Aftermath of the Disaster

Terrified New Yorkers Flee for Their Lives!

 Irony, Rage, Denial, but Little Truth

As I awoke on this first Sunday after the great terror rained down from the skies over the nation’s Capitol, and the Financial Center of the world in lower Manhattan, I was greeted with rumors and rumblings of war. And as the day proceed the rattling of sabers became fairly deafening, drowning out any attempt at sober and objective analysis of both the possible causes of the Kamikaze like attacks on the World Trade Centers and the Pentagon, and what strategy the nation should now employ to eradicate those causes. Most disappointing has been the pronouncements of our elected officials and Christian clerics.

Both too often speak as if they are addressing a nation of little children or adult morons. The preferred rhetoric of the day abounds with simple-minded equations of those “evil men” who are out to “destroy our democratic Christian way of life” because they envy and hate our “American freedom and prosperity.” Even as enlightened and reasonable a man as Senator Charles Schumer came on WCBS TV and resorted to moronic arguments like “They hate us because we are free, because I can go to a book-store and buy any book I want” and – turning to the black woman anchor, a super intellectual lightweight – he said “they hate you because you don’t have to wear a veil.”

The question, put to the senator by the Afro-American anchor that prompted this torrent of propagandistic invective masquerading as wisdom was: “Why do these people hate us so, do they want to turn us into the Talibans?” This, as strange as it seems, is about the level of the discourse conducted by the talking airheads who control the mikes in the major media, whether radio or television. And, rather than take the opportunity television offers to speak to millions in order to raise the level of the discourse by calling for a measured response and soul searching about American policy in the middle east, the politicians and clerics have, for the most part, descended to the level of the media wags.

Yet the present crisis, which has forced the anchors to engage in extemporaneous conversation due to the many hours they are on the air covering unfolding events, has exposed how ignorant they are of world affairs as well as their moral bankruptcy. It is frightening to think that many people look upon these overpaid over hyped media personalities as well informed and ethical sources from whom they can gain wisdom about the world.

The awful truth is that many of these anchors have skills that are closer to those of an actor than what is required of a journalist. One News organization – If memory serves it is the Fox network – recently hired a third-rate blond actress whose career was going nowhere on the big screen to serve as a news anchor. While serious female journalists howled in protest, the suits at the network put the blond bubblehead on the air reading the news while displaying her shapely legs ala Katie Couric – that’s what your favorite news anchor does folks, just read copy by an anonymous author off a teleprompter. That she has been successful verifies the claim made by many journalists that it is more important for a successful TV anchor to be physically attractive and able to read news copy with the proper emotions than to develop crack journalistic skills and spend years learning about world affairs. Hence the sordid state of our present public discourse should surprise no one, for it is being conducted by morons!

However, the same claim cannot be made for our clerics. Among the ranks of men of the cloth who are entrusted with the spiritual guidance of our nation are charlatans like Jerry Falwell, and pious preachers like Wyatt T. Walker, and many who have extensive educations in philosophy, religion, history, and the social sciences. But most of all, for Christians, the canonical text is the Holy Bible. The New Testament, which contains the teachings of Jesus Christ, expressly forbids the use of violence, and instructs us to “Love thy enemy” and “Turn the other cheek.” Advice all too readily given to black folks suffering from centuries of horrid oppression, whether in the USA or South Africa, by the same white folks who are now whipping up the war hysteria.

I have heard one Christian cleric after another call for war against the Muslim terrorists with all the fervor of a medieval monk recruiting knights for the crusades – a term actually employed by President Bush. The teachings of Jesus – whom they all give lip service to – along with reason, are the first casualties of the nationalistic war fever that has gripped the nation. In fact, the orgy of self-righteous anger my countrymen are engaging in just now is such that it is dangerous to try and offer a reasoned argument based upon the Christian principles taught by Jesus. Indeed, in a flurry of jingoistic indignation the clerics have scrapped the biblical injunction, “Vengeance is mine! sayth the lord,” faster than the Lone Ranger could draw his gun.

It is not surprising that the clearest voices calling the nation away from this course of blind vengeance and setting forth arguments based on Christian charity and reconciliation have come from the African-American community. The first voice that I heard clearly calling for the nation to reflect upon its policies in the Middle East, and the Bush administration’s increasingly unilateralist posture in world affairs, was the Reverend Jesse Jackson who, despite the recent exposure of his adulterous affair, remains one of the clearest voices for Christian charity in governmental policies.

And the other was the courageous warning of the black Episcopal priest who spoke to the nation at the “Day of Mourning” ceremonies in the National cathedral. With all of the high and mighty congregated to express their anguish at the sudden attack on the nation’s centers of power, including four former presidents who are far from innocent of blame in the present tragedy, the compassionate Cleric admonished the nation not to become the evil they were seeking to redress.

Here in New York this Sunday, progressive black preachers long committed to the struggle for social justice through public policy informed by Christian charity – Herbert Daughtry, Calvin Butts, Al Sharpton, etc – called the nation away from blind rage and reminded us of white America’s long record of sinful treatment of people of color. These insightful clerics, who refuse to join in the national chant for war against the infidels, made it clear that the American government is not blameless in the disaster that has befallen our nation. That such an obvious conclusion may soon become grounds for the government to tap our phones and intercept our e-mails – scrapping the civil liberties that are one of the finest features of American civilization – is a true measure of the abysmal mess we are in.

However if the poet James Russell Lowell was right, that “Truth crushed to earth will rise again,” as Dr. Martin Luther King was fond of pointing out, then no matter how hard the official mythmakers in our government, pulpits and press try to deny any culpability on the part of America’s foreign policy establishment for the present disaster, the truth will out. And the truth is that American policies in the Islamic world – and the so-called Third World in general i.e. African, Asia, and Latin America – over the past century have created innumerable enemies with a passionate hatred for the USA.

For instance, between 1890 and 1932 the US military intervened in the affairs of third world countries 45 times. And since the close of World War II the US has conducted 20 armed interventions into the internal affairs of other countries, all of which were in support of anti-democratic forces. It is this disgraceful legacy to which the historian and lawyer Gerald Horne refers when he argues that white Americans have promoted a policy of democratic institutions for themselves, quasi-fascism for African-Americans, and fascism for third world countries.

The evidence is abundant and incontrovertible. To deny these fundamental facts is to eradicate the possibility of reaching the kind of understanding that is essential to developing a new world order that can foster peace and prosperity for all peoples. Hence it will not well serve the national interest to deny the history and present realities that so many others in the world are living or share as collective memories.

For instance, none but a Charlatan or an ignoramus can deny that the Islamic revolution, which began with the overthrow of the Shah of Iran, is a direct response to American policies in the region. The root cause of the revolution was the American decision to have the CIA overthrow the constitutionally elected government of Muhammad Mossedeh in 1953 and establish the Pahlevi dynasty – a group of greedy, dictatorial, murderers – to reign over the Iranian people as absolute rulers backed by American military might.

It is common knowledge to anyone who has cared to study the matter that torture was a standard tool for quelling dissent and maintaining the Shah’s stranglehold on the country. There was no pretense at democracy, yet the US government supplied the Shah with the most advanced military hardware, which he paid for with the oil wealth of the country, wealth that the Shah squandered as if it were his personal fortune.

But while the Pahlevi’s and their US sponsors basked in Hubris, the increasingly militant clerics of Iran, led by the exiled Ayatollah Khomeni, who would burst upon the scene like and old testament prophet calling for the death of “The Great Satan,” was quietly winning the hearts and minds of the people. And when the people rose in righteous anger fueled by a militant and redemptive brand of Shiite Islam, the Shah’s army, the best equipped fighting force in the region, proved impotent as the soldiers turned their guns on their officers.

Sadly, most Americans, who are terminally provincial, never heard of any of this until the Mullahs ordered their Muslim students to take American hostages. I remember well how, aside from the CIA operatives who the architects of this mess were, Middle East Scholars, and a hand full of progressive intellectuals concerned with international solidarity with the oppressed, most Americans were standing around completely befuddled, clueless. The dominant theme of the discourse among my fellow Americans at the time was: “What’s wrong with these crazy people, why are they doing this to these innocent Americans!” But to those of us who had been studying American policy in Iran the Islamic revolution came as no surprise.  Just as only the methods used by the terrorists of 9/11 surprised us, not that it happened; for that was predictable.  Yet most Americans were caught completely off guard.

Hence the dominant discourse in the aftermath of the present disaster is strangely familiar. The same mind-numbing ignorance and self-righteous bombast that characterized the mainstream American response to the Iranian revolution now colors the present conversation. And the incredible policy blunders that led the US to arm Iraq to invade Iran provoking a bloody war that Iraq eventually lost but not before acquiring advanced American training and military technology.

However, when the Iraqis decided to use their military might to reclaim a part of their oil rich territory – which Saddam Hussein calls “The fifth province of Iraq” – that the British colonialists had ripped off and renamed Kuwait, then placed under the control of a Bedouin Sheik whose vast oil wealth enables him to rule as a benevolent dictator, George Bush Senior, along with Dick Cheney and Colin Powell launched “Desert Storm,” supposedly to save these rascals!

The present conflict with Osama Bin Laden, and the pending invasion of Afghanistan to arrest him, is also the consequence of misguided American meddling. Ben Laden and the fanatical, super- repressive Taliban regime is a product of the largest CIA covert action since WWII, a two-billion-dollar operation which trained the militant Islamic forces – “ the Mujahadeen “ who were then called “freedom fighters” – in “urban terrorism” to employ against the Russians. Hence, if the terrorist who wreaked such devastating violence on Washington and New York were trained in Afghanistan, it is a particularly horrible case of what the intelligence community calls “Blowback”!

Finally, there is America’s long-standing policy of always supporting the Israelis in their struggle with the Palestinians. On Tuesday the Arab-American leaders who met with the President the day before, held a press conference at which they candidly addressed the issue of America’s apparent unconditional support for Israel as a major source of hatred for this country in the Islamic world. Although acknowledging the danger of being accused of anti-Semitism for speaking out on this issue, they never-the-less chose to speak their minds.

But they are not alone in arguing this point. A retired Admiral associated with The Center for Defense Information made the same point in an interview with former Daily News columnist Earl Caldwell, in a live broadcast on WBAI FM last Saturday. The admiral argued that there is no purely military solution to the scourge of Islamic Terrorism; only a solution to the problems that give rise to the terrorist – whom he said were “made not born” – can finally end this deadly plague. It was obvious to all who watched the television reports on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict that Arab parents were not going to long tolerate the steady procession of caskets bearing the bodies of their children, slaughtered by Israeli soldiers for throwing rocks. That’s why the suicide bombers came as no surprise to many observers.

Listening to the swelling howl for blood vengeance that now drowns out any attempt at a rational and honest discussion of the issues surrounding the most-deadly terrorist attack in US history, I fear for the future of my children. With one child living in an area where there is a major concentration of military installations, and another dwelling in the shadow of nuclear reactors, a quiet but persistent terror creeps into my soul, and I long to find the voice that could conjure the words powerful enough to turn this nation away from the path of death and destruction, and study war no more. I wish for the language that could convince my irate countrymen that now is the time for diplomacy not bombs! For if history teaches us anything it is that violence begets more violence.

Sadly, since the arrogance of the largely Anglo-Saxon white male elite who still own and run this country knows no bounds, they will more than likely rush head long into the abyss and rain bombs on many thousands of innocent people – and increasingly we hear a rising call for nuclear weapons. To claim that this is a Christian response is blasphemy; to confuse it with wisdom is pitiable self-deception, to declare it just is a vainglorious lie! And, like the poet said, “No lie can live forever.” Since no man or woman of the cloth has yet shown the moral courage to say “We have reaped what we have sown” – at least it has yet to reach my ears – like Thomas Jefferson, I fear for the fate of my country and “I shudder when I reflect upon the fact that god is just!”

Reaping what You Sow…

New Yorkers Struggling to Survive the Attack

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Playthell George Benjamin

Ground Zero, New York City

September 11,  2001

  • Orginally Published in The Black World Today

Our Refusal to Learn the Lessons of History…

        South Vietnamese Fleeing the Fall of Saigon in 1975

 Dooms us to Repeating Costly Mistakes

After carefully surveying the human saga, Dr. George Santayana, a professor of Philosophy at Harvard, observed: “Those who refuse to learn the lessons of history are doomed to repeat its mistakes.”  There has never been a nation for whom this axiom is more appropriate that the USA.  As I write the big story of the moment is the fall of Kabul, the capitol of Afghanistan, as the Taliban takes over the country.

One need only listen to President Biden’s speech at the beginning of the final , assuring us that the US retreat from Afghanistan would bear no resemblance to our retreat from Vietnam in 1975, to recognize that the US has learned nothing from history.  For even Stevie Wonder can see it’s SOS…same old shit!   Just look at the film…the South Vietnamese who had sided with the Americans in the war were storming the American embarkation point, holding onto the blades of helicopters as they ferried US personnel away, and crowds of Afghans are now holding onto US transport planes as the try to take off on the runways, in a desperate last ditch effort to escape the fate that awaits them at the hands of the Taliban.

When the persistent question arises, “how could this happen?” the routine answer is that there was “an intelligence failure.”  Of this there can be no denial.  However, the problem with this explanation is that few seem to recognize it is an intelligence failure that began over 60 years ago and has persisted ebbing and flowing like an ocean tide, with military conflicts returning in intervals like the theme of a bad song.  Alas, the US government, high on self-righteous hubris and fired up on the dangerous destructive fiction of “American Exceptionalism,” the misbegotten belief that “America is the essential nation” graced by God and destined to lead the world, traverses the globe attempting to pound the non-believers, the evil heretics, into submission.

It is this set of beliefs, which also holds the interests of US multi-national corporations sacred, requiring a pro-capitalist posture on the part of other nations, that has been the raison d’ etre for the continuous foreign wars that stains our history with the blood of peoples around the world who have suffered American interventions.  Hence the present disaster in Afghanistan cannot be understood apart from the history of US foreign interventions since the end of World War II, when the USA emerged as the most powerful nation in the world.

Armed with the awesome power of atomic bombs, a newly invented weapon whose unprecedented capacity for widescale destruction had been recently demonstrated by the horrible bombing of the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki – which many observers regard as a war crime since it was an indiscriminate attack on civilians – along with the most developed and productive economy in the world, the US elite set out to realize Henry Luce’s earlier prediction that the 20th century would be “The American Century.”

In order to achieve this Pax Americana, a post war world order where all roads would lead to America, just as they had once led to Rome under the ancient Pax-Romana, there was first the matter of nullifying the influence of Communism, which placed the US in direct conflict with Soviet Russia, who had been a critical US ally in the war against the fascist axis powers of Italy, Nazi Germany and the Japanese “Empire of the Rising Sun,” which sought to unite all of Asia under Japanese leadership. “Asia for the Asians” they cried, even as they raped the Chinese city of Nanking with unprecedented cruelty, while invading Korea and Vietnam.

Having defeated the Fascist powers in a grand alliance with the Soviet Union, in which the Russians had lost 27 million people, the United States now considered them the paramount obstacle to American global ambitions, keeping the world safe for US capitalism.  Hence the policy of “Containment” was hatched by US foreign policy wonks such as George Kennan, and put into practice by American statesman and bureaucrats led by the Dullies brothers, Allen and John Foster, who served as CIA Director and Secretary Of State during the crucial years of the 1950’s when the Cold War began.

Watching the world they were making, Dr. WEB DuBois, the most prescient American social scientist/ historian/activist of the 20th century, observed: “If the Dullies brother are wise men then God save our fools!” History verifies the gravity of Dr. DuBois’s remarks because the policies initiated by the Dullies Brothers led to Korea, Vietnam, the overthrow of Iranian democracy in 1953, the genocidal repression in Guatemala, support for right wing dictators all over the Americas and the world, from the murderous Sukarno in Indonesia, the Cuban strongman Fulgencio Batista, a corrupt American puppet whose oppressive regime led to a popular people’s revolution led by Fidel Castro – young idealistic middle-class lawyer who was radicalized by Batista’s nullification of an election won by progressives dedicated to ushering in a more equitable society that overthrew him, nationalized the vast tracks of land owned by the US based United Fruit Company which paid starvation wages, and began to build a socialist society in Cuba.

Had the US government stood up for democracy in Batista’s Cuba, there might never have been a revolution.  And had they embraced the revolution instead of automatically resorting to the “Containment” policy Castro would not have been driven into the waiting arms of the Soviet Union in an alliance for national survival.  If President Kennedy had not decided to try and overthrow the Cuban Revolution by supporting the corrupt racist white Cuban exiles in the misbegotten “Bay of Pigs” invasion, the history of US Cuban relations could have been entirely different and mutually beneficial, positive and productive rather than negative and destructive, as would the history of all the Americas over the last half century.

With the collapse of the Soviet Union in the last decade of the 20th century – the reasons for which are too complex to dissect here, but Vladimir Putin has called it “the greatest tragedy” of the last century – the world looked forward to a period of planetary peace free of constant wars and rumors of wars, with the horrible specter of nuclear annihilation ever hovering in the shadows.

Americans especially were giddy at the prospect of a “peace dividend” where the billions being squandered on maintaining a warfare state would be put to good use solving the myriad problems confronting American society.  And the military-industrial complex – a voracious monster consuming a large proportion of American treasure and intellectual talent, an unholy alliance between industry and the military that President Eisenhower, the Supreme Commander of Allied forces in Europe that defeated the Nazi’s, warned against at its inception –  would be put in check and eventually dismantled.

But this promise of a future free of perpetual wars proved to be a short- lived illusion.  For the policy of containing communism would soon be reincarnated as the “War on Terror,” an American effort to contain the spread of radical Islamic theology, whose growth was largely a response to odious American policies in Islamic countries that produced both the Islamic Revolution in Iran and the terrorist attack by Islamic Jihadist on America of 9/11.

Hence the present debacle in Afghanistan has deep roots in decades of American foreign policy that has kept the US mired in the muck of constant military conflicts, large and small, overt and covert, since the end of World War II.  The intellectual roots of the Afghan war can be found in the machinations of the policy wonks of the Project for a New American Century, that were installed in the American national security apparatus after Dirty Dick Cheney – Liz Cheney’s daddy – brought them into the administration of George W. Bush.

After the disastrous attack by Islamic Jihadist on 9/11, their hawkish theories became official US foreign policy, effectively replacing the more cautious counsel  of Secretary of State Colin Powell and National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice with the reckless imperialist vision of the likes of  warmongering wonks such as Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Perle, Bill Kristol, et al.

It was a view premised on the vision of a unipolar world with the US reigning as the only global superpower after the collapse of the Soviet Union, where the US could successfully pursue a policy of Pax-Americana – a new world order based on the prolific use of military power in pursuit of American objectives around the world – with Israel and Saudi Arabia playing pivotal roles in the containment of militant Islam.  The thinking that led us into the present hot mess in Afghanistan, a defeat more inglorious than Vietnam, can be clearly seen in a policy paper formulated in the Project for a New American Century.” 

Titled “Redesigning America’s Defenses,” it was a plan in search of a President foolish enough to implement it – I have published an extensive analysis elsewhere titled “How the Iraq War was Hatched in a Think Tank.” It will soon be available online.   They tried to introduce it during the Administration of George The First, Bush the Elder, but as a former head of the CIA, he understood too much about the realities of the world to embark on such a reckless adventure.  Cheyney and Donald Rumsfeld made their pitch for the ideas that would later appear in the PNAC policy paper when Colin Powell was Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff during Operation Desert Storm, whose mission was to drive the invading armies of Saddam Hussein out of oil rich Kuwait.

Cheney and Rumsfeld, both prominent members of the Bush Administration, wanted to use the conflict to topple Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq, but General Powell put the brakes on this blatant attempt at mission creep and uttered the now famous advice to President George HW Bush. Invoking the Pottery Barn Rule, he said: ”If you break it you own it.”  Pointing out that if the US took down Saddam, we would be responsible for putting Iraq back together again.  Wisely, President Bush listened to General Powell, rejecting the advice of the future founders of The Project for a New American Century, whom he and General Powell routinely called “The Crazies” behind their backs.

With the election of George Bush Jr. aka “Clueless George,” the Crazies got the opportunity they had been waiting for.  Dick Cheney, a founder of the Neo-Con think tank, was now Vice President of the United States, and placed in charge of choosing key personnel in the national security apparatus.  And, predictably, Cheyney chose policy wonks from his think tank PNAC.  After the 9/11 Jihadist terror attack on the US, Clueless George panicked and turned to them for guidance – effectively sidelining Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice.  And this resulted in the invasions that launched the wars in which we are finally ending in humiliating defeat a generation later!  Alas, looking at the photos of Afghans holding onto departing American military planes in 2021, is indeed like watching a rerun of the US departure from Vietnam in 1975.

            Attempting to Flee Afghanistan with Americans

A Defeated America Retreats 2021

 So, yes there was indeed an intelligence failure that led to our debacle in Afghanistan, but it began in the middle of the last century, when the American government began to believe that they could shape the nations of the world to conform to American desires through containment of undesirable movements, covert political subversion, and armed intervention into the affairs of other nations. There is a straight line from those decisions to now, albeit with some bizarre twists turns and cul de sacs.

Hence when the question of where things went wrong in Afghanistan comes up, the “intelligence failure” that led to the present disaster, I am reminded of a conversation between the great pugilist Sugar Ray Robinson and the Judge conducting an inquest after Robinson accidently beat an opponent to death in the ring.  “When did you know your opponent was in trouble Mr. Robinson,” asked the Judge.  To wit Sugar replied: “I knew he was in trouble when he signed the contract your honor.”

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

 

Playthell G. Benjamin

Harlem, New York

8/17/2021

 

 

A Random Conversation in A New York Park….

Exposes a Major Crisis in American Civilization

Of the myriad joys New York City affords its residents, the beautiful public parks scattered about the five boroughs is at the top of my list.  In densely populated Manhattan these well-planned public spaces reflect the philosophy of the city planners that designed them.  The most important of whom was Frederick Law Olmstead, the designer of Manhattan’s beautiful Central Park and its Brooklyn offshoot, the Majestic Prospect Park.  Olmstead’s paramount objective was to create beautiful public spaces in the heart of the evolving concrete menagerie of New York City, where Mother Nature could thrive, and the  haves and have nots could congregate and cogitate on equal ground.

I love New York in all its many splendored manifestations, the parks prominently among them.  Within these leafy arboretums I have communed with nature and conversed with a wide variety of New Yorkers, what the late David N. Dinkins, the first Afro-American Mayor of the Big Apple, called the “gorgeous human mosaic.” For here, within these forested and flowered sanctuaries,  wisemen and fools, highbrow ladies and streetwise shrews, princes and paupers, those born to the purple and the public projects, can meet without regard to one’s station in life.  Like the ever-insightful Black Bard Paul Laurence Dunbar who declared, “I never believed in aristocrats,” I value character infinitely more than class, and candor more than pretension.  Hence, I carry on lively conversations with all kinds of folk in the park.

Thus, I found myself in a strange argument with a couple of people that I was working out with in the park the other day.  One a black male, a splendid physical specimen who we shall call “Sepia Samson,” the other a Hispanic housewife putting in work to maintain her hottie status, both of them mid to late thirties intelligent New Yorkers.  We were having a pleasant time until the Samson announced: “Dr. Fauci is a criminal!”  I cannot remember what prompted his comment, but it shocked the shit out of me.  My surprise was prompted by the fact that I knew him much better than the lady, whom I had just met, because we had become workout buddies over the course of the past few weeks.

A level-headed personable entrepreneur and creative artist, who also works with children, I had come to view Samson as a thoughtful, progressive, young man.  Hence his pronouncement hit me like a kick in the head, because it is a point of view that originated among the far right-wing lunatic fringe of the Trumpanzee and Qanon cults.  Two of the most backwards, dangerous, racists, fascists, destructive movements in contemporary America. Since I do not suffer fools nor damned foolishness gladly, before I knew it I loudly declared: ”That is the dumbest thing I have ever heard!”  Since it was not only dumb but very dangerous; I saw no need to pull punches, absolute candor was needed here.  Sepia Samson was taken aback by my response.

It was obvious that nobody had ever spoken to him like that, because, among other things, he is a physically intimidating character.  But the relationship between us had developed to the point where he views me as a wise elder and mentor, so there was never any thought of any sort of violent response from him.  He knew that I had held professorships in history and Journalism, and had even read some of my writings, aside from the fact that I had been droppin science on Samson in weighty conversations about politics and science.

Hence, I expected him to reply with something like: “Well school me on it OG,” which is his informal name for me.  But to my surprise, he doubled down on his ignorant outrageous slander against Dr. Fauci, the humble and brilliant scientist who has led the nation – and much of the world – through successive outbreaks of deadly viral epidemics from Aids, to Ebola, to Saars, to Covid 19.  Bearing in mind that he did not know me well enough to be aware of the fact that I am a compulsive pedagogue, genetically programmed to fight ignorance everywhere I encounter it if I believe the fight is worth the effort, I decided to take it easy on him.

When he said with great indignation,” You ain’t never gonna convince me of nothing talkin to me like that!” I decided to take a different tack.  After all, I was the master teacher in the situation, and I have a cardinal rule: “If there is no learning going on…there is no effective teaching going on.”  Hence, instead of saying what I would have said if he didn’t matter to me: “I got the knowledge you trying to get it…so go on and a stay a dummy Mofo!,” I attempted to win him over by changing my pedagogical strategy.

First I hit him with some real old school rhymes from back in the chicken shack down home in Florida. Samson is an artist/producer in the Hip Hop game, who spits some witty rhymes over funky beats, so I thought he would dig it.  “Yo Dog!  Take a chill pill.  You gon still be my horse if you don’t never a race/ my Dog if you don’t never catch a rabbit/ and my Nigger if you don’t git no bigger!  I’m down with ya and can’t quit ya!  And befo I shit you I won’t even much fuck wit ya!”  That brought a ready smile to Samson’s face as he said “Alright OG.”

Then I explained to him that just because we were not in a classroom didn’t mean that he wasn’t in school, pointing out that Plato routinely taught his acolytes in an open garden, not unlike our surroundings.  I explained that when I shout at him during heated intellectual arguments, it was not to be taken personal, because my outrage was against the dangerous assault on reason and logical discourse that an argument innocent or contemptuous of facts represented.  I hated the game not the playa!

I demanded that he present the evidence for his outrageous attack on the reputation and work of Dr. Faucci, and when he pleaded that he didn’t have it with him, I told him he could e-mail it to me.  He then protested that the issue was not that important to him.  I told him the Covid 19 Pandemic and Dr. Faucci’s role in fighting it was one of the most important issues of our times, literally a life and death matter for millions of people.  And if he didn’t think that was important enough to produce evidence for his slander against the good Doctor he should just STFU!

Then Samson, strongly supported by the Hispanic hottie, vociferously declared that they had the right to their opinions!   Sooner or later, when people are unable to defend their arguments with facts, it always comes down to their right to free speech, which is accompanied by a grievous misunderstanding of the powers and prerogatives of the First Amendment.  I explained to them that the First Amendment does not apply to interpersonal relations, then I explained the difference between evidence and hearsay.

These are common misunderstandings, we can see this in Dirty Don tha Con’s absurd suit against Twitter, You Tube and Facebook claiming they are violating his First Amendment rights because they have kicked him off their platforms.  However, there is every reason to believe this is just another con by Dirty Don. For as First Amendment and Media Law Expert Frank La Monte, a Professor at the University of Florida, in Trump’s adopted home state, tells us:

The protections of the First Amendment are triggered when a public agency exercises governmental power to restrict people’s speech – what is known as “state action.” On rare occasions, private organizations can be considered “governmental” – for instance, when a private hospital or university is given police power to make arrests on its premises. But operating a video-sharing platform is not a “governmental” function – and judges have said so, unanimously.

Alas, we can also see this pervasive misunderstanding about the right to free speech in the burgeoning belief that one person’s opinion is just as good as another, regardless of the differences in qualifications.  Hence, while Sepia Samson and the Hispanic Hottie viewed the matter as a question of their right to express an opinion for which they had no qualifications, or could cite no evidence by qualified experts, I had ceased to care about their individual concerns.

For me, the important issue was that they were compelling examples of the extent to which certain malignant ideas have gained traction among large segments of the US  population.  These ideas are rigorously examined by Professor Tom Nichols in his insightful, learned, pathbreaking book: ”The Death of Expertise.”  Nichols a  Professor of National Security Affairs at the US Naval War College and an adjunct professor at the Harvard Extension Schoolsums up the present crisis in the sociology of American knowledge thusly:

For laypeople to use expert advice and to place professionals in their proper roles as servants, rather than masters, they must accept their own limitations as well. Democracy cannot function when every citizen is an expert. Yes, it is unbridled ego for experts to believe they can run a democracy while ignoring its voters; it is also, however, ignorant narcissism for laypeople to believe that they can maintain a large and advanced nation without listening to the voices of those more educated than themselves.”

As a professor at two of the world’s most advanced institutions of higher learning, Tom Nichols certainly knows something of expertise, and thus recognizes it when he is exposed to it.  Thus, he also recognizes the danger posed to modern civilization when it is ignored on a mass scale.  One clear and present danger is that a great nation can elect an odious buffoon like Dimwit Donnie Trump to the highest office in the land, and the most powerful position in the world!  To put a clueless dunce and moral cripple like Donald Dimwit, a New York real estate flim flam man, in command of America’s nuclear arsenal, a doomsday force capable of destroying the world, is irrefutable evidence of the existential danger posed by the epidemic of ignorance that presently infects our body politic.  It has the potential to become far more deadly than the Corona virus!

Alas, the elements of this crisis that may yet prove a terminal affliction for American civilization were all present in my workout partners in the park.  Disregard for expertise; inability to recognize or believe reliable news sources, relying instead on subjective social media sources that are unmediated by professional fact checkers; inability to distinguish personal opinion from objective truth; refusal to concede that truth objective is even possible.

The result of this toxic combination is the insistence that one’s uninformed prattled be accorded the same weight as learned opinion because it is “their  constitutional right.” The fact that no such right can be found in the US Constitution dose not faze them because they have never actually read the Constitution.  That these impassioned ignoramuses are undeterred by the absence of evidence for their beliefs is at the root of the “Stop the Steal” movement that resulted in the greatest assault on the US capitol since the British sacked it during the War of 1812.

The belief that the presidential election was stolen from Don tha Con by the Democrats continues to fuel a dangerous nationwide movement. This bogus claim persist in spite of the fact that has been rejected in 60 federal courts, dismissed by a Supreme Court whose Justices are largely appointed by Republican presidents, certified by Republican election officials in disputed states, sparked multi-million dollar law suits against lawyers arguing in favor of Trumps “big lie ” –  a tactic invented by Hitler’s Minister of Propaganda Dr. Joseph Goebbels  – and resulted in the disbarment of Rudy Guliani aka “Rudy Rotten,” a former titan of the legal community.

The embrace of a post truth anti-fact/science perspective, when combined with white supremacist ideology and anti-government paranoia – a malignant trend that has its roots in the axioms of Ronnie Reagan – “Government is the problem” –  gives rise to anti-rational fascist cults like Qanon, which is spreading like wildfire across this nation.  Given the fact that Americans are the most armed civilian population in any advanced nation in the world, many with weapons that should be confined to theaters of war, Americans shooting each other down in the streets over political difference is a real possibility.

In such a civil crisis, the chances of our multi-racial popular Democracy being replaced by a fascist plutocracy ruled by white supremacists become a real possibility.  Thus, Jefferson’s warning about the importance of an enlightened electorate to the success of democracy has proven to be not only insightful but prophetic. “A democracy cannot work with an ignorant electorate, because they will elect and return the worse people to power.”  Which explains the election and lingering devotion to Don tha Con.  But Jefferson issued an even more ominous warning, of which Americans should take serious note: “There never was a people who were ignorant and free, there never was and there never shall be.”

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

Playthell George Benjamin

Harlem, New York

September 26, 2021

 

 

 

 

Explain how I decided to come at him with some street rhymes, challenging him to present the evidence upon which he based his slander of Dr. Fauci.

 

 

When he began to bullshit about the source of his claim, I turned the fire up on his ass.  Then the Hispanic housewife came to his aid spouting spurious prattle.  Since she did not know me from Adam’s house cat I saw that it would be futile to argue with her.  So I just told her he was a grown man and was perfectly capable of defending himself and dismissed her.

 

  • However, as I listened to their arguments, I became quite alarmed. For here on bold display were all the major factors that contribute to the dangerous and increasingly deadly epidemic of ignorance emanating from the Republican right that gave birth to Qanon and the White supremacists movement that led to the attack on the capitol on Jan 6.  And what was most frightening is that it was obvious that they had no clue about the origins of their arguments and inept critical thinking.  This is an epidemic of ignorance in tandem with self-righteous arrogance that is more deadly that than the Covid Pandemic!

Trump Calls General Milley a Traitor?

Traitor Don and the General

Dirty Don is Unfit to Wash the General’s Jock Strap!

According to revelations about Donald J. Trump’s mental instability during his last days in the presidency published in “Peril,” the new book by Bob Woodard and Robert Costa, Washington insiders and Pulitzer Prize winning reporters on events in the nation’s Capital, General Milley was right to convene a meeting of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and discuss the procedures for launching a nuclear weapon and to point out that they should follow no instruction to initiate a nuclear assault on another nation without his okay.  The highly decorated General was also correct when he called his Chinese counterpart, General Lee of the PLA, and insured him that they were in no danger of a surprise attack from the US.

These actions might well have saved the world. And unlike the Republican Trumpanzees calling for President Biden to fire the General, I can speak with some authority on this critical question. This is because I possess special insights into the unspeakable horrors of nuclear war, and the recognition that it can happen, by virtue of a unique experience in my youth, one that few people in the world can claim.

At the early age of 18, when most young people are in high school preoccupied with trivialities like how to attract desired members of the opposite sex or winning a spot on their school’s cheerleading or varsity sports teams, I was stationed on a nuclear strike base whose mission was the atomic destruction of Russia.  Since I was a heavily armed member of the Combat Defense force, who were assigned to protect the nuclear strike force from Russian saboteurs, I enjoyed a “Top Secret” security clearance that allowed me access to US nuclear war fighting strategies.

Predictably, the gaggle of soulless charlatans, clueless clowns and feckless fools led by that cadaverous old reactionary buffoon Murder Mouth Mitch, and the shameless serpentine hypocritical closet queen Lady Lindsay, in the Senate, joined by ass kissin Kev in the House, have turned the Grand Old Party into the Grand Obstructionist Party, and betrayed the best of it’s traditions by slavishly doing the bidding of Dirty Donny Dimwit,  a mobbed up egomaniacal New York real estate flim-flam man with no discernible qualifications to fulfil the duties of the American presidency.

That Donald Trump is an unqualified amoral conman was apparent to all of his opponents who were pretenders to the presidency during the Republican primary elections. And they said so in no uncertain terms.  Even Marco Rubio, himself no pillar of virtue, denounced Don as a Con.  And Jeb Bush, who knows a thing or two about governing, predicted: “Donald Trump is a chaos candidate, and he would be a chaos President.”  But all this frank talk and opposition to what they universally believed would be a disastrous Trump presidency evaporated like a snowball in a micro-wave oven when he emerged as winner of the general election.  Alas, party politics triumphed over patriotism, personal ambition over commitment to the public good, virtue was replaced by avarice and opportunism, altruism was snuffed out by cynicism, and magnanimity by malice.

It is fair to say that the accidental Trump Presidency – the triumph of the Moscow candidate spawned from a treasonous conspiracy that elicited the aid of Russian military intelligence  – has been an unmitigated disaster for American society.  As it has left our democratic system in shambles with angry Americans at each other’s throats fueled by a passionate hatred and intense paranoia.  It was a historic victory for Russian military intelligence operatives.

For although Dirty Donnie did not invent racism, sexism, xenophobia and avarice his tenure as President greatly exacerbated these toxic tendencies.  In fact, one could argue, that the Trump presidency unleashed the worse pent-up passions, dangerous psychological impulses embedded in the collective Id, that lay just beneath the placid surface of civility in American society.  Just as that great father of the Republican Party, Abraham Lincoln, the first Republican President, beseeched  Americans to heed the voices of “the better angels of our nature,” Dirty Donny Dimwit, the last Republican President, calls forth the demons in the worst of us.

Hence it is an obscene irony that Don tha Con, a soulless Bullshit artist, who like a deadly plague infects everything he touches, could garner the greatest number of votes in US history, exceeded only by his adversary Joe Biden, in his bid for re-election after being twice impeached by Congress!  It provides irrefutable evidence that there is a serious flaw in our political process that is comparable to a malignant cancer spreading throughout the body politic.  Three of the causes of this political malady, which may yet prove terminal to our increasingly fragile democracy, was recognized by Thomas Jefferson, George Washington and James Madison – the first, third and fourth Presidents of the US – at the founding of America’s democratic republic.

Jefferson warned against the dangers of an ignorant electorate, and Washington warned about the pitfalls of “factionalism,” i.e., party politics.  And James Madison, who is often referred to as the “Father of the Constitution,” by virtue of his contribution to the “Federalist Papers” – the blueprint that guided the architects of the Federal Constitution – offered the observation that is perhaps most relevant to this moment in our history.  Reflecting on the brilliant system of checks and balances in the political system they had constructed, Madison observed “without virtue” in public servants “no system of government can save you.”

Alas, as a black American I am compelled to point out that while singing the praises of virtue, all three men were holding my ancestors in chattel slavery, a system whose rulers represented the antithesis of virtue.  Indeed, it exposed the fundamental contradiction between the high universal humanist ideals espoused by these leaders of the American Enlightenment, and the realities of the barbaric racist, sexist policies they practiced.  Indeed, Frederick Douglass, the Great Afro-American abolitionist and premiere American public intellectual of the 19th century, called their celebration of liberty, justice and equality: “Brass fronted impudence!  A thin veil”  to cover up crimes that would “disgrace a nation of savages” in his famous 1851 Fourth of July Speech.

Yet, as badly flawed as they were, these prescient prognosticators fully realized the danger posed to a popular democracy when an ignorant electorate, driven by extreme partisan politics, is presided over by a president who is innocent of virtue, a moral cripple who suffers from “Malignant Narcissism and Paranoia” – the same psychopathology that afflicted Adolph Hitler.   In the Trump presidency we have the triumph of this toxic trifecta, and the Republic may yet prove vulnerable to the destructive forces it has unleashed.

The Trump presidency has exposed the flaws in our vaunted system of checks and balances, which is being tested in a way that it has not been tested since 1860.  Back then the country fell apart, descending into a civil war that was the most destructive in world history at that time.  The US Civil War was the first “modern war,” and no one at the time realized how deadly it would prove to be, even now very few Americans fully understand how deadly it was.

For instance, the present estimates of  Civil War dead stand at 620, 000, according to figures from the Civil War National Cemeteries site hosted by the Department of Interior.  However,  some historians of the War consider this total too conservative and put the death toll at 750,000 others put the total at over 800, 000.  Yet even if we take the most conservative figure the site tells us that this death toll is:

“Approximately equal to the total of American fatalities in the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, the Mexican War, the Spanish American War, World War I, World War II, and the Korean War, combined.  The Civil War’s rate of death, its incidence in comparison with the size of the American population, was six times that of World War II. A similar rate, about two percent, in the United States today would mean six million fatalities.

As horrible as this is, a nuclear war would render these statistics irrelevant!  And with Deranged Donald in possession of the nuclear codes, ranting like a mad man about the presidential election being stolen from him in a massive conspiracy involving Democrats and Republican election officials, despite having no proof and mountains of evidence to the contrary, even inciting a massive attack on the capitol by his fanatical Trumpanzee MAGA mob with bloody murder on their minds, it was obvious that this raging lunatic could not be trusted with the nuclear command.

This fact was also understood by America’s nuclear armed adversaries, and it was making the Chinese – who could never comprehend how such an incompetent buffoon could become America’s president – very nervous. Perhaps to the point of putting their nukes on high alert, missiles tipped with hydrogen bombs capable of reducing Washington and New York to rubble without a moment’s notice.

Doomsday!

All the experts on nuclear warfare such as “The Bulletin of Atomic Scientist,” believe that an accidental launch based on a misreading of the intentions of nuclear armed adversaries is the most likely scenario for the commencement of nuclear war…which they rightly call “Doomsday!”   In fact, they even have a “Doomsday Clock,” in which mid-night represents the end of the world through nuclear holocaust.  They place the hands of the clock showing the probability of nuclear catastrophe by how close we are to the witching hour.  At present the clock shows 90 seconds to midnight!

It is within this context that General Milley’s actions must be viewed and understood.  The question at hand was whether the US military should follow the orders of a dangerously deluded Narcissist should he attempt to start a war against some unoffending nation, squandering the blood and treasure of our nation in a dishonorable attempt to hold onto presidential power, or worse, launching nuclear weapons and ending the existence of life on this planet.

These were the dire decisions Deranged Donald might have made that General Milley was trying to mitigate.  After all, the conversation between Milley and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi revealed by Woodward and Costa,  when the speaker argued that Trump was “crazy,”  the General said, “I agree.”  And he acted accordingly.  Hence, he deserves nothing less than our heartfelt thanks and deepest gratitude for a job well done, for General Milley may well have saved the world!

The fact that the corrupt lickspittles who run the Trumpist cult that once was the Republican Party are echoing the putrid propaganda  of Don tha Con, provides indisputable proof that the Republican Party is incapable of governing the USA, the most powerful nation on the planet.  That they are willing to join a draft dodging coward, amoral grifter, and life-long Big Apple bunko artist,  in maligning a heroic defender of the nation, a career soldier, tells us all we need to know about the deep criminal corruption that motivates the contemporary Republican Party alas.

It is due to the epidemic of ignorance among millions of Americans, an affliction more deadly than the Covid virus, about the protocols for the use of nuclear weapons – these doomsday machines that can destroy human existence in a flash – that General Milley’s actions are not universally applauded by everyone!  Consider these facts.  All that is needed to start a nuclear war is for the President of the United States to call the head of the US Strategic Command and order him to launch the missiles.  That’s it folks.

The prospect of an incompetent clown like Trump, who openly wondered why nuclear weapons were confined to the role of deterrence, stupidly asking: ”Why do we have them if we can’t use them?” should scare the shit out of everybody.  But to the millions of white supremacist and bible thumping blasphemers, the barbaric hordes of white trash rabble who see Dirty Donnie Dimwit as their savior, the impotent promises of making losers like them “great again” trumps the probability of annihilation by nuclear war.  And for the “End Time” Christian fanatics, nuclear war is equated with the “Rapture,”   when the world will be destroyed by fires rained from the heavens and Jesus Christ will return to save the righteous, Don tha Con is their main man.

However, some members of Congress recognize the grave danger of having the power to launch a first strike with nuclear weapons in the hands of an ignorant deranged narcissist like Trump.  Two of them, Congressman John Lieu and Senator Ed Markey, both Democrats, sponsored a bill to take away this God like power from American presidents due to their fear of how Deranged Donald might misuse it.                                                                                               Senator Ed Markey and Congressman John Lieu

 

Titled “Restricting First Use of Nuclear Weapons Act,” (H.R.669/S.200) it was introduced in 2019 and reintroduced in 2020.  Although clueless or corrupt Congress persons have failed to act on this bill, elevating political expedience over national allegiance, the crucial importance of this bill to the survival of humanity is abundantly clear to the experts on nuclear war.

Stephen Young, who is the Washington Representative for the Bulletin of Atomic Scientist, offered this assessment of the Lieu-Markey bill: “Giving the president the sole authority to start a nuclear war – using one or even hundreds of nuclear weapons first — is quite literally the most dangerous policy possible. The explicit goal of that policy is to make global annihilation feasible in less than an hour. I wish I were exaggerating. I am not. While the policy is intended to serve as a deterrent, the reality is it leads to the current situation, where a fit of temper by the president could end the world. It is time to change that policy. The bill we are discussing here today would do just that.”

Young’s concerns were echoed by C. Thompson Williams, Director of the anti-nuclear advocates Beyond the Bomb:

Donald Trump is a walking, talking case for dismantling a system that relies so completely on the judgment, temperament and emotional state of one person. It is profoundly undemocratic and dangerous. This president has taken us closer to the brink of nuclear war than we have been in generations, and it’s time for Congress to urgently intervene. The Markey-Lieu bill, which would force Trump to seek a Congressional declaration of war before launching a nuclear first strike – is an important step toward reigning in the President’s ability to start a war that could end life on this planet as we know it – and buy our country some time to pursue other critical reforms that overturn the unjust, undemocratic U.S. nuclear system. It’s time to start walking back from the brink, and the Markey-Lieu bill does just that.”

Hans M. Kristensen, Director of Nuclear Information Project, for the Federation of American Scientist sums the problem up succinctly:

No single person should have the ability to launch a nuclear first strike. The Federation of American Scientists supports the effort to limit the ability of President Donald Trump or any U.S. president to launch a nuclear first strike without a declaration of war by Congress.”

Chances are that a casual survey of friends, family and associates will reveal an appalling ignorance of the questions raised in the essay. That has certainly been my experience and I hang with a very smart crowd.  When I attempt to fathom the causes of this abysmal and dangerous ignorance, I most often find that it is willful…what you don’t know can’t trouble you.  Alas that has been the case ever since I returned to civilian life from my stint in the Strategic Air Command with the awful knowledge that mankind not only had the power to extinguish all life on planet earth but had the plans and the personnel in place to execute it. 

Indeed, I have found most people unwilling to even discuss the issue of nuclear annihilation.  Yet their reluctance is understandable alas, because the horrid reality of nuclear war is far to ghastly to contemplate.  One of the first things our instructors told us in the Strategic Air Command, which at the time was America’s premiere nuclear strike force, was in the aftermath of a nuclear exchange: “The living will envy the dead.”  Imagine a world with no medical facilities, no electric power or water, all the grand edifices of our civilization reduced to radio-active rubble, the blood and guts of dead mangled bodies strewn everywhere, the poisonous radio-active black rains that will pelt the planet for days on end…the onset of nuclear winter because the massive debris churned up from the powerful nuclear explosions have blotted out the sun. 

Imagine all this…and more, even then you will not have fully imagined the extent of the horrors visited upon humanity in the aftermath of nuclear war.  Hence, I will suffice it to say, this is the fate General Milley was trying to save us from in the wise and heroic actions he took.  Yet, the Republican Party is accusing him of “Treason” and calling for This brave Chairman-Of-The-Joint-Chiefs of Staff to be Court Marshalled and “Dishonorably Discharged” from the Armed Services. 

This assault upon reason, truth and national honor  has no chance of prevailing so long as Lloyd Austin, a former General and Comrade in Arms, is Secretary of Defense, and Joe Biden, the father of a gallant combat officer, is President.  Hence kind of reckless unprincipled hyper-partisan prattle masquerading as “patriotism” is anti-intellectual junk food to be consumed by the hysterical untutored mob of air head Trumpanzees, in the hope that this will drive them to the polls and vote Republican. 

They expect this from the Trumpist cult despite the fact everybody whose head is not stuck up their ass can see that this Republican Party, the former Grand Old Party that devolved into the Grand Obstructionist Party , has clearly revealed itself to be not only a menace to American society – aka “Public Enemy Numero Uno,” – but a menace to the world!  A clear and present danger to the survival of the planet. 

General Milley, realizing that his oath of allegiance is to the Constitution not the President, and therefore he is not bound to carry out unconstitutional, i.e., unlawful  orders, took steps to save the nation and the world from criminally insane acts perpetrated by Dirty Don tha Con, a draft dodging traitor and twice impeached President. I am certain that when historians tell the full story of General Milley’s prescient heroism, future generations will rightly build monuments to honor this man.  And we, who may well be alive because of the actions of this genuine American hero, should rally around him and sing his praises while he lives.

 

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

 

Playthell George Benjamin

September 19, 2021

 

In Loving Remembrance of Sister Sandra

Sandra Horn

On the Passing of My First Born

A wise Counselor to the Youths…

 And tireless Worker for the Glory of God

Unlike the Bible waving “Evangelicals” who flaunt their religious piety like the flag pins worn by Republican super-patriots, Sandra lived the Christianity they boisterously preach but never practice.  All who knew her understood that Sandra’s commitment to the work of her church was the centerpiece of her life, she didn’t just talk the talk…she walked the walk.  Sandra understood that it is our deeds, not mere words, by which we will ultimately be judged.  Sandra well understood that, in the words of the old time spiritual, “Everybody talkin bout heaven ain’t goin there.”

Just as she understood that bricks and marble, golden alters, stained glass windows and cedar pews did not make a righteous church.  Her faith was of the spirit and was unmoved by the opulent trappings that adorned the temples of the high and mighty.  Indeed, she often wondered if emphasizing such material extravagance amidst pervasive spiritual poverty testified to their genuflection before the vices and vanities of Mammon, rather than devotion to  the commandment of Jesus Christ to serve “the least” among us.

That Sandra had chosen to follow this Commandment was self-evident in her choice of a church and the humble people she chose to serve.  This became immediately apparent to me when I accompanied her to church, a couple of days after visiting Louisiana as a Special Correspondent for the London Guardian, to report on the destruction wrought by hurricane Katrina.

I was so impressed by Sandra’s passionate religiosity and deep devotion to the work her church, that I ended up writing my impressions of what I witnessed and published it under the title “Come Sunday in Brunswick Georgia.”   I am not a devout man, and Sandra had more than once called me “an unchurched heathen” to my face, and though she did it with a smile she was only half joking, the depth of her commitment to the teachings of Jesus Christ was an amazing grace that touched the soul of even a wretch like me.  And before the day was done, it set my spirit a dancing.

I Testified: “Come Sunday things started bustling around the house early as the Christian soldiers arose with the sun, carefully laying out their uniforms so as to pass inspection with the lord.  This was the day that the pious saved souls lived for.  This was the day that they visited their father’s house and sanctified their souls in the body of Christ.  None was more dedicated to this ritual than Sandra… And on Sunday morning I groomed and decorated myself to the height of good fashion and escorted my daughter to the New Covenant Church.

          It didn’t take long to discover the high regard with which my senior daughter is held by the members of her congregation.  She was admired as much for her artistic abilities as her tireless work on behalf of the church. I would later be shown several billboards for theatrical productions she had presented under the auspices of the church.  She had served as writer, director, choreographer, and designer of the sets and costumes. 

I knew that by some mysterious alchemy she had managed to touch the sacred fire and become a poet, but I didn’t know that she had also become a multi-talented thespian.  And she is lauded for her talents in spite of the fact that she has no formal training in any of these arts.  Sandra is a true autodidact. Upon reflection I began to recognize that, like the great composer Johann Sebastian Bach, or the peerless painter Leonardo DaVinci she has found her muse, audience and patron in the church.  And that’s about as convincing evidence of God’s grace as I have yet seen.”

Sandra’s masterpiece, her Magnum Opus as an artist, was her musical pageant “From Africa to America,” a wonderful telling of the story of the trials, tribulations, and ultimate triumph of the epic African-American saga.  This work – which she conceived, wrote, cast, directed, costumed, composed, and choreographed, each of which represents a separate arena of artistic expertise in the theater – was  her artistic apotheosis.  It was for Sandra what Johanne Sebastian Bach’s magnificent B Minor Mass was for him, or Handel’s Messiah, or the arresting transcendental imagery of Leonardo’s Sistine Chapel: The were all inspired by the powerful spirit of God!

As I witnessed the service at New Covenant Church that Sunday morning, I discovered the source from whence Sandra’s inspiration sprang.  Although even the language of Shakespeare could not convey the full magnificence of my witness, I did the best I could:

There are many impressive churches in Georgia, grand edifices with steeples that reach for the skies, but Sandra’s church was modest, though well decorated; a church where humble working people could feel at home. Yet in spite of its unpretentious architecture, I’m convinced that if the spirit of God was anywhere in Georgia on that Sunday morning, she was in that little church in Brunswick. You could hear in the music, which was divine.  In this holy sanctuary the worshippers were bathed in the word of the lord as it poured from the mouths of passionate preachers, and the word would rejuvenate them and make them feel brand new, cleansed of the sins of this world… 

On this Sunday morning the sermon, which they referred to as “Praising the Word,” was delivered by Rev. Catherine Armstrong, the wife in the joint pastorate of New Covenant.  She wore her hair in a short “au natural” style, and was both bright and articulate as she delivered a straight forward message on the need for people to stand up and make a stab at achieving their dreams while seeking the lord’s help through prayer.  She was both erudite and funny, as she lifted the spirits of the congregants with her sermon.  Like the old-time preachers in James Weldon Johnson’s epic poems God’s Trombones, this preacher was a poet, “with all the devices of eloquence at her command.”  And she was preaching in just the sort of church the great novelist and folklorist Zora Neal Hurston had in mind when she said: “a preacher must be a poet in order to survive in a Negro pulpit.”  

Hence I could see clearly that this, New Covenant Church, was the rock upon which she stood in sickness and in health, the sanctuary in which she sought refuge when she needed a balm to heal her spirit, a sacred space to rejuvenate her soul.  It was here that she found her muse, patrons and audience that made her art possible.  It was here in the humble house of the Lord in Brunswick that the mystery of her gifts were revealed to me.

Aside from being a creator of plays Sandra was also an actress and songstress, as she ably displayed in her performance of the late great tragic artist “Lady Day.”  It was a measure of her self-confidence that she undertook the role of a woman so radically different from herself.  It is as if she heeded the advice given to the great American Actor Dustin Hoffman, by the greater British thespian Sir Lawrence Olivier.

Watching Hoffman drag himself on the set every day, barely able to function because he was trying to become the character by putting himself through the ordeals the character suffers in the movie, Sir Lawrence advised him: Why put yourself through such agony, why don’t you just try acting?”   Hence the ultimate test for an actors skills is to convincingly portray a character radically different from oneself.  That courage, that daring do, that willingness to tackle the difficult task and master it, when coupled with an effervescent personality as sweet and delightful as bubbling brown sugar, is the essence of sister Sandra.

When I think of my senior daughter the words of two great poets come to mind.  Speaking of his magnificent and noble Moor Othello, Shakespeare said: “For the elements so blended in him/ All the world could say ‘here was a man.”  With but a slight edit for gender and a quicksilver turn of phrase, this is a perfect description of Sister Sandra…”For the elements so blended in her/ all the world could see here was a woman!”  A loving mother, true friend, wise teacher, gifted artist, dedicated church member, and indefatigable laborer in the vine yards of the Lord.

The sublime words of William Cullen Bryant, in his poem “Thanatopsis,” an epic contemplation of death, he advises: “So live that when thy summons come/ to journey to that mysterious realm/ Where each shall take his place in the silent halls of death/ Thou go not like the quarry slave at night/scourged to his dungeon/ But sustained and soothed by an unfaltering trust/ Approach thy grave like one who wraps the drapery of his couch about him/ And lies down to pleasant dreams.”  Rest in piece my beloved senior daughter, none who knew your amazing grace will ever forget thee.  For you are the type of righteous transcendent spirit that may come to a people once in a century…if we are lucky.  Alas, we shall not soon see your like again…if ever.

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

Playthell George Benjamin

Harlem, New York

September 5, 2021

 

Commentaries on the Times

Editor/Commentator Playthell Benjamin

Chastising Christopher Hictchens after debate on Iraq War

 (Watch it on You Tube)

Statement of Mission

       Praising Saints

Unmasking Charlatans

Enlightening the Untutored Mob!

 Over a decade ago, when I left the New York Daily News, where I was an award winning Editorial Page Columnist and was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize in 1995, I composed an essay titled “Why I Retreated into Cyberspace.”  I addressed the reality that aside from the fact that there were not many opportunities for a left of center black columnist who refused to stay on the intellectual plantations that white editors – and all the editors at the kind of major publications I was routinely writing for were lily white – thought of as my proper place, I could see that pulp publications were declining in importance in relation to the various forms of electronic media.

Hence I began to seek out online journals to write for.  Over the past few years I have published many pieces on politics, culture and sports on The Black World Today, under the able Editorship of “Superb Herb” Boyd, an intrepid tribune of the people and one of Harlem’s cultural griots.   The online journal provided a home for the text I produced for my “Commentaries on the Times” series broadcast over WBAI radio, a 50,000 watt FM station on the middle of the dial in the greatest city on earth.  Some of these commentaries turned up on websites all over the world, and were quoted in print publications too – when they were not simply plagiarized ala Maureen Dowd, due to fuzziness or absence of copyright laws regarding content on the internet.

When I first started writing online blogs were unheard of; even now the word is not in the dictionary on my computer.  But in the intervening years this form of journalism has become respectable and often drives news reportage.  My blog and website will serve as the home for the texts from my “Commentaries on the Times,” which address all of the great issues of the day. They cover politics – local, national and international – as well as a wide range of cultural matters.

The occasional sports event also finds its way into my commentaries.  There will also be feature stories on a wide range of topics, original reporting and cultural criticism.  This will include book reviews, theater and music criticism, and films too.  And the website will be a repository for archival material.

However the paramount objective of all my labors is to supply an independent Afro-American perspective on the great questions of the day; and to make sure that voice is vigilant in its opposition to the muddled headed rightwing propaganda masquerading as serious and thoughtful commentary on the news.

When I was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize for distinguished commentary for my column in the New York Daily News, the nominating letter – which can be read in my unabridged bio – said the following: “With a perspective that comes out of the black experience, his column in the Daily News last year took on topics ranging from the celebrations of D-Day, which he assailed as Eurocentric, to gangster rap, which he denounced as a danger to American youths. He wrote about Foreign Affairs and the O.J. Simpson case with equal insight.   He took on demogogues of the left and right, both black and white, with fervor.” 

Hence the ultimate raison d’ etre for this blog /website is to expose and denounce the ideological duplicity and moral depravity of the rabid right, the “Army of God” types.  The American Taliban who would subject us to a Christian version of Sharia American style.  But as the citation from my Pulitzer nomination states, I have an extensive record of criticizing ideologues and zealots on the left also.  In fact, let me be unambiguous on this point: I detest ideologues and charlatans of any stripe, left or right!  So what you will get in these pages is the truth in so far as it can be ascertained from a rigorous review of the facts at hand.

That I am a man of the left is beyond question, and proudly so; you could say that I am a committed member of the Libertarian Left.   This is to say that while I am a democratic socialist and believe in a well funded public sector – with generous support for art and culture – I also believe that the role government bureaucrats play in this process should be limited to evaluating and dispensing grants.

They should have no say in the creative decisions of artist except to prohibit funds for projects that sow racial, ethnic or gender hatred, and this means that a distinction must be made in writing between edgy art and hateful propaganda.  And I have no doubt that such a standard can be clearly defined.  What Justice Felix Frankfurter said of pornography is also true of hate propaganda: I know it when I see it!

At this point the reader may well ask: “Why should I listen to this guy?  After all, the blogisphere is full of people writing their opinions.” Well my resume will speak to my professional qualifications and experience, and it can be read on the website.  But in the end the proof of the pudding is in the eating, and I have been right on critical issues when all of the leading pundits – mostly know-it-all white boys – were embarrassingly off course.

The present quagmire in Iraq is a case in point; hence the first commentary I will post here is a piece written on the eve of the invasion and now reads like prophecy; Nostradomus would be quite happy to claim this text!  And it will become apparent as you peruse my oeuvre that no pundit presently writing has a broader range of intellectual interests.

Finally, let there be no question about the purpose of the commentaries: It is to agitate for the ideas and policies that I believe represent the most just and humane ways of organizing our society.  In this endeavor my role models are Frederick Douglass, William Lloyd Garrison, Ida B. Wells, WEB Dubois, George Schuler and Harold Cruse. The incomparably eloquent and insightful Frederick Douglass stated my purpose succinctly:

History holds no more august claim than where there is no struggle there is no progress.  Men who profess to stand for freedom yet deprecate agitation are men who would have corn without plowing the fields, rain without thunder and lightening; the ocean without the awful roar of her many waters!   Where there is no struggle there is no progress.  The struggle may be moral, or it may be physical, or it may be both.  But there must be a struggle.  Power yields nothing without demand.  It never has and it never will!   Men may not always get what they pay for in this life, but they will surely pay for all that they get!”

I believe that truer words have never been spoken on the question of how progressive change occurs in human societies.  It is a statement that combines poetry and philosophical gravitas in a way that has rarely been equaled.   And it expresses the deepest sentiments of my soul.  In terms of my use of language in polemics against the rabid right, I shall again defer to one of our greatest moral clarions and intellectually pugnacious bullies for justice, William Lloyd Garrison.

On New Years day 1831, three decades before the outbreak of Civil War in the destruction of slavery, Garrison launched The Liberator – a newspaper that became a major force in bringing this cataclysmic event about that freed American civilization from its original sin – along with genocide against Native Americans – of slavery.

Garrison’s statement of his terms of engagement has been adopted in letter and spirit, whole soul and body, by this editor; and shall henceforth serve as my guiding light in this enterprise.  Like the great Novelist and essayist Ishmael Reed, I believe writin is fightin!  Garrison wrote:

“I am aware that many object to the severity of my language; but is there not cause for severity? I will be as harsh as truth, and as uncompromising as justice. On this subject, I do not wish to think, or to speak, or write, with moderation. No! no! Tell a man whose house is on fire to give a moderate alarm; tell him to moderately rescue his wife from the hands of the ravisher; tell the mother to gradually extricate her babe from the fire into which it has fallen; – but urge me not to use moderation in a cause like the present. I am in earnest – I will not equivocate – I will not excuse – I will not retreat a single inch – AND I WILL be Heard!”

 “Agitate! Agitate! Agitate! “

 

Sayeth My Spiritual Father Frederick Douglass

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 Playthell G, Benjamin
Harlem, New York
Summer 2021

 

 

THE TRIUMPH OF THE TALIBAN IN AFGHANISTAN….

Taliban Leaders in the Afghan President’s Office
It Was All Predictable: A Classic Case of American Folly!

Over a quarter century ago, when the US government thought it was a good Idea to arm the radical Islamic fundamentalists with advanced US weaponry, I thought it was a grave mistake and said so in a “Commentary on the Times,” which was then a series broadcast over WBAI fm radio in New York City, where the Commentaries series was created nearly 40 years ago. At the time, the Islamic Jihadists were called the “Mujahadeen,” and we were told they were righteous “freedom fighters.” Our government bequeathed this honorific on these soldiers of Allah because at the time their Jihad was aimed at the Soviet Union, their communist neighbor, with whom the USA had been embroiled in a “Cold War” since the middle of the 20th century.

In their struggle for world supremacy the white American elite formed alliances with all sorts of smarmy characters. Right-wing dictators were a favorite in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the islands of the seven seas. Hence today we see the US in bed with the murderous theiving Saudi Royal Family and the Brazilian fascist Bolsonaro, while still trying to reverse the peoples revolution of Cuba – where low life lying scoundrels and political reactionaries like Republican Governor de Santis, and Senators Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz would be preferable as leaders on the island.

It was this kind of twisted thinking that led to the argument that we should support and promote Islamic fundamentalism because as “people of the book,” all believers in the great “Abrahamic religions” – Christianity, Islam and Judaism – we have much more in common with them than the communist atheist of Soviet Russia.

Guided by this flawed logic the US government dispatched the CIA – “Community Improvement Association” in the view of deluded “American Exceptionalist” – who proceeded to arm and train the Islamic Jihadist in league with the military intelligence services of Pakistan, a nuclear armed nation whose government and military is riddled with Muslim fundamentalist. And we were assured these Muslim militants were “freedom fighters” who stood with us against the advance of communism in the Islamic world.

Alas, history has shown they created a hydra headed monster that begin with Al Qaeda and the Taliban, which morphed into ISIS! Once the Russians were driven from Afghanistan these forces turned against “The Great Satan,” the enabler of the Zionist in Israel, and Christian “Crusaders.” Who have been enemies of Allah since the days of the Crusades during Medieval times.

It was a classic case of folly, as defined by the two-time Pulitzer Prize winning historian Barbra Tuckman in her path-breaking book “The March of Folly.” Simply put, “Folly” occurs when a nation pursues a policy despite the fact that all the historical and contemporary evidence presages disaster!

Hence if the results were not so tragic for the innocent citizens of Afghanistan seeking to live free in the modern world- especially the women and girls – it would be hella funny watching all the know-it-all white pundits wringing their hands and wondering WTF happened? Alas, one need not possess the prescience of the Prophet in order to have predicted this disaster.   I will soon post an extended analysis on this question.

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A NOTE TO THE SEEKER OF WISDOM AND TRUTH: In trying to see things clearly, it helps immeasurably if your head is not stuck up yo ass!!!!!

Playthell George Benjamin
Harlem, New York
August 29, 2021

 

A Suicide Bombing in Kabul!

It Was Bound to Happen…

Chaos reigns at the Kabul airport while gunfire, and two blasts from suicide bombers, blow people apart as they desperately struggle to make their way into the building and onto planes parked on the tarmac, fleeing the ensuing terror and slaughters that will surely follow the American retreat and the collapse of the Afghan government and national army.

While we do not yet have an accurate account of the casualties, which are still being tallied as I write, thus far over 40 deaths and hundreds of wounded have been accounted for. And observers on the ground speak of “piles of mangled bodies” on the street, unfortunately several are of US Troops according to the Pentagon.

In a country teeming with Islamic zealots, each convinced that they are serving the will of Allah and dying for the cause is viewed as a glorious act, a suicide bombing should surprise no one who has been paying attention to the modern Islamic Jihad. It is a movement splintered by theology and ideology, and these differences have led to deadly confrontations between contending factions.

Aside from the deep historic theological difference between the Sunni and Shia adherents to Islamic dogma, there are fractures between the  heavily armed Jihadist: Isis, Al Qaeda, and the Taliban.  While the Jihadist movement is often treated as a monolith by western policy makers, in truth they are sleeping in the same bed but dreaming different dreams. Which appears to be the source of the present attacks at the airport.

Yet despite these internecine conflicts in the Jihadist movement, the sunni Islamic Caliphate of Afghanistan will now take its place beside the shite Islamic Republic of Iran as the world’s second nation to come under the rule of Islamic theocrats.  A country where Sharia, a crude medieval religious code, crafted before the age of Enlightenment in the west, will become the fundamental law of the land.  And if history as well as recent experience serves as a guide, it will be enforced with the fervor of religious fanatics certain that only they know the real-truth, Allah’s Divine plan for man.

Certainly, that is what a wide swarth of Afghan society believes, especially the urban intellectual and scientific elite, which is why they are hurriedly voting with their feet, as they hasten to the Kabul airport trying to hop a flight to anywhere in the west.  This is why the Taliban leadership, as backward and deluded as they are, insist that there is no need for the best and brightest Afghanis to flee, trying to plug the brain drain by pledging to respect human rights and protect the rights of women.

They argue that instead of being afraid the Afghan people should be proud of the brave Taliban warriors, who just fought a 20-year protracted war against the world’s most powerful nation and drove the foreign infidels from the mountains and fields of their beloved country.

However, as has been often noted: The devil is in the details.  And when we consider the fact that “Taliban” means “Seminarian,” or students of the Koran,  their claim that women will be treated justly under the strictures of “Sharia Law,” must be viewed with a jaundiced eye.  Alas, there are few citizens of the US who claim to be devout Christians, that are willing to live under a strict fundamentalist interpretation of biblical injunctions.

Who among us are prepared to take literally the Old Testament injunction to take “an eye for and eye, a tooth for a tooth”?  Or that women found guilty of committing adulty should be publicly stoned.  But that is just what the Taliban is doing in their interpretation of the commandments of the Koran and the admonitions of Sharia.

As the incidents of deadly violence increases, it is clear that the American retreat from Afghanistan is a hot mess; the cure for which nobody has an answer.  One need only listen to the mindless prattle of General H.R. Macmaster, Donald Trump’s second National Security Advisor, who was a field commander in two Gulf Wars, sounds really silly with his butt hurt  blather about how this is the moment that the US should go for the win, the kill, taking advantage of the disorganized state of the Taliban.

One does not have to be a learned military strategist, as Macmaster claims to be alas, in order to know that a recommitment of US armed forces in Afghanistan with the objective of “winning” a military victory, is the definition of Mighty Whitey madness!

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Playthell George Benjamin

Harlem, New York

August 29, 2021