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Anti-Semitism, Racism, and Anti-immigrant Hate

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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.

The Mother of All Bombs: U.S. Foreign Policy

The Mother of All Bombs: U.S. Foreign Policy

Published at CounterPunch onFebruary 6, 2019

Following the horrific destruction left in the wake of World War II, the United Nations in its seminal and founding document, the Charter of the United Nations, set out to prevent future wars among member nations. The Charter’s admonition against war was also voiced in the lessons learned from the Nuremberg trials of Nazi war criminals in its condemnation of war: “starting or waging a war against a territorial integrity, political independence or sovereignty of a state, or violation of international treaties or agreements.” are crimes against peace and “makes all war crimes possible.”

The few and the wealthy of many nations are no longer constrained by rules that categorize civilized and enlightened behavior toward other nations such as Venezuela and Iran. They’ve had many nations in their crosshairs and have met with much “success.” Their attacks against Venezuela’s sovereignty are the final nail in the coffin of the endless wars, and the preparation for war, that are now all the rage among the sycophants of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Venezuela is absolutely no threat to the U.S., and therefore, the U.N. Charter prohibits the kinds of dangerous and lethal idiocy that the Trump administration is now orchestrating against Venezuela. Readers need to consider that presidents are viewed in a positive light when they are seen as acting in a presidential manner, i.e., threaten or incite war against other nations. Recall the popularity of the newly elected Trump when he ordered the use of the mother of all bombs against Afghanistan. The bipartisan talking heads in the U.S. loved that theatre (“Trump Drops The Mother Of All Bombs On Afghanistan,” New Yorker, April 14, 2017).

Even billionaire Michael Bloomberg got in on the act of Venezuela bashing in his attacks against mild reformers of the political system like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren:
To plutocrat Michael Bloomberg, Sanders is a “demagogue” preaching “unreason,” while Sen. Elizabeth (D-Mass.) will transform the United States into a “non-capitalistic” system where “people are starving to death,” like “Venezuela” (“What The Left Gets Wrong About Bernie Sanders And Elizabeth Warren,” Huffington Post, January 31, 2019).

Critics of Nicolas Maduro’s government are right to point out that some of the blame of the current state of domestic affairs in Venezuela is attributable to Maduro’s handling of dissent among ordinary Venezuelans. Additional responsibility is undeniable in that the Venezuelan economy has not diversified to the extent that could have offset the declining price of oil. But, these serious failings do not rise to the level of the attacks against Venezuela by those with power and wealth and their errand “boys” who want a one-dimensional political and economic world where their wildest whims of power and control go unchallenged.

The mass media have been the biggest and most vocal cheerleaders of regime change in Venezuela. Following upon the heels of Russia bashing from mass media outlets such as MSNBC, the New York Times and the Guardian have made Juan Guaido the poster boy of their own agendas in support of the few and the wealthy: “Si puede! (“Yes we can!”) shouts rapturous crowd at Juan Guaido rally,” (January 31, 2019). Quickly forgotten is the lead-up to the 2003 war in Iraq, based on lies that turned that nation into a quagmire of sectarian hatreds and civil war.

Will Maduro be dragged through the streets in the manner of Muammar Gaddafi (a scoundrel in his own right) following the U.S.-led bombing campaign that turned that nation (Libya) into yet another quagmire? The Trump administration has Cuba and Nicaragua next on its hit list with absolutely no basis. The rules of war specify that a direct threat must be established before any aggressive actions are taken against sovereign nations. No direct threats exist! We seem to have learned next to nothing from history and are condemned to repeat the egregious and lethal mistakes of the past! And why not, they’re big money producers for some.

Howard Lisnoff is a freelance writer.

The Long Goodbye of Antiwar Protest

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The Long Goodbye of Antiwar Protest

Published at CounterPunch on February 5, 2019

It’s been a case of the long goodbye for what’s left of the peace movement in the U.S. On Saturday (January 26, 2019), a small group, very small by historic peace actions go, protested in front of the White House.

Watching the protest and interviews with protest participants on The Real News Network was almost painful. Medea Benjamin’s insightful observations, and a few other people’s, about the ongoing coup against Venezuela were just about the only sane and adult comments in the “room.” Across the globe, the vast majority of governments lined up behind the U.S. administration in its attacks against the people of Venezuela and Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro. The fallen zeitgeist of peace was as clear as it was after September 11, 2001.

Maduro is not blameless in what has happened in Venezuela, but that nation’s demise is a complicated matter with many domestic missteps along the way, particularly connected to the lack of domestic economic diversity. Venezuela has enormous fossil fuel reserves, along with other highly valued minerals, which makes it open to the predatory wolves of the global market. Look to Iraq as an example.

Then there are the media outlets across the U.S. and Europe pushing for this bald-face regime change in Venezuela. Imagine a major newspaper or other news outlet in the U.S. or elsewhere suddenly proclaiming that some unknown entity ought to be supported as president of the U.S. Imagine again, sanctions brought to bear against the U.S. for failing to heed that regime change advice. Suggesting that U.S. wealth be tied up by legal stratagems and handed over to the newly selected president would automatically be seen in the media as a case of high treason.

Why bother with the CIA or NSA, or other intelligence agencies when regime change is now handled in plain sight? It used to be that the process was slow, sort of like watching a kettle come to a boil, but this is now the stuff of a post 9/11 world and an Orwellian thought process that is truly disconcerting. The government tells us who we are at war with, and woe to those who buck the tidal wave of warmongering. It was as if they gave the merchants of war a ticker-tape parade through the streets of New York City and the sycophants of endless war were the cheerleaders of the confetti brigades.

A comment on The Real News Network piece observed that the disarray in the peace movement reached its apex during the Obama administration when people were sucked in by the empty rhetoric of hope and change and promptly left the streets and ignored Obama’s expansion of the war in Afghanistan.

The long march of the acceptance of regime change through war and subterfuge began long before the Obama administration. Regime change followed upon the heels of World War II and the Cold War. The U.S. championed dictators who toed the U.S. foreign policy line and cared little for issues such as human rights and economic development that would benefit masses of ordinary people.

The September 11, 2001 attacks put regime change on the fast track and a series of nations were placed on one axis of evil list or another and mayhem broke out. Syria and Iraq come to mind as do Venezuela and Iran now. The axis transforms into the troika and few are paying any attention.

Perhaps the cliche fits that when a movement hits rock bottom, then the only way is up. But cliches are always weighed down by the reality on the street and that reality is anything but hopeful. This society has been carefully taught to accept war as a necessity, and not even a necessary evil. Journalist Chris Hedges wrote that War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning (2002). Instead of something to be avoided at all costs, they have sold us a bill of goods about the trillions of dollars that are wasted on wars instead of on social programs. For those of us who were on the streets during the Vietnam War and continued on through the present-day’s endless wars, the writing has always been on the wall. They can fool most of the people most of the time about war. It’s not even seen as sexy to protest war anymore.

Howard Lisnoff is a freelance writer.

The Government that Knows How to Channel Hate

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The Government that Knows How to Channel Hate

Democracy Now presented a segment on its January 23, 2019 program that featured ACLU attorney Chase Strangio. The segment covered the latest attacks against yet another vulnerable population in the U.S.: transgender people. The Supreme Court and the Trump administration have created what is essentially a system of harassment and discrimination against transgender people in the military, making for a “Don’t ask, don’t tell.” policy reminiscent of the Clinton administration’s harassment of gay people in the military. Yogi Berra may have said, “It’s like deja vu all over again,” but not much of what goes on in U.S. society these days is very funny.

Martin Luther King, Jr. observed: “The greatest purveyor of violence in the world: My own government.” (“Beyond Vietnam,” April 1967). Recall how Barack Obama dismissed King as some relic from the past vis-à-vis U.S. militarism? To enforce that violence, it uses its military forces and other global strategies like economic sanctions to punish any nation (and people) who dare to buck U.S. superpower global hegemony. And that’s the rub! The debate can’t end with a separation of U.S. military policy from the military, which is its enforcement tool just as police are the enforcement tool of domestic economic, social, and political inequality on the streets of the U.S. They’re two sides of the same coin. Check out the prison population in the U.S. to see how the latter works.

Following the horrors of World War II, the last time that the U.S. stood for a good cause that the military won, an international set of principles were expanded upon that include the Geneva Conventions, the Nuremberg Principles, the U.N. Charter, and other documents and laws. It took only a few, short years for the U.S. to toss those principles and goals into the trash bin of history. The Cold War and the War on Terror have spawned their own perversions against what was achieved in 1945. Where an international police action could have sufficed in September 2001, now we have endless war. And the latter does not take into account the reasons September 2001 took place. Even a baseline of the rules of war, thousands of years in the making, are not seen as a hindrance to military planners, war profiteers, and their ilk at all branches of the federal government. It’s very, very big business. Trillions of dollars are at stake.

Regarding income inequality and militarism, it is noteworthy that as both the global economy and endless wars have morphed, inequality continues to grow at alarming rates further victimizing groups such as transgender people, people of color, and the poor. It is a vicious cycle that has at its heart and soul the U.S. global empire that is the primary, but not the only, enforcer of the global economic, political, and social order.

Democracy Now and other media outlets are no strangers to the reality facing journalists on the ground today who attempt to report on the global empire. Once, one of the defenses against tyranny, journalism itself has repeatedly seen attacks of all kinds. Even with the proliferation of the Internet, the hegemony of U.S. control of the message and medium is difficult to deny. As I write, the government has become so bold that while they once cooked up plans to overthrow their adversaries behind a veil of secrecy, they now do these dirty deeds on primitive newscasts. Shame is too delicate a word to apply to such wrongdoing and bestial behavior.

Nuclear proliferation and environmental destruction are other suits of the military card that accompany the military’s march across the world in support of the global empire.

The U.S. has about 800 military bases in 80 countries (Politico Magazine, July/August 2015). They are not there to hand out chocolates to local children as some G.I.s did during World War II following their hard-won victories.

The Costs of War Project shows (The Nation, January 4, 2018) that the so-called War on Terror involves 39% of the world’s countries.

Here’s ACLU attorney Chase Strangio:
And I want to say something, too, to a lot of people who I’ve been in community with for a long time, who have very justifiable concerns about the actions of our U.S. military and don’t support the military for many reasons. This isn’t a question about whether or not we support the United States military policy. This is a labor issue. This is a survival issue. This is a question about whether the largest employer in our country can tell transgender people that they are not welcome, that they cannot actively be who they are and retain their employment. So we should be incredibly concerned not only about what this means for trans people, for our employment, for our healthcare, for our survival, in absolutely every context, but also whether or not we’re going to accept a government policy that’s premised on the idea that we don’t exist, and that if we do exist, we should not be protected in any way.

Agreed, transgender people deserve the same treatment as all others in all kinds of federal employment, including the military. That inclusion comes with a hefty moral and monetary price these days.

There is even a more significant issue or two here. Trump orchestrates hate like almost no political figure in the past. He feeds on his base of haters who like nothing more than to see others hurt more than they have already been. Look to the lethal reaction to the historic civil rights movement and the same forces can be seen here today. Faces twisted in anger and hate with the capacity to strike out and give those in power, who don’t care about democratic traditions and institutions, carte blanche.

Howard Lisnoff is a freelance writer.

Another Slugger from Louisville: Muhammad Ali

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Another Slugger from Louisville: Muhammad Ali

Published at CounterPunch on January 22, 2019

Here’s some good news. Louisville International Airport in Kentucky, Muhammad Ali’s hometown, will be renamed the Louisville Muhammad Ali International Airport.

Muhammad Ali was the greatest boxer of all-time, a sport that has many features that readers may abhor. Airports are also great stains on the environment, with aircraft spewing tons of CO2 into the environment. But with those considerations noted, there was the long-distance runner of boxing, Ali, who became a symbol of resistance to the war in Vietnam. The observation made at the time was that Ali was at the pinnacle of his success in the ring and that boxing was one of the few places that a black man could defeat a white man and not risk death for his effort.

On April 28, 1967, Ali refused induction into the U.S. Army, citing his religion, Muslim, and had his heavyweight boxing title taken away. He said he would not go half-way around the world to kill people who had not insulted or degraded his race, and that observation must have earned him the ire of hordes of militant haters across the U.S. Ali said: “I ain’t got no quarrel with them Viet Cong.”

The controversy lasted decades after Ali won his case before the Supreme Court. In 2004, baseball pitcher Bob Feller, a World War II veteran and baseball hall of fame member said: “I object very strongly to Muhammad Ali being here to throw out the first pitch… [Ali] changed his name and changed his religion so he wouldn’t have to serve his country, and to me, that’s disgusting.”

Many criticized Ali for accepting the Medal of Freedom from warmonger George W. Bush in 2005. By then, Ali suffered from the ravages of Parkinson’s syndrome that may have been brought on by his years in the boxing ring. It is impossible to comment dispassionately about the circumstances of the award, or the state of the U.S. as a country already at war for four years (now almost 18 years). But when confronting war and racism during the Vietnam War, it was Muhammad Ali who stood just as immovable as he did against the ropes of a boxing ring and waited patiently for his opponents to run out of steam.

Ali’s support for Ronald Reagan in 1984, in what Ali categorized as a religious issue in public schools, is difficult to explain.

Like the baseball bat named after Ali’s hometown, whose airport now bears his name, Muhammad Ali was in it for the full 12 rounds, or nine innings in real life.

Howard Lisnoff is a freelance writer.

The Faux Political System by the Numbers

Border Wall Photo credit: news.stanford.edu

The Faux Political System by the Numbers

Published at CounterPunch on January 15, 2019

It’s sort of funny in a diabolical way: Trump a Russian agent. That’s the line that readers might expect from a remake of Back to the Future 1, 2, or 3, or a possible article from the National Enquirer… the stuff of science fiction, or fiction, or gossip. But the FBI, our national police, seem to have not much else to do than to cook up schemes of intrigue and espionage.

There is something going on in the dimension of real politics and it can be expressed by the equation mr=ip squared, where m stands for mild, r stands for a reformer, i stands for identity, and p stands for politics. Try it with, say, a mild, but genuine reformer like Ralph Nader and see how the formula works, or an even milder reformer like Bernie Sanders and the result will be the same. Come to the political and economic table in the U.S. in the 21st century, propose mild reforms such as consumer protection, or addressing the effects of climate destruction, and the few and the wealthy, the oligarchs and plutocrats, will stop you in your tracks.

Senator Bernie Sanders is the mildest of reformers, say with issues of student debt or of income inequality, but over the past few weeks his 2016 presidential campaign has been rocked by allegations of sexism (New York Times, January 2, 2019). No matter that the senator has apologized repeatedly and was committed to rooting out any semblance of sexism in his recent senate race in Vermont and in any potential future bids for higher office.

The Women’s March slated for January 19, 2019, has already seen the headwinds of reactionary change banging at its door. A noble cause, the major organization behind the march has seen allegations of anti-Semitism leveled at it. The march has splintered into smaller groups that in some cases will march under a banner highlighted by specific identities. The formula mm=ip squared could be applied to the march, where mm stands for mass movement and ip equals identity politics squared. A casual observer might conclude that these candidates and causes begin to self-destruct under their own particular weight of issues, but the nefarious hand of other forces cannot be discounted. Dirty tricks is the name of the game with powerful forces on the right. COINTELPRO, the F.B.I.’s counterintelligence program of the 1960s and 1970s, comes to mind. However, sometimes dirty tricks cannot explain intolerance.

Ralph Nader, a genuine reformer, but absolutely not a radical, has been marginalized since the 2000 presidential campaign. Despite being one of the most accomplished reformers in U.S. politics, he is universally seen as a political pariah among Democratic campaign operatives for the sin of not being a serious threat to Al Gore during that election cycle. His, Nader’s problem, is that he appeared to be a serious contender for those with an identity in the Democratic Party. Readers know Gore beat George W. Bush in that election, but they, the elite, threw it through a combined effort of the reactionary politics of Florida and the U.S. Supreme Court.

Then there is the political equation of gr=ip squared, where g is equal to being genuine, r represents a radical, and the ip in the previous equation stands for exactly the same elements squared. Take Professor Angela Davis for example. She was supposed to receive an award early this year for her achievements in civil rights. If anyone deserves such an award, it’s the professor. I know because I was right across the street from the Women’s House of Detention in 1971 when they brought in Angela Davis. When a person is willing to risk jail for their political beliefs for positive or even radical change, then questioning their commitment is bad business.

Professor Davis ran into the anti-BDS movement (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement), racism, and red baiting. Some organizations in the Birmingham Jewish community criticized the professor who had already been told that she was to receive the award from the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute (AL.com). Some of the naysayers who support a rabid form of modern Zionism, that contains all of the elements of racism, seem to have effectively nixed the professor’s award. Even a retired general and former college president got in on the criticism of Davis, citing her communist past and involvement with the Black Panther Party. Imagine being a member of a radical black liberation and action group. We can’t even imagine a mild reformer in the U.S., so why even consider Davis as the recipient of the Fred R. Shuttlesworth Human Rights Award from the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute? It’s all by the numbers, as readers can see.

Here’s the point in all of this: It doesn’t matter if a political actor or radical wants to reduce student debt, or put consumers on somewhat of an equal footing with capitalists, or support the BDS Movement to stop the suffering of the Palestinian people or establish a Palestinian state. The few and the wealthy and the haters will get their target every time without fail. They are flawless in how they focus their power and money like a laser beam against their intended target and leave destruction and confusion behind. They allowed Trump, a dangerous nincompoop, to ascend to the imperial throne and the destruction that lies in his wake is breathtaking. They will allow the environment to tank in their greed and lust for power and to hell with the species that populate the planet. Their biggest “games” now are military spending, endless wars, and predatory financial practices. So, putting monkey wrenches into the political system is small-time work for them. It’s all sort of part of their game.

And this final note about mild reformers, except for Ralph Nader: They cling to the war machine and will only make small concessions to the causes of justice and peace when they are pushed by their constituencies. Natural constituencies on the left need to consider when consensus is possible among groups, and that consensus of demands is not limited to the electoral system.

Readers may want to make note of the fact that on the political right, fundraising is not a particular problem since they have their own form of identity politics. An Iraq veteran has raised more than $20 million (Huffington Post, January 13, 2019) that may be returned to donors by GoFundMe. The money had been raised to donate to the building of a border wall along the southern border of the U.S. The money may be returned because the organizer of the fundraiser has opted to use a nonprofit for the donations rather than sending the money to the federal government.

Howard Lisnoff is a freelance writer.

U.S.-Led Airstrikes Continue to Cause Civilian Deaths in Syria and Iraq

Source of photo: Airwars

Source: Airwars

US-led Coalition slashes airstrike transparency despite rising civilian toll
In its first published strike report since President Donald Trump announced the withdrawal of American forces from Syria on December 19th, the US-led Coalition has substantially reduced available information on where and when it is bombing.

The move represents the most significant reduction in Coalition transparency since the start of the war in August 2014 warns Airwars – and will make the task of securing proper accountability for battlefield civilian harm far harder. At the same time, a new Airwars monthly assessment shows that likely civilian casualties from US-led actions are at their highest point since the bloody 2017 battle for Raqqa.

The reduction in Coalition strike transparency was unexpected. For the entirety of the 52-month war against ISIS, the US-led alliance had published information on the number of strikes conducted daily in both Iraq and Syria – along with the near location of attacks and the reported targets. That detail helped distinguish the US-led alliance from other belligerents such as Russia, which remains barely accountable for its own actions in Syria.

While these public Coalition reports more recently shifted to a weekly format, the alliance nevertheless maintained a commitment to state where, when and what it bombed in both Iraq and Syria on each given date. The last such weekly report was published on December 19th – coincidentally the date President Trump announced a US withdrawal from Syria.

In its new fortnightly bulletin, the Coalition declares 478 airstrikes consisting of 1,015 engagements for the period December 16th-29th. While the release gives some detail on what was bombed, there is no mention of where in Iraq or Syria the strikes occurred – or on which specific dates. An accompanying Coalition statement claims that “Our intent is to reduce the number of reports while maintaining transparency.”

However in the view of Airwars, transparency has been significantly reduced. With the Coalition no longer identifying where or when it strikes in either Iraq or Syria, it will no longer be possible for external monitors to match potential civilian harm events to Coalition strikes. That process has been a key part of Airwars’ engagement until now on more than 2,000 claimed civilian casualty events in the war against ISIS, which it has flagged to the Coalition’s own civilian casualty monitoring team for assessment.

Civilian toll from US-led strikes is climbing fast, new report finds

In the Airwars monthly assessment for November 2018 published today, researchers found that at least 221 civilians and perhaps hundreds more likely died as a result of Coalition actions in Syria during the month.

Deaths were mostly clustered around the towns of Hajin, Al Sha’afa and Al Kishma in Syria’s Deir Ezzor province, where ISIS is making a last stand. Thousands of civilians including the families of ISIS fighters are known to be trapped in the so-called ‘Hajin Pocket’.

The reported Coalition casualty toll was the highest since the end of the Raqqa campaign in October 2017. The Coalition’s own air and artillery strike data also showed a 32%. However, actions by the US’s Dutch, British and French allies actually fell significantly during November 2018 – suggesting that the great majority of reported civilian casualties at Hajin were from US military actions alone.

“The war against ISIS is not yet over – and civilians continue to pay a heavy price,” says Chris Woods, the Director of Airwars. “We are troubled to see the US-led Coalition slashing public transparency in the wake of President Trump’s recent announcement – even as civilian casualties climb back to troubling levels. Airwars urges the US and its allies to re-think this shortsighted decision to reduce public accountability for the war against ISIS.”

Main image: The children Aisha, Zaid and Ziad Mahmoud al Haj Hussein, killed in a reported Coalition strike on al Sha’afa in Syria on November 3rd 2018. Image courtesy of the Syrian Network for Human Rights.

Nineteen Sixty-Nine: A Look Back at Protest

Photo credit: Flickr.com

Published at CounterPunch on January 7, 2019

Nineteen Sixty-Nine: A Look Back at Protest

In order to write coherently and concisely about the great year of revolt 1969, 1968 needs to be seen as a backdrop to the great days of rebellion that took place in nation after nation across the globe.

Mass movements of 1968 in the United Kingdom, Northern Ireland, Poland, Brazil, the United States, Pakistan, France, West Germany, Italy, Scandinavia, Spain, Mexico, Czechoslovakia, the Soviet Union, and elsewhere made 1968 the year when the echoes of revolution and revolt were heard around the world: “And revolution in the air…” to quote a line from Bob Dylan, and so was rebellion. Much of the developing world was being rocked in a post-World War II political, economic, and social environment in nations in Africa, Southeast Asia, Asia, Europe, Central America, and South America where the hegemony of the imperial powers was being challenged by ordinary people. A generation and people across the globe were mobilizing for change on the political, social, and economic left. Some of those movements for change would be suppressed violently. Some movements themselves had elements of violence within them, but the vast majority of protest in the U.S. was nonviolent or militantly nonviolent. The cohort of the baby boom generation, an integral part of protest that swept the globe, was coming of age.

What was being opposed? Capitalism, the morphing of communism into an intolerable totalitarianism, imperialism, racism, the lack of civil rights and civil liberties, the subservient role of women, the destruction of the natural environment, and the desire to improve the condition of life of billions of people worldwide. Does this all sound somewhat familiar? Does it sound somewhat romantic and a part of the idealism that is sometimes at the heart of the human condition?

Nineteen sixty-nine was the most significant year in my life and the year in which the political would become intensely personal. During 1968, a group at the college I attended, Providence College Students for Peace, formed in answer to the growing horror of the Vietnam War and the echo of the war’s presence on my campus in the form of the Reserve Office Training Corps brigade. ROTC was an integral part of the experience of many of the students who attended Providence College in Providence, Rhode Island. Only a few, short years earlier, ROTC participation had been mandatory at PC. PC was an intensely conservative school, run by the Dominican Friars, and the student protest group was not welcomed with open arms by either the student body, or the school’s administration. My best friend, Joe, a leader of the student group, had been called into the dean of students office several weeks before our graduation on June 3, 1969, and quizzed about the intentions of the peace group.When we took to the baseball field on campus, where an ROTC commissioning parade would take place during graduation weekend, we knew instinctively (at least that is how rumor had it) that there would be some unofficial presence in the baseball field’s stands that would monitor our actions and behavior where we stood along the foul line at third base. There were about a dozen of us protesting, which was very big news on a campus where those in ROTC often saw their belonging to this military organization as part of an unofficial compact as the children and grandchildren of immigrants in support of the government and its policies around the world. The society had rewarded many students and their families for their allegiance to its values and actions, hence, protest was seen as unpatriotic.

I knew, having been in ROTC during both my freshman and sophomore years at PC, that my membership in the protest group on campus was a signal that most of my college friendships were ending. I had been subtly admonished at a weekend party in an off-campus apartment a few weeks earlier that my membership and actions in the peace group were unwanted and that my friendship with Joe was an indication of connecting to someone who was a political outlier on campus.

Nineteen sixty-nine was never unremarkable. In June, I joined the National Guard as a way to avoid Vietnam. I was so unfit for the military that my experiences, even while waiting to leave for basic and advanced training, were more than unsettling. The monotony and authoritarianism of the military did not suit me in the least. But that is way ahead of the story of the historical and personal importance of 1969.

October 15, 1969 marked the first mass protest against the Vietnam War and by chance I would leave for basic training the next day, first to South Carolina, and then ultimately on to Augusta, Georgia. The Moratorium to End the War organized the October 15th demonstrations. The protest in Boston alone drew 100.000 people. The Moratorium’s second major demonstration in Washington, D.C., on November 15, 1969, would draw 500,000 people, but by that time I would be in Georgia and in the midst of basic training.

I marched down from College Hill on the East Side in Providence, Rhode Island with a mass of people, mostly students from Brown University, in a candlelight procession to the Rhode Island State House. Thousands of people gathered on the state house lawn to hear Mitchell Goodman, then charged (the case against Goodman was later dropped) with counseling men to resist the military draft along with others such as Dr. Benjamin Spock. On the Brown quadrangle, we had listened to Allard Lowenstein, the civil rights and political icon, address the crowd, admonishing the government to listen to the voices of peaceful protest if it, the government, wished the antiwar movement to remain nonviolent. Most of the movement would remain nonviolent, some militantly nonviolent, and others, a small minority of the antiwar movement, would soon turn to more violent means to stop the war.

On the morning of October 16, 1969, I would fly out of Green Airport in Warwick, Rhode Island and after stopping in Hartford, Connecticut, my unit would go on to Columbia, South Carolina and Fort Jackson, the reception station where we would remain for about a week before flying to Augusta, Georgia and Fort Gordon.

Fort Jackson was a surreal experience for me, further solidifying my revulsion at all things military that were meant for a war of aggression against a people and a government in Vietnam that wished to unify that nation. Fort Jackson was the military base that had seen the physician, Howard Levy, refuse to train Green Berets. For his resistance to the Green Beret’s role in Vietnam, he was imprisoned.

Basic training at Fort Gordon was just as horrific as I could have imagined. I did not belong in the military and had tried a last-minute attempt to get out during the intake physical at Fort Jackson the week before. But getting out of the military at that point was pretty much impossible.

The two features of basic training that stood out in my mind, besides the total loss of individuality, was the constant referral to the Vietnamese as “Gooks” and “Charlie.” That expression of racism was small potatoes when compared to the beating that the scapegoat of our basic training cycle, Alan Sturgis (a fictitious last name), would receive.

Alan was from Brooklyn and was marked and used as a scapegoat by the drill sergeants in the company in which we received our basic training. He was physically weak and made an example of at every turn in the basic training experience. He was a member of either a Guard or Reserve unit from New York (I cannot remember which) and his inability to complete the physical requirements of training ensured that he would return to Georgia and undergo a repeated cycle of basic training reserved for those whom the Army wished to make examples. Alan represented the first rule of military training: Stand out and you will be made to suffer.

A half-century later, I can’t imagine what the torment was like for Alan, but I do remember him breaking down in tears in front of the company one afternoon after that day’s training had been completed. Alan’s experiences paled, however, compared to one draftee, who shot the toes off of one foot in the last few days of the training cycle rather than go on to infantry training and the near-certainty of deployment to Vietnam. That event, sent a shiver through the line waiting outside of the mess hall one morning in December, as we learned what had happened.

Assigned to a communications unit just returned from Vietnam following basic training and advanced training in early 1970, the unit command assigned me to an honor guard that fired M-1 rifles at different military commemorations, including the dedication of a Vietnam memorial. Less than a year later, the significance of the M-1 rifle, a so-called assault weapon, and the National Guard, would be forever linked in my mind to the massacre at Kent State University on May 4, 1970.

The Vietnam War had already become a war widely televised, and although the details of massacres such as at My Lai in March 1968 were not known yet, there was evidence, both televised and by word of mouth, including from veterans of that war, that atrocities were taking place. The extent of those atrocities was not known in 1969.

At the end of basic training, getting off of the train at Penn Station in Manhattan that would carry me home for the holidays, I felt like the odd man out in my uniform as I rushed to meet a friend from college.

The protest leader Abbie Hoffman had it right as he closed a speech to students at Vanderbilt University just days before he committed suicide in April 1989. Speaking of the 1960s, he said: “We were young, we were reckless, arrogant, silly, headstrong… and we were right! I regret nothing!”

Fifty years later all of these events are as important today as they were when they happened. The generation of baby boomers was confronted with the military draft in an unpopular war. The elite knew that the draft could not continue, and the contemporary result is that resistance to war is weak on the left. Students today are generally more concerned about debt and careers than they are with issues of war and peace. Others, not of the student class, are confronted with issues of survival.

A single issue, such as the U.S. support for Saudi Arabia in Yemen, needs to make those with any kind of moral compass have their hair stand on end. But because so few have their skin in the “game,” only relatively small numbers of people care.

Howard Lisnoff is a freelance writer.

“If I can’t dance to it, it’s not my revolution.”*

Women’s March Photo credit: Howard Lisnoff

“If I can’t dance to it, it’s not my revolution.”*

Published at CounterPunch on December 31, 2018.

The Women’s March is not immune to the same forces that have confronted the political left in the U.S. for decades. The larger women’s movement itself, that sprang from the antiwar movement and civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s, carried flaws along with its development that are not new to left political movements in the U.S.

Looking in as an outsider during the late 1960s and early 1970s, I noticed that much of the women’s movement was made up of upper-middle class professionals and well-to-do students who gave short shrift to large segments of women in the U.S. who did not have the advantages of middle-class or upper-middle class upbringing and the professional school degrees and advantages that that background afforded many in the women’s movement, particularly those in leadership roles. That the women’s movement has attempted to address some of these shortcomings in recent years is testimony to the vibrance of that movement, but the fact that most white women without college degrees voted for Donald Trump, the dyed-in-the-wool misogynist, is a an undeniable and valid criticism of the women’s movement’s effectiveness.

I have marched, along with my family, for two consecutive years at the Women’s March in New York City. It felt good being on the streets in solidarity with others, the cause was noble, but during both marches I felt that the marches were accomplishing little besides saying “Hooray for our side.” If the proof is indeed in the pudding, then the nomination and confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, with echoes of attacks against Anita Hill in the person of Christine Ford, is evidence of how the women’s movement’s power has changed little over the ensuing decades.

But now another issue has reared its ugly head as the second anniversary and third women’s march draws closer in January 2019. “Several people involved in planning the march say that at a November 2016 meeting, Women’s March co-chairs Tamika Mallory and Carmen Perez ‘asserted that Jewish people bore a special collective responsibility as exploiters of black and brown people’” (Vox, December 21, 2018). Another Women’s March leader, Cassady Fendlay, who was present at the 2016 meeting, stated that the allegations of anti-Semitism are false. Also, one leader of the march has refused to cut ties to Minister Louis Farrakhan, a leader in the Nation of Islam, who has made anti-Semitic remarks in the past. At a February meeting, at which a Women’s March organizer was present, Minister Farrakhan “espoused anti-Semitic conspiracy theories.” Farrakhan has compared Jews to termites: “I’m not an anti-Semite, I’m anti-Termite.” Farrakhan stated, in a 2014 speech, “…the satanic Jews who control everything… ” Some may say that these issues, related above, amount to guilt by association, but the strength and frequency of anti-Semitic remarks by Minister Farrakhan cannot be dismissed.

As a Jew and a member of the political left, I am still reeling from the effects of the massacre at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in which 11 people were killed by an avowed anti-Semite and anti-immigrant madman. It’s a raw wound that has been apparent since Trump and some of his supporters began kowtowing to, and facilitating the growth of far-right neo-Nazis and white supremacists. The chants of “Jews will not replace us,” and Trump’s obscene comment, “but you also had people that were very fine people” among the neo-Nazis and white supremacists in Charlottesville, Virginia at the Unite the Right rally in August 2017, is enough to bring images of the Holocaust to a position at the front and center of most Jews’ attention.

The Minister Louis Farrakhan issue and the Women’s March is reminiscent of an early demonstration on the Boston Common in Boston, Massachusetts following the attacks of 2001 and the U.S. mobilization for war. The first speaker to address the crowd of protesters identified herself as Palestinian, a people with whom most Jews in the U.S. feel connected to in terms of decades of persecution. But the speaker’s opening remarks targeted Jews as being responsible for just about every sin that could be imagined on the international stage. The speaker portrayed Jews as some sort of evil cabal and I knew instinctively that this demonstration and rally was not one I felt that I could get up and dance to. I left, feeling that my identity (not to be confused with identity politics) was being hammered away at by the speaker.

With all of the brouhaha associated with this new twist in the women’s movement, an alternate group… March On… is but one example in an array of groups that has sprung up to answer an alleged unacceptable turn in this necessary and vital part of the movement of protest in the U.S. It may be true that if two leftists are gathered in the U.S., they will not be able to agree on either the time of day or the season, or the fact that the sky is generally blue on a sunny day, but it seems fairly obvious that casting one’s lot with those who speak words that support intolerance and create a loss of solidarity on the left are to be avoided.

Anti-Semitism, racism, and misogyny are all symptoms of the underbelly of humanity. We need to get the connections between that hatefulness correct on the left.

* Emma Goldman

Howard Lisnoff is a freelance writer.

The Big-Box Store Confrontation: Issues of War and Peace Among the Jeans

Vietnam War Photo credit: nytimes.com

The Big-Box Store Confrontation: Issues of War and Peace Among the Jeans
Published at CounterPunch December 26, 2018.

It was not a confrontation with someone with right-wing points of view in the usual sense. No screaming… no denunciations… not even the hint of a physical threat was apparent in the huge, warehouse environment in which this unexpected confrontation occurred. The aisles were not even jammed as would be expected just a few, short days before Christmas, so the discussion could go on unimpeded until it reached its unsatisfactory end.

The dialogue didn’t include any observations on Trump’s plan to pull troops out of Syria, or the impending departure of Secretary of Defense James Mattis, the so-called last adult in the room left standing in the Trump administration. With adults like Mattis, readers can imagine the horrific success of Trump in the deconstruction of governmental departments like the State Department, education, interior, and the Environmental Protection Agency: It’s the stuff the likes of which an actor like Ronald Reagan could have only dreamed about!

The woman and I were perusing a display of jeans at the well-known discount outlet when we began a innocuous discussion about where the waistline falls on a particular company’s line of jeans. Sort of the mundane stuff of a consumer culture. She mentioned that she was purchasing jeans for her son who was stationed at an Army base in Virginia. I replied that I had been in the Army, and before I could go any further, she offered up the expected “Thank you for your service,” a refrain that has accompanied interactions of this kind since war became normalized in the U.S. during the first Gulf War under George H.W. Bush.

Veterans for Peace, a group to which I belong, offers a recommendation when dealing with statements like the one recounted above… Their suggestion is to reply with words like “If you want to thank me for my service, then work for peace.”

No matter that I was a war resister in the military during the Vietnam era. The person with whom I had this conversation would not have begun to understand the place from where I came and the frown and twisting of her facial expression that accompanied my “Well…” to her remark was enough to stop me cold.

Next, she began a monologue about her son’s work servicing missiles in the military. I have no idea if the missiles she mentioned by name are of the “ordinary” type, or a nuclear-tipped variety, and I really didn’t want to know. And I have nothing personal against either her son or her, but the kind of militarization that she espoused in our “talk” left me speechless. I thought that by extending a dialogue about issues of war and peace, I might have been able to at least bring some balance to the discussion, but it was the same feeling that I got following the 2016 election when some liberal groups began organizing to go into precincts around the country and engage those voters who may have given Trump the advantage that he had in winning the Electoral College vote. As a fellow writer and fellow veteran has repeatedly said to me, “I can’t bring myself to engage Trump supporters.”

And so it was with this discussion. It ended with my fellow shopper recounting the long line of members of her family who had been in the military over the past 70 years or so.

I thought back through the many decades to the member of a service organization who sat with me on the panel of the special Discharge Review Board that President Jimmy Carter established to review discharges from the Vietnam era that may have been unfairly given to those who opposed the Vietnam War. That representative sat at my hearing before the board and recounted his family’s history in service to the wars the U.S. has fought, beginning with the American Revolution. He ended with a condemnation of my stance against the Vietnam War and I was left speechless sitting at the table before the board in a government building in Boston. Again, getting in a word to bring his monologue to an end was fruitless and I just sat in amazement before I gathered my thoughts and proceeded with my presentation of my opposition to that war and my case.

It amazes at how some Democrats have aided the cause for war as Trump expresses his mercurial temperament vis-a-vis issues of war and peace. Enough supported Trump in the House to derail a push to disengage the U.S. from the Saudi destruction of Yemen. Who knows Trump’s reasoning, and if his thought processes can even be rightly called reasoning? What I do know is that war has been made such a regular feature of life in the U.S. that we know little about the details of the wars being fought around the world, and when we do learn something of them through an errant attack against the innocent, masses of refugees being shunned across the globe, or the relentless pursuit of journalists and whistleblowers who sound the alarm about the consequences of these wars, the facts inevitably fall on deaf ears.

In the New York Times (October 22, 2017), “Andrew Bacevich, a retired Army colonel who lost a son in Iraq and is a critic of military operations, says that ‘a collective indifference to war has become an emblem of contemporary America.’”

When I think about U.S. war making and the trillions of dollars spent on war and the millions of lives lost and lives squandered, I think of the movement in drama called the “Theatre of the Absurd.” It was a fairly recent movement… post World War II… on the stage that saw all manner of mayhem and the unexpected being played out, except in those existential enterprises no lives were lost. Life has no meaning or purpose in that form of theatre and that’s pretty much what we’re left with now in terms of the issues of war and peace.

Howard Lisnoff is a freelance writer.

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