Tag Archives: war crimes

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

Justice is a Verb

Children at a Nazi concentration camp. Source National Holocaust Museum.It has always been easy for the powerful and the general public to look back at crimes against humanity in the deep closet of history and feel appalled.  It is easy for politicians to stand before eternal flames bemoaning the Slave Trade or the Holocaust. and feel solidarity and compassion for the victims of some long ago mass murder.  What still eludes most of society, though, is the application of that same outrage for similar crimes being perpetrated right at this moment.

President George W. Bush visiting the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial in Israel. Getty Images.There is a simple reason for the elite’s willful ignorance toward today’s atrocities.  Apathy is a celebrated virtue among the wealthy; and many, if not most, benefit richly from each and every occupation, oppression and act of ethnic cleansing.  In many cases they are even perpetrating these crimes with the use of mercenary armies, proxy states and client dictators.

For the general public it is a bit more nuanced, but not much.  In the West we have been meticulously trained to avert our eyes to current injustices. Distraction in the form of vapid entertainment is ubiquitous, selective outrage is a staple of the mainstream media, and nationalistic hypocrisy is exonerated and sponged from the record every day.

United Nations News Centre - UN unveils permanent memorial to victims of transatlantic slave tradeToday’s oppressed are no different than yesterday’s. They are just as reviled by the powerful, misrepresented by the press, and ignored by society at large. But their plight is no less worthy of justice.  Their suffering does not pack theaters or hackneyed film festivals in Colorado with tear-jerking cinematography and musical scores.  And they have no memorials in Washington on which to lay wreaths.

Instead they themselves pack sinking ships in the Mediterranean and Andaman Seas, or open air prisons and Bantustans in Gaza or the West Bank, or atop lumbering trains heading north in Mexico. They grope desperately in the dark for survival on the margins of empire.

Rohingya refugees stranded on the Andaman Sea. Photo, Christophe Archambault, Getty Images.

8 year old Palestinian boy, Mohammed Ali, arrested at Qalandiya checkpoint by Israeli border police. Photo, Middle-east Monitor.

JUCHITAN, MEXICO - AUGUST 06: Central American immigrants ride north on top of a freight train on August 6, 2013 near Juchitan, Mexico. Thousands of Central American migrants ride the trains, known as 'la bestia', or the beast, during their long and perilous journey through Mexico to reach the U.S. border. Some of the immigrants are robbed and assaulted by gangs who control the train tops, while others fall asleep and tumble down, losing limbs or perishing under the wheels of the trains. Only a fraction of the immigrants who start the journey in Central America will traverse Mexico completely unscathed - and all this before illegally entering the United States and facing the considerable U.S. border security apparatus designed to track, detain and deport them. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

Our solidarity with them should not wait for some Hollywood production after all the graves have been dug.  And we should never take our cue from the powerful as to when it is appropriate to speak out.  Justice is not the dusty, bronze scales that adorn the mantelpieces of the elite.  It is not a trophy.  It is a verb that refuses to rest; and it is always on the side of the oppressed in what ever page of history they may inhabit.

Kenn Orphan 2015

Chaos and Misery, Inc.

A multiple rocket launch system was on display at the Norinco Group pavilion at an international defense exhibition in Abu Dhabi in February. Photo Bloomberg NewsThis week well over 100 civilians were slaughtered in Yemen by a Saudi drone strike while they were attending a wedding.  The massacre is yet one more atrocity piled upon a wretched heap of hypocrisy and hubris.  But it, like the other US supported or orchestrated drone strikes, will undoubtedly disappear from the headlines in a matter of weeks, if not days.

A man displays the bloodied shirt of a child victim at the rubble of houses destroyed by an Saudi air strike in the Okash village near Yemen's capital Source TelesurtvSaudi Arabia, like Israel, is a client state of the American Empire and is vital to its unending, colonial quest for dominance in the Middle-east.  Its atrocities, like Israel, are explained away or not even covered at all by the Western mainstream press. The medieval kingdom of Saud has beheaded nearly 90 people this year alone for “offenses” like witchcraft or blasphemy. It mercilessly persecutes its Shia minority, oppresses women, executes LGBTQ people and tolerates the enslavement of domestic workers from the Philippines. But the US media barely utters a peep (except, perhaps, to occasionally criticize the kingdom’s no driving policy for privileged Saudi women). The atrocities of ISIS, on the other hand, are rarely ever out of Western press coverage.

Saudi swordsmen used for executions. Source Yahoo.Right now, Saudi Arabia is doing to Yemen what Israel did to Gaza last summer. And, as in that case, the barbarity has the unflinching support of the Nobel Peace Prize winner in the White House, and both criminal political parties in the US Senate. As in Gaza, the poor continue to be pulverized by the powerful. And this same elite class will, most assuredly, give themselves awards for this savagery with the uncritical support from a sycophantic, apathetic corporate owned media.

The destruction of Yemen. Photo by Hani Mohammed AP.Yemen, like Cambodia or Chile or Honduras or Somalia or Libya or Ukraine will be easily forgotten by the ruling elite.  And the West will wash the entire narrative of its culpability.  It must, after all, if it intends to continue its rampage.  All battlefields have become testing grounds for their latest products. And the most lucrative industry of the American Empire is arms dealing.  It is Chaos and Misery, Inc. and you can be sure they will not give that up without a fight. 

Militarized police forces in Ferguson, Missouri. Source Reuters.But as we look at Yemen or Gaza dispassionately, we would be foolish to not take a closer look at ourselves.  The Empire is beginning to crack as our living earth groans under its insipid and insatiable corpulence.  And as it does we can expect the power class to treat the vast majority of us much like those in these ever besieged nations: as valuable when we can furnish them with wealth, and easily disposable if we refuse.

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

American Sniper and the Despicable Art of Propaganda

la–et–0909–clint–eastwoo

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

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

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

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

Kenn Orphan  2015

Bearing Witness

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

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

Jonathon Blair - Copy

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

Great Hammerhead in Bimini Bahamas Photo by Laura Rock

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

I Shop Therefore I Am

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

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

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

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

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

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

cows at a factory farm

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

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

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

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

sea turtle

(photo: Getty Images)

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

Kenn Orphan  2014

Looking South

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Another account was from a survivor:

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

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

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

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

Mayan mother and child, Guatemala

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

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

Kenn Orphan   2014

An Absurd Joke

Khuzaa Gaza ruinsIn the age of social media images and videos are accessible to virtually anyone anywhere on the planet instantaneously.  This has made it increasingly difficult for brutal regimes to hide their crimes.  We see this in Aleppo, Syria and Donetsk, Ukraine; and we see this in Gaza today. One of the prevailing justifications given for Israel’s murderous assault on the captive population of Gaza has been self-defense.  But this photograph shatters that story like glass.

Israel’s continued narrative of perpetual victim is beginning to fray.  It was an implausible notion to begin with given that it enjoys lavish support from one of the most powerful nations on the planet.  Nevertheless, the hawks of war continue to play this worn out old record.  It is all they have left in their tattered bag of moral excuses.

PALESTINIAN-ISRAEL-CONFLICT-GAZA

It is the oft repeated tale of empire. Empathy is not afforded to the uprooted indigenous and the ethnically cleansed.   They are stripped of their humanity and categorized as a “demographic problem.”  Any resistance, even if it is non-violent, is painted as terrorism.  And any characteristic that shows them as a caring parent, or a child full of wonder, or a young couple in love, is ignored or marginalized.  The colonial settler, prodded on by the empire, is cast as a victim against savages.

Gaza City Photo AFP

But as daybreak casts its light on the pulverized remains of an oppressed and brutalized people, the excuses are being exposed for the shameless lies that they are.  The ruins of Gaza attest to the farce of self-defense.  From the bombed out hospitals and universities to the graves of children who were executed for committing the crime of playing football on a beach, the jingoistic infused rhetoric of the powerful is more and more sounding like an absurd joke.  Only no one with a conscience is laughing.

Kenn Orphan  2014

(photo: Khuzaa, Gaza/AP)

The Value of Life in the American Empire

US soldier in AfghanistanThe American press coverage of the killing of  Maj. Gen. Harold J. Greene in Afghanistan yesterday is telling, not in what it says but what it leaves out.  Greene was a military man who in 30 years in the army never saw real combat until he was assigned to Afghanistan this year.  His death is a consequence of America’s imperialistic wars; but the fact that he was not in one of those wars until this year speaks volumes about the very nature of the military and the measure of worth given to human beings.

Governments are great at giving out medals to soldiers who kill on their behalf.  Even though they may indeed be brave, the soldier is necessary to carry out the nefarious and coldblooded schemes of the wealthy and the powerful.  The old term “cannon fodder” was coined to describe foot soldiers who were sent off to certain death by elitist military generals and monarchs on fields throughout Europe.  Facing the cannons with little to no shielding, these soldiers were used up in droves like tissue paper in order to advance the dominance of one aristocrat over another or to exploit the coveted resources of another people’s land.  The setting and weaponry may have changed, but the context is exactly the same.

In every military exploit ever taken there is invariably a set of powerful players who stand to profit greatly from the death and destruction.  They have never seen a battlefield outside of charts and figures, and their children are carefully spirited away to exclusive schools that shield them from the indignity of getting common blood on their couture clothes.  They are masters at sending poor and working class people to war, after all there is a lot of money to be made by arms manufacturers and contractors. But when it comes to dealing with the inevitable results, PTSD, death, dismemberment, disability, disfigurement and economic inequality, they treat veterans as all bloated empires do; expendable, to be used and forgotten.

There is a reason that the pawn in the militaristic game of chess is the most disposable piece.  There is a reason they are generally featureless and devoid of any differentiating characteristics.  And there is a reason they are called pawns: “a chess piece of the smallest size and value” or “a person used by others for their own purposes.”  It is therefore useful to remember that wars are never started by ordinary people, but it is always ordinary people who fight, suffer and die in them.  And with every new war there will always be a handful of death merchants and profiteers awaiting their share at the end.

No one but the callous would demean the death of Harold J. Greene.  To be sure our humanity demands we respect all human beings and their inherent worth.  And it would be unfair to paint him as one of the profiteers of this war.  But the coverage of his life and death should cause us to question and reject the reprehensible manner in which life is assigned greater or lesser value by the American empire.

Kenn Orphan  2014

(photo: American soldiers carry the body of one of their fallen, Afghanistan/AP)