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We Still Don’t Get it on the Left

Ku Klux Klan 1921-1922 Photo credit: Library of Congress

We Still Don’t Get it on the Left

The messages via email began arriving in my inbox as midterm election results were still undecided in places such as Florida and Georgia. Some of the emails came from MoveOn and all of the appeals were in support of two local demonstrations/vigils to be held in support of Jeffrey Sessions who had just been fired by Donald Trump. Imagine leftists and liberals holding vigils for a racist whose last official act as attorney general was to make it impossible for the Justice Department to investigate local police departments. Here’s a guy who heaped praise on the Ku Klux Klan, but opined that their only flaw was that some members of that group smoked marijuana.

The Guardian ran an article, “National populism is unstoppable-and the left still doesn’t understand it” (November 8, 2018), by Matthew Goodwin, co-author of National Populism: The Revolt Against Liberal Democracy, in which he makes many cogent observations on the sweep of right-wing movements in several so-called liberal democracies in the West:

So what is really going on? National populism is revolving around four deep-rooted societal shifts: the “four Ds”. First, there are high levels of political distrust, which are being exacerbated by populist leaders who paint themselves and their followers as victims of a political system that has become less representative of key groups. Second, many people have strong and entrenched fears about the perceived destruction of national cultures, ways of life and values, amid unprecedented and rapid rates of immigration and ethnic change. Accompanying this distrust and fear are anxieties related to deprivation and the loss of jobs and income, along with a strong sense that they and their ethnic and social group are being left behind relative to others in society.

Finally, many political systems in the west are having to grapple with a new era of dealignment, in which bonds between voters and traditional parties are breaking down, and hence the path for new political challengers is much more open.

Many of Goodwin’s points have been made by other writers and social scientists using different assessments and terminology, but the outcome is the same in society after society with profound effects on the rest of us and the entire planet. They—populists of the far right—want simple or easy answers to difficult questions and they are sometimes eager and ready to use violence to achieve their ends.

While many pundits celebrated the results of Tuesday’s election as a stopgap against Trump, he hardly skipped a beat getting back to his hate-filled rhetoric and actions against immigrants and dropped a passing comment about praying for the victims of the latest national gun outrage in California.

Back to Goodwin: He’s accurate in his assessment that the far right juggernaut carries in it seeds of the culture wars that began in response to the movements for change in the 1960s across the globe. I don’t think that they’re stoppable at this point and the Sword of Damocles of nuclear war and the destruction of the natural environment hang in the balance. And while we’re waiting for this almost inevitable debacle, let’s get out there for Sessions!

Howard Lisnoff is a freelance writer.

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Wake-up From the Nightmare

Protest March, January 21, 2017. Photo credit: Howard Lisnoff

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As We Approach the 2018 Election

Protest March January 21, 2017 Photo credit: Howard Lisnoff

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The Neoliberals Are Complicit in This Train Wreck

Photo/illustration credit: publicdomainpictues.net

The Neoliberals Are Complicit in This Train Wreck

Published at CounterPunch September 11, 2018

I get a kick out of many Democrats. Readers would think in reading Barack Obama’s September 7, 2018 speech at the University of Illinois, that all we have to do is go out and vote for Democrats and we’d be on the way to restoring our troubled, but exceptional democracy (“Barack Obama: You need to vote because our democracy depends on it” Guardian, September 8, 2018). What an absolute crock of shit!

The former President states that “democracy has never been easy,” but that “November’s elections are more important than any I can remember in my lifetime.” Then he continues by stating that progress in America has been “fitful… incomplete” and that progress has been achieved by “acts of heroism and dedication by citizens, by ordinary people…”

He follows by serving up a litany of the Republican’s “threats to our democracy” that just about everyone who is not hiding in a fallout shelter already knows. He also castigates young people, who in the last midterm election voted at the rate of “One in five.”

How can the sane parse this exceptionalism-in-trouble narrative? Well, let’s begin with the former President. He completely ignored those in need during the economic debacle (read Great Recession) of 2007-2008. He bailed out the fat cats who have steadily increased their share of wealth in the U.S. and have now been lavished with even greater gifts from the dunce Trump. He left the rest of us to foot the bill and sucked the equity out of the homes of millions of people, a significant number of whom were his staunch supporters and depended on home equity for their financial footing.

Next, look to U.S. militarism for an answer to where the so-called nation’s treasure is being dumped. Obama went along with endless U.S. wars to get along with the power elite. He expanded the war in Afghanistan. Now there’s a lost cause if ever there was one!

In terms of public schooling in the U.S., Obama tried to install a kind of meritocracy among schools by ignoring schools in poor areas and giving a part of the small share of federal funds that go toward public education to those districts capable of mounting competitions for that money that was sort of like the gladiatorial fights of ancient Rome.

Obama was the consummate neoliberal, and when a black professor’s (Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr.) rights were egregiously violated by police in Cambridge, Massachusetts, he had a beer fest at the White House.

And the greatest existential threat of our time, environmental destruction, got short shrift from Democrats. Again, it was tinkering around the edges of disaster.

The former President ends his speech at the the University of Illinois, stating that “Change happens. Hope happens.” “And that can be the legacy of your generation.”

I would like to be as sanguine as the man I voted for for President, but the reality on the ground is that government by the few and the wealthy has been on a long march to oblivion that began with the jettisoning of the values and programs of the New Deal during a Democratic administration (Truman’s) and has accelerated ever since with its worst expressions through the “Great Communicator” Reagan, right up until the white supremacist Trump. It’s no accident that a right-wing, low-functioning clown now occupies the White House and the neoliberals and those with great wealth with a lust for domestic and international violence put us in such extreme jeopardy. It may very well be too late to salvage anything like the quaint democracy that Obama invoked in Illinois. Those who pull the strings won’t let a socialist or social democrat past the threshold.

Howard Lisnoff is a freelance writer.

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The Long Road to Far-Right Extremism in the U.S.: It didn’t Have to End This Way

Photo credit: huffingtonpost.com

The Long Road to Far-Right Extremism in the U.S.: It didn’t Have to End This Way

It’s not difficult to take a long view of the trajectory of political, social and economic life in the U.S. that has led to the extremist right-wing society in which we now live.

Some may argue correctly that elements of right-wing extremism were always present in U.S. society. Whether it was slavery, or the long march to militarism that began at the beginning of the 20th century (actually, much earlier, but it became highly mechanized in the 20th century), or an economy that catered and enhanced the wealth of the few, these forces moved all of the questions and the policies and attitudes of the government and lots of people toward the right and against the self-interests of the majority.

The debacle I now see has led to gross income inequality, extreme militarism, and hatred of the other and all began to coalesce and grow following the Vietnam War. When protest shifted its emphasis toward identity politics rather than identification with the common good, then the road was clearly marked for disaster and only some took the exits marked sanity.

Those familiar with U.S. history will object and rightly state that the removal and murder of Native Americans and the institution of slavery began before the establishment of the nation state The forces of the extreme right, however, took root in the 20th century. The Cold War put extremism on steroids! September 11, 2001 was extremism’s final nail.

The economy underwent seismic changes in the 1970s. The stage was set for globalization and the movement of industries and jobs and money to where the costs of labor and production were the cheapest. Witness the plethora of cheap and accessible goods existing side by side with increasing environmental destruction that is one of the obvious costs of a global economy. The U.S. became an Amazon and mall economy with masses of jobs flowing overseas with the deindustrialization of the U.S. The working class was split along a color line as was witnesses by the barbarism of the reaction to civil rights in the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s. White workers began to identify with scum like George Wallace. Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan garnered more and more votes from the white working class, and particularly among disaffected male members of the working class. Recall the vicious attack against Vietnam antiwar protesters in lower Manhattan in May 1970.

The return of white working-class voters to the Democratic Party has been touted over the last few years, but witness the majority of these voters who supported Trump, who then immediately attacked those voters’ interests, in the 2016 election.

Next, people had to accept endless wars following the horror of Vietnam and the existence of what is called the Vietnam Syndrome. As an aside, my military experience during that era notes that I have Vietnam Syndrome, as if it were a condition a person could contract, rather than a principled stand against the horror of war fought on behalf of the few and the wealthy. Ronald Reagan began the long march toward the acceptance of extreme militarism with his low-intensity wars in Central America and his asinine plan to militarize space through his so-called Star Wars spending debacle. Next, George H.W. Bush, the ass-grabber-in-chief (the U.S. electorate that does actually vote certainly elects “classy” people), talked openly about ending the Vietnam Syndrome through the first Persian Gulf War following Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait. Readers will recall that Iraq’s plans for aggression were initially ignored in 1990 and the U.S. “turkey shoot” that followed was swallowed hook, line and sinker by most in the U.S. The false story about invading Iraqi soldiers throwing newborn infants onto the floor in a hospital in Kuwait was debunked, but the U.S. public has a short memory and those lies had their intended effect. The rest of the long march to extreme militarism is now history. Witness the mass media’s recent treatment of the late Senator John McCain and the glorious bipartisan sendoff of a person who unquestioningly and ceaselessly beat the drums for endless U.S. wars on a global scale. Only a society primed for insanity can celebrate someone who sang about bombing a country with which we were not at war and posed no immediate danger to the U.S.

This discussion has not included the horrific attacks of September 2001, but those attacks found their inception, in part, through the U.S. support of militant jihadists in Afghanistan in the 1980s as a foil to Russian involvement there. Neither is the fact that the oil giant and militaristic Saudi Arabia was the home country to two-thirds of the September 11, 2001 murderers, or Saudi Arabia’s funding of extreme religious militants. These issues are off of the radar screen of the mass media and most of the public in the U.S.

Militarism is as old as apple pie and the viciousness of Andrew Jackson’s wars against Native Americans and Native American removals, Theodore Roosevelt’s militaristic machismo and murderous disdain for those deemed enemies of this nation, and Woodrow Wilson’s messianic vision of U.S. militarism, complete with its attendant attacks against antiwar activists and civil liberties, all have contributed to the the simmering pot of U.S. extreme militarism. Observers of U.S. history didn’t have to be present on the killing fields of Kent State and Jackson State in May 1970 to know what the outcome would be in terms of the government’s perceived right to kill its own children.

Finally, there is the horrific reality of extreme racism in the U.S. Racism has always been part of U.S. society with the horror of slavery, Jim Crow, and the prison-industrial complex that followed on the heels of the civil rights movement and its victories in the middle of the decade of the 1960s. Police murders of black people are a hideous footnote to the long history of racism in the U.S., as is the gun industry and lobby that has convinced some white males that they have to be armed to protect against the “threat” of black people.

Racism’s stepchild, anti-Semitism, had its most egregious expression in the August 12, 2017 murder of Heather Heyer during the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. In Virginia, both neo-Nazis and white supremacists gathered and gave the racist and anti-Semitic Trump more fuel for hate by stating that there were “fine people” on both sides of the rally, meaning that both Nazis and counterprotesters were equally “fine” people: “You had some very bad people in that group, but you also had people that were very fine people, on both sides.”

The move toward economic globalization that began in the 1970s required that a huge segment of unneeded U.S. workers had to be put somewhere and that place increasingly became prison. The U.S. now has the largest percentage of its population in jail among major industrial economies. People of color then became prime targets of the prison-industrial complex that had its racist roots in Reconstruction following the Civil War. Racism had its most obvious expression in the Trump campaign for president and his presidency, with its constant demonization of immigrants. Hillary Clinton’s categorization of people of color as superpreditors, in reference to the ongoing and useless drug wars in the U.S., was yet another bipartisan expression of racism, as was Bill Clinton’s successful attack against the social safety net and his support of sending more people to prison. The latter is part of the bipartisan nightmare of U.S. politics!

It’s not hard to stand back and look at the long road to oblivion that this society has been traveling. The political, economic and social landscape didn’t have to turn out this way, but it did.

Howard Lisnoff is a freelance writer.

He is author of Against The Wall: Memoir Of A Vietnam-Ear War Resister.

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The Old Need Not Apply

 

Photo credit: psmag.com

 

The Old Need Not Apply

Published at CounterPunch on September 5, 2018.

Employment discrimination is as old as this nation. In their turn, blacks, Latinos, Jews, women and others have all seen employment opportunities that needed to have been somewhat buttressed by the strength of their resumes and experience given short shrift.

With older workers, unemployment is no mere chimera. The Center on Aging and Work at Boston College cites research from Kosanovich and Theodossio  in “Trends in long-term unemployment” (2015): “The incidence  of long-term unemployment increases with age.” Those 55 years old and older looking for work for 27 weeks and longer had a 44.6 percent unemployment rate. Talk about age discrimination!

The first premise of a job search has almost universally been that “It’s not what you know, but who you know.” Given that American Exceptionalism falsely holds that we are living in a meritocracy, most know better. When the shoe leather hits the streets most already have learned a different lesson. There is a startling contrast between job searches and job offers for those who are old. A good guess is that if a perspective employee lied in a resume and listed a phony and younger year of birth, that that person would get many, many more interviews. Of course, that person would be rejected once he/she showed up for an interview for obvious reasons. Employers can blatantly discriminate against prospective workers, but a job applicant can’t lie on a resume.

I began looking for work a few months ago. In terms of the jobs I was applying for—library supervisor, academic advisor, test administer and test administration supervisor, I naively thought that my prospects were excellent since I possessed a solid resume of work experience, education, and a myriad of community volunteer experiences.

What a shock when I began receiving stark email rejections or no rejections at all… just  silence in some cases. Sometimes silence feels better than a lie like emails stating that you were one of an amazing array of highly qualified applicants. This was all very, very frustrating because I’ve got skills that would enable me to actually be of use in the work environments for which I had applied. I could actually help people, but that often doesn’t matter to employers.

Since names are named here and facts matter, let’s start with a school in northwestern Connecticut that caters to the elite who happen to be of a particular social, economic and political class (and usually of the same religious persuasion looking at the school’s list of notable graduates). That prep school’s online application was tortuous to complete. When a person has an extensive work history and education, the time it takes to fill out one of these kinds of applications is astronomical. For that effort, I received a form letter rejection a few months after applying for the job via email touting the pool of candidates. Readers might think that all of the professional talent of the world is centered around the Litchfield Hills of northwestern Connecticut.

Next, I applied for the library job mentioned above. The hours were bizarre, but hey, I’ve got time on my hands and lots of library and research experience, so I thought I was a shoo-in for at least a first interview. Wrong again, and in this case I didn’t even receive the form email congratulating me for being an unseen and uninterviewed genius.

The list of applications does go on, but after three, maybe there was some magic there. I received an offer to come for an interview from a company that has a contract with the government to administer standardized tests at three grade levels for the National Assessment of Educational Progress, the data from which the “nation’s report card” for education is gathered, which actually is quite useful data for studying trends in education.

Here I struck it rich and it appeared that the interview would be just a formality. I also received an email of interview guidelines and was somewhat shocked to read that the dress requirements for the work were somewhat like those for my freshman year in college many decades ago. I would have to dress as if I was to attend a semi-formal dance or dinner each morning and be at a classroom desk fifty miles from my home at 7:00 AM each day. And now here’s the kicker: All of these requirements and the educational experience to administer these tests would garner $13.15 per hour. That’s right readers, your eyes are not deceiving you… $13.15 an hour. I calculated that I would probably wreck a car with that daily roundtrip commute during the winter months that can be quite severe here, and I would have pocket change left to show for those Herculean efforts.

Pretty amazing conclusions can be easily drawn here, and in the current anti-worker and anti-union environment many won’t be shocked in the least. All of this reminded me of a make-work job I had while I was in high school. I got the job through family connections and the work involved the daily sweeping of the floor of a huge U.S. Navy warehouse on a naval base in Rhode Island. The place was humungous, but that was all that was available because the young don’t exactly have great job prospects in this society either.

Howard Lisnoff is freelance writer.

He is the author of Against The Wall: Memoir Of A Vietnam-Era War Resister (2017).

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Women’s March

Women’s March January 2018 Photo credit: Howard Lisnoff

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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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