Theater in the Western Provinces

Posted in Cultural Matters with tags , , on December 10, 2014 by playthell

Witch

 Witches and Warlocks Pay Homage to the Queen

Halloween at the Alterena

When my friend Star Valdez, invited me to an evening of theater at the Altarena, a venue she manages, to see a revival of the Broadway hit musical “A Little Shop of Horrors” I thought it would be an interesting way to spend all Hallows Eve – especially since they requested that the guest show up in costume and a prize would be for the best disguise. So I decided to adorned myself in appropriate costume and take my chances.

As a big fan of Halloween when I was a kid it was an unexpected joy to witness the hordes of trick or treaters swarming through the streets of Alameda, going from house to house collecting candies and other sweets – albeit this being the California Bay Area some probably ended up with dried fruits, unsweetened grape fruit or prune juice and granola bars – as we made our way to the theater in a long line of creeping cars.

Although I expected the evening to be fun, I did not expect to see a performance of the quality that distinguished this production.  It is a small house on a rather ordinary street three thousand miles from Manhattan, where I usually spend evenings in the theater….and that more often than not can render even an open and fair minded person a bit Jaded.

Yet because I have spent countless nights witnessing theatrical performances, and have written theater and film reviews for major publications and broadcast media, in the US and Great Britain – see the film and theater sections on this blog – I recognize a good play when I see one wherever it is mounted. Thus I display my credentials not out of vanity, but to point out that as a result of all those nights watching thespians at work in the theater center of the world I have developed a critical eye and exacting standards.

Hence when I say that by any objective measure this was a superb production, it should be taken by readers in the far western provinces as something akin to the infallible utterances of the Pope regarding Catholic doctrine.  Thus when I say this house puts on a great show  lovers of good theater should stampede the ticket office in quest of a seat for their next production.  The night I was there the house was sold out, and I suspect that once the word gets around that they are opening a new production in this fabulous little theater, tickets will quickly become scarce.

The first thing the tutored eye will notice is the amazing efficiency with which they utilize the limited space.  For instance, rather than a lowered pit or bandstand off in the corner, the band is located in a raised booth which is shared by the sound and lighting technicians, who are all masters of their trade.  There are no jack legs here; these are real professionals who could work any theater anywhere.

The sound mixture is marvelous; it took me half the play to figure out where the music was coming from.  The exquisite balance made me think it was a recording, but its warm vibrant sound told me otherwise. There were some liberties taken with the score, but the changes made served to enhance and modernize the production with fresh melodies and lyrics performed by masters of the musical arts.

Next to the music the aura of magic one can experience in well executed theatrical production is conjured by the lighting.  And the lighting design for this production – a kind of absurdist farce rendered as musical comedy – was an excellent corollary to the imaginative set design.   Since the story revolved around a visual illusion, a small strange looking plant that grows to enormous size by eating people, the lighting and set designer had to work in close collaboration in order to pull it off.  And they pulled it off to great effect.

However no theatrical illusion is complete until the costume designers have sucessfully completed their conjurations.  As is demonstrated in this production, when worn by great actors a mere change of costume can induce a complete change of character.  And like music, the right costumes can transport us to particular times and places.

Yet after all the triumphs of the creators of a theatrical work, whose special alchemy constructs the environment for its performance, finally it’s the performers – the actors, singers and dancers – who bring it to life.   In the end, when all is said and done, it is they, the performing artists, who will make or break the work – give it immortality or consign it to the dustbin of history.

I cannot say for sure, so I offer this judgment as a bold speculation only, but I do not believe a small theater anywhere has been blessed with a more talented cast of thespians.  They sang, they danced, they joked and pranced, evoking pathos and bathos at the bat of an eyelash or twist of the mouth; they cajoled, titillated, and grandly entertained the audience.

Alas, in such a cast of gifted thespians selecting any singular performance for special accolades is an abritrary act. Nevertheless, human nature being what it is I do have my favorites and a unable to resist comment.  Avi Jacobson was both funny and convincing as Mushnick, the cockroach capitalist who owns a flower shop.

Since his shop is located on skid row in a deteriorating section of the city his outlook on life is a strange mixture of optimism and gloom.  When we first encounter him he is agonizing over the possibility of having to fire his employees and closing shop.  Mushnick is clearly a product of the immigrant Jewish shtetl on the Lower East Side of New York, populated with workers, radicals, gangsters, artists, and learned Yiddish autodidacts that the distinguished Marxist writer and Editor Michael Gold reported on first hand  and Irving Howe recreated so poignantly in his seminal text “World of Our Fathers.”

It was a community where the common language, Yiddish, was full of colorful aphroisms informed by an ironic sense of the comedy and tragedy of human existence. They even created a distinguished theater where only Yiddish was spoken, the great character actor Faisal Finkel was a product of this theater.

Avi Jacobson embodies all of these elements in his character, from his vocal inflections when speaking Yiddish words to his Oy Vey body language when things are bad, to his perky huckster attitude when his luck begins to change after his employee Seymour, played by Max Thorne, breeds a new and exotic flower that changes his fortunes.

Avi’s portrayal of Mushnick reminds me of every old style Jewish Shop keeper in New York,  and this is remarkable considering that he spent most of his adult life in Israel, where the Yiddish based culture of the Jewish diaspora has found a hostile or indifferent reception. His performance deserved and received generous applause.

The fact that it was All Hallows Eve and the audience were invited to don costumes and join the make believe made the production all the more magical.  If a jaded New York critic could be so moved….it’s a fair guess that this production would wipe out anybody here in the provinces and leave them breathless!

 It was a Little Shop of Horrors!!!
A Carniverous Flower swallowed a Star
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And he was swiftly Slain

DSCN8953

 By the Grim Reaper’s Sythe!
 His Reincarnated Spirit was so Docile
DSCN8955
Even genteel Poets poked fun at him 
He became such a harmless impotent figure…
DSCN8939
………the kindly Ms. Lottabody found him an object of ridicule
As costumed Revelers partied the night away
The One
The Grim Reaper stood guard….warding off evil spirits  
 *************************
Text by Playthell Benjamin
 Photos by: Playthell Benjamin and Susanna Israel

 

Is Russell Wilson Black Enough?  

Posted in Cultural Matters, On Sports! with tags , , on November 9, 2014 by playthell
121213124025-russell-wilson-single-image-cut
Super Bowl Champion and Quintessential Dual Threat Quarterback

 Who is Blacker: Smart Afro-Americans or dumbass Niggas?

In the aftermath of the sudden release of highly touted wide receiver Percy Harvin from the world champion Seattle Seahawks football team, we hear some black members of the Seahawks think that their superstar quarterback who led them to a Super Bowl victory last year “ain’t black enough.”   This charge was first reported by Mike Freeman, an Afro-American sports writer who does not name names but who is considered a reliable source by his peers in the sports writing fraternity such as ESPN’s Stephan A. Smith and Skip Bayless, two of the best in the business.   A clearly frustrated Stephen A made a heroic effort to explain how and why some misguided black players could make such an embarrassingly stupid comment on his daily TV show co-hosted with Bayless: First Take. 

Alas, Stephen A is a sports reporter and thus his comments, although valid, suffered from an inadequate knowledge of history and sociology which a thorough understanding of this question demands.  He is certainly right when he attributes anti-Wilson animosity partially to the jealousy felt by players who do not enjoy the adulation that is heaped on Wilson by the press, fans and management; which is a result of how Wilson carries himself on and off the field.  He is not only hands down the best player on that super talented team he is also the most impressive personality, displaying an embarrassment of riches in intelligence, eloquence and old school elegance of style and manner.

When I was playing high school football in the 1950’s a guy like Russell Wilson would have been roundly revered by me and my team mates; he is everything that we would have wanted a black star athlete to be…especially a quarterback!  The rap on black men back then was that we were not smart enough to play quarterback because of the rapid analysis and cool decision making under pressure the position required.  Hence a feeling of intense pride in Russell would have been universal!

This begs the rather obvious question: What happened over the last 50 years that radically changed the values of a considerable segment of black America so that the ignorant, inarticulate, blinged out brute is now preferable to an elegant, articulate, gentleman from a great Afro-American family like Russell Wilson.  Obviously an in-depth exegesis on this question is beyond the scope of a single essay – and also the attention span of the Facebook generation who are accustomed to reading brief, semiliterate, graffiti – hence I shall venture a capsule explanation that will at least identify the major elements of the problem.

Reduced to its lowest terms we can sum up the problem as a consequence of the collapse of the nuclear family structure that left far too many poorly educated, poverty stricken, single mothers to raise their sons with little or no involvement from their fathers – who are often ignorant, impoverished teenagers who know as much about parenting as a mule knows about playing the fiddle.  Then there was the great Civil Rights revolution that destroyed the de-jure caste system and the racially restrictive housing covenants that was a fundamental feature of the apartheid system in America and forced Afro-Americans of all classes to reside in the same neighborhoods.

This development dramatically exacerbated the class divide in the black community by freeing middle and upper class Afro-Americans to live wherever their incomes could afford, and opened up myriad opportunities to the educated and talented beyond the black community, which they were no longer confined by law and custom to serving exclusively.  Hence the caliber of community leadership I grew up under no longer existed when the present generation of young Afro-Americans came of age.

Alas, the class of men and women who set the high standards we were expected to achieve and the institutions molded by their vision and values – black church, schools, nuclear family, coaches, etc – which shaped the character of Russell Wilson, Jackie Robinson, Walter Payton, Jerry Rice, myself, and legions of other upstanding black men was gone by the time many of today’s athletes came of age.  Hence instead of listening to the wise counsel of black fathers, teachers, coaches and preachers, they took their notions of Manhood from Tupac, Biggie, Lil Wayne, Master P. Sleezy E. Schooly D, Too Live Crew, Fitty Cents, and the like.  The result is both obvious and horrifying.

For instance, my generation was taught to aim for the stars and always put our best face forward when in public because we were representing our race, whether we chose to or not that was how it was.  This instruction was accompanied by the admonishment to  “never cut the fool in public” because it served to confirm the worse racist slander about us, which would surely be used to justify our oppression, and under no circumstances call another Afro-American a “nigger” in public!  It is obvious that many young Afro-Americans were never taught these things by anyone: not their parents, teachers or church.  That these young people were failed by these basic institutions, and thus the socialization process by which a culture indoctrinates their children with its most cherished values, was distorted and thwarted.

Alas, these failures do much explain why some of the present generation of black players in the NFL is presently fighting for the right to call themselves “niggas” on one of the largest stages in the world after the NFL banned its use and is levying penalties and fines at violators.  And some black players with the Miami Dolphins franchise sided with a white racist bully and borderline criminal Richie Incognito against Afro-American player Johnathan Martin, a well-spoken Stanford Grad with highly educated parents like Russell Wilson, because they said Incognito was “blacker” and “more of a brother” than Martin.  And thus, in their considered opinion, it’s cool for Incognito to call them “niggers.”

Well, I don’t argue with people who proudly announce that they are niggas, since I cannot be more royal than the king, so I have only to say that they are some of the dumbest niggas the Gods ever blew the breath of life in!  The question for the black community is which model of manhood we want for our young men: Russell Wilson and Johnathon Martin, or Tupac, Lil Wayne, fitty Cents and their thugged out “niggas?  Who would you rather have for a son or son-in-law?

And compliments about what good businessmen they are is no argument in favor of their values; for some of the richest businessmen in the world are criminals! It does not require a mastermind to figure out that you cannot build a healthy, life enhancing, society based upon thug values. As Dr. DuBois pointed out over a century ago, “If you just teach people to make money you will produce money makers but not men.”  Civilization is about something far different and much more….and that is what is at stake here.

 ***************

 The nature of athletic talent is such that, like all of “God’s” gifts, it is spread out among every segment of the population.   Hence we get some highly educated athletes and more than a few muscle heads who know little else besides sports.  However due to the incredible amount of time and hard work even the most gifted athletes must invest in a sport in order to succeed on the professional level, we find more players from lower and middle income backgrounds than the scions of the plutocrats.  This is the natural result of young men from the privileged classes having many more avenues to success and thus don’t have to gamble on something as fragile and elusive as a career in professional sports.

This partially explains why in the sports of football and basketball, which attract the largest audiences and generate big dollars, the majority of the players are Afro-American.  It is also due to physical gifts that are tailor made for these sports, and the dedicated work ethic of hundreds of thousands of talented young men who view these sports as their ticket out of poverty and into the great American dream of incredible wealth and celebrity – a dramatic transition in life style that literally happens overnight.

Alas, a lifetime of preparation and anticipation for success in professional sports does nothing to prepare young men from impoverished backgrounds to handle this new life of sudden affluence. And strangely enough most colleges don’t offer courses or guidance counselling on how to handle the next stage of their lives.  That’s why so many of them cut the fool, squander their money, and wind up at the end of their athletic careers scuffling to try and maintain some semblance of the lifestyle they enjoyed during their playing years.

Since many of these players did not receive the education promised to them by the colleges they attended, which would have mitigated some of the deficits of their class backgrounds, many leave college with the same essential values they entered them.  They came from neighborhoods where education and good manners were not valued; a sub-culture where poverty and ignorance is the norm, out of wedlock births are common fare and most people value toughness over intelligence. And they bring their “Hood Rat” values with them into the world of professional sports.

Having grown up in the kind of urban wastelands described by Dr. William Julius Wilson in his path breaking sociological studies – “The Truly Disadvantaged” and “When Work Disappears”- where the presence of strong, loving, intelligent fathers are absent from the majority of homes these young men have to figure out how to be a man on their own, or seek the counsel of other fatherless, clueless, peers.

For many of these young men that now fill the rosters of professional football teams those peers  were rappers like Tupac Skehur, a young man who was so confused about the meaning of manhood that even fame and wealth could not prevent him from self-destructing.  Yet Tupac still inspires a group of devotees among black and Hispanic males that approaches the status  of reverence for a guru or demi-God who spoke some divine truth.   For an analysis of how Tupac Shekur’s thug life philosophy helped put former New England Patriot star tight end Aron Hernandez behind bars possibly for the rest of his life for committing multiple murders read “Thug Life” on this blog.

The same self-destructive tendencies, although far less dangerous to the rest of society,  can be clearly seen in former basketball great Allen Iverson – who refused to grow up and shed his B-Boy demeanor even after he became a big star and had millions in the bank, or Mike Tyson, who squandered 250 million dollars before he was thirty!  Lacking education and thus the rich internal life and moral compass it provides, these young men make a fetish of money in the false belief that it can bring instant and permanent gratification.  Hence they are solely concerned with making a living rather than making a life.  Alas, they do not seem to even recognize that there is a difference between the two even when they can sense there is something missing in their lives.

The great prize fighter Floyd Mayweather is an excellent example of this.  One need only watch the numerous You Tube videos that provide us unprecedented access to his lifestyle outside the ring.  One gets the impression that he is trying to make up for all of the depravations that he suffered as a child, which he provides in harrowing detail in numerous recollections, as he showers himself in expensive toys and pretty girls far beyond what a mature well balance grown up would need to feel real. One gets the impression that everybody around him is on payroll, paid flunkies not real friends, and the thoughtful observer must ask what would Floyd be without the money and bling?

Hence among this crowd of rich but spiritually impoverished and psychologically wounded young celebrities material affluence is their measure of a man; education holds such a low priority that Floyd’s former ace boon coon “Fitty Cents” says that Floyd can’t read!  Fitty even challenged him in an online video to publicly read a page from a Harry Potter book, after which Fitty pledged to give $750, 000 to any charity designated by Floyd! Despite the opportunity to give a gift of three quarters of a million dollars to say, The National Negro College Fund, Floyd, who has given himself the sobriquet “Money” Mayweather, refused the challenge and responds to his critics by flashing stacks of dollar bills of large denominations and announcing that he is worth “500 million liquid!”

It does not seem to occur to Mayweather that the reason so many celebrities go from rags to riches to rags is because they were not smart enough to manage their money and keep track of it.  And in any case, what kind of example is that to set for his children….whom from every indication he loves dearly.  What does it say to them about the value of getting an education?  With a role model like him how are they to come to the understanding that in making a great life – as opposed to a merely a good living – education, not material possessions, is the most valuable thing one can acquire.

The idea that having money is an adequate substitute for an absence of intelligence is a fairly recent phenomenon in the Afro-American community.  When I was growing up acquiring a great education was at the top of the black community’s value system.  Hence the eloquent well-educated Jackie Robinson was the preferred role model for most Afro-American parents over the uneducated Willy Mayes who spoke with a “country Bama” accent, or the mumbling Heavy-Weight Joe Louis, despite their great admiration for him as a pugilist and a man.  However there was a big difference between Joe Louis, Willie Mayes and many of today’s young black athletes: They did not celebrate lumpen values like “thug life.”  In their day people who flaunted rolls of cash money were hustlers who were dismissed by people with real money as “nigger rich,” a joke.  Today we have a new and bizarre phenomenon: really rich Afro-Americans who behave like Niggas!

 Floyd and Fitty: Rich Self proclaimed filth rich “Niggas.”
Floyd and Fitty
How long before these niggas and their money part?
 Sonny Liston and wife dining with arch-opponent Muhammad Ali
Ali and Liston
Back in the Day, before Niggas starting to set the standards

The old school Afro-Americans and Athletes presented themselves in style and manners as gentlemen and responsible citizens that their fellow Afro-Americans could take pride in.  They would have been shocked and scandalized by rich and famous young black men choosing street thugs as their role models!  Even the vicious boxer Sonny Liston – who unlike the Hip Hop play-play gangstas had been a real thug that had formerly been an enforcer for the St. Louis mob – wanted no part of the thug image after he became World Heavy-Weight Champion.  And he said as much in an interview with Ebony Magazine, where he pointed out that he was a married man with a daughter and he wanted her to feel proud of him.

Jackie Robinson: Calvary Officer and Gentleman
jackie-robinson- Calvery Officer
 UCLA Grad, Four Sport Athlete, Baseball Legend, Corporate Executive, Freedom fighter

The reverence for education in the black southern community I grew up in had deep roots in our history.  Reports of former slaves flocking to any school that was available to them in the aftermath of slavery during the 1860’s are common fare in the accounts of educators from the period.  Frederick Douglass considered education so important that he risked death in order to learn to read when he was a slave, and once he escaped slavery and gained a measure of freedom he became one of the best spoken and accomplished writers in America: and he achieved this on his own!

Describing the aftermath of Civil war and Emancipation Dr. W. E. B. DuBois tells us in his masterpiece Black Reconstruction, “A whole race went to school.” Dr. DuBois considered education so critical to the freedom and development of Afro-Americans that he called for the development of a highly educated “Talented Tenth” to arise and lead the masses of Afro-Americans away from “the worst in their own and other races.”   This advice was taken to heart and the leaders of the black community who answered the call to uplift the race took charge of the black community, filled its pulpits and ran its schools all preached the value of education!

One of the virtues of education was to impart values that would serve help to advance one in a racist society that portrayed Afro-Americans in the organs of popular culture as fools and buffoons; a tradition that reached its apotheosis in the wildly popular blackface minstrel shows. Hence one was to present oneself in public as well spoken and well dressed – elegance complimenting eloquence. And these values took deep root.

Indeed Frederick Douglass had set the standard; as a man who spent his life as an advocate for oppressed black people in America, during and after slavery, he had an acute understanding of the importance of public perception of the race.  In fact he considered it so important in the struggle for equality in American society that he mastered the art of oratory and became arguably the best dressed man in America!  And he enlisted the practitioners of the budding art of photography to splash his image all over the public arena, by some estimates he was the most photographed man in 19th century America.  (See: Through a Lens Darkly: Black Photographers and the Emergence of a People” on this blog.) 

Frederick Douglass
Frederick_Douglass_by_Samuel_J_Miller,_1847-52
He set the standard for black male elegance in America

Thus it is no surprise when we behold the elegant style and eloquent speech of Duke Ellington, who bewitched audiences around the world and hobnobbed with royalty in places where few white Americans would have been admitted.  And in so doing he enhanced the stature of black people around the world by the power and dignity of his presentation of himself and his great orchestra, whose music was an extension of his style and personality.

 Edward Kennedy Ellingtom: Superstar!
Duke+Ellington - paragon of elegance
An Elegant Gentlemen Virtuoso instrumentalist and prolific composer !

People came from all over the world to hear his concerts.  I had the good fortune to attend a party at Dukes place one evening after a big concert at the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts in New York, and the variety of people there was fascinating.  They represented several races and included artists of various stripes, assorted intellectuals and European Aristocrats; since I regarded my presence there as an event of historic importance to me, I of course wrote an account of the affair. (See: “An Evening with Edward Kennedy Ellington,” on this blog.)  In Ellington’s day all Americans danced, dined and made love to his poignant musical portraits celebrating the grace and beauty of   Afro-American women such as: Sophisticated Lady, Satin Doll, Black and Tan Fantasy, etc.

 Today these celebrations of black women have been replaced by the notorious “bitches and hos” of HIP Hop fame, which is the only music many young black males listen to and now defines them around the world.  And it is the portrait of black American culture and character that they are referring to in deciding who is really black….”A FOR REAL NIGGA!” Anyone who cannot recognize that that this development represents a decadent and dangerous trend in Afro-American popular culture, a precipitous decline in taste and judgment, is a part of the problem.  The extent of the problem was driven home to me when I was seated next to a young black man on a bus trip through the South where I informally interviewed people about their reactions to the recent election of Barack Obama as the first African-American President of the United States.

 Is this what we want as role models for our sons?
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Many young black men look up to this symbol of cultural decadence as a source of wisdom

When I put the question to the young brother, he sat there looking like a clown with his baseball cap cocked at an angle where it was hard to see if he was coming or going from a distance.  “Well that’s cool old school,” he said….but Barack just ain’t street enough.”   My first impulse was to slap his cap straight and then drop some science on his silly ass, but I decided to just school the kid instead.  I told him that the only thing the “streets” could prepare him for is to be a rapper, go to jail…or the graveyard.  By the time I got through he was so embarrassed he got off the bus at the next stop.  Tis a pity that there is no wise older man in the life of these boys to help clarify their confusions and put them on the right track, because the values they hold will lead them to self-destruct even after they achieve their goals of wealth and fame.

Most black football players know but little about the history of Afro-Americans in the game of football and display even less interest in finding out – a natural consequence of having slept through or cut history classes – hence they do not know that the first Afro-American greats in the game of football were Ivy League graduates. (See: “On Race Culture and Sports” on this blog) Perhaps the greatest of these early footballers was Paul Robeson, who tutored his white Rutgers classmates in Greek and Latin while starring in four sports and graduating Valedictorian of the class!  Upon graduation Paul played in the first professional football league formed in the US, where he teamed up with Fritz Pollard – an Afro-American  graduate of Brown University and the first “duel threat” quarterback in professional football – and they went undefeated.

However racism and financial problems prompted Robeson to go back to school and earn a law degree from Columbia University, but he soon abandoned a racist legal profession and went on to become a world renowned concert singer performing the sacred songs of our enslaved ancestors – that beautiful body of music Dr. DuBois called “The Sorrow Songs -” as well as one an accomplished Shakespearean actor who performed in the US and Europe, breaking all records for a Shakespeare play on Broadway.  One wonders what the black football players who say Russell Wilson ain’t black enough would think of a man like Paul Robeson.

This question goes to the heart of the matter and the cultural state of black America can be gauged by it.  It is more than reasonable to suspect that the people who think Russell “ain’t black enough” would surely have felt the same way about Paul.  When asked about the comment Russell said “I don’t know what they are talking about,” and neither would Paul Robeson, whose father had escaped from slavery, acquired a college degree, and personally taught him Greek and Latin.

Big Paul Robeson of Rutgers
Paul Robeson - All American
Scholar Athlete Par Excellence
Paul_Robeson 
 Lawyer and Freedom Fighter

Paul robeson and Peggy AshcroftWorld Renowned Concert singer and great Shakespearian Actor
 Hanging out with his friend Albert Eienstein
Paul Robeson and Albert Einstein
 The World’s Greatest Scientist
 Fritz Pollard: the first Dual Threat Quarterback
Fritz Pollard_Throw
Frederick Douglass Pollard was also the first Black Professional Coach
After football he went on to publish a Newspaper and became an entertainment agent 
Friz Pollard II
He also started  the first black owned investment banking firm

Well, rumor has it that the comment questioning Russell’s Black Quotient came from running back Marshan Lynch; which would be easily understandable because aside from football Russ and Marshan have nothing in common but skin color, and since Russ is tan and Lynch is darker one is tempted to conclude that’s what Lynch was referring to.  But I think not.  Considering the context I am convinced that he was mainly talking about Russell’s style and manner, his values and aspirations. If that’s the case, would to God that he was referring to a pigmentocracy where blackness was graded on a scale of light and dark, a reversal of the old “paper bag” and “blow hair syndromes,” for we have survived color schisms in the past…but cultural and moral decadence will destroy us.

The greatest danger to the survival of black males in America is not white racists, and that includes those who wear police uniforms; rather it is the growing inculcation of a vision of manhood defined by the ability to coldly afflict violence on an adversary who is almost always black like them…and show no remorse.  This value system is embedded in a popular culture which celebrates ignorance and bad taste as if they were virtues.  The evidence is abundant; you can hear it on countless rap records that celebrate “Thug Life,” and witness it in the tragic self-destructive behavior of confused young men like Aron Hernandez. Those who argue otherwise are either charlatans, fools, or the human equivalent of ostriches that refuse to pull their head out of their ass and take a good look at what is really going on.  For instance, much fuss is made over the “Stop and Frisk” policy initiated by former Mayor Blumberg in New York City, it is widely portrayed by black community activist and the white liberal/ left as a sinister racist plot against young black men.

Since I grew up in the apartheid South during the 1940’s and 50’s I know how white racist mayors react to blacks murdering blacks: They didn’t give a shit!!!  They wouldn’t even dispatch an extra squad car to stop it let alone spend millions of city dollars on a Stop and Frisk operation!  Since most of the people who are speaking the loudest in this debate make their arguments without the benefit of historical perspective they lack any basis for comparative analysis, and their arguments suffer because of it. I have consistently argued that this point of view is transparent nonsense that avoids the main issue: The havoc inflicted on the black community by armed black criminals committing murder and mayhem 24/7!

In comparison to those wounded and killed from black criminals, the number of black men killed by white police appears to be few and far between.  Furthermore we can control the behavior of the police just by adding body cameras and changing the rules of engagement – All of these issues are thoughtfully discussed and statistically demonstrated in several essays on the subject See: “Mend it Don’t End It” on this blog – but how to turn our youths away from a seductive popular culture that romanticizes lumpen criminal behavior and makes it the standard for black authenticity is a far more perplexing problem.

Furthermore, the highly publicized violent antics of the niggas which the world can see on You Tube – check out the links below to videos showing armed young black criminals brandishing their assault weapons, which are illegal for police to carry, and bragging about the havoc they are wreaking on the black community just for the thrill of it – causes white Americans to side with the police when unarmed black men are murdered by the police.   Hence this criminal class has put law abiding young black men in a double bind: caught in crossfire between the cops and the robbers.  If we do not soon come up with a solution, these self-destructive tendencies will destroy far more young black people than white racist violence in the 20th century ever did!

Already the numbers of black men killing black men has greatly exceeded the number of black men killed by white racist violence during the height of the lynching phenomenon, the most intense period of white on black violence in American history – 1880 to 1915.  Since I have given the numbers in previous essays published on this blog I shan’t belabor the issue here, but if you really wish to understand the period to which I am referring read “The Negro in American Life and History: The Nadir” by the outstanding Afro-American historian Rayford Logan. It would be an enlightening experience to read this book, it will change your views about American society and race relations, but trust me, I’m right on the figures!

These are sad facts indeed, but to shirk our duty to confront them honestly and seriously is to betray both an ancestral imperative to continue the struggle to uplift the race, and the first law of nature: The instinct for self-preservation.  It is instructive to note that African descendants elsewhere in the American diaspora have virtually disappeared after having played a vital role in the history and culture of the nation.  The story of Afro-Argentinians is the most poignant case in point.  During the 19th century when the nation was constantly at war Argentina sent forth it’s “Black Legions” composed of conscripted Afro-Argentinian men who were either fighting to escape slavery or prison, and they were slaughtered in vast numbers.

The black women were forced to marry men of other races because available black men become so scarce.  The government encouraged large scale immigration of Italian men and encouraged them to take black women.  Hence by the 20th century a popular slogan arose in the Argentine: “There are no blacks in Argentina.”   The strongest evidence of the once prominent presence is the national music they gave the nation: The Tango.  To read about this intriguing and tragic story see: “Tango: A History of the Dance of Love,” by Dr. Robert Farris Thompson, Professor of Art History and Dean of African Civilization at Yale, and “The Negro in Argentina,” University of Florida Press.  Also see the section on Argentina in Professor Henry Louis Gates’s PBS series “Black in Latin America.”

While it is nearly impossible to imagine the physical disappearance of Afro-Americans, who have also fought in all of our nation’s wars and left an indelible print on American culture, it is quite possible to envision a scenario in which a large segment of black men become obsolete in a knowledge based economy based on a Darwinian ethic that is red of tooth and claw and only the fit will survive. One could convincingly argue that we are well into the beginning stages of such an economy.

Hence in a predatory privately owned corporate dominated economy that prizes intelligence, competence and good interpersonal skills young black men whose characters are formed by a lumpen culture that prizes antithetical values are doomed to a life of unemployment and jail…unless life is prematurely ended in the grave yard.  Already there are far more young black men in jail than in college, and what is worse it is a badge of honor for many of them!

Hall of Fame basketball star Charles Barkley, from whom I have rarely heard an intelligent comment unrelated to sports, was moved to speak out on the  reason why some black players on the Sea Hawks might not think Russell Wilson is black enough during a recent radio interview – a clip of which is embedded at the bottom of this essay.  Although Barkley greatly overgeneralizes when speaking of the black community’s failings, albeit he does make some attempt to correct it, he speaks frankly to white radio host Anthony Garano, who was thoroughly puzzled by why any black player would hate on Russell Wilson.

“Young black kids, when they do well in school the loser kids tell them ‘you are acting white.’  The kids who speak intelligently they tell them ‘you are acting white.’  So it’s a dirty dark secret in the black community and one of the reasons that we are never going to be successful as a whole because of other black people.  For some reason we are brainwashed to believe that if you are not a thug or an idiot you are not black enough!  If you go to school, speak intelligently and not break the law you are not a good black person.  It’s a dirty dark secret in the black community Anthony.  We are the only race or ethnic group who tell people if you don’t have street cred, that means you have been arrested, like that’s a compliment.  We are the only ethnic group who says ‘hey, if you been to jail it gives you street cred.”

Of course, Charles Barkly is not very deep in his analysis, but he knows some self-destructive shit when he sees it.  As of this writing Barkley’s interview has nearly a half million hits on You Tube, and over 700 comments.  Since this is such a painful discussion for self-respecting, law abiding, educated, successful Afro-Americans to hear it is predictable that Barkley would be attacked as a “sell-out” and “Tom.”  But even if this is true as a general proposition – and I offer no opinion on that account since I do not follow his affairs closely – what Barkley is saying here has the ring of truth regarding an increasingly large portion of Afro-American youths.  I do not have exact statistics on this but I know that whatever the actual percentage is it is far too large!

Not all of the respondents disagreed with Barkley.   Of course the white racist loved it because it confirmed all of their racist “fakelore” about black people – as the great writer and cultural critic Albert Murray calls it in his masterpiece “The Omni-Americans” – which no doubt compelled some black listeners to attack him, but others thought he was just telling it like it is.  A Ms. Tosh, who is visually black, responded:

“I agree with Charles Barkley 100% and I never liked this man before….until now!!! He is absolutely right and for those Blacks on here who are saying that he’s a coon and denying that the Black community have dark secrets, then you never listened to what this gentleman said. It is a fact that there are far too many Blacks who belittle other Blacks if they speak intelligently, obtain a college degree, own a business, get married, don’t have any kids, and didn’t go to prison. If you are not pro hair hats, then you’re labeled a sellout or an uppity Black b*tch who think that she’s better than the rest. I have personally witnessed this far too many times with these mentally enslaved Blacks, all of what Charles is stating. The #1 enemy for Black people are BLACK people. The #2 enemy of Black people are White people. The #3 enemy for Black people is stupidity. #1 and #3 are me being redundant. I apologize for the redundancy”

One of the tell-tale clues as to who is authentically black among this swelling lumpen crowd is that they do not speak standard English, and they dress like rappers because evidently no one they trust has managed to convince them that the only people who can make a living dressed like that is rappers!  And as that Hip Hop head in the White House, Chilly B. Knowledge, done told them: “We can’t all be Lil Wayne!”  You can look around any black community and find them easily enough….they seem to be everywhere.  And they, in the hearts and minds of too many black youths, are the “real black people” ….  “These niggas keep it real!”  Unlike squares like Obama, these niggas got “Street Cred.”  It is an absurd and self-destructive philosophy of life.

Based on these standards it does not require more than a casual glance at the Seattle Sea Hawks football team to see who is the “realest nigga on the squad,” and it ain’t Russ, who is the antithesis of all that.  Wilson comes from several generations of highly educated successful professional Afro-Americans.  He was born and raised in Richmond Virginia, the home of the late great Tennis champion and eminent sports historian Arthur Ashe, who was no doubt one of Russell’s role models.

Arthur Ashe is the only black person whose statue reposes on the Avenue of Heroes in down town Richmond Virginia, the former capital of the slaveholding Confederacy, right alongside all of the generals and leaders of the Confederate States of America, those beloved southerners who committed treason against the USA in order to keep black Americans in the chains of slavedom.

Arthur Ashe

Arthur Ashe Statue II
Scholar, Athlete, Officer and Gentleman

Ashe’s statue is unique as a sports monument because he has a tennis racket in one hand and a book in the other.  It symbolizes what Ashe believed about black youths and sports.  After completing a three volume history of Afro-American athletes, Arthur was asked how he would sum up what he had learned from all of his research during an appearance on a national television show: “I would advise black youths to spend most of their time studying their books because they are going to outrun and out jump everybody else anyway.”

There are many examples of this but Paul Robeson is the quintessential example. The personification of the Greek ideal of mind/body perfection he was a star at Baseball, basketball, track and football and was still elected to the Phi Beta Kappa Honor Society.  John Wideman, an All-American basketball player at the prestigious University of Pennsylvania, where he won a much coveted Benjamin Franklin Scholarship which was awarded on a statewide basis and paid all of his expenses.

Wideman turned down a chance to play professional basketball in favor of a Rhodes Fellowship that provided an opportunity to do graduate study at Oxford. Wideman has since gone on to become one of the greatest 20th century American writers, whose works have inspired an international community of scholars that have devoted their academic careers to the critical study and teaching of his many works. It is officially known as “The John Wideman Society.”

Paul Robeson however played for a brief period in the first professional football league on a team quarterbacked by Fritz Pollard – an Afro-American and Brown graduate  who was also a college All-American like Robeson.  They went undefeated!!!!  Then Robeson left the gridiron and took a degree from Columbia Law School.  After briefly practicing law Robeson became a world renowned concert singer and Shakespearian actor whose performances of Othello on Broadway broke all attendance records.  And he accomplished all of this in an openly racist world where racial discrimination was legal; which is why he became a militant activist who fought racism and oppression all over the world!  He is one of the greatest black men in history!   Yet I would venture a guess that those ignorant black hood rats who are hatin on Russ never heard of Robeson, and based on the criteria by which Russell Wilson has been judged by them Big Paul wasn’t “black enough” either.

The magnitude of this problem and the danger it represents to the survival and progress of black America ought to be clear to every reader by now.  Russell Wilson: great athlete in two sports, record setting quarterback of the Super Bowl Champions, graduated from college in three years, eloquent, charming, elegant of style, upstanding citizen, ideal role model for ALL American youths – especially black males – who want to succeed at anything in life because his values and approach to life will work in any field: simply the best the country has to offer!

Like his homie Arthur Ashe -a soft spoken military officer, gentleman and scholar who also happened to be a world champion athlete – I am certain that Russ, who intends to follow his deceased father and hero into the legal profession, will continue to be a credit to Afro-Americans just as his family has been for generations.  But he is spurned by some black team mates as a phony because he has no “street cred” and is therefore: not “black enough.”

Is this Black enough for yhall dumb Asses?
Russell-jayz-beyonce-russel-wilson-basketball-game-1
“I don’t know what they are talking about” says Russell

Yet all the arbiters of niggerism agree that Marshan Lynch is “A FOR REAL NIGGER.” And just what, pray tell, are Mr. Lynch’s qualifications for this honorific?  Well from all appearances he is certainly inarticulate and fairly empty headed, in fact he seems terrified whenever a microphone is put in his face for comment.  On the face of it we can see that he is squandering opportunities to use his football stardom off the field, which will become very important after his playing days are over, which could be with the next hit since he is a running back.

In fact his style of attack is such that it will almost guarantee a relatively short career. He will not last 1ast 16 years like Walter Peyton, let alone 20 years like the great Jerry Rice.  This is partially the reason why the Sea Hawks are reluctant to give him the big contract he is asking for and based on past performance apparently deserves.  But I believe that his attitude and character also has much to do with management’s decision.

Although Lynch is notoriously silent with the media, we are provided some revealing glances into his personality and character in several videos where he unintentionally opens himself up to scrutiny.  One of these is the video “Hooker Boy Filmz Presents Marshan Lynch,” where he is seen strolling through the streets of Oakland and Settle Washington with his homies while rappers shout in the background “Beast Mode Bitch! All my Niggas yelling Marshan Lynch!”  If we had any doubts about his fascination with the “Thug Life” this video leaves no doubt.  At one point in the beginning of the film he talks about how he hosts a football camp for the kids in Oakland on a weekend during the summer, however the next minute we see him shouting “you bitch!” at a woman driving by in a SUV because she wouldn’t stop for the great Marshan Lynch.

Since every other word out of their mouths is a curse one wonders what sort of values they will teach kids in a football camp.  When he talks about his camp the focus is all about identifying pro-football prospects and putting them on the road to the NFL, with college being a short stop to better prepare for a career in the pros.  But what if they don’t make it…what then?  His a very different philosophy from that of Doug Williams, a gracious southern gentleman who was the first black quarterback to win the Super Bowl and then went on to coach his Alma Mater Grambling state.  Williams says he does not recruit his players with a promise that they will go to the NFL, because he is far more interested in players concentrating on getting a college degree, because if they have the talent the NFL will find them.

The white folks who approach him to pay respects seem both awed and a little scared.  After all, he happily goes by the nick name “Beast Mode” and plays like a wild beast smashing into opponents and grinding them into the dust with his powerful physique.  He is scary enough on the football field but in a chance encounter on the street in his thugged out rapper gear he can be….well, frightening.   And it shows on the faces of his white well-wishers.  The few comments uttered by Lynch in barely audible grunts reveal a simple minded man child and borderline thug.   Going to college helped to prepare him to play professional football, but certainly didn’t do much to polish up his rough edges.  We must demand more from our colleges in the eucation of the athletes who make millions of dollars for their schools.

Unlike Russell, who graduated from college in three years, “Beast Mode” quit the University after three years and turned pro.  Normally I would consider this a smart decision, but Marshann does not seem to have received the education that a great school like Cal could offer. In fact he gives me the impression that he would probably be locked up doing from now until if it weren’t for football.  Marshan Lynch is everything Russell Wilson isn’t!   I believe that is the true source of his hatred for Wilson, Jealousy growing out of feelings of personal inadequacy, the same syndrome Charles Barkley describes.

Beast Mode aka Marshan Lynch

Beast Mode III

I’d bet my bottom dollar he believes Lil Wayne is spittin wisdom
 He thinks its cool to be inarticulate
Beast Mode II
The Mark of a “for real” Nigga!

It appears to be pretty much a foregone conclusion that Lynch’s days in Seattle are numbered.  He is seen on the Hooker Boy film threatening to leave Seattle if he does not get the money he wants.  I am certain if the front office views this film it will hasten his departure.  The Sea Hawks know that they have a golden boy in Russell Wilson; he seems almost too good to be true.  He will be the face of their franchise for many years to come – a great player, solid citizen, movie star handsome, and fan favorite – while Lynch will become a faded memory.

However the problems revealed by this imbroglio remain, and coming up with a viable solution to it is the challenge that now faces the leadership of the Afro-American community.  I am not blaming Afro-American leaders for this situation; the people who have not properly parented their children must bear most of the blame.  Yet even when they do their best parents can’t guarantee that their children will find meaningful – or any work –at a living wage.  This is a problem that confronts the working class – white and blue collar wage workers – across the board as millions of manufacturing jobs are transferred overseas through globalization, and millions of jobs are eliminated through robotization.

These are the questions our community should be concentrating on with our working class allies from all quarters, but Afro-Americans must first solve the problem of neutralizing and reversing the nihilistic trend among the black lumpen element whose sub-culture celebrates ignorance hedonism and violence, while trashing intelligence, discipline, and even good manners.  It is way past time to put the lumpen element back in their place and not allow their values to replace the traditional values of black America which prized those things that would uplift the race: Industry, honesty, study, love of family, church fellowship and trying to be the best at whatever you do.  These are the values that helped me stay on course despite the trials and tribulations of being a black man in the openly racist American society of my youth.

They are the rocks on which we as a people stood in the most trying periods of our history, and oh what mighty rocks they are!  Let us measure our blackness by these tried and true standards that have stood the test of time, not the nihilistic antics of self-destructive clowns who emerged from the projects spouting semiliterate rhymes with various degrees of artistry and mesmerized listeners around the world.  For white middle class fans in the suburbs listening to these rhythmic rhymes was a sonic excursion into a strange forbidden menagerie populated by exotic others, but for far too many young blacks it was “the truth.”

However some young black men who grew up in the hood around thug life rose above their environment through setting high goals for themselves and working like hell to achieve them.    Richard Sherman is an excellent case in point.  Although he grew up in the heart of the hood in LA, he became a serious student –athlete who graduated from Stanford, one of the world’s most prestigious universities where he was a star on the football team.  Now he is the most feared and highly paid corner backs in the cornerbacks in the NFL.  After a playoff win last year that put them one game away from the Super Bowl he engaged in a bit of animated trash talking with a San Francisco wide receiver that almost caught the winning touchdown and it was caught on the microphone of a reporter.

White racist and paternalists of all sorts tried to label him a LA gangbanger, but he was having no part of the “thug” image that Marshan Lynch wears so proudly that when he heard Percy Harvin had been cut he tweeted “They cut my nigga!” And he threatened not to play in the coming game.   On the other hand Sherman quietly pointed out that he had grown up around thugs and knew them well and that he was nothing like a thug, that he was a Stanford grad, a great athlete and a law abiding tax paying citizen with no criminal record. Of course he is a big supporter of Russell Wilson, whom he regards as a great quarterback and fine person…which he is.  It is clear by his personal style, intelligence and easy eloquence that Sherman like Russell Wilson is headed for great things off the field and after football is but a memory

Richard Sherman at the White House
 Barack and Richard Sherman
 A Stanford Grad Setting his sights on the Future?

Recognizing the injustice done to this young man by his white critics in the press, many of the same scoundrels who tried to paint he and Michelle as “angry blacks who hate white people,” President Obama invited Sherm to the annual White House Correspondents Dinner and used his much maligned rhetoric in his comic routine, calling Sherman out by name and asking him if he was doing it right.  And when he invited the Seahawks to the white house to honor the team for winning the Superbowl he singled Sherman out to Sherman with a special recognition of his accomplishments.

I joke about Richard Sherman,”  the Presidnt said,  “but he grew up in Compton amid some wonderful people, but also gangs and drugs and guns.  His dad had to wake up before 4 a.m. every day to drive a garbage truck.  But because of his dad’s hard work and his family, and his mom, Richard ended up earning a 4.2 GPA in high school.  He won a scholarship to Stanford.  (Applause.)  He showed kids from his neighborhood that they could make it.  And if he seems a little brash, it’s because you’ve got to have attitude sometimes if you are going to overcome some of this adversity.  And the fact that he still goes back to inspire high schoolers for higher goals and making better choices, that’s all-star behavior.”

It was a great moment for Sherman and all black men in America who are trying to make their mark in some worthwhile endeavor.  As the often insightful Afro-America comedian Chris rock aptly pointed out: “Everything black people build niggas try to fuck it up!”   Hence Black Americans must make a clear choice as to what model of man we want our son sand sons in laws to be: smart upstanding productive black/Afro-American men….or destructive dumbass “niggas.”  To be or not to be: That is the only question!

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 To see Videos double click on links below
http://youtu.be/_uYvq_UYXnI
 Rusell Wilson interview with Howie Long
 ***********
Hooker Boy Films present Marshan Lynch Video
http://youtu.be/7ZkXs8ubGtI
Richard Sherman on “Thug Life”

http://youtu.be/7ZkXs8ubGtI

Dangerous Dumbass Niggas in the Hood
http://youtu.be/K1ZmNe8ojkE
A nice AfroAmerican community terrorized by armed thugs
Playthell G, Benjamin,
November 7, 2014
San Francisco, California

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In Suppressing Hong Kong Protestors

Posted in On Foreign Affairs with tags , on October 26, 2014 by playthell
Hong Kong Demnstrations II 
A Mass Demonstration in Hong Kong

 China is really aiming at the Elephant in the Bushes!

When China regained sovereignty over Hong Kong from British rule in 1997 – the city had been stolen by Britain and turned into a Crown Colony in 1842, under the terms of the Treaty of Nanking which ended the first Opium War – they didn’t envision the probability of the kind of mass demonstrations they are facing today; the implications of which spell real trouble for mainland China. Hence I would argue that the strategy employed by the Chinese Communist Party leadership in suppressing the “pro-democracy” movement led by students is really intended to send a message to the rest of China that mass demonstrations will gain them nothing.

In accepting the Basic Law, which amounts to a mini-constitution tailored for Hong Kong under which the city would be governed, the Chinese government announced a unique philosophy of governance based on a two tiered policy: “One Country two Systems.”  This policy was intended to reassure the banks and other financial institutions – the most powerful in Asia – located in the rich and beautiful sea side city that they had nothing to worry about from the Communist Party that ruled the mainland with an iron fist and promoted policies that are anathema to “free market” capitalism.

The Chinese rulers made it clear however, that there would be no attempt to nationalize the “private sector” that had generated so much wealth; indeed they would use it as an engine for generating foreign exchange and an instrument for financing business deals with the capitalist economies.  In other words they viewed the business acumen of Hong Kong as a boon to China’s paramount objective: to achieve a high degree of economic development and modernization in the shortest possible time.

China’s domestic and foreign policy is directed toward this aim. We can readily observe this in their policies on family planning as well as their foreign policy of strict non-interference in the affairs of other countries and their steadfast refusal to become involved in foreign military adventures, while building a formidable technological infrastructure designed to propel their economy into a dominant force in the 21st century, and a military machine that makes an invasion of China unthinkable!

The Chinese communist have shown a unique ability to tailor Marxist dogma to Chinese realities going back to Mao Tse Tung’s scrapping of a fundamental tenet of Marxist/Leninist analysis: that the industrial proletariat is the historically appointed class to lead the socialist revolution.  Instead Mao decided that in China, a quasi-feudal pre-capitalist society with no industrial proletariat to speak of, the revolutionary peasantry would assume the historic task of leading China to socialism. For Marxist this was like denying the theory of evolution to biologists; for the Marxist believes Marxism to be as scientific a method of analyzing the “laws of society” as biology is for analyzing the living world.  In fact, Frederick Engles – a biologist, close intellectual comrade and patron of Karl Marx – argued as much.

The adoption of a policy of allowing a bastion of unfettered capitalism to exist under the rule of a communist party was viewed as no less a heretical act by doctrinaire Marxist.  But as in the beginning the Chinese continue to shape Marxist theory to fit Chinese realities, rather than follow the Russian model of “dismissing reality when it didn’t fit our theories,” which the official ideological advisor to former premier Andropov gave as the major reason for the collapse of Russian communism.   I would argue that this willingness to adjust to reality and innovate is the major reason for the spectacular success of the Chinese Communist Party in converting China from a footstool of the western capitalist nations into a world power in just 66 years!   It also explains why they are still in power even as their would-be Russian Communist “tutors” have receded into history.

By any objective measure – i.e. free of ideological considerations – this is a remarkable achievement.  As I have written elsewhere, I believe the Chinese Communist Revolution is the greatest mass transformative movement in history.   However the Chinese Communist Party is now faced with an unintended consequence of their reclamation of Hong Kong, a spontaneous mass uprising demanding an unfettered democratic process where those who would rule over the people of Hong Kong must have the consent of the governed achieved through popular elections!

In the Basic Law governing Hong Kong agreed to by the Chinese government 19 years ago, the people were given the right to choose their officials through universal suffrage i.e. one person one vote. The present dispute centers around how the candidates will be selected.  The masses of people who have turned out in the pro-democracy demonstrations, led by Student Federation, just like the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee in the fight for Afro-American voter rights in the American south during the 1960’s, insist that the candidates who stand for office should be also selected by a popular vote like the US primary elections.

However the Leader of Hong Kong’s government C. Y. Leung, whose official position is Chief Executive and is backed by the Chinese government in Peking, views the matter differently.  Leung firmly supports the selection process now in place in which a selection committee appointed by Chinese premier Xi Ping will screen and pick the candidates for whom the people of Hong Kong may vote.  Ironically, despite all of the self-righteous chatter from the US State Department, this process resembles the “white primaries” that shaped racial politics in the American South which maintained “white supremacy” based on a legal racial caste system well into the twentieth century, in which black Americans could only choose between pre-selected white racist candidates.

And notwithstanding US denunciations of the Chinese interpretation of “universal suffrage,” the recent Supreme Court decision in “Citizen’s United” will increasingly have the effect of offering up candidates that have been pre-selected by the plutocrats.  Thus one could argue that in essence these two systems of selecting candidates represent a distinction without a real difference: Both are the antithesis of popular democracy. It took a mass movement to attain true universal suffrage in all regions of the US, in which blood was shed and lives were lost as a result of a collaboration between government and white terrorists, which bears a shocking resemblance to the goons now attacking the pro-democracy demonstrators in Hong Kong who appear to have covert government backing.

On Tuesday representatives of the Hong Kong government sat down with leaders of the Hong Kong Federation of Students to explore the possibility of devising a solution to the crisis.  Alas, based on the statements issued by both sides to the press at the end of their meetings they were like Jack the Bear, made some tracks but got nowhere.  CEO Leung decided to play past the powowaltogether and dispatched his second in command, Chief Secretary Carrie Lam, who offered the following statement to the press.  “”We should work within the system and enhance the transparency and competitiveness of the system as a whole.  This is a good opportunity and a meaningful dialogue. I hope the community will stay united.”

The student leaders made it abundantly clear that they weren’t buying what the government was selling.  Like all people who are about serious business Alex Chow wanted to establish a time table for reaching specific decisions.  To him this went right to the heart of the matter: deeds not words.   He asked: “Why did people come out? People felt like they had no choice. They had to come out and make their voices heard.”  Secretary Lam assured them that the government heard the voices of the students and added, “But no matter how lofty the sentiments, you must take legal means.”  This is evidently the party line issued from Peking because the Chinese Foreign Minister, Wang Yi, said almost the same thing to American Secretary of State John Kerry at a their recent meeting in the US.

However the Hong Kong students, just like the members of SNCC during Freedom Summer 1964, feel that the law does not address their just grievances and therefore they must petition the government for redress through mass protests by the citizenry.  The resemblance to the US student movement is uncanny.  For instance student leaders, led by their Secretary General Chow, even showed for the meeting with government officials dressed in black T shirts with a favorite slogan of SNCC “Freedom Now!” emblazoned across the front.

And like Afro-American students in the far more oppressive and murderous environment of Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Florida, South Carolina, et al – the entire southern half of the USA – the Hong Kong students are willing to pay the price for speaking truth to power. Lester Shum, an aide de camp to Mr. Chow, asked some poignant questions that went straight to the heart of the matter. “”Why are we willing to be arrested? Why are we willing to camp out for 24 days? Why are we willing to bear the risk of being tear gassed, smashed on the head with batons?   We just want the right for democracy.”

When Secretary Lam assured the student leaders that she was compiling a through report on all that has transpired since the demonstrations began, Mr. Chow asked “What concrete change will this report lead to?  Will it help lead to adjustment of the framework or the future direction of legislative council elections?”  His question went unanswered, and thus the stalemate.  However the students can garner some encouragement from the fact that four high ranking members of the government did meet with them to discuss their grievances, and it was broadcast live on television from an auditorium at the Hong Kong  college of medicine and many of the seven million residents of the city tuned in.

Yet when all is said and done the students did not achieve any of their demands from the government, all they got was hollow promises and spurious rhetoric. Hence when viewed in the light of present realities in Chinese politics I fear that the student movement is doomed to defeat.  If the issue was merely a matter of Hong Kong politics perhaps Peking could find a way to accommodate the student’s demands; it would be considered the price of peace.

But they will not make concessions to the demonstrators at the expense of destabilizing the mainland, which they justifiably fear would demonstrate to the billion and a half citizens across the vast expanse of China that government policies can be influenced by mass action.  That is the danger that Peking fears most.   They have witnessed the fall of the Russian Communist Party, and watched numerous well entrenched authoritarian governments all across the Middle-East collapse like paper tigers during the “Arab Spring,” and they do not intend to follow them into oblivion.

When we look at the major ally of the Communist Party in thwarting the popular democratic movement in Hong Kong, we find eloquent testimony to the enduring veracity of Lenin’s axiom: “politics makes strange bedfellows.”  For next to the Communist Party the folks who most want to crush the movement for a wider democracy through universal suffrage are the Hong Kong capitalist elites.  Consider the opinions of CEO Leung Chun Ying regarding true universal suffrage.  After making it abundantly clear that he had no intention of stepping down from his high office, despite student demands, and that he fully supported the committee method of selecting his successor, he offered some candid opinion.

According to the New York Times CEO Leung said: “You have to take care of all the sectors in Hong Kong as much as you can.  And if it’s entirely a numbers game and numeric representation, then obviously you would be talking to half of the people in Hong Kong who earn less than $1,800 a month.  Then you would end up with that kind of politics and policies.”  Shades of Marie Antoinette and Mitt Romney; these gluttonous cretins seem to always be the same wherever they pop up on the historical stage, which exonerates the insights and lends gravitas to CLR James axiom: “The rich can only be trusted when they are running for their lives.”

The Chinese communist understand this well as adherents to the communist vision of Marx, but they have made yet another deviation from classical Marxist dogma in their brazen collaboration with the class enemy in order to achieve a larger goal: maintaining the stability of Mainland China so that they can continue a steady march on the path to rapid modernization. Chinese President and General Secretary of the Communist Party Xi Jinping, who is considered the “Paramount Leader” – a title formerly reserved for the late father of New China Mao Tse Tung – is committed to the belief that in order for China to effectively carry out its modernization program the Party must be firmly in charge of the nation’s affairs. He has left no doubt that the Party leadership is totally committed to achieving their goals by any means necessary.  Hence when weighed against maintaining a stable disciplined society, crushing the Hong Kong student movement is no big deal.

 The Chinese are building a 21st Century Infrastructure
 Beijing_Capital_International_Airport_200908
American businessmen marvel over this Airport with high speed trains

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Playthell G. Benjamin

October 24, 2014

Turkey Fiddles While Kobani Burns

Posted in On Foreign Affairs, On War and Peace in the Mid East! with tags , , on October 9, 2014 by playthell
kobane Burns
ISISL’S Scorched Earth Policy

 On the Anatomy of a Bloody Quagmire

As I write, President Obama is meeting with his military advisors to discuss US strategy in the war against ISISL, which is on the verge of capturing yet another city and annexing it into their newly formed Caliphate under the ruthless leadership of Caliph Ibrahim – a radical Muslim theologian who regards himself as a soldier of Allah.   It’s a sure bet that anyone with an affection for puzzles, make believe, and games of self-deception would be mightily entertained by the proceedings when Barack meets with his war counselors.

It is obvious to any candid observer well acquainted with the realities of the Sunni Jihad in Syria and Iraq, and the Caliphate they have established,  in an area that includes land from both countries which they intend to extend from Damascus to Baghdad, that the present American policy will not work.  In fact, it is more than fair to say that in the fight with ISISL the US is working at cross-purposes with itself.

There are so many contradictions among the various forces fighting in Iraq and Syria that as the bullets continue to fly, the conflict will increasingly resemble a circular firing squad!  For instance the coalition that could quickly and efficiently wipe out ISISL would include Iran, Turkey and the Kurds, led by US airpower and intelligence.  Since they are the ones directly menaced these countries should supply the main ground forces, with whatever number of American advisors they require on the ground.

But President Obama has repeatedly pledged not to put “American boots on the ground” in any of these countries.  Furthermore identifying an effective coalition is one thing, while being able to forge a working alliance is quite another.  The problem in the present instance is that there are longstanding grievances between the various parties who would make up the coalition, and the kind of wise statesmanship based on realpolitik that the situation demands is sadly lacking.

Alas, since the United States has taken an ironclad position that Iran is our mortal enemy, no alliance can be made with them.  Yet it is the US that has repeatedly launched aggressive actions against Iran, who has no history of aggression against the US, while Iran and the US both share a vital national interest in destroying ISISL.  It is all too clear that eschewing an alliance with Iran is a shortsighted view of diplomacy that may yet prove disastrous, for the paramount US objective in the region is the defeat of the ISISL Caliphate.  Yet as I write the Jihadist forces are advancing on every front.  They are literally at the Turkish border.  However the Turks are content to park their tanks on the hills above Kabone in a show of force while ISISL wreaks havoc below.  Pleas from the Kurds for the Turks to engage ISISL and prevent them from taking the city have thus far fallen on deaf ears. In fact Turkish President Erdogan has said on record that he considers the PKK, the Kurds’ major militia that the US is now arming, to be just as much a group of terrorists as ISISL   The US formerly shared that view.

 Turkish Tanks cover the Hills
Turkis Tanks on Hill above Kabone
All Show and No Go

As of Thursday morning the Turks have refused to engage ISISL Knowledgeable observers of events in the region believe that ISISL forces will soon occupy Kobane because American airstrikes are ineffective in preventing it.  This is largely due to the fact that ISISL forces are now mixed with the civilian populace, which limits the use of bombs lest the US end up killing more innocent people and winning more recruits for the Jihad.

However the hesitation of the Turks is largely due to the fact that they do not wish to see the Kurds armed with state of the art weapons, because the Turks have been engaged in a long standing fight against the creation of an independent Kurdistan.  It also explains why the Turks have blocked the Kurds from using Turkish territory as a thoroughfare to ferry men and materials needed for the fight against ISISL in Kobane, despite the swelling chorus calling for them to do more in the effort to defeat the Jihadists.  But the Turks reply that they see no need to get involved in “a fight between two terrorist groups.”

Furthermore, the US’s stated objective is defeating ISISL but the Turks are also interested in defeating the Assad regime in Syria, which is not part of the US Mission, although the Obama Administration is on record as opposing that regime.   However by opposing ISISL, al Qaeda, the al Nuesra Front and any other offshoots of the radical Sunni Islamists, the US is an objective ally of the Assad regime who also oppose these same forces.  Hence when we consider the main US plan of action which is to arm and train a ragtag force of military novices called “The Free Syrian Army,” whose paramount objective is to defeat the Assad regime, there is not much room for optimism.

Lest we forget, the US spent a decade training the Iraqi National Army and equipping them with top shelf American weaponry, but in their first real battle against ISISL four divisions fled like terrified school boys and left all of their weapons in the field!  Those weapons are now part of ISISL’s arsenal. The question begged by this recent history is: What makes American military planners believe the “Free Syrian Army” – which it is estimated will be ready to take the field in a year – shall fare any better against ISISL forces?   One does not need a crystal ball to see the future here: Any weapons the US supplies to the so-called “Free Syrian Army” are destined to end up in the hands of the Jihadists.

This will make ISISL forces even harder to defeat as they become firmly ensconced within the territory they have claimed for the caliphate; which means that those tasked with extracting them could end up on the job for a long time.  In testimony before the House Committee on Armed Services on July 29th 2014, Dr. Stephen Biddle, Professor of Political Science and International Affairs at George Washington University, argued that there was little hope for an Iraqi “government offensive able to regain control over ISIL-occupied areas in the old Sunni Triangle.   Even U.S. Army and Marine forces with massive air support found these areas difficult to control before 2008; this goal will remain beyond the Government of Iraq’s reach for a long time to come. “

Referring to the statistical data regarding civil wars like those in Iraq and Syria Dr. Biddle testified to the committee “Wars of this kind are rarely short. Of 128 civil wars fought between 1945 and 2004, only one-fourth ended within two years. Datasets vary slightly with war definitions and other details, but most put the median duration of such wars at 7-10 years, with an important minority of conflicts dragging on for a generation or more.”  Hence when critics of US policy aimed at “eradicating ISIL”  refer to it as a new  “thirty year war,” such as longtime conservative pundit and presidential advisor Pat Buchannan, they are not just engaging in anti-Obama hyperbole.

In view of these grim realities the US appears to be trapped in a quagmire from which there is no foreseeable road to victory, and no acceptable path of retreat.  It is as if the entire Middle East is a giant quicksand pit in which US forces – like our dreams for a peaceful, prosperous, stable and pro-American region –  are trapped and slowly sinking.  Alas, despite America’s air strikes Kobane burns from ISISL’s fire while our allies the Turks – who possess a formidable military arsenal of almost 4000 tanks and hundreds of aircraft – fiddle away on the hillsides and watch the action as two “terrorist” groups slaughter each other.  In fact the blase Turks wonder what all the American anxiety is about.  “The civilians have all fled Kobane,” said a spokesman for the Turkish government, “there is no tragedy here.”

 

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Playthell G. Benjamin

Harlem, New York

September 9, 2014

 

 

Senator Warren is Right: Investigate the Fed!

Posted in Playthell on politics with tags , , on October 2, 2014 by playthell

Carmen Segarra

She exposed Fed’s unsavory relationship with Financial Industry

Was the Fed’s Relationship with Goldman Sachs Criminal?

The revelations of a former Bank Regulator with the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, Carmen Segarra, provides a shocking insider’s view of the unhealthy relationship between the nation’s top financial institutions – the Wall Street crowd that wrecked the US economy and sparked a global recession – and the Federal Reserve Bank of New York which is tasked with regulating them.  Ms. Segarra, a highly qualified lawyer who holds degrees from Harvard, Cornell and Columbia universities, and has also studied international law at the Sorbonne in Paris, has not only spilled the beans about shady dealings between federal regulators and the mammoth Wall Street investment banking firm of Goldman Sachs, but has charged in court that she was fired for vigorously pursuing her duties.

Usually these kinds of shady dealings are inside stuff, the kind of secret palavers that never enter the public sphere; hence should a whistle blower go to the press it’s a “he says,”, “she says,” dispute.  Ms. Segarra realized this, and took steps to negate that problem by secretly recording the meetings she had with her superiors.  When she recognized what was happening, that bank regulators were still looking the other way at financial mis-dealings even after the great financial crash of the Bush years – she went to the Spy Store and purchased a miniature recording device that was easy to conceal and recorded 48 hours of meetings.

Ms. Segarra recognized that these kinds of massive organizations, whether government bureaucracies or private corporations, enjoy the services of powerful legal firms, while the whistle blower stands alone.  When one considers the fact that taking such a stand means that one’s career in the industry is over because no one wants to employ a squealer, and the whistle blower is left with what they can get from suing the employer for wrongful termination, a process that can take years – which is the situation in which Ms. Segarra now finds herself now – it takes a person of heroic character to step forward with allegations of wrong doing.

However Ms. Segarra’s actions flowed from her motives for becoming a bank regulator.  Whereas many of her colleagues viewed their position as a stepping stone to employment in the banking industry, Segarra took the job because she witnessed the financial devastation of her friends and family as a result of the Great Recession resulting from the Bush Administration’s policy of non-regulation of the financial industry.

After the passage of the Dodd-Frank Bill establishing a new regulatory regime on the nation’s financial institutions the FED hired a new group of regulators to vigorously enforce the new regulations.  Ms. Segarra took one of those jobs in the belief that she could use her expertise to help fix our broken banking system. “I actually studied business law and regulation in law school.” She tells us.  “I co-wrote a law review article on Y2K [the millennial computer bug], which ended up being published. As a result of that, my co-author and I were asked to work on setting up the Y2K legal and compliance program for a bank. I discovered early on that I enjoyed learning about a law and immediately applying it, much the same way that I enjoy learning and speaking a new language.” She speaks several languages by the way.

Ms. Segarra goes on to tell us “as a general practitioner, I have worked closely with a wide range of laws and regulations that apply across the banking and investment sectors, as opposed to just specializing in one particular type of law or regulation. As a bank examiner, you get to use that knowledge and those skills to evaluate what others have built, and, if and when necessary, point out ways to improve them.”  However she would soon discover that there were obstacles in her path as she tried to do her job, and what was worse those obstacles were placed there by her supervisors, the very managers who were supposed to assist her in carrying out her duties – which was to put procedures in place that would help prevent another financial meltdown that could imperil the world economy.

She first noticed the lack of diligence on the part of FED regulators when she witnessed the Examiner embedded in Goldman Sachs make a statement that suggested the investment banking house was too big to be subjected to certain regulations they were charged with enforcing.  Shocked by the comment she later questioned her manager about it and suggested that this was a situation she should look into.  Instead of getting the enthusiastic green light she expected, the manager told her “you didn’t hear that.”  A regulator from the FDIC, which insures the assets of depositors against bank failures up to $250.000, was also present in the room and she asked him if he had heard the comment and he assured her that he did.

Since she was lured to the bank examiner’s job by their mandate to investigate and monitor the practices of those very financial institutions deemed “too big to fail,” which the government had just spent hundreds of millions of tax payer dollars bailing out of the red in order to prevent the total collapse of the banking system, which would have ushered in a depression worse than the 1930’s, she was appalled by the attitude of the embedded regulator at Goldman Sachs and her supervisor.

Segarra was to discover that even after the passage of Dodd-Frank, which the disloyal Republican opposition who controlled the House of Representatives refused to fully fund, many of the same old practices that had permitted the kinds of shady financial dealings which led to the collapse was still going on.  She would also come to realize that this problem was fostered by the close relationship between the regulators and the institutions they were supposed to regulate.  The FED’s well-intentioned but misguided decision to embed regulators in the institutions they were watching over had resulted in overly friendly relations with the top executives of those institutions.  And this led to a bending of the rules.

The extent of this cozy relationship had already been described in an independent 2009 report written by David Bind, a Columbia University professor of finance who had previously been a banker. Professor Professor Bind led an investigation into systemic problems that contributed to the financial crash; his report concluded that the regulators had failed to do their job of vigorously policing Wall Street to prevent them from engaging in risky or illegal activities.

Instead they had fallen into a condition that he calls “Regulatory Capture,” which resulted the bank  “Examiners” treating the banks like “a watch dog who licks and intruder in the face and plays catch rather than bark at him.”  Since the report had attracted so little attention Ms. Segarra does not seem to have been aware of it.  But based on her experience the professor got in right.

The evidence Ms. Segarra has compiled on her secretly recorded tapes amount to a smoking gun with finger prints and DNA samples on the handle.   It’s irrefutable!   We hear her supervisors try and discourage her from following leads regarding wrong doing at Goldman Sachs – some of it blatant.  For example she uncovered an acquisition in which Goldman Sachs was advising both sides for millions of dollars in fees, and the firm also had a large ownership share in one of the companies, in which her supervisor had a personal stake of several hundred thousand dollars.   Carmen Segarra correctly flagged this as an egregious case of conflict of interests.

This led her to interrogate executives at Goldman Sachs about their conflict of interest policy and found that they had none.  She thought this was incredulous, an outrage for a company that was conducting deals all over the world amounting to billions of dollars.  How could a financial behemoth with global reach not have a clearly defined conflict of interest policy?  If ever there was a situation that cried out for an investigation this was it!

Yet when she reported her discovery to her supervisor she was met with a lukewarm response bordering on indifference.  She was told that this was her personal “perception” of the situation and the FED arrived at conclusions on important matters by “consensus.”  She thought this was a ridiculous line of argument when the evidence of conflict of interests and the absence of any policy to deal with it was overwhelming.   When she said as much she was told by her supervisor that she was considered “arrogant” by higher ups in the agency, and that if she wanted to advance in her career in the agency she should learn to become a team player.  At which point Segarra asked outright if she was in danger of being fire for trying to do a good job.  The supervisor sidestepped the question but made it clear that she was on the road to nowhere.  And we hear it all loud and clear on the tapes!  Ms. Segarra was eventually fired, and she is suing the New York Fed for unjustified termination.

Now that the tapes are being made public there is a growing outcry for an investigation of how the FED operates and their relationship with Goldman Sachs. The outrage is reflected even in that voice of the Wall Street establishment, The Wall Street Journal, which has denounced the preferential treatment given to certain gigantic Wall Street firms by both the FED and the federal courts.  Carmen Segarra has opened a gigantic can of worms and provided us an unfettered view of what’s going down on The Street, which allows us to see the anatomy of a system that continues to produce  financial crises that devastate the middle and working classes while the investor class continues to get richer.

It is even more important that the federal regulators do their jobs honestly and efficiently now than it was before the crash, because if a major banking institution fails now the government has less authority to bail them out.  And as we are told in a New York Times article of September 30th 2014, it was the fall of Lehman Brothers that set the forces in motion that led to the world-wide financial panic.  What is clear in retrospect as we learn from the Time’s extensive interviews with major players in the government who decided not to rescue Lehman Brothers – Ben Barnake, Federal Reserve Chairman, Tim Geithner, President of the New York FED bank, and Hank Paulson, Treasury Secretary – is that they had the authority to rescue Lehman and made a political decision not to.

Having already received scathing criticism from the left and the “free market” crowd on the right for employing the resources of the US Treasury to rescue Bear Sterns, a private investment firm, Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae – two giant government backed mortgage companies, in 2008, when FED Chairman Ben Bernanke approached him about rescuing Lehman Brothers Paulson refused, telling him that he did not want to become known as “Mr. Bailout.”  However after the financial system crashed like falling  dominoes from forces set in motion by the fall of Lehman Brothers, Paulson did indeed become “Mr. Bailout.”  Hence it is frightening to learn from Ms. Segarra that it could all happen again because bank regulators are not doing their jobs.

That’s why we are blessed and highly favored to have an intrepid intellectual warrior and fearless defender of the working class and public interests such as Senator Elizabeth Warren, a former Harvard law professor – who is calling for a thorough investigation of the relationship between the FED, Goldman Sachs and other financial institutions.   It is one of the most important issues of our times and it should be thoroughly investigated.  Like Carmen Segarra, I too know honorable, law abiding people who were wiped out by the Bush Crash, including my sister Melba, a career educator and as fine a citizen as ever lived in America, whose life savings were ravaged!

Senator Elizabeth Warren

Elizabeth Warren

So I not only support Senator Warren’s call for a congressional investigation, I think she should chair it.  This would be a historical irony and poetic justice for those who torpedoed her chances of heading the regulatory agency she designed to regulate Wall Street bankers, now she’s baaaaack!  And she has returned in an even more powerful incarnation; at least as a government regulator the reactionary Republicans in Congress would have exercised some authority over her; but as the Senator from Massachusetts they have none!

We should also make this an election issue.  Let those who are opposed to an investigation into the dirty dealings of the avaricious plutocrats, and their unholy alliance with government shills, go on record with their opposition.  I believe their ranks will be thin!  Furthermore I think we should demand that President Obama appoint a special prosecutor under the auspices of a Department of Justice headed by a new Attorney General named Kamala Harris, the brilliant, beautiful, energetic Attorney General of California.

 

Kamala Harris

kamala-harris-45th-naacp-image-awards-01

Hopefully the next US Attorney General

She would be the ideal Attorney General to oversee such a historic investigation because along with Bo Biden, the Delaware AG, Ms. Harris has been a leading figure in investigating and prosecuting financial institutions whose wrong doing led to the Bush crash that caused so many Americans to lose their homes and life’s savings.  The lead investigator in this case would be Carmen Segarra and the Special Prosecutor would be former New York Governor Elliot Spitzer who was death on the Wall Street crowd when he was the New York AG.  Nobody knows those scoundrels better and he is a ruthless prosecutor.  This is my dream team….are you listening Chilly B?

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To Hear Carmen Segarra’s Secret Tapes Click on the link Below

http://youtu.be/9izXXWY3spA

Playthell G. Benjamin

New York, New York

October 1, 2014

Dead Men Walking!  

Posted in On Foreign Affairs, On War and Peace in the Mid East! with tags , on September 28, 2014 by playthell

Arab supporters of US against ISIL- Dead Mem Walking

Arab Leaders Allied with the US in Fight against ISIL

 Secular Princes and Powers are marked men among the Jihadists

Much is being made of the fact that the leading Sunni Arab nations have joined a US led coalition formed to fight and destroy the ISIL Caliphate that has seized control of large portions of the territory of Iraq and Syria.  Under the leadership of Caliph Ibrahim – aka Abubakari al Baghdadi – they have instituted Sharia Law in the conquered territory, which is larger than Massachusetts and devised a system for raising revenues by selling oil and ancient treasures on the black market.

They are estimated to have a treasury of a two billion dollars, and are prepared to defend the boundaries of the Caliphate with state of the art American weaponry seized from a fleeing Iraqi army.  This is no hit and run affair that is typical of terrorist groups, the leaders of ISIL regard themselves as pioneers, holy warriors establishing a 21st century Caliphate based on Caliphates of the middle ages, when Islamic civilization was the marvel of the world.

Caliph Ibrahim may be a madman but he is no light-weight; he holds an undergraduate degree in history and a doctorate in Sharia Law.  He is also a poet.  Before the US invaded Iraq he was an Islamic scholar and Imam; after the invasion he became a part of the Sunni resistance movement and was captured by US forces.  He was released after four years of imprisonment and turned over to the Iraqi government, who later released him.  But during his incarceration he met seasoned al Qaeda militants and was tutored in the techniques of terror.    Thus by the time of his release he had become such a committed holy warrior an American Army officer remembers him smirking and saying :”See you guys in New York.”  I bet they wish they had capped him now!  As the leadership of al Qaeda in Iraq was devastated, al Baghdadi rose up the ranks and eventually became the most powerful commander of the Iraqi insurgency.

 

Holy Warrior: Caliph Ibrahim of ISIL

 Abu-Bakr-al-Baghdadi-Al-Qaeda-Iraq-ISIS-400x330

 The Self-proclaimed “Leader of all Muslims”

 He has broken with the central command of Al Qaeda claiming they are too  passive and denounced HAMAS for seeking a cease fire with Israel, despite the shellacking they were taking.  Disgusted with what he precieves as the timidity of the Muslim world in the face of insult and injury from the western world and the transgressions of their Zionist agents, he went on to set up his own caliphate on territory that straddles Iraq and Syria.

The Islamic Caliphate of Iraq Syria and the Levant is governed by strict Sharia Law and practices from the  Islamic Caliphate of the 8th century’  Music is banned and all women are forced to wear veils – indeed they are flogged for “immodesty” and the mere suspicion of adultery, which could result in stoning if she is found guilty.  Thieves have their hands cut off, drinking or smoking are banned, and those who do not submit to Allah and their version of the Koran or profess a belief in Christianity, Judaism and even the Shiite version of Islam will be crucified.  ISIL has routinely destroyed many beautiful and ancient Shiite Mosques, which prompted the Leader of Iran to denounce them as godless barbarians promoting a fake version of Islam.

ISIL is the most vicious organization the Jihadi movement has produced thus far, being too radical even for al Qaeda!  Leaders throughout the Muslim world are terrified to death of them, and for good reason too. Caliph Ibrahim has declared himself the only true servant of Allah and ISIL is the only true Islamic society.  All the leaders of Muslim societies whether monarchs, military men or democratically elected representatives of the people are apostates who should be put to death.

Hence Ibrahim’s intention is to foster their overthrow and annex their countries into the Caliphate he is building.  And he teaches his followers that this objective is to be carried out by the same methods as those employed by the original Jihads that spread Islam after the death of the Prophet Muhammad in the 7th century, which were characterized by invasions of many countries and mass slaughters of unbelievers.  Beheadings was a common punishment for those who refused to convert.

Hence those who argue that he is not practicing “real Islam” have a difficult argument to make because Caliph Omar insist that he has gone back to the foundational practices of Islam…and it is they who are the apostates.  As an Islamic scholar it will be hard to discredit him in the eyes of the zealots who are flocking to his ranks.  And in any case the Caliph is not inclined to settle this dispute in polite theological debate; rather he has denounced them as enemies of the faith.  And he has declared that terrorism is the proper method for Muslims to deal with the enemies of Islam; there is no shame in their bloody game. That’s why they video tape their beheadings and put them on the internet.  Their intention is to terrify all who would oppose them and judging by the way the well-equipped, American trained, Iraqi national army fled and left their weapons in the field when they encountered them it is safe to conclude that their strategy is working.

Since it is their avowed intention to put all of the present leaders of Muslim countries to the blade, preferably lopping off their heads in public executions, it is no wonder that they have flocked to Barack’s banner in his campaign against ISIL.   They are literally trying to keep from losing their heads.  But they are all as skittish as cats on a hot tin roof, because by joining forces with the number one enemy of the Muslim world – given the history of US policy in the region this is an easy case to make – they risk revolts in their own countries.  This fear causes them to adopt more and more repressive policies in an attempt to ferret out any trace of radical Islam in the populace, which in turn drives more youths to radicalism…it becomes a symbiotic relationship.  Hence they have joined the US led coalition as an act of self-preservation.

Ironically, some of these countries have contributed to the rise of radical Islam, especially Saudi Arabia with their Wahabbist version of of the faith.  Lest we forget, about half of the Jihadist who crashed the planes into the World Trade Towers and the Pentagon were Saudis.  It was Saudi Arabia that gave a home to members of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood when Colonel Nasser turned on them in the early 1960’s, even commissioning Dr. Muhammad Guthb -the brother of Sayeed Guthb, father of the modern Jihad, who was hanged by Nasser in 1966 – to develop an Islamic Studies department at King Faisel University.  The ideas generated by the Muslim theologians in this program produced Osama bin Laden’s fanaticism and is a bedrock element of Caliph Ibrahim’s theology.

The fact that radical Islamist movements have received financial backing from rich Arabs residing in the countries that now make up the Arab contingent of the Obama coalition, testifies to the shaky ground on which these leaders stand.  They, even more than we, want to see the demise of ISIL and the Jihadist movement in general, because as long as the Jihadist are alive and well, the secular princes and powers that rule the Muslim world are dead men walking.  The problem for Caliph Ibrahim is that by declaring war on the entire world – following the logic of the Jihad based on his understanding of the mandate of the Koran which he believes reveals the will of God – he has made himself the target of a lot of big guns – even the Russians have announced that they are joining the coliltion.   Thus the Caliph has put himself squarely in the sights of laser guided bombs and computer programmed drones whose itchy fingered triggermen are anxious to get a shot at him….so he too is a dead man walking.

 

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Playthell G. Benjamin

Harlem, New York

President Obama at the United Nations

Posted in On Foreign Affairs, On War and Peace in the Mid East! with tags , on September 25, 2014 by playthell
68th Session Of The United Nations General Assembly Begins
Calling for the world to join the fight against ISIL

              

The Security Council Tackles the ISIL Menace

In an extraordinary session of the UN Security Council chaired by President Obama, the question of Islamic Jihadist terrorism – specifically the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant aka ISIL – and what to do about it was explored.  Due to the gravity and urgency of the matter, even governments that are not members of this omnipotent body were invited to participate in the deliberations if their countries   were menaced by Islamic Jihadists. After discussion and comment Resolution 2170 was passed by the Security Council.

The Resolution was drafted under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter, which authorizes “ACTION WITH RESPECT TO THREATS TO THE PEACE, BREACHES OF THE PEACE, AND ACTS OF AGGRESSION.“  The action that may be taken by UN member states is spelled out in articles 41 and 42 of the Charter which authorizes military action by “Land, Sea and Air.”   A document of nearly 5,000 words, the resolution is titled “Condemning Gross, Widespread Abuse of Human Rights by Extremist Groups in Iraq, Syria,” was passed by the Council and details a plan of action which addresses issues ranging from “Terrorism,” “Foreign Terrorist Fighters,” “Terrorist Financing,” and Sanctions against those who give financial support to the Jihadists, taking the unprecedented step of naming individuals in the text of the resolutions.

In an earlier speech before the UN general Assembly, President Obama declared “There can be no reasoning, no negotiation, with this brand of evil. The only language understood by killers like this is the language of force.”  This declaration will no doubt be viewed as self-serving apologia by many observers around the world, since the US is already bombing Syria without requesting the consent of the Syrian government.  Indeed the Iranians and the Russians have already called these attacks a violation of international law.

This fact, coupled with the long history of the US unilateral intervention in the internal affairs of other nations – over a hundred times in the 20th century – often overthrowing legally constituted governments to impose its will such as in Iran and Iraq, must leave many delegations wondering who is the greater menace to their national security – the Jihadists or the US.  Unfazed by this reality, and convinced that the horrors of ISIL are such that the motion of history is on his side the President declared a no holds barred war on ISIL.

After some opening remarks stating the reason for the Security Council session, President Obama turned the microphone over to the UN Secretary General, Ban Ki Moon, who laid out the dimensions of the problem.   At this top level meeting attended by Heads of State and Foreign Ministers, the various delegates spoke, giving their analysis of the crisis spawned by Islamic terrorism.   It quickly became clear that there is a multiplicity of views on the phenomenon.  For instance, while the US president only wanted to talk about the evils of radical Islamic Jihadists, the role of Israeli occupation and oppression of the Palestinian people was a recurrent theme among the other delegates.

For instance Christina Fernandez, the President of Argentina, expressed scepticism about the US approach to fighting Islamic terrorism.  In an eloquent impassioned speech suffused with frustration and bewilderment, she pointed out that the American decision to arm the so-called “Free Syrian Army” is just old wine in new bottles.  She recounted similar American actions in Afghanistan and Iraq, each time with a certainty that such actions would solve the problem of Islamic terrorism, but in each instance the Jihadists come back stronger.  She pointed out that the Taliban, Al Qaeda and ISIL was born of such policies.

Christina Fernandez: President of Argentina

Argentinian President

Asking Penetrating Questions

President Fernandez also pointed out that we really don’t know who the forces are fighting against the Assad government, and to arm them with sophisticated weapons might well result in a replay of past blunders.  She also pointed out that the Israeli treatment of the Palestinian people was a major recruiting tool for the Jihadists, and expressed the view that military power alone would not defeat Jihadism; only addressing the underlying issues that feed the movement with new recruits can accomplish this.

The Russian Foreign Minister reiterated this theme, and called for a deep analysis of the problem that would address the root causes of Jihadist movements.  Among the factors he cited for the dramatic growth of ISIL is the policies Israel imposes on the Palestinians.   Herein lies the problem for President Obama, he cannot honestly discuss the role of Israeli policies in the radicalization of young Muslims everywhere who are then recruited into Jihadist movements like ISIL.  Hence when the President passionately opines that the opponents of radical Islam must win the hearts and minds of young people in the Arab world it comes across as just so much hypocritical mumbo jumbo.

Thus we are once again confronted with the age old paradox, one man’s “terrorist” is another man’s “Freedom fighter!” To the Palestinians and their supporters the Israeli’s are the most dangerous terrorists in the Middle East, and they are by far the oldest; having seized their land by armed force and subjected them to a reign of terror for 60 years!  Yet while the US blocks all criticism of Israel in the UN, it supplies the arms Israel used to kill Palestinians who are virtually defenseless.   They also witness the US slaughtering Muslims everywhere under the banner or fighting tyranny, such as in Iraq and Afghanistan.  When confronted with these facts by radical Arab youths, their elders have no convincing arguments.

Their radicalized children see them as spineless cowards who have surrendered in the face of western aggression in Muslim lands, which they regard as disgraceful and wish to regain the honor of the Islamic world.  That’s why young Muslims of all classes are flocking to join the global Jihad.  Now the US is leading the fight against the ISIL Caliphate, the first Sunni state based on Sharia Law with a territorial base larger than Great Britain, which once ruled much of the world.   Given this fact, I wouldn’t bet the farm on Obama’s chances of “winning the hearts and minds” of radical Arab Youths.

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Alas, as I have pointed out in a previous essay, President Obama’s actions does not match his rhetoric, he has promised to destroy the ISIL Caliphate while quickly assuring the American people – who have demanded that he “do something” to retaliate for the Americans who were beheaded on the internet by ISIL executioners while essentially saying “fuck you pussy!” to the American President and people – that there will be no American boots on the Ground.”  Instead Mr. Obama has restricted America’s military actions to air strikes, intelligence gathering and drones.  But no military expert that I have heard  – and I’ve heard aplenty – believes that ISIL can be destroyed with this strategy: degrade maybe….destroy, not too much.

Given the fact that Barack Obama, like Jimmy Carter, is real swift on the cap, a genuine intellectual, there is no way he does not see the limitations of his program.  If I can peep the flaws in his game plan based on the limited information I can glean from public sources, it’s a safe bet that given the multi-billion dollar world-wide intelligence services that produce the intelligence “product” he reads at the beginning of each day, Barack can see it too.  Yet we have no reliable ground forces, without which it is impossible to destroy ISIL.  When Hillary Clinton and John McCain first suggested that President Obama arm the so called “Free Syrian Army,” the President called the idea “a fantasy.”

Now he has done an about face and announced that the  US will arm and train the Free Syrian Army  as a “moderate Islamic” force to fight both the Jihadist In ISIL and the Al Nusra Front and the Assad government in Syria.  The projection is that 8000 of these summer soldiers will be ready to take the field and wage a war on three fronts against seasoned combat forces armed with state of the arts weapons and employing a scorched earth policy.   I put their chances of success as being less than the chances of a snowball in a pizza oven!  So what’s the real deal here, why is Barack selling woff tickets to the world?

After pondering this enigma I concluded that he must be taking a page from the political playbook of Franklin Delanor Roosevelt, whom he is known to admire.  After meeting with British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and getting the low down on the Nazi’s, with whom the British were already at war, Roosevelt came away convinced that Hitler was a murderous mad man who must be stopped and the US had to enter the war to stop him.  However he was up for reelection and needed the vote of Irish Catholics to win.  But memories of their troubles under British rule were so fresh and bitter they would oppose any effort to save Britain, let alone go to war.

So Roosevelt lied to them in order to serve the greater goal of defeating the Nazi’s: He swore he would never send their sons to war in Europe….while all the time planning to do just that.  Since I believe Barack Obama is the most honest, humane and honorable man to ever occupy the Oval Office, a peacenik in his heart of hearts, it seemed to me that Barack had chosen a similar path and is prepared to send American ground troops if that’s what the defeat of ISIL requires.

However, University of Michigan Professor  Juan Cole, one of the world’s most thoughtful scholars on the Middle East and a careful student of American foreign policy in the region, suggests another scenario:

What if Obama is a sharper reader of the Middle East than his critics give him credit for? He knows ISIL is likely not going away, just as, after 13 years, the Taliban have not. US military action may even prolong the lifetime of these groups (that is one argument about Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula) even as it keeps them from taking more territory.  Don’t listen to his expansive four-stage program or his retooled, stage-managed John Wayne rhetoric. Look at his metaphors. He is telling those who have ears to hear that he is pulling a Yemen in Iraq and Syria. He knows very well what that implies. It is a sort of desultory, staccato containment from the air with a variety of grassroots and governmental forces joining in. Yemen is widely regarded as a failure, but perhaps it is only not a success. And perhaps that is all Obama can realistically hope for.

Perhaps Dr. Cole’s analysis in the present war will prove as prescient as his predictions regarding the Bush Invasion of Iraq.  Whichever scenario proves to be true we are in yet another war in the Middle-East; this time with cheers and well wishes from around the world, as none of the delegates at the Security Council meeting opposed Resolution 2170.

 

Now They are the Targets

ISIS Mass Killings

We shall see how they fare under sustained fire

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Playthell G. Benjamin

Harlem, New York

September 25, 2014

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