Tag Archives: Wall Street

The Illusion of American Democracy

hillary-clinton-for-warI have always been fascinated by the capacity of people to block out facts that either trouble them or do not align with their preconceived beliefs about the world. This is most evident when it comes to religion and politics. And we can see it clearly in the dog and pony show that is the 2016 American Presidential campaign.  Trump supporters lovingly embrace a disconnect from reality partly due to entrenched racism and xenophobia, but mostly because of a deep sense of disenfranchisement and humiliation. However Clinton supporters on the other side are just as much, if not more, deluded in their blind devotion to the bloody queen of chaos.

Even though Ms. Clinton, and her philandering husband, have expressed their undying love for Wall Street time and time again, and are firmly embedded in the 1% elite, they believe she is for working people. Even though she was against marriage equality until as late as 2013, they think she supports the LGBTQ community. Even though she championed and still defends a right wing coup in Honduras which has led to the murders of scores of indigenous, environmental and LGBTQ activists, they think she supports universal human rights. Even though she pushed the US and NATO into decimating Libya, voted to decimate Iraq in a war based solely on lies and has consistently pushed for attacking Syria and Iran, they believe she will be the most level headed when it comes to foreign policy. Even though she has accepted boat loads of money from the fossil fuel industry, they believe she will defend environmental regulations and address climate change with urgency. Even though she and her husband carved up Haiti for neoliberal capitalistic profit through their notorious foundation, they believe she is for the underdog.  Even though she has accepted truck loads of money from the private prison industry, they believe she will work to end the racist policies that imprison millions of Americans for non-violent offenses. Even though she attacked whistleblower Edward Snowden for allegedly helping terrorists when he revealed  nefarious government malfeasance, they believe she will enforce transparency.   Even though she defended her husband’s economic policies which adversely effected women of color, they think she is a feminist who will champion the rights of all women.

It is cognitive dissonance on a grand scale.

As of today, Hillary Clinton is the projected winner of New York and, by proxy, the Democratic nomination. Not very remarkable given that the plutocracy selected her to be the executive director of Plunder the Planet, Inc. a long time ago. And it shouldn’t be surprising that it matters little what the masses think to the corporate aristocracy.  They hate Trump because he is too erratic and, frankly, too stupid. They despise Cruz because he is a religious nut case. They fear Sanders because he may be radicalized even further toward the left. But they adore Hillary because they know she will have their back. Her allegiances are clear to anyone who really wants to see them.

One thing is for sure, Hillary’s win will be a hollow victory, and she knows this full well. She has only gotten this far by pandering to Wall Street, Hollywood A-listers, the fossil fuel industry, and a pro-Israel, right wing billionaire for years, not from common people interested in real social justice and change. But this is of little consolation, especially to the people who will undoubtedly suffer greatly under her policies of militarism and support for right wing, apartheid and repressive regimes around the world.

America is a dying, but well armed, empire.  And historically, empires drown themselves in farce, fiction and mythology as they collapse.  A Clinton presidency will ensure the illusion of American democracy will continue to sputter forward for at least a few more years. But illusions are like junk food, they will never sate the demands of reality.  And I feel nothing but sadness and dread when I think about the continuing massacres, coups, interventions and wars which are now all but assured on a planet spiraling mindlessly into ecocide.

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

Inverting Reality

     In the troubled age we live in the wealthy elite have perfected the art of inverting reality.

How else could the gutting of the social safety net be renamed austerity, and the dismantling of the public commons and transfer of its wealth to the extremely wealthy be excused as merely privatization?   How else could wars on behalf of corporate industry be re-cast as “humanitarian interventions” and the “war on terror?”
Children labor under unsafe conditions with long hours in India.  Source  GettyOr the plunder of impoverished nations for the benefit of the powerful be explained as “free trade?”  How else could the wanton destruction of the environment with impunity be seen as “job creation?”
Oil Wells in Kern County California  Photograph Mark Gamba
Or the housing of millions of sentient beings in cramped, disease ridden, concentration camps be touted as a solution to “food insecurity?”

A pig looks out of his cage of misery at a concentration camp, more commonly referred to as a factory farm.  Source  Waking TimesOr the mass incarceration of impoverished people of color be redefined as the “War on Drugs?”   And refugees fleeing from regions where corporate exploitation has made life a misery be labelled “illegal aliens,” and demonized as criminals by the slick, intelligence devoid, powerful?

Undocumented Immigrants  Source Today

Credit: S. Morgan/Alamy, NatureOn a finite planet, with humanity fast reaching the upper limit of consumption and where resources are dwindling, the machinations of this global industry of plunder are beginning to crumble under their own weight.  But it will not be a soft landing.  The elite have steadily constructed the surveillance state; and they have augmented it with a militarized police force designed to protect their power and wealth with the distribution of swift and violent punishment.  They have codified laws that allow for the indefinite detention, or extrajudicial execution, of anyone they view as a threat.  And they will not hesitate in the slightest in employing everything in their arsenal at the first sign of ecological calamity and social unrest.

Police Brutality at Occupy Wall Street  ReutersThis is the inherent nature of capitalism; and in particular its terminal stage, neoliberalism.  It is a system predicated upon wealth acquisition at the expense of the entire planet. Wherever it manifests itself the fundamental foundations of democracy are reduced to mere spectacle without substance. Wikipedia defines it as: “privatization, fiscal austerity, deregulation, free trade, and reductions in government spending in order to enhance the role of the private sector in the economy.”  There are those that may use more euphemistic parlance to describe it, but its conclusive message to most of humanity, and countless other species, is no less cruel. It feeds on the most vulnerable through violence, disenfranchisement and humiliation.  It castigates the poor as intrinsically deficient.  And it divides the natural world into worthiness categorizes for efficient exploitation.

Capitalist  Artist UnknownIt has created a multi-national aristocracy that becomes more consumed with its corpulent privilege every day.   But it is also a system which is ultimately destined to rot of its own suppuration and conceit.

Kenn Orphan 2015

The Trans Pacific Partnership: A Corporate Coup d’Etat in Slow Motion

TPP  Source 350 orgWe are in the midst of a massive, unprecedented, corporate coup d’etat. The US Senate has passed the fast track for the TPP (Trans Pacific Partnership) and TiSA (Trade in Services Agreement). Now it will go to the President’s desk where he is guaranteed to sign it.  Lawmakers have been given some access to its terms, but they can be criminally prosecuted for revealing any of these to the press. The only way the public knows about this is through WikiLeaks. We have been told that these agreements are “a matter of grave national security,” yet, by all accounts, there is nothing in them that deals directly with military intelligence or strategies.

This agreement will undoubtedly grant corporations even more power than they already have.  According to Conor J. Lynch of Open Democracy the TPP “gives foreign corporations the ability to sue governments if a new law or regulation has effects on their profit rate; a blatantly pro-investor mechanism.”

The Economist explained further what the TPP would be allowed to do:

“If you wanted to convince the public that international trade agreements are a way to let multinational companies get rich at the expense of ordinary people, this is what you would do: give foreign firms a special right to apply to a secretive tribunal of highly paid corporate lawyers for compensation whenever a government passes a law to, say, discourage smoking, protect the environment or prevent a nuclear catastrophe. Yet that is precisely what thousands of trade and investment treaties over the past half century have done, through a process known as “investor-state dispute settlement”, or ISDS..”

And, according to Ellen Brown of Alternet: “arbitrators are paid $600-700 an hour, giving them little incentive to dismiss cases. The secretive nature of the arbitration process and the lack of any requirement to consider precedent give wide scope for creative judgments – the sort of arbitrary edicts satirized by Lewis Carroll in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.”

TPP  Source  Doctors Without Borders
The TPP will enable multinational corporations that operate in countries that have human rights violations, like human trafficking, and lax environmental regulations, to proceed in selling their products to US consumers without them being able to object, even when slave wage labor or ecological destruction is involved. It will also drive up the cost of medicine, as Lynch also points out:

Provisions within the deal would expand patent rights for big pharmaceutical companies, which would keep important medicines overpriced around the world. One of these provisions, “patent term extensions,” would allow companies to extend their patents beyond the original twenty years, preventing other companies from bringing the medicine onto the generic market, which generally lowers costs by 30-80 percent. Other provisions would allow companies to re-patent drugs after twenty years for developing “new uses” or slightly altering the chemical..”

President Obama has pulled a Bill Clinton maneuver (see NAFTA) on the American people, proving once again that he is in league with the wealthy elite, and does their bidding. Few have questioned why a majority of Republicans have given their wholehearted support to the President (the same one they supposedly oppose on everything) for this obvious corporate coup; but the votes do not lie. Obama is skillful at creating a facade of populism; but if we add this one to a litany of malfeasance, from warrant-less wiretapping, to the enormous expansion of the drone program, to opening up vast areas for off shore drilling, to an unprecedented assault on whistle blowers, the mask quickly drops away.

How the “lesser of two evils” apologists will explain this latest one away is beyond me.

Kenn Orphan 2015


As The Curtain Falls

American Sniper.  Source: Warner Brothers     In the disintegrating days of any society, nationalism, political charade and vapid farce often become the dominant narrative of the elite. These serve as distractions from their malfeasance, and the malaise and dread that most people, whether conscious of it or not, are feeling at the deepest level of their psyche. They also reflect the mania that often grips the mind when disaster is looming. And unless we insulate ourselves within this rubric of duplicity, or are so busy with the tasks imposed on us by the act of living in a society with increasingly less agency, it is near impossible to ignore the ominous signs on the horizon. Reports about mass extinction, climate chaos and a rising militarized, totalitarian state are ubiquitous.

Climate Change  Illustration from NASAThe other night I went out to the movies. This is not a big deal for many, but for me it is. I stopped going to see most Hollywood productions a while ago when I found myself increasingly alienated from the violent messages I saw being aggressively communicated. Much of it is nothing new.

Hollywood has always glamorized and championed patriarchy, gratuitous vulgarity, mindless consumerism and a detachment from the natural world. And it, ironically, has patted itself on the back for being at the forefront of social change, when historically it has dutifully supported and promoted the most entrenched, dehumanizing and churlish forms of racism, homophobia, misogyny, Islamophobia, and antisemitism. In truth it is the best mouthpiece for the status quo power class and a bulwark for the reactionary establishment. While conveniently recasting itself as a civil rights pioneer when all the hard work has been done, Hollywood takes credit for something it had once vehemently opposed.

Gone With The Wind Still Source NY Times

The Birth of a Nation (1915) Directed by D.W. Griffith Shown: Walter Long (as Gus) surrounded by Ku Klux Klan members

Promo for the WWII movie Dragon SeedSitting there in the darkened theater, waiting for the film I chose to begin, I was barraged by a cacophony of violent jingoism in each preview of movies to come. The military was cast as the savior of the world, women were objectified in persistent, degrading stereotypes, and the “other” of foreign nations were dehumanized and vilified. Of course one can trace much of this back to WWII when the Japanese were portrayed as bloodthirsty, dim witted beasts.

Bodies of Hiroshima civilian victims.  The People's Historical Archive

The lynching of William Brown in Douglas County Nebraska, 1919This insidious racism soothed the American psyche into justifying the nuclear decimation of tens of thousands of civilians and assisted the acceptance of the forced internment of Japanese Americans into concentration camps. One can go back even further to 1915 to the infamous film “Birth of a Nation” which depicted Black men as rapists and a danger to the entire republic. What better way to vindicate the horrors of Jim Crow and decades of state sanctioned terror via lynching parties?  But over the last decade there has been a surge of hyper-masculine, chauvinistic nationalism depicted in film and media with technical flare.

Promotional Photo for the movie Exodus  Source 20th Century FoxSadly, in the midst of all of this, many in America, and to a lesser extent other Western nations, appear to be retreating into a form of infantilism, clinging to religious mythologies about “end times” and supernatural tampering with humanity, or nefarious government conspiracies around every corner. This is a common response to a sense of powerlessness. Ironically, these fantasies coincide with the very real prospect of collapse and even near term human extinction.  But those who are confounded by reason, overwhelmed by a merciless onslaught of disinformation, and battered by class oppression, will often attribute calamity to the divine’s wrath at innocuous human rights and social issues like marriage equality or women’s reproductive freedom.

Hollywood nourishes this confusion by inducing a national amnesia regarding what their country has done and what crimes it is capable of committing, both at home and abroad. It achieves this by producing a never ending stream of series or movies that retell and re-frame Biblical stories, or are about natural disasters (most of which are implausible), supernatural beings like zombies or vampires that compete for gloulish and macabre attention, or imagined threats from foreign “others” who represent everything we despise.
Still from World War Z  Source Digital SpyIn truth, the wealthy power class has always thrived on violence and the incitement of division. It has been and remains the currency that they use to hold on to power and maintain the barrier that insulates them from its consequences. It is the drug of choice for brutes and psychopaths; and when it is unbridled it deftly manages to hollow out the very core of human dignity. How else could the US military, which has a long, documented history of heinous human rights violations, convince young, disaffected youth to join their ranks to fight people abroad far more impoverished than they are?  How else can they cajole them to defend an empty concept of liberty that has been systematically hacked away from them at home?

Photograph by Stanley FormanUltimately, violence masks the alienation from society and estrangement from the natural world that so many of them feel. It is the doom of virtue and the supreme manifestation of despair. The plutocracy has become unbeatable through its use of it abroad; and it has deftly worked at militarizing the police at home. They have become masters at harnessing its seductive lure; and there is no armed resistance that can counter their forces. They eagerly manufacture new, re-branded enemies to divide and conquer the beset masses; and distract them from their powerlessness. But now we are teetering on the edge of global collapse and the charades are becoming a nightmarish, technologically advanced, spectacle. From desensitizing video games to movies extolling the glory of war; the machine of propaganda is at fever pitch.

Still from Video Game Call of Duty  Source CNN

United States Navy Promotional shots of Navy SEALs.As the US empire continues to expand its reach through its spread of military bases, and its constant antagonism of other world powers, like China in the South China Sea or Russia in the Ukraine, we can expect reactionary nationalism at home to be stoked further. It has even expanded the war on nature, as the US Navy prepares to conduct military exercises, the largest of their kind in history, in the pristine waters off Alaska and in the Arctic. And with the curtain falling on Western civilization through its own hubris, Hollywood will become even more manic and detached from reality than it is today. It is, after all, the global voice of corporate capitalism and it faithfully follows the dictates of Wall Street and the Pentagon. Sadly, it cannot do anything but limn the lies of empire, even as ecosystems fall around them and war and totalitarianism become permanent features of the 21st century. How long it will be able to cast its shadows on the wall of this cave, before it all comes down around them, is unclear.  But we do have a choice on whether to continue watching the spectacle, or turn away in time to salvage some of what is left of our humanity and this world.

Kenn Orphan 2015

Before the Fall

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

Washington State Fire

Polyp cartoon Climate

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

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

Defense Contractor FlagLogos

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

odin-new bear ad

General Motors Greenwashing Billboard Source Greenwashing Index

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

Oil Wells in Kern County California Photograph Mark Gamba

Traffic Source Shutterstock

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

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

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

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

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

Vigil in Bangalore

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

Crops Dying Time

Storm Between Green Island and Cairns Photo by Robin Wei

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

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

Coming Out of the Cave

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

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

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

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

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

Allegory of the Cave by Plato  Source Pixgood

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

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

Light of Nature  Source Pichost
Kenn Orphan  2015

An Economy of Cruelty

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

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

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

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

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

The Us Prison Industrial Complex Source Impact Press

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

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

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

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

Eric Thayer Reuters

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

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

Source Guardian

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

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

Source Vancouver Media Co Op

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

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

Kenn Orphan  2015

Before the Bulldozers Arrive

When I was a boy my family would travel to Nova Scotia to visit my grandmother.  She lived on an island off the coast that was close enough to get to by ferry in an hour, yet far enough away from “civilization” that one could feel happily secluded from its distractions and trappings.  A breeze fresh with sea salt and pine off the bay would hurry me along dirt roads that led to no where. Deep in the wood I would be gently reminded of the ocean around me on all sides by the distant ping of a buoy.  The pleasures there were simple, yet profoundly rich.  Coming from New York I reveled in this solitude and natural wonder. My grandmother’s porch let out onto a beach strewn with round rocks and seaweed, and the backdoor opened onto a wood thick with pine and carpeted with moss. It was a land that seemed both exotically foreign and warmly familiar. I would spend my days going back and forth to each of these magical places with only short pit stops for an ice cream or a can of pop.

A forest in Nova Scotia The Chronicle Herald

I am often reminded of these ethereal experiences when I have the good fortune to be in some place wild. I have been lucky to have hiked through jungles in Central America and across mountain ranges in the American west. I have been awed by the endless span of the desert and the billions, upon billions of stars that filled moonless nights. But sadly these moments have become mere punctuations in my life as adulthood has taken me through the underbelly of “civilization” and I struggle to breath in its plastic emptiness. It has become painful to see wildlife too close to the burgeoning sprawl, because I know that it will soon be trampled under the busy feet of progress, bulldozed into heaps of wood and entombed in concrete, glass and steel.

Industrial civilization, with its petro-economy, doomed the wilds of the earth centuries ago. Its cancerous penchant for endless growth and its disease of cupidity and avarice have commodified and butchered the natural world of which we are all born.  Consumer capitalism has become the religion of the 21st century.  Its liturgy of “market driven free trade” views the earth as an exploitable object and human beings as valuable only in terms of their material wealth. There is no room for the sacredness of the wild.  Cloaked in garments of moral piety, the priests of Wall Street hold the ultimate power over all life on the planet.  Their eyes may have been blotted out by greed, but their hands still grope feverishly for the next spoil.  Meanwhile the oceans acidify and the permafrost is no longer permanent as it thaws rapidly and releases tons of methane, accelerating the warming of the climate. Despite the overwhelming evidence, extraction of fossil fuels has only increased.  The melting Arctic ocean has become a playground for the petro-industry and the bloated military that protects their interests. They are not worried about a warming planet or dancing perilously close to another world war. They are busy piercing the surface of our fragile world like rapacious vampires that can never seem to draw enough of the earth’s blood to sate their appetite.

Credit S Morgan Alamy Nature

Mountaintop Removal in the Sierras source NRDC

Watching the storms grow on the horizon can fill one with dread in those moments where denial is not at work. There is no where on this earth that industrial civilization has not touched. Plastic debris fills its oceans, industrial chemicals saturate its already diminished soil, and the air has become the repository for the poisonous byproducts of its feckless consumption. Its economic ideology has created an ownership class that has divided the world map into farms for its own wealth acquisition. It expands like bacteria engulfing what was once lush fields, meadows and woods. It crushes the powerless of foreign nations, colonizes their land and enslaves them in endless servitude for the perpetuation of its monstrous system. It scrapes away the tops of ancient mountains for minutes of electrical power.

Urban Sprawl in Virginia Sarah Leen

The insanity that is industrial civilization was born of imperialism. Materialistic ideas of fortune became the priority of the aristocracy, and so the village and the community were sacrificed for the promise of more stuff. Petro-chemicals fueled the Green Revolution, where agriculture was industrialized on a massive scale. It dressed up the drive for these things in the guise of good intentions. Feeding the hungry became its pious mantra, even though the profit based economy was its true engine. Neoliberal capitalism, defined as “privatization, fiscal austerity, deregulation, free trade, and reductions in government spending in order to enhance the role of the private sector,” emerged from the shadows of imperialistic plunder.  It rendered vast swaths of the earth open for boundless exploitation by the wealthy elite; and sentenced entire populations of indigenous people to a life of alienation, debt slavery and urban poverty.

Amazonas_floating_village,_Iquitos,_Photo_by_Sascha_Grabow

There is no political will among the elites to acknowledge, much less address, the coming collapse that all of this has spawned.   Multinational corporations and banks that control the world economy (and thus the world) would not tolerate a loss in their already over the top profits that would come as a result of any meaningful reform. “The economy must grow” is their unassailable chorus; and their existence, however fleeting, is dependent upon the continued, systematic rape of the natural world.   The wilds be damned.

To be sure, I have no answer to the conundrum of industrial civilization. In addition to being a product of it, I am also a beneficiary of its plunder by virtue of when and where I was born. I have not fled to the last remaining wilderness from where I can pontificate beyond reproach.  I understand how easy it is to become paralyzed by the spectacle of its dazzling, self-destructive decadence. But, by all accounts, it appears to be in its final act with its curtain call being the demise of countless species, including our own.

David McNew AFP Getty Images

In my childhood wildlife seemed to be forever and untouchable. The woods, the meadows and the sea appeared to me to be endless and invincible. I could walk under the canopy of trees and never hear a plane or smell petrol or run across another soul for hours on end. Now that I am grown I see that all of it is as fragile as glass. I am beginning to grasp just how dire the situation really is and, despite the false hope that the environmental movement peddles, there are no viable solutions to address what lies ahead, save the immediate cessation of fossil fuels and of industrial society itself. Indeed, on our current trajectory we appear to be headed for a world more like Venus than the lush, green earth we have been privileged with. But despite all of this, there are still forests unfelled and fields untilled to walk through, and I hope that this realization will cause me to have more reverence for the wilds that are left and time to stand in awe of their sacredness…

before the bulldozers arrive.

Kenn Orphan  2014

(For photo credit and/or source click on photograph.)