Tag Archives: military industrial complex

No Happy Ending

Chukchi Sea Getty ImagesIn May of this year, the fate of the Chukchi Sea in the Arctic Ocean was placed in the hands of a corporation responsible for decimating the once biodiverse Niger Delta. President Obama, barely a month after giving a speech that lampooned climate change deniers, gave the green light to Royal Dutch Shell to proceed with drilling operations in the remote, frozen and biodiverse region. Of course all the usual empty assurances accompanied this announcement; but history tells a different story. Countless oil spills and ravaged ecosystems around the world provide a litany of facts to easily dispel the industry’s hubris. Bird in Oil Spill Source Greenpeace

The Niger Delta is one of the most important wetland regions on the planet. Millions of people depend upon its migratory fish. But since Shell moved in the Delta has been systematically ravaged. Gas flares contaminate the air with benzene, causing birth defects and cancer among the indigenous communities. Over the past fifty years an estimated 1.5 million tons of oil has spilled in the ecosystem. In fact there is a long list of devastation around the world wrought by Royal Dutch Shell and it can be accessed here: http://www.corp-research.org/royal-dutch-shell.

Shell’s ecological destruction goes hand in hand with its brutal suppression of human rights. Its presence in the Niger Delta has brought deforestation, water pollution and poverty. Nearly 85 percent of all oil revenues go to less than 1% of the population in a country where, according to the African Development Bank, more than 70 percent live on less than one US dollar per day. Shell has had a long history of assisting and directing the Nigerian military in the violent suppression of dissent and protest; and Nigerian environmental activist Ken Saro-Wiwa presented a problem to the oil giant in that he organized defiance of their destruction of Ogoni lands. On November 10, 1995, Saro-Wiwa was among nine other Ogoni activists murdered after being convicted in a kangaroo court at the behest of Royal Dutch Shell in Nigeria. Ken Saro-Wiwa Nigeria

Oil from a leaking pipeline burns in Goi-Bodo, a swamp area of the Niger Delta in Nigeria October 12, 2004. Oil company Royal Dutch Shell said the leak was caused by unknown saboteurs on Monday who used a hacksaw to cut open a major pipeline feeding oil to an export terminal at Bonny, southern Nigeria. The fire was still raging on Wednesday, but the company said the impact on oil output was minimal. Picture taken October 12, 2004. REUTERS/Austin Ekeinde Pictures of the Month October 2004 TA/RSS/WS - RTRDAI9

Niger Delta Oil Flaring Royal Dutch Shell Getty Images But this is by no means limited to this one corporation. The fossil fuel industry is the most profitable business in human history. And it is accountable to no one. It funds the massive smear campaigns against climate change science, yet in its quest for Arctic oil it ironically dispels this denialism with its actions. As climate change accelerates the Arctic Ocean is melting. It is estimated to have ice free summers in just a few years, something that has never happened since humans stood upright. And now its reserves of oil and gas are being seen by the short sided, the powerful and the greedy as an unprecedented opportunity for exploitation. Oil Executives Source Chip Somodevilla Getty Images North AmericaThis story has no happy ending as it stands right now. When the first spill happens there will be no way to clean it as no technology exists. There will be no one who will be able to stop the gushing of the earth’s toxic blood into the sea. The wealthy will jet away to their seclusion and count their money while the planet burns; and the poor of the world will shoulder the hardest burdens our civilization has wrought. Countless species, some yet unknown, will die silent deaths in obscurity.  And after the Niger Delta, the Alberta Tar Sands and the BP oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, it will become one more visible lesion our species has inflicted on the flesh of the earth.

Kenn Orphan 2015 Polar Bear in the Chukchi Sea Sounce Reuters Greenpeace-Beltra Indigenous People of the Chukchi Sea Source Before They Pass Walruses in the Chukchi Sea https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gonsu2WgXog

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

Facing Our Greatest Nemesis

Photographer Paulo Fridman Bloomberg Sao Paulo, Brazil, a city of over 11 million people, may literally run out of water. Let that really sink in for a moment. Politicians in Brazil ignored or downplayed this crisis until it reached the calamitous point it is at now.  Instead they poured their attention and money into the World Cup and displaced thousands of people from their homes in the process.  In recent weeks people across varying demographics have taken to the streets to protest the gross malfeasance of a government drunk on the lies of neoliberalism, 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.”   It is also the most destructive, savage and final stage of capitalism. Photograph Andre Penner AP For most of us the enormity of this catastrophe is still difficult to grasp.  But there it is right in front of us. The normalcy bias, that almost hypnotic state of denial we often experience when faced with disaster, appears to be ubiquitous these days. The media reports these stories (sometimes) but there is seldom, if ever, a discussion about the global ramifications an existential threat like this presents for all of humanity.  Sao Paulo should serve as a loud wail of warning that the entire world has forever changed, and we are not prepared for what lies ahead.

Crops Dying Time
Herein lies the lesson for all of us.  As climate change accelerates and the resources of our planet dwindle, rivers dry up, fields lay fallow, and flood waters rise, the wealthy and powerful will do the only thing they know how to do. They will ignore or downplay serious environmental problems.  They will build more prison walls. They will arm their police forces with the equipment of the battlefield. They will launch war after war of imperialistic plunder cloaked in a veil of meaningless slogans and jingoism. They will employ racism to divide. They will continue to dismantle civil liberties under the guise of national security. They will instruct the media to distract and invert the truth. And they will keep us all on a diet while they feast on what remains. Gaza City Photo AFP Israel’s treatment of Gaza also provides a window into a future that all humanity may soon know all too well. It is emblematic of a future of militarized walls and open air prisons. Since the beginning of the blockade in 2007 Gaza has been reduced to rubble over and over again, the last time in the summer of 2014, in what can accurately be called collective punishment. Food and construction materials are still restricted. And an Israeli official spoke plainly regarding their intentions. “The idea,” he said, “is to put the Palestinians on a diet, but not to make them die of hunger.” After Israel repeatedly destroyed its infrastructure, Gaza may now be out of clean drinking water as soon as 2020. The casualness of such barbarity is staggering, especially since the population of Gaza is over 40% children under 14 years of age. Khuzaa Gaza ruins No matter how one views the history of this region, it should be clear to most that Israel is far more powerful than Gaza, which is restricted by Israel in exporting goods, and has no army, air force or navy. In contrast, Israel is an economic powerhouse which exports military technology and pharmaceuticals, and is the fourth largest military power in the world in addition to possessing nuclear weapons. It also controls Gazan airspace, restricts travel in and out of the strip, and routinely fires on fishermen off its coast. It is an example of neoliberal plunder being played out with textbook precision in a Western nation.  The powerful vanquish the powerless; and the wealthy grow their wealth in stupefying proportions in the midst of immense and imposed poverty. Pollution in India Source Voice of India In India, the world’s most populous democracy, neoliberalism has carved out a landscape that magnifies wealth inequities. As in China, river ways are polluted with industrial waste in a mad dash toward the reward of material wealth and an inevitable descent into dystopian misery. It is a nation that is literally on the brink of mass migration, social collapse and extinction, but is one of the most lauded among the neoliberal elite. Here one can see the grotesque display of wealth sitting upon a pile of refuse being praised for its so-called progress.  Mumbai is a visual aid to understanding the end result of neoliberalism.  Gilded towers rise in supercilious impudence above fetid shanty towns of exploitation and misery.  And the wealthy have created an insular bubble to shield them from the blight of indigence that surrounds them.  As in Israel, there is a growing reactionary nationalism which poses unique and terrifying prospects given that it too possesses nuclear arms.

Mumbai India Source Getty Images
In truth the immoral metric of neoliberal capitalism is incapable of preparing us for the catastrophes looming on the horizon. Its machinery is greased by illusion, distraction and willful ignorance. It is the reason why depression and anxiety dominate the Western psyche. It is the most emblematic feature of a dying civilization, medicated to numbness through drugs, alcohol, violence, political spectacle and vacuous entertainment.  It is an order that views the powerless as either commodities for exploitation or nuisances for disposal. The oil under the thawing Arctic or the beleaguered rainforests of South America and the bread basket of war torn Ukraine are all business opportunities. The damage done is calculated as “externalities,” essentially someone else’s problem. But the world is getting smaller and the dumping grounds are getting closer, even to the enclaves of the privileged and powerful.

02. Misery's CompanyWe, as a species, have either created, permitted or have been oppressed by the order that is threatening our collective demise in a mere blip of geologic time. Indeed, it is this order that has already sentenced countless species to the halls of extinction; and enslaves millions of people around the world in sweatshop fire traps, pesticide ridden fields and lung choking mines. But our dissent is a raft to actualized freedom. Our ability to simply say no may be our last and greatest action against the brutality and cruelty of our age.  Walruses are finding less and less sea ice. Image by the U.S. Geological Survey.Unique Fish Species is Dangerously Close to Extinction. Photo Source Animal Planet.Endangered Sea Turtles. Photo Jordi Chias PujolIt is certain that neoliberal capitalism’s days are numbered. To wit, regardless of its implacable hubris, it simply cannot outsmart nature.  Sao Paulo, Gaza and India provide us with some of the best examples we have of its dystopian future.  They should serve as warnings and ignite our conscience and imagination.  But the minutes to midnight are quickening; and the ability of our species to deny reality and delay action is staggering.  It is true that human beings have a remarkable capacity to rise from improbable ashes, but now we are facing the greatest nemesis we have ever encountered… ourselves.  And the odds of us rising again after this ever impending fall are getting slimmer by the second.

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 Easiest Job on the Planet

Leaders gather in Paris  photo Associated Press

It is difficult to muster any feeling other than nausea when looking at this photo of war criminals. Linked arm in arm, this junta marched boldly through the streets of Paris today, proclaiming their steadfast commitment to freedom of speech in the wake of the tragic attacks that left 12 dead at the French magazine Charlie Hebdo, and resulted in 5 more in the ensuing manhunt. The nausea comes when any person of conscience shirks the corporate media’s imposed amnesia and remembers the mountains of corpses amassed by each of them, from Iraq to Afghanistan to Pakistan to Yemen to Gaza to Libya and beyond. It also comes when one remembers the horrendous abuses and assaults on freedom of expression in the form of crackdowns on protestors and prison sentences for journalists in their own countries. This display was, of course, for one reason alone. It signals a new page in an unending war of imperialistic aggression, dressed up in the sanctimonious garments of western superiority.

Unlike most of the protestors who joined the march today, freedom of speech is meaningless to this gang of miscreants. But it is a useful phrase to employ when stoking the flames of social and racial hatred. Anti-immigrant fervor is already reaching fever pitch in much of Europe where austerity measures, imposed on the population by the very ones gathered today in Paris, have resulted in misery for millions. This spectacle provides a convenient distraction from their outright plunder and malfeasance. It gives them an exit from the ramifications of their murderous and cruel policies. And with a subservient press in tow, the same one that virtually ignored every other mass protest against their tyranny, their job has become the easiest one on the planet.

Kenn Orphan  2015

The Dark Legacy of American Imperialism

Vigil for Jennifer Laude  photo credit Ted Aljibe AFP

On October 11, 2014, the body of Jennifer Laude was discovered in a hotel room in the Philippine port city of Olongapo. She had been beaten, strangled and drown in a tub. Laude was beloved by all who knew her. She was a 26 year old woman who supported her family and enjoyed life. But she was born into a reality beyond her control. She was Filipino and transgender; and her unfortunate fate was sealed when she met her killer, US Marine, Joseph Scott Pemberton. This could be just another tragic story of sexual assault, transphobia and murder, which is bad enough.  But this incident represents a long, bloodstained history of American military occupation and imperialism.

Following centuries of colonialism under Spain, Filipinos, who had fought long and hard for independence, found themselves to be yet another chess piece in the geopolitical game of the elites. Despite the illusion of a conflict, the US struck a deal with Spain only to introduce a new era of subjugation on the indigenous population. Armed struggle against US forces proved futile for the Filipino people. Although they did fight fiercely again for their independence, the Americans had far deadlier weaponry. Hundreds of thousands of men, women and children, were massacred in the first years of the 20th century by US troops. Waterboarding, commonly thought to be a relatively new torture technique for American forces, was used liberally on Filipinos. The cruelty inflicted upon them was breathtaking in its depravity. The book “In Our Image,” by journalist Stanley Karnow, detailed many of these atrocities including rapes, village burnings, indiscriminate killings and concentration camps.

Water boarding of Filippinos by American Marines Photo Stock FootageAmerican Moro Crater massacre Muslims Philippines  Photo stock footage
As was the case with all people of color, the dehumanization of Filipinos became embedded in American policy and practice. Anthropologist W. J. McGee called them “monkey-like” and exhibited them at the St. Louis Fair in 1904 much to the amusement of curious white Americans. Prominent periodicals like National Geographic referred to Filipinos as “uncivilized.” And these attitudes had a direct impact on their rights, both there and in the US where they were segregated, prevented from voting, having property, or working in most careers.

St Louis Worlds Fair Souvenir 1904

Anti Filipino sign  Source UCLA

Boston Sunday Globe clipping

Following WWII, and a brutal Japanese occupation, the United States picked up where it had left off. As with Native Americans, Filipinos were systematically stripped of their culture and language. And racism became the class designating factor, where those with more European features were favored with more benefits over everyone else. With the force of the military, American imperialism morphed into national security interests. American corporations sliced up the country for their own profit and employed a loyal band of well paid locals to enforce American interests within government. Vast swaths of land were handed over to US corporations, leaving indigenous Filipinos impoverished and disenfranchised in their own nation. And any dissent or resistance was met with swift violence.

USS Guardian at Tubbataha Reef   photo from AFP Western Command

The independence the Philippines eventually attained was an illusion. Sovereignty was supplanted by the “free market” with the result being gross income inequality and pollution left behind by the US military. Subic Bay, where the US Navy dumped raw sewage and chemicals like asbestos for decades and where thousands of Filipinos live, continues to cause disease, premature deaths and birth defects in the local population. And the US has yet to pay for the destruction of coral reefs at the UNESCO World Heritage site in Palawan by the USS Guardian. The Philippines became fertile ground for the ruthless economic policies of the global elite. It has seen a long list of presidents who bow to Washington and Wall Street.  And current President, Benigno Aquino, as well as a slew of other politicians on the dole, do their best not to disappoint in carrying out the duties of an obedient, client state.

A boy swims in polluted Manila Bay  Photo credit Cheryl Ravelo  Reuters

The tragic case of Jennifer Laude is emblematic of the savage legacy of military occupation and economic imperialism. Misogyny, heterosexism, and racism underpin its foundation and it permits such injustices by its very nature.  Her murderer will most likely go unpunished as other similar incidents have proven. American military personnel enjoy immunity in the Philippines, as they do in any other occupied territory. But her life will be honored; and her death will be remembered by people everywhere who struggle for a more just and equitable world and who long for an end to tyranny.

Jennifer Laude  Photo Source MNLCandlelight Vigil for Jennifer Laude in Manilla  Photo by Jose Del  Rappler
“…I have seen that we do not intend to free, but to subjugate the people of the Philippines . We have gone to conquer, not to redeem… And so I am an anti-imperialist. I am opposed to having the [American] eagle put its talons on any other land.”
— Mark Twain October 15, 1900 The New York Herald

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.

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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


Bearing Witness

“Extinction is the rule. Survival is the exception.” – Carl Sagan

We are all witnesses to the Great Dying, a sixth mass extinction, the last one being 65 million years ago which wiped out the dinosaurs. This is not hyperbole; it is a defining feature of our age.

Jonathon Blair - Copy

Countless species are falling prey to the wealthy’s indifference, militarism and folly everyday. As in ancient civilizations, the wealthy and the privileged are generally the last to feel the pain of collapse, yet are most often the root cause. And compared to the mass of humanity we share this planet with, and as a result of rapacious exploitation and plunder, Americans, and westerners in general, are the wealthy and the privileged of modern civilization.

Great Hammerhead in Bimini Bahamas Photo by Laura Rock

Despite overwhelming evidence of crashing ecosystems, many of us living in the twilight years of the American empire seem oblivious to the canaries in the coal mine. Every human being who has ever lived, lived here, on this little, saltwater drenched rock suspended in the endless, cold ocean of space. Yet so often one can feel as if they were alone, wandering among zombies and phantoms, unaware of or uninterested in grappling with what lies ahead of us. The magicians and merchants of corporate consumerism foster this disconnection gleefully, and create a labyrinth of distractions and doubts that add to the self-delusion.

I Shop Therefore I Am

Insipid optimism is the demand of our corporate kingdom. Eternal youth, popularity, and economic fortune, are to be believed not only possible, but necessary for fulfillment and social connection. This is not an optimism that enjoins the soul to more wondrous places, or that stirs a connection to the nature we are all born of. This is the kind of optimism that unhinges you from reality; and that chaffs the skin of your soul. It is like a chisel set against your skull. It is the kind of optimism that condescendingly tells us that “everything is going to be okay.” Even if this were somehow true, everything is NOT okay for millions of people and countless species around the planet right now.  And not acknowledging that underscores the inherent callousness in this way of thinking. It masquerades as hope; but it is merely cruelty obscured by a deceptive, mocking jingle.

In our society we are temporarily appeased by objects created for one use. In fact many wars of our age are fought for just this purpose. The plastic items that are choking our oceans were born in the darkness of oil wells and tar sands, drilled and scraped clean for the ease of a fleeting moment, and tossed away to become forgotten, yet enduring pollution. The shaming evidence is scuttled away in the darkness of the early morning, so that our day, our very important day, is not inconvenienced by the unending moan of the nature we crush under busy, productive feet.

Plastic debris that has washed up along the shore of the Azores. Photo courtesy of 5 Gyres.

Plastic debris that has washed up along the shore of the Azores. Photo courtesy of 5 Gyres.

The petro-dollar has made our penchant for convenience and self-delusion incredibly efficient. It has spawned the neoliberal economics that repress hundreds of millions of people and that is now driving us all toward extinction. And we have been conditioned to see this all as merely “the way of progress,” and to malign and ridicule those whose hearts see such sights and mourn the enormous weight of history, the staggering lack of empathy and the gaping dearth of a viable future for a species callously divorced from its soul.

We have been meticulously trained to separate life itself into worthiness categories, in fact, to be seen only as useful if it serves our copious desire for more. We house millions of sentient beings in concentration camps, bereft of comfort or even the ability to turn around, often brutally beaten and mutilated, stripped of the dignity any creature has a birthright to, all to sate our unending appetite for flesh.

cows at a factory farm

We avert our eyes to the plastic bags clinging to the branches of decrepit trees, or the bottle caps that outnumber seashells on the shore, or the birthday balloons floating atop the waves at the beach, even while knowing their destination will in all likelihood be the stomach of some hapless sea turtle. After all, paying attention might cause us to question. It might cause us to change. It might reignite the sacred reverence our ancestors knew. It might cause us to face the demons of our cupidity and the resulting devastation and suffering they cause.

A seabird with a stomach full of plastic waste Photographer Chris Jordan (photo: Chris Jordan)

We can remain in denial about the ecocide we are all witness to, as the cult of optimism would have us do, or we can acknowledge and embrace the sorrow that is a natural response to loss, devastation and catastrophe. In grief we make a choice to honor the lost and their existence. We speak in a clear voice, to anyone who will listen, that their lives mattered. And we are also forced to face our own mortality in the process.

Agreeing to walk through our grief honestly can be a catalyst for creative defiance and undaunted dissent. It is perhaps the only resistance we can offer to the insistence of apathy imposed on us from the wraiths on Wall Street and Madison Avenue. The unnatural barriers they have erected to mask our humanity crumble in the rancid pile they deserve when a soul is set free to grieve. It is in grief that we find ourselves to be inseparable from each other, and from the nature from which we are all born. In this way, sorrow is the only coherent answer to extinction. It is a wail of conscience.

sea turtle

(photo: Getty Images)

Bearing witness to the unprecedented crime of ecocide sweeping our planet is not accepting the carnage, it is lending another voice to testify on the behalf of the victims. And in doing so, it succeeds in making the difficult case for the worth of the human soul.

Kenn Orphan  2014

Looking South

Mural in Bogota Columbia Commemorating the Banana Massacre     There is no justice for the victims of western imperialism, at least not in the American courtroom.  This year, a U.S. court of appeals ruled in favor of Chiquita Brands International who admitted to funding the United Self-Defense Committees of Colombia (AUC), a rightwing paramilitary group, that slaughtered scores of Columbians in recent years.  It underscores a long history of corporate impunity that is drenched in the blood of the poor.

On December 6, 1928 thousands of Columbians were massacred in the town of Ciénaga on behalf of the United Fruit Company, now Chiquita Brands International.  The slaughter of these workers was at the behest of the US government who threatened to invade Columbia to defend UFC’s interests.  This was only one example of this company wrecking havoc and subverting democracy throughout the hemisphere with the assistance of the US government.

Cover for Chiquita Music SheetIn 1954 a mercenary army hired by the United Fruit Company and assisted by the US government, staged a military coup which overthrew the democratically elected, reform oriented government of Guatemala and replaced it with a fascist, military dictatorship and, essentially, neo-feudalism. When some Mayans protested their oppression all Mayans in the country were collectively punished, culminating in the genocide of nearly 250,000 people and creating at least 1 million refugees.

Israel was also complicit in the genocide, supplying arms and training mercenaries.  General Rios Montt, the military general who is largely blamed for directing the slaughter, gave his personal thanks to both the US and Israel for assisting him in the rape, torture and slaughter of the country’s indigenous population.  Montt was an evangelical Christian minister and a personal friend of both Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson. He was also unquestioningly supported and praised by President Ronald Reagan.

Rios Montt and Ronald Reagan juxtaposed to the Mayan Genocide“President Ríos Montt,” Reagan said, “is a man of great personal integrity and commitment . . . . I know he wants to improve the quality of life for all Guatemalans and to promote social justice.”

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

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

Rios Montt with his victims in the photos behind  Photo Credit  Gabriela Alvarez Castaneda

Another account was from a survivor:

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

General Mott was charged with genocide, but his monied legal team has successfully stalled due process of the trial on technicalities.

Indigenous Maya witness and testify at former Guatemalan dictator Rios Montts genocide trial  Source ReutersUnited Fruit Company (Chiquita Brands International) was also complicit in aiding the Honduran dictator General Oswaldo López Arellano into power, later deposed, in 1972.  Fast forward to 2009 it is not too difficult to connect the dots between the coup that removed democratically elected President Manuel Zelaya, who proposed a 60% raise in the minimum wage, to Chiquita, who vehemently opposed such a move.

We are seeing the tragic repercussions of neoliberal economic policies that allow US corporations to spread tyranny and terror abroad in the name of profit.  Now thousands of child refugees are flowing over the border, sent by their families in a desperate attempt to escape the hellish conditions that are a direct result of US foreign and economic policy.  If the American government was serious about stemming the flow of immigrants to the US it would begin by holding corporations accountable for their crimes and abuses.  But despite the catchy slogans, imperialism is about dominance and plunder, not democracy and human rights.

Mayan mother and child, Guatemala

There is hope to be found, but it does not lie in the kangaroo courts of oligarchs or corrupt governments of US supported banana republics.  Several South American nations, spurred on by the courageous persistence of the late Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, have mounted laudable opposition to US imperialism.  But their struggle does not come without consequences.  They may not suffer the unjust isolation that Cuba has, but they face a tide of belligerence from the corporate media and undoubtedly covert subversion from Washington.

Nevertheless their struggle against corporate tyranny should stand as testament to the persistence of social justice.  And Americans may soon need to look south for inspiration as we face what is fast becoming a corporate police state here at home.

Kenn Orphan   2014