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Take a Stand! Escalate!

by Berry Friesen (August 15, 2017)

Three days after the violence in Charlottesville, the drumbeat sounds all around. This morning, my local paper told me to “Take a stand.”  Yesterday, a national church publication told me to escalate my efforts to “resist white supremacy” by becoming “an accomplice” to those shutting down the alt-right.  

Take a stand, escalate; that’s the mantra now.  And I agree with the part about “taking a stand,” as you will see if you stay with me to the end of this essay.  But I’m flat-out opposed to this idea of escalation.  

Think it through.  The alt-right will continue insisting on its constitutionally protected right to assemble and speak.  The ACLU (I am a member, in case you find that relevant) will continue reminding judges that the rule of law supports what the alt-right demands. The alt-right will continue using its permits to stage propagandistic displays of weaponry, fascist regalia, hateful slogans, intimidating behavior and violence.  The resisters will continue depriving the alt-right of their freedom to assemble and speak, using enough violence of their own along the way to force the police to “take a side” and shut everything down.  The media will continue bringing the entire spectacle to us live, inflaming relationships across our society.  

We don’t want this kind of escalation, do we?  I’m asking because it sounds wretched to me.  To anyone getting ready for a replay of Charlottesville, I ask: has anyone thought about where this is going?

Look, racism—white supremacy—was baked into the cake of US society.  We cannot escape it, no matter how we obsess and escalate our opposition.   This doesn’t mean we accept it and acquiesce!  No, we name it and resist its influence each and every time it appears.  And yes, that influence is nearly everywhere.  But it’s not something we can root out and destroy; it’s been baked into the cake.

My point is that resistance to racism requires wisdom as well as courage.  Vestiges of white supremacy can be found most anywhere, yet not everything we see is a vestige of white supremacy.  If we are not wise, our best efforts can destroy things nearly all of us value and want to nurture and grow.

During the ‘60s and ‘70s, the Civil Rights Movement reflected this wisdom.  It taught us that "race" is a lie told by those who find advantage in division and oppression.  There is no such thing as white, brown, black and yellow races.  Those are made-up categories meant to divide and conquer and enable oppression.  We are one species, biologically indistinguishable from one another.  

Following that wisdom, public policy attempted to accomplish three things:  (1) delegitimize the use of “race” as the basis for making decisions; (2) provide remedial compensation in specific instances where “race” was used to make decisions; and (3) avoid any policy or practice that entrenches racism or legitimizes race, racialized conduct or race consciousness in American life.    

It is this last goal that has been abandoned by the generation since the ‘70s.  

The white supremacy baked into the cake of American society has been re-legitimized by the Republican Party in its efforts to win elections.   This goes on yet today in efforts to create new voting eligibility standards, reduce voting convenience and voter access to polling places, and disenfranchise people who have criminal records.

Meanwhile, race-conscious talk and thought has been re-legitimized via left-wing activism, education, entertainment and religion. Practitioners of this approach insist on prefacing every noun with a color adjective.  If “white,” then a negative inference follows; if some other color, then the inference is positive.

Thus, we are not only a society with white supremacy baked in, we now also are a highly racialized society where powerful Republicans cynically manipulate the voting process to benefit “whites” and leading voices of the left promote the lie of “race” as a core and exalted identity.   Though working at apparent cross-purposes, these “leaders” have achieved together a great regression from the aspirations of the Civil Right Movement of the ‘60s and ‘70s.

And guess what:  their cynicism and their racialized discourse have exacerbated the white supremacy baked into our cake. 

Who could have known, right?  I mean, whoever could have imagined that young men living in imperial, oligarchic, debt-ridden America would pick up the racialized mantra of their superiors (teachers, pastors, professionals of every ilk, journalists, entertainment leaders) and put their own spin on it?  Whoever could have imagined a growing segment of such men (and women) would absorb the cynicism of political leaders and laughingly embrace the term “racist” as if it were a virtue, not a badge of shame?  Simply astonishing, isn’t it?  

Sorry for the sarcasm, but I’m trying to make a point here.  I’m asking you to take seriously the possibility that it isn’t just the alt-right to be blamed; lots of other people of much higher social class bear responsibility too.  

Please don’t misunderstand me:  just because white supremacy is baked into the cake does not doom us to racist behavior or racialist discourse.  Healing remedies are available to us.  Simply working together is an effective way for people of different skin colors to devalue white supremacy and the entire lie about race.  People of different colors playing together (sports) or training together (the military) does the same.  So does people of different colors struggling together in congregations and in neighborhood improvement groups.

In contrast, talking about race often hurts as much as it helps because everyrepetition of a lie—even if our intention is to refute the lie—serves to reify the lie, make it real.

So yes, let’s take a stand.  Let’s stand for our common humanity, skin color be damned. 

Let’s stand for our shared interest in becoming a nonimperial people, living on what we produce without pillaging the world and killing people whose lives allegedly aren’t as valuable as ours.  

Let’s stand for an economy of shared prosperity and a life-sustaining environment less dependent on carbon.  

Let’s stand against the deception of race, against the deception that “white” is anything at all but the figment of a demented past, against the lie that our core identities are defined by the color of our skin. 

Let’s stand against this obsession to push the voice of white supremacy underground, out of the public square; we only empower it by giving it such rapt attention. 

Let’s stand for a way forward that has a fighting chance of success.

August Reflections

by Berry Friesen (August 11, 2017)

For many people, August is the least hectic month of the year, a time for vacation get-aways, reading and regaining perspective. Following are three items worthy of some of that precious August time.

1. Why do Democrats keep losing elections?

Conventional political wisdom has long held that demographic and economic trends within the US will gradually shift the political environment toward the left. That is, a more minority-ethnic and more economically stressed electorate will move naturally toward a stance that values a level economic playing field, opposes the market-driven redistribution of wealth and income from the middle to the top, and insists on government restraints on private economic power.

This conventional wisdom has not proved itself to be correct. Apart from contests in which Barack Obama has been a candidate, the candidates endorsed by the more left-leaning of the two major political parties (the Democrats) keep losing elections.

Why is this happening?  As someone who leans strongly left economically (though not socially), I am very interested in this question.

Mark Lilla, a humanities professor at Columbia University, suggests an answer in The Once and Future Liberal: After Identity Politics, the Harper-published book to be released August 15.

Lilla introduces the book in “The Liberal Crack-up,” an op-ed published August 12 by the Wall Street Journal.  Here is Lilla’s premise:

“There can be no liberal politics without a sense of We—of what we are as citizens and what we owe each other. If liberals hope ever to recapture America’s imagination and become a dominant force across the country . . . they must offer a vision of our common destiny based on one thing that all Americans, of every background, share.”

Left-leaning political activists have abandoned an emphasis on “we,” says Lilla, preferring instead to focus on an intensely personal approach that reflects “our highly individualistic bourgeois society—a society that keeps (people) focused on themselves and teaches them that personal choice, individual rights and self-definition are all that is sacred.”

Thus, people who lean left tend to engage politically as members of identity groups--especially race, gender and sexual orientation.  As Lilla describes this stance, “What we think of as political action is in fact nothing but personal activity, an expression of me and how I define myself. As we would put it today, my political life is a reflection of my identity.”

This shift in stance from the encompassing “we” to the self-referential “me” has been catastrophic for the political left.  “The main enemies (are) no longer capitalism and the military-industrial complex; they (are) fellow movement members who (are) not, as we would say today, sufficiently ‘woke’.” Thus, political activism on the left no longer focuses on building a strong Democratic Party and a broad, inclusive agenda for America, but instead on “a wide range of single-issue social movements.”

If you are part of an active identity group, this kind of political activism can be exhilarating and deeply satisfying, even religious.  Yet to the broader public, the agenda is unattractive and off-putting.

Writes Lilla:

“The results of this shift are now plain to see. The classic Democratic goal of bringing people from different backgrounds together for a single common project has given way to a pseudo-politics of self-regard and increasingly narrow and exclusionary self-definition.”

Lilla’s analysis is highly relevant in fields other than politics, especially education and the church.  I expect it will become part of conversations in many venues and I encourage readers to pay attention.

2. Did you hear the latest about ISIS?

The Islamic State (ISIS) is being crushed militarily in Iraq and Syria. It is rapidly losing its territory and its financial base, which has consisted of tax revenue extorted from people within ISIS-held territory and the proceeds from oil and gas sales. Its combat personnel have been devastated with losses inflicted by a coalition of a dozen nation states, including Iraq, Syria, Iran, Russia and many NATO members.

What a relief, right?

Guess what:  ISIS has taken the fight to Asia.  In May it seized control of Marawi, a city of 200,000 in the Philippines.  Government efforts supported by the US military have thus far failed to recapture the city.  Listen to this August 8th NBC video report for a sample of how this story is being reported in the US.  Note particularly this dire warning:

“The danger here is ISIS using this as a springboard into Asia, opening up a totally new battlefield as it loses ground in the Middle East.”

Severe skepticism is required here, dear reader.  ISIS is an irregular military force that emerged out of virtually nothing only 4-5 years ago.  Now, after suffering a string of major defeats and devastating losses, it pops up thousands of miles away ready and able to open “a totally new battlefield” in another part of the world.

As has been said many times here, terrorist groups to do survive for long in today’s world without state support.  This is a maxim of modern life we dare not forget. Thus, we can be certain that ISIS is a proxy force for one or more governments; that’s what enables it to not only survive, but thrive.

Which governments?   Tony Cartalucci’s essay, “Facing Defeat in Syria, ISIS Inexplicably Expands Globally,” provides a helpful overview.  He notes documentation showing support for ISIS from Turkey, Jordan and the Gulf States.  Israel supports ISIS in the part of Syria bordering the Golan Heights, and the US—as leader of the empire—is inextricably involved in ISIS support along with these subordinate members.

So what do you think is most worthwhile?  Freaking out about ISIS’ frightening foothold in Asia?   Or at long last, publicly denouncing US support for proxy terrorists?  This is the question we need to be asking our members of Congress and anyone seeking national office.

3. Is the US about to attack North Korea?

North Korea seems determined to develop the capacity to deliver a devastating nuclear strike against the US, perhaps via a missile attack on Guam.  This is consistent with the lesson learned world-over by observing US actions over the past 15 years vis-à-vis Iraq, Libya and Syria:  to oppose the US-empire without a nuclear-capable arsenal is suicide.

During the Clinton Administration, agreement was achieved on a plan by which the US would end trade sanctions and assist North Korea to develop nuclear energy capacity for purposes of electrical generation.  In return, North Korea would abandon its nuclear weapons program. That agreement was abandoned by the Bush Administration.  Events have moved on since then and such an agreement is no longer possible.

Yet other agreements remain within reach.  In May, 2016, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, speaking to the first Workers’ Party of Korea Congress in 35 years, announced a no-first-use nuclear policy:

“As a responsible nuclear weapons state, our republic will not use a nuclear weapon unless its sovereignty is encroached upon by any aggressive hostile forces with nukes.”

As recently as March, 2017, Chinese media reported North Korea’s offer to de-escalate tensions with the US via a statement of Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi:

“As a first step, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) may suspend its nuclear and missile activities in exchange for the suspension of large-scale U.S.-Republic of Korea (ROK) military exercises”.

There it is:  a specific proposal for resolution of the current crisis. Have you heard about this via the US media?  No, I haven’t either.  On some subjects, one must read the alternative media to get real news.

In short, North Korea’s leadership has been following a rational course of action. We can only hope and pray US leadership is as rational as the Koreans.

Targeting Russia

by Berry Friesen (August 7, 2017)

The new US economic sanctions against Russia are a very big deal because they cement in place a stance of hostility against a nation with enough nuclear weaponry to resist. From here on forward, US intent is clear: destroy Russia’s ability to build a successful society that stands before the world as an alternative to the US-led empire. From here on out, Russia has little choice but to stand ready to defend itself.

Thus, the fate of the world again depends on the reliability of a hair trigger and the countless, split-second judgments of men and women in the nuclear chains-of-command in Russia and the US.

My sympathies clearly are with Russia.  I’m an anti-imperialist; based on what I see in the Bible, I can’t see how I could be anything but an anti-imperialist and still claim to be a faithful follower of Jesus.  So no, I do not support US efforts to dominate the world and destroy all political alternatives, nor do I find its claim to moral superiority to have merit.

Do you?

This US escalation of hostility toward Russia—this declaration of economic war—is another gut-check moment:  will we finally recognize the criminal character of US policy in the world?

True, the enactment of sanctions pales before the horrors we’ve somehow brushed aside previously.  That list of horrors is long.  It includes the US wave of terror unleashed on Hiroshima and Nagasaki 72 years ago this week.  It includes wars that claimed millions of lives against the Korean, Vietnamese, Laotian and Cambodian peoples.   It includes the persistent destabilization of African and Latin American nations.  It includes the wars of aggression against Iraq, Libya, Syria and Yemen.

So what’s the big deal about economic sanctions?

Perhaps I’m making too much of this.  At this point, it isn’t anything comparable to the killing fields just mentioned.  My elevation of this moment to epic status depends entirely on pessimistic projections into the future.  But maybe Russia will quietly accept US dominance. Maybe US policy will evolve in a less aggressive direction when someone less imperialistic than Donald Trump is in office.  Maybe Russia and the US will work things out; after all, that’s what competing nations usually do.

Okay, let’s consider each of those possibilities.

Yes, there is some chance Russia will quietly accept US dominance, re-open its economy to rank Western exploitation and become a vassal state like other European nations have become. That’s how Russia functioned during the first 15-20 years of the post-Communist era, and it’s conceivable Russia will return to that stance again.  After all, its economy is organized along the lines of oligarch-led capitalism, just as the US is. Money and wealth dictate many of Russia’s public policies, just as in the US. Given these similarities, why wouldn’t Russia accept the status of an important vassal state rather than risk annihilation?

However rational that may sound, there is another worldview that values matters of the spirit above all else.  There is little evidence of such a worldview in the West; by-and-large, we have drunk the cool-aid and absorbed the neo-liberal view that “value” is measured in dollars and moral “legitimacy” is measured in military firepower. But in Russia, it seems a spiritual view of life maintains a strong foothold.  By “spiritual” I of course include religious faith, but also an abiding trust in values largely abandoned in the West: culture, loyalty, solidarity, tradition.

From our Western perspective, these are “conservative” values (in a cultural rather than political sense). So what I’m saying might be rephrased this way: Russia is likely to resist US hostility so long as it is led by culturally conservative leaders, men and women who believe there is something in life more important than money and that Russia’s way of being in the world is a treasure, something worth dying for.

The second possibility for a peaceful end to the current hostility doesn’t merit much discussion.  The new sanctions were not driven by President Trump; it was an initiative coming out of Congress.  Every Democratic member of the US House and the US Senate voted for this policy. Every one!  Only four Republicans opposed (three in the House and Rand Paul in the Senate). No, there is no hope on the horizon within the US political system; it fully and enthusiastically supports this escalation.

The third possibility (that the new sanctions are merely part of the routine jousting between competing national states) drops away when contextualized within recent world history.

It was the US who broke the promise made by President George H. W Bush to not move NATO east toward Russia’s borders.  It was the US that withdrew from the ABM treaty with Russia, thereby declaring its intention to neutralize Russia’s ability to deter attack. It was the US that repeatedly interfered in Russia’s elections, most notably 1996 when US agents basically ran the campaign for the inebriated Boris Yeltsen and bought his electoral victory, but in recent years as well. It was the US that enabled al-Qaeda terrorists to foment rebellion and war in Russia’s Muslim populated provinces, especially Chechnya and Dagestan. It was the US that precipitated the current crisis in the Ukraine by organizing a February 2014 coup against the duly-elected government. It was the US that conspired with Saudi Arabia to drop the price of oil and push the Russian economy into depression. It is the US that is installing missile batteries in Poland and Romania targeting Russia. It is the US and its NATO military allies that have positioned thousands of troops on Russia’s borders.

And it is the US that now is committed to using sanctions to destroy Russia’s commercial investments, steal its customers in Europe and ruin the Russian economy.

This is not routine competition; this is war, now endorsed by the entire Democratic membership of Congress and all but one handful of Republicans.

And the only two sources of “evidence” supporting this outright hostility toward Russia are (1) Democratic National Committee computers that have never been examined by a competent public agency and (2) an intelligence assessment compiled by Obama Administration holdovers who hand-picked employees within the CIA, NSA and FBI to do the research and failed to include any specific evidence, only conclusions.

So how exactly is President Putin supposed to “work things out” with the US? If he believes in anything beyond money and military power (and there is ample evidence he does), Putin must resist.  I expect he will resist; every day he does so increases his popularity among the Russian people.

So where do your sympathies lie in this epic struggle? With the empire or with those resisting the empire?
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*  For background reading, see Robert Parry’s “Neocons leverage Trump-hate for more wars” and Bernhard Horstmann’s “New Sanctions Against Russia – A Failure of U.S. Strategy.”  For more on the biblical view of empire, see If Not Empire, What? by John K. Stoner and me.

Google's Censorship

by Berry Friesen (August 2, 2017)

Today’s lead is a report on Internet censorship: how Google’s new initiative to suppress so-called fake news (announced April 25) is impacting your and my access to anti-imperial news reports and perspectives.

The Google change in policy is styled “a technical change” designed to combat

  “the phenomenon of ‘fake news,’ where content on the web has contributed to the spread of blatantly misleading, low quality, offensive or downright false information.”

According to Google’s announcement, it has “improved our evaluation methods and made algorithmic updates to surface more authoritative content.” At another point in its announcement, it explains the change this way:  “We’ve adjusted our signals to help surface more authoritative pages and demote low-quality content.”

Say you want to read the latest about the “civil unrest in Venezuela.”  If you insert the quoted phrase in Google’s search engine, the latest Google innovation will deliver on pages 1-2 of the result only articles that reflect information and perspectives consistent with mainline US media sources. Alternative news sources will be buried deep within the search results.
 
An August 2 report from WSWS reveals the remarkable success of Google’s censorship initiative.

“New data compiled by the World Socialist Web Site (WSWS), with the assistance of other Internet-based news outlets and search technology experts, proves that a massive loss of readership observed by socialist, anti-war and progressive web sites over the past three months has been caused by a cumulative 45 percent decrease in traffic from Google searches.”

According to the report, here are websites that have experienced big declines in traffic; many have been quoted here from time to time in this blog.

* wsws.org fell by 67 percent
* alternet.org fell by 63 percent
* globalresearch.ca fell by 62 percent
* consortiumnews.com fell by 47 percent
* socialistworker.org fell by 47 percent
* mediamatters.org fell by 42 percent
* commondreams.org fell by 37 percent
* internationalviewpoint.org fell by 36 percent
* democracynow.org fell by 36 percent
* wikileaks.org fell by 30 percent
* truth-out.org fell by 25 percent
* counterpunch.org fell by 21 percent
* theintercept.com fell by 19 percent

This alarming impact occurred during the first three month of Googles’ censorship initiative. Additional Google refinements are planned and the impact on alternative news sites will only increase.  Veteran journalist Robert Parry calls this development "the dawn of an Orwellian future."

You and I can protect ourselves from Google’s censorship by going directly to alternative news sites  that are not beholden to corporate or government interests. But the huge part of the population that reads mainly what pops up in the news feed on their browsers or uses Google searches to find helpful content will not be protected.

As I’ve said before, “fake news” is not a new problem; it long has been the way the ruling elite shapes public views.

But it’s even worse than that.  As noted by WSWS,

“the ‘phenomenon of fake news’ is, itself, the principal ‘fake news’ story of 2017. In its origins and propagation, it has all the well-known characteristics of what used to be called CIA ‘misinformation’ campaigns, aimed at discrediting left-wing opponents of state and corporate interests.”

It’s critical that we access alternative news sites for our news and perspectives.  And it’s critical we talk with our neighbors and friends about this so that they also will turn away from the managed news of the corporate media.  This is something we all can do, if only we care enough to try.

One last note: WSWS is a left-wing news outlet and its reporting has highlighted mainly left-leaning sites.  But the data shows right-leaning sites (such as Antiwar.com) also have been hit hard. This isn't a left-right issue; it's about censorship and our access to news alternatives and it affects us all.