Monthly Archives: May 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

 

 

Solidarity on the Eve of the Nakba

Make no mistake, the spectacle that took place in Jerusalem today was repugnant. In a nod to Trump’s conservative evangelical Christian base, rightwing lobbies and think tanks, and wealthy donors like Sheldon Adelson, and with the support of prominent Democrats like Chuck Schumer, the US Embassy was finally moved to this city in defiance of both Palestinian civil society and international law. But as diplomatically destructive as this action was, it was what happened in Gaza that constitutes a crime against humanity. At least 52 unarmed civilians were massacred by Israeli forces for protesting the ethnic cleansing decades ago that has led to their imprisonment and collective punishment today in what amounts to the world’s largest open air prison.
Today is the eve of the Nakba, or the Catastrophe, where thousands of Arabs were massacred in their villages by Zionist militias and at least 750,000 were expelled from their ancestral lands in years leading up to 1948. It should not be seen as a mistake then that this was the date that was chosen. History has demonstrated that the oppressor uses demoralization as a weapon in much the same way as torture and outright massacres. So there juxtaposed to this great crime of the elite celebrating a glitzy new US embassy on occupied, stolen land, the Gaza Health Ministry declared it is on the brink of collapse due to a slaughter not seen since the carpet bombing of Gaza in 2014.
The UN said months ago that the enclave of millions of people, half of which are children, will become uninhabitable by 2020 thanks to the crippling blockade that has devastated water resources, restricted food and other services, and has driven thousands to the brink of suicide from despair.  All this does not even reflect the ongoing decades long occupation and ethnic cleansing of the West Bank where millions of Palestinians, many of whom are children, are subjected to military rule and tribunals, night raids, house demolitions, daily humiliation, settler violence and systematic displacement.
And where is the media? In most cases they are playing their part in advancing official narratives which serve to dehumanize the colonized and the oppressed. The dehumanization of Palestinians is one of the worst abuses I’ve seen in my lifetime. But it serves a purpose. To dehumanize anyone is worse than rendering them invisible because it justifies every act perpetrated against them or their communities. The theft of their land, their history, and their dignity, collective punishment, random raids, torture and imprisonment. All of it can be rationalized once someone is stripped of their humanity. And this almost always leads to expulsion or genocide.
And where is the international community? Throughout history people of conscience realized they could never count on the leadership of the so-called “international community” to take a stand against inhumanity and genocide. While millions of Jews, communists, Roma, the disabled and gay people were being gassed by the Nazis they were silent. When South Africa was brutally enforcing racist apartheid they were making deals with the ruling regime. But people of conscience always stood apart because retaining what is left of our humanity demands nothing less than standing shoulder to shoulder in solidarity with the oppressed and persecuted. And this is a truth which applies to any era we might inhabit.
Kenn Orphan, 14th May, 2018