Tag Archives: jingoism

An Economy of Cruelty

     In America, sadism towards the most vulnerable and disenfranchised has become normative. From reality and talk shows, to corporate news broadcasts, to political speeches, the message could not be more clear. If you are poor, a person of color, a woman, elderly, non-Christian, an immigrant, a refugee from one of America’s imperialistic wars, a prisoner, a user of illegal drugs, a veteran with PTSD, homeless, disabled or gender or heterosexually non-conforming, you and you alone are responsible for the misery you must endure. The established institutions of society, and by definition the powerful, are let off the hook; and the “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” mentality is used as a battering ram to pulverize those viewed as weak or defective.  The hyper-masculine mantra of “personal responsibility” has permeated virtually every medium and institution, from education to public policy to religion to healthcare and employment.

Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan Source Getty ImagesThis can be attributed to the neoliberal economic policies celebrated by Britain’s Margaret Thatcher, and ensconced into the American economic landscape by Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton in the latter part of the 20th century.  Wikipedia defines neoliberalism as “privatization, fiscal austerity, deregulation, free trade, and reductions in government spending in order to enhance the role of the private sector in the economy,” but it can more accurately be defined as the last and most savage form of feudalistic capitalism.  These policies have metastasized into a monster of authoritarian class rule in the first part of this century, with the natural environment and the poor suffering in its wake. The misanthropic rambling of Ayn Rand, the patron saint of neoliberal capitalism, is the liturgy of the current economic order, and of all domestic and foreign policies that emanate from Washington and Wall Street.

Homeless in America Associated PressAccess to healthcare, or the lack of it, is perhaps the most emblematic of this culture of cruelty.  When ordinary Americans become gravely ill or injured the punishment is severe. Health is commensurate with wealth in the empire, and access to treatment, or even prevention, comes at a price too steep for most to bear. Millions of American families go bankrupt, or lose their homes, or jobs each year simply due to one, serious accident or health crisis. Many elderly are forced to make impossible choices between food and medicine thanks to the gutting of Medicare.

The Affordable Care Act was offered to the American public as a solution to this utterly inhuman system, but it is clear that the primary objective of its policies was to pad the pockets of the insurance industry and Big Pharma. It placates an intolerable situation by separating Americans into categories of the deserving and the undeserving. Its stopgap measures merely infuriate mean spirited, affluent conservatives who blither on about socialism, even though it bares no resemblance to this ideology in the least. And it soothes the consciences of the liberal class, who have little taste for a revolution that would upend their comfortable lives.

Payday Loans and Liquor Source Stock FootageA similar scenario plays out when it comes to education. Public schools continue to be under constant fire from the warriors of privatization. Higher education has become all but impossible for the vast swath of young people caught in neighborhoods that have been segregated from the larger society, and sacrificed on the alter of neoliberal capitalism. Exorbitant cost and life crushing debt create an insurmountable barrier, and for-profit colleges and universities offer little in the way of actual career advancement. Young people who are caught up in this machine are encouraged to become mere cogs without agency or thought; or to disappear from society’s collective gaze completely.

The Us Prison Industrial Complex Source Impact Press

Many are churned up in the private prison system, which has seen record profits in recent years.  A free source of labor is provided thanks to the venomous anti-immigrant fervor and the racist “War on Drugs.”  With few, if any, options open to some, military service becomes the only economically viable option.  In a cruel feat of irony, they are forced to defend the very same economic interests of America’s predatory capitalist oligarchy that keep them disenfranchised and indebted.  Of course, the empire has other ways of describing this.

President Clinton And President George W. Bush Launch Presidential Leadership Scholars Program

The use of euphemisms by the political power class evince the disconnect they have with ordinary Americans.  In the crumbling days of the American empire these euphemisms are becoming increasingly preposterous, but the inability of the plutocracy to recognize their absurdity is even more awe inspiring. They employ them whenever the malignancy of their behavior becomes too difficult to completely obscure, even from a sycophantic press. In their parlance, unregulated development becomes “sustainable growth,” the gutting of the social safety net and the criminalization of poverty becomes “austerity,” torture becomes “enhanced interrogation techniques,” and the cancerous growth of the police/prison/surveillance state becomes “national security considerations.”

Within their ranks, humor is defined by cruelty and humiliation. It allows for Presidents to joke openly about drone bombing or to fill well heeled banquet halls with raucous laughter over the failure to find weapons of mass destruction, that enabled the plunder and occupation of an entire nation. A presidential ‘Kill List’ that targets individuals for assassination, or the lies told that cost hundreds of thousands of civilians their lives, and displaced millions more, become punchlines that bring the house down among their peers. This language informs and guides corporate media and entertainment, and it has become infused into government policies and the collective, popular culture.  It has created an echo chamber where the current system, no matter how much misery it produces or how fetid and suppurative it has become, can continue with very little, if any, resistance.

Eric Thayer Reuters

The plutocratic elite have constructed an elaborate system of protections for their wealth and power, and on its current trajectory the burgeoning police/prison/surveillance state today is primed to become the gulag state tomorrow. Stoking the flames of racial animus and fear of the other are the tools that they employ to buy them more time. This is unfortunately successful in certain groups where reactionary prejudice and paranoid suspicion of any kind of social contract is foundational to their existence.  But violence is the only currency that the power class will use when the condescending placation of the unending injustices they mete out begin to ring hollow with the broader public.

Gated Community Stock FootageIn truth, the powerful are frightened. They sit atop trillions of dollars of monetary wealth, yet deep down many of them must know that this is meaningless on a planet with dwindling resources such as clean water and viable top soil, and in a climate that grows angrier by the day. No gated community can shield them from the calamity of systemic collapse, but unending wealth accumulation at the expense of billions of people, countless species, and the ecosystems we all rely upon is the only paradigm they understand.

Source Guardian

Because of their rapacious greed, all life on earth is now imperiled. Climate change is morphing into climate chaos. Nuclear war continues to menace. And the miasma of industrial civilization is now beginning to engulf even the most pristine of earth’s last sanctuaries. Forged in the tar-drenched quicksand of fossil fuels, the pillars of industrial society are beginning to sway and buckle. Russia, China and the West continue to flirt with war over the last remaining drops of oil. In a melting Arctic ocean they only see self-interest and opportunity,

The church of neoliberalism cannot learn any other hymn except “grow the economy,” and it sees no difference between east or west. Of course, the consequences of this cupidity and avarice are becoming more apparent with each passing day. Record after record continues to be broken each month as the temperature rises and weather patterns begin to shift dramatically. The methane time bomb in Siberia may be closer than ever to exploding; and species extinction is accelerating, with our own on the list.  All things considered, it has become undeniably apparent that the current economic system of industrial civilization, which is based on limitless consumption with finite resources, is a death sentence for all life on the planet, including Homo sapiens.

Source Vancouver Media Co Op

The human community, along with countless other species we share this planet with, has been and continues to be assaulted by the dictates of neoliberal capitalism which defines the world, and all of its inhabitants, as mere commodities.  It has been demeaned by being labelled consumers, rather than citizens; and the world in which we live has been bar-coded for convenient exploitation and plunder.  Yet still it persists.  Disenfranchised neighborhoods continue to band together to fight police brutality and racism.  Indigenous peoples continue to block the Keystone Pipeline.  Social movements that defend the earth or the most vulnerable among us may be co-opted or obscured, but their moral imperatives continue to ring true, and the people continue to rally in the face of state violence and repression.

The rejection of the current paradigm of alienation and objectification is essential to reclaiming our collective identity and agency.  And although defiance to its cruelty, rejection of its dehumanization, and the embrace of solidarity, will not spare us from all that is ahead, the alternative would be the acceptance of tyranny, and far more perilous to comprehend.

Kenn Orphan  2015

State Sanctioned Amnesia

Memorial DayMemorial Day and Veteran’s Day are the days the empire has set aside to remember the fallen soldiers of American wars and those who have served in its armed forces.  They are also opportunities for state sanctioned amnesia.

war

It is chance for politicians to go on ad nauseum about “duty” and “sacrifice,”  foreign  concepts for most of them to say the least.  It is an opportunity for corporations to make a quick buck off of the follies of their imperialistic wars of plunder.  It is an opportunity for Americans to once again ignore the statistics of homeless veterans and those who return with horrific injuries and PTSD, and the neglect they endure from an inept and inadequately funded Veteran’s Administration.  An opportunity for social media to explode with meaningless memes extolling “freedom and liberty,” two meaningless words that serve to distract the public from the slow and steady erroding of the most basic civil liberties and rights ordinary citizens have left.

Defense Policy Journal
It is also another opportunity to forget about the NDAA indefinite detention “option” that allows the government to spirit away any American citizen to an undisclosed location, away from family or legal counsel, potentially kept there forever, to face a military tribunal for charges that need never be disclosed to the accused.  An opportunity for Americans to lie to themselves about the whole scale destruction and occupation of other nations, impoverished and far less sophisticated than us in military might, and generally already destabilized by the CIA.  An opportunity to minimize the loss and value of the lives of foreigners and soldiers of other countries who fought just as valiantly for the lies their government told them.  An opportunity for Americans who dissent from these lies to be shunned and shamed, demonized and ignored.

Iraq Civilians  Getty Images

Homless Veteran NCH

Brendan Marrocco, a 23-year-old Iraq war veteran from Staten Island, N.Y., watches as his physical therapist, Luis Garcia, takes off his prothetic legs after practicing walking at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, on May 5, 2010. Marrocco lost his arms and legs to a bomb in Iraq. A year later, he is walking again and has become an inspiration to hundreds of fellow veterans. (Ruth Fremson/The New York Times) -- STANDALONE FOR USE AS DESIRED WITH YEAREND STORIES --

If America really honored the fallen and those who have served, it would condemn the war criminals in Washington who continue to goad the nation into endless wars.  If it really paid respect to veterans it would give adequate funding to the VA, treat PTSD in those who come home from the horrors of war, and house the nearly three hundred thousand homeless that line the streets of every major American city.  It would pay them an living wage so that they need not go on food stamps.  If it really hoped to spare a child the loss of a parent to a senseless war, it would take to the streets to protest any new war or intervention.  If it really believed in freedom and liberty, it would understand that neither of these are possible in a time of war and that is just what the elite want in order to maintain their control and keep their wealth.

But none of that will happen on these days, or any other day of the year, because in the land of the free, dissent is the enemy, and nationalistic jingoism reigns supreme.

Kenn Orphan  2014


We are all Kelly Thomas

Kelly_Thomas_04Kelly Thomas was a 37 year old homeless man who suffered from schizophrenia.  On July 5, 2011, Thomas was brutally beaten to death by three police officers in Fullerton, California. Despite his repeated cries begging for mercy, calling out to God to save him and for his father, and apologizing to the officers over and over, they continued to beat him until he was completely unrecognizable and unconscious.  This can clearly be seen in video and audio surveillance as well as through numerous testimonies of eye witnesses. Thomas never regained consciousness and succumbed to his injuries five days later in the hospital.  Despite all of this, Thomas’s killers were acquitted.(1)

Kelly Thomas in the hospital Photo KTLA
(A photo showing the head injuries Kelly Thomas sustained from the police assault.  He was hospitalized, and died five days later having never regained consciousness.  Source:KTLA)

Were this an isolated case, outrage at such behavior would most likely be projected primarily at the officers and their blatant violation of the role they play in society. But this is not an isolated case. Incidents of gross overreach of police power, malfeasance and excessive force, and extreme violence emerge daily. This, coupled with the burgeoning prison and surveillance industrial complex, which is increasingly becoming privatized, and an immoral and untenable “War on Drugs” which really amounts to a war on the poor and people of color, creates a situation that in most nations would raise the specter of a police state.(2) In reality, the officers in this case did not violate the conduct expected of them or the rule of law in their role as police officers. On the contrary, they fulfilled them.

In a spate of State and Federal Supreme Court cases the courts have come down almost unequivocally on the side of the police. In most states the police do not have any obligation to protect a citizen from harm.(3) At the federal level, the SCOTUS has enshrined the right of police departments to conduct strip searches for any arrest.(4) Statistically, there has been a sharp increase in the use of SWAT teams to address what most would consider to be non-violent drug offenses. When we consider the concurrent trend of police departments acquiring military equipment, including armored tanks, this increased use of SWAT as the preferred method of dealing with the public, as vile as it is, makes logical sense.(5)

Perhaps what is most troubling about the rise of police and state brutality is the seeming complacency of the public. The invasive practices of the TSA at airports, the codification of the NDAA indefinite detention of American citizens without the requirement of due process, or the Constitutional infringements by the NSA aside, it was the effective lockdown of a major US city following the Boston Marathon bombing that was most indicative of this. Tanks rolled freely down leafy, suburban streets while residents were marched at gunpoint down sidewalks with hands placed firmly on their heads. Yet despite the fact that the police had little to do with the capture of an injured, bleeding 19 year old, the media, politicians and many ordinary citizens normalized and even applauded the draconian measures taken.(6)

Armored tanks in Boston Source Associated Press
(Armored vehicles roll down a street in Boston.  Source: Associated Press)

Cajoled by a lapdog, corporate media into accepting our situation as necessary, or even desirable, and marrying it to the government’s spurious, grossly inflated and unending, global “War on Terror,” the general public is chided as at best unpatriotic and, at worst, reckless anarchists or terrorist sympathizers should they object to the increasing incursions into civil rights and liberties. The attacks on 9/11 created an atmosphere which favors totalitarianism wherever the opaque concept of “security” is threatened. (7ab)

Cases like Kelly Thomas, or Keith Vidal, a teenager who also suffered from schizophrenia whom police fatally shot to death in front of his parents for carrying a screw driver(8), or the state troopers that fired several rounds into a minivan filled with children (9) beg us to look at this grave situation with unwavering urgency. The numerous men and women who have endured invasive body searches, including vaginal and anal probing, at routine traffic stops(10), or the countless dehumanizing “stop and frisk” incidents in cities across the country (11), or the scores of young people spirited away to prison from high school (12), or the violent, organized crackdowns on the Occupy movement (13) illustrate the rising tide of state animus against the public, and particularly any kind of behavior they view as anti-social, a threat to property or dissent.  Unchecked power, unprecedented since the Civil Rights Era and the Anti-war protests in the 1970s, has created a state that is growing more belligerent by the day.

Police Brutality at Occupy Wall Street Reuters
(NYPD officers assault protester at Occupy Wall Street demonstration.  Source: Reuters)

The tragic case of Kelly Thomas illustrates how poverty, homelessness, under-employment and mental illness have become criminal offenses.  Indeed, the gutting of social programs, including those services for the mentally ill, has seen a concurrent rise in state brutality toward the poor and the most vulnerable.  And as the economy is perpetually poised for the next bubble to burst, the gap between the super rich and devastatingly poor grows, and climate change ravages an environment already fragile from excessive exploitation, the prison industry will undoubtedly gain more ground and the militarization of the police will most certainly expand.

If there is no public outcry and substantive change, the United States will end up looking more like one of the foreign dictatorships that it has for so long upheld and supported through overt and nefarious means, indistinguishable from it in its ruthlessness.  Callous disregard and utter contempt for the very elements that make a society civil will be codified and enshrined. Because to a state with no restraint or respect for human life and no due process to speak of, we are all Kelly Thomas, and in the end we are bound to share his tragic fate.

Kelly Thomas
(Photo credit: Reuters)

Kenn Orphan  2014

(photo on top is of Kelly Thomas.  Source: CBSNEWS)

1. http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/officers-acquitted-in-death-of-kelly-thomas/2014/01/14/3e660b24-7d24-11e3-95c6-0a7aa80874bc_story.html
2. http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2013/12/american-society-police-state-criminalization-militarization
3. http://disinfo.com/2010/03/the-police-arent-legally-obligated-to-protect-you/
4. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/03/us/justices-approve-strip-searches-for-any-offense.html?pagewanted=all
5. http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/comment/2013/08/swat-team-nation.html
6. http://www.governing.com/gov-institute/funkhouser/col-boston-marathon-bombing-police-appreciating-public-servants.html
7a. http://www.counterpunch.org/2013/08/01/americas-police-state-marches-on-media-in-tow/
b. http://fair.org/extra-online-articles/spotlight-on-police-violence-fails-to-illuminate/
8. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/janine-francolini/candles-are-lit_b_4563593.html.
9. http://www.krqe.com/news/crime/state-cop-shoots-at-minivan-full-of-kids
10. http://www.alternet.org/border-agents-touched-vagina-and-anally-probed-fruitless-search-narcotics
11. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/01/02/bill-bratton-sworn-in_n_4533202.html
12. http://www.rollingstone.com/music/news/the-school-to-prison-pipeline-a-nationwide-problem-for-equal-rights-20131107
13. http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2012/dec/29/fbi-coordinated-crackdown-occupy