Archive for June, 2012

To Rome with Love!

Posted in Movie Reviews with tags , , on June 30, 2012 by playthell

Woody Allen directing the sultry Penelope Cruz

 Another Cinematic Gem from Woody’s Workshop

     One never knows quite what to expect when attending a new Woody Allen flick.  But it’s a pretty good bet that no matter what the subject it will be handled with wit, imagination and uncommon intelligence.  And it will be riotously funny!  Those who plunked down their dollars to see  To Rome with Love expecting to find these signature elements in Allen’s unique approach to cinematic art, this writer among them, was not disappointed.  The audience at the Angelica Theater Friday night, which was packed with New Yorkers trying to find a cool place to escape the heat wave that had engulfed the city, was in a continual fit of laughter and intellectual titillation.

Like a good novelist, Woody’s film narratives are driven as much by the word as the image.  And the plots are complex and multi-faceted.  Another trademark of a Woody Allen film is that they are usually set in New York, in fact he has used the New York milieu as the back drop for exploring a wide range of complex human characters and situations the way William Faulkner used Oxford Mississippi as the setting for his explorations of the human condition.

One of the things that made Allen’s films unique is that they were set in New York and mostly populated with Jews; while Hollywood preferred other locations and hardly ever produced movies that explored contemporary Jewish life, despite the fact that the studios were dominated with Jewish executives, directors and screenwriters. From its inception Hollywood movie moguls preferred to make films for the general market, the Goyims, because it ws good for business.

But Allen’s last two films – Midnight in Paris and To Rome with Love – departs from that format and were shot on location.  Just as movies like Bullets over Broadway, Brighten Beach Memories and Manhattan are love songs to New York his last two films spread the love to Paris and Rome.

As is usually the case when film makers go on location, Woody makes the most of the cityscapes of two of the world’s most beautiful cities.  Just as in Midnight in Paris Allen’s cinematography is lush, elegant and even sensuous.  He has a great eye for the captivating locales in a City.  His portraits of Rome are like representative anecdotes expressed in moving pictures.

Amidst the monumental architecture and ubiquitous art treasures of the “Eternal City,” Woody concocts an absurdist tale of star crossed lovers who blunder into wild sexual adventures without trying.  It is a statement about the role of happenstance, about how the best laid plans of mice and men can go haywire.

It is also a poignant statement about the superficial and fleeting nature of celebrity, the seduction of creative people by wealth, and their willingness to ignore their muse for money.  It is also a powerful statement about how great artists can come from all segments of society if they are encouraged and provided the opportunity to practice their art.   And how nobody knows which act the public will anoint. Allen’s film makes these profound observations with a combination of madcap humor, highly intelligent dialogue, and a unrelenting sense of the absurd.

All drama is driven by conflicts in the interaction of characters, and Woody Allen has a Shakespearian like understanding of this.  He recognizes that the play is the thing and writes complex stories; it is fairly impossible to predict what will happen. And his acute sense of the absurd further complicates the picture.  The great Afro-American novelist Chester Hymes, a master of the absurdist novel who spun hilarious tales, once observed that some writers had great technique but were afraid to use their imaginations; a shortcoming for which Allen can never be accused.

Woody’s imagination is off the chains and not restricted by reality.  At times his yarns remind me of the magical realist school of Lain American writers such as Jorge Amado and Garcia Marquez; where the fantastic is presented as normal.  The successful ageing architect who has travelled to Rome where he had lived as a young aspiring architect, played by Alec Baldwin is such a character, as he moves in and out of reality, counseling an aspiring architect on relationship issues.

This film is full of fantastic characters and surreal situations thrown together in such a way that out of chaos come’s clarity; we see that all glory is fleeting and the grass is not greener on the other side of the fence, although people continue to believe it is.

To Rome with Love is a fitting title for this visual panegyric to the Eternal City.  It is a film rich in irony and absurdity; with an appreciation for the folly and foibles of human existence everywhere.  Among the many virtues of this film is the superb ensemble acting.  While Baldwin’s romatic seer is charming, and the beautiful Spanish actress Penelope Cruz is delightful as the happy hooker, it is the interplay of the cast that emerges as the star.

Woody has returned to acting in this film after a hiatus for a couple of flicks, reprieving his neurotic wisecracking nebbish character for which he is famous; his self-deprecating posture and excellent comic timing are flawless.  Added to the spectacular Roman ambience is Allen’s great taste in music, which is a critical part of all feature films.  I have never seen music employed to better advantage than in this film.

Using generous selections from the treasure trove of Italian popular and classical music, the film is enriched by the background sounds.  As is characteristic of his Oeuvre, Woody Allen approaches this film with the skeptical probing mind of a philosopher aware of the myriad contradictions and ambiguities of the human condition, enlivened by the sensibility of a highbrow clown.  Hence like most of his movies, To Rome with Love is both enlightening and funny as hell!

Alec Baldwin as the Mythic Relationship counsellor

Despensing wisdom about matters of the heart

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Playthell G. Benjamin

Harlem, New York

June 30, 2014

Obamacare Survives Reactionary Court

Posted in Playthell on politics with tags , , on June 28, 2012 by playthell
Chief Justice Roberts

On Justice Roberts and the Beckett Effect

Just as I was about to conclude that almost nothing good for the American people would come from the Robert’s Court, we get an affirmative decision on the Affordable Health Care Act,   While 5-4 decisions are par for the course with the Supreme Court these days, few thought the count among the Justices would break down the way it did.  On a court almost evenly divided between hardcore liberals and conservatives one vote can sway a decision on monumental issues.

Usually that swing vote is Justice Kennedy, and some of the smartest legal commentators thought if Obamacare survived it would be due to Kennedy throwing his lot with the liberals.  But I had my doubts about Kennedy; after reading his opinion in the Citizen’s United case, in which he said the onslaught of corporate money into the political process wouldn’t promote corruption, I lost faith in the Judges judgment.  But like most people who were paying attention to the Court’s actions I was surprised that the swing vote turned out to be Chief Justice Roberts.

There were a couple of hints that Roberts might not be the same kind of rightwing automaton as the obsequious Uncle Justice Thomas, a colored lickspittle of humble Georgia origins, who was elevated to the High Court to put a black face on court decisions that arrest the progress of black people and workers.  First there was the speculation of his former Harvard Professor, Lawrence Tribe that he might swing to the left in this case.

And then Roberts had recently parted company with Thomas and Scalia on the Arizona immigration laws; which led some to think he might abandon his hard right colleagues again and vote to uphold the Healthcare law.  Especially since his fellow jurist Antonin Scalia has been talking like a fool lately; even parroting nonsense lines from Rush Limbaugh in legal argument.  However others thought the Chief Justice’s vote was subterfuge, a thin veil to hide behind while he torpedoed Obamacare.

But events have proved Professor tribe was right.  As members of the punditariat flail about for an answer to this apparent enigma, I am reminded of Thomas Beckett; who, like John Roberts, was selected by the King and placed at the head of the church of England with the expectation that he would do the King’s bidding.  However when Beckett gazed upon his image in the mirror, bedecked in the grand clerical costume of the Archbishop of Canterbury, he was overcome with the gravity of the situation and dedicated himself to defend the church even against the King!

I believe John Roberts had such a revelatory moment.  A thoughtful man, he must have reflected on the consequences of the Citizens United decision, when they sold our democracy to the highest bidder and set us upon the road to Plutocracy.  As an intellectual with a sense of history, Roberts knows that historians will compare him to every other Chief Justice.  Hence striking down the Affordable Health Care Act, after the horrendous Citizens United decision, would place him alongside Roger B. Taney in the eyes of many historians and legal scholars.

Justice Taney is remembered in history for his opinion in the Dred Scott Decision of 1857 that upheld the rights of white slave masters to own black people; which included the right to rape black women and even sell their children like piglets. Taney is famous for authoring the lines: “Black men have no rights that white men are bound to respect.”

I think the chilling realization that this was the company he would keep in the eyes of future historians overwhelmed Chief Justice Roberts as much as the fear of committing blasphemy overwhelmed Thomas Beckett, the Archbishop of Canterbury.  And like Beckett, John Robert’s fear of the judgment of history forced him to do the right thing as he agonized: “the whole world knows Obama cares; what about me?”

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Playthell G. Benjamin

Harlem, New York

June 28, 2012

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Killers of the Dream

Posted in Playthell on politics with tags , , , on June 28, 2012 by playthell
                     The Worse Court Ever?

 The Supreme Court Subverts Democracy and Promotes Plutocracy

In a 5-4 decision the United States Supreme Court ruled to overturn a decision by the Supreme Court of Montana upholding the validity of a century old election law forbidding corporations from contributing to candidates in state elections.  The Montana Court ruling posed a direct challenge to the Supreme Court’s 2010 ruling in the Citizens United case, in which the Court held that corporate contributions to political campaigns were covered by the free speech rights afforded under the First Amendment.

This ruling effectively said corporations are people – a sentiment recently echoed by presidential candidate Mitt Romney. But since the Montana law banning corporations from contributing to political parties or candidates was prompted by the historic corruption of the political process by corporate money, the people of Montana thought they were standing on solid legal ground.

Yet Justice Kennedy had confidently written an opinion in the Citizens United case arguing that this ruling would not lead to political corruption, or even the appearance of corruption.  It was a naïve view of the corrupting effects of corporate money on politics that flies in the face of history.

Hence the Montana case was welcomed by critics of the Citizens United ruling, because we thought now that we have seen the corrosive effect of the Super packs, with their vast sums of anonymous money, on the integrity of our political process the court would see the error of their ways and reconsider their decision.

Instead, to our horror, the court stood firm and made it clear that there are no exceptions, not-withstanding the history of political corruption financed by corporate interests such as in Montana. The High Court’s decision was so shocking to Montanans that both Democratic governor Brian Schweitzer, and his Republican lieutenant governor John Bohlinger, stood shoulder to shoulder on the Capitol to denounce the Courts ruling.

It was a remarkable event because the Democrats and Republicans in Montana have been embroiled in rancorous partisan battles, in which the Democratic governor has been using a hot cattle branding iron to veto bills coming out of the Republican controlled legislature.  But on this issue they stood united in defense of their century old election law, which has served this state well in terms of preventing corporate money from corrupting their politics.

“Now, Republicans and Democrats don’t always agree on policy matters,” said the Republican lieutenant governor, “but there’s one thing we do agree on, and that is, corporate money should not influence the outcome of an election.”  His remarks were co-signed by Governor Schweitzer, a Democrat, who said “Here in Montana, we have a proud, 100-year history of keeping corporate money out of our elections. Corporations aren’t people, and they should not control our government. Montana stood up for democracy, here at home and on behalf of America, by fighting to keep our ban on corporate campaign spending. The United States Supreme Court blocked our state law, because they said corporations are people. I’ll believe that when Texas executes one.”

The Montana Election Law of 1912, known as the Corrupt Practices Act, was passed during the era of the “Robber Barons,” the newly ascendant Wall Street financiers and “Captains of Industry,” a time when the great American fortunes were being made.

It was just two years after Andrew Carnegie built the first billion dollar corporation, United States Steel.  With no income tax – which was introduced in 1913 – the super-rich had a lot of money to spend.  And in Montana the “Copper Kings,” who owned the world’s richest copper mines were throwing money around among politicians like confetti.

 William F. Andrews

 He bought a Senate seat

 Marcus Daly

 

 He bribed legislators all over the state

The Copper Kings consisted of two ruthless businessmen, Marcus Daly and William Andrews Clark, who used the vast wealth they accumulated from the copper business to monopolize the wealth of Montana.  For instance, Clark owned 13 copper mines and a smelter to process it in Arizona.  He also owned banks, newspapers, a railroad and the town of Las Vegas in the state of Montana.

Marcus Daly, who was an Irish immigrant, owned two Montana towns – Anaconda and Hamilton – plus the richest copper mine in America: the Anaconda mine in Butte Montana.  They were joined by a lesser light, F. Augustus Heinz, a financial speculator who came out from Brooklyn.

In their battle to control the state these men bought most of the state legislature and even a US senate seat from the state.  The bribery was so blatant the United States Senate refused to seat the winner of the election, Williams Andrews Clarke.

None of this corruption would have surprised Thomas Jefferson, who tried unsuccessfully to include an anti-monopoly clause in the Bill of Rights.  Failing that Jefferson declared: “I hope that we shall crush in its birth the aristocracy of our moneyed corporations, which dare already to challenge our government to a trial of strength, and bid defiance to the laws of our country.”  Over half a century later, as the American Civil War was limping to an end, one of the nation’s most famous corporate lawyers wrote the following warning.

I see in the near future a crisis approaching that unnerves me and causes me to tremble for the safety of my country.  As a result of the war, corporations have been enthroned and an era of corruption in high places will follow, and the money power of the country will endeavor to prolong its reign by working upon the prejudices of the people until all wealth is aggregated in a few hands and the Republic is destroyed…god grant that my suspicions prove groundless.”

This excerpt is from a letter written by Abraham Lincoln’s to Colonel William F. Elkins, on Nov. 21, 1864.  Well, I don’t know if God was listening, but the right-wing ideologues on the high court has paid him no mind,  Alas Abe’s prediction is becoming prophecy.

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Playthell G. Benjamin

Harlem, New York

June 28, 2012

Does Democracy Guarantee Freedom?

Posted in Playthell on politics with tags , , on June 25, 2012 by playthell

    Thomas Jefferson: Founding Father and Slave Master

 Notes on a Persistent American Myth

As thousands of Jubilant Egyptians pour into Taquir square screaming “Allah u Akbar” upon the news that Muhamed Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood’s candidate, has won the presidential election, many of the original occupants of this square during the upheavals of the so-called “Arab Spring” are lapsing into fear, doubt and even despair.  They look at the election results and wonder what happened to the liberal democratic revolution they thought they were building.  Only the most naïve dreamers among them can continue to believe that their dream will be realized.

It is a tale of two countries; those who prefer a secular democracy and those who long for a theocratic Islamic state under Sharia law.  Although Morsi, an American trained engineer with a PhD, appears to be trying to distance himself from the pious theocrats who swept him into power by announcing that he is quitting the Muslim Brotherhood, talk is cheap and we shall see if he is willing to oppose his Islamist brothers in favor of secular policies, or this is just a ploy to keep American foriegn aid flowing into their crumbling economy.

It is hoped in some quarters that President Morsi’s American education will serve as a moderating influence, but they forget that Sayyid Gutb also earned a graduate degree from an American university.  However the time he spent among us so turned him off that he returned to Egypt and became the leading theologian of the modern Islamic Jihad; a global movement of Muslim fanatics with a dagger aimed straight at the heart of American civilization.

               Sayyid Gutb: Briliant Islamic Theologian

Egyptian Father of the Global Jihad

The truth is, once people get the right to choose their leaders anything can happen; it’s a matter of what their hopes and dreams are.  As I have said before: the secular democrats and the Muslim Brotherhood who joined forces to overthrow the Mubarak regime might have been sleeping in the same bed but they were dreaming different dreams.

The results produced by the first popular democratic elections in Egyptian history, which put a Muslim fundamentalist in the President’s office, illustrates why military strong men all over the Muslim world have consistently refused to permit the development of a popular democracy.  Alas, if Egyptian democracy becomes an enemy of freedom it will be just the latest addition to an age old phenomenon.

The world’s first democracy was in ancient Greece, in fact the term is of Greek origin; yet Greece was a slave society.  The Roman Republic was the world’s second democracy.  But it was a Patrician democracy where only the upper classes had the right to vote and slavery was widespread.  The Early American Republic Resembled the Roman Republic with its property requirements for voters and the widespread practice of slavery.

All of the Founding Fathers had slave interests accept John Adams.  Thomas Jefferson, the author of the Declaration of Independence, kept over 200 slaves and bore seven children by his slave concubine Sally Hemmings and kept them all as his slave property.

Furthermore, new scholarship by the law professors Alfred and Ruth Blumrosen’s published in “Slave Nation: How Slavery United the Colonies and Sparked the American Revolution, and Dr. Gerald Horne’s new book “Negro Comrades of the Crown” make an impressive case that the motivation for the American Revolution was not to expand human freedom but to preserve slavery.

Yet even under the best of circumstances, as Alexis de Tocqueville wrote in his famous 1831 treatise “Democracy in America,” without legal protection of the rights of unpopular minorities popular democracy can quickly degenerate into a mere tyranny of the majority.

Non-white Americans have always lived under the tyranny of the white majority, mitigated only by Civil Rights legislation, and minorities who are non-Muslim and non-males in Egypt – i.e. Coptic Christians, women and secular democrats – will soon find themselves living under the tyranny of an Islamist majority without continued military mediation of the constitutional process.

                The Egyptian Military Stands Aside…for now  

 But they shall decide what the new Egypt becomes

 

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Playthell George Benjamin

Harlem. New York

June 25, 2012

 

The Gospel According to King James!

Posted in On Sports! with tags , , on June 22, 2012 by playthell
 The King Holding Court

A Victory that Resounds Beyond the Court

             Averaging 30 points and 10 rebounds throughout a grueling NBA final, Lebron James led the Miami Heat to a World Championship and was selected by unanimous vote as  The Most Valuable player in the championship series.  The trophy will make a handsome  companion to his league MVP award for the 2012 season.  Not only was King James honored by league officials, he was showerd with love from his teamates and warmly embraced by opposing players after their defeat.

James put on a rare performance of such magnitude that Magic Johnson, a first ballot Hall of Famer who is one of the greatest artist to play the game, was moved to enthusiastically declare Lebron James “One of the greatest athletes to ever put on basketball sneakers!” He placed him in the Top Ten of all-time greats right now, and suggested that Lebron could well be anywhere in the top three by the time he is through.

In this playoff series Lebron demonstrated why he deserves the title “King James,” as he put on a clinic on all aspects of the game:  passing, rebounding, smothering defense, and unstoppable offense.  Unlike the late King James of England, who had the temerity to rewrite the Judeo-Christian Bible – although many suspect he employed William Shakespeare to do the actual writing – there is no doubt that the marvels attributed to Lebron were of his authorship.  The whole world watched him do it!  And unlike the original King James, Lebron was not born to his title: he had to earn it!

Today Basketball is a game where grace and prowess are wedded in a public spectacle that has transcended the sport Dr. James Naismith invented at Springfield College in 1891, an era distinguished by “white supremacy” and American imperial expansion.  Naismith, a trained minister and Physical Education teacher, created the game of basketball because he was ordered by his superior to create an indoor sport that could channel the energies of virile young men into constructive activity during the long New England winters.

Dr. Naismith intended his game to promote spiritual objectives, not serve as an arena  for cutthroat competition. But that was before basketball became a market driven professional sport in a multi-billion industry.  His Christian purpose of cultivating piety and moral toughness is clearly evident in the fact that he invented basketball under the auspices of the Young Men’s Christian Association.

This reflected the the spirt of a time when the doctrine of “muscular Christianity” stressed physical fitness as a prerequisite for white Christian soldiers – men who were  tasked with spreading the gospel everywhere, civilizing the colored savages and ruling the world. In this evangelical view the role of sport was to promote western interests through “godliness and good Games.”

           Dr. James Naismith: Inventer of Bscketball           

He conceived a Very Different Game

That vision of sports has evaporated as the world changed.   The collapse of the racial bar that made professional sports in America a white man’s affair permitted the emergence of Afro-American athletes, who reinvented the game of basketball.  What was once a stiff game of rigid prescribed plays with gangly stiffs doing a Two Step shuffle, has become a free flowing improvisational ballet performed by agile giants.

Afro-American ballers have bewitched the world with their magic show, but not everyone is applauding….and there is no paucity of Playa Hatas.  No playa has been the object of more virulent enmity, expressed in pious putrid invective, than King James.  So what’s it all about…really?

The source of this animus is located in Lebron’s decision to announce that he was leaving the Cleveland Cavaliers and taking his talents to the Miami Heat on a cable television special – his critics conveniently ignore the fact that the TV show raised two million dollars to fund programs for poor kids like he once was.

Yet in an era where athletes are being arrested and tried for real crimes Lebron is like Caesar’s wife: pure as the driven snow.  Whether it’s using illegal performance enhancing drugs to gain an unfair advantage against his opponents, carrying illegally concealed weapons off the court, disturbing the peace by cutting the fool in the public square, or even showing up late for practice; Lebron is above reproach!  So what’s the beef?

Among New Yorker’s, and hard core basketball fans in all the cities that vied for Lebron’s talents with dreams of a World Championships dancing in their heads like the Sugar Plums in Tchaikovsky’s  famous Nutcracker Suite, this hatred is the universal response of rejected lovers.  But for the majority of those whose team was never in the running, the hatred is an irrational response to Lebron’s self-confidence and business decisions.

Hence  Lebron was cast as an arrogant, self-centered ingrate; some thought him an uppity nigger who was disloyal to the franchise that provided him the opportunity to play pro-ball.  This is ridiculous: Loyalty to a corporate sports franchise?  As former pro-footballer and sports commentator Marcellus Wiley pointed out on ESPN Sportscenter: Professional sports is a business and players often don’t find out that they have been traded to another franchise until they hear about it on Sportscenter.

I explored these issues in two essays at some lenght  and posted at them  at Commentariesonthetimes.wordpress.com while it was happening.  But what objective observer could fault Lebron for quitting the “Mistake by the Lake” for that perpetual bacchanal in the Magic City?  It doesn’t make sense.

That’s why I believe  much of this hatred is racial resentment expressed by closet racist who detest King James’ wealth, fame, independence and color.  It is rooted in irrational societal and cultural issues that transcend the game.  Hence Lebron’s victory resounds beyond the court!  And the haters will have to live with the fact the King has claimed his crown!  Every head must bow!  Every tongue must confess it!!

They Rode their Horse to the Top

A Merry Band of Brothers

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Playthell George Benjamin

Harlem, New York

June 22, 2012

The Islamist Claim Victory in Egypt!

Posted in On Foreign Affairs, On War and Peace in the Mid East!, Uncategorized with tags , on June 20, 2012 by playthell
  Muhamed Morsi, Egypt First Islamist President?

 

Now What Happens Next?

The comedian Paul Mooney invented a character called “Negrodamous;” a prescient black man who can predict the future.  I am beginning to feel more and more like that guy…except my stories ain’t funny.  Alas, it is now apparent that my predictions on both the Occupy Wall Street Movement and the Egyptian upheaval were right on the money.

My prediction that the apolitical character of the Occupy Wall Street movement would insure they would end up like Jack the Bear, making tracks but getting nowhere in terms of diminishing the power of the Plutocrats has certainly come true. One part of the segmented leadership of OWS has announced that the only solution to American Problems is “world Revolution,” and another has decided that challenging the seat of progressive Democratic Congresswoman Lydia Valesquez is what they should be about.

Although the Egyptian upheaval, which served as their model, is a far more complex political phenomenon; I managed to get that right too.  From the outset I warned that we should be wary of uncritically embracing the popular resistance movement, because it contained dangerous elements that could be propelled to power.  This is because like all mass social movements, the Egyptian leadership was polycepalous and segmented; which means they have many leaders representing different factions.

While they all agree that overthrowing the Mubarak government was a vital necessity; any basis for unity between secular liberals and conservative Islamist stopped there.  Although all factions said they wanted an end to tyranny the Devil lurked in the details.  I suspected they were sleeping in the same bed but dreaming different dreams.

Some thought me cynical when I pointed out the naiveté of a young female doctor in a miniskirt interviewed by the New York Times, who gushed over how helpful members of the Muslim Brotherhood were in supporting the idealistic youths who thought they were ushering in a western style liberal /secular democracy.

Other’s thought me a reactionary when I sympathized with the middle class Egyptian women who came out in support of President Honsi Mubarak and the military, against the “revolutionaries” who advocated popular democracy.  As highly educated women they foresaw the danger of an Islamic takeover in a popular election and they knew the horrors that befell women, especially modern women like them, everywhere Islamic fundamentalists take power.

The military men understand it too, that’s why they have steadfastly kept Islamists from taking power ever since Egypt’s first President, Abdel Gamal Nasser, a military man trained at Britain’s elite Sandhurst military academy, hung the theologian Syyid Qutb, the ideological leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, in 1966.  What we are witnessing in Egypt is a reflection of the FLN’s policy in Algeria, where the military overturned a popular election that chose an Islamic party, and took control.  And as I have written repeatedly: The only impediment to an Islamist takeover in all of these Muslim countries is the secular military caste.

Hence with a victory by Muhamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood, who claimed to have won by a million votes on Monday, and Ahmed Shafiq, former President Hosni Mubarak’s last appointed Prime Minister, Claiming to have won on Tuesday, we shall soon see if Morsi becomes the first Islamist President that’s allowed to take power by the military strongmen in a Sunni Muslim country.

With the announcement by the Military elite that they will be the architects of the new Egyptian Constituition, in order to keep it a secular document and prevent the institution of Sharia law, and that only the military high command can remove a military commander…it looks like de ja vu all over again with a faceoff by the theocrats and military secularists that marked the beginning of modern Egyptian politics.

This conflict presents President Obama with a dilemma: shall he support the results of Egypt’s first democratic election….or cast his fate with the military strongmen; exactly where America’s support has been for the last half century.  We shall see.

 Where the Real Power Resides

The Nemisis of the Islamist

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Playthell Benjamin

Harlem, New York

June 20, 2012

 

The Stealth Candidate

Posted in Playthell on politics with tags , , , , on June 14, 2012 by playthell
 A pitchman who aspires to be President

 Notes on the Invisible Man

       In Mitt Romney we have a candidate for the Presidency of the United States, the most powerful office in the world, who refuses to come clean about issues that are critical to our understanding of what he believes, his personal history and his intentions for the nation; the kinds of things that will tell us who the guy really is.  We are not to ask about Mitt’s religious beliefs – especially on questions of race and gender equality – or his wife’s history in the work place, although he tells us she counsels him on women’s aspirations.

We are also not supposed to demand that Mitt tell us just what government programs he would eliminate, although he has promised to cut a trillion dollars or more from the federal budget.  And he has said on the public record that questions about the vast inequity in the distribution of wealth in America should be confined to “quiet conversations in private.” In Mitt’s view, such questions are not fit topics for public discussion.

Mitt’s activities as a corporate raider, which he posits as his main qualification for President, are also off limits. So are his secret accounts in foreign banks which serve as havens for tax avoidance; as well as his tax returns over the period of years set by his father, George Romney, a former Governor of Michigan who also ran for President.   Furthermore  Mitt refuses to disclose the identity of the financial bundlers raising grand theft dough to fund his candidacy.

All most Americans really know about Mitt Romney is that he was born to the purple, got two Harvard degrees, and is worth a quarter of a billion dollars which he accumulated from his raider days kicking workers to the curb with nothing – no benefits or pensions – nothing!  And we know that he and his wife look like an aging Ken and Barbie!  That’s about it.

Mitt is rumored to be a Bishop in the Church of the Latter Day Saints i.e. the Mormons, but nobody seems to know for sure, or what it means if he is.  Yet this would make Mitt the highest ranking religious official ever to occupy the Oval Office should he win the election.  Where I grew up choosing a candidate who has not been fully examined is called “buying a pig in a poke,” and even children had better sense than to do that.

The most pressing question raised by Mitt’s refusal to come clean on all of these questions is: What is he hiding?  Is he afraid that if voters knew that until 1978 he was a leader in a church that taught black people were cursed because we were evil in a former existence?  Or that this racist belief is central to Mormon theology and has never been denounced.   Is he afraid we might find out that he believes in magic underwear that can protect him from harm? Or is he squeamish about the vulgar, male chauvinist, medieval attitude the Mormon Church teaches regarding women.

Perhaps this explains Mitt’s pusillanimous response to Rush Limbaugh’s shameful attack on George town  law student Sandra Fluke, when he called her a whore on a national broadcast and said we should be allowed to watch her having sex, just because she supported insurance coverage for contraceptives.  And maybe it also explains why Mitt thinks he can say the most ridiculous things about President Obama, and get away with it.

Maybe Mitt is scared that we might discover that he has been gaming the tax code by hiding money offshore; or that he has never had to worry about health insurance or missing a meal in his life.  Maybe he’s afraid that if voters knew this, his pledge to repeal the Affordable Health Care Act – although his health care proposal consists of exactly 331 words – and shred the safety net that provides subsistence aid to those in desperate straits, while slashing the taxes of the plutocrats, would go over like a concrete balloon with working and middle class voters – who comprise the majority of the electorate.

It could be that he is terrified of having his former company’s record of closing factories and shipping American jobs overseas seriously examined; or that he has pledged to make massive cuts in federal assistance to vital public services in the nation’s cities.  Maybe Mitt’s scared to death that if they knew his solution to all our economic problems is to reinstate the Bush economic program, except as Bill Clinton observed “this time on steroids,” the American electorate might not prove to be as stupid as he thinks.  That’s the main reason why Mitt is a stealth candidate who remains a mystery man even as he ask us to elect him our next President….But I’ma try my level best to put all the suckas business in the streets!

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Playthell G. Benjamin

Harlem, New York

June 14, 2012

Did President Obama Misspeak on Economy?

Posted in Playthell on politics, Uncategorized with tags , , on June 12, 2012 by playthell
President Obama Speaking to management and workers

 Popular Democracy in the Age of Cable TV and Internet

           In an attempt to explain the nature of the unemployment crisis in the US, President Obama said that in comparison to the public sector, the private sector is “doing fine.”  What he was referring to is the fact that his policies to rescue our economy from the worse downturn since the Great Depression has created over 4 million private sector jobs, while at the same time the public sector has experienced massive job losses due to cutbacks in spending by the Republican governors and legislatures who have taken control in many states.

If we consider the fact that the economy was in a free fall, losing 700,000 jobs a month and the world banking system was in danger of total collapse when he took office, Barack’s performance managing the economy, especially with the hostile obstructionists Republicans in Congress –  has been outstanding by any objective measure.

Despite an endless stream of ideologically propelled drivel – as opposed to fact driven commentary – there was no viable alternative to the stimulus provided by TARP and the Economic Recovery Act.  Those who argue otherwise are either ignoramus or charlatans.  For instance a total banking collapse would have resulted in the collapse of the Credit Default Swap market; which was estimated to be around 66 trillion dollars.

This is far too big for the US government to guarantee.  At the time things began to fall apart most Americans – this writer included – had never heard of a credit default swap.  And only a small cabal of financial experts understood what a derivative was. That’s why Barack appointed Timothy Geitner, the former President of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, as Secretary of the Treasury – a decision that was vociferously criticized by ideologues on the left and right.

Yet it was these mysterious financial instruments – some designed by theoretical mathematicians paid to devise new ways to make money from investments – that wrecked the economy and wiped out billions of dollars in savings and investments of middle class Americans, while forcing thousands of firms into bankruptcy or near bankruptcy resulting in mass layoffs. Had the federal government not intervened it would have resulted in an economic catastrophe of such magnitude that the government could not bail us out.  The consequences would make the 1930’s look like the good old days.

Hence these banks were literally “too big to fail” and yet the Republicans are blocking the regulatory regime passed by the Democrats in Congress, and signed into law by President Obama, which would prevent a meltdown like that from happening again.  This means that it could happen again!

But in spite of all the anger and invective leveled against the reckless financial speculators, who were given free rein to do crazy things by Republican deregulation of financial markets, the American people put the Republicans back in charge of the House of Representatives only two years after their policies led the nation’s economy over a cliff.

Ironically, the very policies that are denounced by ideologues on the right and the left – confusing many Americans in the process – prevented a total catastrophe and set the economy on the road to recovery.  The bank “bailout,” or TARP, which was initiated by Bush but continued by Obama, the Economic Recovery Act and the Auto-Industry bailout were essential elements in salvaging the economy.

Ironically, the response to these policies exposes the “antagonistic cooperation” that increasingly occurs between ideologues at opposite poles of the political spectrum.  Although they hate these measures for different reasons – Righty’s hate any government intervention because it violates their “free market” theology; Lefties hate it because it props up the capitalist “criminals”.  As I have pointed out ad nauesum: This is a distinction without a real difference!

The problem confronting the working class and imperils the Obama presidency is the persistent high rates of unemployment.   It provides rhetorical weapons that his opponents in the Grand Obstructionist Party can use to attack him.  But everybody with any understanding of the problem knows the present unemployment crisis is structural, which means those jobs have disappeared for good.

During the Great Depression of the 1930’s Professor John Maynard Keynes, the brilliant British economist whose policy recommendations led the world out of the economic disaster, identified a different kind of unemployment from what he was observing then. Keynes called this “technological unemployment, “and he was referring to workers who had been rendered obsolete by the advance of technology.

And Keyenes wasn’t the only one who saw this coming; so did a brilliant black assembly line worker in a Ford automobile plant in Detroit, James Boggs.  In a prophetic book titled “The American Revolution: Pages from a Negro Worker’s Notebook,” published in 1961, Boggs predicted the coming “Cybernation” of the American economy.

From his position on the factory floor, this working class intellectual could see that the advance of computerization and robotization would eliminate millions of industrial jobs, because the machines could perform the same work more efficiently i.e. faster and cheaper.  And neither of them envisioned Globalization, which also serves the business and corporate class but not American workers.

That’s why long after economist announced the end of the recession five million workers who were gainfully employed before the crash remain unemployed; while corporate profits and the stock market have gone through the roof!  This is what the president was referring to: And he was right!

That’s why he is advocating government intervention to help the working class, and Romney is advocating further tax cuts for the plutocrats and no regulation of the corporate and financial sectors – whom he calls’ “the jobs creators.”  This is the Bush formula that wrecked the economy.  Former President Clinton, one of the most successful managers of the American economy in history, has called Mitt’s economic formula “the Bush plan on steroids!”

In spite of the obvious truth of both Presidents Obama and Clinton’s observations on the state of the US economy and the fallacies in Republican economic prescriptions to cure the lingering maladies that are causing the average American so much pain, a dangerous combination of the rightwing electronic tower of babble such as FOX News, talk radio, and the blogosphere, plus an ignorant electorate, has conspired to hopelessly confuse political reality and millions of voters can’t tell fact from fiction.

All of this raises serious questions as to whether our participatory democracy is part of the problem, rather than a viable path to solving the protracted crisis of American capitalism.

Barack on the factory floor at Boeing

Touting American Manufacturing Excellence

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Playthell G. Benjamin

Harlem New York

June 12, 2012

Lessons From The Wisconsin Fiasco

Posted in Playthell on politics with tags , , , on June 8, 2012 by playthell

Workers fighting for their Lives

Further Reflections on the Class War

There is no hotter topic in Americans politics just now than the defeat of the recall effort against Wisconsin’s right-wing Republican Governor, Scott Walker.   Naturally, the Republicans are claiming victory for their vision of where America needs to go.  However as of today the polls from that Midwestern state shows President Obama leading Mitt Romney by nine points in the forthcoming presidential election.  This begs the questions: What does the election results mean?  And what are the minimum essential lessons we are to take from this political fiasco?

What the outcome of the recall drive means, on the most fundamental level, is that organized labor took on the plutocrats in a pitched battle in a state where labor has a long and honorable history and got creamed.  But instead of retreating to lick our wounds, the progressive left needs to take a pause for the cause, essay our strengths and weaknesses, rearm ourselves with new knowledge, and retake the field to continue the fight for our vision of America with enhanced vigor in the coming national elections.  The quality of our lives, and perhaps life itself, depends upon it!

In order to succeed in the impending struggle there are certain minimal essential lessons we must digest and address or, like all political actors who refuse to learn from their errors and continue following an outdated script, we will repeat our history of defeat.

The first lesson that we must learn is that the plutocrats, the filthy rich who own the lion’s share of this country’s wealth, are clear in their purpose and have the financial resources to electronically beam carefully constructed disinformation directly into the brains of millions of potential voters 24/7; as the masses of workers remain clueless and confused.

In wisconsin that confusion was aided, actually promoted, by money from billionaires like the nefarious Koch brothers; which enabled the embattled Republican governor to outspend his Democratic challenger on media ads at a rate of 8 to1!  While the Plebeians are amusing themselves with bread and circuses, the Plutocrats are running hog wild plotting the destruction of the working class.

We must especially help workers understand that the recent Citizen’s United decision is a green light for corrupt amoral billionaires to buy politicians; shameless whores who will serve as shills for private wealth against the public interests. They are by nature the enemies of labor. The Wisconsin recall effort also exposed the fact that Republicans are employing a well-planned strategy of “divide and conquer” toward workers; in the words of triumphant Governor Scott Walker.

The result of the Governor’s strategy is that members of private sector unions were persuaded to vote against the bargaining rights of their public sector counterparts; thus helping to reelect the a man who is arguably the most anti-working class Governor in Wisconsin history. This is a very dangerous development that could lead to the working class cannibalizing itself based on the ubiquitous lie – funded by the plutocrats – that it is public sector workers who are responsible for the financial problems of our cities.

This is view designed to justify the unwillingness of the rich to pay taxes at a rate that is sufficient to seriously address the decay of our cities, which they helped bring about.  Blaming financial crisis on public employees is a malicious fiction that does not take into account the radical changes in the structure of our urban economies over the last half century, when our cities were transformed from manufacturing centers to service economies.

This silent revolution has resulted in the impoverishment of the working class due the flight of well-paying factory work overseas, relocating in countries with labor standards American workers fought a century to abolish. By some estimates there are ten million people working for “American” corporations in foreign countries; leaving only low paying service jobs and prolonged structural unemployment here at home. This phenomenon has been well documented in “When Work Disappears,” by Dr. William Julius Wilson, Professor of social Policy at Harvard’s Kennedy School.

Hence the activist left, in conjunction with labor unions, must launch an ongoing mass education project to explain the structural nature of the unemployment crisis and the benefits of unionization.   They should concentrate on victories of the union movement that has enhanced the life style and chances of the working class.  Things such as paid vacations, health care benefits, unemployment compensation, etc. are benefits of the union movement that all workers now enjoy.  We must help workers to understand that there is no such thing as “job security” without unions.

And, finally, we have to teach workers the advantages of union membership as a vehicle for gaining both economic justice and political power; that the power of workers is in unity.  The plutocrats have the money but we have the numbers.   Thus when working in class conscious unity we also have the power to keep the plutocrats away from the levers of political power.

The working class must learn that government regulation is our only defense against the pillage of heartless billionaires, who bought the election in Wisconsin. That the anti-government propaganda spouted by the right is a ruse designed to persuade workers to vote against their interests.  For without government regulation of their activities we are at the mercy of heartless capitalists like Mitt Romney and Bain Capital.

And union organizers must also attempt to give direction to the Occupy Wall Street movement; which is unfocused, apolitical, and like Jack the Bear is making tracks but going nowhere.  Because without clearly defined political demands and a specific enemy on which to focus the movement’s energies,  the demonstrations which has mobilized thousands of well meaning young activist from coast to coast, will yield few concrete gains for the working class.  Alas, it will become, as Shakespeare wrote at the close of McBeth, “A tale told by an idiot/ all sound and fury….signifying nothing!”  That’s the most essential lesson of all.

 The Koch Brothers: Financiers of the Radical Right

The Kochs are on a whole different level. There’s no one else who has spent this much money. Thesheer dimension of it is what sets them apart. They have a pattern of lawbreaking, political manipulation, and obfuscation. I’ve been in Washington since Watergate, and I’ve never seen anything like it. They are the Standard Oil of our times.

- Charles Lewis, founder of the Center for Public Integrity

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Playthell G. Benjamin

Harlem, New York

June 8, 2012 

Are we Losing our Democracy to a Plutocracy?

Posted in Playthell on politics with tags , , , , on June 4, 2012 by playthell

     Mitt’s in the middle with dollars hanging from his coat

 Notes From the Class War

All one need do is look at the line-up of corporate titans who are backing Mitt Romney, then consider how the Supreme Court decision in the United Citizen case has overturned election finance laws and opened the door for unlimited corporate spending in support of candidates they favor, to recognize that our American democracy as envisioned by the Founding Fathers is on life support.  Thomas Jefferson, the most prescient of the Founding Fathers, correctly recognized the critical importance of an informed electorate to the proper functioning of our Democratic system.

The whole idea of popular democracy and Republican government – as opposed to Monarchies or oligarchies where power is based on blood lines or wealth and military power – is that all power is in the hands of the people through the exercise of the ballot.

Hence with the military firmly under civilian control, an informed citizenry armed with the ballot, an independent judiciary refereeing the competing claims of the executive and legislative branches of government, and a free press standing watch over them all reporting to the citizens; the architects of America’s Constitution thought they had created a system that would prevent the development of tyrannical elites in the military or civilian sectors of the nation.

However thoughtful people have always recognized that tyranny is a danger that must be constantly opposed; that each generation must be vigilant in defense of democracy.  And many American leaders, including Republican and Democratic Presidents, have recognized massive concentrations of wealth in the upper classes as a danger to democracy.

The only way to prevent the tyranny of a super-rich minority is through government regulation of their activities: the government is tasked with protecting the public interests and the capitalist class is committed to increasing the wealth of its investors – which is often not in the public interests.

Hence the capitalist class hates regulation, as well as powerful unions that force them to bargain with their workers collectively, or face strikes that could cripple their business activities and reduce their profits.  They also abhor paying taxes.  Thus they are committed to electing politicians that are beholden to private i.e. corporate interests rather than the public interests; a parliament of whores that can be trusted to do their bidding.  In the coming election we have two presidential candidates that present a stark contrast between representatives of public and private interests.

While over 50% of President Obama’s contributors donate $2000 or less, Mitt Romney is being bankrolled by people like the Koch Brothers, and the CEO’s of corporate giants like Target, K-Mart, Intel, General Electric, Dell computers, CVS Pharmacy, Home Depot, Countrywide Financial, Occidental Petroleum, and may other giant corporations along with numerous sports franchises.

Since in the United States mass media has the power to determine political outcomes that were only enjoyed by all powerful militaries in earlier periods of history; the candidate who has the power of mass media at his command will have the best chance to win – and that’s a matter of money!

Given the epidemic of ignorance and apathy that infects of millions of Americans – which was prominently on display in the “Miss USA” pagent where four contestants couldn’t name the vice President of the country –  people whose heads are empty media markets that can be filled with smartly crafted lies electronically beamed into them; there is a clear danger of Karl Rove aka “Turd Blossom,” the evil spinmiester that gave us George II and Dirty Dick Cheney, might just succeed in buying this election for Mitt.

                                                           Turd Blossom

Running Dog of the Plutocrats

If Karl Rove, does succeed in his grand plan to buy this election it will mark the end of democracy – the rule of the people – and the triumph of plutocracy: a tyranny of economic royalist.  The “One Percent” will have triumphed; while Occupy Wall Street fiddles – unable to even identify the enemy let alone mount an effective strategy to defeat them.  These people are the richest economic elite in history, yet they oppose the minimum wage, public education, and are pledged to repeal the Affordable Health Care Act.  Make no mistake: These are cold blooded killers of the American dream!

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Playthell G. Benjamin

Harlem, New York

June 4, 2012

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