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Year: 2018

The Use and Misuse of Charity: The Luck of the Draw in a Predatory System

Photo credit: oil-spill-info.com


The Use and Misuse of Charity: The Luck of the Draw in a Predatory System

Published in CounterPunch August 10, 2018.

The appeal appeared on the Huffington Post. It was one of these Go Fund Me requests. It looked bonafide and the story behind the appeal was compelling: A high-school kid would not be able to attend college if he didn’t get some sort of funding. His parents had cut him off because he was gay and they were religious conservatives of the fundamentalist stripe. So, I sent a small donation along to him and wished him well in a note that accompanied the contribution.

I felt good in the same way that I felt when I had completed an overnight shift at a homeless center for which I was the grant writer and a volunteer. It was uncomfortable getting to the assignment, but the rewards were sort of like going to a demonstration. A person can’t help but feel good.

But all of this masks the reality that in a predatory capitalist system there will be some charitable winners and many more losers. In other words, in the real world of grotesquely slanted unequal opportunities, many more in need will lose than win, and the system that produces such high levels of inequality will rejoice in the one or two or few thousands of situations where someone got the help that a humane society needs to provide as a matter of doing its daily business.

Here’s an example from the real life of charity on the streets and it took place at about the same time that I wrote grants for the homeless shelter in Rhode Island. In late June 1989, I was awakened by an all-encompassing sickening smell that permeated my entire house in Narragansett, Rhode Island. The smell was unmistakably oil. Since our house was heated with natural gas and wood, I knew that it could not be a malfunction of the heating and hot water system. And besides it was summer, so heating was not an issue. Getting up and going out to see what was happening, I had to walk only a quarter mile to high ground above the open Atlantic Ocean to see a huge tanker immobile. Helicopters were hovering all around it and once back at home the news was exploding with the details of this oil tanker that had run aground just off of the shores of Jamestown, Rhode Island, only a few miles across Narragansett Bay from the famous historical and tourist destination, Newport.

It took only hours to be connected with a volunteer opportunity at a local environmental group, Save the Bay. My wife Jan did some work with a phone bank and I took calls from individuals and groups that wanted to send money to help with the cleanup. The group already had enough volunteers and professionals who were scouring the local beaches and cleaning  oil off of wildlife and working on cleaning up oil slicks in the same area.

During the next day, I would be absolutely amazed at what I found out by answering the group’s phone. Offer after offer came it without any strings attached. It was sort of like: How much can you use? Now, since I had been doing grants for the homeless, I knew the process of getting grant money was a fairly complicated matter, with a search for agencies and foundations that offer money for specific kinds of grants, a call to those groups for their literature, the formal application process that required a very specific budget as to what the homeless shelter would be using the money for, and sometimes an interview at the foundation’s office or an onsite visit by a representative of the foundation. It was not the easiest process, but money for the homeless was fairly “abundant” at the time and the cause had not yet become passé. 

The conclusions here are clear. If a person or group can make it onto the charitable radar screen then all might be somewhat well, but if not, then lots and lots of variables come into play and a person and a group have to be at the right place at the right historical time, or the gears of a predatory system will drown that class of people in need out.


And if indeed charity does start at home, close attention is merited by a recent interview with the senior editor of the Real News Network, Paul Jay. In “Is Trump Betraying the American People?” Jay holds the Democratic Party to task for some of its representatives, especially Bernie Sanders, for their slavish cheerleading of “The Russians did it in 2016 chorus.” With Michael Moore and Bill Maher attacking Professor Larry Wilkerson in a clip highlighted during the Jay interview, it’s a wonder that those of the left even need the evil of Trump, et al to do us in.

Howard Lisnoff is a freelance writer.

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Some Past Writing


Anvil cloud over Austerlitz and Hillsdale, New York  Photo credit: Howard Lisnoff


Here is a link to some of the writing that I published from August 2011 through April 2017.

Some photos may have been removed from past writing due to the post’s age and the availability of some public domain photos.

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Left Face: Early WordPress Articles

Amtrak tracks leading north from Bard Rock Park in Hyde Park, New York. Photo credit: Howard Lisnoff


Here are some older posts from previous WordPress articles.

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The Anger Next Time

Snow falling in front of abandoned vegetable stand. Photo credit: Howard Lisnoff


The Anger Next Time

Readers will agree that the draw of social media is intoxicating. Once touted by the political left as a panacea, it has now become not only a tool of the far right, but also a way to further alienate people from one another and suppress critical thinking. It has also become a mass tool of advertising, driving down the revenues of print media and established media and has dried up newspaper newsrooms faster than global warming has dried up land masses in heat waves.

Democracy Now aired an hour-long program (August 1, 2018) with Professor Siva Valdhyanathan, a media specialist, on the issue.

As suspect as impressionistic evidence is, when it comes to the destructive power to uninform and squelch critical thinking about significant issues, that subjective evidence is not only abundant, but literally hits home in ways that scholarly studies often cannot.

Facebook is an unmitigated disaster! Besides monitoring our every move, which is already the case of those involved in protest, it allows hate of all stripes to rise exponentially. Often, writing on community-based forums leaves a bad taste in the mouth. I almost long for the lost Yuppie comfort of local coffeehouses with their $4.00-a-cup fare where people actually interacted and looked at each other.

The area of Massachusetts I live in, the Berkshires, is, in part, an incredibly gentrified area. Beginning in the 1980s, those with the means (recall the Reagan tax cuts) began arriving in the area in substantial numbers. The area had already been decimated economically by the loss of industries, primarily war-related and paper production. Many long-time residents saw their livelihoods transformed into providing for the needs of second and third-home owners and tourists who were drawn to the mountain beauty of the area in both summer and winter. Cultural venues that predated the arrival of these newcomers had long drawn city folks here. Some with the means had established huge houses many, many decades earlier.

But, as with all kinds of gentrification, goods and services and lifestyle issues became more difficult for the local population. One local market, that sells wholesome food, is not within the budgets of many of the original people of the area and their descendants. All of this pisses the hell out of many people.

When Smithsonian Magazine rated Great Barrington as the best small town in America, the shit really hit the fan! More and more people traveled to the area, causing all sorts of issues, but  the influx of many raised the economy to levels that it never could have imagined. And Great Barrington is a quintessential New England small town within reach of both New York City and Boston. The tourist industry flourished, but tourism is a double-edged sword since it enriches some and aggravates many others.

Many of the so-called hill towns in the general geographical area did not benefit from rising levels of tourism, and the major city in the area, Pittsfield, is still feeling the economic effects of its major employer, General Electric, having left years ago. 

Back to social media, recently a thread on a local community forum went on for days with all manner of comments. Much was unmitigated vitriol, with many people expressing great admiration for newcomers to the area, some stating how temporary residents have buoyed the economy, and others incredibly angry at what the huge influx of people has meant to them in a negative way. After making my own observation on the forum, I backed away from further comment when the vitriol was temporarily focused on a comment I made about tolerance and intolerance in the area. As a member of a community group that has focused on promoting the genius of the great civil rights activist, native son and scholar W.E.B. Du Bois, one cannot miss the rejection of his brilliant legacy by some, but those opposed to him are a tiny minority. 

Some residents of the town where I live criticize the need for the local police department in a town made up mostly of seniors. Very few 70-year-olds rob banks or actively plan to overthrow the government. Of course there are emergencies where the police can come to peoples’ aid. The department costs hundreds of thousands of dollars a year to operate, but criticizing that department publicly is seen by many as a direct attack against what I call Berkshires Exceptionalism. From the viewpoint of economics, I am opposed to any measure that takes away jobs from people who already have them in an environment with few well-paying middle-class jobs.

All of this pales when compared to urban gentrification, exclusion and racism, but the point here is that anger is the new U.S. value being fanned and exploited at the highest levels of government. The Internet gives anger added fuel.

Howard Lisnoff is a freelance writer. He is author of Against the Wall: Memoir of a Vietnam-era War Resister (2017).

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The Resegregation of New York City Schools

Photo credit: KCUR







The Resegregation of New York City Schools

Published at CounterPunch on August 3, 2018

It’s no surprise that the public schools of New York City have become resegregated. It’s happening all over the U.S., so why should the Big Apple be any different? Read Jonathan Kozol’s The Shame Of The Nation for a superior assessment of where public schooling is headed in the U.S. in terms of equality and access. Kozol has been on this quest since Death At An Early Age! When readers look at the voting map of New York City  in the 2016 general election, it is impossible to see anything other than a sea of blue. But the color blue hides all sorts of seismic movements in the way people behave at street level in the real world. It’s one thing to vote for a liberal or left candidate and an entirely different situation placing a child in a school that doesn’t reflect a parent or guardian’s social, economic and political values and prejudices. “Not with my child” is a cry that reverberates down across the decades since Brown v. The Topeka Board of Education.

I recently spoke with Heather, whose 7-year-old is a student in one of the “desirable” schools on the upper West Side of Manhattan. She spoke of school meetings where yelling among parents is common practice and such catcalls as “gentrifier” are hurled at those people who are tireless in attempting, and often succeeding, at getting their child/children into the so-called desirable schools in the city. These so-called desirable schools, which have special activities and learning activities often funded by the school’s parents’ group, are within walking distance of segregated schools. Readers will recall the term de facto segregation, rather than segregation by law and custom (read Jim Crow), following the Brown decision by the Supreme Court. By the ninth grade, students are administered a high-school entrance exam that determines which high school a student will attend the following fall. This is high stakes stuff and the result of failing to get into a chosen school is the chance of being relegated to a segregated school. Amazing stuff, but choosing the so-called “right” schools can extend all the way back to preschool… It’s a truly disturbing phenomenon, and the alternatives are many of the schools that Kozol highlights in The Shame Of The Nation.

Readers don’t have to focus on the current climate of school selection in New York City to see that city’s battle over who controls schools and who attends and teaches in the schools of the city.  Albert Shanker, a founding member of the United Federation of Teachers, later the American Federation of Teachers, of which I have been a long-time member, cut his teeth in the controversial fight about the issue of the local control of schools in the late 1960s.

Perhaps Shanker is best known for opposing community control over schools in the Ocean Hill-Brownsville district of New York City, which led to the 1968 strike after which teachers were dismissed from the school district by the [a] recently appointed black administrator.

While Shanker did fight strenuously to raise the working conditions of teachers, he will forever be associated by the battle in New York City schools that had racial overtones. Years later, he would support the U.S. role in Nicaragua and invite much criticism over that Cold War policy on the part of the leadership of the teachers’ union that he helped to found.

The issues of where children attend schools and who teaches those children reverberates down to the present within the debate of what kids deserve in terms of resources and how those children are treated in public schools across the U.S.

Segregation is an absolute evil because it separates people unnaturally. Separating children based on race or class or economic circumstances is a universal evil!

Howard Lisnoff is a freelance writer. He is the author of Against the Wall: Memoir of a Vietnam-Era War Resister (2017).

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I Invite Comments

Photo credit: public-domain-photos.net







I invite comments that refer to the specific issues/ideas in an article. General statements that don’t refer to an article are not very useful.


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Impressions on the Platform of Wassaic Station


Metro-North train approaches Wassaic Station

Occasionally, I will post a poem, although I am not a poet.

Impressions on the Platform of Wassaic Station

The emerald hills of the Taconics formed the borders of the Metro-North train station at Wassaic. It was high summer, late July, trilling in the surrounding hills as the travelers disembarked and embarked on so many unknown journeys. Some ticketed and others laboring strenuously to view the ticket screen of the automatic machines on the train platform, the sun’s rays slanted just above the western hills as the evening began. Leave-taking is a given: It is the most basic condition of life. It begs comprehension. Sometimes joyous, or mundane and occasionally a final act. It is on the platforms of these stations that life in all of its contradictions can be intimately felt in either the glare of the cyclops-like headlight or the profound loneliness of the red taillights. 


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