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The Advantages of an Elite Education

Kavanaugh and Trump Photo credit: journallaband.com

Published at CounterPunch on October 3, 2018.

The Advantages of an Elite Education

If the Kavanaugh nomination to the Supreme Court didn’t reveal the extreme right-wing nature of the contemporary U.S., then nothing will. We are living in a right-wing society made up of endless wars, the unlimited power of corporations, the destruction of the natural environment, and the near-total lack of individual rights. That the boy-president Trump can call white supremacists and neo-Nazis “fine people,” while they beat and murder the opposition, makes his nomination of the front man for the corporate and political elite all the more reprehensible.

This is all the final beer hall putsch of the contemporary heirs to Hitler and Mussolini. Kavanaugh is not even needed on the Supreme Court to destroy union opposition since that movement has been going on beginning with the deindustrialization of the U.S. in the 1970s and the march of globalization, which has made goods relatively cheap in the U.S. and made the precipitous decline in union membership a given.

Professor Christine Blasey Ford was revictimized before the Senate Judiciary Committee, and the good-old, elitist frat boy Kavanaugh broke into tears. The political landscape has become pure theater. Readers may wonder just how the majority of non-college educated women, the 64 percent who voted for the misogynist Trump, felt as Ford was dehumanized in front of an audience of millions. Readers know how the majority of black and Latino women, who didn’t vote in a majority for Trump, must have felt!

Where and when did the political, economic, and social system all go so wrong? It is not the intention here to blame the political left, but a decent measure of responsibility lies right at its feet, so to speak. And as a member of the New Left of the 1960s and early to middle 1970s, I’ll shoulder some, but not all, of the blame.

For the most part, the New Left abandoned the streets after the Vietnam War antiwar movement and left politics to the far-right culture warriors, the warmongers, the fundamentalists of a religious bent, and those in the economy who sold out without a scintilla of ethical consideration. Remember the transition from being on the streets to careerism?

The right wing had money, and money buys influence—look to Kavanaugh and the Clintons and the Bushes as just a few of the examples of what schooling at Yale and places like Yale can do. A person can go in as an average or near-average Joe or Jane, as the Clintons did, and come out fabulously wealthy with influence that often is as corrupting as wealth itself.

In the Guardian’s “Yale students condemn Kavanaugh case as ‘symptom of a larger problem’” (September 30, 2018), students at this edifice of privilege realize that while most don’t end up like the examples cited above, most of their lives will be blessed through the privilege of an elite education, while those in the surrounding communities of color may often become the victims of the flip side of privilege in a system of jurisprudence that has seen criminal cases “settled” by plea bargains rising from 84 percent in 1984 to 94 percent in 2001. A good guess is that trend continues and I know which side of the divide I would want to be on. In fact, the common wisdom is that if a defendant refuses a plea deal with the state (and that holds for local, state and federal governments), then resulting sentences are often of a draconian nature compared to the deal offered. Equal justice under the law: What an absolute and horrific joke! The right to trial by one’s peers has been essentially eliminated through racism and classism and poverty.

We on the left were atomized in almost everything we did after the middle of the 1970s. The late left revolutionary and counterculture icon (warts and all), Abbie Hoffman, said in his autobiography Soon To Be A Major Motion Picture and in later writing that the victories of the 1960s of the civil rights movement, the antiwar movement, and the women’s movement would never be reversed. How wrong! Every single movement has seen significant reversals from endless wars to mass incarceration of black people, to the attacks against Professor Ford endured in front of the U.S. Senate. It all went so damn bad!

There were some gains, however: Women moved into the workforce in significant numbers in traditionally male-dominated industries, gay people began the long struggle toward acceptance in all of the society, but the gains never translated into across the board improvement in society. A black middle class emerged from the 1960s, but so did a skyrocketing prison population of people of color.

U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics from 2013 show that 37 percent of prisoners in the U.S. were black. Compare the latter with the stunning fact that the black percentage of the population in the U.S. in 2016 was 12.7 percent. Compare those figures for a moment: 12.7 of the population percent makes up 37 percent of the U.S. prison population. So much for most of the gains of the hard-fought civil rights movement…

In “The Shocking Abuse of Solitary Confinement in U.S. Prisons,” Amnesty International holds no punches in scrupulously documenting how prisoners at all levels of the so-called criminal justice system are systematically exposed to horrific and extended incarceration in isolation cells that amount to prisons within prisons. The worst cases exist in Louisiana, Colorado, California, Arizona, Illinois, and at Guantanamo, but the list is not limited to those states and prison sites. The report is worth quoting at length:

How many people are held in solitary?

More than 3,000 prisoners in California are held in high security isolation units known as Security Housing Units, where they are confined for at least 22 and a half hours a day in single or double cells, with no work or meaningful rehabilitation programs or group activities of any kind.

More than 500 prisoners had spent 10 or more years in the Pelican Bay SHU, with 78 in solitary more than 20 years.

No other US state is believed to have held so many prisoners for such long periods in indefinite isolation.
But California is not alone in using prolonged, indefinite solitary confinement. The U.S. has become a world leader in the practice, holding people in inhumane conditions of isolation from Arizona to Illinois to Louisiana to Guantánamo. Reportedly, the U.S. holds “at least 25,000 inmates in isolation in supermax prisons.”

Solitary confinement amounts to torture and torture is banned by international human rights law, but its use in U.S. prisons remains beyond shocking and yet another example how laws in the U.S. comprise a two-tier system where privilege and torture stand at opposite sides of a huge divide.

A livable society and world has all almost unwound now and buffoons like Trump and Kavanaugh are in the spotlight of the three-ring circus in which we now all live.

Howard Lisnoff is a freelance writer.

On Hallowed Ground

Kaitlin Bennett, Kent State “gun girl.” Photo credit: Kaitlin Bennett Twitter published at cleveland.com

On Hallowed Ground

Published at CounterPunch as “On Hallowed Ground: Guns At Kent State” on September 27, 2018.

On Hallowed Ground: Guns at Kent State

The three defining events of the Vietnam War era, from my point of view, were the massacre at My Lai in Vietnam and the massacres of students at Kent State University by members of the Ohio National Guard on May 4, 1970, and the murders by police of students at Jackson State. At Kent State, Allison Krause, Jeffrey Miller, Sandra Scheuer, and William Schroeder were killed. At Jackson State in Mississippi on May 15, 1970, Phillip Gibbs and Earl Green were killed. Twelve others were wounded at Jackson State.

In the U.S., nothing is sacred now and that includes the hallowed land on which four students were murdered in Ohio and nine others were wounded, some with injuries that they have had to deal with for their entire lives.

Now on that hallowed ground in Ohio, an “open carry” walk is planned for September 29, 2018, as opposed to an originally scheduled rally on the campus of Kent State that will feature support of the so-called open carry of lethal weapons. On May 4, 1970, M-1 assault rifles were used against students protesting Richard Nixon’s expansion of the Vietnam War by way of extending that war into Cambodia. The war in Cambodia had been going on for some time, as was the air war in Laos, but the open expansion of the war in Cambodia showed just how duplicitous the vicious warmonger Richard Nixon could be and how far he was willing to go to renege on his so-called “secret plan” for peace that he touted during the election campaign of 1968. Nixon also called student protesters “bums.” Today’s assault weapons are the lethal heirs of the M-1 rifle.

The planned open carry walk has as an organizer a recent Kent State graduate, Kaitlin Bennett, who is known in the media as the “Kent State gun girl” (“Kent State ‘gun girl’ rally changed to walk after university charges security costs, bans guns at rally”). On or near the killing field of 1970, “hundreds of visitors [would have been allowed to] openly carry[ing] guns around campus and talk[ing] to students about gun rights and campus carry” (cleveland.com September18). After Kent State University officials sent a “cease-and-desist letter… to Bennett,” the rally was changed to a walk because the university said a student group needed to sponsor the walk before it was approved. A student group, Liberty Hangout, filed the necessary paperwork and met with school officials. The university held that the student group sponsor would be “responsible for security fees,” which resulted in no guns being permitted on campus during the event.

Guns are banned on the campus where history was writ large by official semi-automatic rifle fire in 1970, but “Visitors can [now] carry openly outdoors on campus, but may not carry concealed weapons” (cleveland.com September 18).

I called several department offices at Kent State University on September 24, 2018 for comment on the planned walk. I began with the president’s office, where a student answering the phone would not comment on the walk, citing school policy. Next, I called the executive director of media relations on campus and then the director of media relations at the school. Despite a phone conversation with the director of media relations, I received no response about the university’s point of view about the walk by the end of the day. I did speak to a student at Kent State. I asked what her thoughts were about the walk and she said that she had mixed feelings about the issue, but was not a gun lover. She stated: “I’m not in favor of carrying guns on campus.” That student mentioned the importance of the events of May 4, 1970, and their relationship to guns on campus. Although I exchanged emails with the editor-in-chief of the Kent Stater, the student newspaper at Kent State, that individual never returned an email for comment about the planned walk.

In a picture from graduation day at Kent State in the spring of 2018, the walk organizer, Kaitlin Bennett, is pictured on campus with an AR-10 slung across her back, one of many so-called assault rifles that fire rounds of ammunition at high speed on their semi-automatic setting. Rifles of that type have been used in many, many mass shootings in the U.S. over the past several years and have resulted in mass casualties of innocent individuals, among whom can be counted the innocent children and their professional staff at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut in December 2012, and the mass shooting of concertgoers in Las Vegas, Nevada in October 2017.

The Second Amendment, part of the Bill of Rights of the Constitution, was written in 1791. That amendment had its origins in so-called rights “pre-existing at both common law and in early state constitutions.” The grotesque calamity of that amendment was that guns in 1791 were mainly flintlocks and the language of the writing included the call for an armed militia that could loosely be parsed as what now exists in states as the national guard. There were no large concerts and movie theaters and schools with large numbers of innocent people in 1791. The Founders could not have imagined the bald-face horror of maladjusted people eliminating masses of people through the use of semi-automatic rifles and handguns capable of shooting large “clips” of lethal ammunition. The use of rapid-fire assault weapons could not have been foreseen in 1791 in settings where identifiable groups of perpetrators sensed an illogical threat from other groups within this society, or the existence of bullying and untreated mental health issues. In a society coming apart at the seams due to the lack of cohesiveness, guns have become largely a white male’s method of settling mundane grudges and perceived wrongs. Issues once settled within somewhat cohesive communities are now sometimes settled with lethal weapons. Gun organizations, lobbies and manufacturers call the tune of influence and profit that reflects, although somewhat imperfectly, the warring nature of U.S. society.

Howard Lisnoff is a freelance writer.

The Beat Goes On Against Protest in Saudi Arabia

Mohammad bin Salman
Photo credit: Getty Images at Observer.com

Published at CounterPunch on September 19, 2018

The Beat Goes On Against Protest in Saudi Arabia

The Beat Goes On Against Protest in Saudi Arabia

It has always been dangerous to be a protester and activist for human rights in Saudi Arabia. Readers will recall that Saudi Arabia was a nation created out of whole cloth by the West once its deposits of oil were discovered. Many died during World War II for Winston Churchill’s objectives of exploiting the Middle East oil deposits and keeping that oil in the hands of those colonial powers not endowed with fossil fuels. 

It was only this past June (2018) when women finally were granted the right to drive cars in Saudi Arabia, but many women who long-championed that cause were mercilessly harassed and often dumped into jail. The former Soviet Union was not the only place for show trials!

Now, Shia protesters from the country’s eastern Qatar region are being held, and will be tried, for “incitement to protest,” “chanting slogans hostile to the regime,” “attempting to inflame public opinion,” “filming protests and publishing on social media,” and “providing moral support to rioters.” Of course, their major crime is agitating for human rights as the minority Shia population in a nation where the government reflects and supports and exports religious extremism (“Saudi Prosecution Seeks Death Penalty for Female Activist,” Human Rights Watch, August 21, 2108).

Six activists, including Israa al-Ghomgham, are facing execution in an extremist nation that provided most of the September 11, 2001 hijackers to Osama bin Laden. And here’s the kicker: They’re being tried by the country’s so-called “terrorism tribunal.” Talk about Orwellian doublespeak!  Their protests for human rights in Saudi Arabia have been entirely peaceful. Many readers of CounterPunch may want to reflect on the fact that their activism and protest would have landed them in the dock in Saudi Arabia also facing the death penalty.

The Real News Network, in “Whitewashed Saudi “Reformer” Prince Boosts Authoritarian Crackdown on Dissent,” September 13, 2018, illustrates how Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman has been touted as a reformer while he cracks down on all manner of dissent, including now criminalizing “satire on social media with 5 years in prison.”

The latter is no laughing matter, as was the clownish and cartoonish presentation of Bin Salman earlier this year at the White House by Donald Trump with illustrations of U.S. weapons sales to Saudi Arabia that would have been an embarrassment to a fifth-grade social studies project!

But the mass media in the U.S. must have its days of propaganda. Here’s New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman in November 2017 as reported on the Real News Network (September 2018): “The most significant reform process underway anywhere in the Middle East today is in Saudi Arabia.” Of course, the hidden agenda here is, in part, support of Israel’s alliance with Saudi Arabia.There is also the relentless march toward war with Iran by Trump and his sycophants that is favored by some in the U.S. media. 

If a three-time Pulitzer Prize winner says it (that Saudi Arabia is a nation where reform is taking place) in the mainstream media, then it must be true. If the clown prince who sits in the Oval Office wants to sell massive amounts of deadly arms to Saudi Arabia, including arms used in their immoral war in Yemen, then it must be good for the United States. The beat does go on…

Howard Lisnoff is a freelance writer.

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.

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.

Fritillary Butterfly

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).

John McCain: “War Hero” in an Immoral War

Photo credit: thedrive.com

 

John McCain: “War Hero” in an Immoral War

The polarized nature of the articles about, and responses to, Senator John McCain’s death are breathtaking! The sheer amount of militarized tributes are too many to mention. I followed articles about McCain in the New York Times-Reuters and the Guardian, in addition to the left press, Facebook, and read an occasional tweet. I also subscribe to a Facebook page called Blue Revolution, and that site was so full of gushing superpatriotic tributes that I gave up following the threads after a few dozen comments. It was as if the messiah had come down to Earth as a fighter pilot. This was the stuff of Orwell’s 1984… touting both the glory of war and the warriors! We could have been be at war with Oceania, Eurasia, and Eastasia… it really didn’t matter since it was all about the beauty of war-making. From the comments about McCain, readers might think that war was full of glory without any of its gore!

Even those comments about McCain’s death that did not agree with his policy positions and votes in the Senate were followed up with remarkably similar tributes using words such as “great American,” “patriot,” “man of superior character,” … ad nauseam. The adulation went on for pages. At least both Medea Benjamin and Caitlin Johnstone were consistent in their condemnation of the bellicosity of the late senator. Even the Bone-Spur-In-Chief  belatedly climbed up on the bandwagon of so-called “respect” and had the flag over the White House lowered. The press decried Trump’s insufficient show of patriotism

I think that celebrating the death of anyone is a huge mistake, even those with whom we have nothing in common save the planet on which we live. If I were going to choose one issue upon which I could agree with the late senator, it would be his rejection of torture. But even that position existed with his love of war and all of the preparations and profit that go into making war. I don’t think that he ever found a war that he didn’t like and therein lies the rub. He was opposed to attacking Yemen by way of a special navy operation, but not turning Yemen into an ash heap as a way of sending a message to Iran. Remember “Bomb, bomb, Iran,” sung to the tune of the Beach Boys “Barbara Ann?” In essence, McCain was an authentic and dyed-in-the-wool warmonger. No doubt he suffered tremendously, and that is a real human issue that merits intense scrutiny, but he was gung-ho about bombing the holy hell out of the Vietnamese people during the Vietnam War, and that fact alone hardly makes him a hero, or great statesman, or superpatriot, or someone worthy of emulation. But neither was the torture of McCain something that needs to be overlooked and needs to be condemned in the strongest possible way. 

Missing from all of this, however, is the utter wrongheaded Cold War anticommunism that ended with the deaths of millions of innocent people, led to massacres such as My Lai, allowed for the use of napalm and Agent Orange, offered up free-fire zones and strategic hamlets rather than a reasoned assessment of what the U.S. was doing in Vietnam in the first place. More tonnage of bombs were dropped in Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War than in all of World War II and the U.S. didn’t offer one cent in reparations for all of that damage. Also missing is the emerging bullying power of a superpower against an opponent with a largely agrarian economy. The late senator took part in the murderous Operation Rolling Thunder as a fighter pilot.

McCain’s choice of Sarah Palin as a running mate in 2008, a Know Nothing if ever one existed, is probably also one of the lowest points of his political career. Remember how she told the American people that she knew about Russia because she could see Russia off of the shore of Alaska. By the same logic, I could anoint myself a nuclear physicist by watching the footage of a nuclear blast.

All of the hyperbole about John McCain came as I accepted an offer from a reader of CounterPunch to help me put my memoir Against The Wall: Memoir Of A Vietnam-Era War Resister into a readable Kindle format. I was amazed at the offer for help since that sort of thing does not often come from members of the political left and the person who offered, an author in her own right, completed the book from soup to nuts, so to speak, and it is now on the Internet.

As I finished the review of the completed book, I thought about how John McCain and I were at 180 degree opposite poles on a continuum about the issues of war and peace. I doubt that those who read my memoir will find words like superpatriot and the like applicable, but they certainly will take a trip on the roller coaster of what it meant to oppose the same war in which John McCain killed people he would never see or meet.

As school begins and the accolades flood the stratosphere for John McCain, remembering the slain students and the staff at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut and the connections between violence and war and profit are hard to miss.

Howard Lisnoff is freelance writer.

Sand Hill Cove

Path at Roger Wheeler State Beach (formerly Sand Hill Cove). Narragansett, RI) Photo credit: Howard Lisnoff

Narcissism on the Left: The Cult of the Individual Leader

Photo credit: socialistalternative.org

Published at CounterPunch on August 24, 2018.

Narcissism on the Left: The Cult of the Individual Leader

“The evil that men [sic] do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones.” Shakespeare (in Julius Caesar) couldn’t have known any leftists, but I wouldn’t have minded chatting with him to find out just how many of the so-called regular folk he communicated with in Elizabethan England. It wasn’t even called “Elizabethan England” back then, so we could have simply sat at a pub and chewed the fat, so to speak. He had to have known commoners because they were a part of his audiences, but then again he may not have, but his early financial situation may have made it necessary for him to communicate with lots of people, if only for the purpose of survival.

The point here is that hierarchies exist as substantially among what’s left of the left (and that doesn’t amount to very much, save for identity politics), as they do everywhere else in society, and human nature, in terms of intellectual, social, economic and political differences is highly stratified. It’s what, in part, keeps us atomized from one another.

When I read the mass media reports about the death of a fairly well-known leftist, my immediate reaction was one of grief. That person was one of my Facebook friends, which actually amounts to a proverbial hill of beans, but I wrote a tribute to the fellow and posted it on his timeline. By early evening I had taken it down. Why? He had chalked up some substantial achievements in his life and certainly had not done any of Shakespeare’s “evil.”

It turns out that this person, like many other notable people on the left, could have cared less about communicating with me. In fact, in the years that I had written to him, he never answered a single personal message that was in response to a position he had taken, or post that he had made. It was a one-sided affair, and I had been there and done that again and again over the past several decades. Whether it was through traditional slow mail, or responses to an article by way of a commentary or letter, the result has been universal: A 100% no response rate. Ralph Nader, who my Facebook friend castigated for not being sufficiently radical during an interview several years ago, recounts the exact same phenomenon in Return to Sender: Unanswered Letters to the President, 2001-2015 , Nader’s book about the near-total lack of response to his letters addressed to presidents about important issues.

Within a few days the talking heads of the left were on Democracy Now, a left news outlet that has never responded to any of my inquiries to them. They must be too busy. It goes on and on: Write about a topic as a journalist or writer, send it to others on the left who have covered the same issue and the result will be same. If they won’t respond to Ralph Nader, why should they respond to someone writing and toiling in the hinterlands?

Readers may say that this is all just a bunch of sour grapes, but this is the reality in which I find myself. Following the 2016 election cycle, I wrote to a Congressional candidate for whom I had worked in nearby New York state, making some observations about the past election. Of course, the candidate never bothered to respond, although I had spent weeks on the streets canvassing for that candidate and travelled significant distances to work in that campaign office. I also supported that campaign in a material way. Now, when that candidate sends me a constant stream of emails asking for support in yet another race for a different office, I ignore those communications.

I remember the case of a famous artist who was saved from capture by the Nazis during World War II and never bothered to say very much in the way of thanks to his saviors when the war was over. He had escaped by the skin of his teeth, but I suppose all of those empty canvasses in his future were too much for him, so he never bothered to thank those who took great pains to ensure his art would go on after the Holocaust.

Several years ago I worked at a high school as a counselor. The school was dysfunctional with high numbers of adolescents failing courses in core academic subjects year after year. The school accreditation agency was prepared to take the school’s accreditation away at the time (which it did a few years later). I was swamped with calls from concerned parents wanting to know how their son or daughter was performing academically. Some weeks the pile of callback messages was piled as high as my office telephone, but I managed to spend time each day calling and speaking with parents who were concerned about their child’s progress.

I guess that answering personal communications is just not all that important among those members of the political left who have become small-time celebrities.

During the Nuclear Freeze Movement, a friend appeared at my door one day and suggested that we trade phone numbers among the members of our group—landlines in those days—if Reagan decided to initiate a crackdown against political opponents. I sort of laughed the suggestion off thinking that the political climate probably would not get that bad in the early 1980s. I’m not quite as sanguine about repression these days, and what would communication matter now since the government has all of our personal information and those in leadership positions among us would be too busy to return a call or other communication. The resistance would collapse faster than the pushback in Europe did in 1939-1940 before the Nazi onslaught.

August marks the 50th anniversary of the protests in Chicago at the 1968 Democratic Convention, complete with police riots. The Guardian does a superb job recounting those events with an excellent photographic essay accompanying the article. Those were the days when protest was the great leveler of individuals! I was able to say hello, at least on a formal basis, to one of the leaders of the Chicago protests, Abbie Hoffman, since one of his lawyers and a lawyer I had back in those days worked in the same law office on Broadway in New York City.

Howard Lisnoff is a freelance writer.

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