Tag Archives: mainstream media

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

A System Destined to Self Destruct

“It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society.” ― Jiddu Krishnamurti

American Poverty Source North Dallas Gazette

It shouldn’t come as a shock to any of us. The sadism of the uber rich in American society was bound to morph into a reality show. This month CBS, whose CEO Les Moonves earned over $54 million last year alone, saw the release of “The Briefcase.” The premise of the show is to place poor people in the predicament of having to decide whether to keep $101,000 all for themselves, or give away half or all of it to another struggling family. The mainstream media is fond of depicting the working class, recipients of welfare or the homeless as having no motivation to improve their situation and, thus, deserving of their plight. This soothes their conscience (that is if they are even in possession of one), while they amass more and more material wealth at everyone else’s expense. But this latest display of blatant exploitation signifies a new low, even for them.

Still from CBS The Briefcase Source The Daily Banter

Being poor in America is not an easy road. Working class families and those in poverty must routinely choose between healthcare, food or shelter, and are much more likely to be harassed or arrested by the police for non-violent offenses. The homeless, too, are often brutalized by law enforcement and gangs of privileged and disaffected youth. But the pernicious effects of neoliberal economic policy, the final and most merciless manifestation of capitalism, can now be seen in practically every facet of popular culture in the United States. It is a system which glorifies the wealthy while demonizing or rendering the poor invisible.

Private Jet
From reality shows to books and movies, wealth accumulation and narcissism are incessantly extolled as virtues. Professional socialite Kim Kardashian’s autobiography (if one can call it that) is emblematic of the oblivious conceit of the uber rich. Filled with a plethora of monstrous “selfies,” it is a testament to the worship of the banal vulgarity of celebrity. And, unsurprisingly. Caitlyn Jenner’s transformation was characterized by this same culture, placing more value upon her outward appearance than her inner life as a transgender person. This spectacle masks the tremendous cruelty meted out by this society on economically disenfranchised, transgender people, particularly people of color; and reinforces misogynistic and ageist prejudices. But dehumanization and objectification are the signatures of American mass media. Depth and nuance are discouraged. This unrelenting message has had deleterious effects seen in the explosion unnecessary plastic surgeries and eating disorders that have come to characterize young adulthood, especially in women.

Kim Kardashian Source Business Insider
Arguably, popular culture today is one of the most effective methods of social control. It plays on our society’s obsessions, neuroses and angst, albeit in rather superficial styles. This extends out from an establishment that is sustained by internalized authoritarianism or, as political philosopher Sheldon Wolin expressed, inverted totalitarianism. An example of this is in the enormous amount of television series, from the early days of television up to today, that glorified the police, corporate executives and law professionals. For example. the long running series “Cops” turned the plight of crime plagued neighborhoods into sport and mockery. They divided Americans into worthiness classes and instilled a false notion that these institutions are impervious to reproach. And they served the interests of the power class perfectly.

Cops Still Source Fox
There is little doubt that our society is, as Jiddu Krishnamurti stated, profoundly sick. But the disease does not lie in a lack of moral codes. In fact, American culture is among the most moralistic in the world, with shades of its historic and oppressive puritanism clouding virtually every human rights issue, from marriage equality to reproductive rights. The rot at the core of this culture lies in its acquiescence to the dictates of corporate capitalism, a system predicated on dissolving all communal bonds, and replacing them with shallow consumerism and exploitation of the weakest among us, and the natural world on which we all rely. To it, human suffering is a commodity and an opportunity for exploitation. Given all of this there is little wonder that dystopic themes in science fiction have gained so much currency in the wider public. They offer the only form of popular culture that resonates with ordinary people because they speak to their suffering and fears; and they portend a reality that, in many tangible ways, is already here for billions of people around the world. Even though most of these books or movies deal with non-existent threats, e.g. zombies, there is a collective angst that is common to all of them. It is one that recognizes our shared, dire state and the existential threats that we, and countless other species, face.

Cars are stranded on 288 at the 610 loop, which became flooded after an afternoon downpour in Southwest Houston, Saturday, April 27, 2013. (AP Photo/Houston Chronicle, Cody Duty)

American culture is becoming more and more fractured in the crumbling days of the empire. In the midst of this uncertainty and malaise the power class, who own all of the mainstream media, are scrambling to produce programs that pit the poor and other marginalized segments of society against each other to provide misanthropic forms of entertainment. But they are incapable of grappling with reality itself and, if history is any guide, they will not here the drums of revolution on their doorstep. The elite, ownership class gutted their souls long ago to make room for their obsessive penchant for wealth; and they have become drunk on the fruit of their own hubris. They dismantled the commons that afforded a space for community, and insulated themselves behind gilded, gated communities, immune, for now, to the suffering that surrounds them. Their media is bound to reflect this indifference; and it will only grow more cruel in the coming years as the weather grows angrier, and the oil, on which all of this is built, begins to wane.  Without a doubt, our conformity to their culture of cruelty is not securing our own survival in the slightest.  On the contrary, it is merely perpetuating a system destined to self destruct.

Kenn Orphan  2015

Before the Fall

Houston Floods Source Twitter PKandDK      In the past few years scientific models have been sending humanity a rather ominous message: evidence indicates that the earth’s climate has taken a dangerous and irreversible turn. As the once frozen Arctic Ocean rapidly liquefies into ice free summers, releasing tons of the potent greenhouse gas methane, and desertification stretches out across new regions, weather patterns around the globe appear to be spiraling out of control in a nonlinear manner. Each passing month we have seen record after record be demolished. The spring of 2015 has been catastrophic with scores dying from heat waves in India, forest fires in Siberia, monstrous floods in Texas, southern China and Eastern Europe and an intractable drought in the American west, the Middle-east and Brazil. And with an El Nino looming, summer and autumn are shaping up to be even more ferocious. Yet despite the recent, historic People’s Climate March in New York City, the machine of capitalist driven consumption grinds on unabated, undeterred and unconcerned about the impending collapse.

Washington State Fire

Polyp cartoon Climate

Amidst the unfolding chaos some of us still look to the environmental movement for answers, solace, or even hope.  After all, it sprang out of sickness and grief at what this machine was doing to the natural world. It grew from the heart of empathy for all life, human and non. But the failure of the movement was in its acquiescence to capitalism. In so doing it imploded the consciousness of substantive transformation.

Capitalism, in its very essence, is about endless growth and exploitation of the environment for material gain. It is kept alive by a monetary system derived from how much energy is produced and consumed. And in the global “free market” system environmentalist causes may be soothed at home; but in far flung nations the earth and the poor are continually battered and raped by corporations and the corrupt governments that house them. Sweat shops abound, virgin forests continue to be razed for palm oil, poaching keeps animal populations constantly on the cusp of extinction, rainforests and wetlands continue to be polluted by mining companies and Big Oil, and the oceans remain the most abused natural resource on the planet. And militarism, which is of course married to capitalism, ensures that all of this exploitation can continue and expand while hiding it under a cloak of nationalistic jingoism, ironically extolling the fight for freedom and liberty while defending the greatest slaver of all time.

Defense Contractor FlagLogos

Under neoliberal capitalism, which Wikipedia defines 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,”  the environmental movement morphed into what it is today, a meaningless exercise aimed at maintaining the implausibility of endless, mindless consumption with the veneer of concern for ecosystems. It has become all about “sustainability” despite the contradiction of it sustaining a system that is ultimately self-destructive. And it has branded itself with euphemisms like “green” or “earth friendly,” as if our species were somehow alien visitors to this planet and being friendly to it was a diplomatic concern.  Of course many have been cajoled by the flashy promises of mega corporations that co-opted the environmental movement for profit. And certainly, a handful of corporations did in fact change some of their practices under public pressure and for the sake of image; but the primary engine of capitalism that has led us to the brink of devastation was never halted. It merely greenwashed its planet killing practices through slick marketing campaigns. Even oil companies, the wealthiest and dirtiest of businesses, has attempted to greenify its public persona.

odin-new bear ad

General Motors Greenwashing Billboard Source Greenwashing Index

It cannot be over stated that it was fossil fuels that propelled neoliberal economics and defined Western society.   Beginning with the sterile environment of the delivery room to the cold slab of the coroner, from birth to death we are bathed in it. Our food is grown and protected by it. Our communication and transportation is dependent on it. It is the foundation of modern medicine. In short, petrochemicals, whether in solid, gaseous or liquid form, have ensured us, the privileged few, a relatively predictable and easy ride through life. But this ease came with a hefty price. The burning of these fuels has caused an unstoppable surge in temperature that imperils it all. And the rapacious appetite of corporations for the earth’s blood has ruined entire nations with war and corruption, and led to the demise of countless species, with our own likely to be on the list in the near future.

Oil Wells in Kern County California Photograph Mark Gamba

Traffic Source Shutterstock

It is a fair conclusion that Western civilization has been provided with flocks of squealing canaries warning us of the looming catastrophe that our political, media and business leaders deftly ignored in their quest for votes, ratings and profits. When a science denying cretin like Oklahoma Senator, Jim Inhofe, chairs the committee on the Environment and Public Works, or President Obama lampoons climate change deniers only to approve of Shell’s oil drilling ventures in the Arctic, one can easily see a complete dead end in elected officials. And the disinformation campaign of news outlets like Fox or the purposeful omissions of CNN present little hope in the mainstream media.

Senator Inhofe Brings a Snowball to the Senate to Disprove Climate Change Source CSpan

In truth, there are no answers to be found in the halls of Washington, the hills of Hollywood or the board rooms of Wall Street. They are all faithful servants of neoliberal capitalism, and have been laboring for years to dismember the commons, grow their inordinate wealth through plunder and maintain their dominance. The sacredness of the public space has been defiled by their liturgy of self absorbed narcissism. And they have manufactured a culture of cruelty, devoid of character and predicated on the commodification and exploitation of everything that exists. In this way, neoliberalism 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 necessity of its economic tyranny.

Well heeled 1% look on at Occupy Wall Street protestors Photo Associated Press

But there is a longing for connection and solidarity with one another that transcends the mindless consumerism we have been spoon fed since birth. Therefore the most coherent response to what we are witnessing should come from ordinary people in community. And it should be organized before the fall is in full swing. The Occupy movement was a glimpse into how this can be accomplished. But if it, like any other social movement, is co-opted by a politician or party it will be crushed under its heel once in power. It is also worth remembering that all social movements, like Occupy, the Arab Uprising or Black Lives Matter, are a threat to the capitalist order and will always be met with state violence and distortion by the mainstream media.

Vigil in Bangalore

Perhaps with these concepts in mind, despite the threat of a misanthropic power class, war, famine, and a very angry climate, our species will beat the odds this time too. Indeed, homo sapiens have beaten a lot of odds. Born of the stuff that spawned all life on the planet, in ponds rich with amino acids, we eventually evolved out of several incarnations and through some very close calls into what we are today. Arguably, our altruism and communal bonds provided just as much for our survival as our cleverness and cunning. But the value of living in community and honoring the other transcends mere survival, and technology will not save civilization.  This is because it was, in part, technology which instilled in humanity the myth of separateness from the natural world, and the myriad of species we share this planet with.  And thanks to the insatiable consuming technology of industrialism, the delicate and essential life giving systems of our world are on the brink of breaking down, that is if they have not already begun to do so.

Crops Dying Time

Storm Between Green Island and Cairns Photo by Robin Wei

Industrial civilization now encompasses the entire planet with less and less arable land, acidified oceans, less potable drinking water and billions more of us on the way. When one mixes in the threat of nuclear war or meltdowns, raging storms, sea level rise and pandemics the probability of collapse becomes more prescient. And it is worth repeating that our species hasn’t figured out how to live anywhere else than this earth. One would think that would be enough to spur us to action; because it would take nothing short of a miracle to beat those odds, and we are in desperate need of one. We are standing, however, at the precipice of a Great Fall; and it would be foolish not to recognize that civilizations, both past and present, have a remarkable way of doing themselves in without much outside help at all.

The Fall of Rome, painting by Thomas Cole.Kenn Orphan  2015

Coming Out of the Cave

Office Cubicles  Stock Footage     To succeed in America, we are constantly told, is to occupy a cubicle: in an office, in a suburb and, finally, in one’s own mind. We internalize the belief that attaining the carrots of meretricious wealth maliciously dangled before our eyes will somehow fill the void created by industrial civilization itself.  But the limits to this folly are obscured by its ubiquitous distractions.  It is a terrain of self-delusion, divorced from reality and self-medicated to numbness.

Consumerism  MK FeeneyNourished by the fossilized blood of the ancient earth, this nightmarish landscape of banality flourishes almost endlessly across the horizon. Insulated enclaves of cloned track houses, featureless monolithic office buildings, green golf courses and flowing water are surrounded by parched earth and razed wilderness. It is architecture designed for alienation. It is the triumph of extraordinary conformity and authoritarianism. And it is a celebration of blind and insatiable consumerism for the benefit of the privileged few.

Las Vegas suburbia  Source: Stock FootageThe American psyche has been conditioned to resist deepening or self-examination thanks to the merchants of Wall Street, Hollywood and Washington DC. They aver that endless growth is necessary, good and even patriotic. In reality they are a gang of self-aggrandizing thieves who present themselves as a vanguard here to save us all; and their task is a simple one. They must maintain the unassailable sacrosanct liturgy of capitalism and the mythology of the free market while reducing the natural world to monetary units, replacing the commons with strip malls, and placing life, both human and non, into categories of productivity or disposal. They must manipulate base prejudices against “the other” with jingoism to induce compliance for imperialistic wars of plunder.  They must shrink wrap all that is sacred and life-giving into commodities and parade an endless spectacle of manufactured outrages and celebrity gossip/worship.

celebrity couples Art by Daiana FeuerBut keeping up appearances is untenable and not very sexy when ecosystems are collapsing around you, reservoirs are drying up, and species are rapidly going extinct. The absurdity of their scheme is evinced in their simultaneous denial of climate change and rapacious attempts to extract oil from a rapidly melting Arctic Sea. Such paradigms have the habit of doing themselves in; and this one appears very close to full on collapse. It is death by a thousand cuts or, in this case, a thousand climate change induced storms and droughts.

crane among trashWhere then does this all leave those of us who cannot look away any longer? We can join the ranks of those who wish to reform the system; but how does one reform a metastasized cancer? Most of us have rooted ourselves in self-delusion, partly out of apathy, but mostly out of defeat. The magicians of wealth and power can put on a dazzling show.  And liberation from the claustrophobic confines of their corporate controlled prison of illusion is not easy.  It is also neither sudden or permanent. It requires constant attention and re-visiting. But as in Plato’s Allegory of the Cave we possess the power to spurn the shadows on the wall and rise to the surface of our own accord and, in the process, help others who are weary clamber their way out too. The puppeteers be damned.

Allegory of the Cave by Plato  Source Pixgood

In the light of day the banal landscape of mindless consumerism shatters to create possibility even in the midst of devastation and despair. The vapid forms of entertainment and celebrity adoration that were once alluring, crumble to heaps of hackneyed dust. Here there is no object that can replace the soul, no product that can entice away from the birthright of nature or human connection.

What becomes of us who cannot live comfortably anymore within the emptiness of consumerism? Where do those of us who can no longer ignore or placate the death machine of industrial civilization go? We are pushed out of the cave and to the margins of the empire.  We are forced to the surface. And it is there where we can either languish or decide that freeing our soul is worth the price of exile and even persecution.  In any case, the view at the top is magnificent.

Light of Nature  Source Pichost
Kenn Orphan  2015

American Sniper and the Despicable Art of Propaganda

la–et–0909–clint–eastwoo

American Sniper, the jingoistic flick produced by Clint Eastwood, the paragon of white supremacy and misogyny in the film industry, is emblematic of the malignancy of all militaristic societies. The story was based on the autobiography of Chris Kyle, a Navy SEAL who had bragged about killing 255 people in Iraq and dozens of Americans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. While Eastwood is no Leni Riefenstahl, he has proven himself to be one of the best American propagandists in modern times. In America today, neoliberal capitalism defines worth; and American Sniper garnered well over one hundred million dollars in its weekend debut. This obscene profit is a symptom of the grotesque, hyper-militarism that infects the American psyche.

It is a society that convinces young men and women to enlist in the military in order to kill people who never attacked them and occupy their lands in order to protect the very freedoms the empire, and its elite class, are hacking away at on the home front. Iraq never attacked the United States. It had nothing to do with the events of September 11, 2001. There were no weapons of mass destruction. In essence, the war in Iraq was state sponsored terrorism, and the US was the state that sponsored it. It was a lie that enabled the killing of hundreds of thousands of civilians. It was a lie that displaced over one million. And it was a lie that destroyed infrastructure leading to disease, in a nation already badly weakened by over a decade of US sanctions that killed at least 500,000 Iraqi children. The propaganda erected around this lie ensures that it will continue until finally the empire crumbles under its own hubris. It was against this backdrop that Kyle is quoted as saying; “Everyone I shot was evil. I had good cause on every shot. They all deserved to die.” This is the language of a psychopath. There are no grey areas, only black and white, and this is how the mad insanity of militarism is nurtured.

When thousands of soldiers return home scarred, mutilated, homeless, on food stamps and suffering with PTSD this society ignores them unless they wax on endlessly about being a proud murderer, or don their uniforms to sit beside some puss-oozing politician. Soldiers like Ethan McCord who saved the lives of Iraqi children targeted by US drones, or others, like Scott Olsen, who threw their medals away in disgust are never put into the spotlight. Their humanity is too much of a threat to militarism. Hollywood, and Eastwood, et al, are the corporate empire’s lapdogs. They skillfully tap into the angst of endemic American bellicosity, and temporarily relieve the malaise associated with aggressive and violent societies.  They produce propaganda that glorify state-sanctioned, serial killers like Kyle, and disparage any one else that questions them, so that their profit margins are protected.

The term “cannon fodder” and its historic meaning have been largely forgotten or buried in modern times.  But little, if anything, has changed about the true nature of imperialism, except that American propaganda has become more technologically and psychologically cutting edge in recruiting young people to fight in its needless wars. Films like American Sniper soothe the consciences of murderers, and their sponsors and apologists; and cajole more young people to become cannon fodder for the empire’s endless wars. In this despicable art, Eastwood has succeeded with flying colors.

Kenn Orphan  2015

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

The Hermit Kingdom vs. Hollywood

Sony HackThe corporate media has been in a frenzy this week over the alleged hack into Sony Corporation by the government of North Korea. The hack prompted executives to sack the release of the low brow comedy “The Interview” which involved a scene in which the leader of the Hermit Kingdom is assassinated. There have been outcries among the elite railing against this “attack” on freedom of speech, and the apparent cowardice of a multinational corporation. As if any corporation anywhere exhibited any virtue, much less courage, when their bottom line was at risk.

Oddly enough when it was the US government doing the hacking (and spying) on other nation’s governments (including allies) and on American citizens the corporate press was either apathetic or chimed in with the hawks of Washington demanding the punishment of whistle blowers like Edward Snowden and Chelsea Manning. It demonstrates how, in the neoliberal order of America, corporations rank higher in priority than ordinary people.

This latest manufactured outrage has Wall Street, the Pentagon and Hollywood’s fingerprints all over it. Celebrity sycophants to Washington’s political class like George Clooney have joined the chorus championing “freedom of speech.” Yet one would be hard pressed to find the same level of disdain when it comes to the horrific practices of the NSA, CIA, FBI and the DoD which include not only hacking, but torture and murder.

Hollywood has never missed a beat in producing films that parrot US foreign policy, celebrate the cupidity of Wall Street, or beat the drums of militaristic chauvinism. Ironically, it portrays itself as a bastion of free speech, but a scratch beneath the glitzy surface reveals a long, ugly history of corporate censorship. When it comes to understanding the hypocritical outrage from the ruling elite and celebrity class, all one need do is follow the money and the power. It is the only value they understand or will go out on a limb for.

Kenn Orphan  2014

Photo Credit: Michael Thurston/AFP/Getty Images

The company you keep, the atrocities you ignore.

President Obama meets with Saudi King AbdullahFew in the civilized world would ever see the beheading of a human being as anything less than abject evil.  A state that executes scores of people every day, many on charges of apostasy or sorcery, routinely imprisons and tortures people with different ethnicities or religious beliefs, and has been implicated in supporting various terrorist factions throughout the Middle-east is deserving of the most scathing reproach. The state that I am referring to in this instance is not IS (Islamic State).  It is one of the United States biggest allies;  the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Beheading Source Reuters

There is a veritable mountain of evidence documenting the ongoing, systemic brutality of the House of Saud and the medieval theocracy it imposes.  The Kingdom stones women to death for witchcraft or for being unaccompanied.  It amputates the limbs of men accused of stealing.  It crucifies anyone displaying a religious symbol that is not Wahhabist (ultra-fundamentalist Islam).  Immigrant workers, too, are not spared from the savagery.  Treated as slaves with no rights, they are routinely raped, beaten and murdered with impunity.

Bush with Saudi Prince Source Getty Images

It would be accurate to designate the IS as fiendishly barbaric.  Yet when it comes to denunciation of the tyrannical House of Saud for routinely carrying out the same atrocities, and doing so for far longer, the United States is curiously quiet.  There may be paltry criticisms here and there, but nothing tantamount to the priggish blustering we see recently emanating from Washington regarding IS.  This is for an important reason.

Within the halls of empire such hypocritical rants are essential to advancing its interests, which are unequivocally tied to its wealth and power.  The American empire is an expert at the art of spinning atrocities to align with its foreign policy objectives which line the pockets of the weapons and fossil fuel industry.  And with a corporate media in tow, the job is anything but difficult.

Once again we are witness to the ratcheting up of war rhetoric and the endless war machine working itself into a self-righteous frenzy.  Once again the corporate media dutifully serves its masters in regurgitating state narratives as absolute truth. Once again we are doused with collective amnesia as they court the doom of war.  And once again we are chided for daring to remember the last time they lied to us, and the tremendous cost it exacted.

Kenn Orphan  2014

Protest in Saudi Arabia barely reported on in Western media. Source Press TV

Protests in Saudi Arabia Source Times Live

They are Preparing, and We Should Too.

FERGUSON MISSOURI     The militaristic crackdown on largely peaceful protesters in Ferguson, Missouri, this past summer, following the shooting death of an unarmed black youth should not be seen as an anomaly.  In fact, American police forces have been steadily militarized over the past decade by the Pentagon, which according to a recent report has made it a priority to address the risks of social unrest that will undoubtedly arise as climate change worsens. It would be supremely naive to think their preparations are concerned with community development, supplying adequate resources or social justice.  To be sure their approach will be in line with their history and will be about social control and the suppression of dissent.

Boston Lockdown

Americans got a taste of this approach during the lock down of Boston last year in the search for the alleged perpetrator of the Boston Marathon bombing.  For the first time in this century an entire American city was placed under what could accurately be defined as a type of martial law.  While this may have been voluntary, few would deny that defying the lock down would have been met with severe consequences.  Americans saw a major US city transform into something that resembled the streets of Grozny or Sarajevo.  Tanks rolled down leafy New England streets.  Police sharpshooters trained their sights on picket fenced, saltbox houses.  Families were marched out of their living rooms and down the sidewalks with hands plastered to their heads.  And all of this proceeded with nary a protest or whimper from the mainstream media.  On the contrary, this over the top spectacle garnered praise from politicians and reporters alike.  And after it was over many in the public lined the streets to thank a jackbooted police force, even though the alleged terrorist was discovered by a civilian.

Crop Failure in California due to drought  Photo Getty Images

America is experiencing an intractable drought across much of the southwest.  In the northeast and west, catastrophic flooding and record rainfall is fast becoming the norm.  In the mid-west the Ogallala aquifer, the dominant source of water for the country’s agriculture, is being fast depleted.  And in the west the Colorado River which supplies tens of millions of people with drinking water is beginning to show a severe slowdown.  With such extremes comes crop failure, water shortages and species extinction. Many scientists are also deeply worried that the methane clathrate gun has been fired triggering runaway climate change.  And regardless of anti-science politicians who are on the dole of the fossil fuel industry, the Pentagon is taking all of this very seriously.
Arctic methane

With the collapse of essential services and the failure of leadership to mitigate the damage, public anger will undoubtedly rise. It is within this kind of perfect storm that atrocities are often committed and tyrannies are frequently born.  The Pentagon and other powerful government agencies have demonstrated time after time that their first priority is to protect corporate interests.  Understanding all of this is crucial to facing what may be on the horizon. Maintaining an independent media is key to avoiding the pitfalls of mass paranoia, scapegoating and divide and conquer strategies that the corporate media is expert at. And it is only through grassroots community organizing and non-violent protest that ordinary people can find the leverage needed to hold the established power class accountable and at bay, and assert the innate dignity of all human beings even in the midst of calamity.

Officials observe indigenous people protesting in Brazil

The Pentagon’s approach for dealing with the dire times that lie ahead is nothing less than terrifying.  Social control appears to be their goal.  Violence seems to be their method.  And they have all the equipment needed to enforce their plan.  Peaceful resistance and solidarity is the only viable response ordinary people have.

They are preparing.  And we should too.

Kenn Orphan  2014

(Photo on top is of an unarmed protestor in Ferguson Missouri facing a militarized police force/AP)

A Shroud of Shame that Suffocates Our Humanity

A woman holds the body of her daughter, who medics said died on Friday from injuries sustained in an Israeli air strike on Thursday afternoon, at her funeral in Rafah

Photographs of a mother’s grief have a way of transcending the cold, hollow and cruel rhetoric of politicians and military generals.  In this one, Netream Netzleam embraces her one year old daughter, Razel, killed by an Israeli airstrike in Gaza.

The Israeli establishment stepped up its PR campaign along side its murderous assault on a largely defenseless and wholly captive population.  But no matter how they mince words, Gaza is an open air gulag.  A prison for a people who have been condemned by the world for decades.  And the prisoners are periodically and collectively punished in order to insure that their spirit is sufficiently crushed.

From the plains of the American West, to the Warsaw Ghetto, to the killing fields in Indonesia, it is an oft repeated saga.  The oppressor manages to deftly cast themselves as the victim, even as they rob, strangle, starve and plunder in the open.

This narrative has been necessary to carry out these crimes, for it is not only to convince the unconvinced.  It is intended to soothe the conscience of the oppressor.  It acts as both a balm and an elixir for the perpetrators of barbarity. The act of killing exacts an enormous price from both the victim and the victimizer.  One is seen very easily, the other is most often obscured in some dark corner of the soul, waiting to emerge in the silence of night, or as an unanticipated flashback to the horror once inflicted.

No jingoistic narrative can sponge this image away.  This mother’s sorrow is the very definition of injustice.  It is a curse to the hawks of war.  And it is a shroud of shame that suffocates our humanity as long as we remain silent in the face of such merciless savagery.

Kenn Orphan  2014

Photo by Finbarr O’Reilly/Reuters