Monthly Archives: June 2014

The United States Has Everything to do with It

Palestinian child Feb 6 2013I have often heard it said in this country that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has “nothing to do with us.” Such statements reveal a troubling ignorance that so many Americans have in regard to this and other foreign policy issues. In fact the United States has everything to do with it.

It is the US which has inserted itself into the conflict as being the only foreign agent that can “broker” a peace deal. It is the US that has shut out or suppressed  the UN from having any effective voice. It is the US that has emboldened hardliners in Israel to run rip shod over any reasonable and fair settlement by continually declaring itself as an unequivocal supporter of Israel regardless of its human rights abuses and incredible intransigence. It is the US which shapes the language used to describe the issues, the problems and any of the solutions. It is the US which has reinforced a decades long system of apartheid, complete with home demolitions, walls and checkpoints that carve up Palestinian land into what amounts to South African style Bantustans.

The US has looked the other way as Israel built a separate system of justice for Israeli citizens and Palestinians, one more fairer than the other.  It has ignored the illegality of the Jewish-only settlements in the West Bank and ignored the increasing racist rhetoric and violence emerging from them. It has whitewashed or downplayed a brutal and oppressive military occupation and the indefinite detention and torture of children. And it has justified the creation of the world’s biggest open air prison in Gaza, where punishment is meted out collectively on a captive population through bombings, the use of white phosphorus, indiscriminate shooting of farmers and fishermen, home demolitions and a draconian economic blockade that limits and restricts food, medicine and construction materials.

John Kerry recently expressed a sentiment that, aside from the circus-like histrionics of the US media and both Democratic and Republican politicians, is shared by many prominent Israelis, Palestinians and one former US president. When he said that Israel was on a course toward apartheid he was only incorrect in making such a claim as a potential future. True to form, Kerry capitulated to the “pro-Israel no matter what” fanatics and apologized. But the facts remain. An institutionalized ethnocracy has been allowed to flourish. As in apartheid South Africa, this kind of system grows like a cancer. And it eventually effects all aspects of civil life in society.

Insidiously, the US has perpetuated the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to suit its own foreign policy objectives as a colonial foothold in the Middle-east. It has continued to support an untenable system because doing so is more advantageous to its neoliberal interests in the entire region.  And the recent, momentous failure in the so-called “peace process” should make it clear to everyone, as tensions are at an all time high, that the US has proven itself incapable of being an effective and fair mediator. For the sake of everyone, it is more than past the time for it to remove itself as the sole arbiter of peace.

Kenn Orphan  2014

(Photo: Palestinian child sobbing atop the ruins of his family’s home that was demolished by Israeli bulldozers in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Beit Hanina/AFP )

An Eternal Rebuke

iraq motherOften a photograph can convey the emotions and sorrow of life far more poignantly and powerfully than any words can. In this award winning photograph, entitled “Last Touch” by Adem Hadei of the Associated Press, an Iraqi mother embraces her young son fatally shot in Baqouba in 2007. The attention span of the corporate media is egregiously short, much more so with the established political class. They have all moved on from Iraq just as they have done so with Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Indonesia, Libya and every other nation that had the grave misfortune of being the recipient of American “liberation and democracy.”

The hawks in Washington never cease their circling above, salivating for another nation to ruthlessly invade, rape and plunder for profit. But the embrace of this mother and her dying child serve as an eternal rebuke of such follies. Our feckless and soulless leaders be damned. They cannot ever erase the human capacity for selflessness and compassion. Their songs of war are hollow husks of bitterness compared to the chorus of mothers who call us all to look at the faces of their sons and daughters, slain on far flung fields everywhere by the callous whims of imperialism. And their light will far outshine the lust for power and avarice that drive men to madness and endless wars of conquest.

Kenn Orphan  2014

(Photo courtesy of the Associated Press and Picture of the Year International)

A Real Human Being

bangladeshOver one year ago the Rana Plaza sweatshop in Bangladesh collapsed killing over 1,100 people and injuring thousands more. Modern sweatshops are to globalization as cotton fields were to slavery in the American South. They represent one of the most brutal forms of human bondage, where life is worth only pennies while profits for retailers is in the hundreds of billions of dollars. It is one of the best examples of economic tyranny in action.

After the disaster at Rana Plaza, Western retailers were called to task for their complicity in the perpetuation of these factories of death. Corporations such as The Gap and WalMart continue to refuse signing the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh as it would hold them legally responsible for their part in using clothing manufacturers that put their workers in harms way.

Most of us in the West have no sense of the pain and sorrow stitched into every garment that we wear. We don’t have to see the faces of children and women forced to work 16 hour days and receive wages that barely pay for a pot of rice. But every thread that drapes American and European hangers that is from one of these places hides a story of pain, and exploitation and struggle. Every shirt, or dress, or pair of jeans has a real human being behind its production. A real human being that is no less deserving of basic safety, a living wage, fair representation, reasonable hours, and a decent life.

Corporations and mega-retailers would like us to ignore their plight. It would like us to look away from their faces. It would like us to forget that we are them, and they are us.

Instead, we honor the victims of this unnecessary tragedy. But we also honor our shared humanity that demands justice in the face utter depravity and merciless exploitation.

Kenn Orphan  2014

(Photo is of families of victims of the Rana Plaza catastrophe and is courtesy of Reuters)

The World Bank’s Plan for Water

nestle water

     The World Bank, perhaps the best example of a “front man” for today’s corporate, capitalistic, economic policies, eagerly promotes and defends the gospel of neoliberal capitalism, which Wikipedia defines as: “privatization, fiscal austerity, deregulation, free trade, and reductions in government spending in order to enhance the role of the private sector in the economy.”   But however it is spun, it is essentially organized crime with an official seal. It takes poor nations, previously colonized, exploited, and enslaved, and says “here, take this impossible loan to pull yourselves out of the impoverishment we imposed on you for centuries, and in return we will allow multinational corporations to take your resources and enslave your people in low wage, sweat shops.”

And water is its next project.

Echoing mission statements of multi-national, mega-corporations, it recently declared that water should be privatized.  In other words: owned.   Shelter, food, air and water are essential to life.   Shelter and food have already been privatized around the planet.  Air is still out of reach although they are polluting it as fast as the other three.   But water is what they are eying now.

Coca Cola in India
(Coca Cola extracts huge quantities of water in India, often robbing poor communities of their only access.  Photo credit: Oxfam)

Water sources around the world are being consumed and polluted by industry at a staggering rate, and communities that suffer from this exploitation seldom have any legal recourse against the offending companies.  From Michigan to India to Africa, huge corporations like Coca~Cola and Nestle have bought up aquifers, wells and springs, and have sold back the water they extract in huge quantities to already impoverished communities at a highly inflated rate.

South Sudan Photo by Geoff Pugh Oxfam

(Boys transport water jugs in South Sudan.  Photo credit: Geoff Pugh/Oxfam)

The impact of water, or the lack of it, often spawns or exacerbate conflicts.  Syria has suffered for years with an intractable drought; and many attribute the civil war that has claimed thousands of lives to this crisis. If water continues to be privatized we will undoubtedly see this tragedy repeated the world over as poor or disenfranchised populations are forced to relocate to urban areas or neighboring countries.  Add to this the other dire ramifications of climate change, and the dust bowl conditions it induces, and the privatization of water becomes just one more banal cruelty inflicted on the poor.

(an Iraqi farmer sits by a trickling stream in Dayala province.  Photo:Reuters)

Recent events in Detroit attest to the reality that this battle for human life and dignity is not merely a “third world problem.”  Water rights are being assaulted everywhere.  In this once thriving American city, it has become a tool of social control.  The city has “shut-off” water to thousands of residents due to their inability to afford the exorbitant cost.  It has effectively informed the public that it’s “right to life” is only viable insofar as their ability to pay for it.  The part that racism plays in all of this is troubling too, as most of the communities targeted are disproportionately people of color.  This is all unfolding in the richest nation on the planet; yet the situation has deteriorated so much that the United Nations has been called in to investigate.

The world over, ruthless profiteers have been trying to convince the public that it is natural to attach a dollar sign to everything, including water. For example the former CEO and now-Chairman, Peter Brabeck-Letmathe, of Nestle was quoted as saying “access to water is not a public right.”  Under their scheme, they aim to own all rights to it, and only the wealthiest will be able to pay the extortionate cost assigned to it.

Detroit protestor
(A protestor in Detroit, Michigan.  Photo credit:

Whether it is Detroit, Michigan or Nagpur, India, access to clean water should be understood as a fundamental human right. But, like so many other rights, it is being systematically stripped away from us by corporations, industry and their henchmen at the World Bank. All things considered there is one certainty, this issue is destined to become a defining feature of the 21st century, and, perhaps, the most important struggle against this new age of tyranny.

Kenn Orphan  2014

(Photo at top: Peter Brabeck-Letmathe, Nestle. Credit: AP)

It is Too Late to Pretend

san-diego-brush-fire-pg-047All across California records were shattered today. It is hot, very hot, too hot…and it is only May. Santa Ana winds, hot dry air from the desert, have always come in October and November, not in May. Yet they swept through California this week fueling wildfires that are still raging. And it isn’t just here. Siberia has experienced massive wildfires this winter and spring. New Jersey too. Australia’s summer temperatures soared so high this year that they had to assign it an entirely new color on weather charts. Rain, flooding and wild weather has battered the UK and Ireland and the Mid and Southwest, as well as Pakistan and Afghanistan this spring. And drought is drying up the Amazon, the Middle-east, Southeast Asia and the American west.

There is no debate among scientists. Climate change is undeniable.

Even the record cold winter in the Northeast of the US is a testament to this, because warming has shifted the polar vortex. Now the North Pole is warming while its cold air is displaced, melting further the dwindling ice of the Arctic Sea. And this week we learned about the unstoppable collapse of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet which will eventually inundate coastal areas and cities the world over.

Not only is climate change happening, it is, in the view of the vast majority of climate scientists, human caused. Yes, the climate has changed in the past, long before humans entered the scene. Yes, climate is always changing. But there is a certain cognitive dissonance which continues to reign in circles that insist humans cannot possibly have such an impact on the planet, that these scientists are in it for the money, or that climate change is actually a good thing.

We know with certainty humans can effect major natural cycles and devastate ecosystems. One glance at the power of nuclear bombs or the massive deforestation taking place throughout the world confirms this easily. Humans have been able to literally alter nature to make certain plants, that were once toxic, edible, and to domesticate animals that were once hostile. So it should not be a stretch of the imagination to see how industrialized society, built on fossil fuels, is having a major detrimental impact on the climate.

The influence of the fossil fuel industry is also easy to track. Oil money fuels government intransigence and stokes conflicts the world over. The most profitable industry ever in human history is driven by greed. So the notion that climate scientists are in it for money is ludicrous and absurd. Arguably, they would do far better financially if they sold out to these industries like a handfull have done.

The world’s warming oceans are acidifying rapidly causing fish stocks and coral reefs to collapse. Variations of heat and cold extremes are making agriculture that much more challenging and potentially fueling several conflicts raging around the world. Storms now imperil millions of people on the planet due to their accelerating intensity. So no, climate change is not a good thing.

It is too late to pretend. It is too late to engage in “debates” with people who have their heads firmly buried in the sand. There is no use arguing about a tsunami with someone who stubbornly insists on remaining on a flooding beach. We need to gather up those around us who see what is happening and want to take action, and head to higher ground. With any luck we might be able to save something, while we still have time.

Kenn Orphan  2014

(Photo is of fires in San Marcos, San Diego and is courtesy of Luis Sinco, Los Angeles Times)

Our Very Own Flesh and Blood

kids-swim-trashThis photo is of two young boys swimming in the horribly polluted waters of the Yamuna River in New Delhi, India, by photographer Manan Vastsyayana. India now boasts having the world’s most million and billionaires.  Its economic model is highly praised among the vultures of Wall Street and political vampires in Washington alike. Essentially, it is beloved for its  “free market economy” neoliberalism and “friendliness” to corporations.  Its new Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, has vowed to continue these policies, much to the satisfaction of the World Bank, IMF and Wall Street.  All of this is occurring in a country that has one of the world’s largest gaps between the extremely wealthy and the extremely impoverished; and where the ecosystem is being systematically decimated by industry that has little to no regulation.

But this is not an Indian problem. This scene is repeated the world over, from Jakarta to Manilla to the Dominican Republic and even to the forgotten, abandoned and economic “sacrifice zones” in the US. It is a picture of institutionalized, systemic oppression and exploitation of the world’s most vulnerable by the world’s most powerful; and its scope is growing. It is neoliberalism and globalization at its most base.

So when we see photos like this of children swimming in a plastic soup in Manilla or scavenging for treasures in mountains of industrial and electronic waste in Ghana we should not avert our eyes. Instead it should serve as a reminder to us in the so-called “developed world” of the ramifications of our insatiable, destructive consumption, and the vulturous economic policies that allow for it. It should stand as a rebuke of cupidity and should alarm us that what we are doing to the planet and all of its inhabitants as a whole is a crime of epic proportions tantamount to genocide. And it should help us to see these children not as someone else’s responsibility, but as our very own flesh and blood.

Kenn Orphan  2014

Simple, Quiet, Steadfast Resolution

Palestinian womanThere are acts of quiet expression and beauty that transcend the stale or reactionary rhetoric that accompany conflict and oppression, and they often go unnoticed. This is one of them. Residents from the besieged Palestinian village of Bilin have transformed a tool of violence into a message of remembrance and a tribute to the universal struggle for human rights. They have planted flowers in spent tear gas canisters.

It is a memorial to Bassem Abu Rahmeh, an activist who was killed at a demonstration in 2009 when a tear gas grenade hit him in the chest. Tragedy followed this family. Bassem’s sister Jawaher was killed nearly two years later from inhaling Israelis tear gas at another demonstration against the apartheid wall. A wall that has carved up Palestinian lands in the occupied West Bank, separated farmers from their fields and orchards, demolished homes, and divided families.

This garden is a silent memorial to their non-violent stand against an unjust system. It is a testament to the fortitude of the human spirit in a tide of seemingly unending brutality. It represents the countless Israelis and Palestinians who are united in their commitment to justice. It is, as one of the creators of the garden expressed, to show that “life can spring from death.” And it should encourage us all to take back the humanity that the brute and the oppressor have stolen; in simple, quiet, steadfast resolution.

Kenn Orphan  2014

(AP Photo/Majdi Mohammed)