Et Tu Trump?

by Berry Friesen (January 31, 2017)

We want to ensure that we are not admitting into our country 
the very threats our soldiers are fighting overseas.” 
President Donald Trump, January 27, 2017

None of us would fault a policeman living in a dangerous neighborhood for locking the doors to his house before going to sleep at night, right?

President Trump’s executive order on immigration begins to spell it out:  “Deteriorating conditions in certain countries due to war, strife, disaster, and civil unrest increase the likelihood that terrorists will use any means possible to enter the United States.”  The President’s comments at the Pentagon signing ceremony provide more specificity:  “I am establishing new vetting measures to keep radical Islamic terrorists out of the United States of America."

So why are so many of us upset by President Trump’s immigration executive order?

For starters, it was rushed in its preparation, inadequately vetted, and utterly botched in its implementation.  Chaos and totally unnecessary human suffering followed.

Problem No. 2 is the overbroad reach of the executive order.  Green card holders have completed a second review process to demonstrate their suitability for permanent residence status in the US.  Visa-holders have already been through State Department screening procedures.  If a particular consulate is insufficiently rigorous, then fix it, don’t impose a draconian and disruptive order on the entire system.

Refugees sponsored by accredited resettlement agencies have already demonstrated their willingness to adopt American values and norms. The effectiveness of this screening method is documented by a report in The Atlantic: “Over the last four decades, 20 out of 3.25 million refugees welcomed to the United States have been convicted of attempting or committing terrorism on U.S. soil, and only three Americans have been killed in attacks committed by refugees—all by Cuban refugees in the 1970s.” A report from Politifact fills out the picture, identifying only three additional non-lethal acts of apparent terrorism by refugees since 9/11.

Applying this to my opening example, we would fault a policeman for refusing to unlock the door to his home when friendly visitors and neighbors came to visit.  In other words, we expect vigilance to be tempered by a measure of hospitality and good judgment.

Problem No. 3 is the apparent intent of President Trump to discriminate against Muslims in the administration of immigration policy vis-a-vis these seven Muslim-majority nations. In 2016, as reported by Consortiumnews.com, the US "admitted nearly as many Christian refugees (37,521) as Muslims (38,901), even though Muslims constitute a significantly higher proportion of people suffering from, and fleeing from, war and violence in the Middle East."  Yet Trump has said he wants admissions to bend even more toward persons of the Christian faith.

Problem No. 4 is the one people are not talking about.  It can be provocatively framed by the question:  what if the homeowner locking his door isn’t a policeman, but a powerful criminal?  You know, someone conspiring to seize control of  the governments of seven countries?  In such a case, complaining about the criminal's inhospitality would be self-indulgent virtue-signaling, serving only to distract us from a far more serious problem.

This problem is illustrated by Iraq, where the “deteriorating conditions” and the “radical Islamic terrorists” arrived only after the US soldiers invaded and occupied the country in 2003.

In Libya, early in 2011 the government of President Qaddafi was in the process of rooting out the radical Islamic terrorists, but then NATO forces (including the US) supported the terrorists by attacking the Libyan army.  This enabled the terrorists to overthrow the government and take control of the country.

Syria also had homegrown radical Islamic terrorists (the Muslim Brotherhood).  And as in Libya, the US and its allies sent money and soldiers to support and train those terrorists in their attempt to overthrow the Syrian government.  When the government did not quickly fall, the US and its allies sent more money and more support so that al-Qaeda and ISIL could join the fight and create those “deteriorating conditions” that now cause such alarm.

In Yemen, the deteriorating conditions (children are starving to death) were caused by an invasion from Saudi Arabia using weapons provided by the US and European suppliers and logistics provided by the US and its NATO partners.

These four examples reveal the double game the US has been playing with “radical Islamic terrorists” for a long time already:  using them overseas to do the empire’s dirty work, then using them here at home to frighten the American people and endlessly enrich private contractors linked to the Pentagon and/or so-called security agencies.

Another way to illustrate Problem No. 4 is to consider Saudi Arabia and the other five members of the Gulf Cooperation Council.  It is widely and officially recognized (see here and here and here and here and here) that money from these six super-rich states funds most of the radical Islamic terrorism in the world.  Certainly this includes terrorism fomented within Iraq, Libya, Syria and Yemen. There is strong evidence it included support for the men alleged to having committed the 9/11 attacks in the US. And it probably includes the terrorism of al-Shabaab in East Africa and Boko Haram in West Africa.

So why are Saudi Arabia and other terrorism-supporting states left out of President Trump’s executive order?  Why is Iran—an enemy of those terrorism-supporting states—included?  And why is President Trump following the footsteps of his predecessors in playing this double game with terrorism?

Believe me, I find no solace in the thought that even the bold and brash Donald Trump is falling in line with the cruel policies of presidents Obama and Bush.  I have entertained high hopes that this new administration will pursue a different foreign policy, especially in light of its apparent decision to stop supporting al-Qaeda and ISIL in Syria.

But now we have Trump’s executive order replaying the old, scary game.  Toward that end, over this past weekend Trump ordered an attack on a family compound in Yemen that reportedly resulted in the deaths of 30 people, including 10 women and children. One of the dead children is 8-year-old Nawar Anwar al-Awlaki, a US citizen. (Feb. 3 update:  Subsequent reports put the overall death toll at 57, including at least 15 women and children.)

My point is this:  within the US government is the engine of terrorism that most threatens us. It coordinates a global network to fund, train, equip, inform and deploy radical Islamic groups with violent aims.  It also attacks those groups on occasion and then uses the retaliatory threats of those groups to scare us here in the US.

This is what being an empire—the world’s indispensable nation—has given us.

Primarily, I’m not talking here of blow-back—the unavoidable way violence over there creates ripples of violence back here.  There are cases like that, such as Pakistani-born/US citizen Faisal Shahzad’s 2010 attempt to bomb Times Square because, as Shahzad told the sentencing court, “The drone hits in Afghanistan and Iraq, they don't see children, they don't see anybody. They kill women, children, they kill everybody” (reported by Glenn Greenwald).

Instead, I’m objecting to our government’s deliberate double game—supporting terrorists overseas, then hyping the threat of terrorism to the American people, causing us to react with fear, anger, hostility toward one another, and support for more weaponry and more bullying overseas.  Trump appears to be playing us for chumps, just as President Obama and President Bush did.  On cue, we’re supposed to be afraid, quarrel with one another about refugee policy, and make our peace with more Pentagon spending.

Slowly, voices of resistance are emerging.  Tulsi Gabbard, a Democratic congresswoman and Iraqi war veteran from Hawaii, has introduced H.R. 608, a bill with bipartisan support that would prohibit the use of US government funds to provide assistance to al-Qaeda, Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and to countries supporting those organizations.

Yes, let’s support a rigorous but liberal refugee admission policy here in the US.

Yes, let’s recognize how all of us—Trump lovers and Trump haters—are being manipulated by the empire.

And yes, let’s support holistic responses like Gabbard’s that reach the root of our problem.

Note:  As initially published, this post erroneously conflated the process of qualifying for a green card with the process of qualifying for citizenship.  This error was corrected 1/31 at 1:15 PM.

Trump's Shock-and-Awe

by Berry Friesen (January 27, 2017)

And in that day you will cry out because of your king,
 whom you have chosen for yourselves; 
but the LORD will not answer you in that day.  
1 Samuel 8:18

Those of us schooled in the Hebrew scriptures are acquainted with the bad-king, good-king pattern through the stories about Saul, David, Solomon, Ahab, Josiah and 400 years of Hebrew history. Our take-away from that bit of Bible education is the habit of labeling current political leaders the same way: good President Obama, bad President Trump, etc.

As the opening quote from the prophet Samuel reminds us, this bad-king, good-king rubric is not what the prophetic voice of Hebrew scripture intended.  Instead, it generally associated kings and the imperial state of mind with oppression and grief.  It is this prophetic voice—reiterated so beautifully by 2nd Isaiah and Genesis in the post-exilic era of Jewish history—that If Not Empire, What? and this blog highlight.

We are at the end of a week in which President Trump reiterated his support for torture and secret CIA prisons where kidnapped prisoners can be dealt with outside the rule of law.  In which Trump voiced his regret that the US had not stolen Iraq’s oil during its invasion and occupation (2003-2011) and broached the possibility of correcting that “mistake” in the future.   In which he closed our borders to persons from seven, predominantly Muslim countries.  In which he ordered the building of a wall along the US border with Mexico and then attempted to humiliate president of Mexico, who does not support such a wall.

Pretty bad, huh?

Then someone reminds us that torture and secret prisons were part of Bush Administration policy, only a few years ago.  That the invasion and occupation of Iraq were supported by nearly all of the Democrats and Republicans ensconced in Congress today. That President Obama bombed six those seven countries whose citizens are now barred from the US—creating bitter enemies in the process—and commenced cyber warfare against the seventh (Iran).  That the wall President Trump wants has been under continuous construction since the mid-‘90s and already covers 580 miles.

Am I trying to downplay the anxiety and disorientation people are feeling?  No, not at all.

But I am asking readers to consider carefully how they describe this apparent crisis. Does the bad-king, good-king motif get to the bottom of it?  Or does wisdom suggest we dig a little deeper?

Here is journalist and author Paul Street describing what is happening:

For the U.S. establishment, Trump poses a threat to Brand America. It is longstanding bipartisan U.S. ruling class doctrine that the United States is the world’s great beacon and agent of democracy, human rights, justice, and freedom. American Reality has never matched the doctrine, and it didn’t under Obama, of course, but it is especially difficult to credibly align those claims with a candidate and now a president like Trump, who has openly exhibited racist, nativist, sexist, arch-authoritarian, police-statist, Islamophobic, pro-torture, and even neo-fascist sentiments and values. 

Street quotes author Mike Lofgren, former Republican congressional staffer and author of The Deep State: The Fall of the Constitution and the Rise of a Shadow Government, writing last summer on why nearly all of America’s political elite supported Hillary Clinton instead of Donald Trump:

If our system of government is an oligarchy with a façade of democratic and constitutional process, Trump would not only rip that façade away for the entire world to behold; he would take our system’s ugliest features and intensify them.

In other words, with the arrival of President Trump as Oligarch-in-Chief, the empire is stripped naked.  It’s ugly and brutal and reveals the US to be undeserving of the power to rule the world and seize such a large share of the world’s wealth.  This is why so many in the mainstream media are freaking out.

But here’s an important point:  most mainstream media do not acknowledge that this moment of “crisis” is a matter of branding and appearances.  Instead, they depict Trump as an alien force, a break with tradition, someone with a new and distorted vision for America.  I quote only one of thousands of examples of such thinking, an essay by popular progressive blogger Heather Digby Parton:

Trump is not an isolationist. He’s not a “realist.” Neither is he a liberal interventionist or a neoconservative idealist. He’s an old-fashioned imperialist. He wants to Make America great again by making it the world’s dominant superpower, capable of bullying other countries into submission and behaving however we like. He doesn’t seem to understand that the world won’t put up with that.

You and I would do well to give this some thought:  is Trump’s vision of an imperial America something new or alien?  Or is he merely revealing what America has been for the past 70 years?

Justin Raimondo, the anti-imperialist editor of www.antiwar.com, describes Trump’s vision for America as a reflection of what has been the prevailing view of the political elite since World War 2:  US global dominance is “a supposedly sacred task” for the world’s benefit.  

Yet, Raimondo asserts, Trump’s bold challenging of conventional wisdom, his bombastic style and his arbitrary manner create an opportunity for the American people to finally take a stand against what America has become.  Raimondo writes:

After years of constant warfare, and the stunning realization that our empire has brought us nothing but financial and moral ruin, Americans are again seeking a return to normalcy . . . Having gone down the road that Rome once trod, Americans stand at the abyss of inexorable decline – and they want to turn back.

How about you and me?  Are we joining the consternation and panic over matters of appearance and style?

Or are we employing the lens of 1 Samuel 8:18 to see Trump as another iteration of a long-entrenched reality:  the ideology of dominance metastasized into empire?

Describing Our Symptoms

by Berry Friesen (January 24, 2017)

Because of kidney cancer, I have had dozens of appointments with medical providers. Over and over again, I have been asked to describe my symptoms of ill-health.  Each time, the doctors and nurses listen intently to what I say.  I have learned how important it is to focus on what’s relevant and to answer accurately.

It’s no different with regard to our body politic. If we want to regain good health, it’s important to focus on what’s relevant and describe our problems accurately.
 
In recent days, millions of Americans have gathered in public spaces to announce their intention to resist the presidency of Donald Trump because, they say, he represents what’s gone wrong with our body politic.

In his inaugural address, President Trump provided his own answer to what ails us.  Let’s look at his answer.  Did it focus on what’s relevant?  Did it describe our problems accurately?

Here I engage in an imaginary conversation with the President.  He speaks in italics, me in regular font.

For too long, a small group in our nation's capital has reaped the rewards of government while the people have borne the cost. Washington flourished, but the people did not share in its wealth. Politicians prospered, but the jobs left and the factories closed. The establishment protected itself, but not the citizens of our country. Their victories have not been your victories. Their triumphs have not been your triumphs. And while they celebrated in our nation's capital, there was little to celebrate for struggling families all across our land.

Sir, as you describe it the problem is the selfish, insular “establishment” in Washington. You make no mention of how Wall Street, Hollywood and Las Vegas have come to dominate Washington, how our representatives have become dependent on the donations of the wealthy from those and other places in America.  Why not?

What truly matters is not which party controls our government, but whether our government is controlled by the people.

This seems to be a poke at the partisanship of Washington, the way it blocks problem-solving.  Like the way Republican leaders in Washington from day one of the Obama Administration committed themselves to obstructing his proposals?  Yes, preach it President Trump!

At the center of this movement is a crucial conviction, that a nation exists to serve its citizens. Americans want great schools for their children, safe neighborhoods for their families, and good jobs for themselves. These are just and reasonable demands of righteous people and a righteous public.

But for too many of our citizens, a different reality exists: mothers and children trapped in poverty in our inner cities; rusted out factories scattered like tombstones across the landscape of our nation; an education system flush with cash, but which leaves our young and beautiful students deprived of all knowledge; and the crime and the gangs and the drugs that have stolen too many lives and robbed our country of so much unrealized potential.

Right on, Mr. President!

For many decades, we've enriched foreign industry at the expense of American industry; subsidized the armies of other countries, while allowing for the very sad depletion of our military. We've defended other nations' borders while refusing to defend our own.

[We’ve] spent trillions and trillions of dollars overseas while America's infrastructure has fallen into disrepair and decay. We've made other countries rich, while the wealth, strength and confidence of our country has dissipated over the horizon.


One by one, the factories shuttered and left our shores, with not even a thought about the millions and millions of American workers that were left behind. The wealth of our middle class has been ripped from their homes and then redistributed all across the world.

With all due respect, sir, this is a mixed bag, if you don’t mind me saying so.

“Enriched foreign industry?”  Those businesses enriched at our expense during recent decades are American businesses—before, that is, they set up foreign affiliates, moved the jobs overseas and took the earnings and the executive compensation packages into off-shore accounts.  Why, Mr. President, do you describe this as “foreign industry?”

“Subsidized armies of other countries?”   Yes, this is true; for example, we give Israel $10 million a day for its military.  Then there are all those US military bases in other countries—800 bases in 160 countries by last count—costing at least $156 billion annually.  Those bases end up subsidizing other countries.  On top of all of this, last year US Special Operations Command (SOCOM) forces deployed to 138 countries, according to figures supplied to Nick Turse and TomDispatch. That’s right, in one year the US initiated military action in 70 percent of the world’s countries.

“Defended other nations’ borders” . . . “spent trillions and trillions of dollars overseas?”  Yes, that rings true.

“Made other countries rich?”  Israel perhaps.  But not Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Ukraine or Syria.  Not Iran, Russia, Syria or Venezuela, where our government has imposed punishing sanctions.  Not European nations, which are experiencing severe economic problems.

“Wealth redistributed all across the world?”  No, Mr. President, not “all across the world;” the wealth has been redistributed upward right here in America.  For example, between 2009 and 2014, the One Percent captured 58 percent of all income growth in America. Since 1980, nearly all of the income growth in our country has been captured by the top ten percent.

From this day forward, it's going to be only America first, America first. Every decision on trade, on taxes, on immigration, on foreign affairs will be made to benefit American workers and American families. We must protect our borders from the ravages of other countries making our products, stealing our companies and destroying our jobs.

This “America first” theme sounds right, Mr. President.  We want a realist to lead us, not someone who pulls the wool over our eyes by pretending to be compassionate and kind.

And thank you for pulling our country out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement.

But what’s this about “other countries . . . stealing our companies?”  American citizens are taking our companies overseas, destroying our jobs; they are American oligarchs like you.  Why do you pretend they are foreigners?

We will build new roads and highways and bridges and airports and tunnels and railways all across our wonderful nation. We will get our people off of welfare and back to work, rebuilding our country with American hands and American labor.  We will follow two simple rules; buy American and hire American.

Great!
   
Just a couple of questions, Mr. President:  will we borrow the money for all of this from Wall Street?  Will this just be another way to put us deeper in debt while Wall Street gets yet richer from fees and interest?

Worse still, will we get the money for this by selling off public infrastructure to your oligarch buddies?  You know, the roads, bridges, water systems, Veterans' Administration medical system, public lands, our national heritage?  That’s how the neo-liberal leaders of the United Kingdom went about it—selling off public transport, stripping assets from the national health system, privatizing everything at bargain prices.

Or rather than wasting tax revenue on more weapons and more surveillance and more foreign bases, will you use our tax dollars to rebuild our country? You do realize—don’t you sir—that we’re already spending close to $1 trillion a year on “national defense,” meaning all the weapons and surveillance systems and support structures to ensure the US maintains global full-spectrum dominance?

We will seek friendship and goodwill with the nations of the world, but we do so with the understanding that it is the right of all nations to put their own interests first. We do not seek to impose our way of life on anyone, but rather to let it shine as an example. We will shine for everyone to follow.

Oh, I like this very much, Mr. President.

I do have one concern though.  This is very similar to what President George W. Bush said at the beginning of his administration, just before he commenced a war of aggression against Iraq and proceeded to kill one million of its citizens and destroy its infrastructure and institutions. I hear you speaking of Iran in much the way President Bush spoke of Iraq: demonizing it and setting it up as a target for military action.

Where are you getting that from?  As far as I can see, of all the leading nations of the world, only Israel and Saudi Arabia see Iran as a major problem.  Why are you so keen on following their lead?

We will reinforce old alliances and form new ones and unite the civilized world against radical Islamic terrorism, which we will eradicate from the face of the Earth.

Yes, I like this too.  For too long—all the way back to the Carter Administration—our government has been playing footsie with radical Islamic terrorists such as al-Qaeda and ISIS and the Muslim Brotherhood.  If you put a stop to that, it would be wonderful!

Thank you for meeting with Democratic Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard to discuss this very point. Thank you for ending US collaboration with al-Qaeda and ISIS in overthrowing the government of Syria. And thank you for standing up to the propaganda campaign against Russia; I affirm your determination to mend relations with President Putin.

Yet I must ask an uncomfortable question, Mr. President.  One of our close allies—Saudi Arabia—is the source and major funder of the radical Islamic terrorism of which you speak.  Other Gulf States we are very chummy with—Qatar, Bahrain, United Arab Emirates—also support these violent groups.  And Israel does too!

So what will your determination to “eradicate” radical Islamic terrorism mean for our relations to these countries that support it?

At the bedrock of our politics will be a total allegiance to the United States of America, and through our loyalty to our country, we will rediscover our loyalty to each other. When you open your heart to patriotism, there is no room for prejudice.

"Total allegiance?"  That’s an odd reference for one who has promised to defend religious liberty against the requirements of political correctness.  I think you understand we don’t want a government that ignores the fact that for many of us, “loyalty to our country” comes after loyalty to faith in God.  I know you understand this when the issue is abortion, gender separation in bathrooms or the expression of sexuality.  So I hope you understand how the claims of faith extend to other matters as well.

There should be no fear. We are protected and we will always be protected. We will be protected by the great men and women of our military and law enforcement. And most importantly, we will be protected by God.

“Amen” to your reference to our dependence on the providence of God.

Just one thing about “fear,” Mr. President.   As you have already learned in your interactions with the so-called intelligence agencies, they have an agenda of their own.  If they don’t get their way, they can be really, really vicious.  In fact, many of us are convinced they are as involved in dirty work here in America as in other countries, planting fake news, carrying out assassinations and false flag operations, engaging in regime change.

You do know--don't you sir--that there are 56 instances since World War 2 in which the US has overthrown or attempted to overthrow a foreign government?  Ukraine in 2014 is the most recent instance we know about.

So I hope as one of your first orders of business, you will clean house within those so-called intelligence agencies.  If you don’t, you’ll soon be working for them, not they for you.

We stand at the birth of a new millennium, ready to . . . harness the energies, industries and technologies of tomorrow. 

Exactly, Mr. President.  More emphasis on clean energy, less on carbon-based fuel, right?  I hope this means you will end public subsidies of carbon energy and get behind the campaign to enact a revenue-neutral carbon tax.

It's time to remember that old wisdom our soldiers will never forget, that whether we are black or brown or white, we all bleed the same red blood of patriots. We all enjoy the same glorious freedoms and we all salute the same great American flag.  And whether a child is born in the urban sprawl of Detroit or the wind-swept plains of Nebraska, they look up at the same night sky, they will their heart with the same dreams, and they are infused with the breath of life by the same almighty creator.

Indeed, Mr. President.  We all “look up at the same night sky.”  I love that line.

And thank you for your reference to how we all are the same.  There is much in contemporary life that divides us into separate identities and emphasizes our differences.

Sir, you have earned your reputation as a bigot and a misogynist, yet with regard to how you govern in the coming four years, I expect those faults will not be where we need to be especially vigilant. Indeed, they are likely to distract us, causing us take our eyes off the ball.  That’s why my comments here have focused on other concerns.

Together, we will make America strong again. We will make America wealthy again. We will make America proud again. We will make America safe again. And yes, together we will make America great again.

“Strong again?”  We now are by far the strongest nation in the history of the world, if you mean to measure that by military and economic strength.  “Wealthy again?”  We now are by far the richest nation in history too.  “Safe again?”  We now are surrounded by two oceans, have friendly nations on each of our borders, maintain constant surveillance of the entire globe, and reign supreme in the air and on the sea.

“Great again?”  Greatness is a moral judgment, not a matter of military or economic power or security.

For us to “great” again, Mr. President, the process of truth-telling and repentance you have launched will need to include the members of your own class, the oligarchs who control our government.  It will need to reach the scapegoating of Iran and China.  It will need to reach the way capitalism has been distorted and with the help of government made into a tool of oppression and control.

And perhaps most difficult for you, Mr. President, it will need to reach you and your reluctance to be accountable to other branches of government, to the media and to us.  

Do I still have your attention, Mr. President?

A Better Politics

by Berry Friesen (January 20, 2017)

A reader in Iowa—frustrated by a political system that gave us Donald Trump and Hilary Clinton as our choices for President—thinks we can do better:

“The positive, constructive alternative to empire . . . [requires] a healthy political process. . . . [We] will never protest ourselves to a positive alternative. Creating a positive alternative is a political task . . . . The answer to a failure in politics is better politics.”

Do we have it in us?  A better politics, I mean?

Some say we have just the sort of dysfunctional politics we deserve in the sense that we want to bully the rest of the world, tell lies to one another, shirk responsibility for future generations, live selfishly and only for today.

Or maybe we want a better politics, but are being defeated by our own well-intentioned blindness and by vested interests that benefit from keeping the political system as it is.

Which do you think it is?  Some of both?

I am drawn to the Iowan’s positive spirit, his reminder that with a better politics we would be a better society and have a better future, his assumption that many of us want to be freed from a politics that locks us into terrible choices.   Though it would be a slow and exhausting struggle, I do want a better politics.

So on this day that Donald Trump is installed as our Oligarch-in-Chief—on this weekend when millions will cheer his ascension and millions more lament it—let’s name specific features of the kind of politics we want.

Obviously, it would offer us different choices than what the Democrat and Republican parties are designed to give us. In other words, a better politics would not be the duopoly we have now; it would include other effective political parties leading in other directions.

How do we get that?

In part, the answer is technical.  We need a voting system that rewards responsible governance and penalizes irresponsibility.  At least two changes are badly needed:  (a) so-called third parties with enough traction within the system to impact who wins and who loses; and (b) a method of counting votes that ensures no candidate is able to "win" an election without demonstrating support from at least 50 percent of the voters. Instant runoff voting (IRV)—already in place in a few places around the US—can move us in this direction.

In part, the answer is physical.  We need to put ourselves in spaces with other people who also want a better politics, listen to them speak from their hearts, speak in turn from ours.  We need to be together with other people in the flesh, building solidarity, understanding and trust.

In part, the answer is cerebral.  Neo-liberalism has hijacked our understanding of economics, shearing it of its moral underpinnings and making it into a greed-based pseudo-science easily manipulated by the one percent.  There is no immutable principle that requires income and wealth to flow in ever greater shares to the elite.  That’s a political choice—an immoral one--foisted upon us in the guise of economics.

In part, the answer is strategic.  For the past fifty years, we’ve organized ourselves around psycho-social identities of gender, race and sexual attraction and around private issues such as abortion and guns.  “The personal is political” has been the mantra of our era; indeed, it continues to shape most of the current protests against Trump.  Thus, instead of seeking broadly-applicable policies to strengthen communities, share economic prosperity and create a sustainable ecology, we have focused on “identity issues” that use the rhetoric of “justice” but actually separate and estrange us from one another, leaving us fragmented and weak politically.

In part, the answer is spiritual.  We need to repent of our imperialism as a nation—our practice of using the wealth, pervasive surveillance capacity and overwhelming military power of the US to dominate and subdue the world.  It’s racist, it’s deceitful, it’s deadly, it’s terribly expensive and it distorts our society to the benefit of weapons-makers, propagandists and opportunists of an authoritarian stripe.  That's right, it's evil.

Regardless of whether we think of ourselves as political or apolitical, regardless of where we place ourselves on the political spectrum, there is work here for each of us to do. Doing that work is a good way to redeem the days ahead as our Oligarch-in-Chief pretends to “make America great again.”

Much more can and should be said about a better politics. For now, I offer a short reading list for those who want to go deeper.

   --re. instant runoff voting (IRV), here and here.
   --re. flesh-and-blood engagement, here.
   --re. the scam known as neoliberalism, here and here.
   --re. the failures of identity politics, here and here.
   --re. the evil of imperialism, here and here.
   --re. the character of Trumpism, here and here.

The Opportunity of This Moment

by Berry Friesen (January 16, 2017)

The empire is very reluctant to accept Donald Trump as its next President.  We know this from all the thrashing around we see in Washington as the political elite struggle to bit-and-bridle Trump and bring him into line with the foreign policy trajectory of George W. Bush and Barack Obama.

The thrashing around is serious.  The more measured observers describe it as an attempt to delegitimize Trump’s presidency.  Others describe it as an attempt to force Trump from office, either through resignation or impeachment.  The more extreme consider the leading role of the CIA and other intelligence agencies in the opposition to Trump and see the distinct possibility of another assassination.

You think I am exaggerating?  Have a look for yourself here or here or here or here or here or here or here and here.

There is an opportunity in this moment.  It is to speak about why the empire is so reluctant to accept Trump as its President.  Not because we like Trump or admire him, but because his presidency opens a space for speaking truths that have been suppressed for decades.

When we speak those truths, we plant seeds for positive change.

Yes, let’s be candid in our criticism of Trump, let’s be vigilant in resisting the authoritarianism of his approach.  But let’s also be bold in reminding one another why the empire so dislikes this man.  That’s a necessary part of preparing for a better world.

So on with it:  why is the empire in such distress over the prospect of a Trump presidency?

1. In contrast to his predecessors going all the way back to the final year of the Carter Administration, Trump apparently does not support teaming up with Islamic Salafists (e.g., al-Qaeda, ISIS) to overthrow legitimate governments (e.g., Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Bosnia, Kosovo, Chechnya, Libya and Syria).  He’s blown the whistle on the evil, duplicitous game US politicians have been playing for more than a generation now—one hand supporting the terrorists, the other hand waving the bloody and frightening flag of terrorism.

Would we really prefer a President who collaborates with terrorists, uses them as proxies to do the empire’s dirty work, and then pretends to be shocked when those same terrorists strike Western targets such as Paris, Barcelona and Berlin?

2. In contrast to nearly all Republican and Democratic members of Congress—and virtually all the mainstream media—Trump does not want to base US policy toward Russia on fear, misinformation and confrontation.    He recognizes that Russia’s annexation of the Crimea and its presence in Syria are actions based on narrow national interests, not imperialism.  He recognizes that the US and NATO are primarily to blame for strained relations with Russia.  And he recognizes that this business of Russia hacking our recent election and interfering with our utility grid is fake news.

Would we really prefer a President who promotes another “Red Scare” to ensure our national wealth will be wasted on enriching weapons-makers and a planet-destroying nuclear weapons exchange will be just one tiny mistake away?  Or one with an honest assessment of US-Russia relations?

3. In contrast to President Obama and most Republican and Democratic members of Congress, Trump apparently is not willing to use so-called international trade deals to limit national sovereignty for the benefit of private corporations.

Consider the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which is the new trade deal most Democrats and Republicans in Congress are eager to support.  As Rob Urie points out, the purpose of the TPP isn’t so much trade, but giving “multi-national corporations more control over our lives.”  For example, the TPP would give private coal companies the right to sue for lost profits from environmental rules adopted by governments.  In effect, “this would require utility customers, taxpayers or both to pay for the coal not burned and the replacement fuel,” an impossible state of affairs that would effectively kill any meaningful environmental regulation.

Would we really prefer a President who uses international trade deals to give private corporations the power to win monetary damages against our own government when it acts in the public interest?

Of course, Trump is himself an imperialist.  That’s one of the reasons why I voted for Jill Stein instead of Trump. Generally, I perceive Trump to personify many of the worst attributes of the empire: hubris, self-indulgence, arrogance and racism.

Yet here he is, opening space to critique that very imperialism.

Obviously, the mental dissonance you and I feel about Trump’s peculiar mix of attitudes and perspectives is real.  But let’s not get stuck there.  We don’t expect to live dissonance-free lives, right?  So we can’t allow the dissonance we feel about a Trump presidency to cause us to miss this opportunity.  

Here at this blog, our purpose is to strengthen the anti-imperialist impulse.  That’s why we refer so often to the Bible; it’s the best anti-imperial resource we’re ever encountered. That’s why we talk so often about events such as the war in Syria; it reminds us how corrupt and brutal the empire is.

So let’s get on with it and let’s go deeper than whether we despise Trump, like/dislike him a little or like him a lot.  This is our opportunity to let the light shine in.

Call to Protect All People

by John K. Stoner (January 13, 2017)

Earlier this week, 50 Christian pastors, activists, authors and scholars from across the theological and political spectrum called upon congregations and other assemblies "to make public commitments in their communities."

The first commitment is to "protect and support the worth and rights of all people, including marginalized persons who are targeted, discriminated against or singled out by hate crimes or state-sponsored/sanctioned violence."

To see a list of the 50 making this Call and to read their full statement, click here or here or here or here.  To read a media report of the Call, see here.

I have been asked to write about this Call—probably because it grew from the seed which I planted back on Thanksgiving weekend.

What can I say? What should I say?

Probably this: There is nothing new here, and nothing original with me. The idea could have come from you, and I believe it was already in you before it was in me, at least if you are older than I am.

We are born with a strong instinct to love our parents, siblings, neighbors and everyone. Love is not the only instinct we have, but it is a tremendously strong one, and the lack of it in the world says more about our cultures than it says about ourselves.

I suppose we’re wired to love our parents because we’re wired to love the source and sustenance of our life.

And the call to protect all people is a call to protect life itself. It is an invitation to choose a path which treasures the life we have received and which we would like to see sustained.

There is a curious saying attributed to Jesus: “Your faith has saved you.” That is different from “God has saved you.” Why did Jesus voice this difference?

I think it was because he wanted to say, “You have believed that the universe tilts toward life, and you acted accordingly.”

Jesus affirmed the faith or belief that all the processes of the universe, cumulatively, have tilted toward the production of life. Scientists call it evolution; historians, philosophers, spiritual leaders and “primitive” peoples have all affirmed this tilt toward life in some manner.

And I think we all act on this basis at least some of the time. We take a small risk, or even a large one, to do something which seems unusual or unpopular because we think, or have faith, it can produce a better result.

The Call to Protect All People asks us to say that we do not choose to marginalize or dominate or hurt or kill some people.

In conclusion, an interesting example of this from the Christian tradition. In the first century CE Saul was a man determined to defend his people from all threats. The writer of The Acts says in chapter 9 that Saul was traveling toward Damascus to arrest perceived enemies of his people, followers of Jesus. On the road to Damascus he was struck by a brilliant light and knocked from his horse, blinded. Three days later in Damascus, a follower of Jesus’ way named Ananias, entered the room where Saul resided, still blind.

Ananias greeted Saul, his declared enemy, with surprising words. He said, “Brother Saul.” And then, the story goes, scales fell from Saul’s eyes.

Ananias included Saul among the people he was committed to protect.

It will make a difference if a lot of us decide to act in that way.

We will need the discernment, support and encouragement of others to do it. So our conversations in congregations, assemblies and groups are important. Let’s proceed now with that conversation.

"Not in Kansas Anymore"

by Berry Friesen (January 11, 2017)

So said Dorothy to Toto in The Wizard of Oz.

I’m thinking about the inauguration of a new president, the historic transfer of power from the administration of Barack Obama to the administration of Donald Trump.  It’s an important event with major implications.

But for me, “Kansas” is not a metaphor for the Obama Administration.

The “Kansas” we left at some point in our journey is a society in which the visible and accountable arms of government set the terms and conditions by which all of us live.  It’s the system we learned about as school children, where the People elect a Congress, the Congress makes the laws, the President enforces the laws, and the Courts serve as the referee among the three.  It’s the place where the press is independent of wealth and privilege and yet has the resources and determination to dig out the truth.  It’s an understanding of power, how it is legitimized and how it operates in our lives.

Most of us have lived in “Kansas” all our lives, haven’t we?  We’ve built our lives around its “reality.”  Indeed, even our differences (Republican or Democrat?  conservative or liberal?) reflect a shared perception that the authority and power of government sets the terms and conditions by which we live.

In “Kansas,” seeing “my candidate” move into the White House was a kind of victory, meaning that better times were on the way.

I know, most people insist we’re still living in “Kansas.”  This explains the strong reactions (pro and con) people have to the ascension of Donald J. Trump to the presidency.  There’s a new sheriff in town with the power to change everything—for good or ill, depending on one’s perspective.

My hunch is that we’re not in “Kansas” anymore.

In this place where we now live, the power to set society’s terms and conditions is held privately, resting in the hands of people whose names we do not know.  They have offices on Wall Street, in Central London, Hong Kong, Tel Aviv, Dubai and Bonn and are far richer than most national governments.  The smartest people work for them, the latest technology is at their fingertips.  They have access to nearly all the intimate details of all our lives—enough information to assure no man or woman dares to stand in their way. To enforce their decrees, they have at their beck-and-call private armies:  lobbyists, campaign committees, security companies, criminal networks, mercenaries.

Governments are not in charge anymore; they no longer set the terms and conditions by which we live.  That’s how it was back in Kansas, but we’re not in Kansas anymore.

So maybe it’s time to stop arguing about whether we are Republican or Democrat.  Or whether we are conservative or liberal.   Or whether we love America or lament America. Maybe we have more important choices to make.

What do you think?

What would we call this new place we are living, if we were to acknowledge it’s not Kansas?  There are similarities to the medieval era with its power of princes (now we call them oligarchs) and its lack of unifying authority.

But there are obvious differences too.  Medieval Europe had the unifying influence of the Roman church; we lack that now.  Its destructive potential was limited to how many people could be put to the sword before the killers collapsed in exhaustion; now we have robotic weapons of war and nuclear bombs, death-dealing devices that never get tired. Then there were many "frontiers" where one could go for a fresh start; now the empire is everywhere.

What agenda do we have to work through in this new place?  Is it our feelings about Donald Trump?  Whether Congress should be controlled by the Republicans or the Democrats?  Whether my narrow identity group is morally superior to your narrow identity group?  I don’t think so.

Nor is it whether the stock market will rise or fall, or whether our children can land a spot in a fine university and then a job on Wall Street or in Silicon Valley.

Power to set the terms and conditions of our lives has shifted to people and places that are not publicly accountable, that are a law unto themselves.  In our new context, life is more unpredictable, authority more arbitrary, prosperity more elusive, moral nihilism closer by, the pace of change more frenetic.  This presents us with a different set of issues than when we lived in Kansas.

So what am I suggesting?  That we reframe our conversations with one another to reflect this dawning reality.  Sure, we will continue to argue and disagree, but please, let’s argue and disagree about things that are real.

Rod Dreher is a writer who will help us do this; you will find him published daily at The American Conservative.  Though I often disagree with Dreher, I hear him speaking about our new reality.  Consider this post about capitalism through the eyes of German economist Wolfgang Streek, this post about “community, capitalism and christianity,” and Dreher’s frequent discussion of “The Benedict Option,” which is a strategy for social and spiritual renewal in a society that is increasingly toxic to faith, truth-telling and community.

There are other helpful writers, to be sure.  Let me know of those you’ve found; I would be glad to highlight them here.

The Russian Threat?

by Berry Friesen (January 5, 2017)

Dear reader, how can I convince you?  The American people are being scammed by all the talk in the mainstream media about Russian interference in our election.

It shouldn’t be that difficult to persuade you.

1. Simply recall the progression of events, how the Obama Administration showed little concern about “Russian hacking” until the final month of the election, when it became clear that Clinton was in a tight race. It’s only since Trump’s victory that the “Russian hacks” became big news.

2. Next, acknowledge that computer hacking is the way most espionage happens these days.  All the leading nations do it, including the US.  So yes, most any week of the year, those “17 intelligence agencies” of the US can gravely announce they have uncovered new evidence of “Russian hacking.”  It’s always going on, always being discovered, always there to be talked about. Why make such a big deal about it now?

3.  Then point out how the story of this "Russian hack” has morphed over the past ten weeks from an explanation of how WikiLeaks was able to publish correspondence from the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and one of its key staff (John Podesta) to a scary allegation that the Russians hacked our election.  Yet there are no facts to justify this transformation of a small and specific story into a big and broad one that undermines the very foundation of our political system.  Dig through the record and all you will find is WikiLeaks informing the public of what Democratic Party leaders sound like when they don’t think we are listening.  How does that undermine our democracy?

4.  Remember that evidence of “Russian hacking” is not the same as evidence that Russia is the source for WikiLeaks.  Those are two separate things.  There is solid evidence that WikiLeaks obtained the DNC and Podesta files from an insider “whistle-blower,” not the Russians.  That could be true (I think it is) without negating the claim of the “17 US intelligence agencies” that there is evidence of “Russian hacking” of the DNC and Podesta files.  Both allegations could be true, in other words.

5.  In light of this ambiguity, conclude by asking yourself why the mainstream media is speaking endlessly about the Russians interfering with our voting.  Obviously, the Russians did not do that.  So this entire “hacking” story is being used to “other” the Russians and entrench them as the enemy of the empire.  That way President-elect Trump will have no choice but to continue the Cold War that the empire has renewed by its coup in Ukraine, its positioning of NATO forces on Russia's borders and its deployment of Salafist terrorists in Syria.

So why are so many jumping on this “Russia-is-a-threat” bandwagon?  Is it because they don’t like Trump?

As anti-imperialists, we can’t allow ourselves to be deceived and emotionally ensnared by this cheap partisanship.  While we may be dreading what President Trump has in store for us, would we have dreaded President Clinton’s agenda any less?  As anti-imperialists, we expect trouble—not deliverance—from the empire, no matter who’s in charge.

How to proceed from here requires wisdom and good judgment and I’m not claiming to have it figured out.  But I’ll not forget that we have two war parties in the US—the Democrats and the Republicans.  They play the public like stooges, keeping us confused and begging for security through more fear, more Pentagon spending, more war.

And I’ll fully support improved relations with Russia, even if that puts me in the same camp as President-elect Trump on that issue.

What about the reports of Russia hacking the electrical grid in the US?   Or using propaganda outlets to generate fake news? Glenn Greenwald responds to those reports here; as he documents, those reports are bogus.  I urge you to read it for yourself.

After detailing how these bogus reports are endlessly republished by social media (especially Twitter), Greenwald makes this observation:  “The most ironic aspect of all this is that it is mainstream journalists—the very people who have become obsessed with the crusade against Fake News—who play the key role in enabling and fueling this dissemination of false stories. They do so not only by uncritically spreading them, but also by taking little or no steps to notify the public of their falsity.”

As I said, we’re being scammed.

For a broader perspective on how the empire uses partisanship and "the Russian threat" to confuse and divide us, I strongly recommend Ajamu Baraka's essay in Black Agenda Report, "Trump's Neo-Fascism."

January 6 update:  I recommend "Emails were leaked, not hacked" by William Binney and Ray McGovern and published Jan. 5 by the Baltimore Sun.  Binney is a retired senior NSA technical manager and the creator of many NSA surveillance tools currently in use. McGovern is a retired CIA analyst who served as a presidential security briefer during the administration of President George H.W. Bush.  

A Fresh Start

by Berry Friesen (January 1, 2017)

A new year dawns, bringing the opportunity for a fresh start.  Lots of baggage from 2016 is carried forward, of course, including the ascendancy of the plutocracy and its trajectory ever rightward.  Yet by all of us turning this page at the same time and resolving together to do better in the new year, we unleash a surge of positive energy.  It is a fresh start of sorts.

My kidney cancer hasn’t gone away (to cite another holdover from 2016).  But here I am, much improved in health as compared to last summer, anticipating in a few months the 4th birthday celebrations of four of my granddaughters and the 12th birthday celebration of another.  This is evidence of the mercy of YHWH, to be sure, and also of the way life can pleasantly surprise us.  Amid the unsettledness of the popular mood, I resolve to be alert to more such surprises in year ahead.

I expect 2017 to be a demanding year, what with Donald Trump in the White House and general elections scheduled in France, Germany and Iran.  But thanks to the defeat of Hillary Clinton, the threat of war between the US and Russia has receded significantly, the US peace movement (or at least its fundraising apparatus) is coming back to life and a growing slice of the American public is again alert to the predatory imperialism of US foreign policy.

That’s enough good news to generate a glass-half-full-perspective on the new year!

No matter what lies ahead in public life, each of us faces the daily private challenge of living well within the time YHWH gives us.  Here is a bit of verse I wrote a dozen years ago reflecting on that reality.

           This Is the Day 

I should know better by now
how to live day-by-day
grateful, expectant, open-hearted,
encountering God along the way.

Instead I mold time into bunches,
each one named by my desire;
seeking out a grand commission
to hold my interest ‘til I tire.

Once death tried to take me captive;
no more tomorrows, it seemed to say.
Yet, perversely, I resist contentment
reaching instead for quixotic dreams.

And so I am left, still learning
to pay attention to things close by;
not to look past this day’s treasure
while squinting at the distant sky.

Tomorrow morning when I awaken
the day’s blank slate in my mind’s eye
I’ll yearn again for buoyant mission
to bear me up through doubts and sighs.

Or maybe birdsong will catch my ear
I’ll feel love’s hand upon my skin;
maybe things too small to mention
will enlarge my living, fill me in.

                          ***