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Year: 2018

We got sold on endless wars after the attacks of 2001

We got sold on endless wars after the attacks of 2001

Published at CounterPunch on July 23, 2018  as “How we got sold on endless wars after the attacks of 2001”

I receive so many emails and pitches for one cause or another that I am not able to cite them all. Some of those emails call attention to the fact that there is virtually no protest against the U.S.-backed Saudi-led war in Yemen (“No one is paying attention to the worst humanitarian crisis since World War II,” Washington Post, June 25, 2017) that has killed an untold number of people and caused one of the most egregious health crises since World War II, a cholera epidemic, in that country. Regime change is not an unpopular cause.

After the terror attacks of 2001, most in the U.S. backed the endless wars in which the U.S was involved, along with its allies such as England and France. Those endless wars in places like Afghanistan and Iraq seemed to be a given with trillions of dollars and massive profits for war industries like Lockheed Martin and Boeing seeing profits going off of the charts. The military -industrial-financial complex has become so profitable that almost no one asks the question as to why this is happening. The Taliban, Al-Qaeda and others morphed in some cases into ISIS, and a host of other murderous militias and gangs, and no one makes the observation that maybe the U.S. and its allies helped to fuel these lethal and profitable enterprises. Central America seethes with drug wars (with an insatiable demand generated mainly from the U.S.), causing a steady flow of immigration to the U.S., and Trump makes a spectacle of this debacle while targeting innocent children in its wake. Indeed, some, but not all, of the current outcry against Russia has to do with finding a “worthy” enemy so that the insatiable appetite of the arms manufacturers goes on and on. Indeed, while not a perfect analogy, gun manufacturers in the U.S. benefit to a degree by war and the machismo and frontier mentality that goes along with war. As I write, Israel has attacked the almost defenseless Gaza Strip once again, this time over a border incident, and almost no one raises an eyebrow. It is as if the gross immorality of war, whatever its causes, is now made moral in a dystopian universe.

The laws or rules of war that have been developed over thousands of years have been thrown into the dustbin of history. After all, with murderers like ISIS, who needs or wants rules of military engagement? Even the hard-fought and hard-won lessons of World War II about the horror of contemporary warfare have almost  been  forgotten. The Geneva Conventions, the UN Charter and military rules of engagement regarding prisoners of war and noncombatants have been tossed aside. 

Groups like Veterans for Peace and Win Without War make excellent cases agains the horror of contemporary warfare but almost no one cares to listen besides a committed group who have developed a perspective on the issues that arise as a result of war and planning for war. While Bernie Sanders has moved toward a careful consideration of the impact of U.S.-led wars, the millions of young people, who rallied to his cause as a presidential candidate in 2016, seem largely to be asleep a the wheel regarding issues of war and peace. Since only a small percentage of people enlist in the military, there is little attention paid to military issues. The media would rather put its resources into following Donald Trump’s daily Tweets than covering any of the wars the U.S. now fights or supports.

Howard Lisnoff is a freelance writer.


I use a slightly different title format here, only capitalizing the first word of the title. I also add live links to groups and articles beginning with this article.

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Mass Shootings in the U.S.


Sign outside of a gun shop



Mass Shootings in the U.S.

I wanted to follow up on the recent article that I wrote, “What the Founders had in Mind,” about gun violence in the U.S. As a student of the social sciences and a writer, I value the requirement that information be fact-based and depend on valid information driven by science and/or journalistic scrutiny: In other words, to quote the singer/songwriter Bob Dylan: “But I’ll know my song well before I start singin’” (“A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall”).

My interest in gun violence comes directly from the fact that I taught in public places all of my adult life, from screening preschool students before they entered school to teaching college students how to succeed in college while really trying. My attention was drawn to gun violence in October 2015, when one of the community college students that I taught, Marcus, was murdered at the front door of his home in Queens, New York, along with his best friend. The only other shooting that I have a general connection to is one carried out in a reported get-back shooting at a suburban mall just outside of Albany, New York. I was not at that mall the day that the shooting took place, but I sometimes shop in that mall. Most shootings do not take place in and around schools, but rather in retail spaces and other businesses.

I reference an article here from the Washington Post from October 1, 2017, “The terrible numbers that grow with each mass shooting.” Granted, the shootings I have been somewhat connected to have not been mass shootings, but this article is a good example of investigative reporting on mass shootings and gun violence in the U.S. The graphics in the article are excellent. The article provides both the generalizations about, and the specific facts and conclusions, related to mass shootings in the U.S. 

My objective here is to provide information about who carries out mass shootings. Here are the facts from the Washington Post article in which 158 shooters (I prefer the label gunmen since the majority of mass shootings are carried out by males) were involved.

Some of these mass shooters were known to have violent tendencies or criminal pasts. Others seemed largely fine until they attacked. All but 3 were male. The vast majority ere between the ages of 20 and 49. More than half–88 of them–died at or near the scene of the shooting, often killing themselves.

When the Post article was published, 1.102 people had been killed by mass shootings in the U.S., in 154 shootings in which “four or more people were killed” (Washington Post) by a majority of lone murderers. The numbers provided were for the mass shootings when the article was published in October 2017.

The conclusions about who carries out mass shootings are fairly obvious. The vast majority are carried out by young men and middle-aged men. Some of the gunmen had histories of mental health and some did not. Most died at the scene of the shootings or died elsewhere. Some of those who carried out the killings committed suicide following the shootings.

In the case of the shooting of the student that I taught, his murderer has never been found. That shooting was carried over media outlets in New York City. His neighbors strongly supported Marcus in those reports and police had no past record of any wrongdoing in which he was involved. He seemed to be an exemplary son, brother, friend and neighbor. In my opinion, the community college where I taught at the time of the shooting treated the shooting as if it didn’t happen. I was informed by email that Marcus had been killed by his department chair. A school official confided in me that he had been informed by a New York City police detective that drug paraphernalia for weighing marijuana had been located in Marcus’ home. Marcus was a scholar/athlete and one of the best students that I had had.

Despite the fact that the community college where I taught had a counseling center, no representative of the school contacted either me or the students in Marcus’ class to provide any kind of grief counseling. When I announced Marcus’ death to the class, I provided that counseling since I am trained as a grief counselor and completed a master’s thesis on the subject of grief counseling. A community college colleague, who also taught Marcus, was critical of the  the way in which his murder had been treated by the college.

While this article attempts to answer some of the basic facts of gun violence in the U.S., it does not address the questions of how and why gun violence takes place on a regular basis in the U.S. 

Howard Lisnoff is a freelance writer.   

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Liberal Massachusetts and Recreational Marijuana

This is a recent article I wrote on the issue of recreational marijuana at the online magazine where some of my writing appears: CounterPunch, July 13, 2018

Liberal Massachusetts and Recreational Marijuana

 Howard Lisnoff

Seeing recreational marijuana come to fruition in Massachusetts is like watching the actors in Luis Bunuel’s movie The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie repeatedly walking along the same road without reaching any destination.

In 2016, Massachusetts residents voted overwhelmingly for the ballot initiative—Question 4—to  make marijuana available for recreational use to those 18 years old and older. Medical marijuana had already become available. The ballot question won by over 53% of the vote, and then the state and some local governments began throwing roadblocks in the way of implementing the will of the people. They began adding members to the state Cannabis Control Commission, increased taxes on the future sales of marijuana, and the legislature voted to delay the beginning of sales from January 1, 2018 until July 1, 2018. When I spoke to representatives from two medical marijuana dispensaries, the earliest that one person guessed that recreational sales would begin was at least not until sometime in the middle of August 2018. Talk about thwarting the will of the people! Town after town and city after city in Massachusetts have thrown up obstacles for hosting marijuana dispensaries within their city and town borders. A casual observer might think that some kind of new and dangerous poison had become popular and needs to be kept away from people.

Nine states and Washington, D.C. have already legalized recreational marijuana. For two years running, I have gotten up at the town meeting in the community where I live to speak in favor of both medical and recreational marijuana sales and readers might think that I was arguing to establish an open-air atomic testing facility from the reaction I received from town officials, although Question 4 passed by a tremendous majority of voters here.  And this is in so-called liberal Massachusetts.

Following the Mexican Revolution of 1910, there was an influx of Mexican immigrants to the U.S. Some immigrants smoked marijuana, just like some people in the larger population drank alcohol.

“It was clear the newspapers and tabloids were building a campaign against the plant [marijuana], and much of it has been said to be based on racist ideologies against Mexican immigrants (“The real reason marijuana is illegal in the United States,” Salon, July 2, 2015). Sound familiar?

In 1936, the anti-marijuana film Reefer Madness had its debut, as the vast majority of states banned marijuana use. The film was originally bankrolled by a church group as a morality film and later was spoofed by the counterculture in the late 1960s and early 1970s. In 1952 and 1956, Congress passed legislation making prison sentences mandatory for drug crimes and by the time Nixon became president, minimum sentences began to be imposed in the war on drugs (Salon, 2015). From then on it was a series of stricter and stricter anti-drug laws with stiff mandatory prison sentences at both the state and federal level.

The “Great Communicator” Reagan’s war on drugs (remember “Just say no!”) led to skyrocketing prison populations that went from “150 people in prison per 100,000” to “just over 700 per 100,000” (Salon, 2015). The prison-industrial complex was well on its way to being complete.

Objectionable stereotypes of people (and penalties for) of color using marijuana and the growth of recreational drug use among the generation of baby boomers during the 1960s probably fueled the anti-drug hysteria to the level of the upper stratosphere. The present attorney general of the United States, Jeffrey Sessions, once said that “Good people don’t smoke marijuana” (“Why Jeff Sessions’s marijuana crackdown is going to make legalization more likely,” Washington Post, January 5, 2018). And this also from the chief law enforcement officer of the U.S.: Of the Ku Klux Klan, “I thought those guys were okay until I learned they smoked pot” (Washington Post, 2018).

According to the Centers for Disease Control, 10,497 people died in alcohol-impaired driving crashes in 2016, but I saw no mass of protesters or police in front of a liquor store where I recently went to purchase a bottle of wine, and I recently saw no protest outside of a local hospital demanding action to combat alcohol-related diseases.

Alcohol driving-related deaths each year are dwarfed by the opioid epidemic with two-thirds of the 63,632 drug overdoses in the U.S. in 2016 attributed to opioids according to the CDC. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, “88,000 people die from alcohol-related causes annually…” Now that’s the real madness!

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What the Founders Had in Mind


 Public domain photo titled: famous-las-vegas


What the Founders Had in Mind

MGM Resorts is suing over 1,000 people, among whom 58 were killed when Stephen Paddock opened fire on a nearby concert from his room at the Mandalay Bay hotel (“Mandalay Bay Owner Sues Las Vegas Shooting Victims,” Huffington Post, July 17, 2018). The hotel’s parent company is preemptively suing some concertgoers on the basis of a 2002 federal act that enabled venues such as hotels, etc. to be in compliance with the dictates of the Department of Homeland Security in ensuring that the venue/business has taken the necessary precautions to “protect… against mass injury.”

“Mandalay Bay’s negligence permitted the Route 91 gunman the space he needed to set up his weapons and prepare his attack on festivalgoers below,” the victims’ lawyer, Robert Eglet, told HuffPost on Tuesday (Huffington Post, July 17).

I can’t imagine that the writers of the founding documents of the U.S. could ever have imagined such bizarre and lethal outcomes from their intent to guarantee the right of people to own guns and be part of a colonial militia as the Second Amendment to the Constitution provides for. After all, there weren’t AK-47s and AR-15s and M-16s nearly two and a half centuries ago. There weren’t semi-automatic handguns or ammunition clips capable at shooting off rounds near the speed of a machine gun. Communities back then were somewhat capable of taking care of some of the loose cannons (no pun intended) among them, and in any case, loading rifles in those days was somewhat of a labor-intensive task. And most hunters didn’t want much to do with causing death and mass injuries to others. Also, those wanting to get even with members of their community most likely had constraints placed on them that would generally preclude such acts of violence. Perhaps all of this reasoning is an exercise in an apples and oranges debate since there were no organizations that advocated against most kinds of sensible gun control measures and the society was much less atomized then it is today. 

What I do know is that mass violence is carried out for all kinds of reasons by all kinds of people: People who are disturbed and people who appear to be perfectly normal; people who hate certain classes of people and people who are angry at the entire world, or just a small part of the world; people who are bullies and people who have been bullied. The list is fairly long and all sorts of lethal weapons are available to many, many people and I notice that the U.S. and state flags are often being flown at half-staff and there are many, many innocent victims across this land. Innocent kids are killed in public places and almost nothing is being done.

Howard Lisnoff is a freelance writer.

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The Supreme Court: More Hope and Change for the Corporate Elite






The Supreme Court: More Hope and Change for the Corporate Elite

Looking out of my study window at the bucolic setting where I live is very troubling these days. Full summer has taken up residence in perennial plantings, vegetable gardens, and the inviting landscape. But as I write, the second heat wave in the Northeast this summer is wringing needed water from the land, and there is a definite price to be paid for the lush quietude of these surroundings. Indeed, an existential  war, both metaphorical and real rages outside. That war has had very real consequences for those people of goodwill and political acumen who are attempting to live meaningful lives in the mayhem that we now face both individually and collectively as a species. “Don’t mourn, organize,” said the activist and songwriter Joe Hill. But that admonition will take people just so far. Pandora’s Box left hope for humanity, but much like the antihero, Simon Wagstaff,  in Philip Jose Farmer’s Venus on the Half-Shell, we’re faced with so many existential threats that the political landscape looks more and more hopeless as the days and months of reaction pass. Farmer’s protagonist Wagstaff looks for “the “definitive answer to the ultimate question.” He wants to know what the meaning of life is all about with all of its slights and inhumanities and injuries… Why has it been made so very awful?  “Why not?“ is one conclusion that Farmer’s novel purposes, but that is not a satisfying outcome for those who are politically engaged.

It took little time for the political universe that is occupied by Harvard Law School to begin to give some clues as to the “Why not?” The Boston Globe lost no time reporting that Brett Kavanaugh, as a visiting law professor there was “well-liked by both students and faculty members” (“At Harvard Law School, he’s Professor Kavanaugh,” July 11, 2018). We’ve moved so far to the political, economic and social right in the U.S. that this candidate who will move this nation to unrecognizable extremes in terms of women’s rights, gun rights, corporate anarchy, an imperial presidency and an environment that is the plaything of industry, is seen as a good guy. The problem here is that we’ve been heading down this road to oblivion for so long that many cannot even see the road markers that are pointing the way toward a dystopian nightmare. Is this part of what Hannah Arendt called the “banality of evil” in Eichmann in Jerusalem? Harvard blessed us with Dr. Strangelove, Henry Kissinger, the unapologetic warmonger Robert McNamara, and a host of other reactionaries, so why should we be troubled with Brett Kavanaugh on an extremist and right-wing Supreme Court? Isn’t producing a whole line of the latest of the elite of the elite one of the functions of the Ivy League?

But Harvard also was where Daniel Ellsberg studied, so those of conscience can also come from these citadels of privilege. It’s just that they’re not the ones calling the shots these days. Did the Ivy good guys and gals ever really call the shots? I seem to remember something about a missile crisis in 1962.

In addition to Kavanaugh’s Ivy League pedigree, he is a favorite of the far-right Federalist Society, the Heritage Foundation, and the lethal naysayers of the National Rifle Association. There’s a trilogy not made in heaven!

Where do we go from here? Martin Luther King, Jr. said it was a choice between chaos and community as he neared the end of his life. All of the metaphorical  road signs bring us further and further down that existential and real highway toward chaos and oblivion. Perhaps we on the left have not done all that we could have. But a person and political movements cannot spend all of the time at the barricades.

Looking to Democrats for manna from heaven is to cast one’s lot with the failed call for “hope and change” that ended with the present nightmare we face today. If we need the energy of the young we will be disappointed in many there, also. In the late 1980s, a majority younger voters cast their ballots for the warmonger George H.W. Bush. The move to the right was already well under way. While Bernie Sanders did rally young adults on college campuses, they also disappeared in masses from political action after 2016.

Blue Dog Democrats will once again align with Trump in the so-called Red States in favor of the corporate lackey Kavanaugh and we will be that much closer to the end of the road.

While Kavanaugh is busy weaponizing the First Amendment into a right reserved solely for the corporate elite,  the GOP is already busy attempting to make protest illegal. They want to punish wearing a mask at demonstrations with 15 years in prison in their Unmasking Antifa Act. They’re already feeling their oats (“GOP Unmasks Anti-Antifa Bill,” Huffington Post, July 11, 2018)!


Howard Lisnoff is a freelance writer.




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