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LET ALLAH SORT IT OUT

In Bureaucracy, History, Military, Politics on August 30, 2013 at 12:00 am

Even confirmed imbeciles can sometimes get it right.

Or, in the case of former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, partially right.

Speaking at the annual meeting of the Faith and Freedom Coalition on June 15, Palin said the United States should not intervene in Syria while Barack Obama holds the Presidency:

“Until we have a commander in chief who knows what he is doing… let Allah sort it out!”

Actually, she got it half-right: “Let Allah sort it out”–regardless of who is President.

Recently, noted draft-dodger and former President Bill Clinton had different advice for President Obama.

Clinton urged Obama to intervene in Syria:

“Suppose I had let a million people, two million people be refugees out of Kosovo, a couple hundred thousand people die, and they say, ‘You could have stopped this by dropping a few bombs. Why didn’t you do it?’ And I say, ‘Because the House of Representatives voted 75% against it'”?

“You look like a total wuss, and you would be.”

This is truly heady stuff, coming from a man who has proudly boasted how he outwitted his draft board and thus escaped military service in Vietnam.

Apparently, it’s OK for other Americans to put on a military uniform and risk their lives in pointless missions on behalf of foreigners who hate us.

It’s just not OK for bullet-shy chicken-hawks like Bill Clinton to do it.

Clinton doesn’t seem aware, or concerned, that, in Syria, two of America’s most deadly enemies are now waging war–with each other.

Yes, it’s Hezbollah (Party of God) vs. Al-Qaeda (The Base).

Hezbollah is comprised of Shiite Muslims, who form a minority of Islamics.  A sworn enemy of Israel, it has  kidnapped scores of Americans suicidal enough to visit Lebanon and truck-bombed the Marine Barracks in Beirut in 1983, killing 299 Americans.

Flag of Hezbollah

Al-Qaeda, on the other hand, is made up of Sunni Muslims, who form the majority of that religion.  It is intolerent of non-Sunni Muslims and has instigated violence against them.  It denounces them as “takfirs”–heretics–and thus worthy of extermination.

Al Qaeda has attacked the mosques and gatherings of liberal Muslims, Shias, Sufis and other non-Sunnis.   Examples of sectarian attacks include the Sadr City bombings, the 2004 Ashoura massacre and the April, 2007 Baghdad bombings.

Flag of Al Qaeda

In a June 1 column entitled, “Stop the Madness,” Dr. James J. Zogby, the founder and president of the Arab American Institute, warns:

“What began as a popular revolt against a brutal and ossified dictatorship, Syria has now degenerated into a bloody battlefield pitting sects and their regional allies against each other in a ‘dance unto death.’

“On the one side, is the Ba’ath regime, supported by Russia, Iran, Hizbullah, and elements in the Iraqi government.

“Arrayed against them are a host of Syrians (some of whom have defected from the armed forces and others who have formed militias receiving arms and support from a number of Arab states and Turkey) and a cast of thousands of foreign Sunni fighters (some of whom have affiliated with al Qaeda) who have entered Syria to wage war on behalf of their brethren.”  [Emphasis added.]

But Clinton isn’t the only one urging Obama to waste American lives in a cause that only Islamic terror groups and right-wing Americans find compelling.

Arizona U.S. Senator John McCain has repeatedly urged the Obama administration to militarily intervene in Syria.

He has demanded that the United States create a “no-fly” zone over Syria to deny Syrian dictator Bashar al Assad the use of his air force against his rebellious subjects.

McCain, unlike Clinton, did serve in Vietnam–as a U.S. Navy pilot.  In October 1967, while on a bombing mission over Hanoi, he was shot down, seriously injured, and captured by the North Vietnamese.  He remained a prisoner of war until his release in 1973.

Now McCain wants today’s young servicemen to have the same opportunities he did–to be blown out of the sky and taken prisoner for another worthless cause.

Just as Sarah Palin was partially correct in urging “let Allah sort it out,” so, too, was Clinton partially correct in his “total wuss” remarks.

President Obama can rightly be called a “total wuss”–but not for keeping Americans out of harm’s way in a war they have no stake in.

He can legitimately be called a “total wuss”–for surrendering to the demands of the same neocons who lied America into a needless 10-year war in Iraq. 

But it’s not too late for Obama to recover from his mistake.

He can establish an all-volunteer brigade for those Americans willing to fight and possibly die in yet another pointless war.  And he can offer to fly them to the border of Syria so they can carry out their self-appointed “conquer or die” mission.

If these armchair strategists refuse to put their own lives on the line in defense of a “cause” they claim to believe in, Obama should have the courage to brutally–and repeatedly–point this out.

CORPORATIONS ARE GREEDY PEOPLE, TOO

In Bureaucracy, Business, Law, Politics, Social commentary on August 29, 2013 at 12:01 am

“How many men ever went to a barbecue and would let one man take off the table what’s intended for nine-tenths of the people to eat? The only way you’ll ever be able to feed the balance of the people is to make that man come back and bring back some of that grub that he ain’t got no business with!” – Louisiana Senator Huey P. Long, 1934

It was August 11, 2011–one year before he would receive the official Republican nomination for President.

Hustling for votes, Mitt Romney was speaking to a crowd of hundreds at the Iowa State Fair. He was being pressed about raising taxes to help cover entitlement spending.

Suddenly, a heckler suggested raising corporate tax rates.

Romney responded: “Corporations are people, my friend. Of course they are. Everything corporations earn ultimately goes to the people. Where do you think it goes? Whose pockets? Whose pockets? People’s pockets. Human beings, my friend.”

The line earned him a sustained round of applause from the crowd.

If it’s true that corporations are people, then they are exceptionally greedy and selfish people.

A December, 2011 report by Public Campaign, highlighting corporate abuses of the tax laws, makes this all too clear.

Public Campaign is a national nonpartisan organization dedicated to reforming campaign finance laws and holding elected officials accountable.

Summarizing its conclusions, the report’s author writes:

“Amidst a growing federal deficit and widespread economic insecurity for most Americans, some of the largest corporations in the country have avoided paying their fair share in taxes while spending millions to lobby Congress and influence elections.”

Its key findings:

  • The thirty big corporations analyzed in this report paid more to lobby Congress than they paid in federal income taxes between 2008 and 2010, despite being profitable.
  • Despite making combined profits totaling $164 billion in that three-year period, the 30 companies combined received tax rebates totaling nearly $11 billion.
  • Altogether, these companies spent nearly half a billion dollars ($476 million) over three years to lobby Congress. That’s about $400,000 each day, including weekends.
  • In the three-year period beginning in 2009 through most of 2011, these large firms spent over $22 million altogether on federal campaigns.
  • These corporations have also spent lavishly on compensatng their top executives ($706 million altogether in 2010).

Among those corporations whose tax-dodging and influence-buying were analyzed:

  • General Electric
  • Verizon
  • PG&E
  • Wells Fargo
  • Duke Energy
  • Boeing
  • Consolidated Edison
  • DuPont
  • Honeywell International
  • Mattel
  • Corning
  • FedEx
  • Tenet Healthcare
  • Wisconsin Energy
  • Con-way

The report bluntly cites the growing disparity between the relatively few rich and the vast majority of poor and middle-class citizens:

“Over the past few months, a growing protest movement has shifted the debate about economic inequality in this country.

“The American people wonder why members of Congress suggest cuts to Medicare and Social Security but won’t require millionaires to pay their fair share in taxes.

“They want to know why they are struggling to find jobs and put food on the the table while the country’s largest corporations get tax breaks and sweetheart deals, then use that extra cash to pay bloated bonuses to CEOs or ship jobs overseas.

“….At a time when millions of Americans are still unemployed and millions more make tough choices to get by, these companies are enriching their top executives and spending millions of dollars on Washington lobbyists to stave off higher taxes or regulations.”

Assessing the results of corporate tax-dodging, the report states:

  • Using various tax dodging techniques, including stashing profits in overseas tax havens and tax loopholes, 29 out of 30 companies featured in this study succeeded in paying no federal income taxes from 2008 through 2010.
  • These 29 companies received tax rebates over those three years, ranging from $4 million for Corning to nearly $5 billion for General Electric and totally nearly $11 billion altogether.
  • The only corporation that paid taxes in that three-year period, FedEx, paid a three-year tax rate of 1%, far less than the statutory rate of 35%.

The report bluntly notes the hypocrisy of corporate executives who call themselves “job creators” while enriching themselves by laying off thousands of employees:

“Another area where these corporations have decided to spend lavishly is compensation for their top executives ($706 million altogether in 2010).

“Executives doing particularly well work for General Electric ($76 million in total compensation in 2010), Honeywell International ($54 million), and Wells Fargo ($50 million).

“Executives who have seen the greatest increase work for DuPont (188% increase), Wells Fargo (180% increase) and Verizon (167% increase).

Despite being profitable, some of these corporations have actually laid off workers.

Since 2008, seven of the corporations have reported laying off American workers. The worst offenders are Verizon, which laid off  at least 21,308 workers, and Boeing, which fired at least 14,862 employees.

Insisting that “corporations are people” wins applause from the wealthiest 1% and their Right-wing shills. But it does nothing to better the lives of the increasingly squeezed poor and middle-class.

If the nation is to avoid economic and moral bankruptcy, Americans must demand that powerful corporations be held accountable–and punished harshly when they behave irresponsibly.

JFK: FIFTY YEARS AFTER DALLAS: PART TEN (OF TEN)

In Bureaucracy, History, Politics, Social commentary, Uncategorized on August 28, 2013 at 12:00 am

Fifty years ago this November 22, two bullets slammed into the neck and head of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy.

It has been said that he left his country with three great legacies:

  • The Nuclear Test Ban Treaty;
  • The Apollo moon landing; and
  • The Vietnam war.

Of these, the following can be said with certainty:

  • The Test Ban Treaty has prevented atmosphereic testing–and poisoning–by almost all the world’s nuclear powers.
  • After reaching the moon–in 1969–Americans quickly lost interest in space and have today largely abandoned plans for manned exploration.
  • Under Presidents Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon, 58,000 Americans died in Vietnam; 153,303 were wounded; and billions of dollars were squandered in a hopeless effort to intervene in what was essentially a Vietnamese civil war.  From 1965 to 1972, the war angrily divided Americas as had no event since the Civil War.

But there was a fourth legacy–and perhaps the most important of all: The belief that mankind could overcome its greatest challenges through rationality and perseverence.

White House painting of JFK

At American University on June 10, 1963, Kennedy called upon his fellow Americans to re-examine the events and attitudes that had led to the Cold War.

And he declared that the search for peace was by no means absurd:

“Our problems are man-made; therefore, they can be solved by man.  And man can be as big as he wants. No problem of human destiny is beyond human beings.

“Man’s reason and spirit have often solved the seemingly unsolvable, and we believe they can do it again.”

Today, politicians from both parties cannot agree on solutions to even the most vital national problems.

On November 21, 2011,  the 12 members of the “Super-Committee” of Congress, tasked with finding $1.2 trillion in cuts in government spending, threw up their hands in defeat.

President Kennedy speed-read several newspapers every morning. He nourished personal relationships with the press-–and not for entirely altruistic reasons.

These journalistic relationships gave Kennedy additional sources of information-–and perspectives-–on national and international issues.

In 2012, Republican Presidential candidates celebrated their ignorance of both.

Former Godfather’s Pizza CEO Herman Cain famously said, “We need a leader, not a reader.”  Thus he excused his ignorance of the reasons for President Barack Obama’s intervention in Libya.

Texas Governor Rick Perry showed similar pride in not knowing there are nine judges on the United States Supreme Court:

“Well, obviously, I know there are nine Supreme Court judges. I don’t know how eight came out my mouth. But the, uh, the fact is, I can tell you–I don’t have memorized all of those Supreme Ccourt judges. And, uh, ah–

“Here’s what I do know. That when I put an individual on the Supreme Court, just like I done in Texas, ah, we got nine Supreme Court justices in Texas, ah, they will be strict constructionists….

“That’s what Americans care about. Uh, they’re not looking for a robot that can, uh, spit out, uh, the name of every Supreme Court justice, or, ah, the the someone that’s gonna be perfect in, in, in every way.”

In short, it’s the media’s fault if they ask you a question and your answer reveals your own ignorance, stupidity or criminality.

During the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis, Kennedy spoke with aides about a book he had just finished: Barbara Tuchman’s The Guns of August, on the events leading to World War 1.

He said that the book’s most important revelation was how European leaders had blindly rushed into war, without thought to the possible consequences.

Kennedy told his aides he did not intend to make the same mistake-–that, having read his history, he was determined to learn from it.

What a complete contrast that is from today’s woeful historical ignorance among Republican Presidential candidates-–and those who aspire to be.

Consider Sarah Palin’s rewriting of history via “The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere”:

“He warned the British that they weren’t going to be taking away our arms by ringing those bells and, um, making sure as he’s riding his horse through town to send those warning shots and bells that, uh, we were going to be secure and we were going to be free.”

In fact, Revere wasn’t warning the British about anything.  Instead, he was warning his fellow Americans about an impending British attack–as his celebrated catchphrase “The British are coming!” made clear.

Republicans have attacked President Obama for his Harvard education and articulate use of language. Among their taunts: “Hitler also gave good speeches.”

And they resent his having earned most of his income as a writer of two books: Dreams From My Father and The Audacity of Hope.  As if being a writer is somehow subversive.

When knowledge and literacy are attacked as “highfalutin’” arrogance, and ignorance and incoherence are embraced as sincerity, national decline lies just around the corner.

In retrospect, the funeral for President Kennedy marked the death of more than a rational and optimistic human being.  It marked the death of Americans’ pride in choosing reasoning and educated citizens for their leaders.

The Eternal Flame at the grave of President John F. Kennedy

JFK: FIFTY YEARS AFTER DALLAS: PART NINE (OF TEN)

In Bureaucracy, History, Politics, Social commentary on August 27, 2013 at 12:15 am

Elected to the House of Representatives in 1946, John F. Kennedy served six undistinguished years before being elected U.S. Senator from Massachussetts in 1952.

In 1956, his eloquence and political skill almost won him the Vice Presidential nomination at the Democratic National Convention.  But the nominee, Adlai Stevenson, chose Tennessee Senator Estes Kefauver as his running mate.

Fortunately for Kennedy.

President Dwight D. Eisenhower, running for re-election, easily beat Stevenson.

Had Kennedy been on the ticket, his Catholic religion would have been blamed for the loss–and almost certainly prevented him from getting the Presidential nomination in 1960.

In 1957, his book, Profiles in Courage won the Pulitzer Prize for history.

From 1957 to 1960, Kennedy laid plans for a successful Presidential race.  Many voters thought him too young and inexperienced for such high office.

But he used his TV debates with then-Vice President Richard Nixon to calm such fears, transforming himself overnight into a serious contender.

Many Americans identified with Kennedy as they had with film stars.  In contrast with normally drab politicians, he seemed exciting and glamorous.

Since 1960, for millions of Americans, mere competence in a President isn’t enough; he should be charming and movie-star handsome as well.

John F. Kennedy after taking a swim at Santa Monica Beach, 1960

But charismatic politicians face the danger of waning enthusiasm.

Many people were growing disillusioned with Kennedy before he died.  He had raised hopes that couldn’t be met–especially among blacks.

And many whites bitterly opposed his support of integration, believing that Kennedy was “moving too fast” in changing race relations.

Still, for millions of Americans, Kennedy represented a time of change.

“Let’s get this country moving again” had been his campaign slogan in 1960.  He had demanded an end to the non-existent “missile gap” between the United States and Soviet Union.

And he had said that America should create full employment and re-evaluate its policies toward Africa, Latin America and Asia.

His youth, the grace and beauty of his wife and the oft-reported antics of his two young children–Caroline and John–added to the atmosphere that change was on the way.

But Kennedy was not so committed to change as many believed.

  • As a Senator he had strongly opposed abolishing the Electoral College.
  • He had made no outcry against the Red-baiting tactics of Senator Joseph R. McCarthy, a frequent dinner guest at the home of his father.
  • As President, Kennedy never forgot that he had been elected by a margin of 112,881 votes.  He often rationalized his refusal to tackle controversial issues by saying: “We’ll do it after I’m re-elected.  So we’d better make damn sure I am re-elected.”
  • He thought it absurd for the United States to refuse to recognize “Red”China, but didn’t try to change American foreign policy in that area.

Nevertheless, many historians believe that. by vocally supporting civil rights and healthcare for the elderly, Kennedy laid the groundwork for Lyndon Johnson’s legislative victories.

Perhaps no aspect of Kennedy’s Presidency has received closer study than his assassination.

Hundreds of books and thousands of articles have hotly debated whether he was murdered by a lone “nut” or a deadly conspiracy of powerful men.

JFK’s assassination: The moment of impact

The murder has been the subject of two government investigations.  The first, by the Warren Commission in 1964, concluded that an embittered ex-Marine and Marxist, Lee Harvey Oswald, acted alone in killing Kennedy.

Similarly, the Commission determined that nightclub owner Jack Ruby had killed Oswald on impulse, and not as the result of a conspiracy.

Millions of disbelieving Americans rejected the Warren Report–and named their own villains:

  • the KGB;
  • Anti-Castro Cubans;
  • Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson;
  • Right-wing businessmen and/or military leaders;
  • Fidel Castro.

Each of these groups or persons had reason to hate Kennedy:

  • The KGB–for Kennedy’s humiliation of the Soviet Union during the Cuban Missile Crisis.
  • Anti-Castro Cubans–for JFK’s refusal to commit American military forces to overthrowing Castro at the Bay of Pigs invasion.
  • Lyndon Johnson–lusting for power, he stood to gain the most from Kennedy’s elimination.
  • Right-wing businessmen and/or military leaders–for believing that Kennedy had “sold out” the country to the Soviet Union.
  • Fidel Castro–knowing the CIA was trying to assassinate or overthrow him, he had reason to respond in kind.

The second investigation, conducted in 1977-79 by the House Assassinstions Committee, determined that Oswald and a second, unknown sniper had fired at Kennedy.  (Oswald was deemed the assassin; the other man’s shot had missed.)

The Chief Counsel for the Committee, G. Robert Blakey, believed New Orleans Mafia boss Carlos Marcello organized the assassination, owing to his hatred of Robert Kennedy for his war on the crime syndicates.

Still, 50 years after JFK’s assassination, no court-admissible evidence has come forward to convict anyone other than Oswald for the murder.

The impact of Kennedy’s death on popular culture remains great.  Millions saw him as an American sccess story–a brilliant and courageous hero who had worked his way to the top.

But his sudden and violent end proved a shock for those who believed there was always a happy ending.

If so gifted–and protected–a man as John F. Kennedy could be so suddenly and brutally destroyed, no one else could depend on a secure future.

JFK: FIFTY YEARS AFTER DALLAS: PART EIGHT (OF TEN)

In Bureaucracy, History, Politics, Social commentary on August 26, 2013 at 12:05 am

Throughout his life, John F. Kennedy was lucky–both personally and politically.

Part of the secret lay in his physical presence.  He was young and handsome, witty and articulate.  He appeared zestful and athletic–despite a series of ailments, including Addison’s disease (a malfunction of the adrenal glands) and an injured back that required the use of a brace.

His wit was sophisticated and often self-depcrecating.  Addressing an assembly of Nobel Prize winners at the White House, he said: “I think this is the most extraordinary collection of talent, of human knowledge, that has ever been gathered at the White House–with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone.”

JFK making a joke at a press conference

And his sense of humor often defused otherwise ticklish problems.  During the 1960 Presidential race, he was sharply criticized for relying on his millionaire father for much of his funding.  At a campaign rally, he deflected the charge with humor:

“I just received a telegram from my generous Daddy.  It says: ‘Dear Jack: Don’t buy one more vote than necessary.  I’ll be damned if I’m going to pay for a landslide.'”

Another controversey emerged when he named his brother, Robert, Attorney General.  Critics charged that the appointment smacked of neoptism–and that Robert didn’t have enough legal gravitas to be the nation’s chief law enforcement offer.

“I see nothing wrong in giving Robert a little experience before he goes out to practice law,” he said at a press conference.

His highly-polished rhetoric–produced by wordsmiths such as Theodore Sorensen–dazzled audiences.  His Inaugural Address was acclaimed by Democrats and even most Republicans.

Its signature line, “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country” has become as famous as Abraham Lincoln’s “government of the people, by the people, for the people.”

His speeches often urged Americans to seek a higher cause than mere self-interest.  Speaking of the role of the arts in a nation’s life, he said:

“It may be different elsewhere, but [in] democratic society…the highest duty of the writer, the composer, the artist is to remain true to himself and to let the chips fall where they may.”

Memorial at the Arlington gravesite for John F. Kennedy

But he could be blunt and profane in private.

“My father always told me all businessmen were sonsofbitches, but I never believed it till now,” he said in private when the steel companies made an inflationary price increase in 1962.

Like Richard Nixon, Kennedy installed a secret taping system in the White House.  And, as with Nixon, this picked up many of his profanities.  Unlike Nixon, however, Kennedy died before his secret taping system was discovered.

Kennedy impressed many journalists with his capacity for detail.

“He swallows and digests whole books in minutes.  His eye seizes instantly on the crucial point of a long memorandum.  He confounds experts with superior knowledge of their field,” wrote Games McGregor Burns in 1961.

Having briefly worked as a journalist (covering the opening of the United Nations Assembly in 1945) JFK understood and catered to the sensitivities of the Washington press corps.  Using charm, wit, candor and selective accessibility, he cultivated his own favored group of reporters.

Critics charged that he was manipulating the media–and they were right.

Sometimes the manipulation was heavy-handed.  He pressured The New York Times to censor its coverage of actions he intended to take–such as during the Bay of Pigs and the Cuban Missile Crisis.

But he failed to coerce the Times into removing David Halberstam, its Vietnam correspondent, whose highly critical articles cast doubt on the effectiveness of the American military commitment to Vietnam.

A major part of Kennedy’s appeal lay in his glamorous background.  He was born–on May 29, 1917–into a large, robust family headed by wealthy and powerful financier Joseph P. Kennedy.  He attended Princeton and Harvard, graduating from the latter with top honors.

During World War II he became a Naval hero in 1943 after a Japanese destroyer sliced his PT boat in half–by towing an injured shipmate to safety.  Stranded on a South Pacific island, Kennedy persuaded a native to summon rescue help from the U.S. Navy.

Kennedy had no plans for a postwar political career.  That had been assigned to his elder brother, Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr., by their ambitious father, who was determined to seat the first Irish Catholic President.

After learning of his younger brother’s heroism, Joseph volunteered for a dangerous Naval bombing mission.  On August 12, 1944, he and a co-pilot flew an explosives-laden plane from England toward France.

While over the English Channel, they were supposed to parachute from the aircraft–after activating a remote control system to send the plane crashing into a German command center.

But the plane mysteriously exploded before the pilots could eject–and before the plane reached its target.

The death of his elder brother ended John F. Kennedy’s plans for a career as a writer.  Joseph Kennedy, Sr., insisted that “Jack”assume the political career that the Kennedy patriarch had assigned  for his dead brother.

JFK: FIFTY YEARS AFTER DALLAS: PART SEVEN (OF TEN)

In Bureaucracy, History, Politics, Social commentary on August 23, 2013 at 12:00 am

John F. Kennedy fired the imaginations and captured the hearts of Americans and foreign citizens as no President since the days of Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Millions who voted for him–or against him or didn’t vote at all–still believe that, if only he had lived to be re-elected, America would have entered a truly Golden Age.

Kennedy certainly encouraged such belief.  Asked for his definition of happiness, he quoted the ancient Greeks: “The full use of your powers along lines of excellence.”

Almost 50 years after his death on November 22, 1963, he remains frozen in time.  Assassinated at age 46, he remains forever young, vigorous and charming.

But even if he had not been assassinated, his Presidency could have ended in disaster.

After his 1953 marriage to Jaqueline Bouvier, he continued to pursue both a married and a bachelor life.  Rumors of Kennedy’s extramarital affairs swirled throughout his Senatorial career and followed him into the White House.

His conquests included secretaries, wives of friends, strippers, movie stars (such as Marilyn Monroe and Marlene Dietrich) prostitutes and even a mobster’s mistress.

Various theories have been advanced for his taking such dangerous risks with his political career:

  • As a victim of Addison’s Disease (insufficiency of the adrenal glands) he had been told by doctors he might not live beyond 35.
  • As a result of the cortisone he took to control his Addison’s, his libido was greatly enhanced.
  • After escaping death with the sinking of PT-109, he decided to cram as much excitement into his life as possible.
  • His father, Joseph P. Kennedy, Sr., a notorious womanizer, had encouraged him and his three other sons to sleep with as many women as possible.

During the 1960 Presidential campaign, Frank Sinatra–who had become smitten with Kennedy and was determined to see him elected–introduced him to a “good time girl” named Judith Campbell.

Judith Campbell

Whether Kennedy knew it or not, Campbell was also sleeping with Sam Giancana–the most-feared Mafia boss in Chicago.  And it wasn’t long before Giancana learned about her trysts with Kennedy.

As a favor to Sinatra, Giancana and his fellow mobsters used their powerful influence to ensure that JFK carried Illinois in 1960.

Sam Giancana

In turn, Joseph P. Kennedy had promised Giancana that the Mob would get a free ride under a Kennedy Presidency.

When JFK appointed his brother, Robert, Attorney General, the latter declared war on organized crime.  Giancana and his fellow hoods felt betrayed.

Giancana often raged to Campbell: “If it wasn’t for me, your boyfriend wouldn’t be President.”  And having knowledge of her scandalous relationship with JFK, Giancana was in a position to expose Kennedy to what would be a shocked public.

And if Giancana didn’t do it, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover might.

John F. Kennedy, J. Edgar Hoover and Robert F. Kennedy

Hoover, under relentless pressure from Robert Kennedy to crack down on the Mob, had, through illegal electronic surveillance, discovered the Giancana-Campbell-Kennedy connection.

Always fearful that he might be replaced as FBI director, Hoover had quickly alerted the Attorney General to his latest discovery in February, 1962.  Kennedy could not dare fire Hoover now.

White House telephone logs reveal that, from January, 1961 until February, 1962, Campbell phoned the White House 70 times.

After Hoover informed Robert Kennedy of Campbell’s status with the President, she made only one more call to Kennedy.  It was then that the President said the affair was over.

Similarly, the President’s on-and-off affair with Marilyn Monroe put him in an equally dangerous position.  As Monroe’s behavior–fueled by emotional instability, alcohol and pills–became increasingly erratic, she grew convinced that Kennedy should divorce Jackie and make her the next First Lady.

Rumors still circulate that the President sent Robert Kennedy–who was by now an old hand at cleaning up JFK’s messes–to tell Monroe their relationship was over.

Whatever secrets Monroe may have been able to reveal about her relationship with Kennedy, she took them to the grave in an overdose of alcohol and sleeping pills on August 5, 1962.

In his 1995 bestseller, The Dark Side of Camelot, investigative reporter Seymour Hersh got several former members of Kennedy’s Secret Service detail to speak about JFK’s extramarital sex life.

They revealed that they had not been allowed to search any of the women Kennedy cavorted with.  Any of these women could have injected the President with a poisonous hypodermic.  Or secretly tape recorded their trysts with Kennedy for blackmail purposes.

Kennedy believed he would be re-elected in 1964–especially if his opponent was Barry Goldwater, the Republican Senator from Arizona.

And he almost certainly would have been re-elected; Lyndon Johnson scored a smashing victory over Goldwater.

But it’s also possible that Kennedy could have been forced to resign in disgrace over his affairs with Campbell, Monroe or any number of other women.

Such a fate overtook British Secretary of State for War John Profumo in 1962.  In 1961, he had begun an affair with Christine Keeler, an attractive model.  But Keeler was also bedding Yevgeney Ivanov, the senior naval attaché at the Soviet Embassy in Britain.

When the press learned about the threesome, Profumo was forced to resign, his 22-year political career destroyed.

JFK: FIFTY YEARS AFTER DALLAS: PART SIX (OF TEN)

In Bureaucracy, History, Politics, Social commentary on August 22, 2013 at 12:05 am

President Kennedy’s untimely death has since fueled arguments over how, if he had lived, he would have dealt with Vietnam.

In his memoirs, former Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev wrote: “Kennedy would have never let his country get bogged down in Vietnam.”

But David Halberstam, who covered the early years of the war for The New York Times, came to a different conclusion.

David Halberstam in Vietnam

In his bestselling 1972 book, The Best and the Brightest, he wrote that although he Kennedy questioned the wisdom of a combat commitment, he had never shown those doubts in public.

In public, he had expressed doubts only about the Diem regime–whether it held enough support among the Vietnamese to win the war.

His successor had to deal with Kennedy’s public statements, all supportive of the importance of Vietnam.

And it was that successor, newly-elevated President Lyndon B. Johnson, who decided, in 1965, to commit heavy military forces to protecting “freedom-loving” South Vietnam.

In short: Even if Kennedy had intended to withdraw American forces after winning re-election in 1964, he made a fatal mistake: He assumed there would always be time for him to do so.

Historian Thurston Clarke, in his 2013 book JFK’s Last Hundred Days, reached a totally diferent conclusion: That Kennedy planned to quietly remove American military advisors regardless of the military situation.

Like Halberstam, Clarke believes that Kennedy intended to gradually withdraw troops from Vietnam–but felt he could not afford to inflame the Right during an election year.

Essentially, the question, “What would  Kennedy have done?”–on Vietnam, civil rights, relations with the Soviet Union–lies at the heart of his continuing fascination among Americans.

For millions, the later turmoil of the 1960s remains such a traumatic memory that they assume: “America would have had to be better-off if Kennedy had lived.”

But much of Kennedy’s proposed legislation–such as his civil rights act–did not become law until President Johnson overcame conservative opposition to it.

Johnson had first been elected to the House of Representatives in 1937, where he gained influence as a protege of its speaker, Sam Rayburn.  In 1948, he was elected to the U.S. Senate and eventually became  one of its most powerful members–especially after becoming its Majority Leader in 1954.

Johnson knew the strengths and weaknesses of his political colleagues, and he ruthlessly exploited this knowledge to ensure the passage of legislation he supported.

Kennedy had served in the House from 1946 to 1952, and from 1952 to 1961 in the Senate.  But he had never been a major leader in either body.

It was as a Senator that he wrote his Pulitzer Prize-winning book, Profiles in Courage.  But it was also as a Senator that he refused to vote on whether U.S. Senator Joseph R. McCarthy should be censured by his Senatorial colleagues.

In 1954, the Senate voted to condemn McCarthy, whose slanders of Communist subversion had bullied and frightened Americans for four years.  McCarthy’s influence as a political figure died overnight.

Joseph P. Kennedy, the family patriarch, was a strong McCarthy supporters   And Robert F. Kennedy had briefly worked for McCarthy’s Red-baiting Senate subcommitee.

JFK’s refusal to say how he would have voted on censuring McCarthy damaged his support among liberals during the 1960 election.

Eleanor Roosevelt famously said that Kennedy should show “more courage and less profile.”

Although Lyndon Johnson’s legislative achievements as Senator and President remain unprecedented, he has become a pariah figure among Democrats.

His 1965 decision to wage all-ou war in Vietnam ignited nationwide protests and elected Richard M. Nixon as President in 1968.

Like a doomed character in George Orwell’s novel, 1984, he has largely become an un-person.

Meanwhile, John F. Kennedy continues to endlessly fascinate Americans.  In poll after poll they continue to rate him highly–even though he served less than three years in the White House.

Hundreds of books and thousands of articles have been written about JFK.  On the big screen he’s been depicted by actors such as Cliff Robertson (PT 109), Bruce Greenwood (Thirteen Days) and James Marsden (The Butler).

Movie poster for PT-109

On TV, he’s been portrayed by William Devane (The Missiles of October), William Petersen (The Rat Pack), Martin Sheen (Kennedy), James Franciscus (Jaqueline Bouvier Kennedy) and Cliff De Young (Robert Kennedy and His Times).

William Devane as John F. Kennedy in The Missiles of October

Kennedy has even appeared on Saturday Night Live (perhaps most famously in a sketch where he chides then-President Clinton for his twadry choices as a womanizer).

He even figured in a 1986 episode of the revised Twilight Zone episode where a history professor travels back in time to prevent the JFK assassination.

The result: JFK is saved but Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev is murdered and World War III erupts.

In fact, the Internet Movie Database lists a total of 94 movies, mini-series. TV dramas and even comedies featuring the character of John F. Kennedy.

JFK: FIFTY YEARS AFTER DALLAS: PART FIVE (OF TEN)

In Bureaucracy, History, Politics, Social commentary on August 21, 2013 at 12:20 am

The Kennedy administration’s unprecedented attack on organized crime has led some law enforcement experts to believe the Mob engineered President Kennedy’s assassination.

One of these is G. Robert Blakey, father of the Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO).   As the former Chief Counsel and Staff Director to the U.S. House Select Committee on Assassinations (1977 – 1979) he oversaw the second official inquiry into the Kennedy assassination.

As a result, he believes the Mob had ample means, motive and opportunity to arrange for a “nut” to kill the President.

In his 1980 book, The Plot to Kill the President, Blakey asserted:

  • Lee Harvey Oswald shot and killed President Kennedy.
  • An unknown confederate of Oswald’s, firing from the “grassy knoll,” also shot at Kennedy but missed.
  • The conspiracy was rooted in organized crime and involved Mafia boss Santos Trafficante of Miami and/or Mafia boss Carlos Marcello of New Orleans.

The 1983 drama, “Blood Feud,” clearly implied that the Mob was responsible.  At the heart of the mini-series lay the 10-year conflict between Robert F. Kennedy and James R. Hoffa, then president of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters Union.

This was also the plot of American Tabloid, a 1995 novel by James Ellroy.

But investigative reporter Seymour Hersh wrote that during the five years he researched The Dark Side of Camelot, his expose of the hidden life of President Kennedy, he didn’t uncover any evidence of such a plot.

After Robert Kennedy left the Justice Department in 1964 to run for the post of U.S. Senator from New York, the Justice Department slacked off its push against the crime syndicates.

But the war was resurrected during the Nixon administration and has remained a top priority ever since.

Perhaps the most controversial legacy of the Kennedy administration remains the President’s dealings with the South Vietnamese regime of Ngo Dinh Diem.,

In 1954, the French–who had controlled Vietnam for 80 years–were forced to withdraw their military forces from the country.  Their army had suffered a humiliating defeat at Dienbenphu and the French citizenry–still recovering from defeat and Nazi occupation during World War II–demanded an end to the disastrous conflict.

Into this political vacumn stepped the victorious North Vietnamese communist Ho Chi Minh.

Kennedy–then U.S. Senator from Massachussets–had visited Vietnam while the French were still trying to hold onto one of their last colonial possessions.  And he had urged them to withdraw and allow the Vietnamese to govern themselves.

But President Dwight D. Eisenhower was aware of Ho’s overhwleming popularity throughout Vietnam due to his battles against Japanese and French colonialists.  In any nationwide election, Ho was certain to win the presidency.

But Eisenhower felt he couldn’t allow an avowed Communist to rule Vietnam.  With the North under firm Communist control, America focused its attention on the South.

earching for an acceptable alternative, Eisenhower found hm in Ngo Dinh Diem–a mandarin in a nation swept by revolution, a Catholic in a nation with an 80% Buddhist population.

Ngo Dinh Diem

In 1954, America began backing Diem.  Although his first years were marked by social progress, he later became increasingly oppressive toward the Buddhist majority.  Corruption flourished among government and army officials.

In 1960, North Vietnam launched an aggressive campaign of infiltration and assassination across South Vietnam.

In 1961, President Kennedy sent 400 Green Berets and 100 other military advisors to South Vietnam to offer support.

Diem requested American financing of a 100,000-man increase in his army.  Kennedy agreed to an increase of 30,000.  Meanwhile, the Joint Chiefs of Staff estimated that 40,000 U.S. troops would be needed to “clean up the Vietcong threat.”

Kennedy underestimated the reaction of North Vietnam, whose forces were fighting what they believed was a crusade.  As American troop strength increased, the North escalated its own commitment.

From 1961 to 1963, the number of U.S. troops in Vietnam steadily rose from 685 to 16,732.  American minesweepers patrolled the coasts while their aircraft engaged in surveillance.

For the first time, Americans became casualties of the war–especially those in helicopter combat-support missions.

Meanwhile, Diem–urged by his influential brother, Nhu, who ran the secret police–cracked down on the Buddhists.

Government troops fired on a peaceful demonstration in May, 1963.  In protest, Buddhist monks burned themselves to death before TV cameras.

Nhu’s beautiful and powerful wife led growing world outrage by her ridicule of “monk barbeque shows.”

American efforts to stop Diem’s anti-Budhist campaign failed.  On August 21, 1963, Diem’s police shot their way into Buddhist pagodas, killing scores and arresting hundreds.

This finally convinced the Kennedy administration that Diem would never gain the popular support he needed to win the war against the Communist North.

As a result, the administration offered support to South Vietnamese military officers planning a coup against Diem.

On November 1, 1963, South Vietnamese army units stormed the presidential palace.  Diem and Nhu fled, but were caught and shot.  Madame Nhu, visiting the U.S. at the time, escaped death, accusing  Kennedy of supporting the coup.

The administration issued a flat denial.

Diem’s assassination was followed 21 days later by Kennedy’s own.

JFK: FIFTY YEARS AFTER DALLAS: PART FOUR (OF TEN)

In Bureaucracy, History, Politics, Social commentary on August 20, 2013 at 12:15 am

John F. Kennedy became President when civil rights suddenly became a burning issue throughout the Nation.

At Kennedy’s request, dozen of law firms sent lawyers South, so civil rights demonstrators would not lack  counsel.

Prominent blacks such as Thurgood Marshall, Robert C. Weaver and George L.L. Weaver were appointed, respectively, to the Supreme Court, the Housing and House Finance Agency and the office of Assistant Secretary of Labor.

But Kennedy was highly reluctant to push for a civil rights bill addressing the overall issues of racial discrimination.

The reason: Most of the chairman of House and Senate committees were deeply conservative racists–whether Republican or Democrat.  They decided whether Kennedy’s foreign policy initiatives would be approved or opposed–especialy his bills for increased foreign aid.

Kennedy believed he could not offend such men without jeopardizing the legacy he wanted to achieve in foreign policy.

This timidity, in turn, led many prominent blacks–such as Martin Luther King and Malcom X–to believe they would see no innovative moves on Kennedy’s part.

But events forced Kennedy’s hand.

On September 30, 1962, the President sent deputy U.S. marshals and National Guardsmen into Mississippi to restore order.  Rioting had erupted when, by federal court order, James Meredith, a black, was enrolled  at the state university.

Kennedy’s problems in winning support for his civil rights program arose in the folkways of the Nation.  When laws run counter to a nation’s folkways, the laws lose.

In backing the admission of Meredith, the President chose an incident which would set off shockwaves for black rights.

Kennedy held mixed emotions about the demand for civil rights by blacks.  On one hand, as an Irish Catholic, he grew up with stories about longtime discrimination against his ancestors (such as the “No Irish Need Apply” signs posted by numerous employers).

On the other hand, he had been born into a world of power and wealth, and he had to grope his way toward understanding the problems of the oppressed.

Another major confrontation broke out between Kennedy and the forces of segregation on June 11, 1963.  Alabama Governor George C. Wallace personally blocked the entrance of two black pupils to the University of Tuscaloosa.

The President, watching on TV, federalized the Alabama National Guard, which Wallace had used to ring the school.  Wallace withdrew and the students were admitted and enrolled.

That same day, Kennedy addressed the nation on the need for genuine equality for all Americans: “The question is whether we are going to treat our fellow Americans as we want to be treated.”

JFK addresses the nation on civil rights

And he called on Congress to pass his civil rights bill, which had been stalled by the legislators.

On August 28, 1963, 200,000 civil rights demonstrators flooded Washington, D.C., for a massive rally.

Fearing that violence would erupt–embarrassing his administration and setting back the cause of civil rights–Kennedy had sought to persuade Dr. Martin Luther King, the march’s chief figure, to cancel the proposed march..

But King and his fellow organizers were determined to go through with it.  They had, they said, waited too long for justice to be satisfied with anything less.

The dignity and peacefulness of the rally–and, most especially, King’s soaring “I Have a Dream” speech–won tremendous sympathy throughout the cuntry.  Kennedy met with civil rights leaders afterward to offer his support.

Martin Luther King during the March on Washington

But Kennedy’s civil rights bill remained stalled in Congress until 1964.   President Lyndon B. Johnson used the assassinated Kennedy’s new status as a martyr to gain enough support for its passage.

Meanwhile, on yet another front, the Kennedy administration was waging an unprecedented war against organized crime.

This was primarily the work of Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy.  As chief counsel for the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations during the late 1950s, he had interrogated hundreds of mobsters who had been summoned by subpoena.

And he had learned, firsthand, how ineffective the FBI and Justice Department were at bringing such powerful criminals to justice.

Upon taking office as Attorney General, he greatly expanded the number of attorneys assigned to the Justice Department’s Organized Crime Section.  And, more important, he used his status as brother to the President to jawbone FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover into attacking the Mob.

The FBI installed illegal microphones in Mob hangouts throughout the country and started building cases against such mobsters as Sam Giancana, Santos Trafficante and Carlos Marcello.

The administration’s attack on the Mob has led some historians to believe the assassination of President Kennedy was Mob-orchestrated.

The reasons:

  • Joseph P. Kennedy, the family patriarch, solicited Mob money and influence for his son’s 1960 Presidential campaign.
  • Through singer Frank Sinatra, the elder Kennedy assurred Chicago Mafia boss Sam Giancana that the mob would get a free ride if his son were elected President.
  • The CIA, seeking any way to topple Fidel Castro, enlisted the Mafia to assassinate him.
  • But Robert Kennedy, as Attorney General, ignored the Mob’s “contributions” and pressed his war against the syndicates
  • As a result, mobsters felt betrayed and lusted for vengeance.

JFK: FIFTY YEARS AFTER DALLAS: PART THREE (OF TEN)

In Bureaucracy, History, Politics, Social commentary on August 19, 2013 at 12:02 am

By October, 1962, the Soviet Union had sent more than 40,000 soldiers, 1,300 field pieces, 700 anti-aircraft guns, 350 tanks and 150 jets to Cuba to deter another invasion.

Nikita Khrushchev, the premier of the Soviet Union, also began supplying Castro with nuclear-tipped ballistic missiles–whose discovery, on October 15, 1962, ignited the single most dangerous confrontation of the Cold War.

John F. Kennedy during the Cuban Missile Crisis

On October 16, Kennedy was shown photographs of nuclear missile sites under construction on the island.  The pictures had been taken by a high-altitude U-2 spy plane.

Suddenly, the two most powerful nuclear countries–the United States and the Soviet Union–found themselves on the brink of nuclear war.

At the time, Kennedy officials claimed they couldn’t understand why Khrushchev had placed nuclear missiles in Cuba. “Maybe Khrushchev’s gone mad” was a typical musing.

None of these officials admitted that JFK had been waging a no-holds-barred campaign to overthrow the Cuban government and assassinate its leader.

On October 16, the next day, President Kennedy was informed of the missile installations. He immediately convened a group of his 12 most important advisors, which became known as Ex-Comm, for Executive Committee.

Then followed seven days of guarded and intense debate by Kennedy and his advisors. Some of the participants-–such as Air Force General Curtis LeMay-–urged an all-out air strike against the missile sites.

Robert Kennedy, the Attorney General (and the President’s brother) opposed initial calls for an air strike.

It would be, he said, “a Pearl Harbor in reverse.”  And, he added: “I don’t want my brother to go down in history as the Tojo of the 1960s.”

Robert F. and John F. Kennedy

Others-–such as Adlai Stevenson, the United States delegate to the United Nations–urged a reliance on quiet diplomacy.

It was Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara who suggested a middle course: A naval blockade–-a “quarantine” in Kennedy’s softened term–around Cuba. This would hopefully prevent the arrival of more Soviet offensive weapons on the island.

The President insisted that the missiles had to go–by peaceful means, if possible, but through the use of military force if necessary.

Kennedy finally settled on a maval blockade of Cuba.  This would prevent additional missiles from coming in and give Khrushchev time to negotiate and save face.

On October 22, President Kennedy appeared on nationwide TV to denounce the presence of Russian nuclealr missiles in Cuba.

He demanded their withdrawal, and warned that any missile launched against any nation in the Western hemisphere would be answered with “a full retaliatory response upon the Soviet Union.”

Kennedy ordered American military readiness raised to a level of Defcom-2–the step just short of total war.

The United States had about 27,000 nuclear weapons; the Soviets had about 3,000. In a first salvo of a nuclear exchange, the United States could have launched about 3,000 nuclear weapons and the Soviets about 250.

Nuclear missile in silo

On October 28, Khrushchev announced that the missile sites would be destroyed and the missiles crated and shipped back to the Soiet Union.

In return, Kennedy gave his promise–publicly–to lift the blockade and not invade Cuba

Privately, he also promised to remove obsolte Jupiter II nuclear missiles from Turkey, which bordered the Soviet Union.  Those missiles were, in effect, the American version of the Russian missiles that had been shipped to Cuba.

The world escaped nuclear disaster by a hair’s-breath.

Khrushchev didn’t know that Kennedy had intended to order a full-scale invasion of Cuba in just another 24 hours if an agreement couldn’t be reached.

And Kennedy and his military advisors didn’t know that Russian soldiers defending Cuba had been armed with tactical nuclear weapons.

If warfare of any type had broken out, the temptation to go nuclear would have been overwhelming.

The Cuban Missile Crisis marked the only time the world came to the brink of nuclear war.

To those on the Right, it was a sell-out: Kennedy had refused to “take out” Castro when he had the chance to do so.  Thus, he had allowed Cuba to remain a Communist bastion only 90 miles from Florida.

To those on the Left, it was a needless confrontation that risked the destruction of humanity.

For Kennedy, forcing the Soviets to remove their misssiles from Cuba re-won the confidence he had lost among so many Americans following the Bay of Pigs fiasco.

It also brought him face-to-face with the brutal truth that a miscalculation during a nuclear crisis could destroy all life on the planet.

He felt he could now move–cautiously–toward better relations between the United States and the Soviet Union.

Ironically, the crisis had the same effects on Khrushchev–who had witnessed the horrors of Germany’s 1941 invasion of the Soviet Union and the subsequent loss of at least 22 million Soviet citizens–most of them civilians.

Slowly and carefully, Kennedy and Khrushchev negotiated the details of what would become the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, which banned nuclear testing in the atmosphere.

Underground tests would still continue, but the amounts of deadly strontonium-90 radiation polluting the atmosphere would be vastly reduced.

The treaty was signed between the United States and the Soviet Union on July 25, 1963.

Kennedy considered it his greatest achievement as President, saying in a speech: “According to a Chinese proverb, a jouney of a thousand miles begins with a single step.  My fellow Americans, let us take that first step.”

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