Tag Archives: racism

The Oligarchs, the Liberal Class and a Basket of Deplorables

This past summer when I had a little time on my hands I decided to watch “The Hunger Games” again (yes, I watch and like certain movies out of pop culture and I am not ashamed to admit that).  Suzanne Collins did an amazing job at creating a mirror image of the real world we live in today.   But I think the most accurate is in her representation of the wealthy and vapid citizens of the Capitol of Panem.  To me, it appears to be a reflection of how out of touch the elites of the Liberal class are with the everyday plight of ordinary people.  Their place in a crumbling society does more to protect the excesses of the Oligarchy than champion the rights of the oppressed.   And it is their smug lack of self awareness that may very well do them in.  This is just an analysis, or an observation.  But before I go on I should clarify terms.
capitol-citizens-still-from-the-hunger-gamesI distinguish the Liberal class from leftists in that the latter cannot, in good conscience, ever support the current corporate plutocracy, or its wars for capitalistic imperialism and wanton plunder of the planet for obscene materialistic profit.  And when I use the term Liberal class I am referring to that small group of pundits, celebrities, journalists, socialites, fashion and culture gurus and career politicians within the current order, not people who hold progressive values like women’s and LGBTQ rights or racial equality.   The Liberal class believes in these things also, or at least they say that they do.  But they are unwilling to do anything that would endanger the institutional structures of capitalism that are the primary engines of misogyny, homophobia and racism, because doing so would upend their privileged, elite status.

The Oligarchy is not too unlike that of any other era.  They possess tremendous power and own most of the planet’s material wealth. They are an untouchable class of wealth, albeit usually inherited or ill-gotten, who dominate the entire industrial capitalist scheme.  They are the .001% in a new Gilded Age and they tolerate and even mingle with the Liberal class only because they defend and promote the economic neoliberal order which fills their coffers.  Most revel in an inbred feeling of pseudo-supremacy, and many have a loathsome sociopathic quality to them.  Although they own most of the corporate media, silence is golden to them.   As in all things there are shades and nuances.  No one person is a clone of another.  But there are some things worth generalizing.
the-mellon-family-one-of-americas-richest-photo-by-jamel-toppin-of-forbesThe Liberal class has had the luxury to decry injustice in American society (and the world for that matter) from afar, in plush salons, high end clubs and trendy cafes thanks to their defense of a system that allows for an Oligarchy and aggressive neo-imperialism.  Their answer to social injustice is generally rooted in tepid reforms that do little, or more often resembles a smug, dismissive ridicule common to satirists like Andy Borowitz (1) and narcissistic, billionaire celebrities like George Clooney.

To them protesting misogyny is pushing the agenda of a woman candidate who has shown a remarkable likeness to the late political dominatrix Margaret Thatcher, instead of expressing solidarity with women in Honduras, Haiti or Libya who are being murdered or prostituted as a result of this same powerful woman’s actions.   Protesting homophobia is supporting Caitlyn Jenner, an over paid, over publicized transgendered Republican, rather than whistleblower Chelsea Manning, who has been publicly ridiculed for her sexuality and is languishing in prison for exposing the war crimes of the Empire.  Protesting racism is celebrating the eight year term of the first Black President, even though he has drone bombed innocent civilians, mostly brown and black people afar, excused torturers and war criminals from the previous administration, increased the surveillance state, and prosecuted more whistleblowers (including the aforementioned Manning) than all US Presidents combined.

hillary-clinton-speaks-at-a-lbgt-for-hillary-gala-in-new-york-on-friday-source-smhThe third category I wanted to talk about was recently referred to by Hillary Clinton at a well heeled fundraising gala in New York when she labelled half of Trump supporters “a basket of deplorables.” (2)   This, of course, only deepened the divide even more so in the minds of common people in regions of sacrificed America as sociologist Arlie Russell Hochschild so eloquently explains.(3)  They already feel alienated and humiliated with few prospects for a brighter future, but they used this description as a badge of honor.  And although an ugly strain of racist fascism runs deep in a large section of Trump supporters, there are other factors at work that the Liberal class chooses to overlook.

When they are labeled like this, or see memes on social media insulting their intelligence they are more inclined to hate the Liberal class even more so, not alter their opinions and have a “come to Jesus” moment.  They may not be able to explain the source of their misery, but they live with the realities of economic neoliberalism, the most barbaric stage of capitalism, which the Liberal class has allowed by capitulating to the Oligarchs over and over.  And it isn’t only the white working class. When Black Lives Matter activists interrupted Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders speeches they were met with a barrage of vitriol and anger from a cadre of assorted Liberal elites chiding them for being rude (4).  How they compare protesting the modern day lynching of people of color to being ill-mannered to the powerful is a feat of obtuse absurdity.  But this is an illustration of just how disconnected they are to reality.
deplorable-t-shirt-on-etsy

a-homeless-family-asks-for-assistance-source-classism

a-black-lives-matter-activist-silently-protests-hillary-clinton-at-a-funraiser-in-south-carolina-photo-source-salonIn his recent article “The Courtiers and the Tyrants”  veteran journalist and antiwar activist Chris Hedges explained how clueless the liberal class is when it comes to how many ordinary Americans actually see them:

“The Democratic and the professional elites are an easy and often amusing target. One could see them, in another era, prancing at a masked ball at Versailles on the eve of the revolution. They are oblivious to how hated they have become. They do not understand that when they lambast Donald Trump as a disgrace or a bigot they swell his support because they, not Trump, are seen by many Americans as the enemy. But these courtiers did not create the system. They sold themselves to it. And if Americans do not understand how we got here we are never going to find our way out.” (5)

If Hillary Clinton is anointed Empress of the American Empire the Liberal class will sigh in relief.  They can continue to shop at Barney’s, attend well heeled openings at the Guggenheim and complain in acceptable forums, financed by the Oligarchy, about injustice and civil rights. But they will be asked to do little more than this.  The institutions that make society livable and promising will continue to be steadily gutted, privatized and de-valued.   If Trump is somehow able to seize the throne they know their privilege will remain largely in tact, but they will not be so free to express their thoughts except in discretion at private cocktail parties.  Every last institution will be debased in such a way that they offer nothing to the enrichment of humanity, but merely serve as a brutal bulwark for the wealthy against the masses.  The Liberal class also knows how capricious authoritarians can be and that the silent Oligarchy will abandon them in a heartbeat at first sight of a brownshirt.

the-hunger-games-catching-fire-president-snow-played-by-donald-sutherland
donald-trump-photo-credit-newscorpIn Suzanne Collins “The Hunger Games” the citizens of the Capitol were completely out of touch with the suffering, brutality, poverty and repression of the other districts.  They lived comfortable, self-obsessed lives snug to the halls of power. They dined and vomited their meals like the ancient Romans did, so that they could keep feasting even while the masses starved. They were easily swayed by sentimentality and distraction. President Snow, the fictional tyrant of Panem, was far more refined and intelligent than the bombastic narcissist Trump, but his rival, President Coin, was no less ruthless and revealed a comparable penchant for blood lust and authoritarianism.

fictional-president-coin-of-the-hunger-games-and-hillary-clinton-photo-credit-rebloggyTo be sure, one would be foolish to reduce current events to a dystopic, scifi novel (or a Hollywood movie) primarily written for teenagers.  And we would be doing a disservice if we ignored nuance and context. But we are at a deep moment in human history. The biosphere is teetering on the edge of collapse thanks to the excesses of the privileged few in the West.  The nuclear menace has never left us.  This is the kind of moment where factors may begin to converge and create the potential for a monumental shift in the dominant paradigm. But this can go either well or very, very badly.  The wave of justified animus toward the ruling establishment is growing in many communities across the nation, black, white and Native American.   But just as this rage could be channeled into progressive social and ecological transformation, it could also lead toward violent fascism.  And the recipe of that includes economic downturn, ecological devastation and social unrest.

As in fictional Panem, the Liberal class of the American Empire is out of touch to the everyday miseries of ordinary working people and prefer to smugly dismiss them as stupid or backward or simply misinformed, while defending the very institutions that contributed to the destruction of civic life and the commons in the first place.  It is unlikely they will wake up in time to avoid the coming fires of revolution. We can only hope that that “basket of deplorables” Hillary Clinton described will be more merciful than the Oligarchs the Liberals have defended all this time.  Speaking of them, they will likely fair better.  They will have slipped away silently into the night long before a single match is lit.

jennifer-lawrence-as-catniss-in-the-hunger-games-photo-still-from-movie
Kenn Orphan 2016

(1) http://www.newyorker.com/humor/borowitz-report/many-in-nation-tired-of-explaining-things-to-idiots

(2)  http://www.cnn.com/2016/09/09/politics/hillary-clinton-donald-trump-basket-of-deplorables/

(3) http://www.democracynow.org/2016/9/28/what_drives_trump_supporters_sociologist_arlie

(4) http://usuncut.com/black-lives-matter/clinton-holds-campaign-speech-in-atlanta-to-discuss-race-throws-out-black-lives-matter-activists-video/

(5) http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/the_courtiers_and_the_tyrants_20160918

Ushering in the Closing Chapter of the Human Species

The epic assaults being carried out against the vulnerable around the world at this very moment will determine the fate of our species and the living earth itself.  To the powerful this statement is hyperbole at its extreme, but to those of us on the other side there is no condemnation that is too exaggerated when it comes to the destruction of communities and of the biosphere itself.  The attacks are taking place along ancient rivers in the American Dakotas, in the life drenched rain forests of Ecuador, in historic olive groves in Palestine, in the melting tundra of the Arctic circle, in the sun baked Niger Delta, and in the war torn or misery laden shanty’s of Aleppo, Kolkata, Jakarta, Nairobi and beyond.  These may seem like separate instances to some, but they are a part of a global struggle and the outcome will in all likelihood determine our collective future and that of millions of other species that we share this planet with.

This screen shot from a Democracy NOW! video purports to show security dogs used Sept. 3, 2016, to drive back protestors who had overrun the Dakota Access Pipeline worksite north of Cannon Ball, N.D. Images Courtesy Democracy NOW!

indigenous-leaders-from-ecuador-protest-chevrons-deliberate-pollution-of-the-rainforest-photo-from-new-york-timesI believe that the intersectionality of these conflicts are indicative of a broader struggle over guiding principles and mythologies.  Some may see this as an oversimplification, and while I would agree that we should be careful to consider and respect nuance, context and individual histories, there are some general themes which may unite us while there is still time.  These conflicts have been with our species since we began to walk upright.  But now they are global in scale and there are two sides that should be identified above all others.

One side values living beings over profit, and sees protection of the water and the soil and the air as the most fundamental responsibilities of any society.  It values cooperation and generosity above individual ambition.  It shuns all forms of violent coercion, land theft and repression.  It is against aggression and wars of conquest.  It is the way of Community. The other is based upon the dominance of the physically powerful and suppression of the weak. It sees the living planet merely as a means for amassing material profit.  It commodifies everything, living and non.  It values avarice and ruthless competition over cooperation. It believes the only viable way forward is through suppression of dissent, ridicule, marginalization of the poor and the downtrodden, jingoistic nationalism and organized State violence.  It is the way of Empire.

palestinian-protesters-stand-amid-blazes-set-by-settlers-to-their-olive-groves-photo-source-transcend

canadian-paramilitary-forces-attack-indigenous-elsipogtog-mi-kmaq-first-nation-and-local-residents-as-they-blockaded-a-new-brunswick-fracking-exploration-site-photo-from-common-dreams

activists-in-port-harcourt-nigeria-photo-source-earth-first-journalThe language of Empire is duplicitous.  It employs the parlance of pale euphemisms like sustainability, austerity or free trade to obscure its true authoritarian and feudalistic intentions.  It encourages nationalistic sentimentality and racial and ethnic division to obscure the reality of its imposed classism.  It objectifies the living planet through clever marketing and branding with such subtle ease that it becomes ever more difficult to decipher and parse.  But in the end the Empire cannot cloak the stench of a dying world forever with catchy jingles, cynical ploys, shiny new objects, paranoid bigotries or vapid distractions.

In their quest to maintain and grow their coffers, the powerful see the dissolving ice cap as a strategic business opportunity for geopolitical advancement.  They see the growing difficulty in extracting high quality petroleum as an excuse to erase ancient mountaintops, pierce deep ocean trenches and scrape away primeval forests for less viable and more earth damaging fossil fuels.  They see growing inequities between us and the handful of people who own half the world’s wealth as opportunities for enhanced security walls and surveillance.  They see hunger and famine as a chance to litter the world with pesticides and chemically or genetically altered food or factory farms which are little more than massive concentration camps for sentient beings.  They see flattened forests and fouled rivers as a way of moving indigenous peoples into overcrowded, cordoned off corporate colonies for easier exploitation, social control and abandonment.  And if they continue on their path the world they are forging will rival every other civilization in history in atrocity, repression and misery.

President Clinton And President George W. Bush Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Trump and Clinton. Getty Images.

Oil Executives. Source: Chip Somodevilla/Getty ImagesThe war the Empire is waging is not about isms or ideologies, it is about power, exploitation and wealth.  And to those of us being assaulted the cause is as urgent as it is dire.  It is literally about life and death.  We see the rising tides of an ever imperiled, acidic sea. We walk in the fallow fields where there may be no crops harvested tomorrow.  We breathe the acrid air choked out by smokestacks of insatiable, blind industry.  We see the walls and borders and checkpoints and guard dogs and police tanks and surveillance cameras and detention camps burgeoning as if unstoppable.  We hear the drums of imperialistic war being beaten every day of every year.  And we stand in shock at the unquenchable lust for wealth that stain the halls of power even as they dig our dusty mass graves.  When we sound the alarm or even raise concern about any of this we can expect to be ignored, chided or silenced by the powerful in the media, corporations, the military or political establishment or even clergy.  We anticipate being co-opted by the ruling oligarchy or by cynical corporate interests.  But we are weary of this kind of marginalization and we aren’t going down without a fight.

protectors-of-the-water-north-dakota-source-bbc

ST. LOUIS, MO - MARCH 14: Ferguson activists march through downtown during a protest on March 14, 2015 in St. Louis, Missouri. St. Louis and the nearby town of Ferguson have experienced many protests, which have often been violent, since the death of Michael Brown who was shot and killed by a Ferguson police officer in August. On Wednesday evening two police officers were shot while they were securing the Ferguson police station during a protest. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Officials observe indigenous people protesting in BrazilThe powerful will not stop waging their war this year or next.  It will undoubtedly play out and grow for the next few decades even as the planet’s ecosystem’s spiral and crash, because dollar signs and dominance are all they truly understand.   This is not just another chapter in some unending saga of the human story.  It is not something that any resident of planet earth can afford to sit out.   If they are victorious this war may very well usher in the closing chapter of the human species and far sooner than anyone could ever imagine.  We must join with each other if only to ease each others suffering, or bring one small amount of justice to the oppressed, or to protect one small river way or field or stretch of beach.  This war they are waging is against the living planet and their own future whether they realize it or not.  But even if they do not care about their children’s future, we must.

a-native-american-woman-sits-on-a-bluff-in-north-dakota-at-the-pipeline-protest-source-the-guardianKenn Orphan 2016

More Than Hope

The summer of 2016 has only just started but it is already shaping up to be one fraught with acts of terror, sheer violence, and bloody aggression. This is true in so many places around the world. But in the United States, a nation which arrogantly declares itself both indispensable to world peace and stability and exceptional in its character, it is especially glaring due to the utter hypocrisy on display.  In just the span of a couple months there have been mass shootings, heinous crimes and acts of blatant police brutality all with a backdrop of political rancor, corruption and unabashed saber rattling on the world stage.
Philando Castile, murdered by police officer. Source Fox9.This should cause ordinary Americans to pause and reflect on what got us here. It should make us revile the powers that be who seek to boost their careers by instilling fear, racism and prejudice. It should make us insist on rational laws about guns and who should have access to them, and it should cause us to reject the militaristic aggression that defines ALL of our foreign policy. It should make us unite behind leaders who only reflect truthfulness, transparency and the will to lead the nation away from the old order of entrenched aristocratic privilege, militarism and merciless despotism. It should be a catalyst for societal change that tears away the ugly cloak of racism that shrouds every aspect of our culture, our institutions and our national persona. It should create a dialogue between people of conscience about our differences and our strengths and build a bridge that connects them.
Victims of Pulse Massacre in Orlando. Source NY Daily News.It is what I pray for but, sadly, not what I see happening. This is a broken nation slipping rapidly toward the maw of paranoid hatred and authoritarianism.  It is a society which still celebrates the myths of the “Wild West” ignoring its genocidal and dystopic realities.  It is a nation that delights in forgetting the crimes of its past and revels in creating false narratives that explain away its responsibilities today.  It is a culture corrupted by the cupidity of capitalism and the mindlessness of consumerism even while the ecosystems around it which support the madness of its addiction are withering into extinction.  It is a country not divided, but fractured into thousands of splinters held together, for now, with the most tenuous of threads.
Police fire at sniper which killed 5 officers at a Black Lives Matter rally in Dallas. Source Zerohedge.

Some have said that America is in its “1934 moment” referring to Europe prior to the second World War.  This may be an over exaggeration since history does not repeat itself exactly, but it does reflect and rehash old forms more often than not.  And with the earth’s climate growing more chaotic and resources beginning to dwindle this is a recipe of the most horrifying kind.  I hope that this is not so, but hope can be a capricious ghost distracting us with empty platitudes and leading us down a path to dangerous inaction.  We need more than hope now.  We need courage and cooperation.  We need community building based on our relationship to the earth and social understanding that shuns the barriers that prevent dialogue.  And we need it fast, because the streets of summer are becoming hot with the anger of the disenfranchised and red with the blood of innocents; and the scheming wolf of fascism is an opportunist always lurking at America’s gates ready to pounce.

Kenn Orphan  2016

Brussels and Beyond

What happened in Brussels today was a monstrous crime and an immense tragedy.  So far my loved ones in the region appear safe, but many other families are grieving tonight and my heart goes out to them in their time of suffering.  Many of us are very familiar with the airports and metros around Europe and the world, so these atrocities make an undeniable impression of both sadness and fear.  But in the midst of such senseless carnage there are opportunists crawling out from beneath their rocks who are using it to spread hatred, xenophobia and racism.
 
Here is one example I came across, but it is far from isolated.
 
“Keep letting these Muslim cockroaches in, and this is only going to get a lot worse. If these bedbugs had a nuclear device, they wouldn’t hesitate for one second to try and kill as many people as they could. They must be wiped off of the face of the earth. It’s only a matter time, America! Political correctness has to be thrown out, the window. TRUMP 2016!”
 
Missing from this screed is any recognition of the mountains of corpses piled high in Muslim majority nations at the hands of Western interventions over the past few decades. No where to be found is acknowledgement of Western financial and military support of theocratic or apartheid regimes, brutal dictators and so called “freedom fighters” who are merely murderous mercenaries for profit.  No where is the fact that Muslims are the primary targets and victims of such acts of terrorism in their own nations.
 
If we cannot face the demons which lead our own military, political and business institutions there will be no end to this cycle of violence.   And if demoralized bigots, such as the one who penned the aforementioned screed, have their way the United States, as well as much of Europe, may be on the fast track toward another 1929 moment, unleashing unspeakable horror.  Awareness of the potential for this is becoming more urgent by the day.

My deepest sympathy goes out to the victims and their families in Brussels, and Istanbul, and Ankara, and Damascus, and Gaza, and Baghdad, and Tegucigalpa, and everywhere in the world where violence has become normalized by the powers that be.  May their lives shine as a testament to our shared humanity, and a light to lead us through the dark days that lie ahead.

Kenn Orphan  2016

An All American Fascism

The resurgence of white nationalism in mainstream American politics has left many nonplussed and baffled.  White power flags, tattoos and symbols have made a stunning comeback, and they are coupled with threats, violence and Nazi salutes at huge rallies in support of presidential candidate, and front runner, Donald Trump.  At a recent event one supporter shouted at a protester “go to fucking Auschwitz,” and in a rally held last month an audience member unabashedly asked the candidate how “we are going to get rid of” Muslims.  Mr. Trump did nothing to condemn this overtly racist point of view.  This is a phenomenon that should not be downplayed or dismissed as an anomaly.  Indeed, it is representative of a much larger and far more dangerous feature of American society itself.

There has always been a persistent strain of fascism in this country, one that has been poised to sweep in to power the kind of charismatic authoritarian of the Hitler/Mussolini stripe.  This is no more visually apparent than within Trump’s base. Stripped of agency and laden with humiliation, Trump supporters are the very emblem of an unforgiving vengeance within the disenfranchised mob.  Torches and pitchforks aside, these demoralized masses are more than ready to pounce on the last vestiges of an anemic, American civil society already weakened by the barbarity of neoliberal (free market) capitalism and plutocratic despotism.  And with environmental catastrophe and economic meltdown ever looming, this so called “fringe” may just succeed in doing the unthinkable.

Trump Fascism. David Horsey, Los Angeles TimesWith the obvious implosion of the Republican Party underway many Americans hold fast to the myth that the Democrats will save them from this unfolding nightmare.  The truth, however, is that they will painfully prolong the inevitable.  No matter how much they would like to paint it otherwise, they are just as much the party of the aristocratic class as the Republicans. They represent their interests, albeit in a less obnoxious manner than their conservative counterparts. But the effect is the same.  Their aim is to preserve the status quo that is steadily demolishing any chance of a viable future for coming generations.  Indeed, their plunder may usher this present generation into a dystopia only imagined in science fiction.

Their star candidate, Hillary Clinton, has a long, bloody history of supporting right wing coups and wars that decimated sovereign societies.  Unsurprisingly, her mentor is none other than the preeminent war criminal Henry Kissinger. And she has all but vowed to aggressively provoke a nuclear armed Russia and attack Iran on behalf of her Israeli benefactors.  But what is perhaps more troubling is her allegiance to the 1% of Wall Street, evidenced by her exorbitant speech fees at well heeled engagements and her condemnation of the Occupy Movement which sought to hold banks and corporate robber barons accountable for their malfeasance.  If she seizes power in the coming election we can be assured of an acceleration of plutocracy, not its reverse.

Hillary Clinton Banks Wall Street. Image source unknown.To be sure, the only real change in American policy has come from grassroots mass movements which upended the comfortable privilege of the aristocratic elite.  Whether demanding the end of the Vietnam War or equal rights for Black Americans, the power of social change has always stemmed from direct action from below, never from above.  But we are in new territory now and the outlook is uncertain. Fascism is undeterred by reason or reform.  It is their antithesis.  It festers in the dark corners of social hatred ever in search of a new scapegoat, and it thrives in an environment where there are fewer options for advancement or hope.  It replaces cooperation and rational debate with violent ridicule and meaningless, nationalistic jingoism.

We should not expect to see a fascism that mimics that of Hitler’s Germany, Mussolini’s Italy or Franco’s Spain.  This fascism is uniquely American in its flare.  Years of unfettered worship of all things military and an undying celebration of capitalism have furnished the masses with a disdain for the sustaining institutions that define a liberal democracy.  And the indifference of the liberal elite to the suffering of working people has stoked an animus that is palpable.  They will not endure sanctimonious preaching from the left on the deeply held virtues of tolerance and inclusion for much longer.  And this is largely due to being mercilessly thrown to the side for corporate privilege.  Their ranks are fed up and they are rising.

Trump woos working class, white Americans. Photo Darren McCollester, Getty ImagesOne thing is certain. A toxic brew of economic malaise and ecological decimation is simmering ever closer to the boiling point.  Alternatives to this horrifying future do exist within movements like Black Lives Matter, indigenous rights and climate justice; but if we do not face the dire outcome of this poisonous concoction with demands for revolutionary change soon, it may spill over faster than anyone can imagine.  And in its wake it will drown the civil rights and liberties that had been hard fought for, yet utterly taken for granted, in smoldering ruins.

Kenn Orphan 2016

 

The Logical End of Barbarity

It’s true. Donald Trump is a frightening character to watch; and his ties to white nationalism and appeals to mob violence are downright chilling. But he has been successful, unwittingly or not, at one thing: lampooning the sham of the American political establishment. For decades the political landscape has been defined by the condescension of its aristocratic elite. And their apathy at growing income disparity and indifference to the suffering of common people are why he is so popular. But as the elite attempt to distance themselves from him it is worth considering some facts.

In the case of Donald Trump, his rise is anything but shocking for those who have kept a keen eye on the trajectory of the collective psyche of the American elite.  He is the atrocious id to their inflated ego.  He has emerged from an ideology of exceptionalism that is firmly rooted in a narcissistic obsession with arrogance, vulgarity and ruthlessness.  His machinations are not foreign to their culture, not in the least.  His casual racism, misogyny and intimidation are all defining features of American policies, both foreign and domestic.  And he delights in the same cruelty that defines American economics, neoliberal capitalism, its last and most monstrous form.  In short, despite their protestations, he is one of them.

But with all of his bombastic flourishes, chauvinism and horrifying endorsements of torture, increased militarism and building of walls along the border, Trump cannot claim the dubious distinction of having had real influence or actually committing any of those crimes.  He was never a senator or the Secretary of State.  He never held an office that had such power.  The same cannot be said of his rivals on both sides of the aisle.

Trump did not take millions of dollars from the industries that profit from America’s endless wars of aggression.  He did not have the power to push for the invasion of Afghanistan, or Iraq or Libya that killed or damaged young American lives, slaughtered and displaced untold thousands of innocent civilians and left entire societies decimated.   He did not stand in an illegal Israeli settlement and pledge an undying commitment to an apartheid state that actually does have a “wall of separation,” or defend a bloodthirsty dictator in Egypt, or covertly support military coups that installed a right wing government in Honduras or a neo-Nazi friendly government in Ukraine.  He did not throw his support behind policies that gutted crucial social welfare programs, or encouraged police impunity and grew the prison industrial complex through unfair laws, both of which disproportionately targeted poor people of color.  He did not sign on to sweeping international trade agreements that benefited Wall Street and multi-national corporations and smashed labor rights, endangered child workers and polluted ecosystems.

If Donald Trump is successful in his bid for President it will not be due to his uniqueness, but due to his skill at reflecting the true nature of the American political, media and business establishment.  As President he would undoubtedly fill the murderous shoes of his predecessors with gusto.  But do not be fooled by the false outrage of the ruling elite at his antics.  They are not really disgusted by what he says, only that he has boastfully put words to their thoughts and actions.   He is the logical end to all of their barbarity.  And they are merely fearful that his odious bravado may shatter the illusion of their piety, once and for all.

 

Kenn Orphan  2016

The Seeds of Empathy

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

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

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

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

Syria before and after the war. Source News Items.

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

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

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

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

Kenn Orphan 2015

Defining BDS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An Israeli peace activist. Source Times Union.

Kenn Orphan 2015

The Cracking Mirror

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kenn Orphan 2015

The Great Migration

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

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

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

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

Somali refugees wait at check point. Source UNHCR

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Drought Induced Wildfires Photo David McNew Getty Images

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

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

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

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

Photo from the Refugee Council of the UK.

Kenn Orphan  2015