The crushing defeat of Hillary Clinton in this presidential election was completely avoidable. It was avoidable if the Democratic Party (DNC) had not lost its way by favoring political cronyism ove…
The crushing defeat of Hillary Clinton in this presidential election was completely avoidable. It was avoidable if the Democratic Party (DNC) had not lost its way by favoring political cronyism over human decency. Democrats lost by becoming the party of elites rather than being the party of the people. Clinton’s nomination was nothing more than the DNC’s attempt to shove their candidate down the collective throats of the American populace. And for that they paid the price by dragging all of us through one of the most rancorous election cycles, the most chilling loss in my lifetime and the possible destruction of President Obama’s legacy.
Just to be clear I didn’t vote for Clinton and chose to vote Green Party with the goal of helping the Greens achieve at least 5% of the vote. (See why 5% matters) Many of my Democratic Party friends are angry because they believe that my vote and the vote of many other Progressives helped Donald Trump become President – Elect. This is nonsense. The blame for the Clinton’s loss lays squarely on the shoulder of the Democratic machine. While there are many reasons why I didn’t support Hillary Clinton (Clinton fatigue is just one) the following is a list of just three basic reasons why I believe Clinton lost to a weak Republican candidate who basically won the election by appealing to racism and xenophobia among whites.
- The Great Recession was the final chapter in decades long erosion of middle class jobs, particularly jobs that had always kept uneducated white working class Americans in the middle class. The Democrats supported the North American Free Trade Agreement otherwise simply known as NAFTA. They supported NAFTA even when evidence suggested that it would reek havoc among the nations most vulnerable: the non college graduates of the middle class. NAFTA not only sucked jobs out of the country it has crushed the spirit of many white Americans in swing states and added to the continued high unemployment rate among African Americans. Bill Clinton and by association Hillary Clinton were more associated with NAFTA than any other political figure in American politics, even though President Reagan was its originator. Hillary Clinton’s early support of the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) fed into the belief that American middle class is nothing more than cannon fodder for multi-national corporations. This election was white, non college graduating, middle America, class warfare payback! And yes, by 9:00 pm on election night I heard a collective elite “ouch.”
- While its easy to always blame President Obama for everything as the Republicans has so deftly done over the past eight years, he does deserve some blame here. For starters he failed to provide debt relief for the middle class while he bailed out the banks. While there is no doubt the bank bailout (along with the Detroit bailout), Bankers did Obama and by association Clinton no favors by adding salt to the nations’ collective psyche by giving themselves bonuses after nearly destroying the nation’s economy. Even if this was legal it was, as my mother would say, “bad form.” Many Christians are completely oblivious to the idea that debt relief is a long held Christian value. And because we are a nation with a Christian heritage, debt relief would have been in keeping with that tradition. Obama simply could have, in a “Rooseveltian” way earned support among poor middle class communities by taking hold of a long held Christian tradition. Who among Republicans would have opposed say the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops who have made public statements in support of Debt relief? By eliminating say homeowner and student loan debt would not only have been good not just good politics but the “moral thing to do.” Instead Obama did nothing to prosecute those guilty of wrecking the nation’s economy and surrounded himself with Wall Street Ivy League demagogues who are and always have been economically at odds with the American middle class. Alleviating middle class debt would have gone a long way in demonstrating good will and building a strong Democratic coalition, particularly in Wisconsin, Ohio, and Pennsylvania.
- The DNC has long since cut itself off from being the Party of the People. It is now officially the Party of Insiders. The Democratic Party appears to not be able to shake off its back room politic shenanigans as articulated by Fannie Lou Hamer in 1964. Quite frankly Hillary Clinton’s and the Democrats lost this election because they nominated Hillary Clinton as their candidate when, in fact they had a perfectly viable candidate in Senator Bernie Sanders. Sanders is a Progressive, Hillary Clinton is not. The DNC is not a progressive party but its as close as we are going to get as long as the “third parties” like the Greens don’t have national recognition. But as we learned from Wikileaks, in a moment of cronyism, the DNC had no intention of letting Sanders win the Democratic nomination. Instead former DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz and her cronies effectively did what they could to destroy Sanders’ candidacy. This has had the effect of souring Millennial’s view of politics and will require a tremendous amount of work to restore their faith in the Democratic Party and in the political process itself, if that is even possible. No doubt Sanders’s message of debt relief, supporting the middle class, fighting white supremacy, universals health care, moderate taxes to pay for infrastructure repairs and just human fairness would have resonated among young black, Latinos, Asians, and whites, the educated, and the dispossessed and as I argued would have beat Donald Trump in a general election.
So you see wining the election was simple. Trump spent no money, played by his rules, and had fun while doing it. For Trump wining was simple! The Democrats, while not imploding like the Republican Party are in much worse shape than the RNC. Why? They have a so called Republican in the White House and control both houses of Congress. No matter how you try to parse this Democrats have their backs against the wall. Without a doubt the DNC needs a moment of self-reflection about who and why they supported one of the most unpopular candidates in our nations’ memory. But as a theologian I know that self-reflection is one of the hardest of all human acts. I won’t hold my breath for the DNC to change its disastrous insider cronyism, they are built on it.
As a avid devotee of rap music I thought I would share with you my list of the Greatest Rap Groups of All Time. We all have varied tastes and opinions on music and artists and I had often wondered if a list could ever be developed. I certainly understand that fans of the music genre are notorious for debating the finer points of what makes for truly great rap. Some value lyrical flow, others clever writing and some are driven by the quality of beats. In any case when it comes to rap every person’s opinion matters and I hope to add my humble opinion to the conversation.
I am afraid some editorial decisions were required. For one I am randomly adding names to the list without regard to style, location or eras. So initially some of the great old school rap artists or the obvious choices might not appear initially. This allows some flexibility in introducing groups that I think everyone should have in their CD, Vinyl or MP3 collections.
My goal is to share my opinions about Americas other great art form–Rap! And hopefully I can learn a few things from you all.
I will add to the list over time. Please feel free to make suggestions of groups or individual rappers that you think Here are the innaugural ten:
A Tribe Called Quest
De La Soul
Jeru the Demaja
If you’re thinking Brittney Griner forget about it. Ora Mae Washington (b. 1898-d. 1971) was without a doubt the greatest woman basketball player ever and possibly the greatest female athlete, ever.
Remember all the hype that surrounded Brittney Griner, the 6’-8” phenom, after she annihilated the collegiate competition while a “student athlete” at Baylor a few years back? T he projected story line after the 2013 WNBA draft was basically how many “foollettes” she was going to dunk on by the All-Star Break. By all accounts she has certainly lived up to the hype and delivered. In her debut game on May 27, 2013, Griner flipped at least two wigs becoming the third WNBA player to dunk and first to do it twice in one game.
ESPN even attempted to boost ratings by plugging an April 2013 article titled, “Could Brittney Griner play in NBA?” This was serious talk folks and many including Mark Cuban thought seriously about selecting Griner in the NBA draft. But for all the hype Griner just averages a respectable 14 p.p.g. over a three year career. What was also interesting is the consensus thinking among pundits that no woman would ever play in the NBA in our lifetime. But what if I tell you this already happened? Well not exactly the NBA, but by most reasonable standards close enough. See this person played before the NBA was created in 1946. She played at a time when racial segregation was the law and social custom of American life.
This woman was so good that I am convinced that she would be as high as a second round NBA draft pick. Yes, a woman that good. The athlete I speak of was Ora Mae Washington of the Philadelphia Tribune of the Professional Women’s Basketball Association. Washington was, without a doubt, the greatest female Cager (A term used for early basketball players that used to play in cages…literally) of her generation (1930s) and every generation since. I dare say that her accomplishments on the court won’t be matched anytime soon.
Like the Monster Grendel, Washington didn’t just dominate the competition she annihilated the competition. Spanning a 10-year period (1930-40) Washington was the Black women’s basketball league’s leading scorer. She played center for the Philadelphia Tribune sponsored team for 18 years, losing only six games, all of which were to men’s teams. According to blackfivesblog.com, the “Tribune Girls” won 11 straight Women’s Colored Basketball World’s Championships, which meant, with no reasonable objection, that her women’s team was the best in the world. African American newspaper advertisements sensationalized Washington not as one of best female players in the world, but as one of “the best Colored players in the world.”
The Tribune Girls of Philadelphia, 1938. Standing (l. to. r): Marie Leach, Lavinia Moore, Myrtle Wilson, Ora Washington, Rose Wilson, Florence Campbell. Kneeling: Gladys Walker, Virginia Woods.
Washington was born in Germantown, now a suburb of Philadelphia. Largely barred from competing with whites due to racist Jim Crow laws black athletes, like Washington and their sponsors formed leagues of their own. Competition was plentiful as games could be found throughout black America. Sponsored All Black Teams, excluded from playing with whites, would be the seed for current NBA. Many of those early African American women pioneers not only played for the love of the game but as a means to deflate pseudo scientific theories of black physical and mental inferiority. Each game, each win, was not just a win or a loss, it was a repudiation, a vindication, if you will. Each game mattered.
Throughout her career Washington played the Center position for the Germantown Hornets and then the Tribunes teams. The Tribune team was sponsored by the black owned Philadelphia Tribune newspaper at a time when black owned news organizations were mainstays of the black community. With the help of men that rode the rails as Pullman Sleeping Car Porters news of black athletic accomplishments spread along thousands of miles of rail, from New York to Atlanta, from New Orleans to Washington during the 1930’s. Washington and others like her became household names in African American communities.
To better appreciate Washington’s accomplishments it should be understood that the 1930’s was a decade marked by deeply ingrained racial strife. The South was ruled under the vice of racial laws and social customs that forced blacks, no matter how well off, into a system that relegated them to second-class citizenship and maintained white supremacy. Further, the Great Depression that began in the 1930’s tore deeply into both black and white communities bringing out the best and worst in both societies. The Scottsboro Boys case is an example of the racial hatred and hysteria that dominated much of the south and other areas of the country during the Depression. Washington’s domination on the court was such that the games in which she played were seen as excursions away from every day problems of poverty, joblessness, and racism. Advertisements tag lines “They make you forget the Depression” were common. This is the milieu that Ora Mae Washington, a tall, long, and athletic woman made rags of the competition and managed to entertain the problems of Great Depression communities away for 48 minutes.
If her complete domination of the cage is not evidence enough of Washington’s athletic prowess, take the nine consecutive singles tennis championships she won between 1929 and 1937, and twelve straight doubles championships with partner Lula Ballard, also from Philadelphia, from 1925 onwards. Playing in the all-black American Tennis Association (ATA), Washington never had the opportunity to test her skills against reigning world woman’s champion Helen Wills Moody, who refused to play her because Washington was black. In other words, Moody was “scurred.” No African-American woman would play in the United States National Lawn Tennis Association until Althea Gibson broke the color barrier in 1950. Althea Gibson was a two-sport athlete and dominated women’s professional tennis including winning two Wimbledon’s but neither her nor the legendary Babe Didrikson Zaharias ever accomplished much at the professional level. Washington dominated day in and day out for a decade.
Yet, for all of her accomplishments on the court Ora Mae Washington is not in the Professional Basketball Hall of Fame. I think the time is NOW for her, and the inclusion of other Black Five greats, into the Basketball Hall of Fame.
I am sitting here trying to put into words how simply awful is Spike Lee’s new comedic satire “joint” Chi-Raq. So if my points come off as glib I humbly apologize. I would be remised if I actually called Mr. Lee’s new film a joint because that would be way too generous and far too sympathetic. Chi-Raq reminds me of my failed and embarrassing attempt as a young kid to pass off oregano as ganja simply because I wanted to look cool in front of a throng of girls and then embarrassingly gaging after a few puffs to the delight of my buddies. And like all embarrassing moments in childhood I am still trying to live that moment down.
We all know that Mr. Lee has had a hit or miss career when it comes to making films. His Malcolm X, Do the Right Thing, Inside Man, and Clockers, were masterpieces. But he has also failed miserably at times racking up a list of decidedly atrocious films: Girl 6, School Daze, Drop Squad, Bamboozled, and Get on the Bus, just to name a few. But his latest outing Chi-Raq, and I want to be frank here has got to be his worst and possibly one of the worst films I have ever seen in my life. Now to say that something should be called as one of the worst or best of anything borderlines on arrogance. Certainly Mr. Lee could accuse me of not knowing much about filmmaking and compared to a Martin Scorsese he probably would have a valid point. But I, like many of my readers have spent a lifetime watching and studying films and have learned a thing or two about what it takes to really make a great film. And Brothers and Sisters, this ain’t one of them.
Great films are not just works that have good subject matter and subject matter he has. Mr. Lee leaned on the history of Greek comedy and the current American urban violence to construct this narrative so he’s safe on this score. The film is based on Aristophanes’ Lysistrata, a Classical Greek comedy play in which Greek women withhold physical affection from their husbands as punishment for fighting in the Peloponnesian War (431–404 BC). Mr. Lee has never been want of good subject matter. He has, in previous films, relied heavily on things that matter to the black community: civil rights, race, gentrification, inter-racial and black on black love, color dynamics, and the exploitation of black athletes. His latest subject: Chicago and American inner city violence is indeed a worthy for our times. But filmmaking is more than just having great subject matter. Great filmmakers are masters of technique. They understand how their films look, sound and are meant to feel to their audience, something I thought he clearly nailed in Do the Right Thing. Great filmmakers learn that filmmaking involves the nitty gritty grind of good writing, lighting, cinematography, proper casting, set and costume design, and sound. All of these technical aspects must be brought to bear to enliven a Directors vision of an idea that is expressed through the media of film. In this case Chi-Raq is a masterful mess, a cataclysmic failure of epic proportions. You know the film lacks technical acumen when one person rolls out of one scene headed in one direction and then miraculously appears in the next scene. This shows a clear lack of attention to detail. In one scene he shows women in Tokyo joining the fight to withhold sex. But Mr. Lee never explains why women in Tokyo need to join the fight to end urban gang violence. There were so many moments in the film when I simply screamed bullsh**t that my fellow film goers began to think I was a Spanish Torero.
If you weren’t familiar with Lysistrata or Chicago’s spate of gang troubles the film is set in the inner core of Chicago, Illinois, one of the most troubled spots (Englewood) for violence, particularly black on black violence. Chi-Raq’s female sexual prohibition occurs after a black child is caught in the cross fire of two rival gangs: the Spartans and Trojans (Yes, you heard it: Spartans and Trojans—never should one accuse Mr. Lee of a lack of imagination). And there you have it. Naturally Mr. Lee then attempts to showcase how the holding back of sex, could in some way, highlight the power that modern day brown and black women have if only they were able to harness this power and realize group solidarity. Now you might be asking why is this a bad thing? It’s actually not. This is not a new idea and theoretically it has merit: the sexual occupation of female bodies by men. The problem is how Mr. Lee uses 118 minutes to unfold the nexus of this centuries old male-female dilemma.
Adapting Lysistrata to modern times requires skillful subtlety and a complete grasp of the stakes involved by the victims of crime, the perpetrators and all those that suffer from the loss of loved ones. The Greeks got it because the Peloponnesian War was the defining moment in Greek history, reducing Athens to complete subjugation and Sparta to unbridled domination of the Greek Diaspora. The original Greek play was neither meant to be in support of female power nor a call for pacifism but a call for an honorable end to the war. What honor can come from ending gang violence and the killing of innocent children? Comedic satire of any subject only works if one has an idea what is satire. I am not sure Mr. Lee has learned this over his career–Bamboozled comes to mind. There is a fine line between satire and propaganda, and even finer line between purposely comedic satire. Great filmmakers are masters of subtle propaganda even when they intend to smash us out of our seats. Mr. Lee should watch or re-watch Dr. Strangelove, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner and Chaplin’s Modern Times. In film as in life timing is everything, particularly in comedy.
Another area of the film that is completely distracting is that the film script is written in singsong; yes nearly the entire film actors rhyme their lines. Yes, rhyme! For such a meaningful subject this fails to do anything but trivialize the subject matter, but I did say earlier this was a comedic satire didn’t I? Perhaps this was meant to be appealing to younger audiences? One can only wonder. The film features some old Lee actors: Samuel Jackson plays Dolmedes (Dolomite rip-off) who moves in and out of the film adding narration to drive the picture from one major scene to the next. Dave Chappelle makes a cameo appearance and John Cusack plays Fr. Mike Corrida giving the film a dimension of faux diversity. Wesley Snipes plays Cyclops, a one-eyed rival gang-banger to Nic Cannon’s role as Chi-Raq. Snipes is not funny and just is simply miss-cast in this role. Cannon is credible but lacks the material necessary to allow his talent as an actor to really shine. Angela Bassett suffers that same fate as Miss Helen who champions the power of books. Ms. Bassett is poorly used and not fitting with her remarkable skills as an actor.
Now I know that many people will like the film but that is what film criticism is all about, diversity of opinion. It’s clear that early reviews of the film are mixed and tend to see the film as some type of artistic display and demonstrative of Mr. Lee’s late period work. But lets be honest with ourselves: in light of the police murders, the incessant gang violence, loss of life and the anguish that black mothers and sisters live with as their men die needlessly the movie is simply stupid. But if there is one thing positive to take away from the film: is that a ton of black actors had work.
Beasts of No Nation an American film directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga (Sin Nombre, 2009 & Jane Eyre, 2011) is based on the acclaimed book under the same title by Nigerian author, sociologist and physician Uzodinma Iwealaand. Beasts stars the acclaimed British-Afro actor Edris Elba as the Commandant and Ghanaian newcomer Abraham Attah as Agu–a boy given little choice but to become one of the estimated 120,000 child soldiers of Africa.
Beasts is a gut wrenching drama set in an unnamed African country being torn apart by the ravages of civil war. To set the stage of how devastating civil war has been to African families, the film begins with an exploration of the close relationship between Agu, his mother, sister, older brother, father and grandfather. Agu is growing up surrounded by the daily rhythms of life disrupted by war but safe, at the moment, by the protection of Nigerian Peace-Keepers. Agu’s family, like many families in Sub-Saharan Africa are not rich materially but wealthy in shared community and familial bonds. But life is soon devastatingly interrupted as both Government and Rebel Armies advance on their village intent on rooting out sympathizers of both sides of the conflict.
When war comes to Agu’s community, his mother and sister are able to escape but he along with his brother, father and grandfather are left to fend for themselves against the onslaught of two Armies making their way and gearing up for the final battle in the capital city. Government soldiers’ callously murder Agu’s brother, father and grandfather in a display of callous indifference. Agu manages to escape into the jungle but soon is captured by the Rebel Army. At this juncture Agu meets and is saved by the Commandant (Edris Elba). The remainder of the film is an exploration of the methods used, by the Rebel Army, to control the minds of the African children and adolescent boys for the purposes of exploiting their bodies as pawns in struggle of personal ambitions. At one key moment in the film, the Commandant reminds his 2IC (Second in Command) that no young child is worthless because they have eyes to see the enemy and fingers to pull the triggers. African mysticism, patriotism, mythology of war, ritual, the psychological warfare are used to bind the young soldiers in a cause for revenge and to be exploited in the Commandants quest for his share of the wealth. But more importantly the Commandant gives Agu the ability to revenge the death of his father and brother.
One of the most fascinating but under explored aspects of the film by Fukunaga is whether the child soldiers have come to accept war as a fait du compli, or whether there is hope to reclaim these young boys from the ravages of war and mental abuse. The ending (no spoilers here) suggests no particular answer to this question, except to say the film suggests that more than a few of the boys struggle with conceiving a life without war.
The casting of the film is superb. Elba has the cultural and historical genes necessary to pull off his role and his acting is credible. Elba was born in Newham, Essex, England. His father was a Sierra Leonean who worked in a Ford motor factory, and his mother, Eve, was a Ghanaian who had a clerical job. . The Sierra Leone Civil War (1991–2002) began when the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), with support of Charles Taylor’s National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL), intervened in Sierra Leone in an attempt to overthrow the Joseph Momoh government. The civil war lasted 11 years, and left over 50,000 dead. Elba as the Commandant portrays a complex character that is cruel, ambitious, merciful and above all else a realist. Abraham Attah (Agu) won the Marcello Mastroianni Award for best actor at the 72nd Venice International Film Festival.
The film opened in select theaters on Oct. 2015 amid controversy. The production company made a decision to release the film simultaneously on just a few theaters and primarily on Netflix, who paid roughly $12 million dollars for exclusive rights to the film’s early release. This is a direct threat to as many major theatre chains and their boycott, while at the end of the day is futile, is understandable. Netflix and other movie streaming services pose the greatest challenge to traditional over-salted–faux butter popcorn–and sticky floor theaters.
In any case Beasts of No Nation is a shot across the bow and should garner some consideration for a nomination for best actor (Abraham Attah) and possibly best picture. It’s streaming now on Netflix.
If you haven’t read the latest veiled corporate attack on #BlackLivesMatter you should all take a look at last weeks Pittsburgh Post Gazette article written by Jack Kelly an Editor at the Gazette. The article exposes the depth of American racism and reveals why it is likely to remain, at least for the foreseeable future, a permanent fixture in American society. Not only does the article show a deep lack of sensitivity for black life but illuminates the failure of our multi-cultural education system to properly educate Americans about the true role of slavery in American life. For those of you interested in reading the article I have created a link to the Gazette. The essence of the article places blame for the recent #blacklivesmatter civil unrest squarely on black people for failing to get over slavery. The Gazette chose, after reading my article, not to publish it in full length but asked for a watered down version that would be printed in notes to the Editor. I simply refused to do that.
So I have published my response here.
Here is what I wrote:
For many Americans, slavery ended with the surrender of the Confederacy at the Appomattox Court House in Virginia in 1865. But for the millions of enslaved and free black Americans the end of the Civil War was just a beginning to the quest for full and equal citizenship.
Slavery was not only a moral abomination it violated the very principles of American freedom inculcated by Thomas Jefferson’s historic words that “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
While some argue that slavery was a worldwide, ancient tradition practiced by many nations and that the United States was simply in step with the times, no nation, except the United States had so forthrightly professed the equality of man while enslaving others for profit. The cost to bring America in line with its own professed goals of equality cost millions of lives both black and white.
What is hard for many Americans to not only comprehend and to accept is that for the four million former slaves and the millions of free blacks the effects of slavery and the quest for full citizenship did not end at that day at Appomattox. Slavery was not only a physical cruelty, but also the lingering effects of racial attitudes, ideologies and policies that formed the basis of white supremacy brought devastating economic and psychological harm to generations of black people.
Historian Jim Downs stated that life for former slaves was so heinous that between 1862 and 1870 at least 1 million out of 4 million blacks died of malnutrition and disease when the Federal government abandoned them to their own fate. Out of this devastation former slaves picked themselves up and formed the basis of the black community. Left to fend for themselves blacks had to contend with American terrorist groups that sought to keep blacks from gaining economic, social and most of all political equality. On May 21, 1921 white vigilante groups allied with the Tulsa Police Department, and the National Guard destroyed the entire black community of Tulsa, appropriately known as the “Black Wall Street” named for its economic prosperity. For the first time in American history, airplanes were used to drop bombs on black homes and businesses. When the smoke cleared over 10,000 black Tulsa residents were left homeless. Restitution was never paid to the victims.
The attack on black life was not confined to violence. Black life was stymied in every direction. Take for example the American Medical Association (AMMA), largely seen as a paragon of virtue. The white dominated AMMA used segregation to not only to discourage and exclude black medical school aspirants but also to exclude black physicians from obtaining necessary hospital privileges for the better part of its existence. “A Snapshot of U.S. Physicians: Key Findings” from the 2008 Health Tracking Physician Survey, Data Bulletin No. 35 reported that three out of four physicians identified themselves as white, non-Hispanic, while just 3.8 percent were black. Today black health disparities remind us of the AMMA’s devastating attempts to limit black health outcomes by creating a shortage of black physicians who would have worked to address our community health issues.
African Americans are incarcerated at nearly six times the rate of whites. Emily Badger reported in May the Department of Housing and Urban Development settled with the largest bank headquartered in Wisconsin over claims that it discriminated from 2008-2010 against black and Hispanic borrowers in Wisconsin, Illinois and Minnesota. These glaring statistics and examples of present day discrimination are a reminder that while slavery and Jim Crow are largely a thing of the past its lingering effects still haunt our nations past, present and possibly future. For blacks the “past is never dead, or even truly past.”