Tag Archives: imperialism

The Antidote to Empire

Ancient empires all had one thing in common.  They developed myths that served to obscure the pathology inherent to their very existence.  They created barriers of irrational tribalism and superstition that cloaked cogent warnings of descent and collapse.  They became drunk with pious self importance and bread and circuses filled their days and nights while they ignored the anger in the streets and the famine in the fields.   In short, none of them saw the end coming.  But, alas, it did come.

The Fall of Rome, painting by Thomas Cole.
I, like every other American, was raised hearing similar myths.  I was instructed that we were the “good guys,” that “God was on our side” and anyone our nation went to war with was evil.  I grew up believing that Ronald Reagan brought down the Berlin Wall and Soviet Russia, and the United States military was the most noble in all the world, battling the evil Saddam Hussein in defense of incubator babies in Kuwait.  Each successive military intervention was to help the oppressed in some godforsaken part of the world, or as a necessary exercise to defend freedom and the homeland.  In truth, I grew up in a sea of lies immersed in a culture conditioned to ignore the impact of its genocidal, slavery ridden, colonial roots.   When I was older these stories began to unravel in the daylight of a brutal and unforgiving truth. And I began to realize that I was a citizen of the most powerful and ruthless empire the world has ever known.

Global Reach of the US Military. Source, The History Reader.
The American Empire now spans the entire world with military bases in almost every nation.  But to most of its citizens it is not an empire at all.  In fact, many see the United States as some kind of benevolent giant, eager to bestow good fortune on any people on earth as long as they respect our “democratic values.”  The true intention of US interventions and their horrific aftermaths are obscured by design.  The mainstream press, which is owned by a few powerful corporations, acts as a mouthpiece for government propaganda, and does not show the public the body parts of young lovers at a wedding obliterated by US drone strikes, or the bodies of doctors burned alive in a hospital by a hell fire missile, or a little girl sliced to shreds by a cluster bomb, or a grandmother blown up in front of her grand children as she picks okra in her field.

The bodies of Afghan children are laid outside home destroyed in US drone attack. Source, Associated Press.

The general public essentially has no grasp of the long, dark history of US backed coups, death squads or mercenary militias financed and trained by the Department of Defense or the CIA. This history is carefully edited by the elite. And what is perhaps even more alarming is that most are not aware of, or alarmed by, the pernicious growth of the militarized police and surveillance state at home. The same hypermasculine, nationalistic culture that infects almost every sports event or educational ceremony, and wraps a flag around the eyes of an ever distracted, demoralized and disenfranchised public, encourages obedience to a brutal form of internalized authoritarianism. It is fascism writ large. And this is also useful to a treacherous military industrial sector which swindles young men and women, with scant economic or educational choices left to them, to join their ranks. Beholden to high ideals of service and duty, most are swept into a malicious machine that pits them against other poor, disenfranchised youth in far flung places around the world.

US soldiers torture prisoners at the notorious Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. Source, Associated Press.The ugly truth is that the Unites States, with the aid of efficiently trained storm troopers and well paid private mercenaries, is the main arbiter of terrorism and war in the Middle-east, drug trafficking in Central America and political turmoil in Africa.  And all of the spoils of each new war or military exercise invariably go in the coffers of the wealthy and powerful.  Ordinary soldiers are expendable after their usefulness to plunder is depleted.   And if they survive, but return home damaged, they are hurriedly escorted into the shadowy corners of the homeland, neglected, abandoned and forgotten.  This is why one rarely, if ever, sees the son of a politician or daughter of a corporate executive embedded in real combat missions.   They know how the myths work very well, and they believe their aristocratic blood is too precious to be spilled for the loot they enjoy from each one of these exploits.

 

War is Money. Cartoon by Combs.

U.S. Army Private First Class Danny Comley of Camdenton Missouri, assigned to Delta Company 4th Brigade combat team,2-508, 82nd parachute infantry Regiment, receives flowers from an Afghan girl during a patrol in the Arghandab valley in Kandahar province, southern Afghanistan February 24, 2010. REUTERS/Baz Ratner (AFGHANISTAN - Tags: CIVIL UNREST CONFLICT IMAGES OF THE DAY) - RTR2ATJB

In the end, however, militaristic societies invariably turn their animus inward toward the weakest and most vulnerable.  Gun violence and mass shootings, police brutality with impunity, entrenched, institutionalized racism, misogyny and anti-immigrant sentiments are signatures of this path to self-destruction.   It becomes impossible for the powerful to export guns and aggression abroad and keep the homeland unsullied by the same mechanisms of violence for too long.  And growing income disparity, where half of the world’s wealth is held by a mere handful of people, only serves to inflame this corrosive antipathy further among a humiliated populace.   It will however, without a doubt, end.

Rifle with ammo. Source, The Nation.How, then , shall we live at the end of empire?  The ruling class would like nothing less than for us to forget ourselves and each other, and to wallow in our fears and prejudices, or indulge in vacuous narcissism, mindless shopping or obsess over the insipid escapades of celebrities.  It must keep up the facade of democracy to maintain its continued plunder of the living earth and all who inhabit it.  After all, we cannot expect the merchants of death, distraction and consumption to be anything other than duplicitous.  And no leader that emerges from their ranks, no matter how forthright they may appear to be, will be permitted to buck or disrupt the liturgy of rapacious greed and authoritarian aggression that underpins imperialism itself.

The Alberta Tar Sands and the ecocide of imperialism. Source, Ecowatch.Today’s empire is only different from ones long ago in its scope and its technological prowess.  It covers the entire planet, the only home humanity has ever known.  It fuels itself by ravenously piercing the flesh of the earth like an insatiable mosquito, sucking one last drop of its primordial blood before it exhales its noxious breath into the atmosphere, all while checkering the landscape with apocalyptic weapons to protect its habit.  If there is an antidote to the poison of empire it is in realizing it is a poison to begin with, as deadly to the exploiter as it is to the exploited.  The toxic indoctrination that informs every part of life within its reach must be rejected and replaced with a new story of who we are and what kind of world we wish to live in and create for our children.  And to start building its foundation, brick by brick.  But unless we take that antidote very soon imperialism’s penchant for avarice, plunder and belligerence is poised to decimate it all in the blink of an eye.

Kenn Orphan  2016

The Seeds of Empathy

In the days following the horrific attacks in Paris, which claimed the lives of over 100 civilians and injured hundreds more, I returned to the United States from Europe after a long visit with family and friends. I was not in Paris this time, but I did spend time in France.  I, like so many others, have a connection with the ‘City of Light’ so this tragedy struck me in a visceral way. Whenever something like this happens there is shock accompanied by despair. But I am reminded that despite how abhorrent this incident was, there is a big world outside Western borders that suffers this each and every day and on a much larger scale. And its misery is mostly due to our willful ignorance and our leaders penchant for division, aggression and plunder.

PARIS, FRANCE - NOVEMBER 14: Mourners gather in front of the Petit Cambodge and Le Carillon restaurants on November 14, 2015 in Paris, France. At least 120 people have been killed and over 200 injured, 80 of which seriously, following a series of terrorist attacks in the French capital. (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

To the powerful of the world irony is something reserved for satirists. It is easily dismissed. Hypocrisy is not in their vocabulary either. In response to the attacks French President Francois Hollande said “France is at war.” This statement is astonishing given the country’s long history of colonialism and recent events in its foreign policy.

One might ask Mr. Hollande what the assault on Libya that left thousands dead and demolished one of the richest nations in Africa was if it was not war? Or the continued military aid to Saudi Arabia and Israel which have mercilessly slaughtered thousands in Yemen and Gaza in the last two years alone? Or France and NATO’s relentless bombing of Syria over the past few years which has done nothing but create unimaginable suffering in what once was a jewel in the Middle-East’s crown?

Syria before and after the war. Source News Items.

Unsurprisingly, in the United States political opportunists have used the tragedy in Paris to ramp up anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim and anti-Syrian refugee rhetoric. Incredulously, these are the same ones who drone on endlessly each year about the non-existent “war on Christmas” on a holiday which commemorates a Middle-Eastern family seeking refuge from terror over 2000 years ago. But they cannot be bothered by such irony either, nor can they take any responsibility for a legacy of American imperialistic plunder that has fostered constant misery for millions of people daily around the world. By all accounts, crippling sanctions and the invasion of Iraq, a war based upon lies, spawned the creation of ISIS. But now it is being talked about as if it sprang out of nowhere.

Fear mongering and demonization of Syrian refugees in the media. Source Fox News.The propaganda of politicians and the mainstream media, which revel in beating the drums of nationalistic xenophobia, is ubiquitous these days. And their selective grief and outrage encourages a largely misinformed public to ignore the long list of Western backed atrocities that have caused the refugee crisis to begin with. For instance, just weeks ago the US military bombed a Doctors Without Borders run hospital in Afghanistan, burning patients to death in their beds and incinerating doctors and staff alike. But critical coverage of this was scant in the mainstream press. The same applies to grief. On the same day as the attacks in Paris suicide bombers killed scores in Beirut, but media coverage of this tragedy was dwarfed by the enormous attention that has been paid to Paris.

A relative of Samer Huhu, who was killed in a twin bombing attack in Beirut, waves his portrait. Source Associated Press.For the rest of us there is a choice. We can ignore the enormous costs of imperialism and neoliberal capitalism and believe the lies of the war profiteers; or we can choose a path toward shared humanity that sees no boundaries of worthiness when it comes to suffering. We can also oppose the political and economic order that is rapidly destroying fragile ecosystems and that perpetuates alienation and misery in most of the world.

Solidarity with those suffering in Paris is to be commended; and there is no shame in expressing it publicly. But if we do not come to realize soon that we must seed the fields of empathy for all who suffer needlessly on this ever smaller and beleaguered planet, I fear we will doom ourselves and our children to a world of perpetual savagery or even, possibly, end civilization itself once and for all.

Kenn Orphan 2015

Justice is a Verb

Children at a Nazi concentration camp. Source National Holocaust Museum.It has always been easy for the powerful and the general public to look back at crimes against humanity in the deep closet of history and feel appalled.  It is easy for politicians to stand before eternal flames bemoaning the Slave Trade or the Holocaust. and feel solidarity and compassion for the victims of some long ago mass murder.  What still eludes most of society, though, is the application of that same outrage for similar crimes being perpetrated right at this moment.

President George W. Bush visiting the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial in Israel. Getty Images.There is a simple reason for the elite’s willful ignorance toward today’s atrocities.  Apathy is a celebrated virtue among the wealthy; and many, if not most, benefit richly from each and every occupation, oppression and act of ethnic cleansing.  In many cases they are even perpetrating these crimes with the use of mercenary armies, proxy states and client dictators.

For the general public it is a bit more nuanced, but not much.  In the West we have been meticulously trained to avert our eyes to current injustices. Distraction in the form of vapid entertainment is ubiquitous, selective outrage is a staple of the mainstream media, and nationalistic hypocrisy is exonerated and sponged from the record every day.

United Nations News Centre - UN unveils permanent memorial to victims of transatlantic slave tradeToday’s oppressed are no different than yesterday’s. They are just as reviled by the powerful, misrepresented by the press, and ignored by society at large. But their plight is no less worthy of justice.  Their suffering does not pack theaters or hackneyed film festivals in Colorado with tear-jerking cinematography and musical scores.  And they have no memorials in Washington on which to lay wreaths.

Instead they themselves pack sinking ships in the Mediterranean and Andaman Seas, or open air prisons and Bantustans in Gaza or the West Bank, or atop lumbering trains heading north in Mexico. They grope desperately in the dark for survival on the margins of empire.

Rohingya refugees stranded on the Andaman Sea. Photo, Christophe Archambault, Getty Images.

8 year old Palestinian boy, Mohammed Ali, arrested at Qalandiya checkpoint by Israeli border police. Photo, Middle-east Monitor.

JUCHITAN, MEXICO - AUGUST 06: Central American immigrants ride north on top of a freight train on August 6, 2013 near Juchitan, Mexico. Thousands of Central American migrants ride the trains, known as 'la bestia', or the beast, during their long and perilous journey through Mexico to reach the U.S. border. Some of the immigrants are robbed and assaulted by gangs who control the train tops, while others fall asleep and tumble down, losing limbs or perishing under the wheels of the trains. Only a fraction of the immigrants who start the journey in Central America will traverse Mexico completely unscathed - and all this before illegally entering the United States and facing the considerable U.S. border security apparatus designed to track, detain and deport them. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

Our solidarity with them should not wait for some Hollywood production after all the graves have been dug.  And we should never take our cue from the powerful as to when it is appropriate to speak out.  Justice is not the dusty, bronze scales that adorn the mantelpieces of the elite.  It is not a trophy.  It is a verb that refuses to rest; and it is always on the side of the oppressed in what ever page of history they may inhabit.

Kenn Orphan 2015

Hoping for Clemency

     Travel anywhere across the “developed world” and you can find them. Featureless monoliths of concrete, glass and steel jutting out from soulless landscapes that house human cogs in a metaphorical machine. The cold emptiness of their facades tell us exactly who built them and what matters to them. Spoiler alert: it ain’t us or the planet we all depend upon.

Stock photo of corporate monoliths.These indifferent fortresses belie a dying civilization. They sit atop the mass graves of once vibrant meadows and forests scraped off the land, and wetlands that were brimming with life, now drained of their water. How easily they mask our insecurities. Many, if not most, of us in this society still support the idea that it is justified to be charged rent to live on the planet of our birth. And many cling to the hope that they will rise above their station to a place of success in this moribund spectacle the powerful have crafted. These phallic monuments to the ego stand as sentries, guarding the lies of empire and defending the insatiable demands of consumer capitalism.

Corporate slavery. Artist Unknown.Success in this suicidal fantasy is defined by the accumulation of imaginary numerals and the acquisition of objects, or property, or even people and other living beings. There is no self imposed limit to its expansion. It is ravenous and pays no attention to consumption except in its encouragement. But the natural earth on which all of this is derived is beginning to crumble under our feet. And this culture of self absorbed, self-medicated misery is beginning to unravel before our eyes along with it.

celebrity couples Art by Daiana FeuerThe response of a society to its impending demise is in accordance with how it was formed, who leads it, what it cares about, and what has kept it going. Ours has been built through conquest, industrialization and war, and upon the backs of billions of human beings not fortunate enough to be born into its higher ranks, and a myriad of species slated for exploitation or eradication. It is led by sociopaths who care only for their vapid self-importance and meaningless lifestyles. And its heart beats with the constant infusion of new blood. Whether that blood be of the earth or of other living beings is of no consequence to it.

Every morning I wake up on the wrong side of Capitalism. Source Street Art, Open Democracy.This kind of society is incapable of responding to suffering with empathy. It cannot be reasoned with. It knows only distraction, violence, control, mania and alienation. And as its foundations disintegrate, it will become even more brutal and detached from reality. It will cast the weakest, the foreigner, and most vulnerable as scapegoats for its malfeasance and failure; and in the end no one will be spared its fury. Once a person of conscience begins to realize that they live in an empire that has savaged the planet and destroyed dozens of societies the world over, it becomes impossible to be swayed by puerile patriotic sentimentality. The misery this machine has caused, and continues to cause, blots out any feeling of pride.

US imperialism-militarism. Photo Source- Institute for Policy Research and Development.But the American Empire, and industrial civilization itself, appear to be destined to meet their end sometime within this century. It has reached its upper limit and the earth is beginning to answer to its folly with unmatched rage. Think this is hyperbole? We now know with certainty that the seas will rise and swallow cities whole, and drought will expand to bleach fields like bones in the sun. It has already started in many places. Beaches are eroding, wells are running dry, and people are beginning to flee.

Alberta Tar Sands were once pristine boreal forestsAll of this leaves us with few choices, but not without hope. The question is, what do we hope for? Is it the status quo, keeping the privileged few of the planet in the current state of relative comfort while the rest of the planet languishes in abject misery? Or is it for the salvation of technology to somehow sweep all of our over-indulgences and careless extravagances away? Or is it for some business, religious or political leader to rise up and answer all of our problems miraculously, like a magician pulling a rabbit out of a hat? In the quickness of time, none of these options are viable.

Devolution. Photo credit, CollapseofIndustrialCivilization.com.There was a time when our ancestors understood that they were merely one species in a chorus of billions, who all had a birthright to this world. But that ended when some decided that our dominance and luxury were more important than a living planet. Now countless species are going extinct from our excesses and recklessness each day, and we are beginning to realize that we are not so powerful as to not be one of them at some point in the future. One way or another the earth will choose for us. We can only hope that she can forgive us for our blindness, and bestow on us a mercy that we rejected for our own human family and scores of other species that have had the misfortune of crossing our path.

Mother Earth. A painting by Jeness Cortez Perlmutter.May clemency smile upon us.

Kenn Orphan 2015

Defining BDS

Since the recent spate of violence in Israel/Palestine, there has been a well oiled response by apologists to defend the ongoing dispossession, apartheid and ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians by the Israeli regime, a crime which has been permitted to continue for over 60 years. This response is not anything new, but due to the successes of the Boycott, Divest, Sanction Movement (BDS) the rhetoric has been ratcheted up.

The situation, as usual, is portrayed by most of the mainstream press as a conflict between two peoples over religion, where both are relatively equal in power. Context and history be damned.  The acts of violence committed by the Palestinians is covered as if they were random and born from a “culture of hate.”  But facts remain facts.

Gaza City Photo AFPIsrael has an army, navy and air force.  The Palestinians do not.  Israel has nuclear weapons and military aid from the most powerful nation on earth.  The Palestinians do not.  Israel has blockaded Gaza since 2007, subjecting nearly 2 million people to intolerable conditions that amount to collective punishment.  It has carved up the occupied West Bank into administrative zones that allow for military exercises and settler expansion for Jewish-only communities, and has built a wall of separation that limits Palestinian access to their jobs, farmland, medical facilities and schools.

Palestinians in the occupied West Bank have no access to civil courts like Jewish settlers.  They have been under military rule for decades with the Palestinian Authority, a proxy government, enforcing Israel Defense Force orders; and they are subject to military tribunals.  Even children are routinely whisked away in the middle of the night with no warning by the IDF, and taken to undisclosed detention facilities where they are often placed in solitary confinement.  And last summer the Israeli regime flattened much of Gaza killing over 2300 people, mostly civilians including hundreds of children, and injuring and displacing thousands more.  But, astonishingly, if one dares question any of this they are often accused of antisemitism.

Jewish Voice for Peace NY Chapter-End Military AidAntisemitism is as abhorrent as any other kind of social hatred.  And it is not any less repulsive when applied to one group over another.  But what is interesting is that many who have decried antisemitism seem to have no problem spewing repugnant, anti-Arab screeds and, incredulously, not seeing any irony in doing so.   This has enabled the glossing over of right wing, nationalist mobs taking to the streets of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv chanting “Death to Arabs” and attacking anyone whom they believe Palestinian or a leftist.

A Palestinian man points to Hebrew graffiti reading “Death to the Arabs” following an arson attack in Khirbet Abu Falah, northeast of the West Bank city of Ramallah, Sunday, Nov. 23, 2014. Source Ma'an News.What has been convoluted in this discourse is the conflation of  the criticism of Zionism with antisemitism.  Zionism and Judaism are not one and the same, although many prominent Zionists would love for people to think so.  Judaism is an ethnic/religious identity with a rich tradition and culture that goes back millenia and spans dozens of societies, from Russia to Iran to Europe and the Americas. Zionism is a nationalistic, political ideology that was born of antisemitism in Europe and fashioned after European colonialism itself.

An Israeli soldier puts a Palestinian boy in choke hold for allegedly throwing rocks at Israeli tanks. Source Ha'aretz.In the early days of the Zionist movement several places were considered for a Jewish homeland, including Argentina and Uganda. But because of cultural and religious ties, the Zionists settled on Palestine. As in any colonial structure, Zionism created an ethnocracy, where the indigenous people were forcibly removed to make way for another group who are placed in a higher class than other ethnic, religious or racial groups through laws, institutionalized racism, expulsion, dehumanization and military terror.  Essentially apartheid.

Segregated Shuhada Street, Hebron, Occupied West BankContrary to some misguided assumptions, the focus of the BDS movement is not to expel Jewish people who live in the region or are native to the land. It is a non-violent protest to end the occupation, lift the crippling blockade on Gaza, and dismantle apartheid, just as was done in South Africa. The ultimate goal is one secular, democratic state, where all religious traditions and ethnicities are protected.

Many Israeli regime apologists have countered that the BDS movement singles out Israel, while ignoring the egregious and barbarous atrocities of other regimes in the area and around the world. This is also untrue. The brutal state violence and oppression of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Syria, Turkey and others is unequivocally condemned and opposed. The universal demand is an end to all military aid to these governments as well as Israel.  BDS is a non-violent response to Israeli apartheid specifically; but is an integral part of the global struggle against colonialist racism and imperialism, from the Americas to Africa to the Middle-east and Asia.

A Palestinian protester attacked by an IDF dog during a protest in the West Bank, 2012. Photo by Lazar Simeonov

A Palestinian woman clings to one of her olive trees threatened for demolition by the IDF. Source Reuters.There are, as in any movement, some who employ the use of antisemitic language in their criticism of the Israeli regime. This is intolerable, and it is also antithetical to the cause of universal human rights. These individuals or groups have their own agenda, and Palestinian solidarity is not one of them. But there are many Jewish and Israeli human rights group who share similar ideals in their support of Palestinian rights and self-determination, including Jewish Voice for Peace, B’Tselem and Rabbis for Human Rights among many others.

Holocaust survivor in solidarity with PalestineThese voices are usually stifled or excluded from mainstream media coverage in favor of more reactionary groups like the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) or the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), who are experts at conflating criticism of Zionism with antisemitism in the public sphere. Until all voices are heard equally there will be no real justice or peace, and apartheid, alienation and dispossession will continue and grow. BDS worked to end South African apartheid, where political and diplomatic interventions failed by design. And after decades of misery, conflict and strife, it appears to be the only viable option in this case as well.

A Palestinian man holds the key to the home he was expelled from by Israeli forces. Photo Getty Images.Solidarity with the oppressed is not taking the side of one ethnic, religious or racial group over another. It is taking the side of justice and universal human rights against racism, tyranny and state violence, something that all human beings, regardless of social identity, should be entitled to.

An Israeli peace activist. Source Times Union.

Kenn Orphan 2015

The Cracking Mirror

Survivors comfort each other following the Aurora mass shooting. Photo Getty Images.      The statistics are staggering. From Columbine to Virginia Tech to Sandy Hook, the United States, according to a recent study, leads the world in mass shootings. This year alone there have been 294 such incidents.  It should be noted that it does not take into account gang related gun violence or family slayings through the use of firearms. But the response is equally mind numbing. After each incident there is feigned outrage from the mainstream media and meaningless platitudes from politicians. Nothing is done to stem this epidemic in any meaningful way, shape or form. Some make claims that a dearth of morality and the removal of religious references in the public arena are the root causes, and that more guns are the answer. While others focus on a lack of mental health services and lax gun regulations. But in truth, the United States was founded on gun violence and it continues to underpin every one of its institutions.

Mass grave of Lakota following the Massacre at Wounded Knee. The Dead Indian Act justified scores of massacres like this, in a state sanctioned genocide of the indigenous people of North America.Early on, illegal settlers of mostly European origin cleared the land of its indigenous population, and maintained centuries of slavery largely through the use of guns.  And while the Empire expanded on this continent, it entered into wars for over 200 of its 239 years of existence.  Indeed, violence has always been exalted in the culture of this country, from a military that is impervious to reproach or criticism, to a popular obsession with punitive and draconian law and order. It is a culture that can take a mass murderer like the late Chris Kyle and re-cast him as a national and cinematic hero.

In this atmosphere dissenting from the modern, reactionary interpretation of the sacrosanct Second Amendment might find you getting death threats which, in the current climate, can never be dismissed as merely rhetorical. As in any fundamentalist ideology, questioning the foundational belief system is viewed as a threat to be dealt with harshly or eliminated completely. But unless this historic reality is faced, the current situation will only continue and grow more brutal and terrifying.

A gun on the Bible with the Constitution. Source San Diego Free PressThe American way of life, by its very nature, is incapable of responding coherently to mass shootings since practically all of its communication and transactions are based upon the currency of violence. This permits the powerful to exist within a bubble of hypocrisy, where a sitting President can chide the nation on its gun obsession while not grappling with the irony of his ‘kill list,’ or his justifications for using the ultimate, modern firearm, the combat drone, to bomb wedding parties, hospitals and grandmothers picking ocra in their fields abroad.

At home, the powerful have steadily armed a corrupt police force with military grade weaponry. These forces serve as occupying armies in cities across the country, protecting the property of the ownership class, and preserving the status quo. And as the empire crumbles and ecosystems begin to crash they are not about to dismantle the very institutions that will provide them cover in the impending social unrest.

FERGUSON MISSOURIThe arms industry, too, will stop at nothing to maintain a certain level of rage and paranoia for the sake of their bottom line. It drives the American economy; and, with the help of Hollywood, has deftly stoked racist and misogynistic hatred to convince countless young, white men that their way of life is threatened by lawless minorities, powerful women or foreign terrorists with Arabic sounding names. Fear is the industry’s profit maker, and in a nation where income disparities are growing and opportunities for meaningful advancement are shrinking, their business is booming.

Gun show in Utah. Photo Rick Bowmer, Associated Press.All of this has contributed to turning the United States into a wasteland of alienation and emptiness for millions of people. And for many young, white, straight males, whose agency to control their lives is fast slipping away, this desolate landscape unhinges them. They are disenfranchised from their own lives, raised on the liturgy of cut throat capitalism and the oxymoronic “free market,” and fed a steady diet of jingoism and military conformity. They are conditioned to respond to all things with the language of aggression, and view competition as the only legitimate way of life. If you are poor, damaged or incapable of participating in this theater of cruelty you are mocked and ridiculed or, worse, rendered invisible.

Occupy Movement protestor. Source Gawker.Tragically, there are bound to be more mass shootings. Within the hypermasculine climate of modern American culture, cooperation and empathy are viewed as character flaws and fatal weaknesses. This, combined with the losing game of neoliberal capitalism, has become a recipe for rage among huge swaths of young people who, no matter how hard they may try, can never hope to succeed within a rigged system.

Homeless in America Associated PressThe United States is a nation that is awash in guns and filled with angry, mostly white, young men. It has been this way since its inception. It is its character and how it defines itself. But now gun technology is far more accurate and lethal.  And the US, along with the rest of industrial civilization, is teetering on the verge of economic and ecological collapse. Hoping that the powers that be will take reasonable and responsible actions to address this will only guarantee disappointment. If there is any solution it would be in the American people’s courage to reflect and recognize the true face of aggression and its endemic nature.  But time is fast running out for that.   And the mirror is beginning to crack.

Kenn Orphan 2015

Chaos and Misery, Inc.

A multiple rocket launch system was on display at the Norinco Group pavilion at an international defense exhibition in Abu Dhabi in February. Photo Bloomberg NewsThis week well over 100 civilians were slaughtered in Yemen by a Saudi drone strike while they were attending a wedding.  The massacre is yet one more atrocity piled upon a wretched heap of hypocrisy and hubris.  But it, like the other US supported or orchestrated drone strikes, will undoubtedly disappear from the headlines in a matter of weeks, if not days.

A man displays the bloodied shirt of a child victim at the rubble of houses destroyed by an Saudi air strike in the Okash village near Yemen's capital Source TelesurtvSaudi Arabia, like Israel, is a client state of the American Empire and is vital to its unending, colonial quest for dominance in the Middle-east.  Its atrocities, like Israel, are explained away or not even covered at all by the Western mainstream press. The medieval kingdom of Saud has beheaded nearly 90 people this year alone for “offenses” like witchcraft or blasphemy. It mercilessly persecutes its Shia minority, oppresses women, executes LGBTQ people and tolerates the enslavement of domestic workers from the Philippines. But the US media barely utters a peep (except, perhaps, to occasionally criticize the kingdom’s no driving policy for privileged Saudi women). The atrocities of ISIS, on the other hand, are rarely ever out of Western press coverage.

Saudi swordsmen used for executions. Source Yahoo.Right now, Saudi Arabia is doing to Yemen what Israel did to Gaza last summer. And, as in that case, the barbarity has the unflinching support of the Nobel Peace Prize winner in the White House, and both criminal political parties in the US Senate. As in Gaza, the poor continue to be pulverized by the powerful. And this same elite class will, most assuredly, give themselves awards for this savagery with the uncritical support from a sycophantic, apathetic corporate owned media.

The destruction of Yemen. Photo by Hani Mohammed AP.Yemen, like Cambodia or Chile or Honduras or Somalia or Libya or Ukraine will be easily forgotten by the ruling elite.  And the West will wash the entire narrative of its culpability.  It must, after all, if it intends to continue its rampage.  All battlefields have become testing grounds for their latest products. And the most lucrative industry of the American Empire is arms dealing.  It is Chaos and Misery, Inc. and you can be sure they will not give that up without a fight. 

Militarized police forces in Ferguson, Missouri. Source Reuters.But as we look at Yemen or Gaza dispassionately, we would be foolish to not take a closer look at ourselves.  The Empire is beginning to crack as our living earth groans under its insipid and insatiable corpulence.  And as it does we can expect the power class to treat the vast majority of us much like those in these ever besieged nations: as valuable when we can furnish them with wealth, and easily disposable if we refuse.

Kenn Orphan  2015

The Great Migration

This week Austrian police discovered the bodies of 71 migrants in a truck by the side of the highway outside Vienna. It is widely believed that they had suffocated to death when they were abandoned by their smugglers. One cannot fathom the horror and agony they must have suffered; but it is a story that is fast becoming the norm. Indeed, thousands have perished in their valiant attempts to cross the Mediterranean, well over a 100 just this week.  In the Americas, untold numbers have died on their journeys north out of Central and South America. On the Andaman Sea boats brimming with starving members of the Rohingya community languished in limbo for weeks because no country would admit them. And when they reach the border their ordeals are far from over.

In Macedonia, police forces beat and tear gassed scores of refugees attempting to leave Greece; and hate crimes against undocumented immigrants in the US and Western Europe are on the rise.  None of this should come as any surprise to those of us who have been paying attention; but it does not make what we are seeing any easier. This year a combination of climate change, perpetual war and economic devastation has forced huge surges of people all over the world out of their native lands in their quest for survival. The Great Migration has begun; and I must admit, it has started far sooner than I had ever imagined.

A little girl cries as she tries to take shelter from the rain on Greece's border with Macedonia Photo Reuters

Refugees waiting for hours to cross the border to Macedonia. Photo by Erik Marquardt.

Somali refugees wait at check point. Source UNHCR

Rohingya refugees stranded on a boat off Thailand Photo Source IB TimesOf course, Western leaders are reacting to this unfolding human tragedy in typical fashion. They are either spewing racist vitriol and stoking the most base fears of their constituents, or blathering on with patronizing platitudes about immigrants and their plight. Whether it be US presidential candidate Donald Trump proudly demonizing undocumented immigrants as rapists and murderers to cheering crowds, or German Chancellor Angela Merkel callously explaining to a sobbing 14 year old Palestinian girl, whose family faces deportation to a land that is foreign to her, that “politics is hard sometimes,” the message to migrants could not be clearer: We do not care about you. We will not help you. And we will certainly not take responsibility for the foreign policies, economic exploitation and military assaults we launched on your nations that destroyed your societies and caused you to flee in the first place.

Angela Merkel makes a 14-year old Palestinian girl cry by telling her she is not welcome in Germany Source Mondoweiss

Donald Trump Photo Source Boston GlobeThe disconnect from reality is stunning, but predictable. Indeed, if Merkel or Obama or Clinton were to acknowledge that it was their governments that destroyed and destabilized Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria and Libya, their entire house of cards would collapse to the ground in a smoldering, hypocritical heap. And if Trump or Bush were to acknowledge that it has been US neoliberal economic policies that have created the dire circumstances in Mexico,  or in Central and South America, that have forced tens of thousands to flee for survival, their dehumanization of refugees and migrants would be shown for the vile, empty rhetoric that it is.

Central America. A young girl cries as her home and neighborhood are forcefully dismantled in a shanty town after the government claimed that the settlement was illegal. Photo Spencer Platt Getty

Central American refugees seeks shelter. Photo by Elizabeth Ruiz AFP GettyIn truth all Western leaders, politicians and oligarchs alike, sit atop a historic pyramid of oppression and exploitation that is not of their own making. But each successive US president and Western leader has preserved the integrity of this system by faithfully growing the military/police/surveillance state and rewarding the wealthy elite with more and more loot, and bailouts and impunity for their crimes. This scheme, however, is beginning to unravel.  And we need only look to the not so distant past to get an inkling of what lies ahead.

Residents wait on a rooftop to be rescued from the floodwaters of Hurricane Katrina on Sept 1, 2005 Photo by STR Reuters

National Guard soldier walks past a covered body at the Convention Center on Sept. 3, 2005, where people took refuge after Hurricane Katrina. Source NOLAThis week marks the tenth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, and it should also serve as a wake up call for those Americans, and Westerners in general, who are still under the misconception that their government has their back in disaster. With more millionaires in the Senate, and unlimited money influencing elections, it should be clear to anyone that the United States is effectively an oligarchy with little to no regard for the poor and most vulnerable.

All of this was made plain in the weeks and months following the storm and subsequent floods in New Orleans and the region. Over a thousand lost their lives, tens of thousands more lost their homes and livelihoods. But the majority of those who suffered were poor people of color; and the American Empire had better things to do than dispatch the military in full force for rescue operations of its own citizens, especially when they had little or no money to offer them in return.  After all, they had already over extended themselves in a war, based upon lies, against another group of poor, brown people on the other side of the planet.  Nurse Mary Jo D'Amico fans a patient in the car park of New Orleans Memorial hospital

Woman collapses while residents attempt to rescue her and husband from flood waters in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina Photo source AFPI still remember the mainstream media and some politicians calling the victims of Hurricane Katrina “refugees,” a label previously unheard of in the West. They had been abandoned by their government and it should have served as a warning to us all. No matter how much our leaders “otherize” those who are forced to abandon their homes and dire circumstances, they are a reflection of our collective future.

Although climate change will have unpredictable ramifications; it is becoming more apparent by the day what our world will begin to look like in the decades to come. It all but promises a North American West that will become a virtually uninhabitable desert. Rapid glacial melt will see Amsterdam, London, New Orleans and half of Florida submerged under the waves of an ever acidifying ocean, bereft of much of its life except for an abundance of jellyfish, invasive sea grasses, toxic algae blooms and plastic debris. Paris and Tokyo will see heat waves that rival anything we have seen so far in India or Pakistan.  And more and more species of wild life will fall to extinction.  With all of this it is hard to imagine that mass migrations will be a fate assigned only to the poor of the “developing world.”

Drought Induced Wildfires Photo David McNew Getty Images

NYC following Superstorm Sandy Christos Pathiakis Getty ImagesUndoubtedly, there is an epic storm brewing that threatens all life on this planet; and it is building up steam before our eyes. Those of us who tell this painful truth can expect to be labeled “doomers,” or fatalists, or be exiled from the conversation completely.  But there is a point at which this exile from a deluded, shallow and corrupt culture becomes a welcome gift.

The powerful elite have absolutely no plan to address what is coming outside of drumming up racist xenophobia and fear of the other, and continuing on with the “business as usual” paradigm that has driven countless species to their extinction and ushered in the epoch of the Anthropocene. And the conference that is due to convene in Paris this winter is merely a charade to pantomime concern and action.
Barack Obama, Silvio Berlusconi and Dimitry Medvedev share a good laugh at the G20 Summit. Photograph by Dominique Faget AFP Getty. Images

Still from CNN broadcast. Photo source College Humor.Do not expect any ideas from the corporate owned media either. Their job has always been to be a mouthpiece for the wealthy elite and to keep the masses distracted and subdued.  They will continue pouring out celebrity gossip and stoking fears about things that pose no significant threat to the West, like Ebola or ISIS, even as the fires rage and waters rise. Encouraging objectification and mindless consumption is their sole charge.  Considering all this, to look for salvation from those with power and wealth, even the ones who may appear more sympathetic to ordinary people, would be the height of foolishness.

Indeed, the only sane way to approach this storm is by realizing that ignoring it will not make it disappear, acknowledging that no one will be spared its wrath, and banding together in solidarity with others of like minds and souls. Doing this is unlikely to save our civilization as it is, or spark empathy in the powerful.  And it will not stop the unfolding nightmare of climate change and mass extinction.   But it may give us the courage to stop believing the never ending lies of nationalism, and help us to dismantle the artificial barriers that the elite have erected to keep us fearful of each other.  We can begin right now by looking at the immigrant and the refugee as though they were us.  Because, in all truth, they are.

Photo from the Refugee Council of the UK.

Kenn Orphan  2015

Inverting Reality

     In the troubled age we live in the wealthy elite have perfected the art of inverting reality.

How else could the gutting of the social safety net be renamed austerity, and the dismantling of the public commons and transfer of its wealth to the extremely wealthy be excused as merely privatization?   How else could wars on behalf of corporate industry be re-cast as “humanitarian interventions” and the “war on terror?”
Children labor under unsafe conditions with long hours in India.  Source  GettyOr the plunder of impoverished nations for the benefit of the powerful be explained as “free trade?”  How else could the wanton destruction of the environment with impunity be seen as “job creation?”
Oil Wells in Kern County California  Photograph Mark Gamba
Or the housing of millions of sentient beings in cramped, disease ridden, concentration camps be touted as a solution to “food insecurity?”

A pig looks out of his cage of misery at a concentration camp, more commonly referred to as a factory farm.  Source  Waking TimesOr the mass incarceration of impoverished people of color be redefined as the “War on Drugs?”   And refugees fleeing from regions where corporate exploitation has made life a misery be labelled “illegal aliens,” and demonized as criminals by the slick, intelligence devoid, powerful?

Undocumented Immigrants  Source Today

Credit: S. Morgan/Alamy, NatureOn a finite planet, with humanity fast reaching the upper limit of consumption and where resources are dwindling, the machinations of this global industry of plunder are beginning to crumble under their own weight.  But it will not be a soft landing.  The elite have steadily constructed the surveillance state; and they have augmented it with a militarized police force designed to protect their power and wealth with the distribution of swift and violent punishment.  They have codified laws that allow for the indefinite detention, or extrajudicial execution, of anyone they view as a threat.  And they will not hesitate in the slightest in employing everything in their arsenal at the first sign of ecological calamity and social unrest.

Police Brutality at Occupy Wall Street  ReutersThis is the inherent nature of capitalism; and in particular its terminal stage, neoliberalism.  It is a system predicated upon wealth acquisition at the expense of the entire planet. Wherever it manifests itself the fundamental foundations of democracy are reduced to mere spectacle without substance. Wikipedia defines it as: “privatization, fiscal austerity, deregulation, free trade, and reductions in government spending in order to enhance the role of the private sector in the economy.”  There are those that may use more euphemistic parlance to describe it, but its conclusive message to most of humanity, and countless other species, is no less cruel. It feeds on the most vulnerable through violence, disenfranchisement and humiliation.  It castigates the poor as intrinsically deficient.  And it divides the natural world into worthiness categorizes for efficient exploitation.

Capitalist  Artist UnknownIt has created a multi-national aristocracy that becomes more consumed with its corpulent privilege every day.   But it is also a system which is ultimately destined to rot of its own suppuration and conceit.

Kenn Orphan 2015

Our Shared Humanity

When our ancestors were hiding in the trees from predators the connections they had to each other were indispensable. They accounted for their ability to survive and eventually climb down to the earth. As time progressed this connection evolved into a great awakening of consciousness. They began to understand each other as more than the sum of their parts.  A complex society developed out of our cooperation, ingenuity and shared empathy for one another.  Eventually the commons, a place for the entire community to come together, was celebrated as essential.  It was never perfect or a place devoid of cruelty, aggression or intrigue. But here our demons were dealt with in the open, and the natural world was revered and cherished as the source of all life.  The concept of ownership was unknown.  Resources such as water and land provided for everyone.   And our ancestors, for the most part, maintained this era for eons.

Early humans sharing food at Gesher Benot Ya'aqov.As civilization evolved so did the complexities of our relationships with each other and with the world we live in.  Most hunter-gatherer societies became agrarian.  Hierarchical forms of governance developed and eventually imperialism commenced.  Throughout this long period of human history kingdoms rose and fell, disease and famine were rampant, one people plundered another for resources and religion, and most of the world remained unmolested, wild and vast.  Human society continued to, more or less, evolve; and despite some rather major set backs, scientific discovery gradually became accepted.  Then came the discovery of fossil fuels.  This is when civilization took a giant leap ahead, and the commons began their death spiral.

Iron and Coal, 1855–60, by William Bell Scott

Population Growth, Energy Consumption and the Industrial Revolution Source Nature

Powerful merchants and nobles in Europe and North America learned fast that they could amass enormous wealth through industrialization with the use of these new fuels.  This led to a rise in the standard of living for many who languished under feudalism, but it also allowed for the powerful to impose new forms of exploitation and abuse.  While famine and disease were reduced, global population exploded; and widespread pollution of the environment and the decimation of forests and wild lands burgeoned.   By the mid-twentieth century, following a world war that killed over 60 million people, most of the remaining commons began to be dismantled to make way for a consumer driven, assembly line society.

Assembly Line in ChinaThe materialism and convenience this offered evolved into a global machine of corporatism whose appetites have become insatiable.  But, in spite of all this, a piece of the enlightened dawning in our evolution as a species has been retained. Many still stand in wonder at the natural world and grieve at its demise.  Most feel empathy for the suffering of others.  And despite being immersed in a sea of mindless consumerism, human beings still yearn for a connection we once knew before materialism became the dominant force of our day.

The emergence of the social media at the beginning of this century signifies a collective longing for the commons of old. It has also been a powerful tool for dissent and activism; and has been instrumental in organizing protests against tyranny around the world. But in this medium individuals are easily categorized into camps or groups. It has made advertising far simpler and made corporations far richer. And it has forged a new era of social control and authoritarianism that emanates from the mentality of the mob.  The vacuous, soul sucking maw of commercialism stalks every page. It offers us agency, while it robs us of one of the most precious liberties we have, our privacy.

Artist Pawel KuczynskiIn this age privacy is often looked at as a quaint vestige of a bygone era. Yet with its disintegration, the very essence of democracy is assaulted. The private is a sacred space in which to contemplate issues and construct critical thought before returning to the commons. But social media entices people to give this space up and turn over every piece of information. It is a place that has been created by corporate interests and informed by the surveillance state. And while its secrets are sacrosanct, the individual is expected to bare all lest they be suspected of a misdeed.

Social media is not going to go away as long as industrial civilization is around. And its algorithmic hypnotism, that undoubtedly creates new pathways in the brain for dopamine induced pleasure, will continue to hold most of us under its spell.  But its days, too, are numbered.  Without the machine of industrial society, social media cannot exist. It is dependent on mines in Africa and petrochemicals that are accelerating climate change. Those who place complete faith in technology do not pay attention to the enormous cost that is exacted from the planet or the billions of people who are mercilessly exploited to make all of this “first world” technology possible. They choose to ignore the mass extinction of species, the dying, acidified oceans, the super heated atmosphere, or the tens of thousands of people fleeing for their lives from these ravaged regions.

Refugees in Budapest, Hungary. Source The Guardian.

Photo Mining Equipment via Shutterstock

Mine in the Congo Johan Spanner for The New York TimesThere are those that say; “the same thing was said about television; but the world didn’t end.” I contend that television did, in fact, end the world as we knew it.  It, too, promised a deeper connection to each other and a better life.  And it, too, provided a medium for authoritarianism. The corporate state was nourished by television, and it still dominates it like a plague.  It, like the social media, influences our perception of the world and of ourselves. It sold us cigarettes, vanity and war; and in the process the commons, a place for all, was privatized and sold to the highest bidder.

In the days to come the social media, like television, will increasingly be used by the powerful for social control and disseminating propaganda for the corporate state.  It has been, and will continue to be, a means of surveillance of those who dissent.  And it will justify every brutality of a ruthless police state.  The death machine of endless consumption will be celebrated on it until the last forest is felled and the last fish is taken from a dying sea.

Police brutality at a protest in Paris. Source Getty

Alberta Tar Sands were once pristine boreal forests

But as industrial civilization draws closer to its end from the ravages of climate change, perpetual war and mass species extinction, the social media is the only thing modern society has left that even remotely resembles the commons of antiquity.   It can be used by the powerful to nourish havoc, but it can also provide a space for the rest of us to make sense out of senselessness, and share our collective grief.  Sadly, unlike those days of old, we may not have any trees to ascend back to when the earth has finally had enough of our pillage, and all that humanity has built crumbles to dust.  But in the meantime we have within us a heritage that is deeper and richer than the emptiness of mindless consumption; our shared humanity.

A candlelight ceremony at a Budapest railway station in memory of 71 refugees who died in a truck. Photo Source Reuters Laszlo BaloghKenn Orphan 2014