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We Still Don’t Get it on the Left

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

We Still Don’t Get it on the Left

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Howard Lisnoff is a freelance writer.

“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

Wake-up From the Nightmare

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

As We Approach the 2018 Election

Protest March January 21, 2017 Photo credit: Howard Lisnoff

The New York City Skyline from the 215th Street Subway Station

The New York City Skyline from the 215th Street Subway Station Photo credit: Howard Lisnoff

In an Apartment in Brooklyn

Tree of Life synagogue Photo credit: Reuters

In An Apartment in Brooklyn
by HOWARD LISNOFF
Published at CounterPunch November 1, 2018

Faige (a fictitious name) remains in her apartment in Brooklyn, New York and all of the fears that she felt as a teenager in Eastern Europe during the onslaught of Naziism in the lead-up to World War II have come back. It was Kristallnacht on the night of November 9-10, 1938. She witnessed the murder of family members and was saved only through the intervention of a family acquaintance who was a taxi driver. She was a 17-year-old with striking red hair and the taxi driver and his basic humanity and fearlessness are the only things that saved Faige from the Holocaust that would follow.

Now in her apartment in Brooklyn the scenes of the horror that she witnessed 80 years ago have come back to her, as the news of the horrific attack against members of the Jewish congregation in Pittsburgh at the Tree of Life congregation became known.

Faige sees two men in her apartment from the Nazi past who are not physically present, but are all-too real to her and their intent is to murder her, as they did to members of her immediate family. Although people who have come to visit and comfort her sit in the chairs where she imagines the Nazis are sitting, she cannot distinguish between, in the horror she continues to experience, those who have come to be with her to help and the horrific ghosts that haunt from the past. Her fear cannot be assuaged and it is difficult for her to calm down in the new horror in which she finds herself.

There are some with the expertise to analyze with some measure of precision what is happening to Faige, who has witnessed the unspeakable and now is immersed in the reports of what has happened in a place where she thought that she was safe. Indeed, most Jews in the U.S. felt safe until the alleged attack by Robert Bowers in the Jewish congregation in Pittsburgh where people came to worship. Although a degree of anti-Semitism has been present in U.S. society, along with racism and other forms of hatred against immigrants and against other religious persuasions, that hatred was seen in context as extremist views and was not accepted and encouraged by those at the highest levels of government in Washington, D.C. But now there is a free-for-all of hate that the President of the United States and some members of his administration have forcefully supported. And the anti-Semites and white supremacists are listening carefully and heeding those words. In Kentucky, an alleged murderer shot and killed two elderly black people after he was thwarted by a locked door in an attempted attack against a black church.

Indeed, when Donald Trump admonishes and condemns madmen and violent extremists like alleged bomb maker Cesar Sayoc and alleged gunman Robert Bowers, it is a simple task to Google the numerous instances in which Trump has encouraged and stoked the flames of hatred by his own statements in public places. He began his presidential campaign with attacks against immigrants and is so lacking in judgement that he held a campaign rally in the Midwest on the night of the slaughter in Pittsburgh and added a call for arming those in houses of worship as a remedy for racist and religious intolerance and hatred that he himself has supported. This narcissist can’t begin to understand how those in grief need empathy in a time of great suffering.

How does Trump think that the doctored video clip of him attacking a caricatured figure with an image of a head composed of the CNN logo outside of a wrestling ring would be seen to those lost at the fringes of society? Trump is a master at playing the media in a perverse Orwellian manner that appeals to lost and hateful souls and many of those who support and supported Trump and his fellow travelers in the Republican Party. It is all calculated and has had its intended effect on those of us of goodwill and a woman in an apartment in Brooklyn who has suffered so much! Trump finds that among these mass murderers and terrorists are some “very fine people.” It takes a lot of ignorance and bald-face meanness to terrorize a 97-year-old woman! These fascists know the lethal effects of their words. They represent a decaying social, political, and economic system that the power elite has learned how to play.

The Hudson River, the Catskills, and a Fall Sky

Above the Hudson River in Hudson, New York. Photo credit: Howard Lisnoff

Above the Hudson River in Hudson, New York

The Right and Neoliberals Get Away With Murder Because They Can

Women’s March, January 21, 2017. Photo credit: Howard Lisnoff

Kavanaugh and Trump Photo credit: journallaband.com

The Right and Neoliberals Get Away With Murder Because They Can

Published at CounterPunch on October 10, 2018

Every time that the Trump administration or the Congress take another egregious position, or enact some inhumane new distortion of what it means to inhabit a livable world, the emails and text messages arrive in masses.

And here’s the kicker, readers: It all has made such a small difference that it appears to those who still hold on to the crumbs of rationality and reason like a grand waste of time. The Internet gives the impression that by signing some petition, or belonging to some Internet-based groups, that change can actually come about. Defeat follows upon the heels of yet another defeat and a new batch of online petitions appear. What an absolute delusion!

As for mass demonstrations, they achieve just about the same results. Look at the recent debacle of the Supreme Court. Millions marched on the streets for women’s rights and the result is just about less than nothing. Misogyny is accepted by a significant number of people. No one marches anymore for peace, except small groups of atomized people, and we get an annual military budget exceeding $700 billion. The war in Afghanistan is now 17-years-old and it has all of the trappings of privatization on its doorstep and on its land. Erik Prince, the founder of the mercenary company formally known as Blackwater, has a presence in this war that largely goes unreported in the mass media. When Barack Obama ordered a drone strike that killed 16-year-old American citizen, Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, in Yemen while he was eating dinner, almost nobody gave a damn. The environment, the single greatest existential threat, similarity attracts small groups that will take great risks to their freedom, and the result is that the entire ecosystem is tanking. The lists do go on. The antinuclear group Plowshares takes demonstrative action against the obscenity of nuclear proliferation (including the so-called modernization of nuclear weapons arsenals) and the sentences handed down to protesters are draconian. The message: Don’t mess with profits, private property, or endless wars. Those folks, the protesters, survive only because they have a community from which to seek and receive sustenance, while the rest of us have shopping malls and the Internet.

Once, during the Vietnam antiwar movement, people took big risks to fight for freedom. Most were young, and although self-interest played some part in our actions on the streets, we had youth and ideals on our side. Even though public opinion was always against us, we brought a hideous war of mass aggression and mass murder to an end.

Now, despite huge rallies for popular liberal candidates for office, many of the young don’t even bother to go out and vote. Voting, in and of itself, is only one way to bring about some limited measure of change. Here are the Census Bureau’s May 2017 statistics about who voted in 2016 (“Voting in America: A Look at the 2016 Presidential Election”):

Voting rates have also historically varied according to age, with older Americans generally voting at higher rates than younger Americans. In 2016, this was once again the case, as citizens 65 years and older reported higher turnout (70.9 percent) than 45- to 64-year-olds (66.6 percent), 30- to 44-year-olds (58.7 percent) and 18- to 29-year-olds (46.1 percent). However, in 2016, young voters ages 18 to 29 were the only age group to report increased turnout compared to 2012, with a reported turnout increase of 1.1 percent. All older age groups either reported small yet statistically significant turnout decreases (45- to 64-year-olds and those age 65 and older) or turnout rates not statistically different from 2012 (30- to 44-year-olds).

While 46.1 percent of 18 to 29-year-olds voted in 2016, a slight increase from the 2012 election, they are at the lowest end of all voting age groups, so while it appears that they turn out in great numbers at political rallies, etc., when the shoe leather meets the ground in various ways, they’re just not there and if the young are not there to force change at a critical mass, then the show is over. Seventy-year-olds don’t generally make revolutions, and if people cannot even be relied upon to do something as simple as voting, then what will those same people demand and how will they make demands in the face of catastrophes of all kinds?

An appeal to the young is not simply ageism in reverse, but a recognition of the essential fact that only some of those who are young have more energy and ideals.

Readers may want to take part in some simple action research next time they are on the streets, or on a campus, or in an elevator (a great place to view human behavior). It is the exception to find anyone in these situations without a cell phone in hand and head bowed in awe of the Internet.

Individual and group rights have been so diminished since 2001 that most don’t even know that a citizen of the U.S. can be killed without due process and the organized pushback against egregious violations of rights is weak.

It’s symbolically past midnight and we’re standing on the deck of the Titanic. It’s all so damn depressing!

Howard Lisnoff is a freelance writer.

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.

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