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Celebrating Syria

by Berry Friesen (August 31 , 2017)

We anti-imperialists don’t often have cause for cheer.  These days we have one.

Against all odds, Syria has beat back a 6-year assault by the US-led empire and its proxy Salafist militias. Syria’s future as an independent, self-governing, secular nation is no longer in doubt. It will remain a place where Muslims and Christians of all kinds live together in peace.

So say a prayer of thanks to your god today (as I have to mine) for saving Syria—its people, its government and its leader, Bashar al-Assad.  And promise yourself to learn more about the remarkable people of Syria, who confounded the entire world by hanging together across lines of tribe, ethnicity, class and religion through years of horrible violence, excruciating pressure and overwhelming odds.

For a thumbnail history of the war, see here.

All ISIS forces have been defeated and removed from the western regions along the border with Lebanon and from the suburbs east of Damascus. Al-Qaeda-led mercenaries in Idlib (the northwest province of Syria) are encircled and effectively confined. ISIS-led mercenaries in central Syria—just north of Palmyra—are similarly surrounded and contained. Along the Iraqi border—west of the Euphrates River—the Syrian Army is closing in on ISIS forces making a last stand near Dier es Zor.

No, Syria has not yet recovered all of its territory.  Kurds supported by the US hold a broad slice of land across northern Syria and along the border with Turkey. Salafist forces (yes, including al-Qaeda and ISIS fighters) working with Israel continue to hold territory along the Israel-occupied Golan Heights.  For a map, see here.

And yes, Syria is heavily obligated to two nations—Russia and Iran—and one Lebanese militia—Hezbollah; without their help, Syria would be shattered, chaotic  and ruled by Salafist extremists, much as Libya is today.  Instead, earlier this month, Damascus hosted an international trade fair and exhibition that attracted delegations and visitors from around the world.

Since 9/11—that day when we Americans took leave of our senses and began to inhabit a delusional world in which a few men with box cutters could cause US air defenses to stand down and steel-framed towers to crumble—we have had continuous war: Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Yemen. We have not learned as much as we should have from these disasters.

But in Syria, startling realities became too obvious to miss. Here are a half-dozen.

1.  Good leadership makes a difference.  Bashar al-Assad is the case in point. Faced with the overwhelming force and violence of the empire, he laid his life on the line and stayed put, rallying his people to defend their country.  His policies actually became more liberal as the scope of the threat to Syria came into focus.  Read this analysis by Thierry Meyssan (end of the long article) for more.

2. In Syria, the US-led empire and terror groups like al-Qaeda and ISIS functioned as a team; they shared a common purpose and a common strategy. Junior members of the empire (Turkey, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Jordan) enabled the funding and logistical support for the terrorists; the CIA arranged for the weapons deliveries and training (see here and here); NATO members provided the air support, satellite intelligence and battlefield communications. Al-Qaeda and ISIS did the head-chopping. It was a team effort, all the way down.

3.  The mainstream, corporate media do not tell us the truth about these imperial wars. For all practical purposes (as Caitlin Johnstone puts it) “the corporate media is state media.” Regarding foreign events, the corporate media publish government propaganda. Thus, it dependably gives us a supply of images and stories about the brutality of the intended victim (Syria in this case). Occasionally those images and stories will be true, but most often they will be manufactured by so-called humanitarian groups (like the White Helmets) or fabricated via false flags (like the Ghouta gas attack in 2013).

4.  The US-led empire does not want to control targeted nations; it wants to destroy them as functioning, integrated, successful states.  In Syria, the empire never had a plan to replace President Assad with someone more humane or more skillful in governance. The empire simply wanted Syria to cease to exist as an opponent of Israel; as a moderately successful, non-sectarian alternative to the Salafist autocracies of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States; and as a roadblock to Western energy companies.  For the empire, chaos is victory. It can always hire private security agencies to guard private US assets like oil production facilities.

5.  Both the Democrats and the Republicans are enthusiastic war parties. If we had to choose one as worse than the other in this regard, it would be the Democrats because they are so skillful at masking US aggression with humanitarian rhetoric.

6.  The US peace movement is fragmented and compromised by identity politics, an infatuation with globalism and slavish loyalty to the Democratic Party. If a Democrat is in the White House, the US peace movement falls silent (as it did regarding President Obama’s war on Syria). It only raises its voice when a Republican goes to war.

If we’ve really learned these lessons from Syria’s travail, we’ll never be the same. We’ve glimpsed how treacherous and brutal the empire is, and we’ll never think of it as a positive force in the world again.

One more thing:  today, if you get a chance, tell your friends and neighbors how happy you are that Syria has survived the assault by the US and its terrorist proxies.  When you get a quizzical look, remind folks that ISIS, al-Qaeda and the US all worked together in the terrible war on Syria.

Never forget.
*  Published this morning just after I posted is this excellent essay, "Homage to Syria," by Aidan O'Brien; its analysis of liberal Westerners who stand in judgment of Syria's effort to defend itself and its cultural heritage cuts to the quick.  I highly recommend it.

The Color of Empire?

by Berry Friesen (August 28, 2017)

If you read this blog regularly, you know I am critical of the ever-expanding practice of racializing public dialogue and debate. By “racialize” I mean the practice of assigning a color (black, brown, white, etc.) to perspectives, points-of-view and diaolgue participants, thereby signaling how seriously to take whatever is being offered.

It’s not that color is irrelevant, either in life’s outcomes or in regard to points-of-view. Nor do I think we should pretend to be “colorblind.”

Our history in the US clearly documents how the so-called "white race" invented 350 years ago by Anglo-American plantation owners has used skin color to justify a comprehensive system of oppression and violence against people of color. This "invention" continues to shape our society today, creating risks, hurdles and disadvantages for "black" and "brown" peoples that "whites" never encounter. Today, it rarely appears in its original form--blatent color-based discrimination--but persists in the myriad ways in which the effects of race-based discrimination have become naturalized (and thus masked) in the social and economic structures of American life.

Yet the colorization of our discourse has had truly pernicious effects we dare not ignore. Here are three of the worst:  (a) group-think, which lowers the quality of dialog and decision-making; (b) the reification of “race” as a thing, which entrenches racism; and (c) the setting of people against one another, thus alienating people who share identities of faith, community and class.

So why am I blogging about "the color of empire?"

For starters, to call the empire “white” would attract attention—much more attention than the topic receives without the adjective. And by speaking of “the white empire,” we easily could proceed to call the empire “racist.” That simple rhetorical move would put “empire” on the agenda of many who ignore it now. Perhaps we’d soon be able to build the first strong anti-imperialist movement since the days of Mark Twain.

And it wouldn’t be that hard to make the case that the empire is "white." Look at the skin color of the empire’s victims:  mostly brown.  Look at the skin color of its beneficiaries: mostly white.

What do you think?  To reveal the dynamics of empire, do we need to colorize it?

Ajamu Baraka, co-founder of the Black Alliance for Peace, 2016 vice-presidential nominee of the Green Party, and long-time global human rights campaigner, provides an example of an anti-imperialist who sees racial dynamics at work in the actions and policies of the US-led empire. Baraka is a coalition builder who reaches out widely seeking allies and collaborators. Because of our high regard for his approach and message, John Stoner and I arranged for him to speak at the recent Mennonite Church USA convention in Orlando, Florida.

So let’s consider excerpts from one of Baraka's recent essays, “The Story of Charlottesville was Written in Blood in the Ukraine,” published by

“What is the character of racist right-wing politics today? Is it the crazed white supremacist who plows into an anti-fascist demonstration in Charlottesville, VA or can it also be the assurance by Lindsay Graham that an attack against North Korea would result in thousands of lives lost…. but those lives will be ‘over there’? 

“What about the recent unanimous resolution by both houses of Congress in support of Israel and criticism of the United Nations for its alleged anti-Israeli bias? Would that qualify as racist and right-wing, since it appears that the ongoing suffering of the Palestinians is of no concern? 

“And what about the vote by the U.S. House of Representatives to go even beyond the obscene proposal of the Trump administration to increase the military budget by $54 billion dollars and instead add a whopping $74 billion to the Pentagon budget?

“What I find interesting about the current discussion around what many are referring to as the emboldening of the radical white supremacist right is how easy it is to mobilize opposition against the crude and overt white supremacists we saw in Charlottesville. So easy, in fact, that it’s really a distraction from the more difficult and dangerous work that needs to be done to confront the real right-wing power brokers.

“The white supremacy that some of us see as more insidious is not reflected in the simple, stereotypical images of the angry, Nazi-saluting alt-righter or even Donald Trump. Instead, it is the normalized and thus invisible white supremacist ideology inculcated into cultural and educational institutions and the policies that stem from those ideas."

Baraka never uses the word “empire” in his essay, but it’s very clear he is writing about imperial behavior—such as “regime change” operations in other nations. His case in point is Ukraine, where the Obama Administration

“manipulated right-wing elements in Ukraine to overthrow the democratically elected government of Viktor Yanukovych. Not only was it dangerous and predictably disastrous for the Ukrainian people, but because U.S. support for a neo-fascist movement in Ukraine took place within a context in which the political right was gaining legitimacy and strength across Europe, the political impact of the right gaining power in Ukraine could not be isolated from the growing power of the right elsewhere.”

Liberals and the left both in the US and in Europe generally supported Obama’s Ukraine policies, says Baraka; they failed to realize that “playing footsie” with neo-fascists in Ukraine might indirectly empower neo-fascists elsewhere who are struggling to cope with “the contradictions of neoliberal capitalist globalization.”

Bringing the discussion back to Charlottesville, Baraka nails the point:

“The alt-right that showed up in Charlottesville this past weekend was mimicking the tactics of the frontline neo-fascist soldiers who orchestrated the coup in the Ukraine, yet everyone is saying this is a result of Trump. The objective fact is that the U.S. has become a dangerous right-wing society as a result of a steady shift to the right over the past four decades. The idea that Trump’s election somehow ‘created’ the right cannot be taken seriously . . .”

Of course, if we’re color-coding our analysis, we quickly note that Ukraine was “white” nation before the February, 2014 coup and it was “white” after the coup. So it couldn’t have been "white supremacy" alone that animated US policy in fomenting a coup against the elected Ukrainian government, right?

Certainly Baraka recognizes that factors beyond skin color drive imperialist policies. As I read him, he's trying to understand a more subtle reality: our apparent naiveté as Americans, our bottomless capacity to look past the horrid consequences of US-led violence and imperialism and nonchalantly assume the empire’s policies benefit everyone. What is the root of this clueless arrogance, this sense of unbridled entitlement?

“Trump and the alt-right have become useful diversions for white supremacist liberals and leftists who would rather fight against those superficial caricatures of racism than engage in more difficult ideological work involving real self-sacrifice—purging themselves of all racial sentimentality associated with the mythology of the place of white people, white civilization and whiteness in the world in order to pursue a course for justice that will result in the loss of white material privilege.”

By "racial sentimentality" I understand Baraka to be speaking about the widely held assumption that we Americans are an exceptional people, blessed with the indispensable ability to bring stability, peace and prosperity to the world. Certainly this assumption has been repeated often by US leaders in recent years. Might it function (among liberals and conservatives alike) to justify behavior that is obviously brutal and morally corrupt? Doesn't it suggest a right to rule those who are less capable?

Reflect for a moment on the security enjoyed by the US. No hostile nation sits on US borders.  Two oceans protect against invasion.  Overwhelming military capacity deters attack. Next, consider for a moment the devastation the US-led empire has visited upon Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Ukraine and Yemen in recent years.

How deeply does this schizophrenia--a secure nation engaging in relentless, manic violence--trouble the American people?  Not very much, right? Why not? Aren't we a sane and moral people?

Sure, simple greed explains most imperial behavior. But we humans are social and spiritual beings, even when we are greedy.  We are never content in our greed; it must be rationalized and legitimized in terms of the good of all people, even the victims. This seems to be where Baraka's diagnosis of "white supremacy" fills in the picture; it explains how we justify what is otherwise unjustifiable.

I need more time with this.  The rhetoric of color is divisive. It blocks the formation of coalitions based on common values and aspirations and it plays into the divide-and-conquer tactics of the empire. It suits as a cry of frustration, but not as a constructve way forward. Yet it explains our nonchalance about imperialism better than anything else I’ve come up with. Maybe we should begin to add a bit of "color" into our discussions of empire.

What do you think? Read Ajamu Baraka's entire essay and then share your thoughts.

Unspeakable Truth

by Berry Friesen (August 24, 2017)

Earlier this week (August 21), President Trump told the American people that it is necessary for the military occupation of Afghanistan to continue.

The President’s announcement was a bitter disappointment for those who had supported him because of his criticism of the interventionism of presidents Bush and Obama. Not only did Trump betray his promise to end US participation in that war, he justified the extension of the war with the same sort of platitudinous Washington-speak that a president Clinton would have used.

So while broad swaths of United States deteriorate and fall into decline, $50 billion in US taxpayer funds needed here will continue to be wasted annually in Afghanistan (in addition to the $1 trillion aready spent in direct appropriations).

How does the empire rationalize this extension of an unpopular and expensive war into a 17th year? It doubles-down on the 9/11 deception—the claim that those terror attacks were hatched, planned and carried out by Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan. It cranks up the media reports about how ISIS is becoming active and strong in Afghanistan.  It boasts of the empire’s commitment to gender equality and expresses anguish over the Taliban’s misogynistic policies.

Yet we do understand what’s going on, don’t we? The US-led empire regards Afghanistan as essential real estate in order to block China’s $900 billion plan to open a westward overland trade route that stretches through Myanmar, Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, Turkey all the way to Europe and western Russia.*  Located as it is on the eastern border of Iran, Afghanistan also is essential to the empire’s efforts to destabilize Iran’s current government and bring that independent nation into the empire’s grasp.

Location, location, location; it’s the great imperial chess game.

What none of our “leaders” will admit is that the empire has no intention of ever leaving Afghanistan.  It needs Afghanistan to be a broken and compliant state, a staging ground for imperial forces and the base for covert operations against nations who insist on independence. For that to happen, Afghanistan must remain unstable and chaotic, a place of unending war, suffering and sorrow.

This ugly truth is only the beginning of the rot we find when we start digging. Then we uncover the fact that the Afghan warlords are treating the war as a racket, manipulating the conflict so that a decisive result is never achieved and the empire’s money keeps on flowing. US arms manufacturers are greasing the wheels of war, knowing full well that their prosperity depends on the extension of the occupation. The Afghan government is helping ISIS get established. Then there is the vanity of a generation of military officers who earned their stripes in Afghanistan. They much prefer an extension of the war to a US departure as losers.

So the killing must continue. Too many of the key players are heavily invested in the war.

What to expect under Trump’s new plan?  A few thousand more troops, but mostly the war increasingly will become privatized via contractors who bring in mercenaries to do the training and the dirty work. Increasingly, we can expect the CIA to be in charge, thus making the entire operation covert and out of public view.  The funding will be provided by taxpayers and via borrowing. An off-the-books bonus will come from the CIA’s share of Afghanistan’s opium production, which is at record levels. **

Erik Prince, founder of Blackwater and currently head of Frontier Services Group, favors a longer and more thoroughly privatized war effort. His company is already running a private army for the United Arab Emirates and could just as well do it for the empire in Afghanistan as well. There would be a kind of poetic justice in such an arrangement. When the US invaded Afghanistan in 2001 and drove the Taliban out of power, the private Afghan warlords were the primary local beneficiaries. So why not arrange for a private US warlord to get a piece of the action too?  Prince’s company is located in Dubai, but maybe some of the loot would trickle back to the US via Prince’s family channels; after all, his sister is now the US Secretary of Education.

Where does all of this leave us?  Well, that depends on what we value. We have another reason to dislike President Trump if we need one.  We have another reason to bet on a bullish stock market if that’s where our heart lies.  If we’re more worried about China than the empire, then the President’s “decision” may cause us to relax just a bit.  If we’re learning to become anti-imperialists, we’ve just experienced a valuable lesson about how the empire operates.

Most of us are aware of Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Emperor’s New Clothes.” It tells the story of two weavers who dress the emperor in a stunning outfit that is invisible to anyone who is incompetent, stupid or otherwise unfit for his/her position.

Often the story is told to mock leaders who are so caught up in vanity and hubris that they are unable to recognize what is obvious to most everyone else. Yet the story also is aimed at a broader audience: the ass-kissers who tell leaders what they want to hear and commoners like us who go along with deception because we want to get along in life. We all willingly submit to the “necessity” of pretense. Only a guileless child voices the unspeakable truth: “The emperor is naked!”

“A little child shall lead them” said the prophet Isaiah (11:6). We need such children today—no matter their age— voicing what we are too afraid to say: “The empire is malignant, leaving death and decay in its wake.”
* For background reading about China’s plan for a new Silk Road—also known as the Belt and Road Initiative—see the writings of journalist Pepe Escobar, including his latest here.

** Remember the controversy around US support of the Nicaraguan Contras of the ‘80s? Congress said “no” to aid to the Contras, but the Reagan Administration found a way, first through illegal arms sales to Iran and then through illegal CIA facilitation of a collaboration between the Contras and drug traffickers running cocaine into the US. It was an off-the-books covert operation—illegal as could be—and the kind of thing the CIA continues to do all across the world, but especially in Afghanistan. For an engaging overview of the CIA's involvement in the drug trade, see Alfred W. McCoy's very personal account of his research into this dark side of  American history, published August 24 by For a short account of how Afghan opium production accelerated after the US occupation of Afghanistan in 2001, see Mnar Muhawesh's article in

Me Against the World

by Berry Friesen (August 21, 2017)

Greater empathy for Trump supporters isn't high on your priority list, I know. Yet here I am--writing in the wake of Charlottesville--with yet another post trying to understand Trump supporters. True, it would be easier to  "judge" them with some pejorative term, but "easier" is not the point; building an anti-imperialist movement is the point.  

Today, I’ll venture into social psychology to highlight a factor that contributes to Trump's support: widespread American anxiety about rapid social change.

Zigmunt Bauman, a Polish-born sociologist, coined the phrase “liquid modernity” to describe our frenetic, constantly changing world.  Many intellectuals say we are living in a “post-modern” world, but Bauman insists it is more accurate to say we live in a hyper-modern era.  Wikipedia describes Bauman’s view of “liquid modernity” this way:

“It is a kind of chaotic continuation of modernity, where a person can shift from one social position to another in a fluid manner. Nomadism becomes a general trait of the 'liquid modern' man as he flows through his own life like a tourist, changing places, jobs, spouses, values and sometimes more—such as political or sexual orientation—excluding himself from traditional networks of support, while also freeing himself from the restrictions or requirements those networks impose.

“Bauman stresses the new burden of responsibility that fluid modernism places on the individual—traditional patterns (are) replaced by self-chosen ones.  Entry into the globalized society (is) open to anyone with their own stance and the ability to fund it . . . The result is a normative mindset with emphasis on shifting rather than on staying—on provisional in lieu of permanent (or 'solid') commitment—which (the new style) can lead a person astray towards a prison of their own existential creation.” 

Applying Bauman’s ideas to national political scene, we might reasonably say that the anxiety of constant change is part of what causes people to respond positively to a leader who will slow things down and demonstrate firm commitment to familiar themes.

Let’s step back a bit and consider this question: in our journeys through life, how does authority function for us?  What legitimizes authority, thereby prompting us to follow where it leads?

One way to visualize the thought process this entails is to imagine a horizontal plane that narrows sharply at each of two ends.  At one end stands the solitary individual; at the other, the empire. We could think of this tableau as a representation of our life-long process of negotiating life.

The empire’s authority rests on its violence and power, which it holds to such an overwhelming degree that it seems absurd to place an individual (me) on the same plane.  Nevertheless, we all live together in the same time and space, so cope we must.

In the pre-modern worldview (and to a lesser degree in the modern worldview), many collective structures—most human, some mythic, some ideological—stand between the empire and us individuals, helping us cope.  Each structure is durable and resilient; each claims to be a moral authority, available to guide us through the journey of life and buffer us from forces that could easily overwhelm. To the extent that I embrace an authority, it provides content, direction and meaning to my life and a degree of collective strength as well.

We can quickly list some of the authorities available to us:

Kinship (parents, siblings and cousins, clan, ancestors)
Religious (sacred texts, creeds, clergy, congregations, moral codes, hierarchies)
Educational (schools, teachers, academic disciplines and methods)
Vocational (businesses, apprenticeships, guilds, professions, labor unions)
Associational (neighborhoods, civic organizations, recreation, clubs)
Experiential (ethnicity, military service, travel, accomplishment or loss)
Public (governments, lawmakers, law enforcement, judges, military service)

Typically, these authorities are structured (institutionalized) in some visible way.  A healthy society has many of them.  Alexis de Tocqueville, the French observer of US society, spoke with great admiration of the plethora of such “mediating institutions” in 19th century America.  He also said America would survive as a democracy only if those structures continued to thrive.

So here is the problem: "liquid modernity" is undermining the authority of mediating structures. For some of us, this assertion may require much more discussion, but for most, I assume it can be stated as a bald fact: we no longer easily accept the authority of mediating structures to tell us how to live.

For sake of brevity, we can list a few of the huge changes within our world that have made it increasingly easy to ignore and avoid authority structures, either because we prefer to be autonomous or because we have concluded these structures no longer deserve our respect.

Easy geographic mobility
Instant worldwide communications
The inherently destructive and insatiably greedy nature of capitalism
Global liquidity of capital 
Mass media and entertainment
Elevation of diversity and multiculturalism as leading values
Scandals, corruption, malfeasance

Generally, we don’t associate these factors with a political party, so these factors are not likely to drive our electoral choices.

But there is an additional factor—one highly corrosive to mediating institutions—that is strongly associated with liberalism, higher education and the Democrats.  This is the post-‘60s educational and intellectual emphasis on the primacy of the individual and the consequent necessity to deconstruct social authority structures that restrict individual autonomy.

Generally, such deconstruction projects proceed by (a) analyzing the dynamics of power within structures of authority, (b) demonstrating how those power dynamics favor some people at the expense of others, and (c) stigmatizing those dynamics as unjust and immoral.  Generally, these stigmas are portrayed as forms of bigotry:  sexism, racism, heterosexism, transphobism, nativism, sectarianism, etc.

These deconstruction projects have been easy wins for liberals because evidence justifying claims of "bigotry" is not hard to find. Even a nuclear family without “unjust” power dynamics is almost unimaginable. Thus, liberalism has become associated in the popular mind with (a) the discrediting of mediating structures and their claims of authority over us; and (b) exalting each individual's heroic quest to fashion an identity, discover purpose and forge a meaningul life.

Philosopher Charles Taylor describes the liberal point-of-view this way:

“Everyone has a right to develop their own form of life, grounded on their own sense of what is really important or of value.  People are called upon to be true to themselves and to seek their own fulfillment.  What this consists of, each must in the last instance, determine for him-or-herself.  No one else can or should try to dictate its content.” *

In my view, the anxiety triggered by this worldview is a factor in people turning away from the Democrats and toward the obviously unqualified Donald Trump.

If we assume this is correct, what does it suggest for the future?

First, to recognize why it’s getting more and more difficult to vote for liberals (something I’ve usually done throughout my life).

Second, to admit that "liquid modernity" is flat-out scary, leaving us isolated and alone against the empire.  I’d like some of those social supports back, even at the price of giving up some of my vaunted autonomy and independence.

Third, to ask:  do the people deconstructing our mediating institutions bear any responsibility for the consequences of endless deconstruction?  Are they really foolish enough to imagine we will manufacture righteous substitutes out of whole cloth? Or that we can survive, naked against the empire?
*  The Ethics of Authenticity (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1992).

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?
*  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.

* fell by 67 percent
* fell by 63 percent
* fell by 62 percent
* fell by 47 percent
* fell by 47 percent
* fell by 42 percent
* fell by 37 percent
* fell by 36 percent
* fell by 36 percent
* fell by 30 percent
* fell by 25 percent
* fell by 21 percent
* 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 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.