Archive for May, 2012

Memorial Day: History or Propaganda?

Posted in Playthell on politics with tags , , , on May 29, 2012 by playthell
Black soldiers at Normandy: The Forgotten Ones

 On War, Racism and American Exceptionalism

Almost everything Americans know about the history of US wars is what they learn from the movies and media cheer leaders who serve up heroic stories designed to promote patriotism in the populace.  Hence it is in the nature of things that the average citizen’s views on this question are shaped far more by propaganda – which attempts to selectively arrange the facts to show America in a positive light – than the work of historians who are committed to showing the good, the bad and the ugly.  Hence it is no accident that World War II films are dominating the movie schedules on television.

This was the last war in which the US won a clear victory and the objectives were understood by the majority of Americans.  The wars that followed were based on ambiguous objectives and the outcomes were unclear.  We are still officially at war in Korea over a half century after the fighting stopped.

Vietnam was by any measure a disaster.  And while Operation Desert Storm, directed by Colin Powell, was successful in its objectives it was not a full scaled war like Iraq and Afghanistan, and we seemed destined to leave these lands much as we left Vietnam.

It is no wonder that the nation concentrates so heavily on World War II in our search for serviceable war memories.  In the war against the racist genocidal Nazi’s there is no ambiguity about who the good guys were; the same is true of the Japanese fanatics and the Italian Fascist.  This contrast is most clear in the minds of the rah-rah America crowd, the American Exceptionalists, who argue that the US is the polar opposite of Nazi Germany in every respect.

However the facts are quite different.  Hitler got his basic racial theories from the American Eugenics movement, specifically the writings of Madison Grant in his 1917 tome “The Passing of the Great Race.” In his book, “Defending the Master Race,” historian Jonathan Spiro tells us:  “Grant was also the leader of the eugenics movement in the United States. He popularized the infamous notions that the blond-haired, blue-eyed Nordics were the “master race” and that the state should eliminate members of inferior races who were of no value to the community. Grant’s behind-the-scenes machinations convinced Congress to enact the immigration restriction legislation of the 1920s, and his influence led many states to ban interracial marriage and sterilize thousands of ‘unworthy citizens.’”

Madison Grant

 

 Hitler’s Tutor

 It is no wonder that a letter from Hitler turned up in Grant’ papers, where Der Fhurer gushes: “Your book is my bible!”  The Nazi racial laws, as well as their ideas about sterilization and euthanasia were made in America!   Ironically, white Americans was discriminating against its own Afro-American soldiers under “master race” dogma while fighting against such ideas in Germany – even forcing black soldiers guarding German prisoners of war to do their toilet in the bushes, while allowing their white German enemies to use the same bathrooms as them.

Black soldiers sent for training in the South couldn’t use their army issued meal tickets to have a meal, they were refused while in uniform while fascist POW’s from the German and Italian armies were readily served.  Black soldiers who protested this racist treatment were jailed and sometimes lynched.

The late Afro-American historian John Hope Franklin personally witnessed this discrimination against black soldiers in North Carolina.  He recalls an humiliating incident in his autobiography,  where he was packed into an overcrowded segregated train car with black soldiers, while German prisoners rode in comfort in a “Whites Only” car while pointing at them and laughing at the absurdity of their predicament.

There are many such instances of white Americans favoring German Prisoners of war over black American soldiers detailed in the 2004 book “Icons of Insult: German and Italian Prisoners of War in African American Letters during World War II, by the German scholar Matthias Reiss.  American Exceptionalism indeed!

Firing Artillery at Japanese Troops

Black men fought in the Atlantic and the Pacific Theaters

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Playthell G. Benjamin

Harlem, New York

May 29, 2012

My Life Among the Chattering Classes

Posted in Cultural Matters with tags , , , , , , , , , , on May 27, 2012 by playthell
 
On WBAI FM, Live and Direct from New York City

 Why I love the Radio

On May 25, 1962, my 20th birthday, I made my debut in the wonderful world of radio.  It was a live broadcast over WDAS AM in Philadelphia.  I presented an hour long lecture on African history, analyzing the African character of Egyptian religion and Divine Kingship.  At the conclusion of my lecture the producer opened the phones and I took questions for two hours.  The response was sensational and I presented a series of history lectures twice a week for four years.  My life has never been the same.

The show was called “The Listening Post,” and was hosted by Mr. Joseph H. Rainey.  Judge Rainey, as he was known through-out the city, was a retired Magistrate in the Civil Court, a political player in the Democratic machine, which allocated power and privilege in the city, and a militant advocate for Afro-American rights.  Judge Rainey was the grandson of Congressman Joseph H. Rainey, the first Congressman seated from the defeated confederate state of South Carolina after the Civil War.

Judge Rainey had deep roots in the Afro-American elite, but the militant fighting “Talented Tenth,”who answered the call of Dr. DuBois to assume the leadership of the black community, and guide the masses to higher ground.  One of the benefits of my association with Mr. Rainey on “The Listening Post,” was that it was the show all the smart progressive Afro-Americans listened to in Philly, Southern New Jersey and Nothern Delaware.  It also had a smaller white audience composed of leftist intellectuals and civil rights activist.  The Listening Post would have been right at home on WBAI.

My involvement with the show transformed my life; it was a gift that keeps on giving.  Among the highlights of my participation on the show was the fact that Judge Rainey was good friends with Malcolm X.  And whenever Malcolm spoke in Philadelphia, Wilmington Delaware or Camden New Jersey, he came on the show the day before his speech.

Hence I got to know Malcolm quite well, and had a bird’s eye seat during the last three years of his life as he went through radical changes and ultimately assassination.  I was there for the broadcast that Dr. Manning Marable describes in his Pulitzer Prize winning biography: Malcolm X, A Life of Reinventions.

Judge Joe Rainey Interviewing the Great Jackie Robinson

 The “Listening Post” was a pioneer in Progressive Talk Radio

But it was also on The Listening Post that I met Queen Mother Moore, an indefatigable freedom fighter whose resume included a stint with Marcus Garvey and the American Communist Party.  A New Orleans Creole who had settled in Philadelphia, she was 65 when I met her and she took me under her wings just days after my birthday broadcast, and tutored me in the art and science of politics and mass struggle.

The Queen Mother aka Audley Moore was one of the great women of the 20th century, and she left an indelible mark on me.  I also met the Reverend Dr. Leon Sullivan, “The Lion of Zion,” who was to become one of the most powerful men in America by the end of the turbulent 1960’s.

Queen Mother Moore

My first political Tutor

 The Lion of Zion!

 

 A visionary and servant of the people

Suffice it to say that Reverend Sullivan hired me to teach a course on black history in the basement of his church, Mount Zion Baptist.  Me and Max Stanford would organize the Revolutionary Action Movement from that class. And it was RAM cadres who went on to organize the black Panther Party of Oakland. Bobby Seales and Huey Newton were students at Merritt Junior College, where one of our Cadres’ got a job teaching sociology, and they were his first recruits.  Bobby refers to his teacher and revolutionary tutor as “Kenny Freeman,” but that was his “slave name,” we knew him as Mamadou Dia.

When the War on Poverty began Reverend Sullivan founded The Opportunities Industrialization Centers, which began in Philadelphia and spread to over 100 cities.  He hired me to each in the main center in Philadelphia, and develop a black history curriculum for the national program.  The Philadelphia Board of education hired me as a consultant to work with cirriculum specialist and conduct seminars with history teachers in the school system in the teaching of African and Afro-American history in 1966.

Other school boards around the country also began to hire me to conduct seminars or present a lecture series on the subject ranging from witchata Kansas, Minneapolis and Saint Paul Minesota, and Riverside California.  By 1969 I was a founding member of the WEB DuBois Department of Afro-American Studies at U-Mass Amherst, he first degree granting Black Studies in the World.  That’s what my first foray into radio did for me.

When I left the university and moved to New York, after a stint in the music, boxing and construction business I returned to radio at WBAI around 1986.  That’s when I began the series “Commentaries On The Times.”  This brought me to the attention of Terry Johnson, the City Desk Editor at the Village Voice, who invited me to write for the paper.  The second article I wrote was an 8000 word feature that was publshed as the cover story in 1988 titled “Jive at Five: How Big Al and the Bully Boys Bogarted the Movement.” 

It was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize in Explanatory Journalism. ( see the nominating letter in my bio on this blog)  This article brought me to the attention of the Senior Editor of the Manchester Guardian in England who commissioned me to write a feature for the Guardian.  Thius began an association that lasted several years, in which I wrote for the front and the back of the paper – politics, the arts, and boxing.

When the Arts Editor, Joslyn Targett, became the Editor of the prestigeous Sunday Times magazine “The Culture,” he invited me to come along for the ride.  I was given carte blanche to write as much as I wanted to.   When two of my feature stories from the Village voice were selected for study at the Columbia School of Journalism, the top of the food chain for training professional journalists, I was recruited to write by the New York Daily News. 

From there I was recruited to write commentary and features for “Emerge” magazine, a nationals Afro-American hard news publication.  I was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize for Distinguished Commentary at the News, and I was nominated for Foriegn Correspondent of the Year several times.  And I won awards at ever othere one of the publications I wrote for.   And eventually I held an Adjunct Professorship in Journalism at Long Island University.

All of this grew out of my work at WBAI FM in New York, where I would also host two different talk shows.  Radio has been as good to me as baseball was to Chico Consuello!  That’s why I’m still droppin science on the radio 50 years after my first broadcast on the Joe Rainey show on May 25th 1962.

Double Click on the link to see Playthell Live on Air at WBAI

http://youtu.be/pnpR9p7Sl1U

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Playthell Benjamin

Harlem, New York

May 25th, 1942

 

A Magic Moment on Broadway!

Posted in Theater with tags , , , , , , on May 24, 2012 by playthell

      Songstress/Actress Alicia Hall in Recital

 Porgy and Bess:

Cultural Anachronism or Timeless Masterpiece?

It was the moment all understudy’s on Broadway hope and dream of, the leading lady took the evening off and the understudy got a chance to shine.  And I cannot imagine anyone ever shining brighter than Alicia Hall Moran last Tuesday night.  Ms. Moran gave a bravura performance singing the role of Bess beside Norm Lewis’ moving performance as Porgy.

She enthralled the audience and left us hungering for more of her magic.  That this lovely songbird should so bewitch me was no picayune affair, for I had long ago fell under the spell of the beautiful, sensuous, Audra McDonald, whose voice is a spellbinding instrument capable of levitating one away to heaven…body and soul.  Thus Ms. Moran’s performance was a revelation.

It was due to an invitation from my good friend, the internationally renowned artists and cultural impersario Ademola Olugbefola that I happend to experience this magic moment in the theater.  I had no particular interests in seeing yet another production of Porgy and Bess, a folk opera about Afro-American life set in a mythical slum of Charleston South Carolina called “Cat Fish Row.

I had sort of dismissed it as a cultural anachronism created at a time when whites manipulated the Afro-American image to suit their racist fantasies.   Composed by George Gershwin, a New York Jew who could not possibly know much about the lives of the characters, which were based on the stereotypical figures in the novel “Porgy” by Dubose Heyward, a white writer who was a native of Charleston.

This work troubles some Afro-American critics, such as Harold Cruse, who justly point out that such an opera was only possible in the first place because of a racial caste system in America at the time; which only permitted works about Afro-Americans to make it in “legitimate” theater if it was written by a white author.

Cruse points out that this situation prompted white artists to pillage black culture for material, and Gershwin and Heywood were emblematic of this cultural trend.  The great Harlem Poet Langston Hughes lamented the plight of Afro-American creative artists in his poem, A Note on the Commercial Theater: “You’ve taken my blues and gone.”

However, unlike Dubose’s critics who lambasted the novel and the Opera based on it, Langston Hughes saw it differently.  “With his white eyes” Hughes said, Heywood saw “wonderful, poetic qualities in the inhabitants of Catfish Row that makes them come alive.”  And George Gershwin – a gifted musician who loved Afro-American music – played the entire score for a select group of Afro-American artists in the living room of NAACP leader Walter White, before it was publicly performed.  Gershwin certainly intended no offense to the black community and sought to transcend the racial gulf between himself and his subject, as well as race and class differences between his subject and the audience –whether racist whites or educated cosmopolitan Afro-Americans.

Thus he concentrated on universal themes: love, hate, jealously, avarice, sexual passion, treachery, honor, etc. in his music based on a libretto largely written  by Heywood.  Judging by the response of the racially and ethnically diverse audience, composed of people from all over the world, who gave the cast a prolonged standing ovation, Gershwin hit his mark. The majesty of the music transcends the shortcomings of the book and ennobles the characters.

For the classically trained Afro-American singer, especially during the early decades of the 20th century, when Afro-Americans were treated in law and custom as if black and tan skin was a crime, there was virtually no trace of the rich Afro-American musical heritage in the Grand Opera repertoire. Thus notwithstanding the racial stereotypes Porgy was viewed as a unique gift by these singers, with its generous references to Blues and Spirituals. Yet while the black artists loved it; the white critics’ response was another matter.

For the established opera critics with the major newspapers and magazines, it was an enigma.  They just didn’t know what to make of it.  And the original production in 1931 flopped at the box office.   One could attribute this failure to the fact that Porgy opened during the Great Depression; except that Broadway flourished during the depression.

A far more likely explanation is that it just didn’t appeal to the taste of a racist, Eurocentric, opera audience.  And Afro-Americans were so strapped for cash most couldn’t fit a Broadway show into their budget; even if it was supposed to be about them.  However true greatness will endure and Gershwin is having the last say.

Porgy and Bess

Audra McDonald and Norm Lewis on Broadway

Today his opera is recognized as one of the greatest and most original American operas of the 20th century. Ironically, when the score was first recorded the producer used only white singers because he doubted black singers could sing the roles.  However the all black cast at the Richard Rogers Theater, a grand Broadway House with killer acoustics, equipped with state of the art lighting and sound, surpasses greatness and approaches the sublime.

They are all triple threats who can act, dance and sing.  And they have invested the characters with a dignity far beyond what was envisioned by Heywood or Gershwin.  Audra McDonald told the ladies on The View that this was a major consideration for the performers; who spared no effort to make the characters fully human.

Yet after all is said and done, the music was all about the music.  The orchestra was magnificent, playing the newly arranged score to perfection while the ensemble sang like a band of angels in the heavens.  Soaring above it all was the rich multi-colored soprano voice of Ms. Moran as Bess.  It made my soul clap hands and my spirit dance.  If you want an enchanted evening at the theater: See this production of George Gershwin’s timeless musical masterpiece!

 On Broadway

 Audra McDonald and the Cast

(Double click to see Audra sing “My Man is gone)

http://youtu.be/HT6LDh7cO1g

(Double click to see Audra and Norm Lewis duet)

http://youtu.be/pqCwS3wnGs4

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Playthell Benjamin

Harlem, New York

May 24, 2014

Is Jay Z a Better Businessman Than Mitt?

Posted in Cultural Matters, Playthell on politics, Uncategorized with tags , , , , on May 23, 2012 by playthell

It’s all about the Benjamins!

 If Business Success is the Standard Why not Jay Z for Pres?

There is far too much hand wringing over the off the cuff statements made by Newark Mayor Corey Booker on TV last Sunday.  In a clumsy attempt to present an even-handed argument calling for an end to personal attacks and commencing an honest debate designed to find real solutions to the nation’s pressing problems, Booker ended up giving the Carl Rove crowd material for a political ad against President Obama.

Seizing on one statement by the Mayor in which he described ads interrogating Mitt Romney’s claims that he was “a jobs creator” during his career at Bain Capital as nauseating; Mitt’s Superpack had an ad of the Mayor popping off on the air faster than the cisco Kid could draw his guns.

But I say calm down fellow democrats.  If that’s the game the grand Obstructionist Party want to play I say bring it on!  There is no end to devastating criticism of Mitt’s business career by top Republicans. They are the ones who invented the term “vulture Capitalism” to describe The Mittsters business practices; and it’s all on video tape in living color!  Mitt Romney was a corporate raider, “private equity,” is the fancy term for it.  And the things he did were standard procedure.

Their goal is to increase the wealth of their investors. If that means leveraging a financially healthy company with big loans, then selling off the assets of that company and throwing workers who have given their lives to the company out on the streets with nothing – no pensions, no health care, NOTHING!

Those who argue that this is just the normal working of capitalism are introducing a dangerous conservation that could well come back to bite them in the ass.  Because opening the eyes of many people who have never questioned the ethics and methods of capitalism could prove hazardous to the Plutocrat’s health.

One does not have to be an economist to understand that Mitt is not a “Captain of Industry;” someone who creates new industries that employ masses of workers – like Henry Ford, John D. Rockefeller, Henry M. Flagler, Andrew Carnegie, et al.  Nor was Mitt a creator of new hi-tech industries that have changed the world for the better, while amassing his personal fortune – men like Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, et al.  And compared to any of these men, the money Mitt has made in business is a pittance!

A Business Wunderkind? 

The Mittster During his Bain Capital Days

To the average American 250 million dollars sounds like a vast fortune.  Most of us cannot even fathom what it means to have that much money, and when we think about it most believe it would make all their dreams come true – especially people like this writer who have everything they want but money!  But Mitt is just what that rotund braggart and concumate bullshit artist Donald Trump said he is: “a small business guy from Boston.”

That’s why a lot of the really big money guys left where they were and came to the Apple – multibillionaires like Mort Zuckerman – a native Bostonian – and Mike Bloomberg.  There are hedge fund managers here in the Apple that makes a billion dollars a year!  Mitt ain’t even that impressive a businessman when compared to some rappers.

Puffy’s net worth is estimated to be double that of Mitt’s. Will Smith, Master P. and Hip hop impresario Russell Simmons are all estimated to have fortunes that equal or exceed that of The Mittster’s.  Brooklyn boxer Mike Tyson blew 250 Million dollars before he was 35.  Jay Z, who had neither a rich father, white skin, nor two degrees from Harvard law and Business Schools, presides over a billion dollar business empire that he emerged fom the Marcy projects in Brooklyn and created out of nothing!

“Jigga,” as he is affectionately known in the hood, is also one of the creators of the multi-billion hip hop industry which is influencing pop culture worldwide. Yet Mitt has chosen to ignore his tenure as Governor – which was nothing to brag about since Massachusetts ranked 47 of fithy states under his leadership – and make his carrer at Bain Capital the yardstick by which hr is to be measured for the presidency.

But if business acumen, and showing great judgment in choosing a wife – Mitt married a dependent Mormon houswife, while Jay Z’s wife is not only beautiful and gracious; she is almost as rich as him from her own efforts – then why not Jay Z for President?  Especially since the only Harvard MBA to serve as US President wrecked the economy and we are still trying to recover from it.   I’m just trying to keep it real yhall!

Jay Z and Wife Byonce

 

 Presidential Material?
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Playthell G. Benjamin

Harlem, New York

May 23, 2014

Gay Marriage: Greatest Threat to Family in US History?

Posted in Cultural Matters, Playthell on politics with tags , , , , , , on May 22, 2012 by playthell
                               
 New York City Council President Christine Quinn and Partner Marry

 Not by a Long Shot…but The Founding Fathers Were!

The recent marriage of City Council president Christine Quinn to her long time domestic partner, Kim Catullo Esquire, was by all accounts a glittering affair.  There were well-wishers all around from the select crowd of prominent New Yorkers who attended the private ceremony in Manhattan.  But not everybody was happy for the newly-weds.

It has become an article of faith among the Bible and Constitution quoting ideologues on the Republican right that extending the benefits of marriage to homosexual couples is tantamount to a “war” on that venerable institution, and this poses the greatest danger to traditional family life in American history.

But like most of what these numbskulls, self-styled Amercan Exceptionalists all – believe about the history of the United States, this is a fiction.  Although stated with the passion and bluster of self-righteous preachment,  the assertions of these holier than thou air-head bigots should be placed right beside Sarah Palin’s claim that Paul Revere’s famous ride through the New England countryside was intended to “warn the British;” Michelle Bachman’s impassioned pronouncement that “The founding fathers wouldn’t rest until they had eradicated slavery,” or Mississippi Governor Haley Barber’s claim that it was his generation of white Republicans that got rid of de Jure segregation in the South.

Haley even said he doesn’t remember race relations being that bad when he was growing up in Mississippi in the 1960’s!  However Mitt Romney’s declaration that he believes marriage is between “one man and one woman” demands explication.  For instance when did Mitt begin to believe this?  Does he believe that his grandfather – who gave up his US citizenship and moved to Mexico so he could keep the five wives sanctioned by his Mormon theology, was wrong?

Since The Mittster is a compulsive liar, who even lies about things that can be easily disproved by prior statements that are video-taped; everything he says must be viewed with a jaundiced eye.  As for the general claims of the Republicans cited above: It’s all bunk!   So is their claim that Gay Marriage is the greatest assault on family life in American history.

The truth is that the greatest assault on family life – the kind with one man and one woman the gay bashers claim to revere – was conducted by the Founding Fathers; the pious architects of the US Constitution and especially the author of the Declaration of Independence Thomas Jefferson, the leading intellectual of the American Enlightenment – who sired seven children by his slave concubine Sally Hemmings; the mulatto half-sister of his white wife, whose was sired by her father and his black slave mistress.

 Thomas Jefferson

Child Molester and Rapist?

Furthermore Tom even kept his slave and free children under the same roof.  Hence when Republican Governor Arnold Swartznegger knocked up his maid and kept a secret family among the darker servant class, he was following in the great American tradition of such prominent politicians as Thomas Jefferson and that hero of Southern Republicans Strom Thurmond, who represented South Carolina in the Senate for half a century.

These white hetero-sexual males, who we teach our children to revere in public schools, professed to be followers of the teachings of Jesus Christ; yet they constructed a system of government that promoted an all-out assault on the sanctity of marriage and systematically destroyed family life that continued for 250 years and beyond – first in law and then in custom.

And they perpetrated this monumental crime against millions of their countrymen who had committed no offense against society. No white mass murderer has received such an inhumane sentence.  Yet we are now told by opponents of gay marriage that the document which sanctioned this atrocity was written by the hand of God!  Tis blasphemy I say.

Under the system of slavery in the United States, which was a well-established institution in every section of the new nation by the time the Constitution was drafted in the summer of 1787; Afro-Americans were regarded as live stock under the law.  This meant that my ancestors could be bought, sold and bred like any of their farm animals.

And the masters had what the great British novelist Charles Dickens, who visited the Slave States, called the “right to rape.”  The master also had the right to sell the children of Afro-Americans as if they were piglets or puppies – and they did so if the price was right.  This was a system that all but one of the Founding Fathers, John Adams, participated in and profited from.   And he was a lawyer for slave holders.

Hence it is an undeniable fact that it is not homo-sexual marriage that represents the greatest assault on the family in American history – for they are preserving and expanding the family – something President Obama understands instinctively because for most of this country’s history it would have been illegal for his parents to marry because of their race.

Alas, the perfidious act of family destruction belongs to the August Founding Father’s of a slave holding republic – a historical oxymoron – who made destroying and denying family formation among their fellow human beings government policy!

Dr. Gerald Horne, America’s premiere historian, explores this glaring contradiction brilliantly in his new book “Negro Comrades of the Crown,” which carefully documents how Afro-Americans found far greater freedom as British subjects than as inhabitants of the so-called “free” republic of the United States.

Dr. Horne’s conclusions echo those of Frederick Douglass, the most insightful commentator on American slavery, whose own mother was raped by her white master.  Douglass noted the irony of “fleeing Republican slavery for freedom under the British Monarchy.”  Professor Horne’s work also supplies added evidence in support of the conclusions reached by law Professors Ruth and Alfred Blumrosen, in their path-breaking revisionist history “Slave Nation.”

The Bloomrosens convincingly demonstrate that the Revolution against England was really motivated by the American colonists’ desire to preserve their inhumane slave system – a massive crime against humanity – from encroaching British abolitionism, after a Judge in England ruled in the 1772 “Somerset Case” that human slavery was too odious to justify under English common law.

Frederik Douglass
 His Mother was Raped by her White Master

In fact. In order to entice the Southerners to unite with them in a war of independence against the British Empire, Representatives of the Northern colonies pledged not to interfere with African slavery in the south.  This was codified in a law at the Continental Congress of 1774.  Here the New England lawyer and militant patriot, John Adams, was the deal broker.

Thus the main thing that brought the American colonies together in order to wage war with England was this guarantee that when the smoke finally cleared, the southerners would still have their black slaves.  That’s why masses of Afro-Americans fled to the British lines and many became soldiers who would fight against the white American colonists that were enslaving their kith and kin.

This is a radically different view from the master narrative of American civilization manufactured by the official mythmakers; which is based on the claim that the raison d’etre for the revolution was the expansion of human freedom.   Those who oppose gay marriage today are the spiritual heirs of the hypocrites of 1776, who endlessly praised the virtues of freedom and denounced tyranny, while going to war to defend slavery!  American Exceptionalism indeed.

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Playthell G. Benjamin

Harlem, New York

May 21, 2014

The Best and the Brightest?

Posted in Playthell on politics with tags , , , on May 19, 2012 by playthell
 Jamie Dimon: CEO of JP Morgan Chase

Why We Need Serious Bank Regulation

 Here we go again!  JP Morgan Chase has already admitted to squandering two billion dollars on risky investments that CEO Jamie Dimon – who is rumored to be the smartest banker in America – has already confessed was “stupid” and “self- inflicted.”  But now it is rumored that the real deal on the losses is that when the final tally is made the loss will be four billion.

In a frantic attempt at damage control they decided to kick Ina Drew, head of the Investment Office, to the curb.  But at the stockholders meeting in Tampa a few days later Dimon was not only retained as CEO but was awarded a 23 million dollar compensation package!  They left no doubt that the bank has hitched their star to his leadership.

Yet as President Obama has pointed out, it is precisely because Mr. Dimon is so highly regarded as a “smart” banker, some say the brightest bulb in the box, that we need to fully enact the regulatory regime he has put in place to police the activities of banks in order to prevent these things from happening.  But  the Republicans who control the House say No dice!

The “free market” ideologues in the Grand Obstructiionist Party claim to  see nothing in this that would justify tightening the reins on bankers. And they are supported in this position by their presumed presidential candidate Mitt Romney….a corporate raider who is contemptuous of the public interests and thinks there should virtually be no government regulation of the private sector.

Far from being alarmed by the four billion dollar debacle, and calling for more effective regulation of the banking sector, Mitt The Stiff coolly pointed out that although the losses at JP Morgan Chase are “substantial;” it only concerns the bank and their investors.  He came close to saying “the public be damned!”

The problem with Mitt’s attitude and analysis is that if JP Morgan Chase gets in serious trouble and is in danger of collapse, it is we, the taxpayers who are innocent by-standers that will be called upon to bail them out.  And we will have no choice but to go along with the program, because refusing to do so will be tantamount to cutting off our nose to spite our face.

The kind of economic sophistry spouted by Mitt and his ilk on the right, militant ideologues on the left, and anarchist of both ideology stripes, who argue that we should just let such banks fail, is dangerous nonsense that would unleash the dogs of chaos in the US economy.  Alas this cure would prove more deadly than the disease.

Failure by a bank as big as JP Morgan Chase, with 2.3 trillion in assets and a 71 trillion derivatives book, could bring down the entire banking system in the US and the collapse would quickly spread world-wide.  They are literally too big to fail! That’s why the refusal of the House Republicans to fund the agencies tasked with regulating the banks amount to criminal negligence of the public interests.

The Republican pledge to undo the regs all together should they gain control of the Senate and the White House borders on treason!  This policy could bring on the fall of our country; millions of Americans would again suffer catastrophic financial losses before fully recovering from the last economic disaster ushered in by the liaise faire policies of the Republicans.

The prescription for restoring a healthy banking system advocated by Elizabeth Warren, a Harvard Law Professor who played a critical role in designing the Obama Administration’s regulations, is that Congress restore the Glass –Steagall Act. “With the Progressive Change Campaign Committee,” she says, “I’m calling on Congress to put Wall Street reform back on the agenda and to begin by passing a new Glass-Steagall Act. This was the law that stopped investment banks from gambling away people’s life savings for decades — until Wall Street successfully lobbied to have it repealed in 1999.” 

This prescription is echoed by securities lawyers, other banking professionals and some Democrats.  But the Republicans will have no part of it; they only intend to give lip service to regulating the bankers when it is convenient.   Left to their own devices they fully intend to allow investment bankers to gamble with the nation’s economy using exotic financial instruments such as Derivatives and Credit Default Swaps.

These are the practices that drove the economy off the cliff under the Bushmen, and they are the principle culprit in the present JP Morgan Chase debacle.  As I write reports on the financial channel CNBC are suggesting that another 100 billion in investments could be at stake due to the shock waves from the present blunder that is shaking investor confidence.  Should that happen who knows where it will all end?  It is too ghastly to contemplate….so most people choose not to.

Alas, while the rest of us are forced to bail the banks out when they fuck up and face collapse, nobody bails out the hard working citizens who are forced to bear the loss.  They are just shit outta luck as my grandfather would say.  The Afro-American community was especially devastated by the Bush Depression – which President Obama prevented from becoming the worst depression in American history – 65% of aggregate black wealth was wiped out. My sister Melba is a classic victim of the banker’s folly.

Melba is a model citizen; she did everything right.  She went to college and earned three degrees; she worked for over forty years as an educator; she save her money and invested it wisely….or so she thought.  Just a few years into her retirement, while serving as the principal caretaker of our 90 year old mother, she was victimized by the amoral and reckless behavior of the bankers that wrecked the American economy.  In a matter of months she lost a half million dollars; her life’s savings was wiped out!

As I spoke with Melba in her lovely home down on the Jersey shore a couple of days ago, she spoke with a barely concealed rage as she recounted Governor Chris Christie’s attempts to renege on the agreement’s her union negotiated in good faith with the state regarding retiree’s benefits – and which she paid into for 40 years.

It is especially galling because he has given away billions in tax breaks to the filthy rich!  She lamented the fact that she couldn’t even write her losses of her taxes, and she has no doubt that she is the victim of a vast conspiracy of the investor class and their shills in government to fleece the working class and make us pay for their mismanagement of the economy.

Melba is also convinced that the bankers and the political puppets that refuse to seriously regulate their reckless activities and protect the public interests – which all politicians are sworn to do – are the worse liars and criminals in America.  So do I…that’s why I have publicly insisted that a just punishment for the bankers who crashed the economy is to be executed on primetime television by firing squads manned from volunteers recruited by those whose lives have been injured by their heartless crimes.

Jamie Dimon of JP Morgan Chase escaped any blame for the Bush crash, mainly because he was wise enough to stay out of the securitized sub-prime loan fiasco, but the present multi-billion dollar losses is a warning sign that he too bears watching.  There are some experts on our financial system who think Dimon has just been lucky, because JP Morgan Chase has engaged in all kinds of risky, unethical and even illegal behavior under his stewardship.

Professor Amar Bhide of Tufts University – where Dimon received his undergraduate education – has gone on the public record arguing that this unsavory record makes Dimon unfit to head a massive financial institution of critical importance to the stability of the US economy.  Furthermore, aside from the questionable ethics of many of his activities, Professor Bhide questions the extent to which Dimon even understands the extremely complex business of derivatives trading.

“Jamie has never been a trader or a front line manager of a big trading firm,” he says, “it is absurd that such a man should be in charge of a 71 trillion dollar derivatives book.” Hence it goes without saying that if Jamie Dimon is the best and the brightest of America’s bankers, that is the best argument for implementing the Dodd-Frank financial regulations immediately.

It is also the best argument for defeating Mitt Romney and taking back the House in the coming elections. Americans have the power to do it with their votes, but it is far from a fait accompli because millions of Americans are too caught up amusing themselves with bread and circuses to pay proper attention to these complex matters.

Thus “Boobus Americanus” is fairly clueless about what the late great novelists/essayist James Baldwin once called all that boring “politics and economics jazz;” a comment that horrified political theorist Harold Cruse.   For as Thomas Jefferson warned at the inception of our participatory democracy: “An ignorant electorate will elect and return the worst people to power!”  That’s why the future of this nation is at stake in the coming elections.

 One Percenters: The worst Case Scenario

 

Warning: Don’t Put Ken and Barbie in the White House!

 

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Playthell George Benjamin

Harlem, New York

May 19, 2014

There is No Greater Love!

Posted in Cultural Matters with tags , , on May 13, 2012 by playthell

The Real Queen Elizabeth on her 90th Birthday

 A Gift that Keeps on Giving

Today is “Mother’s Day.”  I revere this day because I am certain that no man who ever walked the earth was more richly rewarded in a mother than me!!!!  It is no exaggeration to say that the best of what I am is the direct handiwork of my mother.  My flaws – and all humans have them – are of my own making.  And although I say all humans have flaws, the only flaw I can see in my mother is that she cares too much for people who wouldn’t matter to most folks.

My father died when I was four, and my mother was widowed with two children at 21 years old.  Mom and dad were highschool sweethearts, and when I see pictures of them as young lovers I always think of Duke Ellington’s composition “Black and Tan Fantasy.”   Dad was a handsome man of jet black  complexion, “A negro of the deepest dye” as the 18th century scientist Benjamin Banneker described himself in a letter to Thomas Jefferson.

Everybody remembers Dad as a sharp dresser, a paragon of male elegance.  Which my mom systematically passed on to me.  And he had the gift of gab; which served him well with mom who once told me she liked “jazzy black men who knew how to sweet talk a woman.”  Then she said “Your daddy, George Benjamin, could talk a gopher out of his hole.”  the fact that Mom loved chocolate dandies convinced me that being a chocolate dandy was the hippest thing to be.  Plus she used to tell me I was “a pretty gingerbread boy.”

Moms was a pecan tan fox with a full head of thick jet black hair, who everybody used to say looked like Lena Horne.  But just for the record: I always thought it was lena who should have been flattered!  Her mother – my grandmother Claudia, who is my younger siater’s namesake –  was a first rate seamtress, and mom’s father, Walter”Big Nang,”  Bellamy, was the kind of enerprising fellow who provided for his family well, and instructed his wife to use her skills sewing only for her daughters….except for very well paying specialty work for down town boutiques and rich women in the town that paid exceptionally well.

I am especially fortunate because my mother is still very much alive and well.  She is heading toward her 93ard birthday, and my daughter Makeda “The Body Scientist” predicts that mom will live to be 100!    She bases this on her analysis of Mom’s physical condition – and as an expert on physical conditioning and nutrition she is eminently qualified to conduct such an analysis.  In any case, at 92 she is just as lucid, witty, and swift on the cap as she was when I was a boy!  There is no one that i enjoy discussing the great issues I write about, or football and basketball, than my mother.

When I see some of the wretched hags some unfortunate folks had for mothers, I think my lucky stars because I got the luck of the draw.  I attribute it to luck rather than God, because I cannot imagine a just God favoring me so unfairly over others; especially since I did nothing to deserve such a splendid gift…it is a gift that still keeps on giving.  Although I have an embarrassment of riches to choose from, one example will suffice.  As a young boy, I had a terrible speech impediment.  I stuttered so badly I would break a sweat just trying to get a few sentences out!

My mother looked at me on day when I was four years old and thought: “This boy is going to have enough trouble being black in America, he doesn’t need the added burden of not being able to express his self too.”  We were still living in Philadelphia at the time so she did some research and found a program at the University of Pennsylvania that treated speech pathology.  She took me in, had my condition diagnosed, then she took a course on how to help me conquer my problems.

What I remember most form that experience was the way mom never once showed the slightest impatience or disappointment with me when she was instructing me.  No matter how many times I screwed up she always smiled and said calmly: “You can do it…now let’s try again.”  Well two concrete things resulted from that experience: I not only overcame my speech impediment, I did it so well that by the time I was in the sixth grade my Aunt Rosa, an English literature teacher and faculty sponsor of the Oratorical Team, drafted me on the team and I remained on it for six years.

She assigned some of the great orations in world history, Shakespearian monologues, and epic poems for me to recite.  Alas, she expected nothing less than mastery of every emphisis and nauance implied in the text.  And she was a tough taskmaster.  she had also taught my mother, my aunts and uncles to speak the English also.  Hence I grew up awash in verbal eloquence.  My mother understood well the power of the well spoken word, and she refused to allow me to take on the challenges of the world without having that weapon in my arsenal.

Mom and my Sister Melba

 A wonderful generous spirit, Melba is mom’s primary caretaker

Although I never won an oratorical contests until my sister Melba graduated – she spanked me every year – I went on to become an orator of considerable skill.  I have spoken in every venue from street corner soap boxes, churches, Harvard, the Sorbonne in Paris, Columbia University, the National War college, and the Great Hall at Cooper Union where I face the great Christopher Hitchens in a debate about the Iraq War – which can be seen on You Tube.  And I have won the favor of intresting and beautiful women of all nations because of the things I can say out of my mouth.

I have shared the stage with both Jesse Jackson and Louis Farrakhan – two of the greatest orators of our time – and more than held my own.  All of this is a gift from my mother!   Yet there is an even greater gift that mom bequeathed to me: SHE CONVINCED ME I COULD DO ANYTHING I WANT TO IF I “PUT MY MIND TO IT,” by the time I was five years old!  And I have never ever doubted it for a nano-second.  I can imagine no greater gift than this.  Can you?

Today mom spends her days in the loving comfort of my Sister Melba’s home.  A retired educator, Melba lives down on the Jersey shore, about the same distance from the ocean as when we were growing up in Florida.  If there is a heaven Melba will certainly have a place there right beside our beloved mother.  Happy Mother’s day mom!!!   If I am wrong and there is a God….there is no better example of his grace than you!!!!!!!

Basking in the adoration of her grandchildren Makeda and Samori

She left her imprint on them too!

She even Picked their Wonderful mother!

 

Mom encouraged us to live together then denounced us for living in sin: We Married!

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Playthell G. Benjamin

Harlem, New York

May 13, 2012

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