Author Archives: Kenn Orphan

About Kenn Orphan

Kenn Orphan is a social worker, artist, and human and environmental rights advocate.

Hard Truths and the ‘Indispensable Nation’

“Americans, like human beings everywhere, believe many things that are obviously untrue. Their most destructive untruth is that it is very easy for any American to make money. They will not acknowledge how in fact hard money is to come by, and, therefore, those who have no money blame and blame and blame themselves. This inward blame has been a treasure for the rich and powerful, who have had to do less for their poor, publicly and privately, than any other ruling class since, say, Napoleonic times.” – Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., Slaughterhouse-Five

“I am opposing a social order in which it is possible for one man who does absolutely nothing that is useful to amass a fortune of hundreds of millions of dollars, while millions of men and women who work all the days of their lives secure barely enough for a wretched existence.” – Eugene Debs

“The genius of our ruling class is that it has kept a majority of the people from ever questioning the inequity of a system where most people drudge along paying heavy taxes for which they get nothing in return.” – Gore Vidal

It was about a year ago that United Nation’s special rapporteur, Philip Alston, issued a report on the dire state of the American republic. It revealed that upwards of 40 million Americans live in poverty. Among its findings:

  • By most indicators, the US is one of the world’s wealthiest countries.  It spends more on national defense than China, Saudi Arabia, Russia, United Kingdom, India, France, and Japan combined.
  • US health care expenditures per capita are double the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) average and much higher than in all other countries. But there are many fewer doctors and hospital beds per person than the OECD average.
  • US infant mortality rates in 2013 were the highest in the developed world.
  • Americans can expect to live shorter and sicker lives, compared to people living in any other rich democracy, and the “health gap” between the U.S. and its peer countries continues to grow.
  • U.S. inequality levels are far higher than those in most European countries
  • Neglected tropical diseases, including Zika, are increasingly common in the USA.  It has been estimated that 12 million Americans live with a neglected parasitic infection. A 2017 report documents the prevalence of hookworm in Lowndes County, Alabama.
  • The US has the highest prevalence of obesity in the developed world.
  • In terms of access to water and sanitation the US ranks 36th in the world.
  • America has the highest incarceration rate in the world, ahead of Turkmenistan, El Salvador, Cuba, Thailand and the Russian Federation. Its rate is nearly 5 times the OECD average.
  • The youth poverty rate in the United States is the highest across the OECD with one quarter of youth living in poverty compared to less than 14% across the OECD.
  • The Stanford Center on Inequality and Poverty ranks the most well-off countries in terms of labor markets, poverty, safety net, wealth inequality, and economic mobility. The US comes in last of the top 10 most well-off countries, and 18th amongst the top 21.
  • In the OECD the US ranks 35th out of 37 in terms of poverty and inequality.
  • According to the World Income Inequality Database, the US has the highest Gini rate (measuring inequality) of all Western Countries
  • The Stanford Center on Poverty and Inequality characterizes the US as “a clear and constant outlier in the child poverty league.” US child poverty rates are the highest amongst the six richest countries – Canada, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Sweden and Norway.
  • About 55.7% of the U.S. voting-age population cast ballots in the 2016 presidential election. In the OECD, the U.S. placed 28th in voter turnout, compared with an OECD average of 75%.  Registered voters represent a much smaller share of potential voters in the U.S. than just about any other OECD country. Only about 64% of the U.S. voting-age population (and 70% of voting-age citizens) was registered in 2016, compared with 91% in Canada (2015) and the UK (2016), 96% in Sweden (2014), and nearly 99% in Japan (2014).

These are staggering figures; but the report resonated with me on a visceral level. I’ve lived all over the United States for most of my life, but it was my crisscrossed traverse across the continent two years ago that opened my eyes to the scale of destitution of which so many have become desperately ensnared.

I drove across the north, south and middle of the United States with my sister several times because we had to care for my mother who resided in Florida. We finally decided to move her back to Canada with us after my father died because we knew she would not receive the care she needed in the States. In those many long days on the interstate I saw what America had transformed into.

The blight of corporate neglect and economic depression was nothing less than breathtaking. The main streets of town after town were boarded up, with only a smattering of dollar stores, payday loan shops, liquor vendors and storefront churches open. Hideously oversized franchise signs scraped the sky in an all too familiar impertinence. Big box stores and fast food restaurants were clustered around predictable junctions along the highways in an uninspired, formulaic pattern. It became apparent to me that these islands of banality offered some of the only employment for the people who lived in these regions. And the police patrolled every street constantly, making life feel rather like a prison camp.

These are the hard truths about America, a nation drowning in delusions, feckless nationalism and layers of supercilious bravado, where corporations, which siphon hundreds of billions of dollars from public coffers via tax evasion and subsidies are rarely held to account. Industry poisons the water, eviscerates ancient mountains, and devastates urban and rural communities with impunity. This is the “indispensable nation” where more of its citizens are locked behind bars than elsewhere in the world and usually for non-violent offenses. Where police murder unarmed people in stairwells, or hotel hallways, or for routine traffic stops and almost always get away with it. Where domestic violence often spills over to mass shootings which have become an almost daily occurrence. Where life expectancy is rapidly declining in a trend not seen since World War I. Where investment in military weaponry that terrorize the poor in other nations is exponential, but investment in veterans assistance is nil.

And yet despite this landscape of misery where inequity is exploding and infrastructure is failing at breakneck speed, the supremacist concept of “American exceptionalism” has managed to bamboozle millions into believing they live in the greatest nation on the planet. Social media has become a strange place to see this mythology in living colour. One comment on a Facebook post about the refugee crisis underscored this disconnect:

“These people need to clean up their own sorry countries. People all over the world just want to get into America because of its free stuff. It is the greatest nation on the planet!”

The sentiment echoed many others I read that exhibited an extraordinary lack of curiosity and willful ignorance about their nation’s enormous role in creating the miserable conditions these people were fleeing from in the first place. That the CIA supported and aided rightwing coups in these nations (and scores of others) was simply not in their orbit. Another comment parroted Donald Trump’s dehumanization of asylum seekers as “invaders.” Never mind the fact that it has been the US which has invaded dozens of nations, including several in Central and South America over its rather short history. And the reference to “free stuff” is shocking too, considering social services have been drastically cut in most places.

But it was this comment I read recently on a rightwing social media page that I found the most dumbfounding because it referred to one of its nearest neighbours:

“Canada compared to the United States is a third world nation. Roads full of potholes, slums, and terrible healthcare and short lifespan. They should let Trump work to save their sad nation.”

I’ll admit I had to stop and read that one twice. Of course Canada has many problems, its Tar Sands, arms dealing, and abysmal treatment of the First Nations communities among them, but the one thing that stood out was the ignorance about so-called “socialized medicine.”  This is a recurring theme and is the tragic result of decades of indoctrination by the capitalist class of the country. Both ruling parties have long been in bed with the insurance industry and Big Pharma which has derailed every effort for universal, single payer healthcare. The result has been ridiculously high infant mortality compared with other developed countries, skyrocketing levels of bankruptcy and foreclosures due to medical expenses, and the resurgence of disease associated with poverty.

That some still think of Trump as a saviour may be risible, but there is a deeper wound that has been ignored by most establishment liberals too ensconced in their privilege to notice. Magical thinking is like a drug. It can easily become a balm to those who face a daily litany of miseries, humiliations and trials. As a medical social worker I attempted to assist scores of families and individuals navigate these miseries. My battles were with insurance companies refusing coverage, not doctors.

But I personally know what it is like to not have any kind of insurance and be fearful of getting sick or injured with no money to pay for exorbitant bills, and then to be handed an $11,000 bill for a few days stay in a hospital. I’ve felt the stigma myself of accepting county healthcare assistance which didn’t even cover a fraction of the costs and being treated like a social pariah because of it. I also know what it is like to watch loved ones who had no money and, although they were deathly ill, try to leave the hospital because they had incurred $80,000 in medical bills which they knew they would never be able to pay. It alters every aspect of a person’s life and leaves one in a state of perpetual anxiety where the only escape is often found in either addiction, magical thinking or some combination of the two.

In contrast I’ve taken a relative to the hospital in Canada for severe abdominal pain and saw her met with immediate care. She was rushed into emergency surgery without ever once having to worry about the cost. This not to say the Canadian healthcare system does not have its problems. It does. And we can discuss them at some other point. But there is no comparison to a nation where ordinary citizens put off vital treatment or medicine for fear of a staggering bill or where GoFundMe has fast become the go to source for assistance with exorbitant medical expenses.

Poverty is an imposed oppression, the byproduct of rampant greed and the bastard child of an ever decadent capitalist class. And the way it is imposed is through food, housing and healthcare insecurity. But Americans who are poor are ladled with both the torment of financial worry and the noxious guilt of feeling like they are defective human beings because of their predicament. The “Oprah Effect” has convinced many that their failure to succeed in this inherently unjust system is a personal flaw. It is all about the self and its deceptively cruel mantra of positive thinking. One can see this quite clearly in media and entertainment. Anyone who is wealthy is cast in an almost deified light while the poor become punchlines, demonized, pitted against one another or ignored completely. But both ruling political parties espouse these values too. Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi is on record chiding a young constituent for daring to question this inherently unjust economic order by stating with pride “We’re capitalists.” As if making a religious declaration of faith.

This arrangement as the late Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. alluded to has been a boon for the ruling classes who, year after year, strip away the last vestiges of a beleaguered social safety net while making it easier for them to amass even more wealth. They have managed to deflect analysis and criticism of the current order by constantly referring to “personal responsibility” as the source of the problem, and this has created what Sheldon Wolin called “inverted totalitarianism.”  A kind of partially self-imposed oppression of the corporate mind, where citizens are transformed into “consumers.” Civics and politics are reduced to spectacle. Every political leader is a millionaire or billionaire. Celebrity scandals dominate the media cycle. The wealthy are endlessly lauded for their “accomplishments” while societal infrastructure and works for the public good are neglected or demolished. Ecosystems are denuded and degraded for corporate profit. Each person becomes an island unto themselves without agency. And all of it is normalized by mass media.

 

 

History is replete with examples of how this framework often leads to fascism. Neglect of civic education and economic justice create the conditions that enable its rise. Trump, then, shouldn’t be regarded as an anomaly. He is the logical result of decades of neoliberal capitalist corruption in both ruling political parties. And he is pulling the levers that he knows will work in this machine: nativism, xenophobia, misogyny, conspiratorial thinking, racism, authoritarianism, demonization of the press, scapegoating, nationalism, confusion.

Distracting the populace (and the press for that matter) from the real threats to their existence and their day to day economic degradation has become Trump’s raison d’etre. Of course he is downplaying recent dire climate change reports despite the scorched earth in California or the flattened towns on the Florida panhandle because his focus must be on the other, the foreigner, the migrant. He can dehumanize, deport or easily exterminate them if politically necessary. In other words, deal with the “problem.” Climate change? Not so much.

Thankfully there has been push back, but the fundamental narrative must still be challenged. The US is textbook example of neoliberal, corporate capitalism run amok. Most taxes go for a bloated military that slaughters the poor in other countries and protects the interests of the wealthy. But there is entrenched illiteracy in the culture when it comes to this rather odious reality. The military is still adored in most precincts of society, from sports to education to religion. To criticize its’ size or the money ($716 bn) it receives is considered heresy in both ruling political parties. This might explain the impunity an increasingly militarized police force has when they crackdown on dissent or terrorize communities of colour. And there is little to no mainstream public discourse that addresses any of it.

It is the American mind that needs to be deprogrammed of this narrative for there to be any meaningful change. A mind rife with fallacies and delusions about its greatness. An attitude that ignores the reality of its dire condition and instead embraces national myths and fantasies. As long as the issue of class continues to be ignored or talked about in terms that obscure its role in political agency desperate people will look to authoritarian answers and despots that soothe their base fears and prejudices. The gap between the extremely wealthy and the rest will grow ever wider as the ecology and living standards degrade. Neglect in an age of biospheric crisis will become even more normalized. Civil rights and liberties will continue to be weakened and chipped away. As long as capitalism remains sacrosanct and considered irreproachable, the descent toward full blown fascism will eventually turn into a free fall.

Kenn Orphan  November 2018

The Same Boat

This photo of a horned owl was taken on a beach in Malibu during the catastrophic fires currently devouring huge swaths of California. It had likely taken refuge here from the fires, smoke, heat and strong Santa Ana winds that are fueling them.
The fires in California are still raging largely out of control. At least 31 are confirmed dead, towns have be erased, and over two hundred people are still missing. Only a year ago fires churned up vast areas of Napa, Sonoma and Mendocino counties. This past summer the Pacific Northwest was ablaze, producing smoke that stretched as far east as Newfoundland and beyond and could be seen from space. But what is so often sidelined or downplayed is the enormous impact disasters like this have on wildlife.
This particular photo has a haunting, even iconic, quality. It is captivating. The owl almost seems to be looking at us inquisitively as if to say “what have you and your kind done to my world?” It is a stark and sobering reminder to us homo sapiens that this planet does not only belong to us, it belongs to a myriad of species, most of whom we shall never see or hear about.
Thanks to human caused climate change, pollution and rampant development, their world is disappearing like ours, but far more rapidly than anyone can imagine. In fact, according to the World Wildlife Fund, wildlife populations have fell an unimaginable 60% globally since 1970. This owl might be the best symbol for the cruelty of this normalized and ignored catastrophe because her eyes reflect the folly of our kind. They seem to show us that despite our enormous hubris, we are all in the same boat, and that boat is on fire and sinking.
Kenn Orphan  November 2018
Photo is by Wally Skalij of the Los Angeles Times, via Getty Images.

The World that is Slipping Away

“Global climate change, over-consumption of natural resources, terror-fueled wars that led to xenophobia—these were our ancestors’ mistakes. Nations were starving to death, and people were being massacred in the thousands by radicals, and do you know what the other nations did?

 They did nothing.

 The second they stopped caring for each other is when they sealed their fate. They closed their borders. Instead of trying to save, they instead sought to preserve what they had left. This forced nations to invade in order to survive, and nuclear weapons no longer became a deterrent but a catalyst, ultimately creating a war that ended their world.” – Courtney Praski, The Seven 

  

Watching what is happening in California is heartbreaking. I lived there half my life and it will always be another home to me. But I was especially sad to hear about the town of Paradise. I had the pleasure of staying there at a friends house years ago. It was a beautiful place full of iconic tall pines and majestic volcanic geo-formations. It has been all but destroyed.

When I lived there I saw the fire season extended, year after year, until it became the entire year. It, like so many other perpetual disasters, has become normalized. But the contributors to it have also been normalized: rampant development eating up chaparral covered mountains and verdant canyons, continued extraction of fossil fuels, no long term plans for mass transit apart from auto. I lived through what I thought were apocalyptic fires where I saw ash falling from the sky like snow under an orange tinted dome, and rings of fire licking the edges of the hillside only a mile from my home. Climate change is writ large across the California landscape.

At least 200,000 people have been ordered to evacuate in California, and there have been at least a dozen deaths. But it was only a year ago fires scorched Napa, Sonoma and Mendocino, killing dozens and leaving scores homeless. Following the fires were the floods that washed more homes, and people, away in waves of mud.

Catastrophic fires churned up vast swaths of the Pacific Northwest this past summer, leaving a thick haze over the continent that rivaled the choking and toxic pollution of Dehli and Beijing. Scores perished in fast, massive blazes in Greece and Portugal this summer at the same time floods were ravaging Kerala, India and West Africa. Recently, storms and floods have lashed and inundated parts of Italy, including Venice, as well as the Middle-East and Gulf States.

For any reasonable person the dire reality of climate change cannot be denied outside of a willfully obtuse and belligerent ignorance. And yet such incredulity persists. It doesn’t help that the president of the US once said it was a Chinese hoax. Indeed, the megalomaniac in the Oval Office took time out of his day to blame California for “mismanagement” and threatened to pull federal funds. Nero himself would not have stooped to such a public display of sadism regarding the suffering of thousands of his own people. But Puerto Rico learned about this callous disregard firsthand over a year ago.

 

Each month opens a new and terrifying chapter in this climate changed world. A new catastrophe to be normalized and then forgotten and a new spike in fascist cruelty that accompanies it all. The job for us then is to refuse to normalize, refuse to forget, and to fight with all we’ve got for the world we see slipping away before us.

Kenn Orphan  November  2018

 

The Power That Must Be Resisted

“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 Le Guin

 

When the outright fascist Jair Bolsonaro won the Brazilian presidency in October, it wasn’t just the poor, people of colour, LGBTQ, or indigenous peoples that lost. Indeed, the earth’s weakened biosphere and imperiled climate lost even bigger. The president elect of the world’s 4th largest democracy has vowed to open up vast swaths of the iconic rainforest to multinational logging, cattle, mining and agricultural industries. With this one political victory the world’s ruling capitalist elite saw more dollar signs than in their wildest dreams, and the earth’s “lungs” were given a terminal prognosis.

Bolsonaro’s rise to power bears a strong resemblance to that of Donald Trump, Narendra Modi, Rodrigo Duterte and Viktor Orban. All of them have employed the techniques of classic fascism: demonizing political opponents and the media, rhetoric endorsing violence, stoking chauvinistic nationalism, scapegoating marginalized people. All them possess a disgruntled, demoralized, yet loyal base of supporters, and regularly connect with them through rallies that ridicule or bully those who dissent or disagree from their position. All of them manipulate information to spread confusion, false information or to obfuscate facts. But the most important thing these men share in common is their eagerness to wed corporate and state power, the hallmark of fascist governance. All of them sit atop treasure troves of “exploitable resources” and it is for this reason alone that they are lauded among the global capitalist elite.

Case in point, Bolsonaro received a lavish endorsement from the Wall Street Journal, the essential mouthpiece for the 1%. This should come as no surprise since their primary readership is the moneyed elite whose coffers only stand to burst with more spoils of the earth from this latest political disaster. But there are similar sentiments elsewhere. The financial newspaper Handelsblatt reported that German business leaders are “unfazed” by Bolsonaro’s election and are even “hopeful.”

Even the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC), a media outlet that is supposed to be public, had the gall to suggest that this victory might be just what the Canadian economy needs. Of course, this “Canadian economy” is comprised of the wealthy mining and logging sectors alone which have already devastated vast swaths of Central and South America. Indeed, there are scores of multinational companies that must be salivating over the prospect of legalized looting they will be allowed to do under a Bolsonaro government. And they understand that they will likely get a pass for inevitable disasters. Companies like BHP, the Anglo-Australian mining company that is responsible for a massive dam break on the Doce River in 2015 that killed at least 17 people, displaced thousands, and polluted the river and beaches along the Atlantic coast. It was one of biggest environmental disasters in Brazil’s history.

To the 1% Bolsonaro’s sexism, racism and homophobia are a non-issue. His pining for the days of military dictatorship, endorsement of torture, or the slaughter of political opponents aren’t of concern either. On the contrary, these are minor footnotes on their blood soaked ledgers. While they might prefer a more polished figurehead to give inclusive sounding speeches that preserve the status quo of global capitalism with a pleasing face, they are completely fine with an outright fascist at the helm too. Look at the corporate leaders who have met with and gushed over India’s Modi to get an idea how this works. Given this, why would the complete destruction of the Amazon rainforest give them pause? To them this region of astounding biodiversity is a treasure trove of capital investment and extraction.

The Amazon rainforest loses an area the size of Costa Rica every year due to deforestation from the palm oil, soy, logging and beef industries. Illegal extraction activities, too, have defiled river ways and assaulted indigenous peoples on their ancestral lands. Indeed, the neoliberal economic policies of prior governments and championed by the liberal status quo had not prevented the ongoing destruction of the region or protected indigenous peoples. In fact they aided corporations who sought profits over the planet or people. But Bolsonaro stands to step up the carnage and open indigenous lands and areas that are now protected from the incursions of big industry. This will amount to genocide against those who live there and ecocide against the living biosphere itself.

From the Athabasca to Standing Rock to the Niger Delta to the Amazon and beyond, the earth and its peoples are under attack. Those who are leading this assault are without conscience or rationality. They are apathetic to the existential crisis we face as a species because they sincerely believe they can buy their way to higher ground; and they are virtually untouchable by the rule of law which in most cases has been constructed to protect their interests. They are a supranational capitalist class whose power lies in the dictatorship of money. But while they wield great power, they are not all powerful.

As the late Ursula LeGuin reminded us, “any power can be resisted,” and this truth is no more urgent to understand and take hold of than at this moment in history. But resistance cannot come from the status quo establishment. After all, this is the same machine that produced fascists like Trump and Bolsonaro in the first place. Resistance must be radical and it must be global because, given the circumstances and our collective predicament, only a radical paradigm shift offers a chance of creating a different world than the dystopic one we are seeing unfold before us.

 

Kenn Orphan   November, 2018

The Legacy of Emmett Till

“Emmett Till’s death was an extreme example of the logic of America’s national racial caste system. To look beneath the surface of these facts is to ask ourselves what our relationship is today to the legacies of that caste system – legacies that still end the lives of young African Americans for no reason other than the color of their American skin and the content of our national character. Recall that Faulkner, asked to comment on the Till case when he was sober, responded, ‘If we in America have reached the point in our desperate culture where we must murder children, no matter for what reason or what color, we don’t deserve to survive and probably won’t.’ Ask yourself whether America’s predicament is really so different now.” – Timothy B. Tyson,  The Blood of Emmett Till

Recently in Brooklyn, New York, a white woman, Teresa Klein, accused a 9 year old black boy of “groping” her in a deli. She called the police, but surveillance video proved this claim to be false. The boy, Jeremiah Harvey, was left shattered and in tears by the incident. I couldn’t help but be reminded of another instance like this that proved far more tragic. In 1955, a false accusation of sexual assault led to the brutal murder of Emmett Till, a 14 year old black boy in Mississippi.

 

It was the Jim Crow south and his accuser was a white woman who claimed Emmett whistled at her, grabbed her hand, made sexual innuendos and shouted obscenities. The boy had a speech impediment, and he was undoubtedly schooled by his family on how to “behave” in the oppressively hostile environment of a racist white America. It is highly doubtful he would have even approached this woman. But it was of no consequence. He was dragged from his bed by a mob of white men, tortured, mutilated, tied with barbed wire and thrown over a bridge. His tragically horrendous fate was linked to hundreds of years of racist oppression. But this was just a little over 60 years ago and his accuser is still alive.

Emmet Till was the victim of a culture of entrenched racist cruelty. The mob that tortured, murdered and then mutilated his body had no problem viewing black children as adults and intrinsically guilty of being a sexual or existential threat to the dominant white society. Thousands of black, brown and indigenous people, and some whites, were hanged or burned alive at events that were publicized, photographed and well attended. Postcards and popcorn were even sold to the ghoulish onlookers who sometimes took home body parts as souvenirs. It is worth noting that the last officially documented lynching took place in 1981 in Alabama, not even 40 years ago. But if could be said that the brutal murder of James Byrd, Jr. in 1998 qualified as a lynching, and there are several other modern examples.

 

The lynch mobs of the post-Civil War era in the US were a form of organized terror, not too unlike the genocidal gangs of colonial settlers who exterminated or ethnically cleansed much America’s indigenous population. But the phenomenon differed in that most cases involved a white woman accusing a black male of sexual assault or rape. For centuries racial stereotypes permeated the American consciousness. But following Reconstruction, ever more insidious myths were circulated among a demoralized white majority. They conditioned an entire society to view black people as devious and savage. Black males, in particular, were cast as threats to the so-called purity of white women. This was exemplified in the notorious film “Birth of a Nation” which was shown in Woodrow Wilson’s White House to much praise. The “brute” moniker was a pejorative term that dehumanized black men as threats and was common over a century ago. It has evolved into the use of the word “thug.”

Today the legacy of America’s racist beginnings can be seen in its institutions that carry out a modern day version of lynching in the form of harassment, incarceration and police brutality. Children like Tamir Rice are among the victims of a system that justifies this continued violence in the name of public safety. It should come as no surprise, then, that Teresa Klein called the police after her spurious claim in a New York deli. She was confident of her social position and, after all, why shouldn’t she be? We have seen several instances of this recently in viral videos capturing white people claiming to be victims while making frantic 911 calls on others for the crime of existing while black. Seldom, if ever, do these people face real consequences save being called out on social media, despite the fact that they are literally putting more black or brown bodies in harms way for nothing. Consciously or not, these individuals are maintaining a caste system built through violence that has existed long before the formation of the republic itself.

 

Noting that American policing was, at least in part, rooted in the legacy of slave patrols, it is worth reflecting on how it has evolved since. Under a capitalist system the police function primarily as the protectors of private property. As the dispossession of Native Americans from their ancestral lands and the African Slave Trade were both key factors in the economic growth of the United States, it is important to understand that throughout its 242 year history, and long before, the ruling class in America enshrined white supremacy into its governance. Prior to 1856 only landowning, white men could vote, approximately 6% of the population at the time. So it is easy to understand how this history has informed the culture to this day.

 

Today’s spate of viral videos showing, in many cases, unhinged white fragility at the mere existence of free black people in their presence is a reflection of a broader and generalized angst over a perceived loss of power, privilege and social control. And with a president who has employed racist canards, demonized immigrants, transgender people and Muslims, and has routinely dehumanized people of color, it isn’t too difficult to understand how this persistent strain within American society has been emboldened once again.

 

Emmett Till still haunts the American consciousness. His torn face is emblematic of the racist strain that still runs deep in the culture. The photographs of his mutilated body show a boy chewed up by a violent culture of entrenched privilege, class repression and virulent social hatred. He was photographed in the coffin that he was laid to rest in at his mother’s request, and we should be forever grateful to her for what must have been the most difficult decision of her life. Because with that one act, she showed the country what it truly was.

 

Kenn Orphan  24, October 2018

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