Newsfeed Takeaways

Been away from social media for a bit and I have purposefully distanced myself from news in general, but here are my newsfeed takeaways for anyone interested:

‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ isn’t just a terrifying fiction after all. It looks like an unfolding reality in the US where Roe v Wade will soon be a distant memory and patriarchy will assert itself once again. Will people soon be fleeing for the northern border?

Apparently white, hetero, Christian men are “feeling scared” now for some reason according to a few (mostly rich, powerful and privileged) white, hetero, Christian men. I mean seriously?

War is really permanent. No, really. It is. The industry just won’t let it die thanks to booming (no pun intended) profits for Lockheed Martin, Northrup Grumman, Bectel and Halliburton and the distraction, powerlessness and apathy of the vast public. Meanwhile Yemen is facing an imminent genocide.

Migrant children in the US empire are going to be housed in internment camps that are former military bases polluted with radioactive and carcinogenic waste.

The vastly ignored Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued yet another “life or death warning” for climate change and the earth’s biosphere that will of course go vastly ignored.

Been good to be absent from all this for a while.

Carry on, be kind, fight fascism and stay human in spite of it all.

 

Kenn Orphan   2018  October

The Power of Language in the Anthropocene

“So we are left with a stark choice: allow climate disruption to change everything about our world, or change pretty much everything about our economy to avoid that fate. But we need to be very clear: because of our decades of collective denial, no gradual, incremental options are now available to us.” – Naomi Klein, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate

 

“The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum.” – Noam Chomsky

“We live in capitalism. Its power seems inescapable. So did the divine right of kings. Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings. Resistance and change often begin in art, and very often in our art, the art of words.” – Ursula K. Le Guin

 

“Let us wake up, humankind! We’re out of time. We must shake our conscience free of the rapacious capitalism, racism and patriarchy that will only assure our own self-destruction.”  – Berta Cáceres, Indigenous and environmental activist, murdered by a rightwing Honduran death squad.

 

At a certain point reality crashes headlong into toxic naivety. It is inevitable. One can only go on so long in denial before it intrudes. This is also true of societies. As I write, several “unprecedented” deadly hurricanes, typhoons and tropical storms are literally swirling around the world’s oceans. One of them has churned through the Carolinas. But this is a place where analysis of the threat of sea level rise was forbidden by a state determined to erase any public discourse on climate change in deference to its moneyed industries. Another one, the strongest on the planet, has devastated swaths of the Philippines and Hong Kong. On the opposite end of the spectrum wildfires have scorched huge swaths of North America, Greece and Spain and floods have inundated villages from Italy to India. Year after year the broken records and damages pile up, and it is becoming increasingly difficult for even the most irrational or dimwitted to ignore the unfolding climate chaos. Yet still the language of the Anthropocene remains a convoluted mess of obscurantism and outright denial.

For those living on the margins of empire no statement can be too exaggerated when it comes to the existential threats they are facing. Along with climate change they are on the frontlines of a war waged against them by the forces of capital. Along sacred rivers in the American Dakotas, in the life drenched rain forests of Ecuador, Peru and Brazil, the poisoned wetlands of the Athabasca, the unforgiving, mineral rich deserts of Western Sahara and Afghanistan, the melting tundra of the Arctic circle, the carcinogenic corridors of the American Midwest, the sun baked Niger Delta, the sullied waters of the Flint River, and in the misery laden, blockaded and besieged shanty’s of Kolkata, Manilla and beyond, battles are raging against the poor and time is running out.

 

These are the forgotten of the earth. The ones whose lives or struggles don’t register in a corporate press beholden to profits and enamored by spectacle. Their tragedies, though measured in the hundreds of thousands if not more, don’t spur hashtag movements, or generate round the clock coverage on network and cable news, or even cause the Eiffel Tower to dim. Facebook doesn’t have an option for safety check ins on these kinds of catastrophes either. Their poisoned fields, flooded villages and dried out crops pass away to more scintillating news about salacious celebrities or idiotic tweets from the bloated narcissist in the Oval Office. But they are the first victims of climate change and the merciless cupidity of the global capitalist class. The 1% whose corporations ransack and pillage the world leaving countless bodies and shattered communities in their wake.

 

In their quest to maintain and indefinitely grow their coffers, they see all of these unfolding and looming catastrophes as economic opportunities. And if they do not employ think tanks to muddy the waters of public discourse with outright denialism, they use obscurantist language designed to rationalize the unfettered exploitation of capital. Dissolving ice caps are a strategic option for geopolitical and business advancement. Atmospheric warming gases are the chance to advance a scheme of carbon trading. Hunger and famine are economic and technological opportunities to litter the world with more profitable pesticides, chemically/genetically altered food, or factory farms. Flattened woodlands and fouled rivers become excuses for moving indigenous peoples into overcrowded, cordoned off corporate colonies for easier exploitation, social control, neglect and abandonment. They see the resulting unrest and political dissatisfaction as opportunities for technological advances in surveillance and security, selling arms and weapons to any faction or regime that is interested and can pay.

 

Sometimes it may be difficult to identify who they really are. And to some extent, we are all complicit in the destruction of the earth’s habitat, especially those of us in the global north. But we have been conditioned to perceive our world by the dominant culture of our time; and that culture is undeniably defined by the forces of capital. Historically, language has always served as a means for social control. Colonized indigenous peoples understand this all too well. One of the first actions by colonizers was to erase indigenous history. The next was to erase the language.

 

Today the 1% have imposed a culture of obfuscation and use language that is intentionally duplicitous. This isn’t that difficult to grasp when we are reminded that only a handful of corporations control at least 90% of the media. Their technicians are peddlers of meaningless, alienating or demoralizing jargon. And they are integrated into the highest precincts of power. The Pentagon and the Department of Defense have long dictated Hollywood propaganda, but now social media has emerged and taken it to a whole other level. Its algorithms are designed to prick neuro-signals that enable social control and conformity. It has been a boon to the surveillance state. In the meantime a parlance of pale, placating euphemisms numbs us to our own oblivion. And it is done with such staggering precision and ease that it has become ever more difficult to decipher and parse.  But in the end not even the most viral of memes or clever of hashtags will be able to eternally hide atrocity or cloak the stench of a dying world.

 

While there are cracks in the façade, the zeitgeist of the era still demands a kind of militant optimism and the denial of reality. One can see this in a simple test. Mention the words ‘climate change’ in the comment section of a report on a hurricane or wildfire on almost any mainstream news page and you will see a flurry of laugh emojis and comments of ridicule. Such coordinated assaults on reason have the fingerprints of denialist think tanks like The Heartland Institute all over it. But even many self-described progressives perpetuate a language that denies the lived reality of millions of people or pose solutions that do nothing to dislodge the failed and utterly corrupt capitalist paradigm. They insist on political solutions, even pseudo-socialist ones, within a bipartisan framework that has proven to be a sham. And how has this helped anyone? In the US most live in state of perpetual stress and distraction. Distracted by the demands of work, shrinking social safety nets and a political landscape that has merged with mass entertainment, the corporate surveillance state keeps the masses in line by neutralizing public opinion, policing thought and censoring dialogue. Many live in states that are destined to experience more and more catastrophic flooding or prolonged and entrenched drought thanks to climate change.

 

Hyperbolic? Perhaps to some. But in the global south, which often includes areas inside Western nations, dystopia is now. They inhabit capitalism’s sacrifice zones, places where ruthless exploitation, destruction and abandonment are considered acceptable. For them water is already scarce, food is already insecure, addiction is already an epidemic, cancer and other diseases are already the norm, and their homes are already sinking beneath the tide. They understand that denialism, false hope and language that cloaks reality only perpetuate the misery and maintains the status quo death march to extinction. They have taught us all how we must dissent to the madness of the Anthropocene. Thanks to centuries of massacre, exploitation and having their histories rewritten, from Chiapas to Sápmi, they have responded by nourishing solidarity and resistance. They have demonstrated to us that agency rests in a relentless drive to push back, build economies independent of the “free market,” foster independent media and journalism, create representative forms of governance despite cynicism, stand united against the violence of the state against the odds, paint murals that reflect the people’s history and speak in a language that boldly defies the ruling class narrative.

 

As a species we have either created, permitted or have been oppressed by an order that has been threatening our collective demise for decades in what amounts to a mere blip of geologic time. Indeed, it is this order that has already sentenced countless species to the halls of extinction, carpet bombed millions over the last century, justified slavery, devastated verdant regions, and enslaved millions of people around the world in for profit prisons, sweatshop fire traps, pesticide ridden fields and lung choking mines. But we should understand that the language of this era is no accident. It has been carefully crafted by the forces of capital to control the dominant narrative, condition our thinking, and dictate how we will act. It is designed to keep us distracted while they keep up their pillage. The beginning of dissent and resistance, then, lies in learning a different tongue.

 

Kenn Orphan   September 2018

American Militarism, a Bipartisan Affair

“I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today, my own government.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.

“As societies grow decadent, the language grows decadent, too. Words are used to disguise, not to illuminate, action: you liberate a city by destroying it. Words are to confuse, so that at election time people will solemnly vote against their own interests.” – Gore Vidal

“A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual doom.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.

 

On August 25 the American senior Senator John McCain succumbed to a brain tumor; and the US media exploded in unbridled praise. He was lauded as a “war hero” in the paper of record and there has been a seemingly endless stream of tributes since on social media and on network cable news. What was perhaps more telling was the outpouring of grief among liberals. McCain represented to them a sort of bulwark against their arch nemesis Donald Trump. Without a doubt McCain’s sparring with the megalomaniacal liar in the Oval Office made headlines almost weekly. But it was the surreal erasure of public memory that was overwhelming.

McCain came from the ruling class. His great, great grandfather, William Alexander McCain, owned slaves on a cotton plantation in Mississippi. Both his grandfather and father were admirals and had a record of advocating for American military expansion. But John McCain’s foray into war mongering began when he bombed civilian targets in Vietnam, a crime under international law since Nuremburg. Following the war McCain chose the route of militarism and for that he was given an exalted position among the elite in American Empire. Others, like Phil Berrigan and Howard Zinn, who shared similar experiences chose to face the reality of America’s imperialistic war machine and were largely marginalized from the mainstream because of it.

McCain’s death has inadvertently torn the veil off of American supremacy. Americans, both liberal and conservative, shared memes drenched in patriotic colours and accolades for the deceased politician and chided those of us who dared question the Senator’s well documented history of war mongering and viciousness. Yet unsurprisingly, few of these same people appeared to raise an eyebrow over the recent Saudi slaughter of dozens of Yemeni boys on a school bus by a US made bomb. McCain lobbied hard for that war too.

We have seen this adoration before, and very recently. After all, what becomes of a man who started a war based upon lies that killed thousands, displaced millions, and destabilized an entire region, decimated civil liberties with sweeping powers granted to government surveillance agencies, instituted torture programs and rounded up scores of innocent people in secret raids sending them to wither away in a gulag in the Caribbean, left thousands of his citizens to languish in disease infested flood waters in the Gulf Coast following a major hurricane, gutted environmental regulations in favour of industry, and created the predatory and neoliberal economic conditions that led to the “Great Recession?” Apparently, if you are a former US President you get transfigured into saint.

Like a bad penny, this past year has seen the curious resurfacing of George W. Bush in public life. It seemed that overnight a war criminal had been miraculously transformed into a lovable “senior statesman;” a granddad who paints delightful pictures of world leaders and gives “inspiring” speeches against bigotry. Bush, like practically all of the ruling political class in Washington, should have been brought before the International Criminal Court in the Hague for his crimes against humanity and the living planet. But as a response to the mendacious, sexist, racist behaviour and policies of Donald Trump, and with the assistance of a corporate media which delights in collective, cultural amnesia, many establishment liberals have been pining for a time that never was.

When one understands the machinations of American political power and its ruling class it isn’t all that strange. Mythology dominates the American psyche. This kind of unreality fuels the engine of American bellicosity on the world stage. “Exceptionalism” and an idea of America being an “indispensable nation” are common themes. No one dares question the supremacist character of such beliefs because they are bipartisan, through and through. Militarism underpins it all because it is the most popular religion of the empire. Any American sporting event demonstrates this blind devotion in spades. Yet at home its veterans sleep on the streets and struggle with PTSD and neglect. With a failing VA, Go Fund Me has become their healthcare system along with millions of other Americans.

The Obama administration, too, is pined for even among the conservative elite. After all, while bailing out Wall Street and the banks, his administration expanded the wars and forgave the torturers of the previous administration. He dropped over 26,000 bombs in seven Muslim majority countries, assassinated a 16 year old US citizen without due process, drone bombed wedding parties and ambulances and supported a rightwing coup in Honduras which has helped exacerbate a massive migration crisis. This is all par for the course of the American ruling class. Lockheed Martin and Northrup Grumman could not be more pleased. To them as well as many ordinary Americans, foreign lives simply do not matter much, if they matter at all. And after veterans serve their usefulness, they are generally cast aside lest their hidden and festering wounds reveal the fruitlessness of imperialistic war.

But today liberals are united in a fight against Donald Trump at all costs. Indeed, he is a living dumpster fire of grotesque vulgarity and mendacity who has surrounded himself with the most malignant people in power today. He has reinvigorated white nationalists, cheered on police brutality, stoked xenophobia, all while bamboozling many in the working class into thinking he cares about their problems. And his foreign policy is so erratic and volatile that it makes one shudder to think he has access to the nuclear codes. He and his administration must be opposed. Yet without recognizing the larger picture of empire and how it works, or how the ruling class still reigns supreme, Americans will continue to canonize their war criminals and support a bipartisan death machine that has caused untold misery for decades.

The Civil Rights veteran and Senator John Lewis recently said John McCain was a “warrior for peace.” Orwellian doublespeak that defies all logic. Aside from his overt racism (“I hated the g**ks,” a comment made long after the war was over which he never apologized for, or his vicious fight to stop an MLK holiday, or his stealing water rights from the Navajo, or his multiple defenses of apartheid South Africa), McCain enthusiastically supported and championed every single war of American Empire. After Vietnam he campaigned for bombing Cambodia, then Kosovo, then the Middle-East, culminating with the invasion of Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya. Now those last three countries are in ruins and slavery has made a disturbing comeback in Northern Africa. He even said he would be fine with US soldiers occupying Iraq “for 100 years.” He joked about bombing Iran, something not uncommon among America’s ruling class, and lobbied for that privilege hard. Thankfully he never got to see that one pan out.

All of this has been lost down the bipartisan memory hole in its unfettered adoration of the myth of American militarism. A “warrior for peace?” Such historical revisionism and cruel indifference to the incalculable suffering caused by American militaristic aggression is a hallmark of a bipartisan ruling class. It’s what Martin Luther King, Jr. realized at the end of his short life. And it is all of this, and the failure to face squarely its well decorated, distinguished and odious demons, that continues to lead it toward the spiritual doom he warned us about.

Kenn Orphan   August 2018

 

 

 

The New Fascism, Same as the Old One

“One can have Fascism come in any form at all, through the Church, through sex, through social welfare, through state conservatism, through organized medicine, the FBI, the Pentagon. Fascism is not a philosophy but a murderous mode of deadening reality by smothering it with lies.” – Norman Mailer

“The ideal subject of totalitarian rule is not the convinced Nazi or the convinced Communist, but people for whom the distinction between fact and fiction and the distinction between true and false no longer exist.” – Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism

 

Fascism can be a difficult concept to understand. The word often conjures up images of Hitler and Mussolini, but this narrow understanding can be deceptive since fascist thinking can occur and rise within any society or among the ranks of practically any ideological following. This is because fascism is not really an ideology in and of itself but more a collection of reactionary and misanthropic beliefs. It has become a popular pejorative hurled from many corners of society today; but the true danger is that its shadows haunts the precincts of every human heart.

Fascism in any given country will not look exactly like the German or Italian fascism of the 1930s. Swastikas and salutes are lightning rods for scorn. In truth, it is a subtle mindset which arises within a society as a seemingly familiar creature. It uses a nation’s symbols, songs and institutions, and it generally targets the young and those who see their privilege or status imperiled. It envelops itself in a skin of familiarity, and that’s what makes it so insidiously dangerous.

Many of the identifiers of fascism might be familiar to some because historians and those who have survived its horrors have analyzed its character for decades. These include aggressive xenophobia and  chauvinism, racial, ethnic or religious supremacism, support for state violence and brutality, rigid belief in traditional (see subservient) roles for women, support for censorship or suppression of dissent, denial of historical atrocities committed by one’s own government, admiration of dictators (foreign and domestic), a general disdain for or open hostility toward diversity, belief in mythic tales that underpin notions of supremacy and a glorious past and scapegoating and dehumanization of other groups of people for society’s ills.

It is often thought of as a rightwing phenomenon, but it should be understood that there are many elements of the “left leaning” Western liberal establishment which are vulnerable to the fascist mindset. We see this happening today among those who fecklessly support the surveillance state apparatus in the form of the FBI and other nefarious governmental agencies because of their justified loathing of Donald Trump.

This is no more apparent than in the Russophobia we’ve seen this past year. Of course it is undeniable, based upon the above criteria, that Trump has fascistic characteristics; and his unhinged tweets, cabinet appointments and policies reflect this. But liberals may be especially susceptible to propaganda handed down to them from the establishment elite who protect the fragile bubble of privilege in which they are ensconced. It may also be why there aren’t many protests when it comes to America’s imperial war machine or global capitalism in general because it simply does not affect most of them directly. Liberals need to grapple with the idea that if Trump is deposed, and it is appearing more and more likely by the day, then a Pence presidency might give us a more terrifying glimpse into an establishment approved fascism.

But there are some on the so-called “far left” in the West who, in their justified hatred of American imperialism, show admiration for various authoritarians who happen to buck the imperialist system, or at least the American version of it. And this is done often while absolving or ignoring the documented crimes these regimes commit, from Myanmar to Syria to the Philippines. The far right (now labeled in the en vogue parlance as “alt-right”) has seized on these weaknesses, attempting to bamboozle some into joining their ranks. But this isn’t anything new. From Hitler’s brown shirts to today’s neo-Nazis, the tactic has always been to focus on the easiest targets for influence, those prone to accept information that confirms their prejudices, bias and base fears. Today is only different in the optics.

This is certainly not an argument in defense of imperialism or for violent militias who commit atrocities or acts of terror against civilians for a “just cause.” But it is incongruous with leftist values to have admiration for any totalitarian leader or despotic regime however charismatic or “anti-imperialist” they might appear. In other words, just because a leader stands up to American imperialism does not automatically make them a “hero of the people.”

This has come up in regard to Russian president Vladimir Putin who is sometimes painted as a leftist, an assertion which defies reality. Of course the liberal conspiracies involving Russiagate are mostly ridiculous, but that segment of the “left” which idolizes foreign authoritarians to near sainthood status is equally injudicious and ignores historical facts.

Indeed, today’s Russia is far from the leftist utopia some would like us to believe. The political landscape of post-Soviet Russia, which was viciously taken advantage of by American capitalists who sought to infuse the nation with neoliberal policies in the first years, gave rise to an oligarchic system not much different than the current one ruling Washington. By installing Boris Yeltsin, a much loathed dolt with a drinking problem, the Americans created the conditions for the current geopolitical quagmire. Yeltsin, echoing his neocon supporters in the West, opted on whipping up ethnic animosities and invaded impoverished but oil drenched Chechnya, appointing former KGB Lieutenant Colonel Vladimir Putin to conduct the brutal and bloody affair.

In the meantime, a robust fascist strain had arisen within Russian society bolstered by the atmosphere of political confusion, foreign subterfuge, economic disempowerment and geopolitical humiliation following the collapse of the USSR. It asserts itself to this day within a climate of state repression where the LGBT community continues to be persecuted by reactionary elements. But this phenomenon is happening around the world in some of the West’s staunchest allies, from India, to the Middle-East and to Europe and beyond. And it manifests in a variety of ways.

In India, the rise of Narendra Modi attests to the universality of fascism. The biggest democracy on earth has also seen the terrifying rise of Hindutva nationalism, a supremacist ideology akin to white nationalism in Europe and the US. It should be of no surprise, then, that violence against non-Hindus, women, lower castes and transgender people has exploded. Fascistic regimes routinely employ violence or tacitly encourage it from armed militias and vigilantes. And the occupation of other regions often plays a role by bolstering ideas of militaristic prowess. The brutal occupation of Kashmir is a testament to this.

In Israel, the far right has become emboldened by a decades long military occupation aided by the US and Europe. The ideology of Zionism has led to an apartheid-like system which is undeniably fascistic in its character.  And the Palestinians are not the only victims of this. Anti-immigrant sentiment and policies of expulsion have gained popularity. But antisemitism plays a part in this as well. Fascist thought at once loves the idea of the state of Israel while simultaneously loathing Jews, and one can see that play out in rightwing Christian media. Even white supremacist Richard Spencer has jumped on this.  On the “far left” there have been troubling instances of antisemitism which only serve to derail Palestinian solidarity by alienating Jewish peace activists.

All around the world fascism is seeing a terrifying resurgence. Indeed, the neoliberal capitalist policies of the late 20th century helped to create conditions favourable to its rise; but abrupt climate change, imperialistic wars of exploitation, religious or sectarian extremism and the long legacy of racist colonialism has fueled its ascendancy as well. In the 21st century we, as a species, are faced with its looming specter, a phantom composed of the billions of corpses from mass graves, gulags and internment camps throughout human history. There is no doubt that it must be fought at every turn, but to do so it must first be seen for what it is and where it lurks.

Fascism is a disease of the mind. It is that plain where internal fears meet the external realities of the world we live in. These fears are projected onto that world and react in such a way as to attempt to shut them down; and this is why those with such a mindset find authoritarian figures so appealing. The comfort offered by a black and white world, albeit a false one, replaces the seemingly chaotic randomness of life. Under the rubric of fascistic thought, all ambiguities, context and nuances are conveniently sponged away. The “other,” whether they be foreign, indigenous or simply different, is scapegoated, then dehumanized, then incarcerated, then exterminated. Empathy is slayed. To the organized fascist, confusion is a supreme virtue. Truth is an enemy met with ridicule, then suppression, then death.

As human beings we all hold within us both light and dark and all shades in between. It is true that there are many who commit unconscionable acts of cruelty or wickedness. In fact, most of them hold great power. It is also true that the current global order is predicated upon the ruthless exploitation of billions of people primarily in the global south and countless species, and the systematic rape of the planet for coin. It is a despotism driven by cupidity and violent domination. Each of us, however, has an agency within that can enable us to step outside of these factors and engage with the world. We possess the power to see beyond our fear. But if we allow fascism to flourish, if we do not push back, it will undoubtedly rob us of that agency and, in turn, rob the world of its very future.

 

Kenn Orphan, August  2018

 

 

 

What Reporting Looks Like at the End of the World

This summer has seen another spate of deadly wildfires, from Oregon to Sweden to Greece. The Greek fires encapsulated a popular beach resort killing scores of trapped tourists and pensioners on holiday. Many were forced into the sea in order to escape the inferno and smoke. Some drowned. And all over the world floods have devastated regions. At least 200 perished in Japan and dozens have drowned in Southeast Asia in “unprecedented” floods. Heatwaves, too, have killed many. At least seventy people died here in Canada from extreme heat related ailments. But fires, floods, storms and heatwaves often become the spectacles that distract us from the unfolding catastrophe that underpins it all. And in an age of looming disaster this outright obfuscation is nothing less than criminal.

The corporate media has failed abysmally at preparing the public for a climate changed world, let alone reporting on it. According to a Media Matters survey: “Throughout the recent record-breaking heat wave that affected millions across the United States, major broadcast TV networks overwhelmingly failed to report on the links between climate change and extreme heat. Over a two-week period from late June to early July, ABC, CBS, and NBC aired a combined 127 segments or weathercasts that discussed the heat wave, but only one segment, on CBS This Morning, mentioned climate change.”

The effect can be seen in a recent Gallup poll where Americans cited 36 problems that affect them. The dangers of a rapidly warming climate were not among them. It appears fossil fuel think tanks and other extraction and animal agricultural industries, in the mendacious tradition of the tobacco industry, have not only succeeded in influencing politicians and muzzling the corporate press, they have effectively removed one of the greatest threats to humanity from the consciousness of the general public.

As long as these crises are seen as disconnected or isolated we will continue to sleepwalk into our own sticky fate. This summer drought and extreme heat in North America, Russia and Europe have devastated agriculture. Temperatures above the Arctic circle have exceeded 30°C (86°F) encouraging the massive release of intense, atmospheric warming methane, a climatic time bomb frozen beneath rapidly warming seas. These are the portents of a collective global catastrophe.

Modern civilization depends on a lot of things, but some have gone under the radar, at least in the West. Reliable sources of food is one of those things and many don’t think about it very often. Yet society, let alone a democratic one, cannot survive without it. Food shortages and price hikes often accompany political and social unrest as well as health crises. The environmental activist and writer Robert Hunziker wrote recently in Counterpunch about the looming catastrophe of agricultural “burn off” and its relation to the breakdown of democratic societies. “As for a reality check, climate change is already forcing eco migration in parts of Asia and throughout the eastern/southern Mediterranean region,” he wrote. “It’s already started fueling fascism.”

It may be cynical or even conspiratorial thinking to suggest that the corporate media is obscuring our collective predicament on purpose. But a media that parrots lies of the establishment elite, ones that get us into war or fail to hold political leaders, corporations or the military to account, must at least be looked at with healthy skepticism and caution. Right now it seems it is more tantalizing to report endlessly on the tweets of an orange tinted buffoon in the Oval Office, or a woman named Stormy, or Putin’s soccer ball, or Russiagate, or what channel the First Lady watches rather than something that can wipe out all life on the planet.

Indeed, the corporate press has long served as a mouthpiece for the ruling moneyed class; and it shouldn’t come as a surprise to find out that they see no benefit in reporting about our rapidly changing climate, biosphere collapse or agricultural failure. It simply doesn’t serve their interests or bottom line. But we’d be foolish to think they don’t see what is happening and care. They do, just not about us. Douglas Rushkoff recent piece in the The Guardian: “How tech’s Richest Plan to Save Themselves after the Apocalypse” should put any doubts about that to rest.

We cannot know if this summer’s record breaking heatwave in the Arctic will fire the infamous methane clathrate gun, or if global famine is on the horizon, or if fascism and war will be the result. But one thing is certain. It will be up to us to find out what is happening, because none of it will be reported by Fox News, CNN or MSNBC.

Kenn Orphan, July 2018

Whose War Is This Anyway?

So here’s a rant. Trump is a vile creature for many reasons (misogyny, hatred of Muslims, xenophobia, racism), and that much is a given. But as someone who is truly leftist I am forced to wonder of my liberal friends how meeting with Putin or the alleged hacking is suddenly treasonous. Apparently the US toppling or interfering in democratically elected governments in (see: way too enormous list of nations the US has toppled in 10 decades alone!) is somehow far less of a threat to global democracy.
And no. It should be obvious I am no fan of Putin the oligarch. But it is pretty common knowledge that the US is an oligarchy, has been for a long time actually. And the “intelligence community,” the same one that surveils Americans and the world, or that killed Fred Hampton, or threatened MLK, or masterminded COINTELPRO, and funded death squads in Central America, do you really want these “institutions” as your allies? And where was everyone when he (or Bush or Obama) met with the Saudi monarch? They literally behead people for being gay or for witchcraft. Or Netanyahu? He is literally a modern day Pieter Willem Botha, presiding over a classically defined, 21st century apartheid state?
But it’s the treason hashtag thing that really gets me. Really. How great or noble can a nation be if ripping children away from their mothers, like in the book (or movie) “Sophie’s Choice,” but repeated over and over and over again, and caging those children and force feeding them psychotropics is somehow considered not treasonous? How about Trump’s threatening of Venezuela with invasion? or bombing Syria? or aiding the genocide in Yemen? or putting a US embassy on occupied land (something recognized by international law) in Jerusalem? Of course none of this is considered treasonous in an empire, and the most violent and powerful in all of human history, by the way.

So the question is, whose war is this? Is it for the powerless or is it really just the powerful against the powerful yet again? I think it is the latter.

So when you go after Trump and ALL of the elitist power class, for the right reasons: for the crimes against humanity (all humanity, not just the telegenic, whiter appearing ones), or crimes being waged against the living earth, or the seemingly never ending nuclear menace, or against capitalism (because really, capitalism is dividing and killing us as a species and countless others), or war and militarism in general, or economic terrorism (essentially capitalism); call me. I’ll join you enthusiastically. Until then, count me out of another McResistance™ to maintain the moribund and ecocidal status quo.

 

Kenn Orphan, July 2018

Atrocity and the Contortions of the Faithful

Lately I’ve tried to get my head around those Americans who profess to be Christians supporting the policy of separation of migrant children from their parents at the border. Jeff Sessions and Sarah Huckabee-Sanders even used Biblical references to defend it. And yet these same people are giddy about the recent Supreme Court decision regarding faith-based pregnancy centers. Apparently only documented, unborn children count?

 

Of course these people emerge endlessly throughout history with apologist contortions for their faith and in every society. In the US they are the same ones who used religion to justify or even advance Native American genocide, slavery, witch trials, Jim Crow, lynchings and Japanese internment. They had no problem bombing children of colour in Iraq or Afghanistan to “liberate” the Muslims who would later be demonized and banned in US immigration policy. No problem when our “allies” do it now in Gaza or Yemen. They didn’t bat an eye when the US carpet bombed Laos or Cambodia, or doused Vietnamese children with napalm or Agent Orange because that was a “noble war” to defeat “godless communism.”

They give no thought into the egregious effects of US foreign policy that have migrants fleeing north in the first place. The support of violent regimes like that in Honduras, ushered into power via a US supported coup, or the “drug war” that has fueled hideous cruelty in El Salvador, or environmental and economic injustice via defense of mining companies or Big Oil.

These adherents of the Christian faith bear no resemblance to those of the Abolitionist Movement, or later in Liberation Theology, or the countless clergy who struggled (and died) alongside the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. and other people of colour in the Civil Rights Movement or marched against the Vietnam War. They lack the integrity and courage of people like Father Daniel Berrigan or Sister Megan Rice or Jim Wallis, because they have wedded themselves to nationalism, xenophobia and militaristic hubris.

And so the mental gymnastics and empathic anemia needed to defend such gross contradictions in faith must at the very least be exhausting, but I think it ultimately takes a costly toll. A faith that can be twisted to defend atrocity and barbarity against the “foreigner,”  the “alien,” the “outcast,” or “other,” can be easily twisted against you in the end. And the odds are you will be so blinded by social hatred that you won’t even see it coming.

 

Kenn Orphan  June 2018

Humanity vs. The Rule of Law

It was back in my early undergrad years when I first came to understand the broad reach of US foreign policy. I completed a social work internship in Los Angeles at a safe house in east LA in a largely immigrant community whose goal was economic justice and solidarity with working families. One morning I came down to the kitchen to find two sisters from the Missionaries of Charity sitting at the table with our house administrators. They had a similar home just down the street from us and they were well known for opening it up as a sanctuary for refugees. That day they greeted us with a choice.

A family of refugees from Central America were en route to LA and needed housing since the sisters home was already filled to capacity. Our house admins had already agreed to do this but we would be permitted to go to another program, without judgement, if we were not comfortable with this decision. This was the late 80s and providing sanctuary for people from certain nations in Central America was both controversial and illegal. We were nervous, but young and very eager to do something that seemed radical. Over the following month we learned that the risk we had taken paled in comparison to theirs. Nothing could remotely compare with the horrors they had endured or narrowly escaped; threats of rape, violence and being abandoned to die in agony in the desert, or the uncertain future they faced in a country hostile to their very existence.

I remember the backlash I and others received from several in my class. In their eyes we were subverting the rule of law. But what rule of law were they speaking of? Was it the one that informs virtually all of American foreign policy? The one that trains mercenaries at infamous places like the School of the Americas? The same one that fueled the genocide of 250,000 Mayans in Guatemala in 1954 at the behest of the United Fruit Company? Or the rule of law that created a brothel for US corporate interests in Havana? Or backed the genocide in Indonesia done by rabid fascists? Or supported coups that upended a democratically elected government in Chile? Or the Democratic Republic of the Congo? Or Iran? Was it the one that carpet bombed Cambodia, napalmed North Korea or tested nukes on US soldiers and the unsuspecting inhabitants of the Marshall Islands? Would that rule of law include Indian Removal? Or Jim Crow? Or state sponsored lynchings? Or internment camps for Japanese Americans during WW2? When it comes to the American Empire what rule of law is there outside of that which pertains to the rights of corporations, or the ruling Capitalist class, or the military industrial elite? How many crimes has the global north committed against the global south; and how many of them have been explained away using the sanctimonious parlance of the rule of law?

I fast forward to today and wonder what has changed? US foreign policy certainly hasn’t. It continues to punish Cuba and has not stopped its war mongering against Venezuela. It still promotes the racist “drug war” that makes life a misery for countless people. It still defends industries that pollute the waters and the soil that indigenous peoples depend on, like in the Amazon in Ecuador by Chevron. It still backs rightwing coups like the one recently championed by Hillary Clinton in Honduras which installed a government that terrorizes its population and is ultimately responsible for the murder of scores of Indigenous and environmental activists, like Berta Cáceres who understood well the reach, ramifications and scope of American foreign policy, especially its impact on the lives of those who live on the margins of empire.

And what has changed at the border? The same people terrorized by American foreign policy are still dehumanized, traumatized, deported and even murdered in cold blood when they manage to arrive there hoping for a better life. Even Hillary Clinton advocated for sending undocumented people back as a solution, and Obama is on record for deporting more immigrants than other presidents. But if there is anything that has changed in recent days it is the deepening depravity of such policies. Thanks to Trump’s inhuman policy of separation of children from their parents, the breathless cruelty of the US Border Patrol and ICE produce a virtual Sophie’s Choice every day. Even showing human kindness toward these children is grounds for termination from employment.

So the outrage I have today is not dissimilar to the outrage I felt years ago.  I still see the faces of those refugees I stood in solidarity with several years ago from Guatemala. And when I read about the migrants being detained and sent to cages with foil blankets or hear the recordings of inconsolable cries of children torn from their mother or father, I see their eyes peering through me. And I think of that “rule of law” argument waged by my classmates years ago. The same argument made by Jeff Sessions and Sarah Huckabee-Sanders who then buttressed it with Biblical references. Such a rationale only exists in the minds of those whose humanity has long been gutted. It’s one that has been used generously by scoundrels throughout time to ignore their complicity in creating the turmoil in the first place, and then defending the cruelest of policies against the human beings affected by that misery. And my response to such barbarity remains the same as it was back then: to hell with their rule of law.

 

Kenn Orphan   June 2018

 

 

Roseanne and the Art of the Con

The recent Twitter storm involving Roseanne Barr’s latest racist tweet is nothing new from the actress. In fact, for those paying attention it seems rather strange that she was called out on this now. After all, ever since she abandoned the left (she ran for POTUS for the Green Party and the Peace and Freedom Party) she quickly allied herself with some of the most reactionary and racist elements of the so-called “alt-right.”

She has called people Nazis for supporting Palestinian human rights, tweeted blatantly racist tirades, memes and bizarre conspiracy theories all of which have largely been ignored by a corporate media ever in search of profits. But what’s perhaps more interesting is how Roseanne herself is framed by this same media. Thanks to her sitcom portrayal of a blue collar, working class woman in Middle America, she is almost always cast in this light.

Of course the notion that Roseanne Barr represents the working class has always been problematic. While her sitcom had its merits and attempted to humanize a segment of society egregiously ignored or maliciously ridiculed by coastal elites, it predictably failed in addressing the systemic sources of misery for her working class family. Yes, it was just a comedy; but historically such mediums have often proven to be a powerful voice for transformative politics. The Roseanne show failed to measure up to even All in the Family standards in this regard.

And since this is the US where glaring contradictions are seldom addressed, it is worth noting that in real life the actress has an enormous macadamia nut farm in Hawaii, lucrative book deals, gets millions of dollars in royalties from reruns of the original Roseanne show, and her net worth is estimated at 80 million dollars. It shouldn’t be any wonder, then, that a billionaire conman like Donald Trump is one of her biggest fans. He became President by pulling off the con that he is blue collar and promised to “drain the swamp,” even while he fills it in plain view with snake oil salesmen and women like himself. Both of them have so far been able to brand themselves as something they are clearly not.

The Canadian author Ronald Wright said: “socialism never took root in America because the poor see themselves not as an exploited proletariat but as temporarily embarrassed millionaires.” His assessment might lay too much blame on working people in the US, but there is a painful truth to this. Too many Americans have been bamboozled by the corporate capitalist con game. They continue to be enthralled by the gilded towers of the wealth owning class and still think it is justified, even as they languish under crushing debt, poor or no healthcare, nonliving or stagnant wages and scarce economic opportunities. Many see the excess and bling of the rich as a just reward for hard work, failing to take into account the power of class and privilege, or the institutional injustices that cause the gap between the ultra-rich and desperately poor to grow exponentially year after year.

While Roseanne Barr’s wealth may not have been handed to her through an inheritance like Trump, her ascendancy in the American wealth class is indicative of how certain qualities are rewarded. Roseanne has been a master at maintaining her brand through endless, manufactured outrage, extremes and media manipulation. One year she joins the Occupy Movement, the next she is tweeting Islamophobic memes. You can call it a kind of lunacy, but it appears to be a profitable one.

It remains to be seen whether some of those who have swallowed the lies will begin to see that like Trump, Roseanne is not one of them. Despite her humble beginnings or the elaborate persona which mimics working class angst, she is a con. She is a product of American capital and the corporate media, through and through. And despite this recent setback, she will still be laughing all the way to the banks she once claimed she hates.

 

Kenn Orphan, May 2018

Life, the Sea, and Big Oil

“It is a curious situation that the sea, from which life first arose, should now be threatened by the activities of one form of that life. But the sea, though changed in a sinister way, will continue to exist: the threat is rather to life itself.” – Rachel Carson

When I learned about the oil giant BP’s plan to drill off the coast of my home, my heart felt like it dropped out of my chest. As I write this the West Aquarius rig is well on its way to the Nova Scotian Shelf. By the time this is published, it might have already arrived. My thoughts went immediately to those oil sullied shorelines in the Gulf of Mexico, and to the fishermen there whose families and livelihoods were shattered to pieces, and the countless species of fish, mammals and marine birds suffocated in the earth’s primordial blood. BP forever damaged that region and not only in an environmental way. The scars, the untraceable diseases, the suicides and domestic conflicts induced by despair, the financial ruin, displacement and alienation persist to this day.

Many of my ancestors were fishermen here in Nova Scotia for generations. They negotiated the treacherous storms endemic to the North Atlantic and many of them perished in the icy waters which surround this rocky, unforgiving peninsula. I’ve several relatives whose livelihoods are still dependent upon the ocean. But it is more than just a job. The sea is entwined with one’s heart here. It informs the culture, the food, the language. The life of this province cannot be separated from it.

Until settlers stole their ancestral lands, Mi’kmaq, the region’s First People, lived in balance and harmony with this sea for thousands of years, carefully studying its character and respecting its surly and churlish mood swings. They still ply the currents of the deep cold inlets and hidden coves.Nova Scotia’s rugged and breathtaking coastline, often blanketed in fog and punctuated by ancient, craggy pines, has been sang about at cèilidhs (Celtic social gatherings) for centuries. The provincial license plates proudly bares the logo “Canada’s Ocean Playground.” Indeed, the ocean remains one of the chief economic engines of the region generating billions of dollars annually. Above all of this is the biodiversity this place is graced with. But none of this, no wealth of culture, nor livelihoods, or biodiversity, or even physical beauty is of concern when a region catches the covetous eye of Big Oil.

In the case of Nova Scotia, a sparsely populated province with an abundance of fossil fuel resources, BP saw an opportunity. And a neoliberal government beholden to the interests of Big Oil paved the way for exploitation. The drilling will be in over stormy waters that are 3000 metres deep (roughly 10,000 feet) and is in one of the primary spawning areas for fish like haddock. To add insult to this great injury: if there is a blow out the primary strategy for dealing with it will be the infamous toxic dispersant corexit, used in the BP spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010. And it would take at least two weeks for the company to transport a “capping stack” from Norway under normal circumstances, not taking into account the strong currents and wild storms of the North Atlantic. If and when such a cap arrived there is absolutely no guarantee that such an intervention would even be workable in these deep and rough waters. After all, nothing like this has ever been attempted here. Nothing.In a world where the fossil fuel industry inhabits the precincts of policy making and regulation, no place is off the table for exploration and exploitation. And history has proven that Big Oil enjoys near impunity for its crimes. In the Niger Delta, one of the most biodiverse places on the planet, Royal Dutch Shell has spilled an estimated 1.5 million tons of oil into the rich ecosystem while simultaneously assisting the Nigerian military in the violent suppression of protest from the indigenous communities of the Ogoni. In the Ecuadoran Amazon, Chevron Texaco deliberately fouled huge swaths of the rain forest with at least 17 million gallons of oil and waste, and poisoned scores of indigenous communities with carcinogenic toxins. In the Alberta Tar Sands the fossil fuel industry has left a scar that is literally visible from space. There is no place on the planet that Big Oil will not sacrifice or future it will not jeopardize for money. No society or ecosystem will be spared its plunder for profit, large or small.

The fossil fuel industry is the most profitable business the world has ever known and today it is accountable to virtually no one. Its executives sit atop a virtual Lazy Susan which glides them seamlessly and effortlessly from boardrooms to the halls of legislature and back. It fuels conflicts, spurs wars, and funds massively coordinated and aggressive campaigns of disinformation against climate change scientists and those who dissent. And in the end we are all being held hostage to its existential madness. It is the greatest tyranny humanity has ever known, to be deprived of a living earth for the avarice and shortsighted sake of a privileged few.

I have no happy ending to this story as it is written today. After countless “spills, incidents, and accidents” Nova Scotia may become just one more open wound this industry has inflicted on the living flesh of the earth. They will extract what they can and when they pollute they will do so with impunity. The Mi’kmaq and rural, working people will suffer the worst, as will countless species of marine birds, fish and mammals. Even in the absence of any particular “incident” with the West Aquarius rig, our fragile biosphere will lunge even further toward mass extinction thanks to the cumulative impact of industry’s rapacious extraction and reckless pollution. It will mean death by a thousand cuts. Or in this case, perhaps, a thousand climate change fueled catastrophes. The sea, as Rachel Carson said, will continue. Life, on the other hand, may not.Nova Scotians will take on BP and Shell and Chevron, and every manifestation of this future killing behemoth, building on the strength and courage of everyone else who has been mercilessly punished by this industry’s greed driven recklessness. Sadly, that list is growing longer by the day.

Kenn Orphan, May 2018