Tag Archives: neoliberalism

Hard Truths and the ‘Indispensable Nation’

“Americans, like human beings everywhere, believe many things that are obviously untrue. Their most destructive untruth is that it is very easy for any American to make money. They will not acknowledge how in fact hard money is to come by, and, therefore, those who have no money blame and blame and blame themselves. This inward blame has been a treasure for the rich and powerful, who have had to do less for their poor, publicly and privately, than any other ruling class since, say, Napoleonic times.” – Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., Slaughterhouse-Five

“I am opposing a social order in which it is possible for one man who does absolutely nothing that is useful to amass a fortune of hundreds of millions of dollars, while millions of men and women who work all the days of their lives secure barely enough for a wretched existence.” – Eugene Debs

“The genius of our ruling class is that it has kept a majority of the people from ever questioning the inequity of a system where most people drudge along paying heavy taxes for which they get nothing in return.” – Gore Vidal

It was about a year ago that United Nation’s special rapporteur, Philip Alston, issued a report on the dire state of the American republic. It revealed that upwards of 40 million Americans live in poverty. Among its findings:

  • By most indicators, the US is one of the world’s wealthiest countries.  It spends more on national defense than China, Saudi Arabia, Russia, United Kingdom, India, France, and Japan combined.
  • US health care expenditures per capita are double the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) average and much higher than in all other countries. But there are many fewer doctors and hospital beds per person than the OECD average.
  • US infant mortality rates in 2013 were the highest in the developed world.
  • Americans can expect to live shorter and sicker lives, compared to people living in any other rich democracy, and the “health gap” between the U.S. and its peer countries continues to grow.
  • U.S. inequality levels are far higher than those in most European countries
  • Neglected tropical diseases, including Zika, are increasingly common in the USA.  It has been estimated that 12 million Americans live with a neglected parasitic infection. A 2017 report documents the prevalence of hookworm in Lowndes County, Alabama.
  • The US has the highest prevalence of obesity in the developed world.
  • In terms of access to water and sanitation the US ranks 36th in the world.
  • America has the highest incarceration rate in the world, ahead of Turkmenistan, El Salvador, Cuba, Thailand and the Russian Federation. Its rate is nearly 5 times the OECD average.
  • The youth poverty rate in the United States is the highest across the OECD with one quarter of youth living in poverty compared to less than 14% across the OECD.
  • The Stanford Center on Inequality and Poverty ranks the most well-off countries in terms of labor markets, poverty, safety net, wealth inequality, and economic mobility. The US comes in last of the top 10 most well-off countries, and 18th amongst the top 21.
  • In the OECD the US ranks 35th out of 37 in terms of poverty and inequality.
  • According to the World Income Inequality Database, the US has the highest Gini rate (measuring inequality) of all Western Countries
  • The Stanford Center on Poverty and Inequality characterizes the US as “a clear and constant outlier in the child poverty league.” US child poverty rates are the highest amongst the six richest countries – Canada, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Sweden and Norway.
  • About 55.7% of the U.S. voting-age population cast ballots in the 2016 presidential election. In the OECD, the U.S. placed 28th in voter turnout, compared with an OECD average of 75%.  Registered voters represent a much smaller share of potential voters in the U.S. than just about any other OECD country. Only about 64% of the U.S. voting-age population (and 70% of voting-age citizens) was registered in 2016, compared with 91% in Canada (2015) and the UK (2016), 96% in Sweden (2014), and nearly 99% in Japan (2014).

These are staggering figures; but the report resonated with me on a visceral level. I’ve lived all over the United States for most of my life, but it was my crisscrossed traverse across the continent two years ago that opened my eyes to the scale of destitution of which so many have become desperately ensnared.

I drove across the north, south and middle of the United States with my sister several times because we had to care for my mother who resided in Florida. We finally decided to move her back to Canada with us after my father died because we knew she would not receive the care she needed in the States. In those many long days on the interstate I saw what America had transformed into.

The blight of corporate neglect and economic depression was nothing less than breathtaking. The main streets of town after town were boarded up, with only a smattering of dollar stores, payday loan shops, liquor vendors and storefront churches open. Hideously oversized franchise signs scraped the sky in an all too familiar impertinence. Big box stores and fast food restaurants were clustered around predictable junctions along the highways in an uninspired, formulaic pattern. It became apparent to me that these islands of banality offered some of the only employment for the people who lived in these regions. And the police patrolled every street constantly, making life feel rather like a prison camp.

These are the hard truths about America, a nation drowning in delusions, feckless nationalism and layers of supercilious bravado, where corporations, which siphon hundreds of billions of dollars from public coffers via tax evasion and subsidies are rarely held to account. Industry poisons the water, eviscerates ancient mountains, and devastates urban and rural communities with impunity. This is the “indispensable nation” where more of its citizens are locked behind bars than elsewhere in the world and usually for non-violent offenses. Where police murder unarmed people in stairwells, or hotel hallways, or for routine traffic stops and almost always get away with it. Where domestic violence often spills over to mass shootings which have become an almost daily occurrence. Where life expectancy is rapidly declining in a trend not seen since World War I. Where investment in military weaponry that terrorize the poor in other nations is exponential, but investment in veterans assistance is nil.

And yet despite this landscape of misery where inequity is exploding and infrastructure is failing at breakneck speed, the supremacist concept of “American exceptionalism” has managed to bamboozle millions into believing they live in the greatest nation on the planet. Social media has become a strange place to see this mythology in living colour. One comment on a Facebook post about the refugee crisis underscored this disconnect:

“These people need to clean up their own sorry countries. People all over the world just want to get into America because of its free stuff. It is the greatest nation on the planet!”

The sentiment echoed many others I read that exhibited an extraordinary lack of curiosity and willful ignorance about their nation’s enormous role in creating the miserable conditions these people were fleeing from in the first place. That the CIA supported and aided rightwing coups in these nations (and scores of others) was simply not in their orbit. Another comment parroted Donald Trump’s dehumanization of asylum seekers as “invaders.” Never mind the fact that it has been the US which has invaded dozens of nations, including several in Central and South America over its rather short history. And the reference to “free stuff” is shocking too, considering social services have been drastically cut in most places.

But it was this comment I read recently on a rightwing social media page that I found the most dumbfounding because it referred to one of its nearest neighbours:

“Canada compared to the United States is a third world nation. Roads full of potholes, slums, and terrible healthcare and short lifespan. They should let Trump work to save their sad nation.”

I’ll admit I had to stop and read that one twice. Of course Canada has many problems, its Tar Sands, arms dealing, and abysmal treatment of the First Nations communities among them, but the one thing that stood out was the ignorance about so-called “socialized medicine.”  This is a recurring theme and is the tragic result of decades of indoctrination by the capitalist class of the country. Both ruling parties have long been in bed with the insurance industry and Big Pharma which has derailed every effort for universal, single payer healthcare. The result has been ridiculously high infant mortality compared with other developed countries, skyrocketing levels of bankruptcy and foreclosures due to medical expenses, and the resurgence of disease associated with poverty.

That some still think of Trump as a saviour may be risible, but there is a deeper wound that has been ignored by most establishment liberals too ensconced in their privilege to notice. Magical thinking is like a drug. It can easily become a balm to those who face a daily litany of miseries, humiliations and trials. As a medical social worker I attempted to assist scores of families and individuals navigate these miseries. My battles were with insurance companies refusing coverage, not doctors.

But I personally know what it is like to not have any kind of insurance and be fearful of getting sick or injured with no money to pay for exorbitant bills, and then to be handed an $11,000 bill for a few days stay in a hospital. I’ve felt the stigma myself of accepting county healthcare assistance which didn’t even cover a fraction of the costs and being treated like a social pariah because of it. I also know what it is like to watch loved ones who had no money and, although they were deathly ill, try to leave the hospital because they had incurred $80,000 in medical bills which they knew they would never be able to pay. It alters every aspect of a person’s life and leaves one in a state of perpetual anxiety where the only escape is often found in either addiction, magical thinking or some combination of the two.

In contrast I’ve taken a relative to the hospital in Canada for severe abdominal pain and saw her met with immediate care. She was rushed into emergency surgery without ever once having to worry about the cost. This not to say the Canadian healthcare system does not have its problems. It does. And we can discuss them at some other point. But there is no comparison to a nation where ordinary citizens put off vital treatment or medicine for fear of a staggering bill or where GoFundMe has fast become the go to source for assistance with exorbitant medical expenses.

Poverty is an imposed oppression, the byproduct of rampant greed and the bastard child of an ever decadent capitalist class. And the way it is imposed is through food, housing and healthcare insecurity. But Americans who are poor are ladled with both the torment of financial worry and the noxious guilt of feeling like they are defective human beings because of their predicament. The “Oprah Effect” has convinced many that their failure to succeed in this inherently unjust system is a personal flaw. It is all about the self and its deceptively cruel mantra of positive thinking. One can see this quite clearly in media and entertainment. Anyone who is wealthy is cast in an almost deified light while the poor become punchlines, demonized, pitted against one another or ignored completely. But both ruling political parties espouse these values too. Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi is on record chiding a young constituent for daring to question this inherently unjust economic order by stating with pride “We’re capitalists.” As if making a religious declaration of faith.

This arrangement as the late Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. alluded to has been a boon for the ruling classes who, year after year, strip away the last vestiges of a beleaguered social safety net while making it easier for them to amass even more wealth. They have managed to deflect analysis and criticism of the current order by constantly referring to “personal responsibility” as the source of the problem, and this has created what Sheldon Wolin called “inverted totalitarianism.”  A kind of partially self-imposed oppression of the corporate mind, where citizens are transformed into “consumers.” Civics and politics are reduced to spectacle. Every political leader is a millionaire or billionaire. Celebrity scandals dominate the media cycle. The wealthy are endlessly lauded for their “accomplishments” while societal infrastructure and works for the public good are neglected or demolished. Ecosystems are denuded and degraded for corporate profit. Each person becomes an island unto themselves without agency. And all of it is normalized by mass media.

 

 

History is replete with examples of how this framework often leads to fascism. Neglect of civic education and economic justice create the conditions that enable its rise. Trump, then, shouldn’t be regarded as an anomaly. He is the logical result of decades of neoliberal capitalist corruption in both ruling political parties. And he is pulling the levers that he knows will work in this machine: nativism, xenophobia, misogyny, conspiratorial thinking, racism, authoritarianism, demonization of the press, scapegoating, nationalism, confusion.

Distracting the populace (and the press for that matter) from the real threats to their existence and their day to day economic degradation has become Trump’s raison d’etre. Of course he is downplaying recent dire climate change reports despite the scorched earth in California or the flattened towns on the Florida panhandle because his focus must be on the other, the foreigner, the migrant. He can dehumanize, deport or easily exterminate them if politically necessary. In other words, deal with the “problem.” Climate change? Not so much.

Thankfully there has been push back, but the fundamental narrative must still be challenged. The US is textbook example of neoliberal, corporate capitalism run amok. Most taxes go for a bloated military that slaughters the poor in other countries and protects the interests of the wealthy. But there is entrenched illiteracy in the culture when it comes to this rather odious reality. The military is still adored in most precincts of society, from sports to education to religion. To criticize its’ size or the money ($716 bn) it receives is considered heresy in both ruling political parties. This might explain the impunity an increasingly militarized police force has when they crackdown on dissent or terrorize communities of colour. And there is little to no mainstream public discourse that addresses any of it.

It is the American mind that needs to be deprogrammed of this narrative for there to be any meaningful change. A mind rife with fallacies and delusions about its greatness. An attitude that ignores the reality of its dire condition and instead embraces national myths and fantasies. As long as the issue of class continues to be ignored or talked about in terms that obscure its role in political agency desperate people will look to authoritarian answers and despots that soothe their base fears and prejudices. The gap between the extremely wealthy and the rest will grow ever wider as the ecology and living standards degrade. Neglect in an age of biospheric crisis will become even more normalized. Civil rights and liberties will continue to be weakened and chipped away. As long as capitalism remains sacrosanct and considered irreproachable, the descent toward full blown fascism will eventually turn into a free fall.

Kenn Orphan  November 2018

The War for the Internet

“There is more than one way to burn a book. And the world is full of people running about with lit matches.” – Ray Bradbury

Today we may lose the internet as we know it. We may lose the “neutrality” which keeps it relatively democratized. Nominated by President Obama at the recommendation of Senator Mitch McConnell, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, Ajit Pai, has been gunning for the destruction of net neutrality for years. And today, with one of the most mendacious governments at the helm, he might just get what he desires.

Net neutrality isn’t a glamorous cause. There are no passionate hashtags or viral videos of abuse that make its case. But its destiny is that of democracy itself, in the 21st century. Its what makes the internet viable and vibrant by allowing small websites with little money to compete with multi-billion dollar corporations. It provides diversity of speech and thought in this precarious age when it is so desperately needed; and this is what makes it a threat to the powerful. Although this decision is taking place in the US, and other nations have said they will strengthen their commitment to net neutrality, the internet does not exist in a bubble. And US corporations are major players in a global game that impacts virtually everyone.

None of this is new. A war of conquest over the internet has been waging for many years because its relatively free flow of information is the single greatest threat to the corporate elite’s monopoly on   influence and information. With useful tools in both political parties this has manifested in several ways. And thanks to the current President’s penchant for outright duplicity the term “fake news” has become a raison d’être among their ranks. Their disingenuous campaign to eliminate false information belies a more dubious wish to censor dissenting views.

I was recently informed by several reliable sources that the content and access to this blog has been frequently blocked or marked as spam. While this does not have to do with net neutrality directly, it does indicate how the democratization of the internet is under assault from many angles. Powerful internet providers and telecommunications corporations create algorithms which make certain websites less visible and accessible on search engines or block content in order to “protect” users.  And it is fast proving to be yet another effective and insidious form of censorship as several left or progressive websites have been tracking a staggering decrease in traffic to their sites.

As ecocide and climate change accelerate, the industrial war machine expands, and socio-economic inequities grow, the wealthy and powerful elite will only become more ruthless in their desire to extinguish democracy and stamp out any defiance that comes as a response. Of course their only real interest is in securing their moneyed interests and political power, but censorship is a tactic which has proven very useful throughout history in achieving that end. The internet will not be the last place they attempt this, but it is certainly ground zero. And today’s battle might very well seal its fate.

***Addendum: Within a short time of this publication it has been confirmed that the FCC has voted in favour of repealing protections for net neutrality. It appears as though Mr. Pai, and the elite plutocrats he represents, have gotten their way. But the battle is far from over. Many of us will fight this and perhaps something will be salvaged of internet freedom. Only time will tell.
Kenn Orphan  2017

100 Years Later, to Move Beyond Our Chains

This year is the 100th anniversary of the October Revolution which brought about the USSR and as usual I’ve seen the same banal hit pieces and smug denunciations of Marxism bandied about on social media that I do every year around this time. “Communism failed, just look at the Soviet Union.”
          Of course nothing is said about the horror that Russia was for most of its people under Czarist dictatorship for three centuries. Or that after the Czar was jettisoned the new coalition had to cope with their legacy of crushing poverty, illiteracy and famine. Or that they had to deal with the onslaught of foreign invasions, embargoes, blockades by the far wealthier empires of Europe and the US, and lost over 20 million people thanks to Nazi barbarism. Or that despite all of this they managed to become a super power in just a matter of decades.
This kind of thing is unsurprising to many of us. After all, poor and obtuse analysis of historical movements are a dime a dozen, particularly in the US where the public discourse is tightly managed and capitalism has been elevated to religious status. But I’ve noticed something different of late. The arguments aren’t flying as much as they used to except in elitist circles.
          Maybe this is due to greater awareness of how capitalism ultimately always benefits the .01% to the detriment of the rest of us, and that now a mere handful of men own as much wealth as half of all humanity on earth. Maybe it is because more people are realizing their enslavement under a system of perpetual credit debt, student loans, healthcare costs and a brutalizing judicial and police state which is all too eager to crush dissent. Perhaps this is thanks to the fact that the biosphere has been brought to the brink of destruction thanks to the rampant greed of corporations which commit ecocide with impunity.
Whatever the reason might be it is, nonetheless, refreshing. As the great Rosa Luxemburg said: “Those who do not move, do not notice their chains.” I would only add that sometimes the forces of history compel us to move and that we should be grateful when this happens in a manner that shows us both our power and agency at once.
          Soviet Russia was a long, painful experiment in socio-economic justice that was far from perfect. In fact many pages of this legacy were undeniably written with the cruel ink of totalitarianism, including a bloody counter-revolution that undid much of the progress made by the early soviets. But it gave us a glimpse into the potential of ordinary people to be agents of societal and civilisational change. If there is anything we can glean from this remembrance 100 years later is that when the oppressed, marginalized and disenfranchised unite in solidarity against tyranny they are far more powerful than the powers that be would ever want them to realize.
Kenn Orphan  2017

(Title artwork for this essay isThe Bolshevik,” 1920, by Boris KustodievOil on canvas. 101 x 140.5 cm. State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow)

Canonizing Criminals and the Lobotomization of Public Memory

What becomes of a man who started a war based upon lies that killed thousands, displaced millions, and destabilized an entire region, decimated civil liberties with sweeping powers granted to government surveillance agencies, instituted torture programs and rounded up scores of innocent people in secret raids sending them to wither away in a gulag in the Caribbean, left thousands of his citizens to languish in disease infested flood waters in the Gulf Coast following a major hurricane, gutted environmental regulations in favour of industry, and created the predatory and neoliberal economic conditions that led to the “Great Recession?” Apparently, if you are a former US President you get transfigured into saint.
          Like a bad penny, this past year has seen the curious resurfacing of George W. Bush in public life. And in this absurd era of Trumpism he is being canonized by many top Democrats with several prominent Liberals following suit. It seems that over night a war criminal has been miraculously transformed into a lovable “senior statesman;” a granddad who paints delightful pictures and gives “inspiring” speeches against bigotry. Bush, like practically all of the ruling political class in Washington, should have been brought before the International Criminal Court in the Hague for his crimes against humanity and the living planet. But as a response to the mendacioussexistracist behaviour and policies of Donald Trump, and with the assistance of a corporate media which delights in collective, cultural amnesia, many establishment Liberals have been pining of late for the GWB presidency.

          When one understands the machinations of American political power it isn’t all that strange. Most Democratic partisans did the same for the Obama administration which got a pass (and still does) for deporting more immigrants than the previous administration and prosecuting more whistleblowers than all US presidents combined. It is what they did when they overlooked, cheered on or forgave him and his Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, for the decimation of Libya or dropping over 26,000 bombs in seven Muslim majority countries, or assassinating a 16 year old US citizen without due process, bombing wedding parties, ambulances and a grandmother picking okra in their field. It is not surprising, but it is no less repulsive and disheartening for anyone with any respect for civic or political memory.
          Time has proven the only tactic of the wealthy Liberal establishment is minimal protest and major capitulation to reactionary power in order to preserve their position in the current order. It is why most serious socialists, anarchists, radicals and leftists refuse to be allies with them. They have all too often felt the sting of betrayal. Nancy Pelosi infamously said “we’re capitalists” when she smugly admonished a young progressive disillusioned with capitalism at a “town hall meeting.” And she was not kidding. The Democratic Party establishment has benefited from and supported Wall Street over and over again and it has always voted in favour of a bloated and aggressive military industrial complex.  They have done their part to sponge away the crimes of the capitalist class so long as their place, privilege and status in this sick societal paradigm had a remote chance of being secured.

One can almost understand and predict this behaviour. Trump is a living dumpster fire of grotesque vulgarity who has ignited a bolder white nationalism and bamboozled many poor whites into thinking he cares about their problems. Despite being the ultimate plutocrat, he was able to get this lie across to many of them while the Democrats in all of their smugness ignored them. He is a master at manipulating their fears and bigotries and at muddying the waters of discourse. He employs scapegoating of minorities or oppressed groups with ease. And his foreign policy is so erratic and volatile that it causes even a seasoned intelligence officer to lose sleep at night thinking of him having access to the nuclear codes.

          It is a dangerous delusion, however, to believe George W. Bush or any of the powerful elite, are any different from one another in the end. GWB’s persona might have had a makeover, but his class hasn’t. And Trump is the most accurate emblem of that class. Bush and Trump alike sit atop an extraordinarily cruel and oppressive power structure in American society. The moneyed class only hates Trump because he reveals the true face of predatory capitalism to the public without the cloak of their “blue blooded” pomp, flourishes and sentimentality. Of course he must be opposed, but this alone is meaningless unless the entire oppressive, self-destructive, planet decimating system, of which he and Bush both belong, is brought down with him.
          America may be the last, most powerfully lethal, empire on earth. Its wealthy elite have mastered the insidious art of inverted totalitarianism and ensconced corporate capitalism into every institution. What’s worse is that it has forcefully transported this malignancy around the world through the subversion of democracyeconomic imperialism,and military aggression. On a planet with dwindling resources, a climate getting angrier by the day, and mass extinction of species its powerful operate within a global capitalist class who enjoy near total impunity for their crimes against humanity and the planet as they push us closer to the precipice of collapse.
         Given all of this, going back in time may seem desirable for some. This is especially true for those who were not adversely affected by the egregious or even murderous policies, plunder and wars of the past. But it is only the privileged who can entertain such flights of fancy. To cozy up to power or erase their crimes is to become allies with the very forces that threaten our collective doom. The current order is one which is poised to destroy not just civilization but the entire biosphere.  Rapid, monumental action is required to halt a system which is leading us to certain ruin, and address and mitigate the chaos of an unfolding dystopic present and future. In politics, this is not the time to protect a murderous status quo or preserve one’s own privilege within it. This is an existential crisis which requires a global revolution in thought and practice. Nothing less will do.
I can only hope most liberals will learn this painful lesson soon, while there is still time left to do so.
Kenn Orphan  2017

A Tale of Two Towers

On March 25, 1911 in New York City a horrific fire swept through the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory killing 146 women, men and children and injuring hundreds more. Most of the victims were women and most were working poor, Jewish and Italian immigrants. They died from the fire, smoke inhalation or by falling or leaping to their deaths to escape the heat and flames. The factory owners had locked the stairwells and exits to prevent workers from taking “unauthorized breaks”, a common practice at the time.

The result of this indescribable tragedy resulted in massive organizing for working people to demand safety codes and measures. It was, in many ways, one of the earliest examples of the regulation of industry.  This was a major accomplishment considering this deadly day happened in the midst of the notorious “Gilded Age.”  The excesses of the wealthy few were flaunted for everyone to see while the poor masses struggled to make ends meet, working 14 hour days and getting paid pennies for their hard labour.

In the years since there have been many other tragedies the world over where the poor, immigrants, people of colour and mostly women have suffered immeasurably from factory or housing fires or related disasters. In almost all cases industry has been let off the hook, allowed to continue its deadly practices at the expense of working people, children, animals and the living earth itself.

Thanks to the “market” dictates of global capitalism austerity, deregulation and the gutting or dismantling of social and physical safety nets has become the norm. Working people and the poor are told they must accept this in order to “grow the economy.” But these lies are as thin as the paper they are written on. And tragic greed-borne catastrophes are their hallmark.

The recent Grenfell Tower fire in London is the sorrowful sister to the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory. It is a testament to a duplicitous system of exploitation and greed on behalf of the wealthiest .001%. It may be too early to say what exactly caused the horrific fire in this residential tower in London in the early morning hours of 14th June, but it is not too early to say that the working poor, immigrants and people of colour are always disproportionately the victims of such tragedies. Prior to this event there were documented complaints about the “very poor fire safety standards” in the building and the questionable cladding that was apparently put up largely for cosmetic reasons because wealthy residents of the neighbourhood did not like the look of the towers.

The tower stands in Kensington and Chelsea which has one of the starkest divides between extreme wealth and poverty. It is on the Lancaster West Estate which houses poor, multi-ethnic families. As early as last November the Grenfell Action Group warned that “only a catastrophic event will expose the ineptitude and incompetence of our landlord, the Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Association, and bring an end to the dangerous living conditions and neglect of health and safety legislation that they inflict upon their tenants and leaseholders.”

We have seen similar incidents around the world where the divides between the uber wealthy and the poor are growing sharper and in areas where real estate is in high demand. In neglected slums of Manila fires are an all too common occurrence. In Mumbai and Bangladesh we have seen this time and time again in sweat shops and shanty towns. The cries of the poor are seldom, if ever, heard. And this is by design.

Global capitalism cannot afford societies built on the values of mutual cooperation or respect of the dignity and inherent worth of all human beings. There is too much profit at stake to even allow this kind of conversation among the wealthy elite. But perhaps this tragedy, much like the one at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory on that sorrowful day in NYC, will galvanize us all to challenge and dismantle this system of ruthless barbarity. Perhaps it will be a wake up call for us to begin constructing a world where the dictatorship of money is no longer acceptable.

In a very real sense we are all in that burning tower now and the wealthy and powerful are busy alighting the flames that will burn up the entire planet before our eyes. It is my hope that we will use this horrific and needless tragedy to awaken from our collective slumber and work to build the world that they will not permit. There isn’t much time left and irreparable damage may have already been done.  But we owe it to those who have already been lost to let this be a rallying cry for a revolution of the heart.

 

My deepest sympathy to the victims and their families.
Kenn Orphan 2017

Resistance in an Age of Absurdity

“One of the saddest lessons of history is this: If we’ve been bamboozled long enough, we tend to reject any evidence of the bamboozle. We’re no longer interested in finding out the truth. The bamboozle has captured us. It’s simply too painful to acknowledge, even to ourselves, that we’ve been taken. Once you give a charlatan power over you, you almost never get it back.”
― Carl Sagan, The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark

 

From an incessant flow of paranoid tweets to bizarre statements about massacres that never happened or secret cameras fitted in microwaves, Donald Trump’s regime has ushered the unhinged spectacle of reality show television right into the Oval Office with stunning success.  Were this absurdity to be contained within the confines of a political thriller it might be mildly entertaining.  But in the real world, a world in which real civilians are being blown to bits by smart bombs, real children are starving to death, real refugees are being turned back to face certain death, and where the real biosphere is perilously close to the edge of catastrophe, this derangement is utterly terrifying.

 

Trump is a master at manipulating the corporate media via the manufacture of controversy and melodrama.  Of course the irony is that the very same broadcasting behemoths he routinely demonizes provide his unhinged theatrics with non stop coverage which, in turn, has given them unprecedented ratings and profits.  But behind the spectacle lurks a far more insidious method to this madness.  In a mere three months the Trump regime has managed to replace the heads of institutions like the Department of Education, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Department of Housing and Urban Development, with individuals who wish to dismantle them.  He has codified racist xenophobia through executive orders which ban Muslims and persecute undocumented immigrants. And through his elevation of white supremacist Steven Bannon to astonishing power, he has animated the latent white nationalist movement.

The Trump regime has also demonstrated its eager willingness to expand the war machine of American Empire, pouring billions of dollars into an already bloated military industrial sector while gutting social and medical services.   In this short time Trump’s militarism has empowered the Pentagon and has claimed the lives of scores of men, women and children from Syria, to Yemen, to Iraq, and it is only just ramping up.   There is also little to cast doubt on the prospect of wars and military conflicts involving China, North Korea and Iran in the not too distant future given the administration’s unhinged saber rattling and provocation.

 

His appointment of former ExxonMobil executive, Rex Tillerson, to the State Department signifies a blatant display of the influence of the fossil fuel industry in regard to US foreign and domestic policy.  Tillerson presided over the company in the 1970s, a period in which the oil giant launched massive campaigns to deny its own research which confirmed human caused global warming.  Trump’s recent executive order related to climate change delivered a blow to reason.  It was meant to.  His absurdist view that it is a hoax manufactured by the Chinese is a hallmark of his risible ignorance and, remarkably, still has currency in many conspiratorially minded circles.  But in this Age of Absurdity facts and the truth itself have become the first victims.

As a resurgent fascism stands poised to sweep over the West we can expect increasing brutality against dissent; and it would be foolish to think the repercussions of this would remain localized.  We will be increasingly asked to choose between compliance with monstrous state repression or bold resistance. The protests which have sprung up against the onslaught of misogynistic and xenophobic polices have been encouraging to see, but there are already a slew of laws in the works designed to stifle direct action. And the Democratic Party establishment is not interested, nor is it equipped to offer up any kind of meaningful resistance since it has acquiesced to the demands and interests of Wall Street, corporations and the war industry long ago. Their role has been one of normalizing the ruthless exploits of global capitalism.  Indeed, the Clinton and Obama administrations championed the brutality of neoliberal capitalism and weakened civil liberties and gutted social safety nets for the poor while deporting millions of undocumented immigrants and bolstering the imperialistic war machine.  

 

If there is anyone to look to in these dark times for inspiration it would be the ongoing struggles of Black Lives Matter, Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS), and Standing Rock Sioux which largely began during the previous administration and are international in scope.  These movements have endured and weathered police and state intimidation, brutality, violence and arrest; and it is their fortitude and integrity which offers us all a living example of how bold we will need to be in the face of an ever more oppressive tyranny.  They were born of the historic struggles of indigenous peoples against colonialism, police brutality and environmental racism.  And with the perilous times that lie ahead solidarity with them is needed now more than ever before.

Thanks to the convergence of a climate ravaged world and a fragile biosphere that is teetering on collapse and extinction, the global despotism rising today will be unlike anything we have ever seen before.  The flames of nationalism and xenophobia will be fanned by fascists who will ride a rising and unfortunate tide of climate chaos.   They will use famine, austerity and social unrest and uncertainty to justify brutal authoritarianism, repression and state violence; and they will have no problem employing chicanery, scapegoating and dehumanization to achieve their end.  Indeed, their embrace of absurdity, or its pretense, is their strength.

 

In The Origins of Totalitarianism Hannah Arendt said: “The ideal subject of totalitarian rule is not the convinced Nazi or the dedicated communist, but people for whom the distinction between fact and fiction, true and false, no longer exists.”    The more fascists are permitted to make a mockery of justice, humanity and protection of the living earth, the more easy it will be for them to manipulate the deepest fears and prejudices of the public.  They will continue to launch mendacious smears against climate scientists, assault the poor and the most vulnerable, advance racism, expand war and militarism, disparage the press, and promote the inversion of reality to their favor even as the planet burns.   And if we continue to allow them to bend the arc of truth we will most assuredly see truth itself begin to die.   Our resistance to tyranny begins the day we refuse to allow this to happen on our watch.

 

Kenn Orphan 2017

The Enemy of Our Enemy is Not Always Our Friend

With the ascendancy of Donald Trump to the throne of the American Empire there has been mounting opposition from what has been referred to as the “Deep State.”  This is a term that refers to the idea of a shadow government which pulls the strings behind the scenes of the public face of the elected government.   The CIA, NSA, FBI, DHS, and DoD, among others, are often sited as the key players here and even a tertiary glance at history will attest to why this is so.   To be sure, this term has been over used by unhinged talk show hosts like Alex Jones, and it often provides cover for a thinly veiled and utterly reprehensible antisemitism.  But it isn’t a “conspiracy theory” to note the great power that these agencies and whom they represent have over American foreign and domestic policy.  Their opposition to Trump is not so much ideological as much as it is about influence.  To them Trump is an unpredictable, egotistical mess with mental instability on a grand scale.  This makes him virtually uncontrollable and that terrifies the elites.
donald-trump-and-the-deep-state-source-whowhatwhyThe Capitalist class has enjoyed the riches gleaned from neoliberal economic policies for decades; and Trump’s anti-globalism and xenophobic talk threatens their bread and butter.  To be sure, their thievery is as abhorrent as Trump’s coming kleptocracy; and both signal the death throes of global capitalism. But the Liberal class and even some on the Left, have been aligning themselves with the oligarchy in order to derail and depose Trump.  That they are inadvertently supporting increased militarism in a world where nuclear annihilation is still a menace, war profiteering for the wealthy elite, and the return of a new Cold War hysteria is of no concern to them.  One must wonder if they have really thought any of this through.

Let’s face it.  Trump is vile, but he is an easy target. His rise provides those of us on the left with a convenient, external decoy to lob all our fears and failings at.  And although he may be emblematic of the essential rot that typifies late stage capitalism the powerful institutional forces that are seeking to depose him wish only to do so in order to sustain the very machine from which he emerged.  A machine of absurd consumption of dwindling resources and war profiteering for the benefit of a few, on a planet whose biosphere is in a state of collapse thanks to the relentless marauding and pillaging.

It’s true that Trump has gathered around him a collection of religious extremists, racists, xenophobes, misogynists, science denialists, Islamophobes and militarists. But his overt bullying, déclassé style and grotesque vulgarity are really the only thing which distinguish him from the powerful elite whose plutocratic tyranny long preceded his infamous meteoric rise.  They have always championed the bloody plunder of the Capitalist order of things because it has maintained their hegemonic control and filled their coffers with untold fortune. Granted they generally did this with the veneer of respectability through exploiting identity politics; but this was a diversion they used to placate the sycophantic Liberal and bourgeois classes while they fattened up on ill gotten gain and carpet bombed the poor of the world.  Make no mistake, their Machiavellian machinations are one and the same with the orange tinted megalomaniac who is about to sit in the Oval Office.  It is his loathsome, distasteful and scurrilous demeanor they find most displeasing, not his love of Capitalism.

capitalism-source-rationalwikiIt is ironic to me that so many are looking to this very same corrupt establishment to lead the opposition to Trump and his band of thieves. Certainly politics makes strange bed fellows, but few seem to question what will happen should they succeed in deposing him.  Do any of them really think the CIA, DHS and all the other nefarious institutional players will cede power to the people, especially in a time of economic strife, ecological failure and geopolitical wrangling?  Do they remember who it was who has led wars and directed coups to topple democratically elected governments around the world?  Do they realize who it is these institutions really represent?  Do they care?  The answer is not too difficult to find.

An insidious and pervasive authoritarian fascism is embedded in every institution that controls or influences the US and it will not cede anything willingly to anyone. They protect the robber barons, industrialists and the aristocracy and their opposition to Trump is rooted in a defense of class privilege, not a love of democracy.  And the Liberal class has always stood as a bulwark of defense for this system, carefully guarding their own privilege to hold a seat at the table while casting crumbs to the grubby masses.  In desperation they will look to virtually anyone to protect this privilege against its inevitable decay.

Without a doubt the Trump regime is poised to speed up the unraveling of the American Empire.  The idea that a narcissistic buffoon like him could have such power would be comically absurd were it not so disastrous for the climate, the water and already marginalized and oppressed people.  But every administration, Democrat and Republican, in the last few decades has led us to the Age of Trump.  Indeed, President Obama created the conditions for a more aggressive fascism with the sweeping powers he granted to the Executive branch.

Now Trump will be able to detain or assassinate any American citizen without due process and will be able to crush dissent with impunity thanks to “anti-propaganda” measures designed to limit, intimidate and curtail freedom of the alternative press. Obama also led the way in deporting more undocumented people than the previous administration, prosecuting more whistleblowers than all US Presidents combined, increasing aid to belligerent regimes in Riyadh and Tel Aviv, supporting right wing coups like the one in Honduras which has caused the murders of scores of indigenous and environmental rights activists, and pulverized the poor in seven nations with over 26,000 bombs in his eight year reign. Trump will likely succeed him in this blood soaked legacy, but to sugarcoat this horrific past and its impact on the future would be both intellectually dishonest and ethically impoverished.

trump-protests-in-chicago-photo-source-nbc-newsTrump, his minions and the new brand of authoritarianism must be opposed and the Left needs to mobilize quickly.  But this cannot be done effectively unless the system which produced him is recognized as the real menace.  It is the global Capitalist class which are the “men behind the curtain” so to speak.  Aligning with the powerful to oppose the powerful will only end up serving their interests alone, and it will merely feed a machine that is hellbent on leading our species, and every other, toward certain destruction.   Indeed, this kind of tactic will be a no win situation for everyone.

 

Kenn Orphan 2017

 

Trump Surprise?

Since Donald Trump began his ascendancy toward the throne of American Empire last week I have been increasingly  puzzled by the level of astonishment I have noted from a wide spectrum of people.  I mean really, is the rise of Trump that much of a shock to people?  It makes me think that most of the confounded have not been across the American continent in recent times and still hold fast to some sentimental flotsam of Disneyfied Main Streets as being hard truths.  I drove across the country, north, south and middle, with my sister in the process of helping her move this past year.  Trump’s rise is not a surprise to me, and it is not an enigma.  It is the logical end of economic neoliberalism, the final and most brutal form of capitalism, in living, albeit orange-tinted, color.

a-texas-townAs we drove I saw the economic malaise, demoralization and ecological degradation in town after town in the heartland caused by neoliberal policies championed by Democrat administrations.  Of course, the Republicans are the main political nest of capitalist robber barons, but the Democrats, once the party of working people (or so they claimed) promised something better.  Instead, they abandoned the working class by throwing unions to the wolves and embracing Wall Street banksters and corporate hucksters wholeheartedly.

The result of this was obvious.  Still holding a bucolic beauty, vast swaths of the nation have been sacrificed and hold an alienated landscape laden with misery where the core of each town is littered by payday loan shops, liquor stores, thrift stores and pawn brokers.  The church in these communities is frequently maligned and ridiculed by the wealthy, coastal, urban elite.  But, while it is often misguided and many times promotes a fevered bigotry, it is the primary refuge for many abandoned and downtrodden people, providing food, clothing and emotional support.  If a town is “lucky” it is bisected by an interstate which automatically inserts a corporate colony of banal mediocrity.  It is a familiar formula of disenfranchisement in ones own home, with a McDonalds, an Olive Garden and a Cracker Barrel flanked by a Chevron and a Quality Inn.  I say “lucky” because these are usually the only places for viable employment in such townships.

corporate-formula-by-kenn-orphan-2016Economic neoliberalism is a vague and elusive term for most people.  But it can be summed up in three words: privitization, austerity and deregulation.  These three words can also be vague, and that may be by design.  But it isn’t too difficult to dissect:

-Privitization means taking the commons, that which belongs to all people, that which is public, that which is sacred, and dividing it among a handful of wealthy investors.

-Austerity means taking the common wealth, that which has been accumulated by the hard work of the people, and dividing it among a handful of wealthy investors.

-Deregulation means taking the laws and statutes designed to protect the commons and their precious resources like air and water or protect the health and safety of workers, and watering them down or dismantling them to make it easier to privatize and impose austerity so as to accumulate even more wealth for a handful of wealthy investors.

poverty-in-the-us-photo-from-al-jazeeraYou see, it was the sold-out Democratic Party and Liberal Class elites who, in their slavish service to Wall Street neoliberalism, ignored the plight of non-urban, working class people.  They were expendable.  “Deplorable,” if you will.  And in promoting an establishment oligarch, one with a long career of pandering to Wall Street and war mongering on behalf of corporate interests, through party chicanery and outright deception they only succeeded in enraging the base of their own party and alienating further these people whose livelihoods and institutions were gutted and sacrificed on the altar of Wall Street greed.

Now some may ask how does this explain the racism? Or the xenophobia? Or the misogyny?

Let me tell you a short story…
In its rush to dismantle the commons which were intended to benefit All of the people, a relatively small group of very wealthy people decided to gut or make redundant all of the institutions that did not serve the purpose of creating capital (wealth) for them.  Colleges and universities became apprenticeships for industry and training schools for obtaining jobs only.  Critical thinking and study for the betterment of all society was not seen as useful for wealth accumulation for this handful of wealthy investors.  (Has anyone applied for university recently? Or graduated with a degree in the arts or humanities? Or didn’t graduate yet has a student loan to repay nonetheless? Debt is enormous and options for repaying them few. Neoliberalism does not countenance a thoughtful or enlightened electorate. It only seeks cogs for its machine, no others need apply).  But I digress.

Homeless Veteran NCHAll this in turn enabled the unchecked growth of a militarized police/prison/surveillance state which incarcerates and persecutes scores of non-violent debtors or drug offenders, mostly young, mostly Black or Brown, but many white, rural and poor.  And this system then marks them unfit for employment or for voting rights often for the duration of their entire lives.  When so many people are feeling alienated and disenfranchised from the society in which they were supposed to belong is it any wonder why racism and misogyny persists and is growing?

Neoliberalism also fueled the US imperialistic war machine which lined the pockets of profiteers and fueled a rapacious, xenophobic aggression.  This is the same machine which bamboozles young men and women with scant economic or educational opportunities into “defending US interests” – code words for being cannon fodder, a term buried by the ruling elite, or mercenaries for neo-imperialistic corporate power (see Vietnam, Laos, Iraq, the Balkans, Iraq, Somalia, Libya, and on and on and on).  Of course militaristic jingoism is nothing new in the US. It has played well for decades at nearly every single sporting event getting slicker with more techno flash every time.  With jets tearing the sky into shards over packed stadiums festooned with red, white and blue everything, crowds of young, disenfranchised white, straight males are encouraged to buy into the lie that bombing brown people elsewhere to smithereens will somehow defend their homeland.  The organized murder game is often their only option for employment or educational advancement.   But sadly most are forgotten when they return to the homeland damaged or in need.

New Orleans after Hurricane KatrinaWith scant opportunities and permanent debt enslavement these “deplorables,” as the vanquished Hillary Clinton dismissively painted them, have become easy prey for the chicanery of slick snake oil salesmen like Trump, et al.  If, and most likely when, these masses begin to realize they have been duped yet again, and this time by someone whom they thought was one of their own, their rage will be nothing less than terrifying.  With climate change poised to wreak untold havoc and misery on the biosphere and the economy we should all find this beyond sobering.

magazine-rack-at-walmartI say all of this not to dismiss the fears of many people, especially people of color, immigrants, women and Muslims. These feelings of fear many have are justified, but all of this is not due to the rise of an unabashed racist to the throne of the American Empire.  This is the very nature of American imperialism without the veneer of polite, Liberal class parlance to cloak it.  The notion that the United States was ever a pluralistic, multicultural society is a myth not founded in reality. Indeed, it would be ludicrous to suggest that any nation formed via the ethnic cleansing of the indigenous population and built from the forced and coerced labor of other ethnic and racial groups could somehow transform itself into a different animal.  It is time to jettison these fallacious ideas while we still have time.
black-lynching-photo-from-atlanta-black-starIndeed, there is a lot of anecdotal evidence and several viable reports that suggest that there has been an uptick in white nationalist aggression. But truthfully, the culture of hypermasculine, white supremacism has always simmered under the surface of American society.  Keep in mind how the United States was founded.  Who was enslaved?  Who was dispossessed of their land?  Keep in mind that lynchings via white mobs and the forced internment of Japanese Americans by the US government were not so long ago.  In times of economic upset, social unrest, war and ecological crises this Lernaean Hydra, surreptitious in the best of times, emerges with gusto and especially so under a charismatic leader.

Is Trump that leader? Perhaps. I honestly don’t know. And I would not be so presumptuous to assume he and his minions are not capable of the most unimaginable horror, especially since he has not failed to surprise or even shock so many thus far. But his rise should not come as any surprise to anyone who dares to take an honest look at the American experiment. This not the first time that the tide of fascism has washed over American shores.  It has been here all along, and many of us have been sleeping while it was nourished by the neoliberal economic policies that hollowed out what was left of the commons, relegated millions to the margins of Empire, decimated entire nations in never ending wars of plunder, and made way for a vengeful and terrifying barbarism.  Trump’s rise is not an anomaly.  It is, indeed, the fulfilment of a long, despicable legacy that persists.  And until we begin to face that monstrous fact, and ditch the failing political structures which aided this legacy, he and his ilk will also persist until there is nothing left to save.

Kenn Orphan 2016

Where Were They?

I get the anger, the rage. I really do. Trump is vile and the aggressive racist and misogynistic culture he emboldens must be vehemently opposed. Pence may be even worse with his religious right nuttery. But I am forced to wonder if most of these Trump protestors would have stood with me when I protested with Occupy Wall Street? Or when people in passing cars hurled threats and middle fingers at me when I protested Israel’s murderous onslaught of Gaza supported by the US? Or when I marched for transgender equality amidst rising violence in America against that community?

I cannot help but wonder where many (if not most) of these people were when when the sitting President boasted about being “really good at killing people” or having a “Tuesday Kill List” or deporting more undocumented people or prosecuted more whistleblowers than any other US president? Or when his Secretary of State (the vanquished Hillary Clinton) pushed to decimate Libya and ghoulishly celebrated its leader being sodomized with a knife in the street by a mob? Or when Chelsea Manning was being mercilessly persecuted for exposing war crimes by the same administration? Where were most of them when the US backed the rightwing coup in Honduras or the CIA backed coup in Ukraine? Were these things simply not unjust enough because they happened under Democratic administrations?
trump-protests-in-chicago-photo-source-nbc-newsAre these same angry people uniting with Standing Rock Sioux? or Black Lives Matter? Certainly some are. But do the vast majority of them really want a representative democracy and the end of corporatocracy? Or do most merely hope for maintaining a miserable status quo and a facsimile of democracy designed and manufactured by the ruling duopoly and mainstream media?

Don’t get me wrong. I am glad to see that people are awakening to activism.  And I stand firmly against the brownshirt intimidation and violence emboldened by this frightful new day. But the weak as dishwater American Liberal class needs to take a good, hard look at themselves and their complacency at and complicity in the monstrous crimes of the ruling duopoly.  And they need to do it quickly instead of pontificating on how stupid everyone else is for not standing behind their awful selection for leadership.  The current protests only communicate a clear message to the reactionary right that the Liberal class only cares about electing a big “D” into office.

When this becomes a protest against militaristic aggression, capitalist plunder, apartheid, systemic racism, suppression of indigenous rights, ecological devastation and Empire itself, and not merely about the outrage of having a dimwitted narcissistic proto-fascist in the Oval Office instead of a war mongering corporatist I will join them with gusto.

Let me know when that happens.
Kenn Orphan 2016

The Day After

Donald Trump. Photo by Joe Raedle, Getty Images.This morning I woke up to a flurry of grief and panic on my newsfeed. The unlikely became likely and my prediction about the oligarchy sweeping their Queen of Wall Street Wars into power did not come to pass. Instead, a racist, misogynistic megalomaniac ascended the throne of the American Empire. When the mourning period is over perhaps the Liberal Class will take a good, hard look at the reasons for this without going to the all too easy standbys e.g. third party voters ruined it, or this is the fault of the radical left (of which I am a part) who criticized Clinton instead of supporting her, or some inane conspiracy theory regarding Russian interference.

The hard truth is that the Liberal Class sold out to corporatocracy and became fully invested in the neoliberal economic order, the last and most brutal form of capitalism, decades ago. In doing this they became drunk on their sanctimonious laurels while huge swaths of the nation languished, trade deals disenfranchised the working class and the social safety nets and public institutions were gutted. And yes, that all happened under Democratic leadership. They did not oppose the corruption within their own ranks and, as a result, became distrusted and reviled.

If the Liberal Class cannot see that “lesser evilism” is a failed tactic now, they never will. Hillary Clinton was one of the most detested candidates in Democratic National Convention history, but that did not stop DNC elites like Debbie Wasserman Schultz from propelling her into the spotlight through outright chicanery. To add insult to injury the DNC ridiculed, alienated and marginalized its base, including young voters and Bernie Sanders supporters. It is the Liberal elite who are to blame for this monumental loss. Only someone as reviled as Clinton could lose to a buffoon like Trump. Whether or not they will ever see this, however, is doubtful.

But we must move on from all of this, and quickly.  The coming Trump Regime will probably increase misery for Muslims, Latinos and Black and Brown communities,as well as for the press and whistleblowers.  They have all suffered greatly under corporate Democrats.  President Obama’s deportation record, prosecution and persecution of whistleblowers, and drone bombing history are a testament to this.  But Trump’s racist demagoguery has emboldened a whole host of latent frightening actors, from white nationalists to wannabe brown shirts, who now have a mandate to unleash an even more malicious culture of terror.  We must stand in solidarity with people of color, immigrants and other minorities, and protect them wherever we see injustice.   And we must also passionately defend independent journalism.  Deregulation of industry is also certain since it is clear he has no regard for the natural environment or safety in the workplace.   This is what makes environmental activism more vital than ever before.

Now comes the struggle to move beyond. We are facing the greatest challenges we have ever faced as a species. With increasing frequency, climate change, military aggression and biosphere collapse stand ever poised for utter calamity and sheer devastation. But the corporate controlled, war profiteering Democratic Party was unwilling to rise up to meet these monumental, existential crises with integrity and gusto.  It sided with Wall Street and war profiteers.  It has rightly been relegated to the dust bin of history. Let’s leave it there.

It is urgent that we build a new movement of real progressives, disillusioned liberals and leftist radicals like myself while there is still time left to do so. It is also time for Liberal Class elites to smack the smugness off their faces and build bridges of solidarity with Black Lives Matter and Standing Rock Sioux and Palestinian rights activists and Pipeline obstructionists and prison rights advocates and a whole host of radicals who have been working hard against the injustices of Empire.  The establishment politicians and ruling duopoly failed them, we must not.

The day after the period of mourning is over I hope you will join me. There is much work to be done and the time is quickening.

Kenn Orphan  2016