powerful black man in America, Washington was in a unique position to launch this effort.

Washington was famous for his successful cultivation of powerful white industrialists, and the president of the Kodak camera company was on his Board of Directors.  The Kodak Company provided Tuskegee with a state of the art photography lab, and Washington hired a master black photographer to head it.  The result was a treasure trove of elegant images of black Americans that provided a powerful counterstatement to the racist images emanating from white America, many of which accompanied advertisements for products produced by major corporations.  Like Frederick Douglass, Washington used the camera lens to carefully construct his own image.  Hence we see him depicted in photographs as a thoughtful man of dignity and power.

The “Wizard” of Tuskegee
Booker T. at tuskegee_office
A Man of Knowledge and Power
The Master of Tuskegee
Booker T. On Horseback
Looking Heroic atop his Stallion
Dr. George Washington Carver
George_Washington_Carver
World Renowned Tuskegee Scientist
Booker T and Teddy Roosevelt
cover
From slave shack to the White House

Booker T. Washington, was one of the great geniuses in the art of what has become known as “public relations” and he used the photograph to maximum advantage,  as the pictures above aptly demonstrate.  They were quite instrumental in his becoming one of the best known men of his time.  Although he and the leading intellectual of black America, the Harvard and Berlin educated WEB DuBois had many ideological differences, they both agreed on the importance of photography in advancing the race.

Hence Dubois also understood the importance of the image he projected, and every picture we see of him he was dressed to the nines, with his trademark cane, spats, vest, felt or straw hat, and exquisitely trimmed Van Dyke beard.  The two most influential leaders of Black America at the turn of the 20th century held such faith in the power of photography to shape the perception of their people by the wider world that both of them mounted a photographic exhibit at the Paris Exposition of 1900 showing the amazing progress of Afro-American in the 35 years since the end of slavery in the US.

A Young Dr. DuBois in Paris 

 Dubois at the Paris Exhibition in 1900

Representin at the Exposition in 1900

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The Photographs in the American Negro exhibition concentrated on the well to do in their elegant attire and beautiful homes.  It also showed black businesses and professionals – the class of successful strivers that three years later Dr. DuBois would call the “Talented Tenth,”  in his classic work The Souls of Black Folk.  It was impressive enough to win a prize.  The film shows how the tradition of employing photography to counter the racist imagery of white America carried over into the twentieth century as black photographers developed all over the country, and it tells us to take the time to search through our family albums to observe this rich visual record of our people.

The producers  select photographs by known and unknown photographers and the narrator instructs us to examine their poses, which is visual evidence of what they thought of themselves.  What we see is not a defeated people, but a people filled with pride and self-confidence, without the slightest doubt that they were lookin good.  It is evidence that Albert Murray, not Malcolm X was right; Malcolm preached that the white man had convinced us to hate ourselves.  Mr. Murray said that was nonsense in his book “The Omni-Americans;”   he said that all one need do is to look at the elegance with which we decorated ourselves and our unequalled grace on the dance floor to see that we recognized our beauty despite the “fakelore of white supremacy.”  The evidence for his argument is in these photographs.

During the 2oth century some black photographers moved to the front ranks of American photographers and became artist.  First among these, the Dean of black American photographers, was James Van der Zee.  Living and workng in Harlem during the 1920’s he witnessed the emergence of the “New Negro” and the Harlem Renissance” and he captured it as no other visual artist managed to do.  In fact he was inspired by what was happening around him and his work has inspired generations of black photographers ever since.  We hear their testimony in the film.

In Van der Zee’s photos we see the full range of Afro-American life in the nation’s largest and most important city; the strenght and dignity of Afro-American orginazations and leaders, as well as the elegance and beauty of our style – especially of Afro-American women.  The portraits that Ellington – a trained visual artist – would later paint in compositions like “Satin Doll,” “Black and Tan Fantasy,”  and “Black Brown and Biege Suite” was first captured through the lens of James Van der Zee.

 An Elegant Harlem Lady

 Black lady II - Vanderzee

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 A Well Appointed Harlem Home
 Black Home in Harlem, James-VanDerZee---Interior-of-Home

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Harlem_couple_wearing_raccoon_coats_with_a_cadillac_taken_on_west_125th_street

 Stylish Harlem Couple in Racoon Coats

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While Duke Ellington began his artistic career as a visual artist and metamorphosed into a great musician, James Van der Zee began as a violinist and evolved into a great photographer.  This accounts for the visual nature of Ellington’s music and the lyrical nature of Van der Zee’s photographs.  Like the social and  political leaders of the race, Van der Zee was well aware of the value of his work as a photographer to the elevation of the race.  He once remarked that his major inspiration for becoming a photographer was to preserve the elegance and beauty of the black people he saw all around him for future generations to see.  One has only to peruse his ouevre to witness the fruition of his vision.  He took great care to record the rituals and rhythms of Afro-American life during a great cultural flowering when brilliant, talented black people from all over the world gathered in Harlem.  Every element of Afro-American society was influenced by the zietgiest of the “New Negro.”

Portraits of the Black Family

James VanDerZee - A wedding

 

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James-Van-Der-Zee. - wedding party

Bride, Groom and Wedding Party

A Pampered Harlem Child

Black Chils - Vanderzee

 

Nationalist Leader Marcus Garvey on Parade

James Van der Zee Marcus Garvey

Garvey Commissioned Van der Zee to Photograph his movement

While Duke Ellington began his artistic career as a visual artist and metamorphosed into a great musician, James Van der Zee began as a violinist and evolved into a great photographer.  This accounts for the visual nature of Ellington’s music and the lyrical nature of Van der Zee’s photographs.  A Printer by trade, Marcus Garvey, leader of one of the greatest mass organizations in US history – The Universal Negro Improvement Association – was fully aware as Frederick Douglass and other leaders before him of the power of a good photograph.  Hence he hired the best to make them.

Of the contemporary photographers who pay tribute to James Van der Zee in the film and acknowledge is Anthony Barboza, whom some critics of photography consider to the heir to Vanderzee’s legacy as the preeminent Afro-American photographer and a great American original, a grandmaster of the art.  In the film Barboza talks about how he sought Van der Zee out as a young man, when the old master was already in his eighties and studied with him and displays a photograph of them together.  Barboza’s ouevre is wide ranging in it’s concerns and he has won many awards for his photography.

Anthony Barboza’s “Black Dreams”

Anthony Barboza VI

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 Anthony Barboza V

A work of exquisite beauty and imagination

Harlem Series

Anthony-barboza-from-his-great-harlem-series

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This film celebrates so many important photographers it is beyond the scope of this review to comment on them all.  However among twentieth century masters Gordon Parks and Roy Decavara deserve mention. The personal story and artistic influence of Gordon Parks – a twentieth century version of the Renissiance Man – is the stuff of legend, which is why there is a major prize presented in his name.  Although his storied career included much coveted and glamourous assignments like photographing fashion shows in Paris for a prestiegeous national magazine, Parks often said that the camera was his choice of weapon in the struggle for justice and human dignity.  His images of the poverty stricken and oppressed move the conscience of people around the world.

Sometimes the images exposed the ironies of injustices by the way he juxtaposed symbols, a classic example of this is his photograph “American Gothic” which was featured in this film.  A parody of the famous 1930 painting by Grant Wood, a European educated American Artist, Parks substituted a real black cleaning woman in a Washington office building in place of the dour white couple – Grant’s sister and her dentist – standing in front of a typical wooden house in Iowa with European gothic style windows.  By switching the images Park’s symbolism transformed a rather pedestrian painting into a powerful statement about race, gender and class in the world’s most powerful nation.

 Grant Wood’s American Gothic

 Grant Woods American Gothic

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 Gordon Parks’ American Gothic

a kGordon-Parks,-American-Gothic,-Ella-Watson,-Washington,-DC,-1942_640

 The Iconoclastic Image as Powerful Social Commentary

 Of all the photographers and works discussed in this documentary, none was more roundly praised as a personal influence than Roy Decavara’s book of photos The Sweet Fly Paper of Life.  A khalidescopic  view of Afro-American life in Harlem, with a text by Langston Hughes, Harlem’s Poet Laurate, it was unlike anything publicly available in one volume.  Born and raised in this uptown Manhattan village by a single mother, Decavara began his artistic career as a clasically trained painter. However while taking photographs to use as models for making prints he fell in love with photography and became a master of the art.  However his decision to abandon painting was not totally an asthetic one, it was also prompted by the blatant racism of the world of “fine art.”  He is quoted in his New York Times Obituary as remarking: “A black painter, to be an artist, had to join the white world or not function — had to accept the values of white culture.”

Decavara was the first black photographer to win a Guggenheim Fellowship, and in his 1952 application he wrote: “I do not want a documentary or sociological statement,”  instead he sought to produce “a creative expression, the kind of penetrating insight and understanding of Negroes which I believe only a Negro photographer can interpret.”  This was bold talk to a cluless group of white paternalists and cultural chauvanists who controlled the purse strings he need to finance his project.  Yet he won them over.  In 1982, he clarified his mission succinctly in a New York Times interview: “One of the things that got to me, was that I felt that black people were not being portrayed in a serious and in an artistic way.”

By the time Decavara was painting his portraits of Harlem life in the 1950’s, long after the “Renissance” had receded into history, Harlem was a very different community.  And his photographs reflect it. Furthermore, his was not a mission of social uplift  that had inspired Van der Zee and other early photographers.  Perhaps the Chief Curator of Photography at New York’s world renowned Museum of Modern Art, Peter Galassi, summed up the meaning of Decavara’s achievement.  After organizing a retrospective show of Decavara’s ouevre, compiled over 60 years, Galassi, said of his work: ” “He was looking at everyday life in Harlem from the inside, not as a sociological or political vehicle. No photographer black or white before him had really shown ordinary domestic life so perceptively and tenderly, so persuasively.”

Roy Decavara’s Sweet Fly Paper of Life 

Decavara - The Sweet Flypaper of Life IV

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Decavara - Sweet Flypaper of Life

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Decavara - Soul Trane

Soultrane

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One of the contemporary photographers who enthusiastically tell us that the work of Roy Decavara was was a great inspiration to him is Frank Stewart, the official photographer for Jazz at Lincoln Center, and for my money the finest photographer of Jazz musicians in the world.  Decavara’s photographs of Jazz musicians were much celebrated, thus one could view Frank Stewart’s work is the extension of that tradition….one of Decavara’s artistic spawn.  The photograph below is case in point.

Deminuendo  in Blue

DSC_0077

 Terrance Blanchard

Diane Reeves and the Boys

DSC_0146

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 Of all the issues raised in this film, none were more compelling than the discussions of gender and sexual orientation.  After all, this documentary is about how black subjects are presented in photographic imagery; thus it should surprise no one that these issues should arise.  The discussion of gender addressed not only the representation of black female beauty in relation to European standards and taste, but the absence of representations of gay Afro-Americans.

The most enlightening revelation regarding the depiction of gay subjects was the discussion of how black family albums have been carefully censored to omit gay members.  This was especially true of out members such as cross dressers, and some of these censored pictures are revealed in the film.  It was clear that the narrator is gay, like his mentor Marlon Riggs -who made the seminal film on black gay life “Tongues Untied” – and thus he was reclaiming these forgotten family members as a validation of his own identity and legacy.

There was much discussion of the role of black women photographers, who have been even more invisible than black men.  This discussion was facilitated by the critical role of Deborah Willis in the production of this film. Her comments along with those of Jeanie Moutoussamy Ashe and especially Carrie Mae Weems raised questions about their struggle to find black female role models in the field of photography when they started out, and the challenge of dealing with the dominance of white standards of femininity and beauty.

One can see this concern clearly displayed in the photographic images of Carrie Mae Weems, a versatile artist who works in several mediums including audio, fabric, video installations and digital imagery.  She is a well-trained artist who studied at the California Institute of the Arts, U Cal San Diego and the University of California at Berkley.  Her views on representations of the black image in visual arts are among the most interesting in the film.  She defines her mission as an artist thusly: “My responsibility as an artist is to work, to sing for my supper, to make art, beautiful and powerful, that adds and reveals, to beautify the mess of a messy world.”

Ms. Weems has won many honors, including a MacArthur “Genius” Award and has been artist-in-residence or visiting professor at Harvard and Wellesley among others.   And she often appears as a subject in her own  photographs, often posing before mirrors with no evidence of a camera, a marvelous illusion that confounds the viewer.  The two images below, Not Monet’s Type and The Healer are compelling examples.

“Not Monet’s Type”

 

Carrie Mae Weems_not-manets-type_panel-3

 The words and image speaks volumes

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The Healer

Carrie Weems_The_Healer

 From the Series “Dreaming in Cuba”

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 Mother and Daughter

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 Passing on the ancient ritual of self decoration

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 All Americans should see this brilliant and highly important film for themselves, especially black people.   Indeed the black photographers who commented in this documentary repeatedly wondered out loud about how differently many Afro-Americans would view themselves if they had been nurtured on the images provided by black photographers, rather than the degrading images they saw.  Indeed, at the opening of this film the great Afro-American novelist and essayist James Baldwin – a highly intelligent, deeply sensitive and insightful man – is heard remarking about how every black child in America in his time constantly searched for images of themselves in which they could take pride. It was an excellent preface for the film, because it succinctly defined the issue that black photographers addressed.

Alas, the white critics who dominate the pages of the major journals of opinion, such as that snide pompous airhead Dennis Harvey, a San Francisco based critic who wrote a simple-minded review for Variety, may well miss this point.  Among the pearls of wisdom this prissy wag offers up in his banal mutterings about this masterpiece is the following bit of pompous, embarrassingly ignorant, prattle: “Activist leaders like Frederick Douglass and W.E.B. Du Bois (who curated an exhibit of photographed African-American life at a Parisian World’s Fair) stressed the importance of a dignified personal presentation, even if that meant copying the demeanor and dress of the white bourgeoisie.”

It is hard to conjure a more asinine statement from someone who is regarded as a serious commentator on cultural affairs.  They dressed in the high fashion of the times, for the very good reasons that I have discussed earlier.  In his snide know-it-all hip white boy condescension he exposes the fact that he was not really paying attention to the narration, furthermore he understands so little about the imperatives of historical place – and even less about the history of the period – he engages in what historians call “presentism.”

One wonders how Harvey thought they should have dressed; perhaps like Hip Hop heads, or lefty San Francisco bohemian frumps like him?  This is a man who would greatly benefit from Mark Twain’s admonition: Tis far better to be thought a fool than open your mouth and remove all doubt!   Despite the silly and superficial comments of culturally deprived white critic like Harvey, this film, by and measure, is a tour de force and a rare priceless cultural treasure.  It is no surprise that it won the African Movie Academy Award for Best Diaspora Documentary….Bravo!

 

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 Playthell G. Benjamin

Harlem, New York

September, 17 2014

Is Obama Drifting Toward War with Russia?  

Posted in On Foreign Affairs with tags , , on September 4, 2014 by playthell

Ukraninians provoke Russia

The Ukrainians are trying their best to get America Militarily Involved

 On Provoking the Russian Bear in his Lair

Today President Obama delivered an address on American policy in Eastern Europe as expressed through aims of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization – an American led diplomatic dinosaur that should have died out with the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Warsaw Pact in the last decade of the 20th century. And he made much of the fact that he was the first American President to speak in Estonia.  Since the raison d’etre for NATO, which is a military alliance of capitalist states formed in the post-World War II period, sixty years ago, was to contain the expansion of Russian communism, when the Russian communist Party died NATO should have died with it.

Instead, under US leadership NATO expanded into Eastern Europe and incorporated former members of the Warsaw pact, setting up military bases in what were former Russian Republics.  It was an incredible act of self-righteous arrogance that the wisest American analyst of Russian affairs such as George F. Kennan, Jack Matlock and Stephen Cohen warned would prove to be dangerous folly.  The motion of history now testifies to the prophetic character of their analysis.

The growing crisis in Eastern Europe – whose epicenter is in the Ukraine, a former Republic of Soviet Russia – is at its root a conflict between American Exceptionalism and Russian Nationalism.  Although the American government and mainstream media is engaged in a Herculean effort to define this crisis as a struggle between a beleaguered Ukrainian people fighting for freedom and democracy against the aggression of a Russian autocracy led by Vladimir Putin, the quintessential Russian Autocrat who wishes to enslave them by reincorporating them into Russia.

In this scenario Putin is the heir to a long line of Russian autocrats and dictators that harkens back to the Czars and the Communist Party, while the US led NATO alliance is the champion of freedom and democracy.  From this perspective the growing antagonism between Russia and the “western democracies” led by the US can be reduced to a morality play between good and evil.  And that is precisely how this conflict is being portrayed by the most influential opinion makers in the US.

However this is a self-serving and dangerous misinterpretation of the realities in the growing Eastern European imbroglio.   The fact is that we have a clash of interests between power blocs over spheres of influence in which the US refuses to recognize the legitimate national security interests of Russia.  No objective reading of the facts in the Eastern European crisis can fail to admit this reality.  The fundamental problem arises from the fact that the US defines its national interests as global – which is also why US relations with China are growing more antagonistic as I write.  Hence there is nowhere on earth that is off limits for the projection of American power, whether “soft” or “hard” power i.e. cultural and commercial or military.   This attitude was called “The Arrogance of Power” by the late US Senator William J. Fulbright, who published a book under that title during the Cold War.

This arrogance is informed by the ideology of American Exceptionalism, a counterfeit myth that all America politicians, corporate sponsored pundits and think tank supported intellectuals are expected to endorse without question.  It is a way of viewing the world that is reminiscent of the classical Chinese view i.e. “We are the center of the world and all else is the barbarian fringes.”  This view led the Chinese to build a wall around themselves in the belief that there was nothing of value they could learn from other peoples and cultures.

However this attitude has had the opposite effect on America’s leaders, who feel that they must remake the world in our image and anyone who refuses to go along with their program is the evil enemy.  This belief led the US government to overthrow the democratically elected governk on Iraq inment of Iran in 1953, the Bay of Pigs Invasion of Cuba in 1961, the invasion of Vietnam in the 1960’s and the attack on Iraq 2003.  In classical China belief in Chinese Exceptionalism led to its leaders losing touch with what was actually happening with the rest of the world and this resulted in its conquest by Europe.  Alas, the bogus belief in American Exceptionalism propels America’s misguided actions in Eastern Europe and could result in our destruction.

One has only to contemplate the meaning of President Obama’s statements in Estonia – another former Soviet Russian Republic – just his morning to clealy recognize this possibility.  Looking years older than when he first took office six years ago – no doubt from the many intractable crises that weigh on him around the world that he is expected to solve – the President spoke with characteristic eloquence on American solidarity with the Baltic states in a speech suffused with syrupy sentimentalism designed to tug at the heartstrings of his audience. Yet despite his moving oratory, it could prove to be a swan song for humanity.

Speaking on the Independence of the Baltic States after the collapse of the Soviet Union President Obama declared:

You reclaimed your countries. And in your new constitution you declared the independence and sovereignty of Estonia are timeless and inalienable. But the people of the Baltic nations also knew that freedom needs a foundation of security. So you reached out to join the NATO alliance. And we were proud to welcome you as new allies so that those words of your constitution, your timeless independence, will always be guaranteed by the strongest military alliance the world has ever known.”

This was a direct challenge to Russia.  But since Russia has expressed no designs on Estonia, it was an unecissary provocation, and one that would have enraged Americans if Putin made a similar speech in Mexico.  This is the kind of speech one can make in the muslim Mid-East, or South America, where the leading regional powers are Iran is Brazil.  But it borders on madness when made on the doorsteps of Russia, a nuclear superpower that can obliterate the US in a half hour.  What could Barack have been thinking, maybe he drank too much vodka at the meeting with Baltic leaders that have joined NATO, when he met with them earlier in the day.

After rhapsodizing about the virtues of unfettered capitalism – conveniently forgetting the havoc it has wreaked in Eastern Europe with the rise of the oligarchs, or the fact that wealth and the class privilege it brings has virtually frozen socio/economic mobility it the US to the extent that the disparity in wealth among New Yorkers is greater than that in Guatemala – the President” declared:

“And we’re stronger because we stand together. This year we celebrate the 10th anniversary of the ‘Baltics in NATO. A decade ago, skeptics wondered whether your countries were up to the task. And today they need only look at our training exercises where our troops grow even stronger together, shoulder-to-shoulder. They can look at Afghanistan where our forces have sacrificed together to keep us safe and where in just three months the largest operation in NATO history will come to an end, as planned.”

I could hardly believe what I was hearing; did he really refer to Afghanistan as a model for success for Eastern Europe?  This is sheer nonsense!  The real lesson of Afghanistan is that after a decade of pouring American blood and treasure into that military quagmire the Taliban – which an earlier American intervention had created – remains a clear and present danger.  What the US has done – and wisely so – is to declare victory and cut out, despite the actual conditions on the ground.  Perhaps that’s why he went overboard assuring the leaders of the Baltic States that things will be different in Eastern Europe.

During the long Soviet occupation, the great Estonian poet Marie Under wrote a poem in which she cried to the world, “Who’ll come to help? Right here, at present, now!” And I say to the people of Estonia and the people of the Baltics, today we are bound by our treaty alliance. We have a solemn duty to each other. Article 5 is crystal clear. An attack on one is an attack on all. So if, in such a moment, you ever ask again, who’ll come to help, you’ll know the answer: the NATO alliance, including the armed forces of the United States of America, right here, present, now. (Applause.)  We’ll be here for Estonia. We will be here for Latvia. We will be here for Lithuania. You lost your independence once before. With NATO, you will never lose it again.”

Apparently not content with vague threats against the Russians President Obama got specific, down to the nitty gritty.

“The new initiative I proposed in Warsaw this spring includes several elements, and we’re working with Congress to get it done. Here in the Baltics, it would mean positioning more American equipment, so it’s ready if needed. It would mean more training and exercises between our militaries. And it would mean more U.S. forces, including American boots on the ground, continuously rotating through Estonia and Latvia and Lithuania.”

Alas, a close reading and content analysis of President Obama’s speech reveals that much of it sounds like it could have been written by the neo-con cabal of policy wonks from the Project for a New American Century that advised George Bush to invade Iraq.  It is a world view that combines a fundamental belief in American Exceptionalism i.e. only the US has the vision and moral gravitas to lead the world, and the military might to impose that vision.

There was a lot of talk about the sanctity of “freedom” and “democracy” accompanied by a very selective reading of history and present realities, glossing over the fact that many in these Baltic nations willingly collaborated with the Nazis during World War II, while the Russian Communist were our allies in that great struggle against German fascism. While praising the collaborators he never mentioned that it was the Russians who paid a greater price in blood than any nation in the world, with 20 million dead and that Russian arms played a greater role in the defeat of the Nazis than any other country.  And even worse was the falsification of the facts surrounding the events that led to the present crisis in the Ukraine.

The whole world heard the hacked conversation of the American Ambassador to the Ukraine on the phone with the US State Department’s Undersecretary for European affairs plotting the overthrow of the democratically elected president of the Ukraine.  The response of the Obama Administration to this embarrassing tape was to denounce the Russians for hacking the phone call….even as the US National Security Agency was hacking into the cell phone of Andrea Merkle, the German Chancellor.

Furthermore, the American Senator John McCain was photographed marching with neo-Nazis in Keiv while calling for the overthrow of a democratically elected Ukrainian government because their president chose a closer economic relationship with Russia rather than joining the European Union, with the closer ties to NATO that such a relationship required.  Why would ethnic Russians want to remain part of a nation that expressed such hatred for Russia?  This is what sparked the present crisis, not “Russian aggression.”

Hence Barack was engaged in an exercise of political propaganda not an objective recounting of history; the former is an attempt to rearrange facts about the past in order to justify policies in the present, while the latter is concerned with an unbiased reading of the evidence in order to uncover the truth about the past so that we can avoid making the same mistakes in the future.  They are very different enterprises and are guaranteed to deliver dramatically different results.

The failure of President Obama to admit that the real roots of the present conflict with Russia is the aggressive American led expansion of NATO into Eastern Europe until this anti-Russian military alliance is now at their door steps, will not help find a path to peaceful relations with Russia.  Indeed, it could lead to thermo-nuclear war if NATO makes any attempt to admit the Ukraine into this military alliance.

Yet this is the course of action that Senators John McCain, Lindsay Graham and other verbose Republican hawks are calling for.  Hence despite the fact that Barack did indeed sound like “the brown face of American imperialism” he emphatically reiterated his position that there is no military solution to the Ukrainian crisis.  This makes him the clearly the lesser evil.  One has only to imagine the state of the world if John McCain had been President for the last six years…or if Mitt Romney were president as I write, in order to envision how lucky we are to have Barack Obama in the Oval office at this dangerous juncture in history.  Compared to these pretenders Barack’s foreign policy choices looks like Solomonic wisdom.

Thus I continue to disagree with the leftist ideologues like Glen Ford and moral absolutists like Cornel West that there is no significant difference between the Democrats and the Republicans, or John McCain and Barack Obama, the kind of misguided thinking that ignores political reality and led to them helping  elect George Bush over Al Gore.  This nation and the world is still suffering from that disaster but the left has never assumed responsibility for their role in bringing it about.  What the ideologues and moral absolutist refuse to accept is that in real politics, as opposed to rhetorical exercises, one takes the best deal one can get, and in a participatory democracy a people will get the kind of government they deserve.  Hence we are in the mess we are in because of the deeply flawed people Americans have elected to lead them over the years.

I continue to believe that the low level of much of American political leadership, and thus the crux of our problem, is due to the ignorance and apathy of the American electorate.  The ideologues don’t want to face this fact, so they continue to spin fantasies about the “revolutionary masses.”  They refuse to admit that as a politician Barack has to get elected and his party has to win a majority of seats in Congress in order to get anything done on behalf of the American people.  Thus what Abraham Lincoln said at the end of the Civil War is also true of Barack: “Clearly I have not controlled events…but events have controlled me.”

President Obama is bowing to public sentiment in taking a tougher stand against the Russians, although the public has no idea of the danger involved; he must appear to answer the constant Republican charges that he is weak and feckless in the face of the strong and decisive Putin.  That this is foolishness is quite beside the point it is irrelevant in political terms.  Thus he is pushed into a tough guy role with the Russians that in his head and heart he knows this dangerous folly….and appears prepared to shoot craps with the fate of the earth for the sake of domestic politics because the Russian bear will fight if NATO continues to threaten the security of his lair.

Where we are Headed

Atomic Bomb Explosion III

If we push the Russians too far!

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Playthell G. Benjamin
 Harlem, New York
September 4, 2014

On Quitting the Iraqi Quagmire

Posted in On Foreign Affairs, On War and Peace in the Mid East! with tags , , on August 17, 2014 by playthell

ISIS Mass Killings

The Jihadists are taking no Prisoners

 What to do about ISIS?

As the Iraqi’s struggle to form a viable government under Haider al-Abadi, who replaced a disgraced Al Maliki as Prime Minister, fanatical Muslim Jihadists in ISIS – Islamic State of Iraq and Syria – gobble up more and more of Iraqi territory in its ruthless march toward Baghdad, destroying Christian and Shia shrines and beheading “non-believers”, it is time for us to question the decisions of our policy makers.

We need to ask: What exactly is going on there?  What was the role of the US in creating this tragic mess that is destroying the nation of Iraq as it existed before the Bush invasion?   And what do we do now? This matter should be examined without regard to past ideological positions and guided by the paramount objective of formulating a policy that best serves US interest.  However, given the complexity of the situation in the Middle East identifying the best policy options is easier said than done.

Looking at the situation on the ground in Iraq from a historical perspective, one is forced to wonder if the professional historians are right when they argue unanimously that history does not repeat itself.    It certainly seems so when observing American foreign policy over the last half century.  The historical record reveals a recurring pattern of the US attempting to impose its will on the politics of other nations, especially Third World countries that are presumed to be easy pickings.

It is a record cluttered with spectacular failures – Iran, Vietnam, Afghanistan and now Iraq.  In Vietnam the US picked the wrong side and the result was a multibillion dollar debacle that resulted in the deaths of over a million Vietnamese and many thousands of Americans; the poisoning of the environment in Vietnam with “Agent Orange;” a crisis in American society and thousands of walking wounded who never recovered from their service in that war.

It was such a blunder that the US abandoned the selective service draft, thereby removing the requirement for military service among the more educated and affluent youths of the nation.  This eliminated a major source of anti-war activism of the sort that wreaked havoc on the nation’s college campuses’ during the Vietnam War.

With an all-volunteer army we now have an armed force largely composed of the “have nots ” – the kids who years ago would have come out of high school and gone to work in a factory – thus there has been little protest from American youths.  US corporations that used to provide industrial jobs have become multi-national conglomerates with global interests that are beholden only to their investors, not national states. Thus they have exported their jobs overseas and decimated the US manufacturing sector because they can reap greater profits from non-unionized industrial slaves in foreign countries.  Hence for many poor working class American youths volunteering for the military appears to be their only route to advancement in life…if they survive America’s constant wars with their body and brains intact.

We have now been involved in constant wars in the Muslim world for a generation, whether backing one side in a conflict or directly waging war.  Yet our policy makers appear to have learned nothing!  Just as the decision by President Eisenhower to overthrow the constitutionally elected government of Muhammad Mossedeck in Iran by a CIA led military coup in 1953, led directly to the Islamic Revolution in Iran that the US constantly agonizes over today; the decision to overthrow Sadam Hussein and install and American backed Shia government in Iraq has led us to the ISIS crisis where Islamic Jihadists are threatening to take control of Iraq and establish an Islamic Caliphate under Sharia Law.

Self-righteous Killers
Isis beheadings II
They justify barbaric war crimes with Koranic Scripture

So what should the US government do now?   To begin with US policymakers should be made to take an oath similar to the Hippocratic Oath required of medical doctors: “First do no harm!”  That would be an auspicious start given the blunders of previous US administrations, especially the last Bush man.  It is essential that the policy makers are open minded and objective in their analysis, ideology must take a back seat.

The danger of allowing ideology to obfuscate reality is ever present and was at the root of the Invasion of Iraq by George Bush – a clueless neophyte in foreign policy matters who was hoodwinked by the cabal of advisors handpicked from the Project for a New American Century, a think tank founded by “Dirty Dick” Cheney and his ideological cronies. (See: How the Iraq War Was Hatched in a Think Tank*)

It was because of the ideological obsessions held by these advisors, which were spelled out in position papers written at PNAC, that the US attacked Iraq in the aftermath of the massive 9/11 terrorist attack carried out by the affluent sons of well to do Egyptians and Saudi Arabians, America’s closest allies in the Arab world.  Instead of examining the misbegotten US policy of arming and training Islamic militants – then known as the Afghan Mujahedeen – in terrorist tactics to be employed against the Soviet Union, out of which grew the Taliban and Al Qaeda, who later used them against us, Bush was persuaded to invade Iraq!

The Bushmen callously took this nation into a war of choice against an unoffending country – which according to established international laws that govern the relations of sovereign nations is a crime – in order to achieve the long standing ideological objective of overthrowing its leader Sadam Hussein.

This is what happens when politicized intelligence colored by ideology becomes the basis for policy making – it is the same path that led us defeat in the Jungles of South East Asia.   If Bushmen had listened to the leading scholars on the Mid-East region in the CIA and the academic community – such as Professor Juan Cole -we would have never invaded Iraq and they would have discovered that secular Arab strongmen like Sadam were the frontline resistance against the Jihadists.  If they had heeded the warning of the Arab League that an American invasion of Iraq would “open the gates of hell” history could have taken a far different, less costly and destructive course over the past decade.

For instance, what if the US and formed an alliance with Sadam against al Qaeda?  I would argue that US forces would have captured Osama within a year and two wars waged over a decade –  at a cost of four trillion dollars, untold destruction of the invaded countries, and legions of wrecked families who lost loved ones on both sides – could have been avoided.  Instead, just as in Iran and Vietnam, a misguided incompetent American policy has resulted in just the opposite of their stated objectives.

Are we going to repeat these historical blunders yet again and at even greater cost?  The alternatives before President Obama are limited and distasteful.  Hence the question before the architects of our foreign policy is which are the lesser evils?  Now that the US has abandoned Al Maliki, the Prime Minister that our actions put in power, and is now supporting Haider al-Abadi, the handpicked choice of the Iraqi President in a process that al Maliki initially protested as “unconstitutional” before resigning for the sake of national unity, the question is what now?

One thing is certain: No half-assed rag tag army commanded by a government in disarray is going to defeat ISIS, a highly disciplined force driven by religious passion, armed with state of the art American weaponry and hundreds of millions of dollars to support their mission among men for whom devotion to Allah trumps the comforts of earthly status or personal wealth.  Hence this money will be used to combat the “Great Satan” and his minions in the Muslim world.  That’s how they are managing to support an armed force that some experts on the region estimate at 50, 000 men.

This state of affairs leaves President Obama two choices: arm the Kurdish militias with the most advanced American heavy weaponry and let them fight it out with ISIS, or form an alliance with Iran and let their elite Revolutionary Guards lead the fight to crush ISIS.  In the first instance it would spell the end of the unitary Iraqi state, because the Kurds will seize their long sought independence in a separate state which a grateful US could not oppose.

The other alternative would permanently expand the power and influence of Iran in the region….a development the US has long opposed.  Furthermore an alliance with Iran, although clearly in the US national interests, would enrage Israel – who has tried their best to goad the US into a war with Iran – and thus mobilize the Israel Lobby against the President.  Once that happens it would alienate a cowardly Congress and the President’s agenda for the remainder of his Presidency will be dead in the water.

Yet the alternative to arming the Kurds or forming an alliance with Iran who, like the US, passionately oppose ISIS, is to reintroduce American troops in Iraq; a policy most Americans would vigorously oppose – since we are still withdrawing our troops from that hell hole of our making – or just stand by and watch the murderous Islamic fanatics in ISIS take over a large swath of the oil rich Middle East.

Alas, no thinking person who understands what is at stake in the Middle-East can oppose all forms of American military action, although it should be limited to air strikes and covert operations in cooperation with Iraqi government forces, especially in situations where there is eminent danger of genocide such as ISIS’ attempts to exterminate religious minorities such as the Christians.

However it is long past time for American foreign policy to be driven by an objective cost/benefit analysis based on actual US interests.   We can no longer afford to indulge ideological fantasies such as Senator John McCain is given to; a surreal vision of American military dominance of the world that would commit this nation to perpetual wars that gobble up financial and intellectual capital this nation desperately needs for our own internal development.

By Some Estimat ISIS is 50, 000 strong!
 images (2) Isis ISIS mILITANTS iii
The Consequences of the Bush/Cheney Invasion of Iraq

 

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Playthell G. Benjamin
On the Road
August 17th 2014

 

 

Get On Up!

Posted in Film Criticism, Movie Reviews, Music Reviews with tags , , on August 12, 2014 by playthell

Boseman Chadwick-james-brown-get-on-up-movie (1)

Chadwick Boseman Rocks his Role as the Inimitable James Brown

 

The James Brown Story Comes to the Silver Screen

In her insightful magisterial study “The Daemonic Genius of Richard Wright,” Professor Margret Walker says of the great Afro-American novelist “Richard Wright came straight out of hell;” the same can be said of James Brown, an iconic figure in American popular music.  Browns life story is both an epic tale about the triumph of the human spirit through the agency of art and a representative anecdote for American civilization – which that peerless interpreter of American culture Albert Murray defines as “any story of steerage to boardroom” or the rags to riches tales of Horaito Alger. It is a story of tragedy and triumph that allows us to look into the life, loves and art of one of the unique American public figures of the 20th century.

The elements of a great movie are a good story, a well written script, imaginative sets and costumes that capture the milieu – i.e. spirit of the time and place – a good musical score, thoughtful creative directing and great acting.  This film has them all…an embarrassment of riches.   While Shakespeare’s observation that “the play is the thing,” is true enough, it takes actors to transform those words from inanimate symbols scrawled on paper into living breathing believable characters.  Through their agency the words become flesh…in a god-like act.

I have never seen anyone do it better than Chadwick Boseman.  As I watched him bring the larger than life character of James Brown to life, I conjured up the voice of Sir Lawrence Olivier, who is thought by many to be the most accomplished actor of the 20th century, warning young thespians who aspire to greatness as actors: “Acting is a noble profession but an actor should never be caught doing it.”  Boseman must have taken Sir Lawrence’s words to heart and placed it at the center of his art because after a few minutes I completely forgot that he was not James Brown!   He was every bit as convincing in the role as Jamie Fox was as Ray Charles….and he won the Oscar for his performance….jes sayin.

It was a strange experience for me because I witnessed James Brown’s entire career.   I first saw him perform in 1956, when he was enjoying his first hit record “Pleas, Please. Please.”   He was the headliner at the “Two Spot,” the premiere black night club in Jacksonville Florida. All of the great Jazz, Blues and Rhythm and Blues acts performed there.  People came from all around, not just Jacksonville, but the surrounding towns and counties, such as St. John’s County where I lived in the ancient city of St. Augustine.  Some party people even drove down from Augusta Georgia, James Brown’s home town to check out the show.

Please, Please, Please was burning up the airwaves on WOBS, the radio station serving the large Afro-American communities in the Jacksonville area.  Their star D.J Johnny Shaw “The Devil’s Son in Law,” played it constantly.  We had listened to the record on the radio and everybody was running to the nearest record store to buy it.  So me and my boys were very excited to see this guy James Brown perform live.  Never having seen him we were totally unprepared for the spectacle we witnessed.  I was actually too young to even be in the club, but since I was singing with a R&B group that was performing on the Sunday Afternoon Matinee I was allowed to enter this magic temple where great music was made.

The Sunday Matinee at the TWO Spot was a talent contest between competing singing groups in the area.  It was like a scene in Robert Townsend’s great movie homage to the golden age of live R&B performance “The Five Heartbeats.”  The place was packed with pretty girls out to “let the good times roll,” a frame of mind immortalized by Brown’s New Orleans contemporaries Shirley and Lee on their hit record “Come on Baby Let the Good Times Roll.”

All of the five members of my group, “The Dewdrops,” could croon their asses off; we were members of the Murray High Glee Club, directed by my Aunt Marie, and we sang everything from J. Rosamond Johnson and Harry T. Burleigh’s arrangements of the “Negro Spirituals” – that marvelous body of sacred music produced by Black American slaves – to Handel’s Messiah and Bach’s B Minor Mass.  Hence when “Bubba Duck” Jackson, a ruggedly handsome football player with a high falsetto tenor voice, fell to his knees while singing  “This is Dedicated to the One I Love” – a Hank Ballad and the Midnighters  hit – with tears rolling down his cheeks, the girls went crazy!  But that was just the dress rehearsal.

Like us, the ladies were there to see “James Brown and the Famous Flames.”   After the talent contest was done, with us coming in second in a very tough competition, the Master of Ceremonies announced “It’s star time at the Two Spot!   Hereee’s James Brown and the Famous Flames!”  The audience exploded in applause and began to move to the groove of the band as we waited for the man of the moment to emerge from the wings.  Suddenly this ebony black guy in a white tuxedo with tails strolled onstage followed by a group of back ground singers dressed in black pants. White shirts, black tuxedo jackets with purple satin lapels and bow ties  closely followed.  He opened with his arrangement of a Louis Jordan hit from an earlier period “Cladonia!”

From the outset his dancing was a marvel, although we recognized that at root it was his improvisations on the “Mashed Potatoes’” and the “Camel Walk” two popular Afro-American vernacular dances au courant at the time, but when James added his unique moves they became something different and something more.  It was love at first sight, I fell for the James Brown sound completely, as did my peers, and it is a love that has lasted a lifetime.  It was an enchanting evening in a magical place, the Two Spot dance hall and supper club in Jacksonville Florida, where great musical performances was common fare, because most white clubs and concert halls wouldn’t book black artists.  They preferred the corny white artists who “covered’ their records with saccharine corny versions aimed at white America – ala Pat Boone’s cover of Little Richard’s rousing Rhythm& Blues hit “Tutti Fruti.”

The James Brown Show on Screen

James Brown_Get_on_Up_film_

It was like seeing James Resurrected

This movie captures the essence of those magic moments in American popular music and more. The writers, John-Henry and Jez Butterworth, capture all of this in their well written script and the actors bring it convincingly to life under the able direction of Tate Taylor.   Alas, despite the artistic success of this film, the fact that these major creative functions were all performed by whites and blacks were reduced to the artistic equivalent of ventriloquist dummies whose movements and speech echo the words and ideas of whites, raises some serious questions about the ongoing phenomenon of Euro-American creative artists appropriating Afro-American cultural ingredients and epic tales that define major black historical figures.  What, the thoughtful observer is compelled to ask, does this tell us about the persistence of rampant racism and cultural imperialism in the movie industry.

The broadly learned and insightful Afro-American cultural historian and critic Harold Cruse discussed this issue in depth a half century ago in his masterwork “The Crisis of the Negro Intellectual.” But considering the fact that Tate Taylor also directed “The Help” – a hit film about black maids working for racist whites in the apartheid south of the first half of the  20th century – and the recent hit biopic on the life of Jackie Robinson was also written, produced  and directed by whites it’s time to take up the subject of the Afro-American creative artists in the cultural arena again.  However neither time nor space affords us the opportunity to do justice to this this critical issue here; that subject will be addressed in a future essay devoted to this topic.

Chadwick Boseman proves that he is not only a great actor, but a hell of a singer and dancer too!  James Brown is the most influential dancer/singer in a genre in which dance is central to the performance.  Every major dancer in Rhythm and Blues i.e. “Soul” music since the 1950’s has been influenced by James Brown.   Some of James Brown’s R&B contemporaries – Jackie Wilson, Little Richard, Bo Diddly, Chuck Berry,   et al – had their own moves.

The Delta blues man Muddy Waters was also a great dancer, and Cab Calloway – who was from the preceding generation, taught them all.  But James Brown is by far the most influential dancer in the Rhythm and blues tradition.  Michael Jackson, Prince, MC Hammer and even the Filipino star Bruno Mars are all extentions of the spectatular artistry of James Brown.  And Brown himself belongs to a long tradition of Afro-American vernacular dance.  For insance it is easy to see how he was influenced by the great Song and dance man Cab Calloway, who also fronted a dynamic band.

Cab Calloway

Cab Calloway
The Grand Daddy of them All!

One need only look at such great dancers as Prince, Michael Jackson, Morris Day, MC Hammer, Chris Brown, et al to recognize the indelible influence of James Brown. In Fact MC Hammer made a video calling Michael Jackson out for not giving props to the “God Father” of dance in the R&B idiom.

James Brown
james_20brown_2012
The God Father of Soul!
 Michael Jackson
Michael Jackson II
His moves mesmerized the world!

Prince!

 Prince-in-concert

 Openly Acknowledges that he based his act on James Brown’s Model

MC Hammer

Hammer II

They couldn’t touch this!!!!!

Filipino Sensation Bruno Mars

Bruno-Mars-Performs-Super-Bowl-Halftime-Show-Photos

All are Artistic Extensions of James Brown!

It is no mystery why Afro-Americans have created every popular dance craze in the US.  The ever insightful Albert Murray attributes this to the “tendency of Africans to turn all movement into dance like elegance.”  Growing up in Georgia, and spending his early boyhood in the backwoods where he was immersed in the black folk culture that retained elements of West African culture, James attended a sanctified “Holy Roller” church, and witnessed the power of music to move people…and the way the dancing preacher – a fairly common figure in black fundamentalist churches – used music, chants and movement to hypnotize his followers.

The movie captures all of this in a powerful vignette, and affords us an insider’s view of the origins of James Brown’s performance style.  It is no wonder that Albert Murray would observe that a James Brown performance created the emotional power of a great revivalist preacher in his seminal text on Afro-American music “Stomping the Blues.”  Like Little Richard, Sam Coke, Ray Charles, et al, James began singing in the Afro-American church – an institution that has produced more great original American musicians than Julliard.  Charlie “Yardbird” Parker, who revolutionized western instrumental music, as well as the grand operatic divas Leontine Price, Jessie Norman, Kathleen Battle, et al  and legions of musicians in all genres were products of the black church.

But James Brown remained close to his musical roots, the black southern country churches and those unlettered preachers the black bard and 20th century Renaissance Man James Weldon celebrates in his epic poems “God’s Trombones.”   Of these untutored sable clerics who claimed to be called to the pulpit by God almighty himself, Johnson said “The old time southern Negro preacher had all the devices of eloquence at his command.”  James Brown converted that eloquence into music.  In him we see the evidence of Zora Neale Hurston’s claim that black folk religion is for “people who love magnificence and can’t get enough of it.”

This however, was not the church of the formally educated black middle class, of whose church services the ‘Poet Laureate of Harlem” and peerless observer of Afro-American life and culture Langston Hughes says was the result of a decision to “Let’s be boring like the Nords” in his path-breaking essay “The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain.”  James Brown, a country boy molded in the hell of America’s racist apartheid South, kept it real and relied on the power of his folk roots for the source of his artistic inspiration.  And he brought the funk like nobody else; any R&B or Rap artist who does not understand this is faking the funk!

The movie explores all of this and more, as it takes us into aspects of James Brown’s life that are not well known to many of his fans…this writer included.  With Browns’ longtime musical colleague and personal friend Bobby Bird as a historical consultant we get intimate details of Brown’s life that we could not have gotten from any other source.  And no doubt this is because of the guiding hand of Mick Jagger in the project. A rock music legend that saw James Brown perform live during a tour of the US and never forgot it – in fact he includes the scene in the movie – Jagger understands the intricacies of keeping a band on point and ready to perform on the road.

Thus we are afforded a view of the problems of a touring band that usually never meet the public eye.  We get to see what a strict task master Brown was, docking the musicians pay for every infraction, sometimes seeming petty and ego-maniacal, but the result was one of the tightest bands in the history of the Rock and Roll era. That’s why they were able to respond dramatically to every gesture of his body the way they did. Or go directly to the bridge when he called for it.  We all enjoyed watching him cue the band with words or body movements….but we never understood the hard work required to achieve such precision in performance.

However the greatest revelation about the life of James Brown that I experienced is his relationship with his parents and how he was raised.  Dirt poor and stuck in the back woods, reliant upon a brutal father whose meager pay working as a laborer in the pulp wood industry was routinely squandered on whisky and gambling, who was ignorant, and a mother who confused and abused, James had to figure things out for himself while yet a child.  His mother, tired of poverty and abuse, ran away and became a whore, and when his daddy joined the army to escape his miserable dead end existence in the racist backwoods of Georgia, James was left to live with his aunt, who was the madam of a thriving whore house.

When we look at the conditions these black women endured in the South – oppressed on the basis of race, gender and class – who among us is righteous enough to cast the first stone of condemnation….not I.  They played the bad hand they were dealt as best they could, and some of them aspired to better things for the youths than were available to them.   This was especially true of James’ aunt who ran the cat house.  She told him that he had something special, that one day the whole world would know his name and that he would be fabulously wealthy.  Raised by kind hearted hos James got a look at life that was raw like Sushi.

All of these factors contributed to the personality formation of the man the world came to know as the God Father of Soul.  He was a man who understood that everything good that had happened to him in life was because of his talent as a performer.  And life became very good indeed; luxury jets, fine cars and mansions of many rooms were all his – as well as an endless bevy of black, brown and beige beauties.  No doubt he could have had his pick from a multitude of snow queens, but he stayed with the sistas.   Yet his childhood memories of seeing his mother turning tricks with soldiers, and all the whores he grew up around, made him more than a tad puritanical about the women in his life.  It also made him abusive.

Some of the most dramatic moments in the film involve James and his wife – played by the voluptuous brown beauty Jill Scott – a type A female who stood her ground….what the folks in Georgia used to call a “Tushie.”  When he slaps her down in one scene it is shocking to behold: but then, James Brown, like all of us, is a product of his socialization – or lack thereof.  Hence it should come as no surprise that he was relentless and ruthless with is band members in his quest for fame and fortune, and a unapologetic patriarch with his women, or that he showered them with expensive gifts and took good care of his children.

‘Thick Fine” Jill Scott and Chad Boseman

chadwick-boseman-jill-scott-get-on-up

Sizzle on Screen as James Brown and Wife

We can see the seeds of all these adult traits being forged in his personality by virtue of his experiences as a boy.   This film captures it all:  the glamour, the tragedy, the good times and bad, the pathos and bathos of Afro-American culture…and most of all the marvelous music!   According to the director, Boseman pulled this amazing performance off with only two months of preparation.  “We got the go ahead from Universal around the end of August. Chad Boseman had September and October to become James Brown—the dancer, the singer, and played him as a 17-year-old all the way to a 63-year-old. I literally can’t understand how he did it.” Taylor recalls.   The resulting product of all this hard work and generous talent is a cinematic tour de force:  Bravo!

 

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See Video Clips Below

Double click to see “James Brown and the “Famous Flames” 

 http://youtu.be/5_jqhXNF98A

This concert was at the height of his prowess in 1964
Click to see: James Browns Greatest Moves

http://youtu.be/Ek9-HGHT1Pk

Where James got his Inspiration

http://youtu.be/E_Qi_MbaOyk

Cab Calloway: Grandfather of Soul!
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James Brown honored by the President at Kennedy Center

http://youtu.be/V1CPN-nc1To

Playthell G. Benjamin                                                     

Soul Brother #1

On the Road
August 11, 2014

Is Anti-Zionism Anti-Semitism?

Posted in Is Anti-Zionism Anti-semitism?, On Foreign Affairs, On Israel, On War and Peace in the Mid East! with tags , , , on August 6, 2014 by playthell
Anti-Zionist Neturei_Karta_Jewish_group_protest_against_Israel (1)
Deeply Religious Hasidic Jews Protest Zionism

 Abe Foxman says yes….Others Jews Say No

More and more these days one hears Jews of many political and religious views complain of a experiencing a growing hostility toward them as a result of the policies of the Israeli government.  One has only to witness the random attacks on Jews by Arabs on the streets of Paris recently to recognize why they feel that this the most dangerous threat faced by all Jews everywhere. This sad state of affairs results from the fact that so many people are convinced  Zionism and Judaism are synonymous, that they are one and the same.  But as Rabbi’s and Judaic scholars point out: “Judaism is thousands of years old, while Zionism is barely a hundred!”

This conflation is especially troubling to anti-Zionist Jews and others who oppose the policies of the Israeli government.   Although you wouldn’t know it from watching the major media….such oppositional Jews are everywhere.  Yet they are seldom seen or heard, fostering the impression that Jews are in lockstep regarding Israeli government policies, and this belief is fostering hatred toward all Jews.  This is true even in a city like New York, a center of world Jewish power.

In an article titled “Convergence of Hate,” published in the July 31 edition of The Jewish Daily Forward, Jane Eisner, a liberal middle class Jew living on the affluent Upper West Side of Manhattan was shocked to discover anti-Jewish graffiti scrawled on her sidewalk.

Since the letters were written in white chalk and were upside down from where I stood, it took a moment to decipher their meaning, and another moment to get over the shock.  This was on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, the epicenter of the liberal American shtetl, a place so ubiquitously Jewish that even the smallest grocery store posts Friday night candle-lighting times each week. So to see even this mildly anti-Israel graffiti was a surprise. For the first time since we moved to the neighborhood a couple of years ago, we felt uncomfortable, targeted, as people who care about Israel and as Jews.”

Mrs. Eisner tells us that she and her husband wondered “whether that scrawled sidewalk sentiment was a legitimate criticism of American policy or rank anti-Zionism. And when does anti-Zionism bleed into simple hatred of Jews?”   That’s a good question, because to the extent that this happens it is largely due to the fact that these people believe that the policies of the Israeli government reflects the religious beliefs of the Jewish faith held by all Jews.  How did they get this mistaken idea?  Ironically the main purveyors of the idea that Judaism and Zionism represent a single world view, and are thus inseparable, has been the major media and the leaders of pro-Israel Jewish Organizations in the US.  Abraham Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League heads the list.

However there is a growing legion of anti-Zionist Jewish secular intellectuals, Rabbi’s and theologians who vehemently disagree with this view on secular and sacred Grounds.  These increasingly vocal opponents of Israeli government policies overwhelmingly believe that those supporters of Israel who conflate Judaism and Zionism employ this strategy in order to silence opponents of Israel by dishonestly accusing them of being anti-Semitic – “a Jew hater.”  And while it has worked very well in silencing criticism of Israel among the Goyim, it has proved useless when the critics are Jewish.  Hence the defenders of Israel coined a special term for them: “Self-Hating Jews.”

But that’s not the worst of it.  The Jewish establishment, led by Abraham Foxman and the ADL, has attacked them in myriad ways.  I have heard stories from Jewish academics and Journalists about the trials and tribulations they have suffered at the hands of pro-Zionist organizations – including getting them fired from their jobs and even murder.   As was the case with the prolific Jewish theologian Dr. Mark Ellis, and the great investigative journalist Robert I. Freedman.  However, because the Zionist claims are based on Scripture, let us begin this discussion of anti-Zionist Jews with the critique of Orthodox Rabbi’s.

Anti-Zionist religious Jews are ridiculed and threatened in America, beaten down on the streets in Israel by the police and soldiers, even imprisoned when they demonstrate for peace with the Palestinians.  One of the reasons that the Israeli government considers these Orthodox Jews so dangerous is that they reject the Zionist master narrative for Israel’s raison d’etre, especially the claim that Jews were the constant victims of violent oppression when they lived in Muslim countries before the establishment of Israel.

The Rabbi’s Visit Iran
Anti- Zionist Rabbi's meet Ayatollah
 And were warmly received by the Ayatollah!

These anti-Zionist Jews say the Zionist claim is a lie calculated to manufacture hostility toward the Arabs among their powerful Christian benefactors, and represents a historical slander against the very people among whom they found refuge over the centuries of fleeing oppression and death in Europe.  To demonstrate their point Rabbi Israel Dovid Weiss visited Iran and met both the Ayatollah and Prime Minister Ahmadinejad.

In a January 15, 2007 article in the New York Times – “New York Rabbi Finds Friends in Iraq and Enemies at Home” – we are told that In a March 2006 broadcast on Iran’s IRIB radio, the official government station, Rabbi Weiss  declared that “it is a dangerous deviation to pretend that the Iranian president is anti-Jewish and anti-Semitic. He is extremely friendly and he understands the difference between the Zionists and the Jews who do not embrace the state of Israel… We don’t look at him as an enemy.”

Rabbi and Ahmadinejad

anti-Zionist jews-iran

 Jew and Persian Embrace

Rabbi Weiss, along with what he insists are hundreds of thousands of religious Jews around the world view the state of Israel as a sacrilege, a violation of the will of God.  There is no shame in their game regarding the matter and they put their position bluntly and without apology, convinced that it is they that are doing the will of God and are the true peacemakers.  Their argument against Israel is that is that the Torah expressly states that the New Israel can only be established by the Messiah upon his return.  And that the Torah expressly forbids men from trying to “hasten” the end times by human agency.

They also claim that the Zionist founders of Israel were not religious but political men, Jewish nationalists with imperial ambitions, swine eaters and wine drinkers, who dispossessed the Palestinian people of their land by naked aggression.  Hence they contend that the Zionists “high-jacked” Judaism and its symbols for a nefarious political scheme that they believe sully the moral principles of Judaism. And for this they have called for the death of the Zionist state of Israel; even embarking on a mission to meet with Muslim leaders to personally talk with them and state their position: Zionism is the enemy of Judiasm.  This belief is what compelled the Rabbi’s to visit Iran.

When he attended “The International Conference to Review the Global Vision of the Holocaust” in Iran, Rabbi Weiss’ many enemies accused him of being in league with holocaust deniers.  But, alas, we have the record of the Rabbi’s speech to the gathering.  He said in part:

Now maybe I can say that at the discussion of the holocaust, I may be the representative, the voice of the people who died in the holocaust because my grandparents died there. They were killed in Auschwitz. My parents were from Hungary. My father escaped and his parents remained. He wasn’t able to get them out of Hungary and they died in Auschwitz as were other relatives and all the communities that they knew. So to say that they didn’t die, to me you cannot say that. I am the living remnant of the people who died in the holocaust and I am here, I believe sent by God, to humbly say, simply to speak to the people here and say, ‘You should know that the Jewish people died, and do not try to say that it did not happen. They did die!’ There are people throughout the Jewish communities, still alive in their seventies and eighties and every one of them will tell you their stories. It is something which you can not refute, but that being said, it doesn’t mean that the holocaust is a tool to use to oppress other people”

Rabbi Weiss went on to elaborate on the last point regarding the tendency of the Zionists to invoke the memory of the holocaust in order to evoke feelings of guilt and use it to raise political support and money for their nationalist cause.  He explicitly rejects this tactic “

The Zionists use the Holocaust issue to their benefit. We, Jews who perished in the Holocaust, do not use it to advance our interests. We stress that there are hundreds of thousands Jews around the world who identify with our opposition to the Zionist ideology and who feel that Zionism is not Jewish, but a political agenda…What we want is not a withdrawal to the ’67 borders, but to everything included in it, so the country can go back to the Palestinians and we could live with them.”

The Orthodox Rabbis also take the position that the Zionist militarists in Israel  are the real danger to peace in the Middle-East not Iran…and they have said so in massive demonstrations!  This is a grave blow to the Israeli narrative, which casts Iran as the war mongers, despite the fact that they have engaged in all manner of aggressions against Iran including sabotague and assasssination of Iranian scientists.  As a consequence of taking this position Rabbi Weiss, along with his followers in the Neutari Karta and the Satmar Hassidim, have been denied service at Kosher stores in New York, had his Synagogue picketed, and threatened with bodily harm on the streets.  But the Rabbi and his followers are like the apocryphal trees planted by the “rivers of waters” They shall not be moved!

Hassidim Protests hostility toward Iran

Anti-zionist Jews demostrate against Iran

A Very Courageous Act in New York!
 Anti-Zionist Jews Protest Israeli atrocities in Gaza
Anti-Zionist Jews support Arabs of Gaza 
Doing their religeous duty
Click to witness Anti-Zionist protest at Israeli Embassy
http://youtu.be/Jl0xkgBKNro
Double Click for Rabbi Dovid Weiss’s views on Zionism
 http://youtu.be/JHj5aH4Mox8
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Playthell G. Benjamin
August 5, 2014

Blood on Our Hands!

Posted in On Foreign Affairs, On War and Peace in the Mid East! with tags , on July 22, 2014 by playthell

Israeli Bombing of Gaza

The Israeli bombing of Gaza

 The US Cannot Escape blame for Israeli War Crimes

Thomas Jefferson, the brightest of the Founding Fathers, thoughtfuly considered the widespread institution of African slavery in America and commented in his book Notes from the Colony of Virginia:”I shudder for my country when I reflect upon the fact that God is just.”  If Barack Obama is the thoughtful, humane, Christian that he appears to be – and I believe that he is – then he must be having many such moments.  For it is with full American support that the Israeli government conducts bombing raids over populated areas of Gaza – the giant concentration camp on the West Bank where the Palestinian people live under armed Israeli occupation –both by the Israeli military and Jewish civilian Settlers; which is a war crime.

The present genocidal bombing attacks on the largely unarmed, trapped, despised Palestinians was sparked by the killing of three Jewish youths at the hands of unidentified assailants. In retaliation for this crime the Israeli’s have decided to wreak collective punishment on the Palestinians.  As I write this policy has resulted in over 516 Palestinian deaths – which includes 120 children and 80 women  – as the entire world watches in horror.

Eyewitness reports by foreign sources, such as Danish doctors, tell horrifying stories about headless Palestinian children being brought into the hospitals….several of which have also been hit.  And aside from the fatalities there are thousands of people with serious injuries that require hospital treatment.  Thus far Israel has lost 18 soldiers; alas a single Palestinian family lost 18 members.  Only the most intellectually depraved morally deformed minds can conclude that the Israeli government’s actions are justified, that this is a balanced equation, yet we hear many othrewise honorable people arguing just that.

Since everyone who understands how the world works know that America is Israel’s enabler, without whose support the Zionists would be unable to carry out these crimes against the Palestinian people, a shocked world wants to know why President Obama appears to be hiding out in the White House and  has suddenly lost his voice.  When compared to his vehement denunciations of Russia for their alleged support for Ukrainian rebels, his tepid calls for a “ceasefire” and pained public expressions of sympathy for the Palestinians that have fallen victims to Israeli bombs and bullets – which his government continues to supply – comes across as too little too late.  And based upon any objecting reading of current events, this approach has been less than useless in restraining the murderous actions of Bibi Netanyahu – America’s main man in the Middle East.

President Obama’s mealy mouth mutterings regarding Israeli crimes in Gaza can only be understood in the context of the domestic political realities he faces – i.e. avoiding giving the radical Tea Party Republicans who control the House any grounds to impeach him, and preventing a Republican takeover of the Senate in the next elections.   Then there is the omnipotent powers of the faceless forces that shape US policy in the Mid-East by controling the Congress, forces most Americans know nothing about; let alone how to effectively oppose.

This ignorance is due to the negligence, or outright duplicity, of the major corporate media in the US that work overtime to obfuscate the fundamental issues at play in the protracted conflict between Israeli and Palestinian.   This kind of widespread distortion of reality, which amounts to a massive disinformation campaign aimed at the US electorate, is no willy nilly affair or happenstance.   It is orchestrated by the Israel Lobby, a confluence of organizations and powerful individuals that work to promote Israeli interests in the US.  And it has reduced the US press – whose raison d’etre as envisioned by the drafters of the First Amendment is to watch over those in power – has been reduced to a cowardly toothless tiger.

Yet despite their enormous power – which has successfully promoted policies that has made the US the most hated nation in the Islamic world – Abraham Foxman, who heads the rabidly pro-Israel Anti-Defamation League,  denies that any such pro-Zionist pressure group exists.   Yet the League has been fingered as one of the major players in the Israel Lobby by Professors Mearshimer and Walt, two scholars who recently published a thoughtful and thoroughly researched scholarly book : “The Israel Lobby and American Foreign Policy,”

Upon reading it Fox freaked out,  he has taken his denial to the extent of publishing a bogus book of propaganda and shameless special pleading – the text bears his name but might well have been written by a committee –which claims to be a rebuttal of the analysis provide by Mearshimer and Walt.   As tenured professors of political science specializing in International Relations at Harvard and the University of Chicago, these scholars are at the top of the American academic pyramid, thus they are beyond the reach of the disciplinary machinery of the “nonexistent” Israel Lobby that seeks to punish them with slander.

Fortunately, we live in the marvelous age of video tape and the Internet; hence I am including a video clip of Professors Mearshimer and Walt’s discussion of their research, as well as the orchestrated attempts to intimidate them by forces in the Israel Lobby, who are attempting to slander them and impugn their integrity by labeling them “anti-Semites,” a standard tactic of the organized apologists for Israeli crimes. Here the reader can see for themselves that despite  the well organized slander campaign of the Israel Lobby – which, as the professors demonstrate, commands wide support in the major corporate media that live on advertisement dollars – the professor’s make an unimpeachable case based on irrefutable evidence.  By comparison, it will be easy to see that their critics are nothing more than “special pleaders” and shameless propagandists.

It is a supreme Irony that the very people who deny the existence of the Israel Lobby are deploying their shills in the media to suppress and discredit this honest and excellent scholarly study, which leaves no stone unturned in their explanation of how our foreign policy in the Middle East is shaped by this special interest Lobby that operates on behalf of a foreign country whose ambitions often conflict with, and even injures,  the national security interests of the USA.  How is it possible that the US, which spends billions of dollars buying Arab Oil, is the most despised nation in the Arab world?

The answer lies in America’s myriad duplicities in dealing with the Muslim world.  Along with support for tyrannical corrupt Arab governments ala Saudi Arabia; the equally inept and corrupt newly installed American backed regimes in Afghanistan and Iraq; militarily induced “regime change” in Iraq during 2001 and the 1953 CIA overthrow of a democratically elected government in Iran, America’s uncritical support for Israeli oppression of the Palestinians and aggression against other Islamic states, over the last 60 years, has been the most important source of anti-American rage in the Muslim world.  As I write millions of Muslims view the US as “The Great Satan,” i.e. the apex of evil.

This is far too great a price to pay for an alliance with a foreign country in which we have no vital national interests.   It is a source of puzzlement to thoughtful people who study American foreign policy in and out of the US government. Yet only a brave few few dare say the obvious: We need to quickly abolish our “Special Relationship” with Israel because aside from the towering moral questions raised by this partnership in crime, it is leading us into constant wars that produce new Jihadist who dream of pulling off a bigger terrorist strike than 9/11.  One former high ranking CIA expert on the region, Dr. Michael Scheuer, is openly calling for our government to scrap this disastrous relationship in no uncertain terms, and he openly points to the Israel Lobby as the main obstacle to ending it.  He has even publicly charged that the “Israel owns the US Congress.”  ( see video clips at bottom of this essay)

The discourse around Israeli/American relations has become so debased that even the right wing pundit/policy wonk Pat Buchannan now sounds like a wise man.  In a recent television interview Pat gave a brilliant analysis of the fundamental folly of US Middle East Policy, from which President Obama would have greatly benefitted.  ( See: the video clip at the bottom of essay) Alas, such is the state of the nation in summer of 2014, a time when wars and rumors of was rage like wildfire.  It is no wonder that millions of cluless religious zealots belive we are living in the last days in time…the End Time.

Since I have already written extensively about this match hatched by misguided or cowardly politicians on this blog – just put “Israel and America” in the search Engine – I shall not re-litigate my case here.  Suffice it to say that if Barack Obama was King he would not allow a foreign power to dictate our policy in matters of war and peace where American blood and treasure is at stake.

But as I pointed out in an essay published before his first election, when everybody was talking as if once Barack took office he would wave his hand and make all their dreams come true: his power, like that of all presidents, is checked by the Congress – which has been paralyzed by a reactionary right/wing rejectionist Republican majority in the House – and restrained by the Federal Courts, which was largely appointed by Republicans and has proven hostile to his objectives, even setting the stage for a transition from popular democracy to a plutocracy with the “Citizens United” decision.  A cynical observer might well conclude that the court ruled this way, in a split decision along partisan lines, in order to make sure the “wrong” kind of person never rises to the Oval office again!

Hence it comes as no surprise that many things President Obama has attempted to achieve on behalf of the American people has been throttled by these countervailing forces in our divided government. As I write a voice message coming over my computer calling for the impeachment of President Obama, largely based on his reluctance to bomb everywhere there is a development not to their liking, which dramatizes the dimensions of the pitfalls he faces.  To put the matter succinctly: We should write the president and our representatives in the House and Senate protesting the crimes spawned by Israeli aggression against the Palestinians in Gaza.

If you pay taxes there is blood on your hands….and unless you take action that will empower the president to stand up to the demands of the Israel Lobby, which threatens to wreck his legacy and obscure his myriad accomplishments on behalf of the American people, the blood on our hands will become an indelible stain on the soul of the nation which no detergent can wash away.  Since I consider Barack Obama the most gifted, humane and enlightened president to ever occupy the Oval Office – see: The GOAT, and The Real Barack Obama vs. the Reagan Myth” on this blog – I am convinced that if we are to steer this nation away from constant foreign wars and ultimate disaster the time is now.  It may well prove now or never!

Scene of the Crimes
Israeli Bombing of Gaza Wipes out Family 
 The Consequence of Israeli Bombing in Palestine
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How Israel Spends YOUR Tax Dollars
Israel's gaza-bombing II
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Double click on link to:
Watch Professors Mearshimer and Walt’s analysis of the Israel Lobby

http://youtu.be/rzXS3tmZrcU

                    To hear Ex-CIA expert Dr. Scheuer on why e should dump Israel

http://youtu.be/sJbOaVAbg6s

http://youtu.be/XHl1JnQoIWQ

For Pat Buchanan on Israel’s Nukes

http://youtu.be/L033M6wqNCI

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Playthell G. Benjamin
On the Road, Way Out West
July 21. 2014 

Frederick Douglass Speaks on 4th of July

Posted in Frederick Douglass' 4th of July Speech with tags on July 4, 2014 by playthell

Frederick_Douglass_by_Samuel_J_Miller,_1847-52 (1)

 Douglass As he Looked when this Speech was made

 

What Does the 4th of July Mean to the American Slave?

Fellow citizens, pardon me, allow me to ask, why am I called upon to speak here today? What have I, or those I represent, to do with your national independence? Are the great principles ofpolitical freedom and of natural justice, embodied in that Declaration of Independence, extended to us? and am I, therefore, called upon to bring our humble offering to the national altar, and to confess the benefits and express devout gratitude for the blessings resulting from your independence to us?

Would to God, both for your sakes and ours, that an affirmative answer could be truthfully returned to these questions! Then would my task be light, and my burden easy and delightful. For who is there so cold that a nation’s sympathy could not warm him? Who so obdurate and dead to the claims of gratitude that would not thankfully acknowledge such priceless benefits? Who so stolid and selfish that would not give his voice to swell the hallelujahs of a nation’s jubilee, when the chains of servitude had been torn from his limbs? I am not that man. In a case like that the dumb might eloquently speak and the “lame man leap as an hart.”

But such is not the state of the case. I say it with a sad sense of the disparity between us. am not included within the pale of this glorious anniversary! Your high independence only reveals the immeasurable distance between us. The blessings in which you, this day, rejoice are not enjoyed in common. The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity, and independence bequeathed by your fathers is shared by you, not by me.

The sunlight that brought light and healing to you has brought stripes and death to me. This Fourth of July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn. To drag a man in fetters into the grand illuminated temple of liberty, and call upon him to join you in joyous anthems, were inhuman mockery and sacrilegious irony. Do you mean, citizens, to mock me by asking me to speak today? If so, there is a parallel to your conduct. And let me warn that it is dangerous to copy the example of nation whose crimes, towering up to heaven, were thrown down by the breath of the Almighty, burying that nation in irrevocable ruin! I can today take up the plaintive lament of a peeled and woe-smitten people.

“By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down. Yea! We wept when we remembered Zion. We hanged our harps upon the willows in the midst thereof. For there, they that carried us away captive, required of us a song; and they who wasted us required of us mirth, saying, Sing us one of the songs of Zion. How can we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land? If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning. If do not remember thee, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth.”

Fellow citizens, above your national, tumultuous joy, I hear the mournful wail of millions! Whose chains, heavy and grievous yesterday, are, today, rendered more intolerable by the jubilee shouts that reach them. If I do forget, if I do not faithfully remember those bleeding children of sorry this day, “may my right hand cleave to the roof of my mouth”! To forget them, to pass lightly over their wrongs, and to chime in with the popular theme would be treason most scandalous and shocking, and would make me a reproach before God and the world.

My subject, then, fellow citizens, is American slavery. I shall see this day and its popular characteristics from the slave’s point of view. Standing there identified with the American bondman, making his wrongs mine. I do not hesitate to declare with all my soul that the character and conduct of this nation never looked blacker to me than on this Fourth of July!

Whether we turn to the declarations of the past or to the professions of the present, the conduct of the nation seems equally hideous and revolting. America is false to the past, false to the present, and solemnly binds herself to be false to the future. Standing with God and the crushed and bleeding slave on this occasion, I will, in the name of humanity which is outraged, in the name of liberty which is fettered, in the name of the Constitution and the Bible which are disregarded and trampled upon, everything that serves to perpetuate slavery-the great sin and shame of America! “I will not equivocate, I will not excuse”; I will use the severest language I can command; and yet not one word shall escape me that any man, whose judgment is not blinded by prejudice, shall not confess to be right and just….dare to call in question and to denounce, with all the emphasis I can command,

For the present, it is enough to affirm the equal manhood of the Negro race. Is it not as astonishing that, while we are plowing, planting, and reaping, using all kinds of mechanical tools, erecting houses, constructing bridges, building ships, working in metals of brass, iron, copper, and secretaries, having among us lawyers doctors, ministers, poets, authors, editors, orators, and teachers; and that, while we are engaged in all manner of enterprises common to other men, digging gold in California, capturing the whale in the Pacific, feeding sheep and cattle on the hillside, living, moving, acting, thinking, planning, living in families as husbands, wives, and children, and above all, confessing and worshiping the Christian’s God, and looking hopefully for life and immortality beyond the grave, we are called upon to prove that we are men!…

What, am I to argue that it is wrong to make men brutes, to rob them of their liberty, to work them without wages, to keep them ignorant of their relations to their fellow men, to beat them with sticks, to flay their flesh with the lash, to load their limbs with irons, to hunt them with dogs, to sell them at auction, to sunder their families, to knock out their teeth, to burn their flesh, to starve them into obedience and submission to their masters? Must I argue that a system thus marked with blood, and stained with pollution, is wrong? No! I will not. I have better employment for my time and strength than such arguments would imply….

What, to the American slave, is your Fourth of July?

 I answer: a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciation of tyrants, brass-fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade and solemnity, are, to Him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy-a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages!

Cedar Hill: Frederick Douglass’ Last Home
Frederick_Douglass_House II
From Slave cabin to fine mansion looking down upon Washington

 

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Frederick Douglass

Rochester, New York

July, 4 1852

 

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