Author Archives: Kenn Orphan

About Kenn Orphan

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

The Banality of Empire

This month freshman Rep. Ilhan Omar questioned Trump’s nominee for envoy to Venezuela, Elliot Abrams. While her interrogation was somewhat tepid in regard to American imperialism (she said “no one disputes” that the US goal has always been to support democracy and defend human rights), she did bring up the role of the US in the massacres in El Salvador in the 1980s. Massacres in which Abrams is implicated. It was also instructive in that it provided a visual to how deeply debased the American political landscape actually is. Abrams is a Presidential pardoned liar who provided cover for some of the most heinous war crimes of the 20th century. That he has reemerged again to lead a coup against the democratically elected government of yet another Latin American country is testament to the banality of American Empire and how uninterested it is in its own history or unending brutality and corruption.

The history of US imperialism in this region, like so many others around the world, is one drenched in blood. In 1954 a mercenary army hired by the United Fruit Company and assisted by the US government staged a military coup which overthrew the democratically elected, reform oriented, government of Colonel Jacobo Arbenz Guzman. Colonel Carlos Castillo Armas was installed as the new president of Guatemala and thus began a military dictatorship that would span the latter half of the 20th century. The indigenous Maya of the country had long been viewed as sub-human by the ruling, Spanish descended, elite, a supremacist stain that remains to this day. Some Mayans and others protested their oppression under this neo-fuedalistic tyranny, but all Mayans were collectively punished, culminating in a multi-stage genocide that took the lives of at least 200,000 people and created millions of refugees. It was a presage to the current migrant crisis in North America.

Israel was also complicit in the genocide, supplying arms and training mercenaries.  In fact General Rios Montt, the military general who is largely blamed for directing the genocide, gave his personal thanks to both the US and Israel for assisting him conducting the systematic rape, torture and slaughter of the country’s indigenous population. Trained at the infamous School of the Americas Montt, who died in April of last year, was an evangelical Christian minister and a personal friend of ultra-conservative televangelists Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson. This is instructive since we now have Christian dominionists like Pence and Pompeo at the helm. Montt was also unquestioningly supported and praised by President Ronald Reagan. “President Ríos Montt,” Reagan said, “is a man of great personal integrity and commitment. I know he wants to improve the quality of life for all Guatemalans and to promote social justice.”

It is interesting to note that little has changed in the parlance of imperialists of both the liberal and conservative brand. Again, it is unoriginal. “Social justice” or “human rights” are used to justify “humanitarian intervention,” code words of empire for ethnic cleansing and genocide. We can hear it today and not only from Trump, but also in the corporate media and among the so-called resistance in the Democratic Party when talking about Venezuela. So it is worth re-visiting this dark page in Guatemalan history to expose what this banality provides cover for.

According to a 2004 report on the massacre by the Inter-American Court on Human rights, Montt’s forces:

“separated the children and the young women aged from about 15 to 20. Then the massacre began. First they tortured the old people, saying they were guerrillas, then they threw two grenades and fired their guns. Finally they sprayed petrol around and set fire to the house… [The next day, Buenaventura Manuel Jeronimo] emerged from his hiding place to see the destruction they had caused. Along with Eulalio Grave Ramírez and his brothers Juan, Buenaventura, and Esteban, they put out the flames that were still consuming the bodies. Those that weren’t totally charred showed signs of torture, as did the naked bodies of the youngest women.”

Another account was from a survivor:

“After having killed our wives, they brought out our children. They grabbed their feet and beat their heads against the house posts. I had six children. They all died, and my wife as well.. All my life my heart will cry because of it.”
– the only survivor of the San Francisco massacre in Huehuetenango, Guatemala

General Mott was charged with genocide, but his moneyed legal team successfully stalled due process of the trial on technicalities. He died without ever facing consequences for his monstrous crimes.

 

Repeat this story in El Salvador, Honduras and countless other places and a picture emerges of coordinated, US-backed and funded genocide. Stories that detail the rape of girls and young women, or the torture of children and the elderly, or the forced disappearances of boys and men, or the burning of countless villages and mass graves. But these stories get buried by the American imperial machine, especially when it involves the poor or people of color. We see that happening in the endless barrage of corporate media stories parroting State Department narratives on Venezuela. The poor, POC and the indigenous of that country who benefited greatly from Bolivarian reforms are rendered invisible. Their marches or rallies aren’t covered. Their voices silenced. But the middle to upper middle class protests are broadcast endlessly and sympathetically.

 

But as the American Empire attempts to build walls around its failing state to keep out the refugees its belligerent foreign and economic policies have created, it is simultaneously forging new ties with other repressive regimes or client states in an effort to secure the last remaining sources of capital left on the planet. And its interests in “human rights” are demonstrably a sham when its allies include Duterte of the Philippines who has slaughtered tens of thousands of people in his six year term, or the murderous King of medieval Saudi Arabia who ruthlessly represses his own people and is in charge of a genocidal campaign in Yemen, or Netanyahu, the openly racist prime minister of a decades long apartheid and ethnic cleansing regime, or the Hindutva nationalist Modi who presides over the merciless occupation of Kashmir, or the newly elected fascist Bolsonaro of Brazil, who has vowed to carve up the Amazon rain forest and slaughter indigenous people who stand in his way, and who is now poised to do Washington’s bidding in Venezuela. But the official narrative on these states is unsurprisingly drenched in duplicitous banality. Each is described as a either a democracy or an “ally against terrorism” or nation that “shares similar interests.”

 

But the ruling class understands that capitalism has become indefensible to anyone except the terminally deluded. This is especially true in the US where inequality is soaring, GoFundMe sites are set up to meet bankrupting healthcare and education costs, and more and more people are having to work more than one job that pays less, and live further from their work in order to afford housing. They understand the pressure is mounting against capitalist policies that favor the wealthy and corporations. Trump’s recent paranoid ramblings against socialism underscore the terror in their hearts. In a recent speech about Venezuela before some of his feckless and fawning fans he said:

“tyrannical socialist government nationalized private industries and took over private businesses. They engaged in massive wealth confiscation, shut down free markets, suppressed free speech, and set up a relentless propaganda machine, rigged elections, used the government to persecute their political opponents, and destroyed the impartial rule of law. In other words, the socialists have done in Venezuela all of the same things that socialists, communists, totalitarians have done everywhere that they’ve had a chance to rule. The results have been catastrophic.”

Of course capitalist governments have perpetrated such crimes via legalization of corporate monopolies which devastate small business owners. “Wealth confiscation” are code words for the wealthy avoiding taxation and the free market is a meaningless canard that obscures the power of a small moneyed elite’s control over the conditions of that market. Indeed, Trump’s disconnect with reality defies facts on the ground. 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.

But Trump’s remarks on the suppression of free speech, propaganda, persecution of political opponents and the rule of law are simply delusional. Each one of those repressive tactics have been employed by the US government in service to corporate interests, and especially by his administration.

He went on to say:

“Socialism, by its very nature, does not respect borders. It does not respect boundaries or the sovereign rights of its citizens or its neighbors. It’s always seeking to expand, to encroach, and to subjugate others to its will. The twilight hour of socialism has arrived in our hemisphere — and, frankly, in many, many places around the world. The days of socialism and communism are numbered not only in Venezuela, but in Nicaragua and in Cuba as well.”

 

Of course to anyone who has even a basic education in imperialism understands this is preposterous given the fact that the US has nearly 900 military bases around the world and has invaded dozens of countries covertly and overtly in the name of freedom. Venezuela, Nicaragua and Cuba have invaded none. But his fans loved it. Duplicitous banality goes far with that crowd. What was bizarre and telling is that his fears challenge the very dogma of capitalism that has been sacrosanct following the fall of the USSR. That was supposed to be an end to the “red menace.” But Trump has revealed that capitalism wasn’t as victorious as we had been told.

Reagan told Gorbachev to “tear down this wall” erroneously signalling the moral dominance of capitalism and American Empire over the besieged USSR. Now Trump is feverishly building it up again because that same Empire has created a refugee crisis in regions it sought to control. But the specters of the Cold War are apparently hiding out in Venezuela, North Korea and Iran, nations that are coincidentally fossil fuel and mineral rich. What is equally telling is that so many American liberals have lined up with the man they have so enjoyed calling a racist, white supremacist and Nazi sympathizer these past few years. It is apparent that their true allegiance is to American imperialism above all else.

 

The American Empire may be in its final stage. Imperiled like everyone else by climate change chaos and an endangered biosphere, it is also facing the silent global abandonment of the US dollar and internal socioeconomic strife brought on by neoliberal policies which have stripped the rights of workers and the citizenry in favor of corporations and the police/surveillance state. But this only means that it will become more belligerent and delusional as it spirals downward. Its defense of capital, always its only raison d’etre, is no longer being hidden by lofty platitudes either. After all, its leaders are drunk on a hubris that accompanies a bloated military, the most expensive in the world. It is why they hypnotically repeat the line “all options are on the table” as if any rational person would think any other option other than militarism is seriously being considered. An example of this was when war monger extraordinaire John Bolton was recorded on a Fox News segment saying how he has been in touch with various fossil fuel companies who are gleefully awaiting a Venezuelan oil sector they can freely exploit. His risible “troika of terror” comment harkens back to GWB’s “axis of evil.” But there is little to laugh at when one considers the true cost of American imperialism. One paid for with the blood of the poor, the indigenous, the innocent, and the living earth itself.

 

We should not be surprised when men like Elliot Abrams resurface from the dark pages of history to provide cover for the crimes of empire. After all, imperialism is murderous, immoral and cruel, but it is unoriginal. And it is this banality that makes all of it so damned insidious.

 

Kenn Orphan   2019

The Belligerence of Empire in its Waning Days

Yesterday President Trump told an audience of feckless fans that:
“tyrannical socialist government nationalized private industries and took over private businesses. They engaged in massive wealth confiscation, shut down free markets, suppressed free speech, and set up a relentless propaganda machine, rigged elections, used the government to persecute their political opponents, and destroyed the impartial rule of law.
In other words, the socialists have done in Venezuela all of the same things that socialists, communists, totalitarians have done everywhere that they’ve had a chance to rule. The results have been catastrophic.”

 

No mention was made of the unending attacks and sanctions placed on Venezuela that make governance near impossible. But the greatest omission was the fact that the US is a dictatorship of money where scores of people are incarcerated, especially people of colour. Scores more are working low wage jobs and depend on food stamps and GoFundMe sites because they lack basic health coverage. Many more have crushing student loan debt, mortgages or exorbitant rents.

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).
Trump went on to say:
“Socialism, by its very nature, does not respect borders. It does not respect boundaries or the sovereign rights of its citizens or its neighbors. It’s always seeking to expand, to encroach, and to subjugate others to its will.
The twilight hour of socialism has arrived in our hemisphere — and, frankly, in many, many places around the world. The days of socialism and communism are numbered not only in Venezuela, but in Nicaragua and in Cuba as well.”
Of course this is risible to anyone who has even a basic education in imperialism given the fact that the US has nearly 900 military bases around the world and has invaded dozens of countries covertly and overtly in the name of freedom, but his fans loved it. It was as if Libya, Iraq, and dozens of other failures of imperialist intervention had never happened. One has to ask which nations exactly has Venezuela or Cuba invaded?
But so many American “liberals” have lined up with the man they have so enjoyed calling a racist, white supremacist and Nazi sympathizer in their feckless allegiance to American imperialism.
Strange times in the waning days of American Empire.
This illustration is entitled “School Begins: Uncle Sam lectures his class in Civilisation.” It is a blatantly racist representation of nations and territories that did not accept American dominance. The pouting pupils are labelled Philippines, Hawaii, Puerto Rico and Cuba. The well mannered and mostly white students apparently accept US lessons in “civilization.” It is was published in 1899 as a way to justify US imperialism. But it might as well have been published today.
Kenn Orphan   2019

The Ghouls of Capital

This strange obsession of the wealthy to pay large sums of money to hunt and kill rare species typifies this last and most ruthless form of capitalism. It is a collective form of psychosis in that these people must know in some shadowy precinct of their near deadened souls that species are going extinct by the thousands each year thanks to human activity, but believe that killing off what is rare will somehow make them feel more alive.
 
They betray their own pitiful, faux prowess and reveal the depravity of their own unmet grief at it all by extinguishing that life for a photo. But then that emptiness must rush in again and grip their nearly dead souls like a vice until the next paid kill.
 
I would like to say I feel sorry for them, but I don’t. Their loathsome and willful dearth of soul makes them appear like ghouls with craven jaws looking to devour the last remaining beauty of a dying earth. Are they any different than the so-called captains of industry who see pristine forests or mountain tops and think the removal of such for fleeting monetary profit as a good thing? Or of the military industry and weapons manufacturing sector which create uranium laced bullets or marine killing sonar? Or factory farm owners who house millions of sentient beings in squalid, tortuous conditions? Or fossil fuel companies who think an oil spill in a life drenched coral reef would be a ‘welcomed boost’ to local communities?
 
A philosophy that reduces the living earth to mere capital will in the end reduce humanity itself to dust.
 
Photo is of Bryan Kinsel Harlan, a trophy hunter from Texas, who was photographed with this glorious creature after he paid $110,000 to slaughter it in the northern Himalayan region of Gilgit-Baltistan. He said: “It was an easy and close shot. I am pleased to take this trophy.”
Kenn Orphan   2019

Greenwashing Climate Catastrophe

“With “capitalism in danger of falling apart” (a rare, cryptically honest quote from Al Gore), and years of stagnant global economic growth now in a free fall, the Greta campaign must be understood for what it is. An elaborate distraction that has nothing to do with protecting the natural world, and everything to do with the manufacturing of consent. The required consent of the citizenry that will unlock the treasuries and public monies under the guise of climate protection.” – Cory Morningstar and Forest Palmer , from The Manufacturing of Greta Thunberg – For Consent: The House is on Fire & the 90 Trillion Dollar Rescue, 2019

“One might think that if someone were conscious enough to recognise that global ecology was compromised and that pollutants were destroying fresh water, and the land, and that global warming was quite possibly going to make huge swatches of land non arable — you might think that person would look for solutions in a political frame. After all it was global capital that had brought mankind to this historic precipice. But instead, many if not nearly all the people I speak with, frame things in terms of personal responsibility. Stop driving big diesel SUVs, stop flying to Cabo for vacation, stop eating meat, etc-. But these same people tend to not criticize capitalism. Or, rather, they ask for a small non crony green capitalism. I guess this would mean green exploitation and green wars? For war is the engine of global capitalism today. Cutting across this are the various threads of the overpopulation theme. A convenient ideological adjustment that shifts blame to the poorest inhabitants of the planet.” – John Steppling, Trust Nothing, 2019

“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, The Common Good, 1998

“Modern business must have its finger continuously on the public pulse. It must understand the changes in the public mind and be prepared to interpret itself fairly and eloquently to changing opinion.” ― Edward L. Bernays, Propaganda, 1928

It is hard not to notice a stirring of consciousness regarding humanity’s dire ecological predicament beginning to seep into the mainstream these days. How can it not? Year after year records are shattered. Month after month scientists continue to be shocked and demoralized by more and more evidence of rising seas, a climate careening into a chaotic and terrifying unknown, and countless species succumbing in a biosphere perpetually under siege. Even the corporate media which has been designed as a mouthpiece of capitalist interests cannot completely veil our collective crisis. Unsurprisingly, the ruling class has begun to react, not in a way that meaningfully addresses the death cult of the current socioeconomic order, but to ensure its survival albeit with a greener face. Their cynical approach to what is the biggest existential crisis of our age is using youthful optimism and justified outrage and terror to cloud their machinations.

One such prominent youth these days is Greta Thunberg, the 16 year old Swedish girl who delivered a rousing speech at the UN Climate Change Conference and before the world’s wealthiest at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. Indeed, her speech was inspiring and I do not doubt her passion or honest devotion to climate activism for a minute, but to ignore the powerful machine looking to co-opt her message would be a grave mistake. For instance, Thunberg has been given interviews in the corporate press, has been endorsed by a tech start-up company (We Don’t Have Time), and has been lauded by industry for promoting “sustainable development.”

Now certainly Thunberg is not the one manipulating any of these actors, and she should not face any kind of criticism for her part in addressing the greatest existential issue of our times. But it should be clear that most people who get interviews in the corporate media are generally not deemed to be a serious challenger to the status quo political/economic order. Corporate approved dissent is a form of censorship that gives the illusion of a lively debate, but essentially establishes a firm line in the sand when it comes to radically questioning or opposing the capitalist framework itself. And if finance companies are behind something we can be pretty sure that they are primarily in it for the money. In addition to this, the term sustainable development is meaningless on a planet that is literally on the edge of a cliff, but under the dominant economic dictatorship of money the co-opted mainstream environmental movement has pumped out these tropes making them a form of collective social conditioning.

And this ties into the notion of personal responsibility. Solutions to our environmental crisis have been reduced to “life style changes” which have also become the en vogue activism of the day. It is a line of thinking that is accepted and even endorsed by corporations, banks and neoliberal governments because it poses no real challenge to their power or their ongoing destructive practices. To the mainstream, tweaking one’s lifestyle is all that is needed. Buy an electric vehicle or use a bicycle. Don’t take a plane on your vacation. Buy reusable bags. Choose organic only. Go vegan. Buy reusable straws. While there is nothing wrong with doing these things in general, they must be understood as individual choices that are based on privilege and that have little impact in addressing the urgent crisis our biosphere is facing right now.

What they do manage to do is deliver an added punishment on the poor and working class, people who are struggling to make ends meet. It places an unfair level of guilt on ordinary people whose impact on the environment is relatively negligible compared to the enormous destruction caused by the fossil fuel industry, mining companies, plastic and packaging production, shipping and the military industrial complex. Seldom (if ever) questioned are the basic foundations of the current economic order which is driving the decimation of the biosphere for the benefit of the wealthy Davos jet set.

It has in fact become only about “sustainability” despite the contradiction of sustaining a system that is at its core omnicidal. Corporations have been actively branding themselves with empty greenwashing euphemisms like “green” or “earth friendly” in the decades following the first Earth Day. It is as if our species were somehow alien visitors to this planet and being friendly to it was merely a diplomatic concern. Certainly a handful of corporations did in fact change some of their practices under public pressure and for the sake of image. Some of those changes had beneficial effects for certain species and areas. But the primary engine of capitalism that has led us to the brink of devastation is never questioned. It is sacrosanct.

With this in mind political solutions, like the Green New Deal, are being trotted out by democratic socialist and neoliberal politicians that merely cloak the problem, never identifying the root of it all: Capitalism. In fact, many of these policies are weak on protecting nature and are simply designed to keep capitalism afloat. At its core this is a system that is incapable of even beginning  to address climate change or biospheric degeneration. Its principles are based upon the exploitation of the environment for the material gain of the ruling class, kept alive through institutions of repression and corporate state violence. Under this rubric environmental causes may be soothed for some; but the poor and working class are continually battered and raped by industry and the corrupt governments that house and protect them. Indigenous peoples, who face the worst exploitation, continually see their lands desecrated and denuded by state policing factions at the behest of powerful corporations. And militarism, which is of course wedded to capitalism, ensures that all of this exploitation can continue and expand virtually unopposed by bourgeois society.

It may be a hard pill for many to swallow, but there are simply no viable answers to be found in Washington, or the hills of Hollywood, or the board rooms of Wall Street, or even at the United Nations which generally capitulates to the demands of the ruling class. They have molded each of these institutions, media industries and government bodies to fit their censorious narrative in order to suppress dissent against the current economic order, under which they so handsomely profit. And one would be wise to approach whatever they offer with great caution. After all, they have been labouring for years to dismember the commons, grow their inordinate wealth through plunder, and maintain their dominance through corruption, militarism and distraction. The sacredness of the public sphere has been defiled by the inviolable liturgy of free market dogma. And they have manufactured a culture of cruelty, devoid of character and predicated on colonization and the commodification and exploitation of everything and everyone that exists. In this way neoliberalism, the last and most ruthless stage of capitalism, has become the most elaborate and successful form of brainwashing and social control the world has ever known, convincing hundreds of millions of people of the absolute necessity of its economic tyranny and omnicidal madness.


But despite the machinations of the ruling class to obfuscate, infiltrate and co-opt movements, there remains a genuine longing for connection to the ever besieged living planet and solidarity with one another that transcends the indifferent and sadistic brutality of the capitalist order. This is especially true as capitalism begins to implode and the biosphere continues to degrade. Therefore the most coherent response to what we are witnessing will always come from ordinary people in community, especially the poor and especially indigenous peoples who are on the front lines of a war being waged by governments serving the interests of the wealthy ruling class and global capitalism. But we can be assured that anything that emanates from the halls of power will be merely another ploy to maintain their control and fill the coffers of the uber-rich at the expense of the rest of us and the living earth itself. And they have no problem using the innocent passion of a 16 year old girl to hide all of their crimes.

Kenn Orphan   2019

 

The Propagandists for Empire

With most media attention in the US on the government shutdown and border wall stand-off spectacle, the Trump administration has been quietly ramping up US militarism around the world. And it has set its sights on Venezuela, once again, by supporting a coup. Whether or not one supports the policies of Maduro or any other leader is inconsequential in this regard because, despite the empty mythos, the American Empire has never been interested in defending democracy. After all, its list of allies include fascist strongholds, a murderous medieval kingdom, a ruthless apartheid regime and several compliant, neoliberal states.

The ruling class of the US imperium will simply not tolerate any government that opposes its financial and geopolitical dominance, attempts socialism, or transfers its nexus to another powerful state entity, like Russia or China for instance. If one chooses to do so it is instantly targeted for assault either by crippling economic sanctions or embargoes, which make governance nearly impossible and primarily harms the general population, or covert subversion, or by direct and indirect military intervention. And the corporate media, when it chooses to cover these issues, generally parrots State Department and Pentagon talking points and obfuscations about the intentions of the US government, the role of corporations and global capitalism, and the character of the governments the US happens to be opposing at the time. And all of this is done with virtually no historical analysis. But of course none of this is new.

Whether it was for Reagan in Grenada or Bush Sr. in Panama or Kuwait, or Clinton in the Balkans, the American mainstream media has dutifully peddled the lies of Washington. The media cycle was drenched in the lies of the Bush administration about “weapons of mass destruction” in Iraq. Despite Iraq having absolutely nothing to do with the attacks on 9/11, the corporate media did little to underscore this fact at a time when the Empire was ratcheting up the war machine. Those who questioned it often lost their jobs or were marginalized. Now that this foray resulted in the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of civilians, mass migration, and the decimation of an entire region many in the media and some politicians have looked back with selective remorse. As if that helps the dead in any way.

The corporate media came to the aid of the Obama administration when it targeted Libya, repeating stories, many unsubstantiated, about atrocities being carried out by the Gaddafi government. When Gaddafi himself was brutally murdered by a mob his death was talked about in the parlance of empire. “We came, we saw, he died,” Hillary Clinton, then Secretary of State, maniacally proclaimed in a television interview. And the media barely lifted an eyebrow of shock. On the contrary, they laughed and applauded it. Now that country, once one of the most prosperous in Africa, has become a haven for slave traders and a focal point for the migration crisis in Europe. But one would be hard pressed to find many big news stories once the US/NATO war machine has finished bombing their intended target. All the monumental failures and brutality of militarism should rationally signal its end, not only in the US but everywhere. The interests of capital, however, drive its continued expansion. And the corporate media has been its ever faithful mouthpiece.

The mendacity of a sycophantic corporate press has allowed for decades of unrestrained plunder and whole scale destruction of entire societies, regions and ecosystems. It speaks in a language sanctified by empire which, of course, cannot mention the word “empire” or “imperialism” at all. It is, after all, a media governed and guided by corporate interests and those interests are tied to some of the most lucrative industries on the planet. Business is booming, in fact, for American and multinational companies that profit from war and militarism, like Northrop Grumman, General Dynamics, Boeing, Lockheed Martin and Raytheon. Other companies, like those in the fossil fuel industry and infrastructure development contracting, wait in the wings for the aftermath of each new exploit like vultures waiting to feed on carrion.

The corporate press understands how sacrosanct the military is to the elite establishment in the US. One can see this in the copious amount of “experts” on cable news that are members or former members of the US military, the CIA and other agencies of empire. No one at the top dare question how much money the military gets, this year it is slated to get at least $716 billion, or call it out as the biggest polluter on the planet and contributor to global warming. The ones who do in the mainstream are swiftly chastised or silenced.

No tears can be shed for America’s so-called “enemies” either. A hospital? A school? A wedding party? An ambulance? None of these garner the same outpouring of sympathy that just one American soldier receives. They know, too, that the culture has been conditioned into obeisance to the war industry. This is the same machine which bamboozles young men and women with scant economic or educational opportunities into “defending US interests” – code words for being cannon fodder, a term buried long ago, or mercenaries for the protection of corporate investments.

Of course militaristic jingoism is nothing new in the US. It has played well for decades at nearly every single sporting event getting slicker with more techno flash every time. With jets tearing the sky into shards over packed stadiums festooned with red, white and blue everything, crowds of disenfranchised youth are encouraged to buy into the lie that bombing impoverished and largely powerless people elsewhere to smithereens will somehow defend their homeland.

High schools and even colleges welcome recruiters often to “career day” events. The organized murder game is often their only option for employment or educational advancement. But should they return home from a deployment damaged, with PTSD or in financial straits they are generally scuttled out of the spotlight. Suicide, domestic abuse, and homelessness are skyrocketing among them, but you would hardly know that if you watch cable news or read most mainstream newspapers. True, they are occasionally trotted out onto podiums by politicians for empty patriotic accolades, but only if they are telegenic and useful for the continuation of the war machine. Should they dissent from the narrative, they are rendered invisible.

Hollywood acts as an arm to this media intoxication when it comes to the military. Watch virtually any action, sci-fi or suspense movie these days and notice how militarism is seamlessly laced through most of the plot lines. Military hardware is easily available for these productions. Soldiers are almost always cast as virtuous. And this also demonstrates the strain of pernicious authoritarianism within American culture. FBI and CIA agents, detectives, prosecutors, all of them are portrayed with an air of troubled, perhaps flawed, but intact unassailable nobility.

And this gets to the covert actions of the American Empire which are obscured or talked about in muddied terms even more. Those actions masterminded in the dark halls of the surveillance state. Whether it be supporting coups, kidnapping dissidents, targeted assassinations, or training and funding death squads, the US has a long history of destabilizing democratically elected governments or infiltrating democratic movements with subterfuge. It did this in the Democratic Republic of the Congo when it murdered its first president, Patrice Lumumba. It did so in Iran when it toppled the government of Mohammad Mosaddegh. It did it in Chile when it aided the coup against Salvador Allende. It did it in Indonesia, and El Salvador, and Honduras and so on. So there should be no doubt that it is doing it again, right now, in Venezuela.

The ones rendered expendable by the American mainstream media, who are seldom if ever spoken of, are the civilian victims of the American Empire’s endless wars, occupations and covert actions. They are ghosts that roam the sphere without glorious tombs in which to repose. No imperial-sanctioned, wreath clad monuments adorn their graves. No days of remembrance. They may have met their end in the killing fields created or fostered by the Empire thanks to a brutality paid for in full by the US taxpayer, but they are not important enough to be mentioned by the American media except maybe in passing. It is as if uttering their names might summon a spirit of vengeance from a mountain of corpses, the sediment of imperialism itself.

Of course other nations around the planet, including Russia and China, use brutal militarism as well to crush dissent. But none of them invests or spends nearly as much as the US in this regard, nor use it to the same extent. And this is what makes American imperialism the most dangerous on the planet. The business of the American Empire, after all, is war, whether it is selling weaponry to its client states who are actively engaged in genocide, occupation or repression, be it Saudi Arabia, India or Israel, or engaging in war games itself throughout Africa and Central Asia. And as the Trump administration lurches toward an even more aggressive foreign policy, and even more sanctions and threats of military actions against Venezuela or Iran or North Korea, we will be seeing a lot of the same sycophantic and ahistorical propaganda being pumped out by virtually every corporate media outlet. While they might loath Trump’s vulgarity and overt racism, they will never oppose his belligerent foreign policy. The enemies of the American Empire will always be vilified accordingly as the enemies of democracy because mendacious doublespeak is the official language of a media inextricably wedded to its corporate masters.

Kenn Orphan   2019

The Smile of Class Privilege

There it is again. Recognize it? That smile. A grin, really. You can spin it anyway you want to, but it is unmistakable except, of course, to the toxically innocent or ahistorical and willfully obtuse. It is one born of privilege.
 
The boys in this photo were taunting Dorothy Counts who was the first black student admitted to Harry Harding High School, in Charlotte, North Carolina, in 1957. She was forced to withdraw from the school only four days later following unrelenting harassment, threats and jeers by her white classmates.
 
In the days following the now infamous incident in Washington DC between a group of mostly white students from the all-male Covington Catholic high school in Kentucky and Native American elder Nathan Phillips, photos like these have been resurfacing. But there is a missing component to most of the commentary. And it is by design.
 
A statement has been released that was supposedly from the one boy in the now viral photograph. And many have reposted it as supposed evidence of the ‘pure innocence’ of him and his peers’ behavior that afternoon. After reading it twice it comes across as a carefully edited and prepared statement, as if drawn up by the family lawyer. And this is what is important here. How many working class kids have access to such services? Without class analysis of this incident everything else is rendered meaningless.
 
I’ve watched the videos several times. I have heard the obnoxious language hurled at the students by a small group from a cult called the Black Hebrew Israelites. I have watched the students body language. I have observed Nathan Phillips demeanor and that of the boys, and one issue that is glaring is that of class.
 
The boys in this video have a life that has been carefully crafted by their petit bourgeois standing in American society. They are clearly being groomed for upper middle class professions and up standing roles in civic leadership. Their presence in Washington was no accident either. They were bused in to protest women’s reproductive freedom. And those tickets and the hotel stay I’m guessing were not cheap. That they attend an all-male school while participating in political speech that seeks to limit a woman’s control over her own body is telling. After all, racism, class and patriarchy are a trinity of oppression.
 
The boys at Covington are undeniably privileged. Tuition for the private school is nearly $10,000 a year and that is not including extracurricular activities like the ‘March for Life’ that they attended. The median income in the region is around $25,000. That they are mostly white is no small issue either.
 
But America doesn’t do class analysis. Never really has in the mainstream. That would be “too commie” so it is a forbidden topic in the media and a self-imposed censorship by most Americans whether liberal or conservative. And so discussing this incident as if it were a conflict between equals has become an exercise in the absurd.
 
Like the kids at Harry Harding High School, the boys from Covington have always had the upper hand in America. And that is a sad fact that will never change in the United States so long as it remains what it is: a dictatorship of class privilege, white supremacy, and money. 
Kenn Orphan   2019

The Smile that Precedes Atrocity

I don’t know this boy, but I know that smile. I know its cruelty; its sadism born in notions of supremacy. I’ve seen it when I’ve been mocked at antiwar rallies, or anti-racist demonstrations, water and land protection ceremonies, or LGBTQ events. I’ve seen it from young men whose insecurity cannot abide another’s liberation.

I’ve seen that face chasing me down the block with clenched fists or preceding a spit at my face. It is easily recognizable, that face, that smile. It is the smile of mockery that precedes violence, that is the precursor to atrocity.

Yes, he is only a boy. They are only teens. But history is replete with examples of youth who have been emboldened by the twisted lies of supremacy. Rivers of blood have poured down allies and stairwells by young souls twisted into beasts.

There is still time for this young man to change. Still time for him to reclaim his humanity. But there isn’t much time left for the society in which he emerged. The society that made that smile possible in the first place.

Kenn Orphan   2019

In Remembrance of Mary Oliver

Mary Oliver was a poet in a world that routinely and ruthlessly crushes poetic vision. She possessed a gentle spirit exquisitely above the petty, soul-defying and self-absorbed epoch we reside in, a world thoughtlessly divorced from the natural world of which it is born of and sustained by. Hers was a vision of connection and invitation.

“You do not have to be good. 
You do not have to walk on your knees for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting. 
You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.” – from Wild Geese (1986)

“I stood willingly and gladly in the characters of everything — other people, trees, clouds. And this is what I learned, that the world’s otherness is antidote to confusion — that standing within this otherness — the beauty and the mystery of the world, out in the fields or deep inside books — can re-dignify the worst-stung heart.” – from Staying Alive (1995)

When Death Comes by Mary Oliver (2005)

“When death comes
like the hungry bear in autumn;
when death comes and takes all the bright coins from his purse

to buy me, and snaps the purse shut;
when death comes
like the measle-pox;

when death comes
like an iceberg between the shoulder blades,

I want to step through the door full of curiosity, wondering:
what is it going to be like, that cottage of darkness?

And therefore I look upon everything
as a brotherhood and a sisterhood,
and I look upon time as no more than an idea,
and I consider eternity as another possibility,

and I think of each life as a flower, as common
as a field daisy, and as singular,

and each name a comfortable music in the mouth,
tending, as all music does, toward silence,

and each body a lion of courage, and something
precious to the earth.

When it’s over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.

When it’s over, I don’t want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.
I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened,
or full of argument.

I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.”

~ Mary Oliver

 

Mary did not merely visit this world, she wove her words into its very fabric.

Rest in peace (September 10, 1935 – January 17, 2019).

Kenn Orphan   2019

 

Graham Allen and the Phenomenon of the Toxic Internet “Personality”

I usually don’t write about this side of American culture, but it is hard not to these days. The man in the photo is Graham Allen, an “internet personality” (a meaningless, convoluted term I despise) who nevertheless has over millions of followers on Facebook and Twitter. He is known best for his “Rant Nation” and appearances on Fox News and other rightwing media. The photo was posted on Facebook and Twitter with the caption:

Practicing our “toxic masculinity”

Hey Gillette does this offend you?! 😂😂

I’ll raise my kids the way I believe they should be….thanks for your advice😉

-Graham🇺🇸

To be clear, I despise corporate moralizing and virtue signaling. It doesn’t matter which corporation is doing it, Gillette, Nike. It’s a cynical and puerile marketing strategy designed to latch on to some au courant trend in bourgeoisie society. It inoculates consumers to the loathsome and abusive character of corporate capitalism and the record of egregious labour or human rights policies of these companies in particular. But what is interesting is that the Gillette ad had actually nothing to say about gun rights. It was an ad denouncing (albeit in the smug parlance of corporate doublespeak) that bullying and sexism are wrong. It was, in essence, the corporate sanctification of the #MeToo movement. But it is an interesting study into the psyche and entrenched angst at the heart of white America.

Most of Allen’s videos are too obnoxious or stupid to sit through (I have). He is a sort of rightwing Kim Kardashian. Spectacle with no substance. His bizarre Christian Oprah-esque self-help talks are complete with sappy background music, I guess to show his audience that he is being serious. But they are also juxtaposed to tirades against the demands of millennials, working people and the oppressed, which kind of goes hand in hand with the reactionary American evangelical notion of puritanism and punitive work ethics. Most try to be humorous in a lowbrow sort of way, but several of his videos are far from harmless.

He has minimized or denied police violence against people of colour, employed Donald Trump’s vile rhetoric regarding immigrants and refugees (see him blaming migrant parents for the inhuman policy of separating them from their children at the border), supported the idiotic border wall, dehumanized LGBTQ people through mockery or even the implied threat of violence (see his copious use of guns as props in various videos), promoted feckless nationalism (enforce the pledge allegiance to a piece of cloth or kneeling for an anthem drenched in racist blood), American militarism (Allen is supposedly an Army veteran who has had 2 tours of combat and pushes the tired trope of “support the troops or else” mantra despite decades of murderous wars of imperialism), many tirades against newly elected senator Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez or what he believes is “socialism” sans any historical or class analysis (a topic forbidden in America to both liberals and conservatives alike). His favourite rants seem to be against people who supposedly hate America (the “greatest country in the world” and “better than everyone else” on the planet according to him), socialists, activists, etc, or posting sentimental slop that erases or glosses over the nation’s imperialistic militarism or its dark legacy of racism, bigotry, genocide and colonial oppression.

Some of Allen’s videos are full of blatant falsehoods. In one where he disparages Colin Kaepernick, for instance, he trots out the lie that another football celebrity, Pat Tillman, died for his country. In reality he was killed by “friendly fire,” a fact buried by the Pentagon. There is even evidence that suggests he was possibly murdered and his personal effects, including a personal journal, were destroyed. Prior to his death Tillman came out against the war and did not want his name to be used as a war propaganda tool. But Allen doesn’t care about those wishes. He would rather parrot Pentagon talking points that excuse the imperial war machine in Washington.

But Allen’s recent photo is rather emblematic of the toxic rot at the heart of American society. Celebrity internet personalities are experts, albeit unwittingly, at illustrating this cultural degeneration. Excessive posturing to the point of making one appear more like a caricature than a human being, historical revisionism via sentimental language, belligerent nationalism for the sake of belligerence alone, a deep seated loathing for any intellectual curiosity and no real interest in the issues that ordinary working class people are actually facing or the systems that cause strife to begin with. But Allen’s “rants” are generally about distraction and he operates in an echo chamber that can be found among liberals as well. Insulated to reality and uninterested in anything that contradicts or dissents from their worldview.

This particular photo isn’t offensive because it fetishizes guns (it does, of course) but this phallic-like obsession is indeed associated with a pervasive insecure masculinity that is endemic to American culture. This photo is a sort of micro-study in how the culture itself has steadily become infantilized. Gillette’s ad was annoying in the same way all corporate moralizing is annoying. But the backlash is mostly hype. That there is no discussion of the malfeasance of corporate capitalism itself tells us who is narrating, directing and moderating this so-called discussion. And while #MeToo has had some successes, that Gillette has seized on it is telling. Most of this movement has remained a largely bourgeoisie phenomenon mainly because it fails to address the enormous role of class and capitalist exploitation in regard to institutionalized misogyny and sexism.

Allen, like so many of these “personalities” today, embodies this odd disconnect from reality we see on display among the corporate and political class and the mainstream media as well. While he posits himself as being different from his liberal nemeses, he is really the same. Peddling manufactured outrage about manufactured issues and nonexistent threats, e.g. attacks on masculinity or gender, terrorists coming over the southern border, communists, government taking away guns. And I would guess he makes a tidy sum doing so.

Meanwhile, the lived realities of most Americans are rendered a pale shadow. Nationalistic xenophobia becomes the narrative forced on the working poor by people like Allen who hardly represents them. Meanwhile, most Americans have blended families. Families with LGBTQ, people of colour, and members on either side of several borders. Families of faith or no faith at all. Families with little to no healthcare coverage, that have to commute hours to at least two or more jobs because they cannot afford rent or mortgage closer to them, and that could not economically survive beyond one paycheck. Families struggling to survive under corporate capitalism, imperialism, and the dictatorship of money that is, in fact, the real United States.

Kenn Orphan   2019

The Prophetic Vision of Rosa Luxemburg

“Those who do not move, do not notice their chains.” – Rosa Luxemburg (5 March 1871 – 15 January 1919) German socialist and antiwar writer and dissenter of Jewish-Polish descent, murdered on this day 100 years ago by a rightwing death squad and thrown into the Landwehr Canal. She once wrote: “We stand today before the awful proposition: either the triumph of imperialism and the destruction of all culture, and, as in ancient Rome, depopulation, desolation, degeneration, a vast cemetery; or, the victory of socialism.”

Luxemburg understood that the trajectory of capitalism is inevitably towards imperialist barbarism, outright fascism and global annihilation. In fact, following her murder the capitalist elites in Germany, Italy, Spain and elsewhere eventually capitulated to and sided with fascist leaders which then resulted in the Holocaust, World War II and the related social and ecological catastrophes that came with it. And today, with the world in a state of constant and expanding imperialistic war, entrenched militarism, a burgeoning police state surveillance and prison complex, growing wealth inequity, and a biosphere ever imperiled by the greed of capital accumulation, her words of warning have become more dire and prophetic than ever imagined.

“The most revolutionary thing one can do is always to proclaim loudly what is happening.” – Rosa Luxemburg

Kenn Orphan   2019