What Militant Islam Looks Like in Africa

Posted in On Foreign Affairs with tags , , , on April 13, 2014 by playthell

 Boko Harem - Islamic Terrorists

Nihilistic Boko Haram Fanatics in Nigeria

 

A Clear and Present Danger to Nigeria’s Quest for Modernity

The latest atrocity committed by fanatical Islamists is the slaughter of over a hundred people in the predominantly Muslim northern region of Nigeria. Gun-wielding Islamic zealots for a Jihadist group calling itself Boko Haram – which means “against western education” – is blamed for the slaughter. In order to understand the thinking behind such bloodthirsty acts one need only study the views of Abubaker Shekau, the supreme leader of Boko Haram.

A shadowy figure that never appears in public and makes his views known through internet video tapes, like Osama bin Laden, Shekau has a proactive attitude toward religiously inspired murder.  In this he is a cookie cutter copy of all jihadist leaders. In a report filed by Addullah Tasiu of the BBC’s Hausa Service, we are told by Professor Abubakar Mu’azu from the University of Maiduguri that Shekau is “is the leader of the more militant wing of the group as testified by his aping of Osama Bin Laden in his video appearances.”

These videos are posted online surreptitiously by a secret cell in Boko Haram known as the “Public Enlightenment Department.” In one of these videos, released in the aftermath of a killing spree where Boko Haram butchers slaughtered 180 innocent people in Kano – the largest city in the predominately Muslim northern region – Abubaker Shenkau looks into the camera and announces to the world: “I enjoy killing anyone that God commands me to kill – the way I enjoy killing chickens and rams.”

To those looking on, this writer included, the question that begs an answer is: “What manner of man is this that could say such a thing?   Shekau does not appear in public due to the fact that the founder of Boko Haram, and his immediate predecessor, Muhammad Yusef, was killed by security forces and Shekau himself barely escaped execution by them.

Now the most wanted man in Nigeria, he would surely be shot on sight if discovered by Nigerian security forces or captured and subjected to a worse fate as an example to others who would follow in his footsteps, Shekua remains in hiding and we are left with descriptions of him by people who knew him before he became notorious.

The Nigerian journalist Ahmed Salkida is such a person.  We are told in the BBC report that Salkida’s access to Skekau and other Boko Haram militants once attracted the attention of Nigeria’s security forces, which became suspicious of his relationship with them, and he barely escaped execution on the spot by virtue of the intervention of a superior officer.  Salkida describes the Boko Haram leader as “a fearless loner, a complex, paradoxical man – part intellectual, part gangster” who is between 36 and 40 years old.  In the picture below he reminds me of former New York Knicks star Earl “The Pearl” Monroe.

Abubeker Shekau
abubakar boko haram
Nigeria’s Most Wanted

A closer look at the life of Skekua and his fanatical co-conspirators in Boko Haram reveals similar patterns of development with other militant Islamic Jihadist movements such as the murderous Taliban in Afghanistan and the multi-national Al Qaeda, the authors of the 9/11 terrorist attack on New York City. The “Taliban,” which translates in English as “Seminarians” are doctrinaire Islamic fundamentalists committed to the establishment of Sharia Law.

Hence this is a religious movement born in the Islamic seminaries in Afghanistan. Abubaker Shekau was recruited and tutored by Mamman Nur, a mutual friend of his and of Boko Haram founder Muhammad Yusef, who were also seminary students.  Mamman is charged with organizing the notorious 2011 bombing of United Nation’s offices in Nigeria. Addressed by the clerical title “Imam” by his followers, Shekau is viewed by authorities as “the quietest and perhaps the most radical of them,” reports the BBC’s Tsiu.

According to Ahmed Sakilda, the journalist who knows him best: “He is one of those who believes that you can sacrifice anything for your belief,” Mr Salkida says.  Mr Shekau is fluent in his native Kanuri, Hausa and Arabic languages – he does not speak English. I used to joke with him that he should teach me Arabic and I would teach him English.”

Like the Talaban,Boko Haram is opposed to all western influence and is willing to resort to intimidation and murder to keep women in a state of complete subjugation to men, forcing them to wear veils, denying them education and employment as professionals, and even needing male permission to leave the house.  Both movements justify such practices as following the dictates of the Koran.

This is what happens when these ancient religious texts are taken literally – for the Christian Bible also contains its share of barbaric absurdities if taken literally. Boko Haram has an organizational structure based on independent cells with a decentralized command structure that makes them impossible to effectively infiltrate.  Their operational principles appear to be “invisible organization” and “Phantom Leadership.”

This explains how they are able to conduct lightning strikes all across Northern Nigeria and disappear as if into thin air.  And the increasing ruthlessness of the Nigerian security forces only serves to increase support for the movement among devout Muslims.

A Boko Haram Cell

 Boko Horem II

 African Soldiers of Allah

Many of these people dwell in a universe dominated by radical Islamic theology that envisions a world that harkens back to the 11th century, a time when, as the Afro-American Astrophysicist Dr. Neil Degrasse Tyson points out, a leading Islamic philosopher decided that mathematics was “the work of the Devil’ and set in motion the anti-intellectual forces that ended Islamic civilization’s 300 years of preeminence in science.

Alas the rejection of “western education” is the 21st century counterpart of this reactionary self-destructive mindset – which arrested development of Islamic civilization and led to the ascension a modern western civilization that dominated the world and the subjugated the Islamic world to the humiliation of European colonialism – the consequences of which they are still struggling to overcome.

Hence when we consider that the main targets of Boko Haram are schools, libraries, cell phone services,  newspapers, etc – the tools of modernization – the Nigerian government has no choice but to crush Boko Haram if it intends to continue its march towards modernity…which is a precondition for effectively competing in a 21st century world.

A Boko Haram’s Mosque
_57829325_girlsmaidugurimosque_afpboko haram mosque
 They would replace Modern schools with this

******************

Playthell G. Benjamin
San Francisco, California
April 13, 2004

Praise Songs for a Master Musician

Posted in Cultural Matters, Music Reviews, You Tube Classics with tags , , , , , on April 8, 2014 by playthell
MODELE ARMSTRONG
Louis Armstrong: His horn and voice changed the world of music

A Fitting Tribute to a Great Artist on the Centenary of his Birthday

On the hundredth anniversary of the birth of Louis Armstrong a celebration in his honor was held at Columbia University, one of America’s most distinguished institutions of higher learning. Titled The Artistry of Pops: Louis Armstrong on his 100th Birthday,” three of the nation’s most outstanding intellectuals and artists – Robert O’Meely, Stanley Crouch and Wynton Marsalis – conducted an ancestor veneration ritual in memory of Louis Armstrong, a great American original.

Robert O’Meely is a Professor of English at Columbia, Director of the Institute for Jazz Studies and a serious Jazz scholar who wrote an important book on Billy Holliday; Stanley Crouch is the nation’s premiere Jazz critic and biographer of Charlie Parker; and Wynton Marsalis is Artistic Director of Jazz at Lincoln Center – the most important Jazz performance and education venue in the world – and leader of the internationally renowned Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, an aggregation of great musicians who can play every genre of jazz without accent.

It is a certainty that almost anyone who takes the time to view this video will be greatly enlightened by the experience.  My certainty lies in the fact that I was enlightened by it and I have been writing about Jazz for over 20 years and have published essays about the music in some of the most prestigious journals in the English language.  The video begins with an opening address by Dr. O’Meely, rich in eloquence and erudition, it paints a complex portrait of Louis Armstrong that demolished the stereotypical view of him as a simple minded entertainer and borderline clown.

What emerges from Professor O’Meely’s succinct but learned lecture is a compelling portrait of a great artist who changed western music and won devotees among musicians and music lovers all over the world.  We learn that the ability to play and instrument and also sing well enough to have a lasting influence on both arts is a very rare feat; the province of genius.  Yet, he tells us, this is precisely what Louis Armstrong did.

       Pop’s Armstrong Singing
                         Louis Armstrong singing
Recording with the magnificent Ella Fitzgerald

Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitgerald

                    One of Pop’s many artistic “children”

In his professorial fashion Dr. O’Meely cited a scholarly text to provide evidence of the influence of Louis Armstrong on the major singers who dominated American jazz and pop music for most of the twentieth century and set the standards many singers still emulate. The Book, “Pops Children,” lets us hear it from the horses’ mouths through the author’s interviews.  Among those who pay homage to Pops as an artistic inspiration and guide are Frank Sinatra, Sarah Vaughn, Tony Bennett, Ella Fitzgerald, Lady Day, et al.

O’Meely’s lecture was the ideal introduction to Louis Armstrong, because he enumerates the many facets of Armstrong’s interests and talents and defines the elements that characterize his style and innovations in western music. Although he teases us with glimpses of Armstrong’s multi-faceted personality and varied interests, he reminds us they are laboring under the tyranny of the clock and thus must confine their discourse to the matter of music.

Despite the fact that he is a Professor of English Dr. O’Meely is a fine music critic.  Like Crouch and Marsalis he is a protégée of the novelist, essayist, musician Ralph Ellison, and Albert Murray, the recently departed Harlem sage and blues philosopher whose masterpiece, “Stomping the Blues,” is a canonical text on Afro-American music…especially Jazz. Thus O’Meely’s analysis is well informed by a broad knowledge of the history and nature of artistic creation and innovation, and his discussion of Louis Armstrong is conducted within the comparative context of all great art.

As a literary man beguiled by the blues in its many splendored guises, Dr. O’Meeley conjures up the memory of Professor Sterling Brown, a Harvard educated pioneer blues poet and longtime Professor of English at Howard University in Washington, who had jazz musicians play for his class live and who is called out by name as the hippest intellectual in the nation’s capitol in Ledbelly’s famous song “Washington is a Bourgeois Town.”  

It was Professor O’Meely who was called upon to make the keynote speech at the dedication of the monumental statute “Invisible Man,” created by Elizabeth Catlett, outside of Ellison’s residence on Riverside Drive, not far from Columbia’s campus. Unlike Sterling Brown, O’ Meely does not need jazz musicians to play for his class because just a few blocks down Broadway from campus is Jazz at Lincoln Center, where the greatest Jazz musicians in the world perform nearly every night.  O’Meely is immersed in the Jazz milieu being centrally located in the Jazz capitol of the world he has seen it all, which makes him an ideal critic fully equipped to evaluate the place of Louis Armstrong in American music.

I got a taste of the depth of his erudition when we debated an essay on music and literature written by Albert Murray in a seminar at the Sorbonne in Paris.

Debating the Learned Professor O’Meely at the Sorbonne
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        A Joint Meeting of the US and European Associations of American Studies  

At the conclusion of his learned commentary on the character and contributions of Pops Armstrong, Professor O’Meely turned the floor over to Stanley Crouch and Wynton Marsalis after reading their impressive bonafides to the audience, calling them “two of the smartest people talking about Jazz.” Crouch was introduced first to tumultuous applause, but when Wynton walked on stage, trumpet in hand, the crowd went wild.

In an extended discussion Crouch compared the heroism of people who invent major movements in art or intellectual ideas to those in classical Greek mythology, and Wynton dazzled with his in-depth knowledge of the art of trumpet playing and the history of its development in the USA. As always, his lecture became a “show and tell” when he would demonstrate his point on the trumpet.

This video is a wonderful portrait of Pops which require no further comment, since we have the film. However it is impossible to overstate the importance of the work that O’Meely, Crouch and Marsalis are doing by institutionalizing Jazz in elite, well funded, American cultural and academic institutions such as Lincoln Center and Columbia University.

It is both fitting and proper that this effort should be led by Afro-American artists and intellectuals.  Jazz is, after all, Black America’s gift to the nation and America’s gift to world culture.  Look, listen and learn about one of the greatest artists and most interesting American men of the 20th century, the trumpet virtuoso that invented both the extended Jazz solo and a distinctly American approach to singing… the Jazz song.

Pops At Carnegie Hall with Kate Middleton 1947
Louis_Armstrong_and_Velma_Middleton,_Carnegie_Hall,_New_York,_N.Y.,_ca._Feb._1947_
                      A Sartorial Trend Setter Always sharp as a Tack
The Axe with Which Louis Conquored the World!
Louis Arnstrongs trumpet presented to him by King George V of England in 1933
This Trumpet was a gift from King George V in 1933
Double click on link to see the video Tribute
http://youtu.be/G0X24dJHYq4 

Playthell Benjamin

Harlem, New York

April 4, 2014

It’s Yo Birthday Susannah!

Posted in Cultural Matters with tags , , , on March 30, 2014 by playthell

DSC06734

Holla! Hue Yang and daughter Quinlee

 Susannah Makes Sixty and the Eulypians Rejoiced

 She was like the Chief Sorceress in the gathering of poets, painters, thespians, musicians, singers and other makers of that splendid alchemy called art.  As she strolled among the adoring crowd of mostly former students, colleagues and friends,  Susannah Israel – sculptor, writer/critic, and teacher extraordinaire – graciously presided over the crowd with the grace of a queen mother from some ancient time.  It was Susannah’s sixtieth birthday and the convocation of free and generous spirits had gathered to joyously celebrate this gifted artist and teacher that never stops giving.

It was a celebration worthy of the occasion, as Susannah’s friends brought forth a variety of gifts, some in the form of succulent foods prepared with loving care by their own hands. Others, skilled in the culinary arts, offered their service on the grill or in the oven, and some groomed and decorated themselves in daring fashion, adding panache to the party by making exotic spectacles of themselves.  And of course, one of the joys of any gathering of Eulypians – i.e. makers and lovers of the arts – is the stimulating conversation.  Suffice it to say that was in rare abundance.

However of all the evening’s amusements the musicians stole the show.  Of course I am one of those musically sensitive souls for whom the bang of the drum, trill of the trumpet and clash of the cymbals causes my pulse to quicken.  I confess this because I believe all writers who venture value judgments about the relative merits of cultural experiences ought to declare their biases, and I have been madly in love with music all of my life. The proof of it is that I have written about more different genres of music than any music critic in New York City….which is the mecca of music critics.

Yet despite whatever bias I might bring to the subject, I believe I am right in the accolades I pay to the musicians. The groove ranged from the tight Neo-Soul sounds of Harry and the Hitmen, who were jamming in the exotic décor of bassist-bandleader Jesse Toews Studio/Crib.  The band plays original material wherever possible, because they write a lot of music, and if the sampling I heard is a fair representation of what they do – first rate music performed by accomplished musicians.  I think they have a better than even chance making themselves felt in the music industry.

The musical offering was diverse, ranging from smooth Neo-Soul to hard rock guitar boy band sounds and deep Blues.   Veteran musician Dee “Big Dog” Hensley anchored the evening’s musical offering in rock and blues performances. first with a Jimi Hendrix style trio of Lead guitar, bass and drums reminicent of Band of Gypsies, and then a rendering of deep blues. His set was topped off by a blues performance featuring his wife Donalda Gilligan, a former singer with the Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir, who gave a soulful blues shout out.

Listening to the musical peformances I got the same feeling I expeienced in a nightclub on a visit to London. (See “On Being Black in London” on this blog)  I was taken to what I was told was the hippest nightclub in town, which had three floors and on each floor the music was of Afro-American origins. The band on the first floor, all British musicians, was a septet laying Miles Davis’ “ll Blues ” with the same instrumentation.  On the second floor was an elegant restuarant that played only Afro-American big band classics and when I walked in I heard Sarah Vaughn with the Count Basie Orchestra.  and on the top floor was a disco where “Ladies Night” by Kool and the Gang was rockin the house.

The London experience and the Vulcan party honoring Professor Sussanah Israel offered irrefutable evidence of the extent to which Afro-American music has changed the cultural sensibilities of the western world in the twentieth century and left its imprint on world culture (See: “Jazz Around the World” on this blog and Western Culture Revised, in the Freedomways Reader.)  All in all it was a joyous fete that brought friends together and good vibes were everywhere in the air.  It was a happy birthday indeed!

                                                                  Josh and Lexi…….
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……..Were the moving spirits that made it Happen!

 Friends Brought Food, Wine and Wisdom Weed

DSC06763 And Joyous Smiles all Around!
 And Real Prime Northern California Bud!

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 True Wisdom Weed…A gift from the Earth Goddess!
It was a Carnivore’s Paradise!
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Real Mexican Beef!
 And there was Music

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 Vintage Hard Boy Band Rock
 And Real Blues too

 DSC06797

Dem low down dirty Juke Joint Blues
Wailed by Soulful Shouters……
 DSC06832
…….Who stomped the Blues
 Harry and the Hitmen….

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 Rocked tha House
 They Have an Original Sound

 DSC06694

 Not Just Old Wine in New Skins
 And they Keep it Funky!

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It’s all about The Rhythm
They Sing Too!

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 And Rock the Tambourine
 They Are a Self-Contained Band

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They Play, and Sing, and Write their Own Songs
 Erudite Conversation was Common Fare
 DSC06727 edit
Professors Tiffany Schmierer  Michelle Gregor and Jason Dunn
 Some Board Members of the Oakland Ceramic Art Museum

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                                                    Dr. Dar Fong Joined the Fete
  It was a warm Diverse Gathering
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 Where old friends greeted each other enthusiastically
 Lexi Greeting Elaine Toland…….

 DSC06771

 ……….the Illustrious East Bay Painter
 Princess Lia Went High Fashion
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And got it just right: elegance through simplicity

 

And Other Free Spirits……

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……..Were indifferent to fashion

 

Charity, A Grateful former Student and Fine Artist…

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 ……….Gave her Professor  a Big Bear Hug
While Lexi Laughed with A Wild Child

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 If they are lucky 30 years hence…..they may look like the Birthday Girl
 ************************

 Susannah at Sixty!!!

Second Choice 

And look what she’s workin With!

 

 A Sizzling Senior Citizen!

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Fire and Ice in a Contemplative Mood
 Double Click to see Harry and the Hit Men

http://youtu.be/rzd79LPvK5Y

***********************

Playthell G. Benjamin
Oakland, Cali
March 30, 2014

An Open Letter to President Obama

Posted in On Foreign Affairs with tags , , , , on March 28, 2014 by playthell
Barack Obama Barack’s Resolve in full Effect

 

Mr. President: Stand Your Ground against the Warmongers!

Throughout your tumultuous and productive presidency, through thick and thin, I have been an unwavering supporter and friend.  I have fearlessly defended your record and character from attacks on the right and left. I have shared your vision and supported your policies because I believed they were the best possible choices among the possibilities.

Upon coming into office you inherited one of the worst crisis’ in history, a multi-level mess that involved a wrecked economy, a world financial system on the brink of collapse, and two foreign wars; yet you resolved them with Christian compassion and Solomonic wisdom. I have been looking over your shoulder the whole time, recording your major moves in writing – which has now run into hundreds of essays, and the first volume of a compilation will be published this year.

It is because I have paid such close attention to your policies and proposals, and the nasty nature of a Republican opposition whose actions have endangered national security and bordered on treason, that I have repeatedly taken on friends and colleagues on the radical left, or pompous self-righteous liberals, in a protracted no holds barred rumble when they attacked you because you didn’t embrace their ideology or couldn’t make all their dreams come true. I, on the other hand, am amazed at what you have actually accomplished under the circumstances. Since I have written about this elsewhere I won’t reiterate it here.

Unlike some of your most vociferous critics, ala Cornel West and Boyce Watkins, who portray your compromises as betrayal, I know that you are just playing politics.  And like you, who is obviously gifted at the game, I understand that politics is the art of the possible!  Hence if we look candidly at the present political realities in US domestic affairs and our foreign relations just now, it is fair to say that you have some monumental fights ahead.

Between the tumultuous events abroad, which the US cannot control but refuses to accept, and your increasing inability to govern at home because of the disloyal Republicans in the House of Representatives and US Senate, whose sole mission has not been to govern effectively but to destroy your presidency, it does not take a seer to see that it will require your best efforts to avoid disaster at home and abroad.

As the crisis in the Ukraine grows more antagonistic it is absolutely critical that you follow the example of your fellow Chicagoan, the brilliant song poet and compassionate humanist Oscar Brown Jr.,  who declared “I always live by one golden rule: Whatever happens don’t blow yo cool!” If ever there was a time to be the calm and collected fellow we came to know as “No Drama Obama” ……it is now.  For you are confronted with a situation that if handled badly could result in a catastrophe worse than the Old Testament’s descriptions of the Flood of Noah, which, despite its horrors and widespread destruction, life flourishes on this planet.

But as James Baldwin, the prescient Afro-American scribe and seer warned: “God gave Noah the rainbow sign….no more water, the fire next time!” This, in essence, is the fundamental issue: Will you be the one to spark the atomic fire that will incinerate the earth and destroy not only modern civilization but all life on this planet, which, as near as our brightest scientist can tell, is unique in the vast expanse of the universe?  In the absence of great diplomacy while mediating the crisis between Russia and the Ukraine, the destruction of the world will be your legacy Mr President.  “To be or not to be?….this is the question.”

Doomsday!

Atomic Explosion II
The end of our world is closer than you think

I have been told that my concern about thermonuclear war is excessive by some very intelligent and well-meaning people, but I find their confidence to be based more on faith that politicians will act rationally than any understanding about how nuclear weapons systems actually work.  In fact, like most Americans, they have not really given the matter much thought. Thus they discount the possibility that a nuclear war could start by accident.

But I have been intensely interested in the question of nuclear warfare for over half a century now, because it has been omnipresent in my life, and I don’t share their optimism. Coming of age at the height of the “Cold War” with the Soviet Union I participated in gruesome “atom bomb drills” at school which required us to go through the motions of procedures we were told would be required for surviving an atomic bomb detonation. Unlike the blasé attitude of the public today, people in the 1950’s thought an atomic war with Russia was not only possible but probable.  General Curtis Lemay, commander of the US Strategic Air Command,  thought it was enevitable.

Indeed, this fear was the raison d’etre for our massive Civil Defense programs. The more cynical among the students – this writer included – took these exercises as a sort of make believe; a sick joke in the tradition of gallows humor.  None of us thought we would survive such a war. In fact we even designed a sign and surreptitiously posted it on the bulletin board that announced: “In case of an atomic attack get under your desk, pull you head between your knees, and kiss yo ass good bye!”

A few years later, when I wound up in the Strategic Air Command with a Top Secret security clearance, which was then the supreme US nuclear strike force, I no longer wanted to survive a nuclear war because I knew the aftermath would be such a horror the living would be jealous of the dead. Back then the threat came largely from transcontinental strategic bombers that could refuel in mid-air.

Today the threat lies in intercontinental ballistic missiles with MIRV – Multiple Independent Reentry Vehicles – nuclear warheads which can strike several targets at once.  They can be fired from land, air or sea and they are all subject to computer errors!  Furthermore I know for sure that there are people sitting in front of radar screens in secret locations unknown to the general US public as I write who will launch our missiles should the right scenario appear on their screens.  Having dwelled among them I know they will do it!

The same thing can be said of the Russians.  And if they ever launch these doomsday weapons we can kiss this planet goodbye….if we have time before the big bang. This is why ratcheting up tensions with talk of expanded naval maneuvers in the Black Sea, while ground forces exercise in the former Warsaw Pact countries that border Russia and was part of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics during the communist period of Russian history, is the extremist folly….the acme of absurdities!

When George Bush was poised to invade Iraq based on the flawed logic, outright lies and consequently bad advice of his top advisors – most of whom are now attempting to goad you into taking antagonistic actions toward Russia by calling you weak in a Greek chorus of repetitive voices accompanied by rattling sabers – I vociferously opposed it from the beginning.

In an essay titled “The Iraq Attack: Bush’s March of Folly” –See: The Prophetic Commentary on Iraq at www.commentariesonthetimes.wordpress.com. –  I predicted an attack on Iraq would end in a tragic fiasco that would do nothing to diminish the threat from Islamic Jihadists.  Today, with the impeccable hindsight of history it is altogether fitting to call that essay “prophetic,” for the facts prove me entirely right.

I am calling your attention to this essay – and my essays on the “Arab Spring” such as Sleeping in the Same Bed Dreaming Different Dreams - not to gloat, but if by chance my letter should reach you I want to point out that I have a paper trail which demonstrates why you should be listening to me rather than some of those jokers who are presently advising you on foreign affairs.

Although the Iraq war cost us trillions of dollars and buckets of blood, the nation survived Bush’s folly.  Alas, the world cannot survive similar blunders in the present situation.  A drift into military hostilities with a nuclear armed Russia could, as a recent Russian commentator reminded us, “reduce the US to a pile of radioactive dust.”  The fact that we can return the destruction as the MAD doctrine dictates is no consolation…it is the essence of a pyrrhic victory.

Thus you must resist calls for military adventurism in Eastern Europe Mr. President, no matter how loudly the hysterical warmongers on the right may howl; led by that soulless opportunist and Vietnam-era snitch posing as a war hero John McCain, who seems intent upon exorcising his Vietnam demons by starting wars everywhere in the hope of winning one somewhere.  And his Senate sidekick Lindsay Graham, a shameless moral jellyfish whose allegiance is dictated by expedience in matters of principle, deserves no hearing.

Let them talk, you are the Commander-In-Chief, and we chose you over the Mack Man for the position, so you need pay him no rabbit ass mind. The boisterous Arizona jingoist is just one of a hundred Senators, and nowhere near the best statesman in that august body, but you sir are the President.  Fortunately for this nation and the world, McCain is all blow and no go, but what you say and do can determine the course of history.

You have inherited a very dangerous situation in Eastern Europe due to some badly misguided decisions by your predecessors; the most volatile of which was the decision to recruit former members of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics into the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. This was as bone headed a move as ever there was in the history of modern diplomacy.

As a student of history you well understand that NATO was a creation of the Cold War era following the carnage of World War II, when the Us and Russia were feverishly contending for world domination as representatives of the capitalist and communist systems.  Thus NATO should have been disbanded at the end of the Cold War in the 1990’s when the Russians dismantled their communist system, outlawed the Communist Party and disbanded the Warsaw Pact – a military alliance between socialist countries that was the counter-force to NATO.

But instead of ending the alliance the US fought not only to preserve NATO but expand it….right to the doorsteps of Russia. This means that should Slovenia or Latvia have a military conflict with Russia the US is at war with Russia! Which is why heating up the rhetoric with Russia poses such great dangers; if ever there was a time for cool heads to prevail it is now Mr. President.

Hence it is imperative that you play past all the tough talk from your critics on the right, tell them them save the drama for they mamma, and don’t take no wooden nickels masquerading as real currency.  Keep your eyes on the prize – a peaceable settlement of the Ukrainian crisis – for the fate of the earth hangs in the balance.

*****************************

  Playthell G. Benjamin
On the beautiful San Francisco Bay
March, 27 2014

Is Hip Hop Art?

Posted in Cultural Matters, Music Reviews with tags , , , , , , on March 16, 2014 by playthell
Barack, Byonce and Jay Z
Chilly B, Honey B and Jay Z…..Holla!

Response to A Friend’s Comment on Hip Hop

The first thing I saw when I switched on my Facebook page this morning, which has now become a daily ritual, was a post from my friend Eric Wattree, a learned scribe from the left coast who is also an accomplished jazz musician. The post was a video clip of Quincy Jones presenting Emily Bear, a young white female of rare musical gifts – Quincy pointed out that she has composed several pieces for symphony orchestras – but since this was the Montreux Jazz Festival she was performing jazz piano on this occasion.

The clip was accompanied by the comment “Are we going to become the first culture in the history of mankind who are incapable of playing what we created?”  I thought it a curious comment, since I did not find her particularly impressive as a Jazz pianist.  She reminded me more of Philippa Duke Schuyler, the daughter of Afro-American writer and the blond Texas heiress and artist Josephine Cogdell, who had been selected as a coveted Sennett Bathing Beauty. Phillippa was not only performing the masterworks for piano in European classical music as a child, but showed such promise as a composer by nine years old she was seriously compared to Mozart at her age by American professors of music.

And had it not been for the racism and snobbery that characterized the attitude of the European Classical music community toward Jazz – An Afro-American complex instrumental Music that is now regarded as classic American art – I have no doubt that Phillippa would have mastered Jazz piano too.  After all, she lived on Sugar Hill in Harlem, which was home to many great black jazz musicians, including Duke Ellingon and Andy Kirk, whose wife was a great pianist that gave Charlie Parker his first gig when they lived in Kansas City.  Mrs. Kirk was a fabulous piano teacher who taught generations of Harlem kids to play.

Phillippa Duke Schuyler

 Phillapa Scuyler III  - editd copy

 A Musical Prodigy Performing her Compositions
 Phillippa Schuyler around Emily Bear’s Age
Phillapa SchuylerA world class virtuoso pianist and composer!

When he went on to  observe that “scatching a record is not art,” it became obvious that Eric is alarmed by the wholesale intoxication with Hip Hop beats by young folks – you hear them everywhere, even in the cadences of black marching bands –  and he is responding to the sad possibility that there will come a time when young black musicians will be unable to perform the complex art of Jazz, a genre of instrumental music which in order to perfom properly requires virtuosity from everybody in the band.

The possibility that this grand achievement of Afro-American culture could be lost to future generations of black musicians is cause for alarm….but how real is this fear? After giving his comments a moment’s reflection I thought: My man needs to chill out; things are not nearly so dire regarding the supply of outstanding young black Jazz musicians. I wondered if his pessimism comes from the fact that he lives in LA, because here in the Big Apple there is no paucity of great young black Jazz musicians.

It’s not the absence of black musicians that’s the problem in New York, it’s finding a black audience! By virtue of the heroic efforts of Wynton Marsalis and the magnificent Jazz at Lincoln Center program, there is now a curriculum to guide music teachers in formally teaching the essential techniques of jazz performance available upon request: And its free!

Before Jazz at Lincoln Center got off the ground the great singer/bandleader Betty Carter hosted conferences that brought gifted young jazz virtuosi from all over the country to study and perform at her Jazz workshop at the Majestic Theater in Brooklyn, under the sponsorship of the Brookly Academy of Music.   I covered one of these conferences for the Sunday Times of London, and it was published under the title “School For Cats,”  which can now be read on this blog

One of the revelations in this essay is that all of the most gifted young jazz musicians also loved HipHop.  Pianist Cyrus Chestnut liked playing on rap tracks and Adonis Rose, who was the drummer with the brilliant Jazz pianist Marcus Roberts, told me he had just finished playing behind some rappers and he loved it as mush as playing with Roberts! Hence I concluded that young Afro-americans musicians love both Jazz and Hip Hop equally….its a generational thing.

Adonis Rose

Adonis Rose II

A Young Master keeping the tradition alive!

Eric is right that scratching records is not making music in the traditional sense of playing an instrument, but scratching records is only a part of what hip hop MC’s do -there is the art of sampling records and creating unique beats, often creating entirely new songs.  And some of them can rap!  Many outstanding old school jazz masters not only recognize, but admire, the achievements of Hip Hop artists. A couple ot years ago I heard Grady Tate – the most widely recorded drummer in history – being interviewed at the Jazz Museum in Harlem, which is creating a priceless audio-video museum of jazz history.

When asked about hip hop in a room full of jazz heads, mostly middle aged and older, Tate had this to say: “I think the most innovative thing happening in recorded music today is hip hop.” A collective gasp of shock and disbelief went up in the room, but he continued: “I believe that certain people are genetically programmed to play music.”

He explained how he became a musician because he went to a high school with a great music program which even supplied the instruments – like the school I went to – then he pointed out how many inner-city kids were robbed of that opportunity because the philistine businessman and accountants that control school boards that fund education cut out formal musical instruction, school marching bands and orchestras. In response to this bleak musical predicament they created a new way of making music: HIP HOP

                                Grady Tate: Master Percussionist and Jazz Virtuoso
Grady Tate
He became a musician because of his high school music program

As a drummer he loves their beats, and as a Shakespearian actor with a degree in English literature he loves many of their clever rhymes and free verse poetry set to those beats. Tate went on to further explain that these young black and Hispanic kids in New York – the real home of Hip Hop – have not only created an art form which is now practiced around the world, but when he is touring he makes a point of checking them out, and he has discovered that the themes in their rhymes address local realities and concerns.

For instance, when I interviewed the Editor of Cuba’s first Hip hop magazine and radio programmer, he told me: “Hip hop is the true voice of young Afro-Cubans!” Then he proceeded to show me how young Afro-Cubans were setting the poems of Nicholas Guillen, the great Afro-Cuban Poet Laureate of Cuba, to rumba beats and reciting them over the beats. In other words, it is the specific lyrical content that determines the character of a particular rap.

Like Ragtime music, which is now universally recognized as a great art form, but in Scott Joplin’s time was regarded as “Whore house music.” And that, as Scott Joplin complained at the time, was due to “the bawdy lyrics” that so often accompanied the music. That’s why Joplin wrote Treemonisha, a full scale grand opera set to ragtime music, in order to demonstrate the nobility of the form. Hip hop is a very versatile form and has the power to affect human sensibility in myriad ways….it depends upon the artist!

Scott Joplin
Ragtime_Piano_SCOTT_JOPLIN__sheet Music
 Composed a Ragtime Opera to prove nobility of the music

And contrary to conventional wisdom about all rap lyrics celebrating murder, mayhem and debauchery, Hip hop mogul Russell Simmons never tires of pointing out: the “positive poets” have found the greater success. For instance Queen Latifah, Will Smith, LL Cool Jay, Puffy, et al. I started writing about hip hop from its inception here in New York.

I was friends with Joe Robinson, the owner of Sugar Hill Records, who recorded the first Hip Hop group, The Sugar Hill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight,” before anybody had made a rap record. When I first met Joe, the epitome of an old school gentleman gangster, he was in the Rhythm and Blues business but was an avid Jazz fan. However he was in business to make money; so he let the market dictate his business decisions – which is to say he was always looking for the big hit….and that was not going to happen recording jazz acts. Alas, the jazz acts that made money i.e. Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock, Quincy Jones, the Jazz Crusaders, et al were already signed to major labels.

Joe was indifferent to what these young people were inventing  – it was just a “product” to him – but  I, like Grady Tate, Max Roach and Quincy Jones, dug what these kids were doing from the git go. And I wrote about the virtues and vices of this new popular art form in: The Village Voice, New York Daily News, Sunday Times of London, Guardian Observor of London, Source Magazine: “The Bible of Hip Hop,” Spin Magazine, etc.  Grady Tate made one more important point about Hip hop artists in comparison to some of the greatest figures in modern Jazz: The jazzmen were so high on dope they didn’t know where their money went! While hip hop artists smoke Wisdom Weed and control millions!!!!All True!!!

Russell Simmons

Russell and Obama

With President Obama; you’ve come a long way baby!

Russell Simmon’s house on Long Island is the biggest mansion on the East coast – including those of the 19th century Robber Barons like Cornelius Vanderbilt Mansion on the famed Fifth Ave “Millionaire’s Row.” and among his guests are Bill and Hillary Clinton. According to a CBS 60 minutes report Jay Z heads a billion dollar business conglomerate; which means has made more money than Mitt Romney, and Mitt started life in a Michigan Mansion while Jay Z started in the Marcy Projects in Brooklyn. See: Is Jay Z a Better Businessman than Mitt?”at:  https://commentariesonthetimes.wordpress.com/?s=jay+z.

Will Smith turned down a scholarship to MIT to pursue a hip hop career, and he has gone from rap music star, to television star, to movie super star. He and his wife Jada were replaced as the number one power couple in Show business by Jay Z and Beyonce. Ice Cube is a for real movie mogul who has the wherewithal to greenlight his own movie productions, and Sean P Ditty Combs has gone from a local producer of rap concerts in New York City to a businessman with a fortune estimated to exceed 500 million dollars!

                                                        P Ditty

Sean Puffy coombs (2)

 Playing it to the MaX

He owns apartment buildings on the posh upper side of Manhattan, is an award winning designer of formal men’s evening wear, and played the complex starring role in A Raisin in the Sun on Broadway, to critical acclaim from both professional critics and the seasoned actors in the cast. Jay Z and Beyonce, next to their Friends Barack and Michelle, are America’s most popular power Couple and also talented performers. And they replaced Will Smith and Jada Pinkett in that role.  In hip hop the rappers come from all stations in life and what they share in common is their love of bustin a rhyme over dope beats while they tell a story about the gritty realities of life.

                                                            Will and Jada
                 Will Smith and Jada IIII                     
Hollywood Power Couple
Jay Z and Beyonce

Byonce and Jay III

America.s most popular power couple

Hip Hop is the first truly Afro-American popular musical form that manages to speak straight-up to all of the issues that concern them personally and Afro-Americans in general. The blues, for all of its profound insights into the human condition, developed in the deep-south where a black man could lose his life for telling the truth as he knew it, especially if he did so with the irreverence and total disregard for white sentiment as these rappers.

Hence the blues is replete with complex metaphors and allusions, while the rappers “keep it real.” The range of beats, vocal “flows,” technical innovation in the recording studio, and the lyrical content range from the trite and vulgar to the profound – the entire range of human personality and experience. One need only listen to the raps of Oakland’s “Too Short” and compare them to the lyrics – and superb studio work – of Ohene of Philadelphia.

Too Short is a specialist from the ghetto who tells tawdry tales his fans call “straight gutter,” while  transcendent poetry that profoundly addresses the complexities of global black experience in the 21st century are the stock in trade of Ohene – and both do what they do with high style and panache. I am including clips of both these artists so the reader can hear for themselves what I mean.

Too Short!

Too Short

Livin his Short Guy Dreams?

In Too Short and Ohene with see a sharp contrast in Hip Hop styles i.e. the purposes to which this performance vehicle is put: the images and values it projects.  And we can see how much musical talent and general intelligence shapes the character and complexity of their product.  As in all things talent, character and intelligence will distinguish one performer from another and in the case of Too Short and Ohene the difference could hardly be more dramatic.

The two performances I have attached below will demonstrate the polar opposites of their concerns and musical skills, yet both are legitimate representations of the Hip Hop genre. In two Short’s “I’m a Player” we get yet another tour through the twisted life of a wannabe ghetto pimp.  His descriptions of a desirable relationship with women are bizarre; a third rate Mack’s rap – I’ve heard much better from real Macks I’ve known – that sounds more like war than love.

Too Short brazenly puts all of his pathologies on display: There is no shame in his game.  It does not take a psychiatrist to recognize these lyrics as the creation of a man with a strong Napoleonic Complex – aka Short guy inadequacy syndrome – and a deep fear of being dominated by women.  After all, he looks like a chocolate version of Mr. Peanut and was grew up poor to boot.

We can be sure that he was not the ideal lady’s man, but he became one by persistence and astute observation of female character and desire.  Among the things that he no doubt discovered is that seduction is a game, and persistence, self-confidence, a quick wit – i.e. knowing what to say outta yo mouth at the right time – are more powerful weapons than good looks in this game.  When you add the elements of fame, money and the ability to back up your boasts in bed to the mix, you have the makings of a formidable ladies man.

It seems to me that despite his successes this fear of being “chumped” by women remains, and it is the source of his super macho pimp daddy demeanor; his stone cold Playa attitude.  Yet every time I see one of these rappers coming on all hard I wonder if it’s real or they have swiped somebody else’s story.

Is this guy  for Real?

Too short II

……..Or just another Perpetrator?

Inevitably, when I am wondering if somebody’s street cred is real, that chilling video by Eazy E, “Real Motherfuckin G’s!” always comes to mind.   In this video they call out Dr. Dre, Snoop Dog and the whole “Death Row Records” crowd – a label that everybody in the record business thought of as cold blooded killers, especially the 300 pound giant who ran the company, Suge Knight. But Eazy E and his crew called them “Studio Gangstas,” i.e. great pretenders, “actors,” perpetrators with no respect on the streets, and dared them to “step to some real motherfuckin G’s!”

The sincerity of the challenge is clear in the video; it is the sonic equivalent of a drive by shooting….a point that they visually portray at the end of the video.  Gangsta Rap is California’s contribution to Hip Hop, and when murder and mayhem is your theme…”keepin it real” is an invitation to disaster.

Eazy E

eazy E II

A Real Cool Killer? Or Avatar of US Gun Culture

That’s the tradition which spawned Too Short…except his raps wisely concentrate on fuckin more than fightin….the war between the sheets rather than the war in the streets.  Yet the lessons to the youth are just as destructive….if not more so.  It is from fucked up relationships such as those portrayed in Too Short’s raps that produce the psychologically damaged kids who grow into the monsters that wreak havoc on our communities and put all young black males in American under suspicion.

A lot of people who promote this music because of its enormous popularity among teens and young adults of all races and classes, try to deny that this is the consequence of these compelling narratives set to hypnotic beats and seductively spouted by ghetto speakcians, skilled motor mouths who prize the spoken word over the written word.

Ohene: Artistic King of Hip Hop!

Ohene I

 His words are sonic balm that heal the spirit

While being no less committed to the spoken word recited over funky beats dance oriented beats, Ohene – whose name is the traditional title of Ashanti warrior Kings – has completely different concerns and is an accomplished musician who loves jazz.  One need only listen to this track below “Big Things, Y’all Can’t Stop this Music!” to hear this.

The record comes on swinging hard and Ohene’s voice replaces the traditional horn improvising over the rhythm section rapping in the phrase that suggest instruments “I’m the undisputed rap coach!” he declares, throwing out the traditional challenge to sucka MC’s who might be feeling froggish and contemplating stepping to him lyrically by flowing over weak beats.

He quickly warns “My chat is in sync with the syncopation of Max Roach / Imagine Bird with his sax folks / Theolonius Monk with his third hand…..” Ohene continues to extol the prowess of black Jazz greats until he reaches a point where he announces “Playing piano like my dad.”  At this point the performance goes from brilliant to sublime as he begins to play the piano.

To accompany yourself on piano while singing is difficult even if the song is Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, but to play rhythmically complex Be-bop riffs on the piano while singing lyrics you have written to it is off the charts of measurable difficulty.  It is a spiritual communion expressed as musical artistry.

The aesthetic achievement of this performance ranks with the very best that has been achieved with voice, lyrics and instrumental composition.  Lyrically Ohene’s raps reveal him to be a man of vision and gravitas who, like Richard Wagner, seeks to elevate a nation of people with his songs.  While the track attached below celebrates the heroism of Afro-American jazz musicians, Ohene has written poignant narratives about all phases of life in contemporary American society.

As a serious researcher into Hip Hop’s roots, Ohene, who teaches a course on the art of Hip Hop at Temple University,  employs all the beats in the evolution of the genre and he uses them like an alchemist constructing foundations of rhythmic sounds upon which to build edifices of thought in words like “love is the ultimate truth in any culture.” In raps like “Nobody is Fighting…I just Don’t Understand,” which is a call for Pan-African resistance to the forces that would destroy us, and is also appended to this text below.

Hence to sum up the difference in the Hip hop styles of Ohene and Too Short, who represent polar opposites in rap music, suffice it to say that the former presents an enlightened vision of human possibility designed to inspire “the better angels of our nature,” as Abraham Lincoln once put it, thus providing the kind of hope and inspiration that can elevate a nation, while Too Short appeals to the worst in us….and preaches a gospel of decadence and debauchery that can only lead to tragedy.  As in Hip Hop – So in Life!

Hip Hop Ladies: All Hail the Queen!!

Queen Latifa II

Her Sharp Tongue and Regal Presence Empowred Girls of all Ages!

Like Jazz, Hip Hop is a predominantly black male art, but there are some outstanding female stars.  And none shines brighter than Queen Latifah.  While some female rappers seek to answer the males with raps that are just as down and dirty – like Roxanne Shante, Foxy Brown and L’il Kim – the Queen mostly kept her rhymes clean.

With a keen intellect and razor sharp wit she sassily took on the misguided macho misogynistic posturing that characterized so much of male rap.  A physically imposing woman with a fearless demeanor, she “represented” for women with Raps like “Ladies First.”  She was a culture hero to many girls of all backgrounds, my daughter included, and she went on to become one of Hip Hop’s biggest stars bar none.

The Queen as Glamour Girl

Queen Latifa

Tall, Tan, Thick and Fine

While Foxy Brown and L’il Kim are big stars in the Hip Hop world they have never been able to break through to a more general audience because of the raunchy image they chose.  Hence while there is no question that L’il Kim’s “Don’t Want Dick Tonight” is a wonderfully composed and performed rap, it is too risqué for general audiences.

Latifah’s style on the other hand will play everywhere; that’s why she went on to become a bonafide star in television and movies. She made big women fashionable when she was selected as a spokesmodel for Cover Girl cosmetics.  As I write she is hosting her own syndicated daytime television talk show.  Queen Latifah, a Rapper from New Jersey, has marketed her brand world-wide.  Eve, a rapper from Phily, rose from being a hair dresser to stardom and was the first female rapper to have her on television sitcom.  But she has not shown the staying power of the Queen.

Some Final Observations

Hip Hop is the closest that Afro-Americans have come to producing a song poetry that approaches the profundity that is common fare in the art of Calypso. see https://commentariesonthetimes.wordpress.com/?s=long+live+calypso. As to whether or not Hip Hop is art, I would say that its record of success in speaking to the hearts and minds of people around the globe, by virtue of the product Hip Hop producers and performers create in the studio, there can be no question that it is great commercial popular art at its best.

I however do believe that there is a distinction between fine art and commercial art, and that its merit on the scale of artistic achievement and cultural importance can be graded. But it is an objective that is exceedingly hard to achieve, for to succeed at this one must be broadly learned in the art forms under discussion, and objective enough in one’s approach to privilege an unpleasant truth over confirming one’s prejudices.

Many smart and sincere people have failed this test – like the musicians in the high German church who were convinced that Bach was ruining sacred music. Given the volatile emotions surrounding hip hop we will certainly not resolve the question as to what constitutes fine art here – so profound a question is clearly beyond the scope and ambition of this essay….Hence we will simply let our statement stand as is….

To hear Ohene double click on link below


Too Short
I’m A Player
 
Eazy E

http://youtu.be/vQNLEhVAXSg

Real Motherfuckin G’s
Queen Latifa: Ladies First

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hLB5bUNAesc

See Emily Bears Performance

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5JpACC1_jP8

****************************
Playthell G. Benjamin
New York and San Francisco
March 2014

Putin, Obama and the Ukrainian Crisis

Posted in On Foreign Affairs, Uncategorized with tags , , , on March 8, 2014 by playthell

Barack - putin-obama_2252410b

Can Barack and Putin work it out?

 Successful Diplomacy or Nuclear Apocolypse?

The Ukrainian crisis is a very complex affair, dramatic changes are occurring so quickly things could fall apart. In the past few weeks we have witnessed a democratically elected president driven from office and into exile by raging mobs in the street who disagreed with his decision to form closer economic ties with Russia, rather than seizing an opportunity to form closer economic ties with the European Union.  A new government of questionable legitimacy has been hastily cobbled together, with the new President, Arseniy Yatseniuk, also holding the office of Chairman of the Parliament, although the Fatherland Party, which he represents, only holds 25% of the seats in the Ukrainian parliament.

This is equivalent to President Obama being overthrown by an armed right-wing mob and somebody from the Tea Party becoming President, Speaker of the House and the Majority leader of the Senate.  While the US accepts this arrangement, albeit temporarily until new elections can be held, the Russians do not, they view these developments as an illegal coup engineered in Washington and the European Union, with Andrea Merkle of Germany playing a major role.

The American role in manipulating events that led to the overthrow of the elected president Ukraine, Victor Yanukovych, is confirmed in statements made on the phone by Undersecretary of State for Europe,Victoria Nuland, which was tapped by some hacker and put on the internet.  Nuland’s conversation with the American ambassador to the Ukraine, Geoffrey Pyatt, leave no doubt that Washington was moving people and parties as if the Ukraine were a chessboard….they were involved in the overthrow of the president up to their teeth.  I have attached the transcript of Secretary Nuland’s conversation with Ambassador Pyatt’s conversation to the bottom of this essay, so the reader can see for themselves the extent of American meddling.

Victoria Nuland and Geoffrey Pyatt
American diplomats Victoria Nuland and Geoffrey Pyatt Plotting the future of Ukraine with Vitali Klitchko and Arseniy Yatseniuk

 Now the question is whether the country will break up, when the predominately Russian-speaking population in the Crimea region votes on whether to rejoin Great Russia in the upcoming referendum. This is such a volatile issue the country could quickly descend into civil war. In such a scenario the Russians will certainly become militarily involved, and the fact is that an American guided missile ship is steaming by the Crimean Peninsula right now –  probably armed with nuclear missiles – right through the shipping lanes where the Russian naval vessels routinely patrol.

This strikes me as an extraordinarily reckless move, and I am surprised that President Obama let his military advisors talk him into it – or maybe he ordered this despite the advice of the Joint Chiefs. In any case, despite the lame explanation that this voyage had been planned before the Ukrainian conflict began, I find the President’s decision to order an American warship into these troubled waters impossible to reconcile with the geo-political realities of this historical moment.

The USS Tuxton Cruising the Black Sea
American Missile Ship in Black Sea
An American Missile Ship armed with Tomahawks and other weaponry
A Russian Delta Class Nuclear Submarine
N1401-SCN-S94-011
Playing A Deadly Game of cat and Mouse on the High Seas

I becomes even more puzzling when we learn that the Tuxton, which is armed with Tomahawk Cruise missiles, is steaming to the Black Sea in order to participate in joint naval exercise with the Romanian and Bulgarian navies.  The US government has announced that we will be sending in 12 F-16 fighter planes and 3oo air-force service personnel to Poland, at the request of Polish Minister of Defense Tomaz Simoniak, who is concerned about the Russian takeover of Crimea.  And the US sent five F-15 fighter planes to Lithuania last Thursday, because their Minister of Defense was alarmed by “Russian Aggression in the in Ukraine.”

The Pentagon has also announced that these American fighter planes will be patrolling the skies over the Baltic nations of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.  What we the people desperately need to know is what are their orders, what are the rules of engagement and with whom are they to engage.  We need to know the answers to these questions because if these American fighter planses have orders to engage Russian aircraft this is a scenario that could spark a nuclear confrontation!  Yet the US cannot avoid these actions because of NATO.

The essential problem with NATO,  for the US government, goes back to a decision made a decade ago on May 2, 2004, when the 19 member states of NATO decided to admit seven former members of the Warsaw Pact, including former Soviet Republics which had become independent states after the collapse of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, whose center of power was Moscow, thirteen years earlier.  Latvia, Estonia, Romania, Lithuania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Bulgaria all joined the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Many observers thought this was a bad idea at the time – this writer included – and believed that it would come back to haunt us.

Well, we were right.  In the euphoria following the collapse of Communism, when talk of a “new world order” based on a unipolar world where all roads led to Washington, and projections for “a new American Century” appeared to be simply acknowledging the obvious, people forgot that nationalism and religious fanaticism have led to more wars than communism ever did.  These are the forces that America now struggles to deal with in the Mid-East and  in Eastern Europe, with the eye of the storm in Russia, which is well armed with nuclear weapons and whose armies are invincible on Russian soil.  Hence bombing Russia or invading her are both out of the question.

Yet the US is committed to an organization whose fundamental objective is mutual defense.  And NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer left no doubt when he told the Foreign Ministers assembled for the admission of the former Russian allies: “The accession of Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia demonstrates the principle that freedom is irrepressible.   From now on, 26 Allies will be joined in a commitment to defend each others’ security and territorial integrity. This is the strongest, most solemn commitment nations can undertake.”

Herein lies our problem and it is a mess.  This commitment means that should any of these former Soviet Republics get in an armed dispute with Russia, the US is bound by NATO protocol to act as if the attack was against America!  And yet, as if we are not  in enough of a quagmire, there are Republican Senators calling for the Ukraine to be admitted to NATO.   It is an invitation to disaster!

The dangers portended by Ukrainian events require the most calm and thoughtful deliberation, exactly the kind of approach that President Obama has been pursuing.  Unfortunately, he is not indifferent to the vicissitudes of American domestic politics and this crisis is unfolding just as the Republicans are holding their C-Pac convention.

This is where all those who pretend to the presidency hold forth before the most rabidly right-wing sector of the Party – the so called Republican base – who are rabid Obama-haters.  A parade of presidential hopefuls seeking to seduce this crowd and gain their support try to out-do each other in rushing to the far right of the American political continuum.

They all know that the easiest way to get some love from this crowd is to bash President Obama, so we see the President trying to conduct very difficult and dangerous diplomatic relations with Russia while assailed by a constant chorus of ridicule from Republicans Rudy Giuliani and John McCain, to Lindsay Graham and the Alaskan Barbarian Sarah Palin.

There are two themes that run through their attacks on the president. “The Ukraine crisis is the result of Barack Obama’s “weakness” in asserting American military power in promoting US foreign policy objectives in places like Syria and Iran, and this has emboldened America’s adversaries around the world.”  And “he is being bullied in the Ukrainian conflict because President Putin knows Obama is a punk.”

These vociferous denunciations of President Obama are accompanied by praise songs for the “toughness and decisiveness” of Putin; one wise media wag has labeled the phenomenon “Putin Love.”  None dare call it by its proper name: disloyal opposition bordering on treason! When you consider that far from doing nothing,  as the Republicans charge repeatedly, the evidence shows that President is doing far too much in the Ukrainian mess; this baseless criticism exposes the same deep-seated racist attitudes that compelled white American soldiers to permit German Nazi prisoners of war to share bathrooms with them, while the black American soldiers guarding them had to relieve themselves in ditches beside the road!

What Dr. DuBois said of Jack Johnson, the first black Heavyweight Boxing Champion of the world, is also true of Barack Obama, the first son of an African father to become President of the most powerful nation in the world.  Whites didn’t hate Jack Johnson because of anything he did, because they had done far worse; the source of their hatred is his “unforgivable blackness.”  Hence they see in Barack things that are not there, but are projected onto him  - by envious, racist whites who become hysterical at the very thought of a black First Family in the White House,   an uppity nigger with an African name who is way smarter than they are, running the USA….which they believe is a white man’s job and it just drives them bonkers!

The Republican warmongers hold an Oxymoronic position regarding the President: on the one hand they hate Putin and call him a ruthless dictator – House Speaker John Boehner call the Russian President “a thug” – but they are pissed off because President Obama is not more like him.   Sarah Palin, one of the loudest and most mindless voices on the right, denounces Obama as “a tyrant who ignores the constitution and constantly violates the law”, but gushes over Putin: “He rides bare-chested on a horse, wrestles bears and drills for oil….while Obama walks around in Mommy Jeans.”  This white trash debutante who nearly became vice-president on the US appears to cream in her jeans when she rhapsodizes about the manly virtues of the Russian President…Putin Love indeed.

 Alexander Putin: Tough Guy or…..
Alexander Putin on horseback  Just A Wrinkled old White Boy Riding a Nag

The more we hear from these twisted people the more obvious it becomes how lucky we are that Barack Obama and not John McCain became president five years ago. Under a McCain presidency we would be in wars everywhere, and the Alaskan Barbarian would be a heartbeat away from the Oval Office.  When viewed from the perspective of the Bush Administration’s foreign policy, Barack’s wisdom in managing this nation’s foreign affairs has been Solomonic.

He has found and offed Osama bin Laden, something the tough talking Bushmen never managed to do…in fact George Bush gave up trying to find him. The former President said he wasn’t even thinking about him anymore as he waged a war of choice against Sadam Hussein and Osama bin Laden became “Osama been Forgotten.”

Barack has also devastated Al Qaeda’s leadership, successfully wound down two wars the Republicans started that have become by far the longest running wars in our history – over twice as long as World War II – and he has kept us out of other foreign wars that John McCain would have eagerly waded into.  And Barack is the only American President to have been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.  He was awarded the Prize even while waging two wars, but they were wars that he inherited from the Bush years and the wise members of the Nobel Prize committee were prescient in their vision of Barack as a peacemaker who would steer American away from the war path.  In his acceptance speech President Obama displayed his gift for reconciling contending forces that he has employed in his diplomacy. (See: “Hooray for the Juggler!”)*

Alas, with the Ukrainian crisis we are witnessing the return of all the warmongering cretins from the neo-con cabal hatched in The Project for a New American Century – see “How the Iraq War was Hatched in a Think Tank” – that pushed a clueless George W Bush into invading Iraq; the same crew that his wiser father George I called “The Crazies” – Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, John Bolton, et al.

Once again the Grand Obstructionist Party is sending in the clowns….and they are a murderous bunch with blood and gore on their hands…..much of it innocent blood from the needless slaughter of women and children.  And these homicidal jokers are itching to start another war.  Just look at that madman John Bolton, Bush’s UN Ambassador, whining about President Obama’s reluctance to intervene in every crisis that arises in the world with armed forces, or that little grinning jackal Bill Kristol, who, from his position as Editor of the influential right-wing Journal The Weekly Standard and Director of the Project for a New American Century, played a major role in convincing Bush to invade Iraq on phony information.

Now here he is again, while the nation is still recovering from that criminal folly, recklessly calling for ratcheting up tensions with the Russians by “humiliating Putin.”  These neo-con clowns never learn; they are stuck on stupid.

Bill Kristol
 Bill Kristol
A tough talkin mouse
 Dirty Dick Cheney
Dirty Dick Cheney
War Criminal!

However this little poot-butt provocateur, Wee Willie Kristol, who like Dirty Dick Cheney has never spent a day in the military, does not seem to understand that provoking a military conflict in the Ukraine is a very different class of event from invading Iraq, because within such a conflict lies the seeds of our own destruction; which was never a possibility in the invasions of Iraq, Afghanistan, or even Vietnam.

Yet any military conflict with Russia could devolve into nuclear war; a prognosis that has been greeted with disbelief, even ridicule, by some really smart and thoughtful people. They are certain that the mostly straight white males who monopolize the instruments of power are rational actors, and supreme egotists, committed to self-preservation.  Therefore any mention of the possiblilty of a nuclear exchange between the US and Russia over the Ukraine is prima facie “absurd.”

It is fairly certain that no rational person would make a decision to destroy modern civilization.  I even had a wag with a PhD in political science tell me as much in this very language as he dismissed my concerns, and I must confess that on the face of it he appears to be right.  Yet the leading nations are well-armed with nuclear weapons and nuclear war remains an option, despite their awareness of the fact that all mankind has achieved during our history on earth would evaporate in a flash.  And those who survive would be struggling to sustain life on a radioactive planet with Stone Age technology.  This could be our fate an hour from now if the US and Russia had a nuclear exchange.

Such an event is, in fact, unthinkable.  Until you begin to consider that the mere possession of nuclear weapons is evidence of a collective madness among our leaders, who are prepared to perpetrate a massive crime against humanity, a catastrophe of biblical proportions, for their deployment would be worse than the sum total of all the atrocities man has committed against man in the history of the world.  An attack with nuclear weapons would instantaneously achieve mass murder on a scale that would make the Nazi holocaust look like a minor event.

Yet the most advanced civilizations in the world are awash in these weapons and cannot find a way to rid mankind of this horror!  This means that all of these “rational actors” in whom my friend has placed his confidence are ready and willing to slaughter millions of innocent civilians; all they need is the right scenario to develop on a computer screen and they will launch.  And since I have been in the room with the people who are assigned this task during a stint in Strategic Air Command at the height of the Cold War, right on the cusp of the Cuban Missile Crisis, I have no doubt that they will do it.

I would have done it!   That’s the way we were trained and I, like everybody else in Central Security Control, would have been convinced that I was serving the best interests of my country.  Yet I would not have raped a woman, mugged anybody and robbed them of their coin, and would readily give the elderly or handicapped my seat on the bus…in fact I was something of a Good Samaritan in everyday life…but I would have pushed the button and launched a nuclear attack on Russia upon command. This is what the philosopher Hanna Arendt meant by “The banality of evil.”

The real danger here is not that a group of men will sit quietly around a table ensconced underneath a mountain somewhere and decide to launch a nuclear attack, even though I believe the only reason they won’t is not moral restraint but the MAD doctrine: Mutual Assured Destruction, because I know men are indeed capable of such evil.  The clear and present danger that confronts us is that it could all happen by accident.

In the event of a serious miscommunication where a computer says the other side has launched an attack ,there is so little time to retaliate by those who believe that their nation is under attack they would have to launch immediately.  This is why fomenting hostility and mistrust between the US and Russia is akin to playing Russian roulette with the whole world.

Hence all the talk from Republicans about building anti-missile systems on the doorstep of Russia in places like Poland, and recruiting Poland, Georgia and Ukraine into the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, NATO, is a doomsday scenario.  The people who advocate this madness often talk as if the rest of us are fools.

For instance Lindsay Graham, a Republican Senator from South Carolina, often talks this way. A smart man, albeit unprincipled, this former Air Force lawyer is openly calling on President Obama to invite former Republics that were a part of the Soviet Union until the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991 – and they became independent nations – to join NATO.  We are left to speculate as to what the senator’s motives are, but he talks like a man who is intoxicated on the opiate of “American Exceptionalism,” terrified by a Tea Party threat to “primary” him, and seduced by the limelight that follows actors on the stage of national politics.

Professor Stephen Cohen – the Director of Russian Studies Centers at Princeton and Columbia Universities –is convinced that should the US pursue this course it will lead to nuclear catastrophe.  Dr. Cohen – whom I regard as a cut above former  functionaries in the US foreign policy establishment like Madeline Albright, Ziebnew Brzezinski, and Hilary Clinton – argues that if the US put troops in  Poland, which has now joined  NATO, the Russians will militarily occupy the Ukraine and they will be prepared to defend their position at all cost, including nuclear holocaust!

Since Romania and Bulgaria, who were formerly Russia’s allies in the now disloved Warsaw Pact, have also joined  NATO, should the US gain control of the Ukraine they would have succeeded in bringing their forward military position to Russia’s front door.  The Russians will resist this advance and any conflict between Russia and one of these new NATO countries would immediately become a military confrontation between the US and Russia. It is in the nature and letter of the agreement.

This is a plausible scenario of how a nuclear war could begin, because when there are military tensions between nuclear armed nations they put their nuclear forces on Alert. And once this happens the possibilities for an accidental nuclear conflagration greatly increases.  That’s why we need careful diplomacy in times like these and any suggestion of introducing military forces into the equation, such as conducting military maneuvers in the area, deploying American forces on Polish soil, or promoting any military activity in Crimea is destabilizing.

The Crimean Peninsula

Crimea -

Is it worth risking war with Russia

Never has this nation needed the calm deliberative style of President Obama more than now. His choice of quiet diplomacy over saber-rattling and caustic rhetoric calms the situation and gives everybody time to think. If John McCain were president just now the world would be in a state of nuclear terror as the destruction of our planet hung in the balance. Rejecting this old whacko warmonger in favor of the humanist visionary Barack Obama was the American electorate’s finest hour!

One of the greatest dangers of the American Exceptionalist doctrine is that it encourages national chauvinism and prevents Americans from recognizing the just claims and interests of other nations; they view the world with blinders on, like a draft horse pulling a wagon in city traffic that you want to look in only one direction. Alas, while this may be a good thing for draft horses it is suicidal in international politics where nuclear weapons are involved.

In order to understand how Putin would view the Ukraine entering NATO, one need only recall the US response when the Russians deployed missiles in Cuba.  The US government under President Kennedy was prepared to start a nuclear war over it.  When Kennedy ordered the US Navy to blockade Cuba and challenge a nuclear armed Russian fleet on the high seas, the world came so close to destruction the Cuban Missile Crisis –as it has become known in historyhad a lasting effect on Robert McNamara, the American Secretary of Defense at the time.

Before coming into government Robert McNamara was a hot shot corporate Titan, a former Air Force captain who was computer savvy – which was unique in the early 1960’s – McNamara was president of the Ford Motor Company, but after he left government he spent the rest of his life promoting peaceful development among the world’s poorest countries by employing the resources of the World Bank, which he headed.

Later in life he produced a documentary film titled “The Fog of War” in which he recounts how close they came to destroying the world during the Cuban Crisis.  He even traveled to Russia and Cuba and talked to his counterparts on the other side.  The question he most wanted them to answer was “would you really have launched your nuclear weapons?”  The fact that they said yes, as did he, shook him to the core, this question hounded him to his dying day is: “how could a group of rational, intelligent, sane, men even consider such a crime against the earth?

I believe the answer lies in our basic instinct for survival and the strong impulse to protect home and family.  The US government felt Americans could not live with the threat of Russian nuclear weapons just 90 miles away on the Island of Cuba because it threatened our national existence.  Hence no measure was too extreme to prevent it….even gambling with the fate of the earth.  That’s how the Russians feel about American incursions into their spheres of influence: and there is every reason to believe they will use any means necessary to prevent Americans from gaining military hegemony on their door step.

This is why President Obama must remain steady as she goes in steering the American ship of state through these troubled waters, and he must pay the Republican clowns screaming on the sidelines no mind.  First of all their criticisms of his foreign policy, like their claims that he is a lawless dictator who has usurped the Constitutional powers of the government, are all a damned lie!  These jackanapes –who chatter on ad nauseum spouting putrid nonsense like drunken magpies – foam at the mouth as they denounce the president’s “weakness” and “indecisiveness” in refusing to “do something” about the Russian transgressions.  This, like all of the criticism in their narrative of the Obama residency is a balantant lie!

They conveniently forget – and some are so ignorant of US history they never knew – that the Russians invaded several Eastern European nations while Republican Presidents occupied the Oval Office –and these were actual invasions, not like this little walkabout in the Crimea, where nobody will even admit they are Russian soldiers. There was the 1956 invasion of Hungary under Eisenhower – a Five Star general who only a decade earlier had led the victory over Nazi Germany as the Supreme Commander of Allied Forces in Europe.  But he refused to intervene despite many calls to do so.  Ike weighted the costs – a possible nuclear war with Russia – against the nebulous benefits, and decided to chill out despite the shrill cries for intervention on the right.

General Eisenhower
Eisenhower
Ike Maintained his Cool

When the Warsaw Pact forces – a group of five Eastern European countries led by the Soviet Union – invaded Czechoslovakia during the presidential elections of 1968, Richard Nixon did nothing to intervene in the situation after he won by a landslide.  Nixon, who had been Ike’s vice-president when the Soviets invaded Hungary, was no stranger to Russian invasions and was enraged by the Czech affair, but made no attempt to intervene in the situation because he knew that the Soviets had gained parity in nuclear weapons with the US.

Furthermore, given American actions in invading Cuba after the Revolution led by Fidel Castro turned in a socialist direction, Nixon, a very bright but morally deformed man, must have recognized that the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia to overthrow the Dubcek government, which was moving away from the Russian communist model, mirrored US actions in Cuba, although they would never admit this obvious parallel.  So he sought the friendship of China, breaking an American policy of ignoring mainland, or “Red China,” that had prevailed since the triumph of the Communist Revolution led by Mao Tse Tung, and promoted the absurd fiction that “the real China” was the off shore island of Taiwan. 

The strategy of exploiting serious ideological difference between the two communist titans, China and Russia,  by cozying up to China,  led  to an American rapprochement with China and Detente with Russia. This artful foreign policy was possible because Nixon was advised by Henry Kissinger, whereas George Bush was advised by people like Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and their Guru, the neo-con warmonger Paul Wolfowitz and his PNAC cabal.

In 2008 the Russian army invaded the former Soviet Republic of Georgia, and Bush, already burdened with two wars that he started, did nothing!  And although Senator John McCain is demanding an investigation of the CIA to find out why they didn’t predict a situation that erupted at rapid speed, a question whose answer does not require a costly congressional investigation; the answer is obvious to any reasonably informed person looking objectively upon the situation rather than through a veil of bias.

The fact is that there is nothing unusual about the CIA getting caught off guard: they got caught off guard in each of the full scale Russian Invasions under three Republican presidents. Thus all of this self-righteous posturing and demonstrations of outrage from people like John McCain,  that smug Howdy Doody looking charlatan that sits in the governor’s mansion in Louisiana, that fat dumb dope fiend Rush Limbaugh and that evil hysterical anorexic witch Gun Boat Annie Coulter are pure bullshit, as the Princeton Philosopher Harry G. Franks describes bullshit arguments in his book  “Bullshit”.

Consider the account of Daniel Fata – the assistant secretary of defense for European and NATO policy from September 2005 to September 2008, which was most of George Bush’s second term.  He recalls in an interview with Professor Stephen Benedict Dyson, a Professor of political science at the University of Connecticut,  that when the Russian Army invaded Georgia ““We were scrambling for information during these critical initial hours. My desk officer, who had great personal ties at the highest levels in Tbilisi, had the most usable real time information via texts from his friends in Georgia.” And he went on to observe “Putin was never punished by the international community.”  Notice he said nothing about the Bush Administration punishing Putin…it appears to have never entered their minds!

Bush evidently decided that he had gotten in enough trouble listening to Cheney, Rumsfeld, and their neo-con crew.  In view of the history of Republican presidential inaction in the face of actual Russian invasions…..why are these chattering clowns so hard on President Obama, who has not even been confronted with a “Russian invasion?”  At worse, thus far, the president is dealing with a pooty-pop police action.  And as I have shown: Barack has already done far too much!

To treat the Crimean situation as some major aggression by the Russians that threatens US interests, and therefore requires our intervention, is surely some species of madness. This peculiar madness is magnified when you reflect upon the fact that American officials travelled to the Ukraine and openly encouraged the insurgents to overthrow the pro-Russian President

Yet given the level of routine obfuscation and outright lying, the massive and systematic disinformation campaign being conducted by the right-wing media complex, and the fact that the overwhelming majority of their listeners are pugnacious airheads whose understanding of political reality is akin to the man who couldn’t tell his rectum from a hole in the ground, you have an untutored impassioned mob who can be manipulated into believing anything.  Hence the Republican politicians who are hurling slanders at the President that have not a trace of truth, but plays big with their audience, could just be playing politics.

If that is true, and given the intellectual shallowness and situational ethics that inform the actions of many Republican politicians in could well be true – then they are even more dangerous than the true believers.  Intelligent people who hold sincere beliefs can be persuaded to change their view, but a soulless, ignorant, charlatan has nothing there.  They’ve got a hole in their soul, and thus could demagogue a grave issue of national security for partisan political advantage.

These are people for whom only money and power are sacred; so even now they are trying their best to tie the conflict in the Ukraine to the refusal of President Obama to sign the Canadian pipeline deal.  Aside from confusing the foreign policy debate, their constant chatter, scripted lines repeated ad nauseum,  paid for by plutocrats and beamed into the skulls of the vast untutored working class – and that includes many white collar “professionals” – shamelessly plays on their fears in order to panic them into voting reactionaries into political office who despise them and constantly injure their interests.

President Obama is in a tight predicament.  He is bound by an attitude of fear and suspicion toward Russia that has long been cultivated in this country. The ignorance of Americans regarding Russia is abominable, hence they are prepared to believe the worst.  When coupled with the sense of American Exceptionalism that almost all Americans in their smug self-righteousness believe in, it makes sense to them when the Republican clowns cry out about President Obama’s weakness in the face of Russian aggression.

Since they know nothing of American history, they really believe that Putin would never have committed such a criminal act of aggression if that “lily livered; mommy jean wearing; secret agent for Al Queda; European socialist communist low down dirty half-breed mongrel nigger” had not “duped the American people and wormed his way into the White House”.

Yet even if we discounted all the other madness in this description of our fabulous President, arguably the best ever, and simply accepted that they believe Barack could deceive the Secret Service, the FBI, the National Immigration Service, the National Security agency et al, even  believed that Donald Trump’s alleged private investigators could detect such fraud, is frightening testimony of the epidemic of irrational thinking among millions of Americans who come out aggressively and vote!

Barak Obama’s actions and pronouncements regarding the Ukrainian situation are formulated with an eye toward domestic politics.  After all, he is not only a politician but a great one….perhaps the greatest of all times.  In fact I have argued this very point elsewhere see: “The GOAT: Greatest of All Times” on this blog.  And the first step in being a successful politician is to recognize that politics is the art of the possible!  Barack not only recognizes this, he understands how to win elections.

The fact that fact a young black guy who looks like he might be hanging out on the basketball, courts in Chicago waiting for a pick-up game, and is married to a big fine chocolate, brilliant, sassy soul sister who can dance her ass off and will bust a move anywhere, getting himself elected president twice, is driving a lot of these white boys like Donald Trump – who was born to the purple but can’t get elected to the villager dogcatcher’s post in Washington – clear out of their  minds!

So the Republican propaganda machine, disguised as news sources, make up lies about him and broadcast them on a non-stop loop, right into the fickle brains of Dumb Dora and Joe Six Pack.  And they have done it so well that millions of Americans – most white but some black leftist too – actually believe it.  And that is part of my evidence for his greatness: with all of their researchers they cannot come up with an authentic complaint against Obama.  Yet perception is reality in the eyes of the beholder.  Hence President Obama must pay homage to the prevailing American myth….because it is firmly rooted in the Master Narrative of American civilization.

Hence we see President Obama, a brilliant man who must recognize that Russia has a legitimate right to their Sphere of Influence, and that Putin is doing nothing that the US has not done –and far worse – all over the world!  Yet he must pay lip service to the American Exceptionalists vision or be labeled a traitor and hung if they had their druthers. And he knows that none of his major policy objectives can be realized so long as Republicans control the House of Representatives, and should they take the senate in the elections this year he will spend the rest of his second term mainly casting vetoes, Barack must pay attention to domestic politics.  All of these factors figure strongly in the presidents public posture toward Russia.

As important as these other issues are, they are picayune matters compared to a military conflict with Russia.  This is as serious as it gets.  Things on the ground in the Ukraine are changing so fast the President must focus on the fundamental issues involved here and correctly decide where American interests truly lie. Considering that he has ordered an American guided missile ship into waters off the coast of Crimea, one wonders if he is becoming confused on this issue.  Hilary Clinton, his recently retired Secretary of State is obviously confused by the Ukrainian affair because she is talking like a babbling idiot….  spouting dangerous and misleading nonsense comparing Putin to Hitler and muttering about the similarity to the Munich Conference?

This kind of crazy talk invites comparison of President Obama to the British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain. I am expecting to hear cries of “appeasement” from the Republicans any day now.  Although she has tried to equivocate on here statement, saying she was not implying an exact comparison, Hilary comes across as either a fool or an opportunist.  Conversations about Hitler and Munich conferences from the middle of the last century is not the conversation we should be having now….for it confuses far more than it clarifies and provides fuel for the verbal arsonists in right-wing media.

All of this is a distraction.  The thing that should remain uppermost in President Obama’s mind and that of all American political leaders is whatever happens in the Ukraine it is not worth one ounce of American blood, nor the profligate squandering of American treasure. President Obama should also be aware that many thoughtful Americans, this writer included, resent the fact that the Republicans who control the House of Representatives quickly voted a billion dollars in emergency aid to the Ukraine, while denying benefits to American workers suffering long term unemployment, and kills every program President Obama proposes to help desperate Americans and rebuild the nation’s crumbling infrastructure.

Yet above and beyond all everything else, no matter what, the President must constantly think about avoiding any action that could make the Russians nervous about their national security, because they will surely put more nuclear weapons on alert….alas some are already on alert.   For most people these weapons are like something out of science fiction like the transformers firing laser beams, that explains why most are going merrily about their business totally unaware that 40 minutes from now our world go up in radioactive flames. They are like sheep quietly going to slaughter; for if they had any idea what a nuclear war means they would out in the streets demanding that President Obama call off the proposed naval exercise involving the US and Romanian forces in the Black Sea.

Ignorance about the world is dangerous in any case, but ignorance about the nuclear forces of the US and Russia could prove fatal.  Both nations have triple threat strike forces that consists of Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles, Long range bombers, and naval forces composed of nuclear submarines and missile ships that fire from surface platforms.  The IBMs can be launched from silos on land or beneath the sea; they go up out of the earth’s atmosphere and return to earth to hit their targets.  They also have MIRVED warheads – Multiple Independent Reentry Vehicles – which means that a single missile carry up to eight separate warheads capable of being programmed to strike different targets.

In order to gain some understanding of the scale of destruction a single missile can wreak consider the following facts.  The atomic bombs dropped on Japanese cities had an explosive power equivalent to 20, 000 tons of high explosive TNT, plus the intense heat from the nuclear reaction and the radioactive fallout. The nuclear warheads carried by the MIRVED missiles are 5 megatons each, which amounts to 45 million tons of TNT per missile!   And we have thousands of them ready to launch at a moment’s notice….and so do the Russians.  And since this is a neutron hydrogen bomb, the radiation is immeasurably more intense.

I can still remember the day I first found out about all this.  It was in an orientation class for those of us with Top Secret security clearances when I arrived on the Strategic Air Command base in Glasgow Montana, up on the DEW line – Distance Early Warning – out in the Great Plains near the Canadian Border, where I would be stationed.  At the time SAC was the center of the US nuclear strike force and from where we were the giant B-52 Strato-Bombers, which flew at supersonic speeds at very high altitudes, could be over Moscow in less than an hour.  After showing us the official SAC films on the atomic bombing of Japan, an unspeakably horrible event, the colonel conducting the class said, “Or this is nothing…those bombs are like firecrackers compared to the ordinance we have on this base.”

After seeing the giant radioactive fireball rise up over Japanese cities, and heard the tales of poisonous black rain and the nuclear night that followed the atomic flash upon detonation, creating such intense heat people who saw it eyeballs melted and people were bursting into flames everywhere.  And all this was from the little 20,000 tons of TNT bomb; the instructor pointed out that we had bombs of 100 million ton capacity!  I thought it was madness, and I have never changed my views on the matter of nuclear weapons.  As I have said previously, I consider the mere possession of them to be a crime against humanity.

However the bombers, while still active, are third in destructive capacity in the tripartite US nuclear war machine. There are the missiles I described, and then there are the nuclear submarines, marvelous frightening instruments of mass destruction, one of which has more firepower than all of the ordinance exploded in World War II, including the two atomic bombs dropped on Japan.  And we have about a dozen of them prowling under the world’s ocean seas.

Should a nuclear exchange begin there will be two chain reactions: the atomic one and a human one.   For once it starts the computers will take overs and both sides will empty their arsenals in order to make sure the other side will not survive….the computers are programmed to see to that.  It is such an unspeakable horror, the destruction of all life on our planet, it is no wonder people don’t want to think about it, but I’m just keepin it real!  It is no exaggeration to say that those who do survive for a while will envy the dead.  This is the possibility we are playing with as I write.

The way things are developing in terms of the rapid deterioration of US/Russian relations over the crisis in the Ukraine is frightening to those who pay attention to the possibility of blundering into an accidental nuclear war.  As I said early on in this essay I was prompted to write it because of an exchange I had with a friend who smugly assured me that a nuclear exchange between the US and Russia couldn’t happen.  However I take my cue from the people who understand this problem best: The Bulletin of Atomic Scientist.  Their views regarding the danger of an outbreak of nuclear war – which is to say its probability – is succinctly expressed by the position of the hands on the Doomsday Clock.

This clock was created in 1947 by the scientists from the Manhattan Project, the guys who invented the atomic bombs that were dropped on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki only two years earlier, the only time atomic weapons have been used in human history.  Over the last 67 years the hands on the clock have been moved 18 times by the scientists affiliated with the Bulletin, which includes 18 Nobel Laureates, an astonishing number for any organization.  The scientists move the hands on the Doomsday Clock based on their assessment of how close human beings have come to self-annihilation.

At present the hands on the clock stands at five minutes to mid-night! And, despite so major changes in US/Russian relations, the nuclear arsenals possessed by these nations remain the most dangerous threat to continued human existence.  The Bulletin of Atomic Scientist sums it up thusly:

“Today, the mind-numbing possibility of nuclear annihilation as a result of a deliberate attack on the other by the United States or Russia seems a thing of the past, yet the potential for an accidental, unauthorized, or inadvertent nuclear exchange between the United States and Russia remains, with both countries anachronistically maintaining more than 800 warheads on high alert, ready to launch within tens of minutes”.

That’s why President Obama had better move with the greatest caution in his policy choices regarding the Ukraine.  He must maintain his fabled cool as – “No Drama Obama” – pay the hysterical hawks on the Republican right no mind and make keeping the peace his first priority.  Because as we know from former Defense Secretary Bob McNamara: things get confusing in the fog of war. And before you know what happened we could be the late….great….planet earth.

 Doomsday!!!

Atomic_bomb_explosion-SPL

It could come to this!

************************

Playthell G. Benjamin
Harlem, New York
March 8, 2014

****** Transcript from hacked phone conversation between Undersecretary of State for Europe, Victoria Nuland for and the US Ambassador as they secretly  minipulate the political events in Ukraine.

An apparently bugged phone conversation in which a senior US diplomat disparages the EU over the Ukraine crisis has been posted online. The alleged conversation between Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland and the US Ambassador to Ukraine, Geoffrey Pyatt, appeared on YouTube on Thursday. It is not clearly when the alleged conversation took place.

Here is a transcript, with analysis by BBC diplomatic correspondent Jonathan Marcus:

Warning: This transcript contains swearing.

Voice thought to be Nuland’s: What do you think?

  • Jonathan Marcus: At the outset it should be clear that this is a fragment of what may well be a larger phone conversation. But the US has not denied its veracity and has been quick to point a finger at the Russian authorities for being behind its interception and leak.

Voice thought to be Pyatt’s: I think we’re in play. The Klitschko [Vitaly Klitschko, one of three main opposition leaders] piece is obviously the complicated electron here. Especially the announcement of him as deputy prime minister and you’ve seen some of my notes on the troubles in the marriage right now so we’re trying to get a read really fast on where he is on this stuff. But I think your argument to him, which you’ll need to make, I think that’s the next phone call you want to set up, is exactly the one you made to Yats [Arseniy Yatseniuk, another opposition leader]. And I’m glad you sort of put him on the spot on where he fits in this scenario. And I’m very glad that he said what he said in response.

Jonathan Marcus: The US says that it is working with all sides in the crisis to reach a peaceful solution, noting that “ultimately it is up to the Ukrainian people to decide their future”. However this transcript suggests that the US has very clear ideas about what the outcome should be and is striving to achieve these goals. Russian spokesmen have insisted that the US is meddling in Ukraine’s affairs – no more than Moscow, the cynic might say – but Washington clearly has its own game-plan. The clear purpose in leaking this conversation is to embarrass Washington and for audiences susceptible to Moscow’s message to portray the US as interfering in Ukraine’s domestic affairs.

Nuland: Good. I don’t think Klitsch should go into the government. I don’t think it’s necessary, I don’t think it’s a good idea.

Pyatt: Yeah. I guess… in terms of him not going into the government, just let him stay out and do his political homework and stuff. I’m just thinking in terms of sort of the process moving ahead we want to keep the moderate democrats together. The problem is going to be Tyahnybok [Oleh Tyahnybok, the other opposition leader] and his guys and I’m sure that’s part of what [President Viktor] Yanukovych is calculating on all this.

Continue reading the main story

Ukraine unrest: Timeline

21 November 2013: Protests start after Ukraine announces it will not sign a deal aimed at strengthening ties with the EU

17 December: Russia agrees to buy $15bn of Ukrainian government bonds and slash the price of gas it sells to the country

16 January 2014: Parliament passes law restricting the right to protest

22 January: Two protesters die from bullet wounds during clashes with police in Kiev; protests spread across many cities

25 January: President Yanukovych offers seniorjobs to the opposition, including that of prime minister, but these are rejected

28 January: Parliament votes to annul protest law and President Yanukovych accepts resignation of PM and cabinet

29 January: Parliament passes amnesty law for detained protesters, under the condition occupied buildings are vacated

Nuland: [Breaks in] I think Yats is the guy who’s got the economic experience, the governing experience. He’s the… what he needs is Klitsch and Tyahnybok on the outside. He needs to be talking to them four times a week, you know. I just think Klitsch going in… he’s going to be at that level working for Yatseniuk, it’s just not going to work.

Pyatt: Yeah, no, I think that’s right. OK. Good. Do you want us to set up a call with him as the next step?

Nuland: My understanding from that call – but you tell me – was that the big three were going into their own meeting and that Yats was going to offer in that context a… three-plus-one conversation or three-plus-two with you. Is that not how you understood it?

Pyatt: No. I think… I mean that’s what he proposed but I think, just knowing the dynamic that’s been with them where Klitschko has been the top dog, he’s going to take a while to show up for whatever meeting they’ve got and he’s probably talking to his guys at this point, so I think you reaching out directly to him helps with the personality management among the three and it gives you also a chance to move fast on all this stuff and put us behind it before they all sit down and he explains why he doesn’t like it.

Nuland: OK, good. I’m happy. Why don’t you reach out to him and see if he wants to talk before or after.

Pyatt: OK, will do. Thanks.

Nuland: OK… one more wrinkle for you Geoff. [A click can be heard] I can’t remember if I told you this, or if I only told Washington this, that when I talked to Jeff Feltman [United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs] this morning, he had a new name for the UN guy Robert Serry did I write you that this morning?

  • Jonathan Marcus: An intriguing insight into the foreign policy process with work going on at a number of levels: Various officials attempting to marshal the Ukrainian opposition; efforts to get the UN to play an active role in bolstering a deal; and (as you can see below) the big guns waiting in the wings – US Vice-President Joe Biden clearly being lined up to give private words of encouragement at the appropriate moment.

Pyatt: Yeah I saw that.

Nuland: OK. He’s now gotten both Serry and [UN Secretary General] Ban Ki-moon to agree that Serry could come in Monday or Tuesday. So that would be great, I think, to help glue this thing and to have the UN help glue it and, you know, Fuck the EU.

Jonathan Marcus: Not for the first time in an international crisis, the US expresses frustration at the EU’s efforts. Washington and Brussels have not been completely in step during the Ukraine crisis. The EU is divided and to some extent hesitant about picking a fight with Moscow. It certainly cannot win a short-term battle for Ukraine’s affections with Moscow – it just does not have the cash inducements available. The EU has sought to play a longer game; banking on its attraction over time. But the US clearly is determined to take a much more activist role.

Pyatt: No, exactly. And I think we’ve got to do something to make it stick together because you can be pretty sure that if it does start to gain altitude, that the Russians will be working behind the scenes to try to torpedo it. And again the fact that this is out there right now, I’m still trying to figure out in my mind why Yanukovych (garbled) that. In the meantime there’s a Party of Regions faction meeting going on right now and I’m sure there’s a lively argument going on in that group at this point. But anyway we could land jelly side up on this one if we move fast. So let me work on Klitschko and if you can just keep… we want to try to get somebody with an international personality to come out here and help to midwife this thing. The other issue is some kind of outreach to Yanukovych but we probably regroup on that tomorrow as we see how things start to fall into place.

Nuland: So on that piece Geoff, when I wrote the note [US vice-president's national security adviser Jake] Sullivan’s come back to me VFR [direct to me], saying you need [US Vice-President Joe] Biden and I said probably tomorrow for an atta-boy and to get the deets [details] to stick. So Biden’s willing.

Pyatt: OK. Great. Thanks.

Jonathan Marcus: Overall this is a damaging episode between Washington and Moscow. Nobody really emerges with any credit. The US is clearly much more involved in trying to broker a deal in Ukraine than it publicly lets on. There is some embarrassment too for the Americans given the ease with which their communications were hacked. But is the interception and leaking of communications really the way Russia wants to conduct its foreign policy ? Goodness – after Wikileaks, Edward Snowden and the like could the Russian government be joining the radical apostles of open government? I doubt it. Though given some of the comments from Vladimir Putin’s adviser on Ukraine Sergei Glazyev – for example his interview with the Kommersant-Ukraine newspaper the other day – you don’t need your own listening station to be clear about Russia’s intentions. Russia he said “must interfere in Ukraine” and the authorities there should use force against the demonstrators.

An Evening at Madison Square Garden

Posted in On Sports!, Uncategorized with tags , on March 4, 2014 by playthell

Samori Live at Madison Square Garden

Sportswriter Samori Benjamin at the Garden Hoping for a Win

 In the Mecca of B-ball with a Knick Icon

Going to check out a New York Knicks game at the Garden is an exciting experience under any circumstances – the grandeur of the massive arena, the roar of the crowd, the celebrities from show biz and politics, the exciting floor shows….and then there is the game – but going to the Garden as the guest of Dr. Dick Barnett, a Kick icon who played on the only World Championship teams in franchise history is a very special trip.  This became immediately clear as we entered the building to watch the Knicks Play the San Francisco Warriors.

The guards at the entrance recognized Dick in the bustling crowd, which was moving at a snail’s pace due to the body scans by electronic metal detectors and hand searches of bags, and waved him to the front of the line along with me and Zach Husser – a former Columbia University football and basketball player who originally introduced me to Dr. Barnett and invited me to attend the game with them.  Once inside we went straight away to the Delta Lounge on the 5th floor, a VIP sanctuary where the big shots and their guest congregate.  The average fan does not know this place exist, and even if they do they have no idea of its extravagance.  Everything – food and beverages – is free, except for alcoholic drinks. And this is no mere finger foods, but lobster tails, corned beef, loads of fresh steamed vegetables, fruit juices, exotic breads and the like.

There were large flat screen television sets everywhere, so the swells could watch the game without mingling with the boisterous mob in the stands.  Actually, this was a place to meet and greet, see and be seen, to “network” with Gotham City’s movers and shakers.  The congregants in the lounge, like the common lot of fans, were mostly white and about half of them seem to have been invited by somebody else with juice, since they were running around gawking like Alice in Wonderland.  After a while it became apparent that some of these people were much more interested in networking than watching the game.  Perhaps because they knew the home team would break their hearts before the evening was over.

After a while I went to the exit that led into the arena and the Knicks were just going through their pre-game ritual, a kind of primitive male war dance to hip hop beats in a darkened house, while a voice on the loud speaker egged the crowd on, prodding them into such a state of excitation they let out a blood curdling collective primal scream that ricocheted off the walls and echoed throughout the cavernous arena.  I was anxious to get to our seats by tip off time but I had to prod Dr. Barnett in order to get him out of the lounge where he was comfortably ensconced in a prominent place so that everybody who came through could see him as he chatted with passersby.

Doc was lukewarm about getting out into the arena because he too has lost faith in the ability of the Knicks to win a game, and it is a source of great disappointment, having played on the Knicks team with legendary ballers like like Earl “The Pearl” Monroe, Walt “Clyde” Frazier, Willis Reed, Dave Debusshere and “Dollar” Bill Bradley, that won the NBA Championship in the 1969 -70 and 1972-73 seasons.   As he pointed to their Jerseys hanging atop the arena, it must have been painful to watch as these imposters in Knicks uniforms disgraced themselves and abused the fans; which had parted with their hard earned coin and trudged out in sub freeing weather to watch them stumble around the court in a danse macabre; a comedy of errors that was more embarrassing than funny.

The Only NBA Champions in Knicks History
New-York-Knicks Championship team
 
Dick Barnett is seated to the far right next to Earl “The Pearl” Monroe

As the game plodded on I began to suspect that perhaps success and failure may both be imposters after all.  For as I watched the hapless Knicks fall behind by 21 points at halftime I wondered how these jokers had ever won a game in the NBA.  How they had once been thought of as serious contenders.  While it seemed that everything the Warriors tossed in the direction of the basket went in, as they ran a series of razzle dazzle plays, the hapless Knicks were stiff as stuffed owls anchored to their pedestals.

What masqueraded as an offensive strategy for the Knicks consisted of passing the pill to Carmelo Anthony, then cavalierly watching the giant overhead monitor screens waiting for him to put the ball in the hoop.  But, alas, on this night Mello was as cold as the icicles hanging on the roof outside; the boy couldn’t throw a grape through a hoola hoop. But aside from an occasional three pointer from the point guard, J.R. Smith and Tim Hardaway JR, they just kept passing the ball to Mello and staring up at the monitor screen.

Perhaps because Mello had been on a scoring streak the last few games, shooting forty points or more had become common fare, his team mates thought he was a gift that would just keep on giving. Alas they were wrong, and nobody seemed able to come up with a second act.  Every time Mello got the ball the defense collapsed on him with two and sometimes three players guarding him; yet it never seemed to occur to him to look for the open man and pass the ball off.   He seemed to believe, like the rest of the team, that scoring the ball was his gig.

Mello Shooting the Ball
Carmelo-Anthony-007
A human scoring machine

Carmello shooting

But he needs help…especially when he’s cold!

As halftime approached the drubbing the Knicks were undergoing became so painful for loyal fans it was akin to witnessing a loved one being pecked to pieces by diabolical crows from an Alfred Hitchcock movie.  My son Samori, a sports writer who has been covering the Knicks for years on WBAI radio and WBAISports.com, assured me that the suddenly silent crowd was anxious to go crazy but the Knicks gave them no cause for applause.

Thus in what appeared to be a desperate attempt to give the home crowd some reason to cheer, a picture of Mark Jackson, the San Francisco Warriors coach, appeared on the giant overhead screens with the caption “All Time Knicks Great Point Guard,” then they proceeded to show video highlights of some of Jackson’s smooth moves. The crowd finally had a reason to cheer and they went crazy cheering for the coach of the team that was kicking the home team’s ass!  It was, to say the least, bizarre.

Dr. Barnett flashed a smile of approval as he watched the video of Mark Jackson in action, but when the Knocks flashed a tribute to “Sweetwater Clifton” the former Globetrotter who became the first African American player to wear a New York Knickerbocker Jersey, Doc’s mood went from mirthful to salty.  “There are playing Sweetwater up big now, but they didn’t do shit for him when he was driving a cab later in life to put food on the table.  Walt Frazier managed to bust in the organization beyond the court as an announcer, but the Knicks usually don’t do shit for black players.” he said.

Dick Barnett in 1972
Dick_barnett_1972_12_13
That Championship Season!

As an aside he commented “The Pearl just had knee replacement surgery a couple of days ago.”  Dick Barnett had escaped the fate that befell Sweetwater Clifton and many pro-Athletes after their playing days are over – the great Allen Iverson of who played in Philly is the latetest example – by acquiring a PhD, becoming a professor of Sports Management and writing several books.

We departed at the conclusion of the first half, unable to bear any more of the drubbing, since the Knicks were down by 21 points in a half where the Warriors had scored over 70 points, and only the real fanatics operating on blind faith believed things would get better in the second half.  Alas, we felt the Knicks were engaging in fan abuse and we had had more than our share; would enable them no longer.  Doc decided to hang out in the Delta Lounge, and wait for his old pal and former Knick Cal Ramsey, who was wheelchair bound.

As me and Zach were leaving a couple of the guards who saw us come in with Dick  came over to us shaking their heads “couldn’t take it no more huh?” one of them asked….”It beats me how they manage to fill up this place for every game, win or lose the people still show up come rain or shine”  As I listened to this rather incredible revelation, I thought to myself: I guess that’s why the call them fans….which is short for fanatics.

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                  Double Click on Link to view Documentary On Barnett
http://youtu.be/g5cTBV22mJE
Playthell G. Benjamin
Harlem New York
March 3, 2014
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