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Woodstock at 50

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Woodstock at 50

Published at CounterPunch on March 29, 2019

In a few, short months, on August 15, 50 years will have passed since Woodstock (known formally as the Woodstock Music & Art Fair, An Aquarian Exposition), a defining cultural event of the 1960s and a defining event of the baby boom generation, took place.  It took 43 years for me to get to the rolling hills in White Lake, New York at the foot of the Catskill Mountains where the festival was held. The contemporary museum and outdoor music venue are a few hundred yards away from where the Woodstock stage was erected and the bowl-like lay of the land among the hills is still the same. The nearby farms, and the many lakes that made the cover of major magazines at the time because hippies bathed nude in those waters, appear much as they did decades ago.

Singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell’s anthem to the music festival, “Woodstock,” captures the essence of the time, but Mitchell did not come to Woodstock and a reading of her statements about the generation of baby boomers is perplexing.

Here is Mitchell in her own words on the counterculture and war:

She has said the parents of the boomers were unhappy, and “out of it came this liberated, spoiled, selfish generation into the costume ball of free love, free sex, free music, free, free, free, free we’re so free. And Woodstock was the culmination of it.” But “I was not a part of that,” she explained in an interview. “I was not a part of the anti-war movement, either. I played in Fort Bragg. I went the Bob Hope route because I had uncles who died in the war, and I thought it was a shame to blame the boys who were drafted.”

When Trump was elected president and began his right-wing makeover of the federal government and installed hate and inequality as the zeitgeist of this epoch, a commentator who I can’t recall said Trump and his administration were a slap in the face to the baby boom generation. That may be partly true, but many in that generation did not have political and social views and lifestyles that reflected the ethos of Woodstock, but thankfully a critical mass of the young men and women from that era did.

“Don’t mourn: organize!” sounds good, but the critical mass of the baby boom generation vanished long ago and what we have now is an unmitigated disaster. It’s a disaster politically, socially, economically, and above all environmentally!

Readers may want to reflect on the fact that just over eight months after the fields of Max Yasgur’s farm in White Lake remained  a muddy mess that some say took years to return to its natural state, the horror of Kent State and Jackson State happened.

Comparisons between Woodstock and Kent State and Jackson State need to be made carefully. There is a world of difference between attending a music festival and countering the National Guard as occupiers on a campus in Ohio, or protesting at a historically black college in Mississippi. Both protests turned lethal because the rhetoric and actions of the government (national, state, and local) were so highly charged with hate and violence at the time that death and mayhem were easy to predict.  The entire society witnessed the violence that was the Vietnam War on the three major television stations at the time on an almost nightly basis. It was a war that came into living rooms within the U.S. and around the world as protest spread.

The young men and women at Kent State and Jackson State learned that protesting war in the politically and racially charged atmosphere of 1970 came with a high human price. There are veterans of those two mass shootings that still must live their lives with those wounds both physical and psychological.

The singer-songwriter, Neil Young, who wrote the anthem of Kent State “Ohio,” was a bit inconsistent as the years passed. Here are his views on Ronald Reagan: “I was one of those who felt that some ideas he had were good ideas.”  Ronald Reagan, then governor of California, hated both the First Amendment’s right to free speech and the generation that dared to protest.

And again, here’s Young after the attacks of September 2001:

Post 9/11 Young takes a hard turn back to the right, with the 2002 song Let’s Roll and its somewhat ham-fisted battle cry for America to kick some ass and get revenge overseas, and its support for the Patriot Act restricting rights at home. The angry call to arms includes lines like “going after Satan on the wings of a dove” and “facing down evil.”

As the years and decades passed, many baby boomers stayed active, and our presence was more and more noticeable in the movements against war, for the environment, against nuclear weapons, for women’s rights, for civil rights, for gay rights and many social, political, and economic movements both local and national and international. When Trump called neo-Nazis and white supremacists “some very fine people,” fingers to the wind were easy to find among the generation of baby boomers.

Nostalgia may become a form of depression, which can be mild or serious. It is important to remember, but more important to move on with those memories into today. When critics say the Vietnam antiwar movement turned violent, well, that was a tiny minority and it did not represent the movements that came later. To those who hold that the victories of the 1960s and early 1970s were permanent, look to the revolution of the right that has ripped apart movements for social, political, and economic change.

With Russiagate now history, get ready for Trump’s assault on Iran, or perhaps some other target, that may coincide with the 2020 election cycle, and pay close attention to those from the Cold War era that gave rise to a permanent class of war-makers and those who make huge fortunes from the preparations for war. Take notice of the more contemporary right-wing heirs of the Cold-War.

Howard Lisnoff is a freelance writer.

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Another Slugger from Louisville: Muhammad Ali

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Another Slugger from Louisville: Muhammad Ali

Published at CounterPunch on January 22, 2019

Here’s some good news. Louisville International Airport in Kentucky, Muhammad Ali’s hometown, will be renamed the Louisville Muhammad Ali International Airport.

Muhammad Ali was the greatest boxer of all-time, a sport that has many features that readers may abhor. Airports are also great stains on the environment, with aircraft spewing tons of CO2 into the environment. But with those considerations noted, there was the long-distance runner of boxing, Ali, who became a symbol of resistance to the war in Vietnam. The observation made at the time was that Ali was at the pinnacle of his success in the ring and that boxing was one of the few places that a black man could defeat a white man and not risk death for his effort.

On April 28, 1967, Ali refused induction into the U.S. Army, citing his religion, Muslim, and had his heavyweight boxing title taken away. He said he would not go half-way around the world to kill people who had not insulted or degraded his race, and that observation must have earned him the ire of hordes of militant haters across the U.S. Ali said: “I ain’t got no quarrel with them Viet Cong.”

The controversy lasted decades after Ali won his case before the Supreme Court. In 2004, baseball pitcher Bob Feller, a World War II veteran and baseball hall of fame member said: “I object very strongly to Muhammad Ali being here to throw out the first pitch… [Ali] changed his name and changed his religion so he wouldn’t have to serve his country, and to me, that’s disgusting.”

Many criticized Ali for accepting the Medal of Freedom from warmonger George W. Bush in 2005. By then, Ali suffered from the ravages of Parkinson’s syndrome that may have been brought on by his years in the boxing ring. It is impossible to comment dispassionately about the circumstances of the award, or the state of the U.S. as a country already at war for four years (now almost 18 years). But when confronting war and racism during the Vietnam War, it was Muhammad Ali who stood just as immovable as he did against the ropes of a boxing ring and waited patiently for his opponents to run out of steam.

Ali’s support for Ronald Reagan in 1984, in what Ali categorized as a religious issue in public schools, is difficult to explain.

Like the baseball bat named after Ali’s hometown, whose airport now bears his name, Muhammad Ali was in it for the full 12 rounds, or nine innings in real life.

Howard Lisnoff is a freelance writer.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Howard Lisnoff is a freelance writer.

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

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