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Barber speaks on Our War Economy: Militarism and Gun Violence

by John K. Stoner (May 25, 2018)

I put it this way: Can any country embrace overwhelming violence as its national policy and not see individuals mimic that violence domestically?  Or promote violence on the wholesale level and expect to contain it on the retail level?

I don’t think so.

Rev. William Barber, Jr. preached a powerful sermon on Sunday evening May 6 at the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church in Washington DC.  He described and excoriated the war economy, militarism and gun violence of the United States of America.  He did it fifty years after Martin Luther King’s courageous Riverside Church condemnation of America’s militarism and war on Vietnam.  Barber leads  the Poor People’s Campaign which he is bringing back to give this nation a second chance.

I am here today to urge you to listen to this sermon from beginning to end.  If you spend any time listening to voices or reading the words of people who claim to inform you on what is happening in this nation and world, take time to listen to this one.

The sermon is wonderfully long, courageous, prophetic, passionate, fact-filled and moving.   Historic, in a word.

The sermon is on YouTube here

There is exegesis (The Legion exorcism), history (genocide and slavery, pillars of American greatness), economics (53% of US discretionary budget military), psychology (moral injury—ubiquitous and debilitating),  and invitation (higher ground).

Listen, learn, weep and act.  

Why Are We Violent?

by John K. Stoner  (April 27, 2018)

    The educator Coleman McCarthy wrote, "I had a student at the University of Maryland a while back who wrote a 13-word paper that both for brevity and breadth--the rarest of combinations--has stayed with me: 'Question: Why are we violent but not illiterate?  Answer: Because we are taught to read.'"

    What more needs to be said?

Who Wants the Real M. L. King?

by John K. Stoner  (April 20, 2018)

Continuing my series on alternative sources of news and voices which speak truth, I invite you to consider this today.  

On April 4, 2018 Cornel West wrote:

In this brief celebratory moment of King’s life and death we should be highly suspicious of those who sing his praises yet refuse to pay the cost of embodying King’s strong indictment of the US empire, capitalism and racism in their own lives.

We now come to the 50th anniversary of his assassination, and we once again are met with sterilized versions of his legacy. A radical man deeply hated and held in contempt is recast as if he was a universally loved moderate.

These neoliberal revisionists thrive on the spectacle of their smartness and the visibility of their mainstream status – yet rarely, if ever, have they said a mumbling word about what would have concerned King, such as US drone strikes, house raids, and torture sites, or raised their voices about escalating inequality, poverty or Wall Street domination under neoliberal administrations – be the president white or black.

America has moved on to other things.  The 50th anniversary of King’s death is past and already mostly forgotten.  But maybe, just maybe, our best hope lies in not forgetting.  

West’s essay includes this, with which I end this reflection:

King’s last sermon was entitled Why America May Go to Hell. His personal loneliness and political isolation loomed large. J Edgar Hoover said he was “the most dangerous man in America”. President Johnson called him “a nigger preacher”. Fellow Christian ministers, white and black, closed their pulpits to him. Young revolutionaries dismissed and tried to humiliate him with walkouts, booing and heckling. Life magazine – echoing Time magazine, the New York Times, and the Washington Post (all bastions of the liberal establishment) – trashed King’s anti-war stance as “demagogic slander that sounded like a script for Radio Hanoi”.
And the leading black journalist of the day, Carl Rowan, wrote in the Reader’s Digest that King’s “exaggerated appraisal of his own self-importance” and the communist influence on his thinking made King “persona non-grata to Lyndon Johnson” and “has alienated many of the Negro’s friends and armed the Negro’s foes”.
One of the last and true friends of King, the great Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel prophetically said: “The whole future of America will depend upon the impact and influence of Dr King.”

Read West's full essay  here

Paying for War

John K. Stoner  (April 13, 2018)

Someone asked me, “If you are praying for peace, why do you go on paying for war?”

Income tax time of year, when we’re all faced with making our contribution to the funding of America’s wars past, present and future, is a good time to think about this.

Use any door you want to enter this space in your mind and conscience.

Consider the irrationality of it.  How did we get to this place of thinking that we can use an instrument of evil to produce an end of good?  Show me a persons who does not think that war is evil and I’ll show you a person who had not seen it close up, nor considered it with reasonable attention.

Consider the injustice of it.  It makes a few people filthy rich and millions more dirt poor.  It’s the biggest protection racket in the world, hands down.  Who profits from war?  Greedy corporations and their stockholders. 

Consider the immorality of it.  Modern war kills far more innocent people than combatants.  Look at the record.  And if it is wrong to kill our human brothers and sisters ourselves, how can it be right to pay someone else to do it for us?

Consider the consequences of it.  What governments are willing to do to peoples of other lands they are willing to do to their own people.  Selectively, but very really, military empires have victims at home as well as abroad.  

None of us achieve fully consistent behavior.  But we’re in really bad trouble when we give up trying to inch toward it, and quit asking ourselves to do better rather than worse on a whole lot of things in life. 

Resurrection...of this man?

by John K. Stoner  (April 9, 2018)

Some religion(s)  focus on telling us what to believe about God—this, that and the other thing.

And some religionists struggle with how to reconcile the beliefs of one religion about God with the beliefs of other religions about God.

But it is possible to look at this a little differently, and say that the big thing is what we believe about people.  I get, or at least think I do, this idea from Jesus.  

Jesus taught that all people should be loved, and that to live in love is to live in God.  

But this is to believe something very different about people.  It is to believe that something good can come of loving all people, instead of dividing people into those who can be loved and those who must be opposed and destroyed by all means necessary.

These two ways of looking at people are very different ways of looking at people, they reflect believing very different things about people.

And Jesus had this radical practice and idea of loving all people.

Those who killed Jesus opposed this way of looking at people and the practice of loving all people.
But those who accepted and attempted to follow Jesus believed that in some fashion Jesus did not stay dead for believing what he believed about people—that he and what he believed about people was “resurrected.”  It lived on, it constituted an enduring way of life, a whole new way of relating to people and trying to run the world.

So, wow, the big miracle of the resurrection was not that Jesus came back just like he was before, a man alive on earth, but that it was the resurrection of a person who believed what Jesus believed about people and how to relate to them.  The resurrection said that this particular dude and his way of walking through life were not dead ends, but a new and living thing to believe about people.  

Most remarkable! 

And it is interesting to suppose that the big thing that major religions hold in common is this belief that people should be loved, not demonized or killed.  

Father Charlie McCarthy on Martin Luther King

by John K. Stoner  (April 4, 2018)

Fifty years ago today Martin Luther King was assassinated.  Father Charlie McCarthy, another man whose voice I commend to you because he speaks the truth, spoke at the Lorraine Motel on April 4, 1993, the 25th anniversary of Dr. King's death.  McCarthy makes a crucial point about Martin Luther King in the opening paragraphs of his speech which I quote below.  Here's the key line: 
     A world mired in so-called “justified” homicide does not know what to do with the nonviolent Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., any more than Christian churches, imprisoned within a historical spiral of “justified” homicide of their own making, know what to do with the nonviolent Jesus Christ. The prevailing strategy in both cases is to be calculatingly inattentive to the rock-like belief both had in nonviolence.

(For the full text of Fr. McCarthy's speech email me at  Charlie's website is here.  Meet a remarkable man, scroll down and watch a few of his dozen brief videos.) 

Who Is Your King? Who Is Your God?
A Meditation on the Eternal Contribution and
Challenge to Christianity and to Humanity
Made by The Servant of God
The Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. 

"Shortly after the assassination of John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Jr., commented, “While the question, ‘Who killed President Kennedy?’ is important, the question, ‘What killed him?’ is more important” Today on the twenty-fifth anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King, I think it is important to publicly ask the question, “Who killed Martin Luther King?” because a correct answer to that question may tell something about the workings of this society that could be useful for correcting the evils of poverty, racism and militarism that bedevil it. But, I believe, here at the place where he was slain twenty-five years ago today, it is more important to ask, “What killed Martin Luther King, Jr.?”

Humanity is a historical phenomenon. Every person and every generation are partly the result of the persons and generations who preceded them. Whatever killed Martin Luther King did not first make its appearance on April 4, 1968. Whatever it is that sent that bullet speeding toward this balcony twenty-five years ago has a past that stretches back to the infancy of time. Soon after the first rays of the first sunrise appear over the horizon of history, there is homicide.  In Book One of the Bible Cain kills Abel.  Homicide is the first sin outside of Paradise. In the beginning there is death by the hand of another.

Whatever killed Abel, killed Martin Luther King, Jr. Whatever killed Martin Luther King, Jr., killed Jesus Christ. And, whatever killed Jesus Christ, is what killed every person who has ever been shot, stabbed, poisoned, gassed, or burnt to death by a fellow human being. From what demented dimension of the universe, from what polluted place in the soul comes the willingness to destroy another?

The man who was murdered on this balcony twenty-five years ago unreservedly committed his entire adult life to the war against the loathsome spirit of violence. Whatever that perverted reality is that deceived Cain, against that debased spirit Martin Luther King, Jr., was pitted in unrelenting combat. There is no Martin Luther King, Jr., to be remembered, there is no Martin Luther King, Jr., to be studied, there is no Martin Luther King, Jr., to be honored who is not irrevocably vowed to nonviolence.

Dr. King taught that
We must pursue peaceful ends by peaceful
means…Many people cry, ‘Peace, Peace’ but they
refuse to do the things that make for peace…The
stage of history is replete with the chants and choruses
of the conquerors of old who came killing in
pursuit of peace.

A world mired in so-called “justified” homicide does not know what to do with the nonviolent Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., no more than Christian churches, imprisoned within a historical spiral of “justified” homicide of their own making, know what to do with the nonviolent Jesus Christ. The prevailing
strategy in both cases is to be calculatingly inattentive to the rock-like belief both had in nonviolence. The hope of this strategy is to extoll the person while dismissing his teaching. The problem with this approach is that a violent Jesus or a violent Martin Luther King, Jr., is as much of a spiritual optical
illusion as a nonviolent Hitler. Nonviolence is that without which there is no Martin Luther King— there is no Jesus Christ. What entered and took control of Cain never entered and took control of Jesus of Nazareth or of Martin Luther King, Jr."  (see above for the rest of the speech). 

Why Did Jesus Die?

by John K Stoner  (March 28, 2018)

    Why did Jesus die?  Or, put differently, why was he killed?   A question for Holy Week.
     The second way of asking it is better, because it shows an intention to take the history seriously.
    Good Friday has been a great Christian celebration across centuries and continents.  The crucifixion of Jesus on Good Friday is the focus of the celebration.  Why celebrate the death of Jesus?
    Let’s start with the hardest and the worst of it.  Over the centuries a tradition developed by the church and believed by millions of Christians holds that Jesus died because God willed and/or needed Jesus’ death.  Notice, however, that this tradition attributes not a bad motive, but a good one, to God.  God did it in order to make possible the forgiveness of human sins.
    Now let’s be honest—human failure, or sin, is common and big.  Who can look at their own life and not know that?  And we find it is not always easy to forgive ourselves, and consistently try to do better.  So, our forbears looked for a big solution to a big problem.  Let’s make it God-sized, and see how God solves our problem.  They picked up on religious traditions of sacrifice to the gods, and lo and behold, we get a notion of sacrifice in which the very son of God is the sacrifice which pleases God and makes the forgiveness of sins possible.
    If that doesn’t work well for you, fine.  Join tens of millions of other fellow humans who are appalled by such an image of God and way to deal with our problem of recidivism in sin.
    There is a better way to understand Good Friday and the crucifixion.  Start by asking who killed Jesus and why.
    Start with the obvious.  He was killed by people who thought that killing a person was acceptable human behavior, and—we’ll give them the benefit of the doubt—that they could improve the general human condition by performing an execution.  Maybe we can give them a little more:  they killed him thinking he was a bad person.  They were wrong about that, so his death was collateral damage. 
In short, Jesus was killed by bad people for being a good person.
    Let’s parse that a little.  Bad and good are relative terms, but that does not mean they are meaningless or useless.  The bad here is the ancient and widespread human belief that some other individuals or groups are so bad that they  must be killed in order to cleanse the land.  They are scapegoated:  those bad must be sacrificed for the sake of us good.
    Jesus taught a different thing, another way.  He said that none of us are so good, nor so hopelessly bad, that we can indulge this practice of killing each other to make the world a better place.  The world is not improved by pillaging and burning.  Scorching part of the earth will not save the whole earth.
    So Good Friday was a contest over the central teaching of Jesus.  Who understands best the real human nature/condition (or the will of God, to put it the other way)?   Is it Jesus, who says that the way to deal with human imperfection or sin, is to forgive one time after another, to help each other try again, or those who killed Jesus, believing that some bad people have to be killed so that us good people can inhabit the world peacefully?
    The vignette of Peter’s denial is a microcosm of this contest.  There is a double sadness in this story: that Peter denied, and that the church has so universally misunderstood Peter’s denial.  It was not a denial rooted in human weakness as generally understood, but rather in what is generally thought to be human strength and greatness.  By both his actions and words Peter stands out as a brave man, ready to fight and die for Jesus.  What he was not ready for was the disclosure of Jesus’ nonviolent response to the attacking enemies.  Peter was overcome by unbelief and embarrassment when he saw Jesus refusing to take up the sword and defend himself, and he denied that he was identified with this man.
    The story of Jesus is so irrepressible and universal because he taught this way of compassionate forgiveness, and placed it in tension with the prevailing practices of dominating power over nature  and justified killing of humanity.  Every person and every culture/nation lives in the tension between these ways of running the world.  It is the existential choice of humanity, standing on the verge of ecological collapse and death by war.
    But then, in the ironic words of W. Edwards Deming:  “It is not necessary to change.  Survival is not mandatory.”

Robert Koehler "Normalizing Violence"

by John K. Stoner (March 6, 2018) 

On January 29 I introduced a voice for peace, that of Robert Koehler click here .  I return to Bob today because he has written another wise reflection on this country’s problem with mass shootings.  He is telling us that we can’t , as a nation, promote bullying violence on the wholesale level as the way to run the world, and hope to restrain it on the retail level for our own culture.  This is a simple truth, but who is speaking it?
The Raven Foundation, dedicated to helping us understand and challenge our culture of violence, carried Bob’s essay here click .  Bob brings back, from 50 years ago, the voice of Martin Luther King.  I quote the “normalizing violence” article today, the voices of King and Koehler.  I cannot improve on what they said.  I hope you will click on the article and read the full text.  It will help you know how to help our teenagers to address this violence problem realistically.

    And if this is so, then what we have emerging here is not simply a movement for stricter gun laws but a new civil rights movement, with a voice as clarion and courageous as the voices of that earlier movement. And the scope of the movement is violence itself.

    The war in Vietnam is but a symptom of a far deeper malady within the American spirit,” Martin Luther King told the nation, and the world, at Riverside Church, a year before he himself was murdered.

“…The Western arrogance of feeling that it has everything to teach others and nothing to learn from them is not just. A true revolution of values will lay hands on the world order and say of war: ‘This way of settling differences is not just.’ This business of burning human beings with napalm, of filling our nation’s homes with orphans and widows, of injecting poisonous drugs of hate into veins of people normally humane, of sending men home from dark and bloody battlefields physically handicapped and psychologically deranged, cannot be reconciled with wisdom, justice and love. A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.”

    Here’s how educator Gabriel Paez put it recently in The Socialist Worker: “Ultimately, we need a completely different society that is freed from terror and mass murder, from mass incarceration and war. In the society we strive for, prosperity and freedom would not be measured by access to automatic weapons, but rather by access to health care, including mental health care, housing as a human right and global peace.

    I have no doubt this is what America’s teenagers are demanding: a legal and social structure that values life rather than feeds on it.  click for full article

Daniel Berrigan, Part III, Prophet in Our Times

by John K. Stoner (March 9, 2018)

In my December 29 blog I promised further blogs on "those who use the methods of peace to pursue the goal of peace."  I've written two on Daniel Berrigan; this will be the third and last on him.

It was reading Jim Forest's recently published book that set me to drawing on Dan's voice from the past--my focus for this series is on voices in the present.  But I want to commend his book to you--AT PLAY IN THE LIONS' DEN: A BIOGRAPHY AND MEMOIR OF DANIEL BERRIGAN (Orbis, 2017).  Jim Wallis wrote this about it:

As a young activist, who had been kicked out of my home church over the issues of race and war, Daniel Berrigan was the first Christian I heard of who was against the war in Vietnam.  So I thank you Dan, for keeping my hope of faith in Christ alive.  You were among the biblical prophets who showed us the way.  And thank you, Jim Forest, for this superlative spiritual writing."

Wallis says he was kicked out of his church--it was a conservative evangelical church.  Berrigan avoided being kicked out of his church, Roman Catholic, over his peace activism, but just barely.  There is a lot in this book about how he painfully struggled with his church and the Jesuits, the Catholic order in which he had taken vows.  It is instructive to read this history, including correspondence between Berrigan and Thomas Merton, on destruction of "property," and obedience to "superiors." 

So I suggest, lay aside THE TIMES and THE POST for a few days, and read a prophet from OUR TIMES.   

Daniel Berrigan, Part 2-- Order and Disorder

by John K. Stoner  (March 5, 2018)

In last Friday's blog I quoted Dan Berrigan and the Catonsville Nine apologizing "for the fracture of good order, the burning of paper instead of children."  Perhaps you have reflected a moment on that.

Americans have a strong distaste for civil disobedience, and my readers may be like Americans in this.  (Principled civil disobedience, that is; I've noticed high tolerance for unprincipled civil disobedience such as disobeying speed limits.)

I'm featuring Dan Berrigan for several days because we live in a time and place where civil disobedience may be a much higher civil, moral and spiritual duty than we have been trained to think. How do we prepare our minds and spirits to do the unfamiliar and difficult?  One way is by paying attention to people who are experienced in what we need to learn.

For burning draft files the Catonsville Nine were charged with disrupting  public order.  The defendants spoke to this:

We say: killing is disorder, life and gentleness and community and unselfishness is the only order we recognize.  For the sake of that order we risk our liberty, our good name.  The time is past when good men may be silent."

In the future, perhaps not the very distant future, you will have opportunities, you will be invited, to participate in acts of civil disobedience which expose the evil of civil obedience, of going along to get along, of being silent in the face of blatant evil.  When the time comes for you, will you be ready?

I know, we tend to think that such behavior is for a few specially called people, like the prophets of the Bible.   Forgetting (rather conveniently, I guess) that Jesus blessed those who are persecuted for good behavior, and said that this was the experience "of the prophets who were before you."  (Matthew 5). I think he was saying, "My followers should expect to be like, and be treated like,  the prophets who were before you."   For us then, this could mean civil disobedience as it did for the prophets.  

Daniel Berrigan -- Truth in Action

by John K. Stoner (March 2, 2018)

Dan Berrigan spoke truth and acted on it.  I just finished reading AT PLAY IN THE LIONS' DEN -- A Biography and Memoir of Daniel Berrigan, by Jim Forest (Orbis, 2017), and want to resume this blog, after its month's siesta, with several reflections on Dan.  Today, just a few pungent words from the press release Dan Berrigan and 8 friends wrote to explain their action of burning draft files.

On May 17, 1968, Berrigan and 8 others entered an office where draft records of men conscripted for the war on Vietnam were stored, carried out armfuls of them, and burned them in the parking lot.  Why did they do this?  Was this "destruction of property" justified?  Let the following excerpt from their explanation inform your thinking.

"Our apologies, good friends, for the fracture of good order, the burning of paper instead of children, the angering of the orderlies in the front parlor of the charnel house.  We could not, so help us God, do otherwise."

This Blog is taking a Rest

by John K. Stoner (February 5, 2018)

I will be traveling for the next month, so this blog will be silent until early March.  Have a look at recent ones, be encouraged by voices which speak truth in our culture of deception and prevarication.  

Bob Koehler--Co-creating a Culture of Peace

by John K. Stoner  (January 29, 2018)

     In a column titled “The Illusion of Armed Salvation,"  Robert C. Koehler writes: (click here)

This time, the “the fire and the fury” of American mass murder erupted in church. Twenty-six people were killed, including children, one only 18 months old.  [Sutherland Springs, Texas]

How do we stroke their memory? How do we move forward? This is bigger than gun control. We should begin, I think, by envisioning a world beyond mass murder: a world where rage and hatred are not armed and, indeed, where our most volatile emotions can find release long before they become lethal. …

Envisioning a world without mass murder — which means a world without war, waged either collectively or privately (with both types of war generating handsome profits for the weapons industry) — means envisioning a world where guns are not a precondition for empowerment and us vs. them isn’t society’s default setting.

Guns are a symptom of society’s addiction to fear. And efforts to pass gun control legislation are continually on the political defensive, caught between the addicts and the profiteers.

And thus, as the Baltimore Sun noted: “If Kelley was eligible to buy a gun, it was only just barely. Yet even so he was able to buy not just any gun but a civilian version of a military assault rifle, designed not for hunting or self-defense but combat.”

Where does Robert Koehler get the idea of “envisioning a world beyond mass murder—which means a world without war, waged either collectively or privately?” 

Or an idea like “The Wisdom of Mass Salvation,” which must surely be an alternative to the weapons of mass destruction?  

Look at Bob here—a picture might be worth a thousand words. (click here)   What can I say—he looks like a man you can trust.  And what is that worth?

Here’s the way he starts the essay introducing himself:

Achievements and awards are the stuff of bios, but what seems more important to me is the fact that my great-nephew, Joey, then 5 years old, tore across the entire length of his parents’ kitchen with a look of wild glee in his eyes to say goodbye to me; I waited for him in a crouch, caught him full on, barely kept my balance. “Bye, Uncle Bob! I love you!” Wow, I think he meant it. All of which is to say, life itself is infinitely more precious than the masks we don or the monuments we build.

I’m at a point in my life where the resumé I’ve spent a lifetime carving feels like such a damn mask I just don’t want to wear it anymore.

What have I done that is equal to a child’s love? This question humbles me, and the only honest answer is that . . . I have tried to love beyond the edge of my own ego. I held my wife’s hand as she died. I hung in there with my teenage daughter after Barbara’s death, and — with the help of aunts, uncles, cousins, Grandma, countless friends — parented her toward her own luminous adulthood.

In the midst of all that, I managed to scribble down a few million words, a small percentage of which found their way into public view and generated enough positive response to make me think they contributed something of worth to our collective struggle for understanding. I call myself a writer.

 I like to think about what America would be like if our media were led, actually dominated, by people with that kind of attitude.  I invite you to think about that.  

For those who want a little more of Koehler now, read further from his bio:

I’ve won awards for my writing: from the National Newspaper Association, Suburban Newspapers of America, the Chicago Headline Club and other organizations that bestow blessings on journalists. I’ve been called a hero of democracy and, oh yeah, been wished an inoperable brain tumor. I’ve trespassed, as a journo aiming at a mainstream audience, upon the sacred consensus that America is a dumbed down, spectator nation, yet somehow special, God’s Chosen Superpower, the greatest nation on Earth. Let’s get beyond our limited allegiances, I say, and celebrate our wholeness as a species and a planet.

I’ve been called blatantly relevant.

And I have proclaimed myself, ever since coming across the term at Transcend Media Service, a peace journalist.
“Peace journalism is when editors and reporters make choices — about what to report, and how to report it — that create opportunities for society at large to consider and to value nonviolent responses to conflict.” — Jake Lynch

This idea is so deceptively simple, but unbelievably rare in the 24/7 mediastream that flushes through our lives, peddling horror and fear as though they were . . . sex. News and “entertainment” have lost much of their reflective component and become almost purely reactive. This is intensely troubling to me; the long-term social consequences can’t be good. For this reason, I embraced the concept of peace journalism kind of the way Joey slammed into his great uncle: breathlessly, with full-tilt enthusiasm. It became the lodestar of my maturity as a journalist, and so it remains.

“Nonviolent response to conflict” is, simply put, the foundation of civilization, is it not? Conflict — between and among people, between species, with our planet and universe — is inevitable. Violent response belittles the conflict, shatters the complexity, perpetuates the problem, endangers the innocent and often blows up in our faces. But violence is an industry, shrouded in mythology and consensus. We’re stuck with it, apparently. To my mind, working to undo the mythology of violence is the most responsible act a writer can commit.

Robert C. Koehler, peace journalist. 

Ajamu Baraka, The Black Alliance for Peace

by John K. Stoner -- January 26, 2018

     Ajamu Baraka is founder of “The Black Alliance for Peace.”  Did you know there is such a thing?  What do you think about the significance of such an alliance?  

Here is Baraka writing under a title that would surprise all Americans and seriously shock most of them: “ Why We Must Protect the World From the United States.”  But then I wonder, could you, or I, write a convincing refutation of what he says?  What would our evidence be for such an argument?  (Black Agenda Report)

Fifty years ago, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. stated the obvious: The United States was the greatest purveyor of violence in the world. He also said the public allowing this violence would lead to a kind of national spiritual death that would continue to make the U.S. state a danger to the world.

That spiritual death has not quite happened completely. Yet accepting the “inevitability” of violence and the necessity for waging war is now more deeply ingrained in the collective consciousness of individuals in the United States than it was 50 years ago when King warned of the deep malady of U.S. society. For most of the 21st century, the United States has been at war. Culturally, mass shootings, the wars on drugs and terror, violence and war as entertainment, livestreamed videos of horrendous police-executed murders as well as of a head of state being sodomized with a knife have resulted in what Henry Giroux refers to as a “culture of cruelty.

But the very fact that the authorities need to lie to the people with fairy tales of the “responsibility to protect” in order to give moral coverage for the waging of war is an acknowledgement that they understand that there is enough humanity left with the public that it would reject U.S. warmongering if it was only seen as advancing narrow national interests.

It is this remaining moral core—and the objective interests of the clear majority of the people to be in opposition to war—that provides the foundation for reviving the modern anti-war movement. …(more)

And here, Baraka on the U.S. role in one current horrendous war, in Yemen: (Ajamu Baraka blog)

Ajamu Baraka, a Black voice for truth and peace in the tradition of Martin Luther King, Jr.

William Barber and the Poor People's Campaign

by John K. Stoner —  January 23, 2018

“The Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival is uniting tens of thousands of people across the country to challenge the evils of systemic racism, poverty, the war economy, ecological devastation and the nation’s distorted morality.  We need you to step up and join our efforts.”  Click on this page, scroll down a little and watch the 3 minute video and read the “principles” of this campaign.  

This is the voice of the Rev. William Barber II and associates.  His is a voice crying in the wilderness which we must hear.  His call to “step up and join our efforts” goes out to all who ask “But what can I do?”  I would say that all who fail to respond here should, for the sake of honesty, admit their defeat by the empire and prepare for disaster—if they know how to do that.  

Rev. Barber made his mark by leading the “Moral Mondays” movement in North Carolina. 

His Poor People’s Campaign takes up, 50 years later!, Martin Luther King’s campaign, which many people believe cost him his life at the hands of the Empire.  Like King, Barber is naming “the war economy/militarism” as one of the great evils.  Think about it, in your search for a viable political party, which one is naming war as a central part of the problem? 

The Poor People’s Campaign quotes ML King:  (click here)
There can be no gainsaying of the fact that a great revolution is taking place in the world today. In a sense it is a triple revolution; that is a technological revolution, with the impact of automation and cybernation; then there is a revolution of weaponry, with the emergence of atomic and nuclear weapon of warfare. Then there is a human rights revolution, with the freedom explosion that is taking place all over the world. Yes, we do live in a period where changes are taking place and there is still the voice crying the vista of time saying, “Behold, I make all things new, former things are passed away”… Now whenever anything new comes into history it brings with it new challenges … and new opportunities … We are coming to Washington in a poor people’s campaign. Yes, we are going to bring the tired, the poor, the huddled masses … We are coming to demand that the government address itself to the problem of poverty. We read one day: We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights. That among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. But if a man doesn’t have a job or an income, he has neither life nor liberty nor the possibility for the pursuit of happiness. He merely exists … We are coming to ask America to be true to the huge promissory note that is signed years ago. And we are coming to engage in dramatic non-violent action, to call attention to the gulf between promise and fulfillment; to make the invisible visible.

Rev. Barber comments:
The triple revolution that Rev. Dr. King highlighted in this sermon emphasized: 1. a technological revolution, 2. a revolution of weaponry, and 3. a human rights revolution, with the freedom explosion taking place all over the world. He argued that social transformation was not inevitable, arising solely out of the historic conditions, but rather needed the commitment, consciousness, capacity and connectedness of the “new and unsettling force” to build a credible and powerful campaign.

The first gathering of over fifty multiracial organizations that came together with SCLC to join the Poor People’s Campaign, took place in Atlanta, Georgia in March 1968. Key leaders and organizations at this session included: Tom Hayden of the Newark Community Union, Reis Tijerina of the Federal Alliance of New Mexico, John Lewis of the Southern Regional Council, Myles Horton of the Highlander Center, Appalachian volunteers from Kentucky, welfare rights activists, California farm workers, and organized tenants. Rev. Dr. King addressed the session saying that it was the first meeting of that kind he had ever participated in. Indeed, meetings where leaders of different sections of the poor and dispossessed come together on the basis of their common needs and demands remain rare and politically taboo.

Today we introduce the honest voice of Rev. William Barber and The Poor People’s Campaign.”

Berry Friesen, Goodbye


Age 69

Died January 17, 2018

Berry died of renal cell carcinoma, but maybe too of grief for the world.

He wrote this blog for several years, his last one in December,  here.

His obituary is  here.  But if the link no longer works, here is the text of the obit.

Berry Friesen, 69, of Lancaster, died on Wednesday, January 17, 2018 of advanced Renal Cell Carcinoma at Hospice & Community Care, Mount Joy.
Berry was born in 1948 to the late John V. and Blondina (Blanche) Friesen in Mountain Lake, Minnesota. The third of three boys, he grew up on a farm in Cottonwood County where he tended chickens, swam in nearby lakes, and planted soybeans row by row with his dad. He met his future wife Sharon Klassen in Sunday school at Carson Mennonite Brethren Church where both families attended.  
He is survived by his wife of 48 years, Sharon; his two daughters, Amber Friesen, married to Rehan Hanif of London, England, and Emily Burkholder, married to Guy Burkholder, III of Lancaster; six granddaughters, Saffiyah Friesen Hanif and Anna, Elena, Addie, Olivia and Clara Burkholder; and one brother, LeRoy Friesen. His brother, Marlyn Friesen, and nephew, Chad Friesen, predeceased him.
Following graduation from Tabor College in Hillsboro, Kansas in 1970, Berry volunteered with Mennonite Central Committee as an alternative to the draft; he and Sharon spent three years in Jamaica (1970-1973) teaching in a local secondary school. Berry continued to teach after returning to the US, until deciding to pursue a law degree at the University of Minnesota, where he graduated Juris Doctor cum laude in 1979. After graduation Berry joined Southern Minnesota Regional Legal Services where he spent ten years advocating for Native Americans, Hmong refugees, farmers, and families on social benefits, and also leading the Minnesota Family Farm Law Project.  
During those years in Minneapolis/St. Paul, Berry and Sharon had two daughters, Amber and Emily, and were active members of Faith Mennonite Church. He loved to play pickup basketball, sing and play his guitar, tease his girls, and watch the Minnesota Twins lose … and then win big. 
Berry left his legal career in 1989, in order to continue his work for social justice within a faith-based organization. The family moved to Lancaster where he worked for Mennonite Central Committee, first as Director of the U.S. Service Program (1989-1992) and then as MCC’s Director of Administration (1993-1997). 
From 1997 to 2007 Berry was the Executive Director of Pennsylvania Hunger Action Center, leading the advocacy organization’s work related to food security. In the years following he worked for several other non-profits, the last in 2016 when he was appointed President of the Nazareth Project, which supports health care and health education services in Nazareth. Berry resigned that position after receiving his cancer diagnosis.
Berry spent his career working for people and causes he believed were important, and his passion for peace and justice infused his life. He was an avid reader, bird watcher, writer and blogger. He authored two books which have been published (“Water from Another Time” and “If Not Empire, What?”), many articles, opinion pieces and letters to the editor; prior to his death completed a third book written for his granddaughters titled “Believing in god”. Berry was committed to following the way of Jesus, and was an active member of East Chestnut Street Mennonite Church in Lancaster and also the 1040 For Peace organization. 
A memorial service will be held at East Chestnut Street Mennonite Church, 432 E. Chestnut Street in Lancaster, on Monday, January 22, 2018 at 10:30 a.m. The family will receive friends at East Chestnut Street Mennonite Church on Sunday, January 21, 2018 from 4:00–6:00 p.m. 
In lieu of flowers, Berry would welcome donations to The Nazareth Project,

We remember him with admiration and appreciation, and give our condolence to his wife Sharon and children and grandchildren. 

—John K. Stoner

Tom Engelhardt on The American Empire

by John K. Stoner (January 16, 2018)

Tom Engelhardt’s engaging smile on his home page is real.  Why wouldn’t it be—his website  is described as "A Regular Antidote To the Mainstream Media."
Whose face wouldn't break into a smile if they knew they were providing such a needed public service?

Tom is on my short list of trustworthy commentators.  He is a Consulting Editor at Metropolitan Books, as well as co-founder and co-editor of Metropolitan's The American Empire Project.

Today I introduce Tom Engelhardt via his last column for 2017 and his first for 2018.  On December 21 Engelhardt wrote:

The Most Dangerous Man on Earth: Who Cares?Not Them, Not It, Not Him, Not (Evidently) Us 
      Let’s start with the universe and work our way in. Who cares? Not them because as far as we know they aren’t there. As far as we know, no one exists in our galaxy or perhaps anywhere else but us (and the other creatures on this all-too-modest planet of ours). So don’t count on any aliens out there caring what happens to humanity. They won’t.
As for it -- Earth -- the planet itself can’t, of course, care, no matter what we do to it.  And I’m sure it won’t be news to you that, when it comes to him -- and I mean, of course, President Donald J. Trump, who reputedly has a void where the normal quotient of human empathy might be -- don’t give it a second’s thought.  Beyond himself, his businesses, and possibly (just possibly) his family, he clearly couldn’t give less of a damn about us or, for that matter, what happens to anyone after he departs this planet.
As for us, the rest of us here in the United States at least, we already know something about the nature of our caring.  A Yale study released last March indicated that 70% of us -- a surprising but still less than overwhelming number (given the by-now-well-established apocalyptic dangers involved) -- believe that global warming is actually occurring.  Less than half of us, however, expect to be personally harmed by it.  So, to quote the eminently quotable Alfred E. Newman, "What, me worry?" ....
Engelhardt goes on to help us to think about Donald Trump in context--as an expression of American character and Commander in Chief of the world's biggest military machine. This is help which we need, and I hope you will (read more).  
On January 4 Engelhardt wrote:  Seeing Our Wars for the First Time: Mapping a World From Hell ,,,76 Countries Are Now Involved in Washington’s War on Terror  
He left Air Force Two behind and, unannounced, “shrouded in secrecy,” flew on an unmarked C-17 transport plane into Bagram Air Base, the largest American garrison in Afghanistan. All news of his visit was embargoed until an hour before he was to depart the country.
More than 16 years after an American invasion “liberated” Afghanistan, he was there to offer some good news to a U.S. troop contingent once again on the rise. Before a 40-foot American flag, addressing 500 American troops, Vice President Mike Pence praised them as “the world’s greatest force for good,” boasted that American air strikes had recently been “dramatically increased,” swore that their country was “here to stay,” and insisted that “victory is closer than ever before.” As an observer noted, however, the response of his audience was “subdued.”  (“Several troops stood with their arms crossed or their hands folded behind their backs and listened, but did not applaud.”)
Think of this as but the latest episode in an upside down geopolitical fairy tale, a grim, rather than Grimm, story for our age that might begin: Once upon a time -- in October 2001, to be exact -- Washington launched its war on terror.  There was then just one country targeted, the very one where, a little more than a decade earlier, the U.S. had ended a long proxy war against the Soviet Union during which it had financed, armed, or backed an extreme set of Islamic fundamentalist groups, including a rich young Saudi by the name of Osama bin Laden. 
By 2001, in the wake of that war, which helped send the Soviet Union down the path to implosion, Afghanistan was largely (but not completely) ruled by the Taliban.  Osama bin Laden was there, too, with a relatively modest crew of cohorts.  By early 2002, he had fled to Pakistan, leaving many of his companions dead and his organization, al-Qaeda, in a state of disarray.  The Taliban, defeated, were pleading to be allowed to put down their arms and go back to their villages, an abortive process that Anand Gopal vividly described in his book, No Good Men Among the Living
It was, it seemed, all over but the cheering and, of course, the planning for yet greater exploits across the region.  The top officials in the administration of President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney were geopolitical dreamers of the first order who couldn’t have had more expansive ideas about how to extend such success to -- as Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld indicated only days after the 9/11 attacks -- terror or insurgent groups in more than 60 countries.  It was a point President Bush would reemphasize nine months later in a triumphalist graduation speech at West Point.  At that moment, the struggle they had quickly, if immodestly, dubbed the Global War on Terror was still a one-country affair.  They were, however, already deep into preparations to extend it in ways more radical and devastating than they could ever have imagined with the invasion and occupation of Saddam Hussein’s Iraq and the domination of the oil heartlands of the planet that they were sure would follow.  (In a comment that caught the moment exactly, Newsweek quoted a British official "close to the Bush team" as saying, "Everyone wants to go to Baghdad. Real men want to go to Tehran.") ...

One simple question: where did Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, just a few days after 9/11, get the number 60 as the number of countries where the US would take the war against terror, and  George Bush get the same number for a speech at West Point nine months later?  (See the links to their speeches in the excerpt above.)  To me this sounds like a prepared script. 
Read Engelhardt's full column to help yourself be impressed at the beginning of 2018 that the US has now taken the "war on terror" to 76 countries.  (seeing our wars)

Tom Engelhardt--a voice of truth.