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Nineteen Sixty-Nine: A Look Back at Protest

Photo credit: Flickr.com

Published at CounterPunch on January 7, 2019

Nineteen Sixty-Nine: A Look Back at Protest

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Howard Lisnoff is a freelance writer.

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

Women’s March Photo credit: Howard Lisnoff

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

Published at CounterPunch on December 31, 2018.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* Emma Goldman

Howard Lisnoff is a freelance writer.

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

Vietnam War Photo credit: nytimes.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Howard Lisnoff is a freelance writer.

The Gift of Spent Munitions

Photo credit: cafepress.com

The Gift of Spent Munitions

The pendant comes in three colors, each painted on brass. The neck cord is made of a synthetic material, so animal rights consumers, vegetarians, and vegans can rest assured that they won’t be adding to the misery of a planet so deep in distress that only the most sanguine can find much in the way of hope these days from those long-distance runners among us.

The organization selling the necklaces is a bona fide group, and I know because I’m a member and they do good and important work in the areas of war and peace. But just before I hit the button on the cart to purchase one of the necklaces, I stopped. What was wrong about a purchase of a fairly “attractive” item in a society that acts much like trained seals when it comes to Internet purchases? We’re hooked and there’s a part of the brain that’s sold on buying, a habit that is increasingly leading to the environmental debacle we now all face. Unlike those seals, once we’re sated, we’re soon back for more of the glitter.

Someone else nearby perusing the same item wondered out loud about the safety of wearing jewelry made from spent atomic weapons. It’s the same sort of reaction when the first glow-in-the-dark numbers were added to wrist watches. Nowhere in the description of the item was there any mention about a specific part of each purchase that would be donated to some group affected by the horrors of war… refugees, survivors of nuclear blasts, children tormented by war… any of scores of groups would have been acceptable, but I thought that this group of veterans selling these items has done lots of work to inform the world about the horrors of wars past and present and actually has placed their bodies, in some cases, on the line to protest war and advance the cause of peace.

Then I searched for another producer of peace jewelry that I had seen on the Internet a few years back and they were still selling their wares and read that 10 percent of their profits was going to a reputable veterans support group.

While checking out more weapons of war jewelry, I came upon Internet seller after seller that was hawking bullet casings of one sort or another. I thought that it was better to stay away from any Internet searches about those particular businesses.

This month marks the sixth anniversary of the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, so even looking at that garbage was cause for immediate nausea. I wondered how anyone could wear such a piece of this junk jewelry when families continue grieving for their lost children, relatives, and friends from one of the most horrific massacres ever perpetrated. Sandy Hook Promise, a group that emerged from the horror of the Connecticut massacre, reported in the Guardian that 2018 has already surpassed previous years for gun violence in schools.

Since it’s the holiday season, perhaps support could be given to Patricia Okoumou, the woman who scaled the base of the Statue of Liberty this past summer in protest of the Trump administration’s separation of migrant families. A 7-year-old immigrant child recently died in custody at the border in Texas. Patricia faces the potential of prison time. She will soon be in federal court in New York for her act of defiance in standing for innocent children and their families.

The National Enquirer’s Talking Dog
The publisher of the National Enquirer squashed information about Donald Trump’s salacious behavior. As a kid, I worked in my family’s luncheonette. The business had an extensive newspaper and magazine rack and during quiet times in the shop, I would grab the National Enquirer and read many of the outrageous stories that had strong appeal to a kid’s appetite for adventure, both real and imagined. One story about a dog that talked in a nearby then somewhat rural community in Rhode Island spiked my interest. A talking dog nearby… What a great find! Now that the Enquirer has alleged that it has squashed tales of Trump’s questionable behavior, it seems that those dogs are off of the leash once again.

Bill Blum and the Offer of a Place to Stay
Bill Blum, who died just a few days ago as a result of a fall in his apartment in Washington D.C., was one of those souls on the left who refused to relent in the face of horror. Bill was a long-distance runner in the matter of high ideals and he wrote on these pages with a level of skill and insight that few can match. His Anti-Empire Report was riveting reading! He was not only an intellect, but also a person of unparalleled humanity. Years ago, when Bill learned that I needed a place to stay in D.C. during a demonstration, he did not hesitate to offer his place. We occasionally wrote to one another because the issues we were interested in intersected at various times. We even aggravated a few of the same people on the political left and we sometimes disagreed on our interpretation of issues. Both Bill and I were fortunate enough to cross paths with a fine writer and editor in her own right, Laurie Endicott Thomas, who edited some of both of our writing. The Real News Network carried an interview with Oliver Stone about Bill Blum. I understand that there will be at least one, or perhaps two, memorial services for Bill.

Howard Lisnoff is a freelance writer.

Police Violence and Mass Policing in the U.S.

Police riot: Democratic Convention 1968 Photo credit: commondreams.org

Police Violence and Mass Policing in the U.S.

Published at CounterPunch on December 11, 2018

Wondering which side police in the U.S. are on…. left or right, is a more certain social science proposition than attempting to guess how many angels can safely fit on the head of a pin.

For those close to protest from the 1950s through today, including all facets of left protest, the broken and murdered bodies of protesters in the civil rights movement and the Vietnam antiwar movement, and movements beyond those heady days of protest are quite telling. Guns, fire hoses, batons, tear gas, fists, planting evidence, etc., have all been used viciously by police throughout the U.S. in doing the bidding of their political and financial overlords.

The militarization of the police began, not as a coincidence, in the 1970s. Special Weapons and Tactics (S.W.A.T.) “teams” were soon in evidence, as was the gathering of so-called intelligence by police units, a fact well known to Vietnam-era protesters, the movement to which mass policing responded. The dumping of military weapons and vehicles to the police was the direct result of the massive police mobilization during and following the Vietnam War. All that was needed was a globalized economy to begin the school to prison pipeline of which the police are an integral part.

Drug Abuse Resistance Education programs (D.A.R.E.), founded in Los Angeles in 1983, have been totally ineffective in stemming the tide of drug use in the U.S.  Indeed, D.A.R.E. has seen some police act as enforcers of discipline in schools in mostly poor neighborhoods and has furthered the school to prison pipeline in the U.S.

That many individual police have authoritarian leanings and behaviors comes as no surprise. The antipathy toward people of color in the civil rights era and beyond had its roots in the mass violence in the U.S. in which police were an integral part. That a member of the Black Panther Party would relate that violence is as “American as cherry pie” is no accident.

More recently, the repression by police, and especially the white shirts of the New York City police during the Occupy Wall Street movement, was effective in countering the push to begin to address the astronomical level of economic inequality that became pronounced as a result of the Great Recession, a recession largely caused by the globalization of trade, manufacturing, and the financial chicanery of the international banking establishment.

When antifascist protesters took to the streets of Washington, D.C. to protest the moron-in-chief’s inauguration, the police were aided by the liberal class in the U.S., including some in the mass media, who think that the power grab by the far right in the U.S. will end in some kind of genteel coffee klatch.

In August 2017, in Charlottesville, Virginia, police largely stood by while white supremacists and neo-Nazis beat up counter-protesters and finally killed Heather Heyer. The police response was reported by CNN in “Report on Charlottesville rally faults police over planning, failure to protect public,” (December 2, 2017).

When the police can’t get away with murder outright, they either resort to the tried and “true” technique of claiming they feared for their individual or collective safety, or as they did in Ferguson, Missouri in August 2014, falsely reporting that Michael Brown was some sort of dangerous criminal on the loose. When the police can’t get away with slander and libel, they sometimes shoot people in the back, or in similar ways, and those people turn out to be predominantly either black or brown.

In June 2016, as reported in the Guardian, white supremacists and neo-Nazis were allowed to get away with only very minor charges at the mayhem resulting from a far-right rally, while California officials “pursued criminal charges against eight anti-fascist activists who were stabbed or beaten…” Readers get the picture here without much embellishment of the facts. 

What shocks in much of this again is how some liberals join the right in condemning the actions of anti-fascists while the grotesque outrage of what is actually going on in the far right in the U.S. is often seen on an equal footing with the pushback on the part of some on the left. Indeed, many revisionists on the left bemoan the actions of radical protest and protesters during the late 1960s and early 1970s in reaction to the grotesqueness of the Vietnam War, a reality that allowed the right in the U.S. to rewrite the history of that war into the “noble cause” rhetoric of Ronald Reagan.

By taking part in this condemnation and fabrication of history, with its forces of murder on the right around the world and in the U.S., the stage is set for further bloodletting. Witness Trump’s campaign rallies in 2016, when he encouraged the violent among his followers to do physical harm to counterprotesters. How far behind could mass murder and intimidation be? 

“You had some very bad people in that group, but you also had people that were very fine people, on both sides.” In other words, Trump gave a wink and a nod to white supremacists and neo-Nazis in Charlottesville. How hard do readers think it could be for police to pick up on this green light to align with the right while physically and “legally” punishing the left.

In a small town in Rhode Island during the 1968 presidential campaign, just outside of the local Eugene McCarthy for President campaign office, teenagers, who routinely congregated both inside and on the sidewalk outside of that office, were routinely harassed by police. On one night, a young man was arrested by police and beaten at the local police station for the crime of being outside of the campaign office and being brash. No matter that the young man was the son of a prominent local businessman. The latter made no difference to the police who acted with complete impunity even then. On the federal level, the national police, the F.B.I., had long been involved in its formal counterintelligence program (COINTELPRO) that included spying, harassment, and facilitating murder as standard operating procedures against protest and protesters. 

It is both a quaint and outdated idea that police will be neutral arbiters of the administrative branch of governments. It is most often the case that police will act in tandem with the judicial branch with violence and mass incarceration often being the predictable outcome.

Whether it was the police riots at the Democratic nominating convention in 1968 at the height of the Vietnam War, or a simple traffic stop, or incidents of police wilding, the authoritarian nature of policing in the U.S. is apparent. That such generally unchecked and ultimate power over life and death on the streets of the U.S. often leads to deadly results need not come as a surprise to a government and people with a growing political right and in many cases the extreme right.

Indeed, the left’s admirable commitment to nonviolence is remarkable in the face of such repression.

Howard Lisnoff is a freelance writer.

George H.W. Bush and the Vietnam Syndrome

George H.W. Bush and the Vietnam Syndrome
Published at CounterPunch on December 3, 2018

Nowhere in the so-called print/online major media was there any hint that the late George H.W. Bush was a bit of a public predator. The New York Times, the Boston Globe, and the Guardian lauded the late president as a man who guided the U.S. through a difficult transition of becoming the world’s sole superpower with the demise of the former Soviet Union. What was missing was any critique of how Bush set the stage for unbridled U.S. militarism and jettisoning the Vietnam Syndrome, something that his predecessor, The Great Communicator Reagan, had chipped away at with his low-intensity wars in Central America and his massive nuclear arms buildup that culminated in the insane pursuit of Star Wars space weapons and nuclear shields.

Bush began the endless wars with his attack against Iraq in 1990-1991, for Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait. Operation Desert Storm… the Gulf War… (Aren’t the names of ruthless wars comforting?) was yet another in the long line of wars to support repressive regimes in nations like Kuwait that the U.S. has little strategic interest in, save its spot in the oil rich Middle East. Bush oversaw what would be called a “turkey shoot” by a U.S. flyer: the mass targeting of Iraqi troops from the air as they fled Kuwait. In any case, Bush gave his former ally Saddam Hussein a diplomatic wink and a nod, later reversed, to begin Iraq’s aggression against Kuwait, where Iraq claimed ownership of oil fields. The story of Iraqi soldiers throwing infants from incubators onto the floor of a hospital in Kuwait proved to be completely unfounded. Indeed, while there is absolute proof that Bush grabbed women’s asses publicly on several occasions over the years, there is no proof that Iraqi soldiers ever threw babies on the ground.

The Watson Institute at Brown University recently published a report that U.S. wars in the so-called War on Terror have cost U.S. taxpayers $5.9 trillion dollars. That’s a hell of a lot of programs of social uplift left in the dust by the penchant for wars and war profiteering that began under Reagan, but was made acceptable in Iraq by Bush. And then there was the attack on Panama that left an untold number of civilians dead in another bogus U.S. war, the failed war on drugs.

But it was Bush’s destruction of what was left of the Vietnam Syndrome that bothers most. Reagan began the long militaristic march to eradicate Vietnam Syndrome by declaring the Vietnam War a “noble cause.” Forget the three million or so dead in Southeast Asia and the 58,000 U.S. soldiers. The Vietnam War was revised into something noble and good, and that set the stage for the bellicose Bush to end it once and for all in the Middle East.

Since the U.S. government says that I developed Vietnam Syndrome while in the military during the Vietnam era, I’m a little sensitive about someone who destroyed the hesitancy of the people of the U.S., or at least those not asleep at the wheel, to balk at approving or endorsing wars of aggression. I still don’t understand how both a nation and individuals can suffer from the same affliction as the Vietnam Syndrome, but I’m somewhat satisfied that I’ve still got it, even though wars seem to be one of the only ways that people can still come together or have some consensus as a society.

None of this discussion goes to the role that Bush played as director of the C.I.A., a government agency that has spread U.S. hegemony and spying in the name of empire. Neither does it address Bush’s role as second in command for the The Great Communicator. But what is important here is how the U.S. got enough people to go along with the premise that war is a positive action on the part of the government and that trillions of dollars is a good way to spend the national treasure of empire while human needs go unmet and a relatively small number of the power elite are enriched beyond imagination.

Howard Lisnoff is a freelance writer.

The Day I Almost Went to Prison for Life

Photo credit: Boston Globe (the other current recreational marijuana facility)

The Day I Almost Went to Prison for Life
Published at CounterPunch on November 29, 2018

Larry and I took the bus from Augusta to Atlanta, Georgia on a Friday night in November 1969. We were at the halfway point of basic training at Fort Gordon and the first weekend pass was our reward for surviving the rigors of military training during the Vietnam era. We were both in the National Guard, and unlike some others in our training unit, we would get to go home in the early spring following the completion of both basic and advanced training in our military specialty.

I was completely against the Vietnam War, but that is not the subject of this essay. I read Martin Luther King’s Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community? as the bus sped along the roads to Atlanta through the night. My first stop in Atlanta was at what would become King’s temporary tomb next to the church where he preached along with his father: Ebenezer Baptist.

In the evening of that Saturday, Larry and I were going to unwind, and since beer was about all we could get at the basic training PX, we would go out in search of some grass in the hippie enclave of Atlanta on Peachtree Street. It didn’t take long for us to make a connection, and we returned to our hotel and rolled a few joints and smoked them.

Soon after finishing the joint, I began what seemed like a paranoid trip. Looking back over forty-nine years I can be a bit more objective and conclude that it probably were forces that had little to do with the marijuana that put me in the mental state I experienced. I had trouble breathing and the room was doing all manner of distortions. Had I noticed Larry, who was uncontrollably smacking his lips, I probably could have concluded that it may have been a combination of basic training, homesickness, and whatever particular personality traits were at play that were causing such a strong reaction.

I told Larry that I was heading to a hospital to get checked out and away from the confines of our room and he accompanied me. The taxi that we hired took us to a hospital where we were quickly tossed out onto the sidewalk, the staff adding that this was a private facility and we were not welcome there.

We took a second taxi and landed in a public hospital, in a unit, or rather a large holding room, where what seemed to me to be a large number of people who were dealing with similar reactions from a variety of drugs and/or alcohol. While we waited, a man who was confined to a wheelchair in handcuffs began writhing violently and screaming… Within seconds, the wheelchair where he had sat was turned into small pieces of wood, detached wheels, and unrecognizable metal objects. I completely freaked out at that sight and the police were called and both Larry and I were put in the back of a cruiser.

At that point, Larry began giving me dirty looks and said that his license to practice law in California could be revoked given our current situation. The cop driving the cruiser said that we would end up in prison for life for our offense of smoking pot and we had better come clean and direct him to the people on Peachtree Street who had sold us the marijuana he now held as evidence of our criminality.

By this point, I was coming down from the trip and knew better than to turn anyone in for anything, and in any case to try to tell the difference between the folks who sold us the stash and the others who were walking along the street in the hippie district of Atlanta would have been impossible. Satisfied that we couldn’t help the police locate the people who had sold us the pot, we were dropped off at the door to our hotel and I spent the rest of the night, before falling asleep, dealing with Larry’s glares after he was brought so close to professional ruin. The police never asked for our names and we were never arrested or charged. We were simply intimidated and finally let go.

Fast forward forty-nine years later when I will get up before dawn, three days from now and drive a little over an hour to a retail marijuana shop in Northampton, Massachusetts on the first morning that recreational marijuana will be sold legally east of the Mississippi River. It’s not that I’m a pothead or major druggy or anything like that… Maybe I still would rather have an occasional beer as I recall Phil Ochs in Outside of a Small Circle of Friends: “Smoking marijuana is more fun than drinking beer, But a friend of ours was captured and they gave him thirty years.” I haven’t smoked marijuana since that night in any substantial way. Nixon supported the spraying of paraquat on marijuana fields and that freaked me out for a number of years. A next-door neighbor grew stuff that would have taken a barn full to make someone high, so I really have been disconnected from it all.

I’ll stand in line on Tuesday morning and an educated guess is that police will be directing traffic rather than looking to arrest anyone. Some might say that by doing this I’m subsidizing the marijuana industry and they may be right to a degree, but it means something to have voted for the recreational marijuana ballot initiative in 2016 and to be able to take advantage of a people’s movement in an angry and imperfect world that includes the untold thousands in jail for nonviolent drug charges and some people who have been murdered for similar reasons.

The way it actually turned out

Frigid weather, snow, rain, and Thanksgiving kept me from traveling to Northampton for six days. When my wife Jan and I finally arrived, the line was long and it took about an hour and a half to get into he marijuana facility.

Outside, while waiting, a young man stood in back of us with a friend and he seemed to know nearly everything there was to know about marijuana. Once inside, it took almost no time to make a purchase and the person who took our order and checked us out was friendly and remarked, “I’m glad that folks from your generation could see this happen,” I thought, if he only knew the story that stood behind his observation. Once outside of the facility, walking back to our car, someone on the street behind us said, “I wanted to come to see the social scene today.” It was, indeed, quite a scene as the cliche went during the 1960s and early 1970s.

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

The Long Road of Death and Destruction Between Manhattan in 2001 and Schoharie in 2018

Newburgh, New York Photo credit: government-ny.org

The Long Road of Death and Destruction Between Manhattan in 2001 and Schoharie in 2018

Published at The Greanville Post on November 21, 2018

The glow of the work lights of the World Trade Center seem surreal as seen from the rooftop of my graduate school dormitory at New York University in August 1970. The towers appear in that bath of light contrasted against the surrounding darkness… The two buildings are so mammoth that it seems that I could simply reach out from Washington Square South in Greenwich Village and touch them in lower Manhattan. They are far away in both time and space from the worn out streets of Newburgh, New York in 2008 and the intersection of routes 30 and 30A in Schoharie in 2018, a rural community of about 3,300 people west of the state capital in Albany.

In 2008, an FBI operative and perpetrator of fraud at the Albany, New York Department of Motor Vehicles, Shahed Hussain, showed up at Masjid al-Ikhlas mosque in Newburgh, New York using the name “Maqsood.” Hussain spoke about jihad, violence, and made misogynist statements. Many members of the mosque believed that Hussain was an informant: He was someone to avoid. By 2009, Hussain had encouraged, enlisted, and coaxed four Newburgh men into accepting three targets as part of a cooked-up plan of terrorism. The targets were Riverdale Temple, Riverdale Jewish Center, both in the Bronx, and a military plane or planes at nearby Stewart International Airport in Newburgh. The kingpin of the four was James Cromitie who later said of his accomplices: “(They were) Do[ing] it for the money. They’re not even thinking about the cause.” His accomplices were David Williams, Onta Williams, and Laguerre Payen.

Commenting on the FBI and the way it operated after the September 2001 attacks, Michae German, a former FBI undercover agent said that the “Rules don’t apply anymore,” in reference to how the FBI would function after 2001. In 2001, the FBI failed to pay adequate attention at its administrative level to credible information from an agent in the field that an attack against the U.S. by terrorists was imminent. George W. Bush had similar evidence that an attack would most likely involve aircraft and he failed to act on that information. Many believe that the new branding of the FBI following 2001, in a diminished role within the Department of Homeland Security, created added impetus to find terror plots even where they did not exist. Shahed Hussain fits “neatly” into that pattern and plan.

German continued in the HBO documentary “The Newburgh Sting” (2014): “Treat the entire Muslim community as suspect.” That line of reasoning is evident in a discussion of the Newburgh plan between Hussain and one of his FBI handlers: “Make sure they’re Muslims.” In terms of statistics, it is noteworthy that while there have been reportedly 15,000 FBI informants that agency has used since 2001, not one plot has been connected directly to a mosque. Not a single mosque has been named in an actual act of terror.. However, while the FBI used the tactic of enlisting people through the infiltration and surveillance of mosques and the use of informants including Hussain, major terror cases like the Times Square bomber, the Underwear bomber, and the Boston Marathon bombers have gone undiscovered by the FBI and other intelligence agencies. The infiltration of mosques was government policy and its knowledge travelled in a direct line between intelligence agencies, the attorney general, the FBI director, and the president. In other words, it was policy known and sanctioned at the highest levels of the U.S. government.

On May 6, 2009, the men enlisted in the Newburgh plot drove to Stamford, Connecticut to pick up three dummy backpack bombs and a phony Stinger surface-to-air guided missile. That action made the alleged offenses a federal crime because the men crossed state lines to procure dummy bombs and the missile to be used in the cooked-up terror plot. They purchased cellphones and cameras at a Walmart and a handgun in Brooklyn.

They drove three separate cars to the Bronx on May 20, 2009 and placed the fake bombs and were arrested returning to their cars. The scene of mayhem in the Bronx was notable for the fact that despite the knowledge of no real threat to the targets, a massive law enforcement presence was obvious, including the use of huge trucks to block roads.

Charged with conspiracy and weapons offenses, following their arrest on May 20, 2009, including conspiracy to use weapons of mass destruction and conspiracy to acquire and use anti-aircraft missiles, their alleged offenses carried a maximum sentence of life in prison.

They pled not guilty in March 2010. Lawyers for the four men filed a motion to dismiss on grounds of entrapment. The proposed scheme by the informant Hussain suggested targets and provided the fake explosives and missile.

In an interview for the documentary, a relative of one of the Newburgh 4, said that the men were out to swindle Hussain, and that is a reasonable conclusion given that they were all poor and desperate for money.

At their trial in August 2010, Hussain raised the specter of anti-Semitism in regard to James Cromitie, and that would have been a powerful issue for the court given the memory of September 11, 2001, the fear of another attack on the city, and the ethnic-religious composition of New York.

The four men were sentenced on June 29, 2011. The trial judge called Cromitie “both bigoted and suggestible,” but having hate-filled sentiments and ideas alone is not enough to sentence someone to jail. The judge continued that the government “did not have to infiltrate and foil some nefarious plot— there was no nefarious plot to foil.” Indeed, the FBI’s informant, Hussain, told Cromitie, as recorded in the HBO documentary “The Newburgh Sting” that “I have lots of ideas for you.” Not only did Hussain have lots of ideas for the four men, but he also enticed Cromitie further with a promise of $250,000, cars, and vacations when Cromitie began to waver and went temporarily AWOL from the plan in 2009, after losing his night job at a local Walmart. One of the Newburgh 4, Onta Williams, had been a factory worker. These were all poor men in a decaying urban environment, and in the case of Payen, here was someone with substantial intellectual and mental health issues, who needed a job and professional treatment, and was regarded as unreliable by Cromitie. The FBI, according to the Newburgh 4 documentary, considered the four men incapable of carrying out an action on their own. There is no doubt that Cromitie held anti-Semitic hatreds, stating to Hussain: “Those fucking Jewish bastards,” but again, holding outrageous, hateful beliefs is a far cry from initiating violent actions against people and institutions that embody different beliefs. All four men were sentenced to 25 years in federal prison.

Prosecutors described the men as “extremely violent,” but they had no violent offenses on their records. The defense argued that men would have never joined the plot without goading by a paid informant. The four men are all now in separate federal prisons.

On August 23, 2013 a federal appeals court in Manhattan voted 2 to 1 to uphold the convictions of the four men. Chief Judge Dennis Jacobs dissented and stated that there was no pre intent and Cromitie was “badgered” into joining the plot. The appeals court also held that the government’s actions in supplying phony weapons and a plot “does not exceed due process limits.” Here existed a kind of governmental tortured logic.

The FBI “would have been derelict in their duties if they did not test how far Cromitie would go to carry out his desires. When a government agent encounters a muslim [sic] who volunteers that he wants to do something to America or die like a martyr, the agent is entitled to probe the attitudes of that person to learn whether his religious views have impelled him toward the violent brand of radical Islam that poses a dire threat to the United States.”

It was not uncommon, following the 2016 general election, to encounter people from all kinds of backgrounds whose sentiments and statements toward Donald Trump could have resulted in their being sent to federal prison given the tortured reasoning of the appeals court in the Newburgh case.

The Deadly Schoharie Limousine Crash

Unintended but foreseeable consequences can come about in a world in which violence and mayhem have become regular, if not the norm. It would have been impossible to predict wars lasting over 17 years as a result of the U.S. arming of the mujahideen in Afghanistan in the 1980s, or people so bent on destruction that thousands of innocent people would have been killed going about their daily routines in New York City in 2001.

At the time of a limousine crash in Schoharie, New York on October 6, 2018, Shahed Hussain appears to have been in his native country, Pakistan. A limousine carrying 17 people to a birthday party crashed at an intersection killing all of the occupants including the driver, who was not licensed to carry the number of people heading to the party. The limousine had previously failed official safety inspections and was not supposed to be on the road. The limousine was owned and operated by Prestige Limousine, a company whose day-to-day operations were overseen by Shahed Hussain’s son, Nauman, who has been charged as being “criminally negligent” in the deaths of the 20 people in the limo crash (“As community mourns, limo owner’s story emerges,” Times Union, October 14, 2018). The limousine company’s owner was Shahed Hussain.

The elder Hussain had carried out documented FBI stings. Now, the limo his company operated lay in a ditch beyond a Schoharie intersection.

The limousine that had failed several New York state safety inspections crashed at the intersection of routes 30 and 30A in October 2018, near a popular restaurant where two people in the restaurant’s parking lot were also killed by the speeding limo.

It may or may not be possible to trace the money paid to Hussain by the U.S. government for enlisting impoverished, black men into a conspiracy that they could not have dreamt of even in spectacular nightmares. Did the $95,000 of tax-free money that Hussain was paid get funneled into the limo service whose shoddy operation allegedly resulted in the deaths of so many innocent people? It is almost as if the U.S. arrived at a metaphorical crossroads in September 2001 and the horror of that day has resulted and reverberated in so many unanticipated and horrific outcomes. There could have been a choice made in the days following September 11, 2001, perhaps a police action to arrest and try Osama bin Laden and his co-conspirators rather than fighting endless wars, but this nation was already on a course set to double down on that terrorism in ways whose results were almost beyond comprehension.

Hussain’s previous involvement as an informant for the FBI is documented in Mother Jones “Wondering If Your “Jihadist” Friend Is With the FBI” (March 20, 2012), and provides riveting examples of Hussain’s actions in other FBI operations.

Creating terror plots where there were none was one way in which the consequences of national policy have played out. It is approximately 103 miles from Newburgh, New York to Schoharie, and about 68 miles from Manhattan to Newburgh. No one could have anticipated the insanity and death that would link these three places before September 11, 2001 and the thousands of lives that would be erased and fractured and the intersections of how those events reverberated into the present.

Howard Lisnoff is a freelance writer.

Notes: Calls to several offices went unanswered as I attempted to seek comments on both the Newburgh 4 and the Schoharie crash. The New York Conference of the NAACP would not comment, but referred me to the national headquarters of the NAACP, where my call to the media director of the organization was not returned. I had called the NAACP because neither of the numbers of the Albany and the Newburgh NAACP were working numbers. I attempted to get a comment from a representative of the Masjid al-Ikhlas mosque in Newburgh, and I received no response. I did speak with a staff writer for the Times Union who confirmed that Hussain’s whereabouts were not known at the time of the publication of that paper’s article cited above. Finally, I contacted the office of one of the attorneys for the Newburgh 4, Samuel Braverman, and received no comment.

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.

“Let the music Keep our Spirits High”

Balloon and airplane over the Berkshires. Photo credit: Howard Lisnoff

“Let the music keep our spirits high
Let the buildings keep our children dry
Let creation reveal its secrets by and by, by and by
When the light that’s lost within us reaches the sky” Jackson Browne

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