International Women’s Day 2014

Today is International Women’s Day which used to be accompanied with marches & banners but is now just a commemoration that needs to be restored to former glory. The UN is trying to co-opt this day from its radical origins & turn it into just another Hallmark moment. They held a rally yesterday at the UN with such celebrities as Naomi Campbell, notorious for abusing her maids, & Hillary Clinton, always just one step away from a war crimes tribunal. Even Forbes magazine, the voice box for US capitalism, is celebrating “women’s empowerment.” This little band-wagon is a scam that should be eschewed with contempt.

To take back our day, we should tip our bonnets & baseball caps to the remarkable women who made history last year to little fanfare: the women of the Arab uprisings taking on tyranny; the Mayan women of Guatemala standing up against genocide; Palestinian women defying the military arsenal of Israel; the garment workers of Bangladesh & Cambodia taking on sweatshop capitalism; the mothers of Bhopal, India taking on plunder by Dow Chemical; the Guarani & other Indigenous women of Brazil standing up against neoliberalism–& so many, many others, all of them against all odds.

Those privileged cry-babies spewing out jeremiads about the future of humankind & the possibilities for social transformation need to pull their noses out of their navels & look to the women defying injustice as teachers, as models of intransigence, & as leaders. There will be no social change without women in the leadership & it’s not rude but truth to say that’s because women do a good share of the work & get least of the credit. But then grandstanding is not what it’s all about.

I also personally want to tip my bonnet to the wonderful women I know in my life. There are always new studies reported about the insufficiencies of our gender: the latest say we’re not often serial killers but when we are, we’re more vicious; girls bullying girls is hot news generating a whole new trend in fiction. I particularly am not fond of having women’s political commentary called rants or tirades or fulminations or having women demeaned in comments. And I detest the endless putdowns women have to endure around beauty & weight & aging.

So let me say, that I’m either the luckiest woman alive & meet only the best of women or there’s a problem with misogyny in our society–because most of the women I know could not be more beautiful, intelligent, informed, considerate, kind, hilarious, companionable, remarkable. And I’m not fool enough to like all I’ve met; the snobs still yank my chain.

So a tip of the bonnet, sisters. It’s so good to know you. Happy International Women’s Day.

UN reports increase in civilian casualties in Afghanistan

This little Afghan girl is ten-year-old Dil Roba. The media caption says she “sits on her wheelchair at her temporary home on the outskirts of Kabul”–as if her family is renting a winter cottage for a holiday or waiting for their new home to complete construction instead of living in squalid conditions & makeshift shelter because their home was bombed to smithereens by US-NATO forces.

The UN Assistance Mission for Afghanistan (UNAMA), one of the countless UN agencies that issues countless reports with out indicting the war, just reported civilian casualties in the war increased by 14% in 2013 to a total of 2,959 deaths & 5,656 injuries since they began documenting them only in 2009. The number of children killed (561 kids) & wounded (1,195 kids) jumped by 34%. Why the UN waited so long to account for civilian deaths in this war is something only they can justify since there is no valid explanation. The figures should be considered an approximation & nowhere near the actual loss since much of the bombing is done in remote parts of Afghanistan where the UN does not go since there are no luxury hotels there.

The report indicated most casualties were caused by roadside bombs or getting caught in the crossfire of the 962 battles (about 20 per week) between US-NATO forces & the Taliban. According to UNAMA, the onus for increased civilian casualties is on the Taliban for stepping up attacks on US-NATO forces & that judgement was echoed by the US-NATO command, who added that the destruction of mosques, health care facilities, & schools was by the Taliban. They didn’t explain why they started shooting at the Taliban when civilians were obstructing gunfire.

In an ecumenical gesture, the director of human rights for the UN called on ‘all sides to protect civilians from harm’. We call on the director to resign in disgrace & the UN to get the hell out of Afghanistan if they can view the civilian carnage in Afghanistan but still won’t denounce the US-NATO occupation of that country.

The Taliban condemned the UN report as US propaganda & though we find ourselves in little accord with Taliban politics, on this score they are absolutely right.

US out of Afghanistan! US out of Iraq!

(Photo by Rahmat Gul/AP)

Wanted for war crimes

I never–let me repeat–NEVER watch “The View,” that idiotic talk show hosted by Barbara Walters & Whoopie Goldberg. But this morning in looking for a weather report (to see when this subtropical area will come out from under the arctic vortex), I happened across Susan Sarandon discussing the death penalty on the show & stopped for a moment to listen.

Walters, playing devil’s advocate to Sarandon’s opposition to the death penalty, asked if there was ever an individual so evil that the death penalty would be appropriate. I can answer that in the affirmative: Henry Kissinger, who is Walter’s long-time, close personal friend–that is, as close as such a vile reptile like Kissinger can be to anyone. Apparently the stink of this man’s evil doesn’t bother Walters. But I can smell it all the way in Texas. And it will never clear the air in Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, East Timor, or Chile.

(Photo of Kissinger should have “Wanted for War Crimes” written across the top; use it for target practice.)

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)

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