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Mental Health in the Time of Existential Threats

The Thinker Photo credit: Rodin Museum

 

Mental Health in the Time of Existential Threats

To prepare for a yearly physical examination, I received a questionnaire that addressed emotional health. I had read somewhere… I cannot remember where… that physicians were addressing these emotional concerns as part of an attempt to look at the whole (I can’t come up with a better description here) person in assessing overall health.

So, how’s my mental health in 2019? To answer this complex question, I have to go back to the early 1970s and mention a psychiatrist who practiced in Rhode Island where I lived. His name was Alfred Fireman, and he became known because he had gained a measure of notoriety in the local media and in the local peace movement for his work in the antiwar movement during the Vietnam War. He was known as a go-to psychiatrist, and there were many across the U.S., for those seeking to avoid or resist the draft because of mental health issues. If memory serves me correctly, Dr. Fireman became known as a doctor who would attempt to write a person out of the draft on mental health grounds, so they knew him at both the federal government and at the Selective Service.

My case was different, as I was appealing an order to report for active duty in the army from the Reserves. A psychologist in Dr. Fireman’s office interviewed me and Dr. Fireman signed the evaluation that stated I was unfit for active duty in the military. My lawyer in New York City had reached similar conclusions when he observed in his office on Broadway in Greenwich Village that he could see that I was unfit for the military after interviewing me and reviewing my case to prepare for an appeal of the army’s order. I also raised questions about the immorality of the Vietnam War and the violations of international laws because of that war, but no one would listen.

I had stopped going to Reserve meetings for several reasons. First, basic and advanced training had exposed me to the racism in the military toward the Vietnamese people. The Vietnamese were constantly referred to as “Gooks” and “Charlie.” The barbarism of the training itself, along with its inherent authoritarianism, were other factors. One draftee in the basic training cycle shot toes off of his foot rather than continue on in the training cycle and get sent to Vietnam. Another person in the basic training brigade was mercilessly tormented by drill sergeants, as a message to others to conform, and made to repeat the training. The massacre of students at Kent State University in Ohio in May 1970 by the Ohio National Guard cemented my revulsion to the war in Vietnam and now the war at home. Next, the horrific massacre of students at Jackson State in Mississippi took place. Those murders was not publicized to the extent that Kent State was. The latter was a case of the endemic racism built into the system.

The military found that I had Vietnam Syndrome as part of their findings in response to my application (successful) to Jimmy Carter’s amnesty program. That finding was a kind of vindication since the syndrome meant that I had an aversion to war as a result of the issues I had raised about the immorality of war during the Vietnam War. Readers may recall that the eradication of the Vietnam Syndrome was one of the cornerstones of the administration of George H.W. Bush.

Back to Dr. Fireman for a moment. He had gained additional notoriety in the media, that usually meant radio, television, and print media in those days by making the claim that resistance to the horror that was the Vietnam War called into question the mental health of the society as much as that of the individual. The medical specialty that Dr. Fireman was a part of, to some extent, and many others did not like the conclusion about the sanity of the society he called into question. How can a society operate freely, conduct its daily business, and go about a war half a world away that had killed and maimed millions of people for no good reason besides power and a virulent anti-communism if its sanity is called into question? Dr. Fireman’s take on a society at war was not much appreciated except with those whom  he helped.

Back to the questionnaire nearly half a century later. Here are a few sample questions from it:

Feeling bad about yourself-or that you are a failure or have let yourself or your family down

Feeling nervous, anxious or on edge

Trouble relaxing

Worrying too much about different things

Not being able to stop or control worrying

Becoming easily annoyed or irritable

Feeling afraid as if something awful might happen

Readers will get the general drift here and guess, maybe, where I am heading with this essay.  I wish Dr. Fireman could be here to help me out with some of these answers, but he died several years ago, but not before heading off to live in Florida and help with the defense of some people on death row in that state. He was a kind of long-distance runner of psychiatry and the champion of taking an ethical stand in crazy-making situations.

Here is my response to these questions: Over the past nearly half century, I have witnessed the steady decline and worsening of conditions in the U.S. that have also affected my mental health profoundly.  I finally was vindicated in my battle with the U.S. government in 2011, when I got them off of my back in terms of the war, and to be clear about this issue, I mean the Vietnam War. Yes, all of those years later.

Despite opposing the decline I see all around me in meaningful ways, the sanity I once sought in my place in the world has gone from bad to worse. First there was Ronald Reagan who began the militarism that is all around and the debacle of the economy that has created suffering among people who cannot make it financially. Reagan also used the strategy of dog-whistle politics that targeted minorities and was honed expertly by his heir to the throne of the presidency, George H. W. Bush. It was a short hop to George W. Bush who made the attack on civil liberties and war his cause(s) célèbre.

Wars, that I had countered all of my life became popular after the heinous attacks of September 11, 2001, and militarism and war drowned out those who raised their voices against war and war profiteering. It even became impossible to go to a major league ballgame, or any other sport without being bombarded by military symbols and rituals.

And then there was Trump who followed on the heels of the economic debacle of 2007-2008, which left millions of ordinary people in the U.S. reeling after the value of their homes was gutted by financial wrongdoing. Barack Obama, the president of “hope and change” saved the fat cats and let others less able to defend themselves either sink or swim.

As the grandchild and heir to immigrants, I recoil at Trump’s daily rants against immigrants in the U.S., his racism, his misogyny, and his threats of war. His cause of destroying environmental regulations at a time of ultimate stress on the environment through global destruction would force a yogi into emotional turmoil. People are increasingly challenged in their simple right to vote here, so what remains of decaying democratic traditions and institutions?

Have I left anything out as a cause or causes for my emotional distress at what I see and my increasing inability to address this debacle in any meaningful way? Yes, I am outraged that my children and grandchildren face such a rotten and despoiled world. I am outraged at the destruction of the lives of innocent people! I am outraged by the gun death of a student who I had in a community college class, while he on a weekend trip home and how that community college ignored that student’s death, while rumors spread  about the student’s life. 

Ought I to talk to someone about all of this? Dr. Fireman is gone, but I have spoken with religious leaders in my community, although I am not a religious person. How about a mental health professional? Well, I spent six years getting a counseling degree and I’m not a big fan of the so-called “talking cure” because existential threats to humanity can’t be solved solely by talking, but they can be addressed by doing. I don’t want to sound self-righteous here, but I haven’t been sitting around fiddling while Rome burns. I wonder where the old mass movements are for social change and social uplift? There are small movements now, but some of them have devolved into efforts to enhance one’s identity without fostering significant changes in society.

Howard Lisnoff is a freelance writer.

Loose Bullets and Loose Cannons

Loose Bullets and Loose Cannons

 

Published at CounterPunch on April 22, 2019

The Huffington Post (“Substitute Teacher Fired After Bullets Fall Out Of Pockets In Pre-K Class,” April 15, 2019) reported the story of the substitute pre-kindergarten teacher at an elementary school in Millbury, Massachusetts who had been fired because he dropped loose bullets from his pocket in class. That incident prompted a search of his home that found unsecured guns.

It seems unfathomable that a person could carry loose bullets around in a school environment (not illegal in Massachusetts) among young children without noticing, but given the benefit of the doubt, perhaps a busy schedule, or other issue, might have resulted in the oversight. It’s impossible to know. By the unnamed teacher’s own admission, he had been shooting at a facility the previous day and the loose bullets were left over from that experience.

No reporting from media outlets in the greater Boston area added anything of substance to the incident. There was no mention of the history of school shootings in the U.S., the most notable shootings at Columbine High School in Colorado, and extending out in time to places like Virginia Tech, Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, and Marjory Stoneham High School in Florida. But this was not a school shooting incident, and the teacher brought no guns onto school premises in Millbury.

Perusing the Internet searching for more details and perhaps a commentary on the Millbury incident, I located a gun site that drew comments from some gun owners and others who write about the loose bullet incident. Northeast Shooters-NES (“Ammunition incident in Millbury,” April 11, 2019) that bills itself as “New England’s Premier Shooting Community,” hosted the comments.

Here are some of the entries located on this Internet site that relate to the ammunition incident in Millbury:

We just got a robocall about an incident in the Millbury public schools regrading a substitute who was found with “ammunition” in his or her pocket. They were fired and are under investigation and are banned from entering a Millbury public school again. Thank goodness he didn’t decide to throw the “ammunition” at anyone!

 

I can only imagine that we’ll have to have an emergency school committee meeting or some crap now.

 

I wonder what the “ammunition” was. I used to do some damage with paperclips and rubber bands…

 

we are f*cked as a nation and society (Just exactly how and in what manner “we” are fucked remains a mystery, but readers can easily reach some tentative conclusions based on that brief comment.)

 

My a**hole boss when i was 19 had one [some type of bullet] that exploded and the back part hit me in the head. I was wearing a hard hat but still knocked me off the ladder.

 

Career ruined over nothing.

Further reading of the gun site highlights what’s equally notable about the gun comments. Those comments are sometimes sarcastic and angry expressions about liberals and leftists. The animosity toward leftists is cause for additional concern in a society armed to the hilt, politically and socially on the right, and full of unrequited anger toward the “other.”

The debate over the Second Amendment often turns lethal in public and private places all over the U.S. for many, many reasons including male violence and mental health issues. The lust for notoriety also must be factored into some shootings, as does hate. The angry nature of the comments at the gun Internet site that reflect the vehemence that is often expressed in response to any criticism about the insanity of guns in the U.S. in the hands of people who ought never to have had access to those weapons can’t be ignored. The loose cannons murder innocent children, adolescents, and adults and nearly nothing is done! Was the loose bullet incident an oversight by a gun owner who was irresponsible enough to leave a bunch of handguns and rifles not secured in his home?

Howard Lisnoff is a freelance writer.

How Dangerous is Julian Assange’s Arrest to a Free Press?

How Dangerous is Julian Assange’s Arrest to a Free Press?

The simple answer is very, especially if the First Amendment’s future is considered. For those readers who think Julian Assange will “pay” some price for his publication of the illegal acts of war of the U.S., among thousands of other documents, and then be free to go his way, perhaps some serious soul-searching is necessary.

Five years in prison, or whatever the U.S. government finally penalizes Assange with for so-called illegal access to a protected computer, would only be the beginning of the end for Assange.

The government of the U.S. has been waging a war against freedom of the press for decades, and that war took on all the characteristics of an information destroying Armageddon since the attacks of September 2001, while John Ashcroft was the U.S. Attorney General in the administration of George W. Bush. Readers will recall the battle for access to the library reading habits of ordinary people that was so vociferously fought by librarians. They will also recall how ordinary people’s communications became of interest to the U.S. government.

Go even farther back in U.S. history and readers will find the antipathy, and penalties for, speaking out against World War I. 

Go back to the Vietnam War era and another momentous battle between the right of the people to know and the right of the government to block that knowledge and Daniel Ellsberg’s case and the Pentagon Papers stands out. The government tried every legal stratagem it had in its anti-First Amendment bag of tricks then, but both government wrongdoing and the right to freely publish information in the people’s interest won the day and any who cared to look could see the illegalities and lies that led to the debacle that was the Vietnam War.

For an analysis of Mr. Ellsberg’s assessment of Mr. Assange’s plight and Ms. Manning’s incarceration,  go to the Real New Network (April 11, 2019).

The government has already made a mockery of the other part of the First Amendment, the separation of church and state,  by giving employers, in the case of Hobby Lobby, the right to refuse payment (Time, July 1, 2014) for its workers into health plans that cover birth control. I’m certain the latter was a prime concern of the Founders in the latter part of the 18th century.

Now the government is using the tactic of what’s called double-teaming or triple-teaming in basketball to strip away our right to know, and for journalists and news media outlets to be the conduit of that right to know. Without Julian Assange and Chelsea Manning, we would not have seen the “Collateral Murder” video that showed a helicopter attack against media workers and civilians in Iraq. The government wants to cover up those crimes and keep them hidden from the public and Julian Assange and Chelsea Manning are now suffering the consequences of that government juggernaut against a free press!

Some critics say that Julian Assange is not a likable guy, or that WikiLeaks release of documents surrounding the 2016 election gave us Trump. Nothing could be farther from the truth! Poor campaign organization, a weak candidate, and lots of hatreds out on the streets gave us Trump, an autocrat who hates the First Amendment as no other president ever has. A trip down the “fake news” memory lane is all that is needed for those of goodwill to realize that attacks against Julian Assange and Chelsea Manning are attacks to all who hold that freedom of the press is an absolute freedom.

Quoted in the Guardian, Hillary Clinton said the Assange must “answer for what he has done.” When does Clinton get to answer for what she has done in Libya, just to cite one instance from her tenure as secretary of state?

Julian Assange’s legal team will obviously strenuously fight his extradition from England, but the so-called rule of law is very uncertain. The collusion of those in power across national borders to attack journalists and journalism is nauseating and well orchestrated. The cowards in charge in the U.S., Ecuador, and England come to mind.

Howard Lisnoff is a freelance writer.

Whistleblowers Beware! 

Whistleblowers Beware! 

It’s not an accident that Chelsea Manning is in jail and once again temporarily sent to solitary confinement before being released into the general prison population,  and Julian Assange is teetering at the precipice of being tried and imprisoned in the U.S. following the certainty of extradition with the cooperation of the government of England.

The U.S. government is at war with both Manning and Assange because they divulged classified information and in particular the “Iraq War Logs” and the “Afghan War Diary.” Those “logs” and “diary” recounted U.S. airstrikes in both Afghanistan and Iraq. Within the “Iraq War Logs” is a video of a helicopter strike in Iraq in which civilians were targeted and killed. 

They imprisoned Manning between 2010 and 2017, and again in 2019, in conditions that included horrific treatment such as solitary confinement. Assange has been in virtual imprisonment in the Ecuadorean embassy in London for six years since being granted asylum, but the election of a conservative president in Ecuador, Lenin Moreno, placed Assange in harm’s way by potentially exposing him to extradition from England to the U.S. and then trial and the certainty of lengthy imprisonment in the U.S. Assange would become yet another political prisoner in the land of the free and the home of the brave beside the enervated First Amendment.

Manning’s 2019 incarceration resulted from her refusal to testify before a grand jury that is investigating WikiLeaks. Manning argued that her previous military trial and imprisonment, including the lengthy stay in solitary confinement, provided the same material that the U.S. government is now seeking through a grand jury.

With WikiLeaks’ journalist Julian Assange, prosecutors for the federal government in the U.S. will get around the hesitancy to extradite Assange by promising not to seek the death penalty should Assange be convicted of espionage. The latter is laughable (not for Mr. Assange, however) because his conviction would place him in a Guantanamo-like dungeon where he would be cut off from the rest of the world. The cliche throwing away the key comes to mind. Counter the hegemony of the U.S. in matters of war and power and the resulting dungeon will be deep and silent!

There are some in the West who are fully convinced that Assange deserves to be tried and thrown in jail for “threatening” US national security and “undermining” its democratic processes. Former US presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and former Vice President Joe Biden have called him a “terrorist”, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, then the director of the CIA, has described WikiLeaks as a  “non-state hostile intelligence service” and US Attorney General [former] Jeff Sessions has said prosecuting Assange is a “priority” for him. (“What happens if Julian Assange is tried in the U.S.?” Al Jazerra, November 22, 2018).

 

On April 6, 2019, Ecuador denied that Assange would be forced out of its London embassy: “Ecuador has denied WikiLeaks’ claims it will expel Julian Assange from its embassy in London, rejecting what it called “’an attempt to stain the dignity of the country.’”

Hillary Clinton’s so-called email scandal was well researched and disseminated by WikiLeaks, a political move that she never was able to have put in perspective. The dysfunction within the Democratic Party in 2016 and the poor campaign strategy she followed put the presidency, to some extent, in the hands of the ignorant nincompoop, Donald Trump.

 

The persecution of journalists and whistleblowers is breathtaking, both here and around the world. Edward Snowden will most likely spend the rest of his life in exile for blowing the whistle on the mass-surveillance system of the National Security Agency that monitored communications of ordinary U.S. citizens.

The whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg, who outed the secret and failed history of the Vietnam War in the Pentagon Papers, faced a similar draconian sentence. The government was slightly more functional during that era and the Supreme Court acted to strike down prior restraint in disclosing so-called secret information. In another proceeding, Ellsberg’s case was dismissed because of “gross governmental misconduct.” A good accounting of the history of whistleblowers and journalists in the U.S., when they acted to make important information known to ordinary people, and what happened to them as a result, can be found at the Government Accountability Project in “A Timeline of US Whistleblowers,” (1773-2013).

Governments don’t like their dirty laundry aired and they are willing to torment those who unmask the worst violations resulting from power and greed. 

Many (exact numbers are impossible to calculate) were denied their freedom for reasons from street protest to draft and military resistance during the Vietnam War. During that experience, those people learned what it meant to counter power, greed, war, and empire and suffer the consequences. Some did the latter willingly. Somewhere between 25,000 and 50,000 men and women became expatriates in countries such as Canada and Sweden during that era, many returning after the amnesty program during Jimmy Carter’s administration. Thousands never returned, but remained exiles the rest of their lives. These people also learned what it meant to confront power and arrogance, pay a moral price, and go on with their lives. While there are groups that stand in solidarity with whistleblowers, the potential for solitary or isolated resistance seems to be a more probable outcome in contemporary societies. 

Howard Lisnoff is a freelance writer.

The Political Left is Bigger Than Imagined: Ask the Feds

Antiwar sticker from the Vietnam era

 

The Political Left is Bigger Than Imagined: Ask the Feds

 

Published at CounterPunch, April 8, 2019

There has always been official disdain for the political left in the U.S. The suppression of left movements began with the Palmer raids of 1919-1920 in the First Red Scare. Anarchists were deported in a manner similar to the removal of immigrants from the U.S. today, some of whom committed only minor offenses, and some of whom have been held or deported while active asylum claims have been made, or could have been made. Then there were the communist witch hunts of the Cold War of the 1940s and 1950s, culminating, but not limited to, the execution of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg in 1953 for transmitting the so-called secret of the atomic bomb to the Soviet Union, a crime that they were not capable of committing.

The FBI’s Counterintelligence Program (COINTELPRO, 1956-1971) was a dragnet that entangled left protesters and activists, some of whom were guilty of the high crime of donating money to a cause, or speaking out for justice for an aggrieved group. They relentlessly pursued groups such as the American Indian Movement, the Black Panthers, and the New Left because the government saw the people in these groups as a threat to the smooth operation of the capitalist system and especially the military-industrial complex. When black protest articulated the oppression of masses of people across the U.S. that originated with the colonial experience, actors such as J. Edgar Hoover did not blink an eye in subverting, in sometimes lethal ways, that protest. The leaders of that movement for freedom were mercilessly targeted. When Native American and black protesters found themselves in prison, draconian sentences and solitary confinement were common practice.

The murder of Black Panther Fred Hampton and the suicide of actor Jean Seberg are two of many COINTELPRO operations resulting in those deaths. They targeted Seberg with a dirty tricks campaign for her support of black liberation. Her harassment was like that of Martin Luther King, Jr by the FBI. That the FBI is seen as some sort of savior fighting for equality in 1964 Mississippi is beyond belief.

Now a report by the Regional Organized Crime Information Center (ROCIC), “Antifa-Anti-antifa: Violence in the Streets,” written for law enforcement agencies before the Charlottesville, Virginia Unite the Right rally, “endorse[d] a view that leftist demonstrators were ‘terrorists’ and at least equally responsible for street violence as white nationalists…(Intelligence report appeared to endorse view leftwing protesters were ‘terrorists,’”Guardian, April 1, 2019).

This federally funded program (ROCIC) supplies so-called intelligence to “federal, state and local agencies” (Guardian, April 1, 2019). The ROCIC report also identifies “white supremacists, neo-Nazis, white nationalists, Ku Klux Klanners, white identify groups and a group called the alt-right,” (Guardian, April 1, 2019). The report tends to hold that both fascists and antifascists are terrorists.

One group supplied with information before the protest at Charlottesville was the Secret Service.

The report also includes an opinion article by “Republican National Committee member Shawn Steel, on clashes at UC Berkeley in February 2017, first published in the conservative Washington Times: ‘the mob of antifa terrorists that violently attacked the [student union]… were as much declaring war on the ideology of the man for whom the building is named (Martin Luther King) and its citizens. America’s left was sending a message: Violence is the answer,’” (Guardian, April 1, 2019). The UC Berkeley protests were in response to the scheduled appearance of right-wing speakers who had solicited “ideas” from neo-Nazis and white supremacists. 

“The report also extensively sources information from conservative media and right-wing advocacy groups,” (Guardian, April 1, 2019). ROCIC “is one of six Regional Intelligence Sharing System (RISS) Centers” in the U.S.

The only conclusion here is that the left must be massive in numbers if it has garnered so much official attention from “intelligence” advisory agencies.

Howard Lisnoff is a freelance writer.

Woodstock at 50

Photo credit: stock-vector-graphic, shutter stock

Woodstock at 50

Published at CounterPunch on March 29, 2019

In a few, short months, on August 15, 50 years will have passed since Woodstock (known formally as the Woodstock Music & Art Fair, An Aquarian Exposition), a defining cultural event of the 1960s and a defining event of the baby boom generation, took place.  It took 43 years for me to get to the rolling hills in White Lake, New York at the foot of the Catskill Mountains where the festival was held. The contemporary museum and outdoor music venue are a few hundred yards away from where the Woodstock stage was erected and the bowl-like lay of the land among the hills is still the same. The nearby farms, and the many lakes that made the cover of major magazines at the time because hippies bathed nude in those waters, appear much as they did decades ago.

Singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell’s anthem to the music festival, “Woodstock,” captures the essence of the time, but Mitchell did not come to Woodstock and a reading of her statements about the generation of baby boomers is perplexing.

Here is Mitchell in her own words on the counterculture and war:

She has said the parents of the boomers were unhappy, and “out of it came this liberated, spoiled, selfish generation into the costume ball of free love, free sex, free music, free, free, free, free we’re so free. And Woodstock was the culmination of it.” But “I was not a part of that,” she explained in an interview. “I was not a part of the anti-war movement, either. I played in Fort Bragg. I went the Bob Hope route because I had uncles who died in the war, and I thought it was a shame to blame the boys who were drafted.”

When Trump was elected president and began his right-wing makeover of the federal government and installed hate and inequality as the zeitgeist of this epoch, a commentator who I can’t recall said Trump and his administration were a slap in the face to the baby boom generation. That may be partly true, but many in that generation did not have political and social views and lifestyles that reflected the ethos of Woodstock, but thankfully a critical mass of the young men and women from that era did.

“Don’t mourn: organize!” sounds good, but the critical mass of the baby boom generation vanished long ago and what we have now is an unmitigated disaster. It’s a disaster politically, socially, economically, and above all environmentally!

Readers may want to reflect on the fact that just over eight months after the fields of Max Yasgur’s farm in White Lake remained  a muddy mess that some say took years to return to its natural state, the horror of Kent State and Jackson State happened.

Comparisons between Woodstock and Kent State and Jackson State need to be made carefully. There is a world of difference between attending a music festival and countering the National Guard as occupiers on a campus in Ohio, or protesting at a historically black college in Mississippi. Both protests turned lethal because the rhetoric and actions of the government (national, state, and local) were so highly charged with hate and violence at the time that death and mayhem were easy to predict.  The entire society witnessed the violence that was the Vietnam War on the three major television stations at the time on an almost nightly basis. It was a war that came into living rooms within the U.S. and around the world as protest spread.

The young men and women at Kent State and Jackson State learned that protesting war in the politically and racially charged atmosphere of 1970 came with a high human price. There are veterans of those two mass shootings that still must live their lives with those wounds both physical and psychological.

The singer-songwriter, Neil Young, who wrote the anthem of Kent State “Ohio,” was a bit inconsistent as the years passed. Here are his views on Ronald Reagan: “I was one of those who felt that some ideas he had were good ideas.”  Ronald Reagan, then governor of California, hated both the First Amendment’s right to free speech and the generation that dared to protest.

And again, here’s Young after the attacks of September 2001:

Post 9/11 Young takes a hard turn back to the right, with the 2002 song Let’s Roll and its somewhat ham-fisted battle cry for America to kick some ass and get revenge overseas, and its support for the Patriot Act restricting rights at home. The angry call to arms includes lines like “going after Satan on the wings of a dove” and “facing down evil.”

As the years and decades passed, many baby boomers stayed active, and our presence was more and more noticeable in the movements against war, for the environment, against nuclear weapons, for women’s rights, for civil rights, for gay rights and many social, political, and economic movements both local and national and international. When Trump called neo-Nazis and white supremacists “some very fine people,” fingers to the wind were easy to find among the generation of baby boomers.

Nostalgia may become a form of depression, which can be mild or serious. It is important to remember, but more important to move on with those memories into today. When critics say the Vietnam antiwar movement turned violent, well, that was a tiny minority and it did not represent the movements that came later. To those who hold that the victories of the 1960s and early 1970s were permanent, look to the revolution of the right that has ripped apart movements for social, political, and economic change.

With Russiagate now history, get ready for Trump’s assault on Iran, or perhaps some other target, that may coincide with the 2020 election cycle, and pay close attention to those from the Cold War era that gave rise to a permanent class of war-makers and those who make huge fortunes from the preparations for war. Take notice of the more contemporary right-wing heirs of the Cold-War.

Howard Lisnoff is a freelance writer.

“Say It Ain’t So, Joe: the Latest Neoliberal from the War and Wall Street Party

“Say It Ain’t So, Joe:” the Latest Neoliberal from the War and Wall Street Party

Published at CounterPunch on March 20, 2019

 

Trump’s Plot Against America: It Can Happen Here

Trump’s Plot Against America: It Can Happen Here

Published at CounterPunch on March 5, 2019

When Philip Roth wrote The Plot Against America (2004), I instinctively recoiled at Roth’s fictional account of a neo-Nazi political party coming to power in the U.S. with figures such as Charles Lindbergh at its helm. When a Nazi document surfaced just recently (“Nazi blueprint for North American Holocaust acquired by Canada archive,” Guardian, January 25, 2019), that outlined the World War II Nazi plan to turn parts of North America into a Nazi enclave, probably with an effort to round up Jews and others that the Nazi regime saw as undesirable, I paid closer attention.

The Guardian published “The neo-Nazi plot against America is much bigger than we realize,” (March 3, 2019), which discusses the alarming rise in racism and anti-Semitism in the U.S.

Now with Michael Cohen’s (Trump’s former lawyer) testimony before the U.S. House of Representatives, in which he concluded that Trump and his backers may not allow a peaceful transition of power should Trump lose the 2020 election, the handwriting has been more clearly written on the wall than ever (“Michael Cohen Worries There Won’t Be a ‘Peaceful Transition Of Power’ If Trump Loses in 2020,” Huffington Post, February 27, 2019).

Trump and his followers, both rich and terminally ignorant, despite their Make America Great Again red hats of disdain for institutions and the little left of democratic traditions in the U.S., are the real “America” haters in the “room.” Trump and his father had a long history of racism in the way they managed their rental empire in New York City. Trump’s treatment of workers in his many projects was abysmal. His history of cheating contractors is legendary. The recent history of the Republican Party is one of total disdain for the few remnants of democratic institutions that remain. The nomination of Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court  (Washington Post, April 5, 2018) comes to mind, as does the recent shutdown of the federal government.

As a Jew, I am very, very concerned that a loss in 2020 for Trump and his backers could mean that a U.S. version of the Einsatzgruppen could happen here. There is easily enough hate and an ample supply of guns to loosen a segment of this society that would carry out and enjoy random and targeted murder in the streets of the U.S. Look to those with grudges and those who came out on the streets in Charlottesville, Virginia at the Unite the Right rally in August 2017, which resulted in the death of one protester. They shouted for blood and soil while chanting “Jews will not replace us.” Trump said there were some “fine people” among the white supremacists and neo-Nazis. Jews would not be the only targets of such murderous mayhem if Trump, et al. turned to violence to hold power. People of color and people with sexual orientations objectionable to religious fundamentalists, along with immigrants, would be “fair game.” As reported in the Guardian above (March 3, 2019), the Southern Poverty Law Center has documented the escalating level of anti-Semitism and racism in the U.S. The 11 people killed at the Tree of Life synagogue in 2018 are testament to the violent expression of hate here!

Those who want to conflate being a Jew in the U.S. with support for Israel’s denial of the Palestinian people their right to a state need to pay attention to a 2018 poll by the American Jewish Committee (reported in the Chicago Tribune) in which 59% of Jews polled favored a Palestinian state. Only a small fraction of Jews in the U.S. support Trump. My sense is that the number of Jews in the U.S. supporting the establishment of a Palestinian state is now higher.

To those who hold that “It can’t happen here,” this nation already has a history of actions against black people dating back to slavery and its aftermath. The Ku Klux Klan existed in various forms since the end of the Civil War and colluded violently with some local police departments in the U.S. South during the Jim Crow era. The history of the treatment and massacre of many Native Americans is yet another historical reality in just how vicious the government can be to those who get in its way in the face of expansionary policies and its solidifying of power. Smaller movements against women, gay people, and those who have taken to the streets against war are other valid examples of how violent both official and unofficial reaction to protest can be.

The government maintains, or can cull, information about dissidents from powers it has had over decades and can put into effect powers given to it by the Patriot Act enacted following the attacks of September 2001. It would not be difficult to envision the melding of government power and the violent dissatisfaction of enclaves of those filled with hate around this nation to begin a pogrom against those deemed as objectionable by Trump and those like Trump both inside and outside of the government. A fabricated so-called national emergency such as war based on regime change could be the event that sparks the final thrust toward fascism. Only a tiny fraction of Democrats in Congress would resist such a war.

Howard Lisnoff is a freelance writer.

Follow the Money to the Border Wall

Photo credit: pbs.org

Follow the Money to the Border Wall
Published at CounterPunch on February 27, 2019

Readers may rightly believe that the government and segments of this society have fallen to their absolute lowest levels just as a new outrage becomes obvious. Such is the case with Trump’s (read his far-right handlers) border wall.

What are the objectives of the border wall? In other words, just what does the man behind the curtain and his handlers have in mind? First, they placate their base of haters and ignoramuses. Next, they make lots and lots of money for their special interests such as security companies, gun manufacturers, infrastructure companies, the military, and other government agencies.

The Real News Network presents a compelling recounting of just who will profit from Trump’s latest outburst of hate in “Trump’s Border Wall: Who Profits?” (February 25, 2019). Not surprisingly, some companies, like selected Israeli security companies that supply all manner of security equipment such as is used on Israel’s border wall (the Israeli West Bank barrier) at its border with the West Bank, have already seen their stock prices skyrocket: Follow the money: Make some good bets! Readers may be able to see the demonization of immigrants trying to enter the U.S. at the U.S./Mexican border connected to the plight of the Palestinian people in the West Bank. The comparison is more than valid.There’s lots of money to be made around the world from so-called security devices.

And while Israeli security companies are under scrutiny, consider that the racist Benjamin Netanyahu has just cemented a pact in order to facilitate a ruling majority with “ultranationalist extremists” of the Jewish Power party according to the Guardian (February 25, 2019). Now there’s a match made in hell: Trump and Netanyahu, an anti-Semite and racist president in the U.S. and a racist prime minister in Israel.

Then there is the question of infrastructure decay in the U.S. Who has not driven along roads and over and under bridges in the U.S. without being personal witness to those decaying roadways and bridges? Environmentalists may object here (Where is the juggernaut for mass transportation and environmentally friendly vehicles?), but in the near future we all need ways to get around and roads and bridges in the U.S. are an absolute disaster in many cases, while Trump touts his hate at the border with a wall. Trump would like around $8 billion to put his hate into reality at the border, but meanwhile human needs go unmet and ignored in the U.S.

Don’t pay attention to the grotesque caricature behind the curtain while the plutocrats and oligarchs take your wallet, destroy the sad remnants of democratic institutions, stoke the hate they are so adept at, laugh all the way to the bank, plan openly for a coup d’etat in Venezuela, and destroy the planet!

Howard Lisnoff is a freelance writer.

Anti-Semitism, Racism, and Anti-immigrant Hate

Photo credit: timesofisrael.com

Anti-Semitism, Racism, and Anti-immigrant Hate

Published at CounterPunch on February 15, 2019

Growing up in a small town in New England, I never thought much about anti-Semitism. I was, however, aware of the differences that marked the Jewish presence in a town in which most residents were first and second-generation children or grandchildren of immigrants who had come from Canada, Ireland, Portugal, and from several countries in Eastern Europe. One black family lived in the town where I grew up. Most residents earned their living from textile mills, or from running shops in the business district. I never felt very uncomfortable because of the differences in background. People learned to get along with imperfection. The small Jewish community in which I grew up had seen dwindling numbers following World War II, but shopkeepers and a few professionals gave me the sense I belonged to a group that defined its own identity and was not molested in any way.

The textile mills in town had seen labor strikes decades earlier.

By the time I worked in public schools the sense of being different because of the strong presence of ethnocentrism was obvious. Before leaving public schools for work in community colleges, the kinds of anti-Semitism that I experienced were substantial. A neighbor with whom I had had a minor dispute said, “I’ve read your articles in the newspaper and Hitler should have killed all of the Jews.”

I had lost an adjunct teaching position at a college for what a colleague called out as being brash enough to address women’s rights in a school founded on sectarian principles, but this was only a minor issue since I had full-time employment to fall back on.

Despite the loss of that job, I never felt that my identity as a Jew was ever under any serious threat. I even felt confident challenging Israel’s treatment of Palestinians.

Now with Trump, all of this has changed for the worse. Anti-Semitism has escalated to levels that make putting hate into perspective impossible. A few days ago, a probable anti-Semitic incident took place at an Orthodox-Jewish school in the Catskill region of upstate New York, with fire damage and swastikas spray painted on the outside walls of a school building. Visions of Nazi Germany came to mind as they had when 11 worshipers were killed at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh in October 2018. Readers will remember that the gunman in Pennsylvania identified an immigrant aid society as one of the reasons for his attack.

I have closely followed anti-Semitic incidents as they have been reported in the press. There is an area of the lower Hudson Valley in upstate New York that has seen an alarming increase in anti-Semitic incidents, the suspicious school fire being the latest example.

The hatreds expressed in many of Trump’s statements are partly an attempt to enrage his base and drive them to act out the foulest kinds of behavior while the far right solidifies its grab of more power and more wealth. These trends are the hallmarks of a decaying society where inequality and meanness on the streets are the calling cards of the few and the wealthy and their sycophants like Trump. Recall his “very fine people” comment referring to some neo-Nazis and some white supremacists at Charlottesville, Virginia, and the neo-Nazi chants of “Jews will not replace us.”

While searching for information about the closing of a clothing store in a nearby town in upstate New York where I shopped, I found a disturbing comment from its former owner, a person with whom I often chatted while in the store. He talked about his suspicion that when an incident of arson took place at the store in the middle of the decade of the 1980s, he strongly suspected that the motivation for that arson may have been the targeting of a business owned by someone Jewish.

The business owner pointed to the fact that at the time of the fire at his store, a similar fire took place at a clothing store in a nearby town in Connecticut. There were two issues that stuck in the business owner’s mind about the second fire: The clothing store in Connecticut was owned by a Jewish individual and that fire took place on Hitler’s birthday. Although no proof of anti-Semitism has come to light in these arsons, enough information is available to draw tentative conclusions.

I met with a religious leader near the community in which I live to discuss a number of incidents near my home that I considered to have some elements of anti-Semitism. The area has many Jews who have relocated from the greater metropolitan New York area. The rabbi I spoke with observed that when Jews come into conflict with long-time residents of the area, in any number of ways, that sometimes innocuous contact may be seen by people as interfering with their established control over some of the aspects of living, working, and governing in the hill towns that comprise most of this geographical area.

As nativism and populism grow on the right worldwide, along with economic uncertainty, anti-Semitism, racism, and anti-immigrant actions and attitudes have once again become prominent.

Howard Lisnoff is a freelance writer.

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