The inexplicable & witless charms of Chelsea Handler

Does anyone else wonder at the inexplicable comedic success of Chelsea Handler? She’s good at interviewing celebrities without slobbering & groveling–something Oprah & Ellen could never lay claim to–but her wit is leaden, banal, & focused on celebrity gossip.

Her biography provides little clue to her success because while she came from wealth, it was not tied to the entertainment industry. Although it probably isn’t accidental that her fame crescendoed after a relationship with an entertainment executive.

She wouldn’t be the first witless TV host but what makes her not just leaden but particularly offensive is her relationship with Chuy Bravo (born Jesus Melgoza), her sidekick on the show who she calls her “little nugget.” Bravo is a Mexican-born little person who won the part not through association with Handler but by auditioning when they put out a casting call for a little person.

Bravo claims he doesn’t object to her humiliations because she opened doors for him when he was recovering from alcoholism, cancer, & near-homelessness. He says she taught him “to be humble.” As if an immigrant in the US needs to be taught that by a well-heeled celebrity!

Blacks, Latinos, Native Americans, & little people have to learn to eat manure if they want to have a career in entertainment. They have to play the fool, the pimp, the hustler, the drug dealer, the prostitute, the maid, the butler, the slave. Black families are portrayed either as wealthy professionals or dysfunctional because reality & respectful depiction are beyond the capacities of Hollywood. Anyone questioning that indictment should have watched the 2014 Oscars award show.

(Photo of Handler & Chuy from her show, Chelsea Lately, attests to the indignities he endures for fame.)

The Lone Ranger, Tonto, & the US Civil Rights Movement

One of the cultural achievements of the US Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s was a decisive end to the dominance of the cowboy & Indian genre on television. Cops & robbers shows replaced that genre, incorporating racist stereotypes of Blacks only slightly less egregious than Native Americans had been parodied in the earlier genre but perhaps more subordinate in the storytelling.

Burying the history of the genocide against Native Americans & the destruction & vilification of Black Reconstruction (which both occurred in the several decades after the Civil War in the early 1860s) required myth-making skills best served by art: paintings, photography, music, drama, literature, & eventually film. The continuation of this tradition is reflected in the endless proliferation of white savior films & in the cruel irony that Mark Twain is heralded today as an antiracist writer when he was overtly hateful toward Native Americans & drew his depictions of Black characters from minstrel shows using white actors in blackface to lampoon Blacks as stupid, lazy, inept buffoons.

Cowboy movies, which depicted a heroic, white supremacist conquering of the US western states, became a feature of US television when it emerged in the late 1940s. And since neither the Native American genocide nor Black Reconstruction were/are taught in public schools, these cinematic mythologies became the only source of so-called US history. These historic lies were not corrected until the Civil Rights Movement inspired new scholarship, particularly in Black, Native American, & Chicano studies departments.

The Lone Ranger, which ran from 1949 to 1957, was one of the highest rated shows on TV. The series depicted a former Texas Ranger & his Indian scout named Tonto taking on crime in the Old West. Tonto spoke in pidgin English & half sentences (not unlike how the slave Jim spoke minstrel-ese in “Huckleberry Finn”) & played subordinate to the great white masked hero. For those familiar with the Howdy Doody Show, Tonto was a version of Clarabell the Clown, Howdy Doody’s mute sidekick.

Native Americans, of course, found Tonto a demeaning character & so did viewers of Mexican ancestry. Because in addition to being an inarticulate subordinate character, tonto means “fool” or “stupid” or “moron” in Spanish (as well as Portuguese & Italian). It was so offensive to Spanish-speaking viewers that dubbed versions of the series changed Tonto’s name to Toro meaning “bull.” But even the name change could not salvage the character from humiliation.

The extraordinary thing about the series is that despite his crime-fighting prowess, the Lone Ranger was quite an unlikeable fellow with no personality behind that damn mask. It was a franchise that long-outlived its inscrutable appeal. So when the Civil Rights Movement wrote the obituary & dumped it in an unmarked grave, you would think everyone would be relieved it was laid to rest. But the Lone Ranger rides again & again & again in a thousand incarnations & even avatars: it has generated dozens of films, including animated films, & was not long ago considered for another TV series; video games; toys; novels; comic strips & comic books; & parodies & spoofs–though certainly not enough of the latter.

The most recent film attempt in 2013 featured Johnny Depp in blackface playing Tonto. Apparently the Disney producers hoped Depp’s facility with parody would bring new verve to a stinking corpse. The film bombed but it stands as testimony that cinematic depiction of Blacks & Native Americans remains white supremacist & not far removed from minstrelsy.

It probably isn’t irrelevant that Fran Striker, the original creator of the Lone Ranger & Tonto in 1932, was a biographer of Stephen Foster, the famous songwriter of minstrel music.

This photo is the cover from a collection of short stories by Sherman Alexie, a Native American writer who exposes & parodies how racist representations in popular culture have replaced reality with minstrel-inspired history.

What’s behind conflict over Al-Aqsa Mosque in East Jerusalem?

The mantric explanation for conflict between Palestinians & Israel over the Al-Aqsa Mosque in East Jerusalem is religious: that is, that the site is the third holiest in Islamic tradition & the holiest in Judaic tradition since it is thought to be the original site of Solomon’s Temple said to have housed the Ark of the Covenant. It also plays a role in Christian tradition since the Mosque was taken over by Crusaders (1099) & used as horse stables & headquarters for Templar Knights.

Let’s get real here! There is no archaeological evidence it was the site of Solomon’s Temple from 3,000 years ago despite repeated excavations. They once found a few shards & animal bones dated to the 8th century BCE but this would hardly be evidence of anything other than human life. Even if it was the site of the temple, this would not give Judaism a historic or religious claim any more than those of Celtic heritage can lay claim to Austria or the Rhineland where they originated 3,000 years ago.

There was an actual temple on the site between 516 BCE & 70 CE, when the Romans destroyed it. The Al-Aqsa Mosque has been there since 705 CE–nearly 700 years prior to the Vatican city state in Rome. The dispute around Al-Aqsa is part of Zionist attempts to create a religious heritage that does not exist to justify destruction of the mosque.

When Israel was established in 1948, East Jerusalem (where Al-Aqsa is located) came under the control of Jordan but was annexed & occupied by Israel in the 1967 Six-Day War. After the 1967 war, Zionism appropriated Biblical prophecies about the building of a third temple under the leadership of Rabbi Shlomo Goren, the chief rabbi of the Israeli military & later chief rabbi of Israel. In 1983, Goren & several other rabbis claimed to have seen the Ark of the Covenant in an excavation under the mosque. The Zionist regime had the good sense to seal the chamber with cement so no further inspections could make fools of their right-wing rabbinical ideologues.

Constructing a third temple requires the destruction of Al-Aqsa but the real intention of course is to destroy all Palestinian claims to Jerusalem. To accomplish this, Zionist myth-makers began courting allies among right-wing Christian dispensational Evangelicals with an Apocalyptic theology. This religious tradition takes literally Biblical prophecies that the second coming of Jesus will be heralded by the reestablishment of Israel & the construction of a third temple.

After the 1967 war, Evangelicals fiction writers began speculating how Al-Aqsa could be destroyed: Hal Lindsey wrote “Late Great Planet Earth” (in 1973), an end-time prophecy of famines, wars, earthquakes, Antichrist rule, & Armageddon war preceding the second coming; Salem Kirgan wrote “666” (in 1970), where the Antichrist vaporizes Al-Aqsa with a ruby laser ring; Charles Colson wrote “Kingdoms in Conflict” (in 1987), where American Evangelicals bankroll Israeli Zionists in blowing up the mosque. This is where fiction & right-wing politics shade into derangement.

As a result of Zionist collaboration with dispensationalist Evangelicals, many Zionist Christian groups have been formed in the US & elsewhere; many members of the Lost Tribes of Israel have been identified by Evangelical missionaries in Peru, India, & elsewhere to promote settlements in the West Bank (here fiction shades into folly); sister-city relationships have been forged with Zionist settlements; thousands of Evangelicals pilgrimage & march in Jerusalem every year; in 1969, one Australian Evangelical attempted to torch the mosque. Most importantly, AIPAC has developed strong religious allies.

The profound sarcasm of this alliance is that the religious vision of dispensational Evangelicals requires the mass conversion of Jews to Christianity–or their annihilation in the battle of Armageddon. It doesn’t get more anti-semitic than that. Or more repugnant. What the hell would Jesus say!?

And those are the reasons why Israel continues to prevent Palestinian access to Al-Aqsa but still allows right-wing Zionists to guide tours of the mosque; why they militarily attack Palestinians defending their rights to the mosque; & why defense of the mosque is a part of the struggle against Israeli apartheid.

Here Palestinian Muslims pray outside East Jerusalem since Israeli riot cops are blocking access to Al Aqsa after several days of militarily attacking worshippers.

Support Palestinian justice by boycotting all Israeli products (barcode beginning 729); by supporting the cultural boycotts of Israel; by demanding “No US aid to Israel!”

(Photo by Thomas Coex/AFP)

We live in the best of times & in the worst of times

We live in the best of times & in the worst of times. In the best of times, because millions of people are actively defying tyranny; in the worst of times, because we have not yet learned how to end it. We have learned the hard way that numbers are essential but not sufficient to force the hand of tyranny; that for every inroad we make against injustice, the oligarchs resort to military might & electoral ruses. They shoot first, reshuffle the seats in parliament, & yell “uncle.”

Their most effective deceit is the whipsaw of divide & conquer which they have mastered to the level of fine art. Societies & social movements are complex organisms comprising millions of people with different understandings of what is to be done, which road to take. It could not be otherwise in diverse societies where opinionated people from different classes confront the complexities of class, poverty, gender violence, white supremacy, injustice, & democracy.

The way forward means forging unity with all those willing to act against injustice & not denouncing some as ‘mere liberals’. Liberals bankroll many social movements, including the antiwar movement, & remain an important component of the move even in its weakened state. We leave it to others to denounce them & we part with them in the electoral arena but we will march shoulder to shoulder with all who actively oppose these rotten wars or are willing to stand against injustice. On that score, we will proudly work with anyone.

More & more people are retreating to cynicism & misanthropy, writing jeremiads that will wrench your heart-strings, give you indigestion, & make episodes of the Kardashian show actually appealing. These cynical dilettantes respond viscerally & not politically to defeat. The defeats of the Arab uprisings have been devastating to observe–& not more so than to the Arab peoples who poured their hearts & souls into social transformation & were outwitted. Our response should not be a high & mighty “We could have told you so, fools! There’s no point in trying. We’re all doomed. Hope kills.” We might better ask them what they’ve learned, what went wrong, what they would do otherwise; we could query them about the problems of program & leadership & organization.

If a way is to be found out of this morass, it will not be by textual exegeses & culling quotes from Marx & Engels (or for heaven’s sake, mastering the art of Zizek-speak) to replace analyses. It will be through identifying with working people in this world–precisely where the organized left is most bereft. If we don’t know what’s happening to working people, if we don’t know what they are thinking & doing about it, we will never get our heads above sea level & out of internecine squabbles. The left will remain a burlesque comparable to the evangelical movement speaking in tongues no one else understands–& only a fool would want to.

Once again, when Marx said history repeats itself, first as tragedy & then as farce, he could not have seen that in the barbaric phase of capitalism, tragedy & farce would become indistinguishable–or that neoliberal capitalism would create the tragedy & the organized left provide the farce–if not sometimes the slapstick, when they should be providing leadership. There is no reason in the world to study theory if you can’t apply it to the world we live in, if you’re too damn revolutionary to work with others, or if your relationship with working people is only Platonic.

Everything on this planet moves by the efforts of working people; we are the agency of social transformation. We are not the less interesting class or the uninteresting class bereft of ideas & wallowing in consumerism, as we are most often depicted. Our power is the future & the hope of humanity–& we should never, never forget that.

(Photo of child workers by unidentified photographer)

Arizona governor vetoes antigay law under threat of another boycott

Arizona governor Jan Brewery has vetoed the antigay bill SB 1062 after a barrage of opposition. The US western states are filled with politicians like her who hold to a mythology they are descendants of the pioneers (Hollywood remains their guide to US history). Their real patrimony of course is cattle rustlers, outlaws on the run, decommissioned soldiers from the Confederate army or US government regiments to herd Native Americans onto reservations. An unsavory lot altogether. Their ancestors amassed enough stolen goods to bankroll their kids through school & buy them public office. They often wear Stetsons, like the Texas Rangers (they even sleep in the damn things)–a style, btw, stolen from Mexican inhabitants who they also forcibly dispossessed.

Most people think such types all ended up on ponderosas in Texas but the small state of Arizona has more than its fair share. Over the decades, their criminality has not diminished but is now accessorized with an invincible pomposity. Continuing their legacy of law-breaking, they are now attempting to destroy the US Bill of Rights–first through SB 1070, a vicious legal, military, & political assault on immigrants & immigrant rights; & now through SB 1062, a vicious, lowdown attempt to outlaw homosexuality under the guise of freedom of religion.Their entire patrimony is a godless one, guided more by the dictates of criminality than by the Beatitudes, so for them to call on religion to sanction attacks on democratic rights is not merely folly; it is farce.

Yesterday afternoon, governor Brewery announced she has vetoed SB 1062. The media explained it was due to pressure from conservative business owners & Republican legislators second-guessing their vote to outlaw LGBTI people. Governor Brewery is a contemptible politician (likely the progeny of a Confederate soldier) & incapable of doing the right thing for the right reason. In her own explanation for her veto, she tried to approximate a civil liberties defense but it sounds sarcastic coming from the mouth of a woman who sics the full force of the law (or is that lawlessness?) against undocumented immigrants. The only way she will do the right thing is with a cattle prod up her ass.

And the only reason conservative business owners & breast-beating politicians opposed SB 1062 is because they saw another boycott coming at them, like the one so effective in opposing anti-immigration legislation. The real force behind Brewery’s veto is those millions of Americans who stand up for the Bill of Rights, who won’t put their money where injustice prevails & who forego the grandeur of the Grand Canyon to stand in line at Disney World rather than give a dime to the systematic dismantling of democratic & human rights by two-bit Confederates.

Hats off to the Bill of Rights & to those who stand with it come hell or high water. There’s a victory to celebrate.

(Photo of protestors against SB 1062 by Jim Poulin/Phoenix Business Journal)

Antiwar activists in Philippines protest US military presence

The Philippines aren’t the biggest country in the world but their working people must rank among the most combative in the world. We’ve seen repeated pitched battles between riot cops & slum tenants resisting eviction. Every time a US president visits the Philippines, there are ferocious street scuffles between antiwar activists & riot cops.

The water cannon, an extremely dangerous assaultive weapon, is always used against protestors & in one memorable protest the activists wrenched it away & turned it on the cops. A memorable moment; also hilarious.

Here water cannons are used against antiwar activists moving toward the US embassy in Manila to protest the upcoming visit of Obama. Activists are demanding the withdrawal of US troops in the country under a Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) the US has with the Filipino regime. The VFA establishes the terms of US military presence. The most contentious provisions in these VFAs is always about civil & criminal jurisdiction over military personnel–that is, whether the jurisdiction will reside in Philippine courts or with US military courts (similar to the dispute Afghan president Karzai is having with the US over the Bilateral Security Agreement). We do more than tip our hats to these brothers & sisters; we offer them our deepest respect & solidarity. US out of the Philippines!

(Photo by Bullit Marquez/AP)

US propaganda racist against North Koreans

The nastiest feature of US & European propaganda against North Korea is not how they demonize its leaders–it’s inarguable that North Korea is a tyranny run like a feudal fiefdom (while the US considers South Korea a colonial military outpost). The nastiest feature is how propaganda draws on the most vile & racist stereotypes of Asians by portraying North Koreans as commie-bots, emotionless, stoical, obedient, showing emotions only in unison & on cue, & goose-stepping their way through every human activity.

The next time you hear the US saber-rattling with nuclear weaponry against North Korea, keep this poignant image in mind: North Koreans on the bus hold their South Korean family members’ hands after seeing them for the first time in decades at the Separated Family Reunion Meeting at Diamond Mountain in the North.

(Photo by Lee Ji-Eun Yonhap/AP)

Ugandan president legalizes social hatred of LGBTI people

Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni predictably signed the antigay bill into law today just six weeks after Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan signed a ban on homosexuality into law. The legislation in Nigeria triggered an outbreak of antigay violence which is exactly what it was intended to do–& it will have the same effect in Uganda.

Museveni who claims he sought scientific counsel on homosexuality said, “Homosexuals are actually mercenaries. They are heterosexual people but because of money they say they are homosexuals. These are prostitutes because of money.” His mangled rhetoric may be the result of his evangelical habit of speaking in tongues not cited in the lexicon of human languages & is only matched by his ignorance & social hatred. They’re more akin to a grunt–or even a fart.

He doesn’t know when to shut up because he went on to take issue with gay oral sex in lurid terms, claiming it gives you worms. Hopefully Uganda won’t ban sex education because our man knows less about sex than a US middle-school kid–& that’s saying a lot about his ignorance.

Reports mention the “fierce criticism” Museveni is receiving from US politicians like Obama & John Kerry. Obama described the law as “morally wrong,” Kerry said he was “deeply disappointed,” White House spokesperson Jay Carney called it “abhorrent,” NSA advisor Susan Rice said its passage was a “sad day for Uganda.” There are two pound Chihuahuas that pack a bigger bite.

Remember it was just a few weeks ago that Obama addressed the National Prayer Breakfast operated by the US political forces behind the Ugandan law. Collusion speaks louder than words–even if he could rise to the level of fierce. Museveni has no fear of political reprisals from the US since he is a partner in US military & economic operations in Uganda. Collusion speaks louder than wimpy-assed protests but profiteering speaks loudest of all.

It is a sad day for human rights; it is also a call to action because what began in Nigeria, Uganda, & Russia is being duplicated in Arizona & elsewhere. It’s a good time to recall the words of German theologian Martin Niemöller: “In Germany they came first for the Communists & I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist. Then they came for the Jews & I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew. Then they came for the trade unionists & I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist. Then they came for the Catholics &I didn’t speak up because I was a Protestant. Then they came for me & by that time no one was left to speak up.” Niemöller neglected to mention that homosexuals, Roma, people with disabilities were also among the litany of victims.

Our fullest solidarity with the LGBTI people of Uganda & Nigeria–& Arizona, USA.

(Photo from Advocate.com)

African immigrants in Israel defy Zionist apartheid policies

One of the most promising & important developments in immigration rights is the defiance of African immigrants in Israel whose rights are under siege by the Zionist regime & vigilante violence promoted by politicians. Their struggle for the right of asylum exposes the inherent racism of Zionism & is as important to the struggle of Palestinians as it is to immigration rights. It is certainly one of the most important developments in Israeli politics for a long time.

For too long, Africans fleeing from the colonial plunder of their countries have drowned in the Mediterranean Sea, been incarcerated in isolated detention centers without minimum standards of housing or health care, or deported & dumped willy-nilly back on the continent. Seeking asylum in Israel is a safer route & Israel has every obligation to honor their demands since it has long been a key player in the neoliberal plunder, particularly in South Sudan.

For the past few years, African immigrants have waged resistance to incarceration & deportation & as the persecution & inflammatory racist rhetoric of Israeli politicians crescendoed in the past year, they set up Occupy-type encampments in public parks & at detention centers.

Here they set up an encampment outside the detention center in Holot, Israel & were joined in protest by defiant inmates. We cannot express our solidarity strongly enough.

(Photo by Oliver Weiken/EPA)

Switch & bait scams to hide neoliberal plunder

Under neoliberal capitalism, there’s a scam invented every minute. It’s pointless to sleep with one eye open because those think tanks they operate invent one doozy after another to outsmart us–all of the switch & bait kind. The muckraker has become more indispensable than the NY Times to keep track of the trickeries they’re cooking up.

Plunder is the very nature of neoliberalism, the barbaric phase of capitalism. The plunder is so relentless the entire planet is undergoing climate chaos & the predators are still unable to restrain their rapacity. Working people need to be the ones to stop them & that historic mission requires a clear understanding of the foxy-assed machinations they use to fool us.

Diamond & gold mining, particularly in African countries, is a cornucopia of plunder for multinational conglomerates, leading to war, massive human suffering, & millions of African deaths. As opposition to “blood diamonds” grew around the world, the mining & jewelry industries pulled a fast one. Along with government officials collusive in the plunder & NGOs, industry representatives set up the phony Kimberley Process Certification Scheme (KPCS) in 2003 to stop trade in “blood diamonds.” A component organization of KPCS is Responsible Jewellery Council (RJC) which established standards of conduct for gold, platinum, & diamond industries to regulate labor standards, indigenous people’s rights, & environmental contamination, The 300 companies certified by RJC are the largest mining companies, refiners, & jewelers in the world. It’s the neoliberal version of putting a fox to guard the chicken coop & has not changed the character of massive & violent exploitation one iota.

This swindle is an old one employed by neoliberal predators. Back in the 1990s, the forestry industry set up Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) to certify companies as deforesting in a green tradition. You can find their certification logo all over paper products. Companies like Weyerhaeuser, notorious for reckless logging practices which led to landslides in Washington state, are certified because SFI is bankrolled by the industry & won’t saw off the hand that feeds it. Greenwashing might be too tepid a term for such deceit.

Not to be outdone in trickery, the palm oil & palm kernel industry set up the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) in 2004 to certify sustainable production of palm oil which is now an ubiquitous ingredient in everything from cosmetics to food. It is not possible to certify palm oil as sustainable when the very character of plantation production (primarily in Indonesia & SE Asia) requires massive deforestation & the destruction of natural habitat for, most notably, orangutans, elephants, tigers, rhinos, & birds. The effects on climate change, in particular massive flooding, have been reported with compelling force but the neoliberal plunderers cannot restrain their greed.

Does conflict of interest mean anything anymore!? Nope! Not in the barbaric phase of capitalism. It will take more than product boycotts to stop this plunder but the stakes are immense. Nothing less than the survival of humanity & the rest of the animal world is at issue. And that’s not just Armageddon-speak!

(Photo of young Sumatran elephant named Raja displaced by palm oil deforestation & who subsequently died by Ulet Ifansaasti/The Ecologist)