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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 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
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
Published at CounterPunch as “On Hallowed Ground: Guns At Kent State” on September 27, 2018.
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.
Published at CounterPunch on September 19, 2018
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.