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Posts Tagged ‘MOVIES’

THE MOST DANGEROUS THERAPY

In History, Law Enforcement, Military, Politics, Social commentary on February 26, 2018 at 12:10 am

Chris Kyle was an American patriot—serving four tours of duty in Iraq. 

And he was a killer: From 1999 to 2009 he recorded more than 160 confirmed kills as a sniper—the most in U.S. military history. Iraqis came to refer to him as “The Devil” and put a $20,000 bounty on his life.

Chris Kyle January 2012.jpg

Chris Kyle

He was an expert on firearms: After leaving combat duty, he became the chief instructor for training the Naval Special Warfare Sniper and Counter-Sniper team. And he authored the Naval Special Warfare Sniper Doctrine, the first Navy SEAL sniper manual.

He was a successful writer—author of the 2012 bestselling American Sniper: The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. Military History.

In 2013, he wrote the equally bestselling American Gun: A History of the U.S. in Ten Firearms.

He created a nonprofit company, FITCO Cares, to provide at-home fitness equipment for emotionally and physically wounded veterans.

In 2014, his autobiography, American Sniper, became a major film produced and directed by Clint Eastwood. The movie portrays his work as a SEAL marksman in Iraq and his struggles to be a good husband and father during his tours of duty.

And Kyle was a mentor to veterans suffering from PTSD—Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

It was this last activity—and, more importantly, his approach to therapy—that cost him his life.

On February 2, 2015, Kyle and his friend, Chad Littlefield, died in a hail of 13 bullets fired by a semi-automatic pistol.

The murderer: Eddie Ray Routh, an Iraqi war veteran reportedly suffering from PTSD, while the three visited a shooting range in Glen Rose, Texas.

Routh, of Lancaster, Texas, a former corporal in the Marines, had been deployed to Iraq in 2007 and Haiti in 2010.

His motive:  “I shot them because they wouldn’t talk to me. I was just riding in the back seat of the truck and nobody would talk to me. They were just taking me to the range so I shot them. I feel bad about it, but they wouldn’t talk to me. I am sure they have forgiven me.”

Eddie Ray Routh

On February 25, 2015, a jury convicted Routh of double murder and sentenced him to life in prison without parole.

Kyle’s believed that shooting could prove therapeutic for those suffering from mental illness. And it was that belief that ultimately killed him.

According to Travis Cox, the director of FITCO Cares: “What I know is Chris and a gentleman—great guy, I knew him well, Chad Littlefield—took a veteran out shooting who was struggling with PTSD to try to assist him, try to help him, try to, you know, give him a helping hand, and he turned the gun on both of them, killing them.” 

Chris Kyle was a lifetime member of the National Rifle Association (NRA), whose stance on firearms is best described as: “The more guns, the better.”

The NRA:

  • Opposes background checks for firearms owners.
  • Opposes any waiting period for the purchase of a firearm. 
  • Opposes banning the ownership of military-style, “high-capacity” firearms.
  • Opposes any limits on how many firearms a person may own.
  • Supports legislation to allow virtually anyone to carry a handgun—openly or concealed—even in bars and churches.
  • Has successfully pushed “stand-your-ground” laws in more than half the states. These allow the use of deadly force in self-defense, without any obligation to try to retreat first.
  • Has steadfastly defended the right to own Teflon-coated ”cop killer” bullets,” whose only purpose is to penetrate bullet-resistant vests worn by law enforcement officers.

Chris Kyle was undoubtedly one of the foremost experts on firearms in the United States. Few knew better than he did the rules for safe gun-handling.

And yet he broke perhaps the most basic commonsense rule of all: Never trust an unstable person with a loaded firearm. 

And it was the breaking of that rule that killed him.

Even worse, he knew that Routh was unstable. During the drive to the shooting range, he texted Littlefield: ‘This dude is straight-up nuts.”

Kyle, who was 38, was survived by his wife, Taya, and their two children.

Kyle was undoubtedly sincere in wanting to help his fellow veterans who suffered from PTSD.

But he could have offered them different—and far safer—forms of help, such as:

  • Urging veterans such as Routh to get psychiatric counseling.
  • Suggesting that they find purpose in a charity such as Habitat for Humanity, which is devoted to building affordable housing for the poor.
  • Helping them find mental healthcare through the Veterans Administration.

Instead, he chose “gun therapy” as his preferred method of treatment. 

Kyle was an expert on using firearms in self-defense. But that knowledge proved useless when he allowed his empathy to overrule his common sense. 

Wayne LaPierre, the executive vice president of the NRA, has repeatedly asserted: “The only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is with a good guy with a gun.”

But the death of Chris Kyle raises a question that the NRA has yet to answer: If a certified weapons expert can’t protect himself against a psychopathic gunman, how can the rest of us?

HUMOR VS. HITMEN: PART TWO (END)

In Bureaucracy, History, Humor, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on February 23, 2018 at 12:03 am

In March, 2013, the National Rifle Association (NRA) and its Right-wing allies declared war on comedian Jim Carrey.

The reason: His music parody video: “Cold Dead Hand,” which mocked gun fanatics and the late Charlton Heston, former president of the NRA.

Click here: Jim Carrey’s Pro-Gun Control Stance Angers Conservatives

Among its lyrics:

Charlton Heston movies are no longer in demand
And his immortal soul may lay forever in the sand.
The angels wouldn’t take him up to heaven like he’d planned.
’Cause they couldn’t pry that gun from his cold, dead hand.

The phrase, “cold dead hand,” originated with Heston himself.

Charlton Heston in his prime

On May 20, 2000, the actor and then-president of the NRA addressed the organization at its 129th convention in Charlotte, North Carolina.

He warned that then-Vice President and Democratic Presidential candidade Al Gore “is going to smear you as the enemy,” and concluded:

“So, as we set out this year to defeat the divisive forces that would take freedom away, I want to say those fighting words for everyone within the sound of my voice to hear and to heed, and especially for you, Mr. Gore: ‘From my cold, dead hands!’”

Carrey’s stance on gun control couldn’t have been more opposite.

In in February, 2013, he outraged Right-wingers by tweeting: “Any1 who would run out to buy an assault rifle after the Newton massacre has very little left in their body or soul worth protecting.”

 Jim Carrey

Fox Nation referred to the tweet as “nasty.”  

Red Alert Politics writer Erin Brown dismissed it as “a careless remark …rooted in the shallow, parroted talking points so commonly espoused by liberal elites.”

But that was nothing compared to the rage that has greeted “Cold Dead Hand.” Reason TV’s Remy offered a parody rebuttal to Carrey’s song. Its lyrics included:

It takes a talking ass
to oppose a vaccination
when your PhD is in
making funny faces.

None of which bothered Carrey. In fact, he exulted in Right-wing outrage, tweeting: “Cold Dead Hand’ is abt u heartless motherf%ckers unwilling 2 bend 4 the safety of our kids. Sorry if you’re offended…”

Among its lyrics:

It takes a cold, dead hand to decide to pull the trigger.
Takes a cold, dead heart and as near as I can figger.
With your cold, dead aim you’re tryin’ to prove your dick is bigger …..

Many psychologists have long theorized that a fascination with firearms can compensate for inadequate sexual performance.

But it’s one thing for an unknown psychologist to write this in an obscure medical journal—and another for a famous comedian to splash it across the Internet.

Carrey is especially ruthless in attacking those who—like the NRA—make a lucrative living off gun sales:

Imagine if the Lord were here…
And on the ones
Who sell the guns
He’d sic the vultures and coyotes
Only the devil’s true devotees
Could profiteer
From pain and fear.

Many Rightists attacked Carrey for parodying a man—Heston—who died in 2008 and could not defend himself. But Heston had appeared several times on “Saturday Night Live” to spoof his granite-hard image.

In his video, Carrey dares to attack not simply the masculinity of the Rightist NRA crowd, but even its courage:

You don’t want to get caught
With your trousers down
When the psycho killer
Comes around
So you make your home
Like a Thunderdome
And you’re always packin’
Everywhere you roam.

Perhaps that’s what most outraged the Right—the accusation that its members live in fear and do their best to generate needless fear in others. 

Fear that can supposedly be abated by turning America into a society where everyone packs a weapon and every moment holds a potential High Noon.

Carrey was not shy in responding to his Rightist critics. On March 29, 2013, he issued this statement:

“Since I released my “Cold Dead Hand” video on Funny or Die this week, I have watched Fux News rant, rave, bare its fangs and viciously slander me because of my stand against large magazines and assault rifles.

“I would take them to task legally if I felt they were worth my time or that anyone with a brain in their head could actually fall for such irresponsible buffoonery. That would gain them far too much attention which is all they really care about.

“I’ll just say this: in my opinion Fux News is a last resort for kinda-sorta-almost-journalists whose options have been severely limited by their extreme and intolerant views; a media colostomy bag that has begun to burst at the seams and should be emptied before it becomes a public health issue.”

The NRA has spent decades bribing and intimidating its way through Congress. Those members who subscribe to its “guns for everyone” agenda get legalized bribes (i.e., “campaign contributions”).

Those who refuse to do so face the threat—if not the reality—of being ousted. 

Bullies are conspicuously vulnerable to ridicule. Their only “defense” is to smash anyone who dares to mock their folly, brutality or pretense to omnipotence.  

Or, as Ernest Hemingway once put it: “Fascism is a lie told by bullies.”

HUMOR VS. HITMEN: PART ONE (OF TWO)

In Bureaucracy, History, Humor, Law Enforcement, Social commentary on February 22, 2018 at 12:05 am

Bullies do not like to be mocked.

Anyone who doubts this need only examine the Right’s reaction to actor Jim Carrey’s March, 2013 “Cold Dead Hand”  music video.

In this, Carrey—–a strong advocate of gun control—mocked the National Rifle Association (NRA) and its right-wing allies.

These included rural America and (for the video’s purposes) the late actor Charlton Heston, who served as the NRA’s five-term president (1998-2003).

Jim Carrey as Charlton Heston

The video featured Carrey and alt-rock band Eels as “Lonesome Earl And The Clutterbusters,” a country band on a TV set modeled after the 1960s variety show, “Hee Haw.” Carrey also portrayed Heston as a dim-witted, teeth-clenching champion of the NRA.

“I find the gun problem frustrating,” Carrey said in a press release, “and ‘Cold Dead Hand’ is my fun little way of expressing that frustration.”

Carrey’s frustration triggered NRA outrage.

Click here: Jim Carrey’s Pro-Gun Control Stance Angers Conservatives

Fox News personality Greg Gutfeld ranted: “He is probably the most pathetic tool on the face of the earth and I hope his career is dead and I hope he ends up sleeping in a car.

“This video made me want to go out and buy a gun. He thinks this is biting satire going after rural America and a dead man… He’s a dirty, stinking coward… He’s such a pathetic, sad, little freak. He’s a gibbering mess. He’s a modern bigot.”

Columnist Larry Elder spared no venom in attacking Carrey: “Let’s be charitable—call Carrey ignorant, not stupid.”

Click here: Jim Carrey: Not ‘Dumb & Dumber,’ Just Ignorant

Much of his March 29 column centered on defending Heston, who died at 84 in 2008.

A lyric in Carrey’s song says “Charlton Heston’s movies are no longer in demand.” This prompted Elder to defend the continuing popularity of Heston’s 1956 movie, “The Ten Commandments,” where he played Moses.

Elder felt compelled to defend Heston’s off-screen persona as well, citing his 64-year marriage to his college sweetheart, Lydia.

On the other hand, writes Elder, Carrey, “followed the well-worn Hollywood path: Get famous; get rich; dump the first wife/mother of your kid(s), who stood by you during the tough times; and act out your social life in the tabs to the embarrassment of your kid(s).”

Clearly, Carrey’s video struck a nerve with Right-wing gun fanatics. But why?

Start with Gutfield’s accusation that Carry was “going after rural America.”

Rural America—home of the most superstitious, ignorant and knee-jerk Fascistic elements in American society—boastfully refers to itself as “The Heartland.”

In short: a prime NRA and Rightist constituency.

It was rural America to which Senator Barack Obama referred—accurately—during his 2008 Presidential campaign:

“They get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.”

Second, there’s Elder’s outrage that Carrey should dare to say that Heston’s movies “are no longer in demand.”

Among these movies: “Major Dundee,” “El Cid,” “Khartoum,” “The War Lord.” And even the hammiest film for which he is best-known: “The Ten Commandments.”

In a film career spanning 62 years, Heston vividly portrayed such historical characters as:

  • Rodrigo Diaz de Bivar in “El Cid’:
  • Mark Anthony in “Julius Caesar”;
  • John the Baptist in “The Greatest Story Ever Told”;
  • Andrew Jackson in “The President’s Lady” and “The Buccaneer”;
  • Michaelangelo in “The Agony and the Ecstasy”;
  • General Charles Gordon in “Khartoun.”

And he played fictitious characters, too:

  • Civil War officers (“Major Dundee”);
  • Norman knights (“The War Lord”);
  • Ranchers (“Three Violent People”;
  • Explorers (“The Naked Jungle”).
  • Judah Ben-Hur (“Ben-Hur”); and
  • Astronauts (“Planet of the Apes”)’

Heston was a widely respected actor who won the Academy Award for Best Actor in 1959 for “Ben Hur” and servecd as the president of the Screen Actors Guild from 1965 to 1971.

But it was not Heston’s film career that Carrey focused on—but his role as president of the NRA.

Related image

Charlton Heston at the NRA convention

Ironically, Heston had identified himself with liberal causes long before he became the face and voice of the gun lobby.

In 1961, he campaigned for Senator John F. Kennedy for President.  In 1963, he took part in Martin Luther King’s March on Washington.

In 1968, after the assassination of Senator Robert F. Kennedy, he joined actors Kirk Douglas, James Stewart and Gregory Peck in issuing a statement supporting President Lyndon Johnson’s Gun Control Act of 1968.

But over the coming decades, Heston became increasingly conservative:

  • Reportedly voting for Richard Nixon in 1972;
  • Supporting gun rights; and
  • Campaigning for Republican Presidential candidates Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush.

When asked why he changed political alliances, Heston replied: “I didn’t change. The Democratic party changed.”

IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE (FOR A CRIMINAL)

In Business, Entertainment, Law, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on December 25, 2017 at 12:01 am

Every Christmas, TV audiences find comfort and triumph in the rerunning of a black-and-white 1946 movie: It’s a Wonderful Life.

It’s the story of George Bailey (James Stewart), a decent husband and father who hovers on the brink of suicide—until his guardian angel, Clarence, suddenly intervenes.

Its A Wonderful Life Movie Poster.jpg

Clarence reveals to George what his home town, Bedford Falls, New York, would be like if he had never been born. George finds himself shocked to learn:

  • With no counterweight to the schemes of rapacious slumlord Henry F. Potter, Bedford Falls becomes Potterville, filled with pawn shops and sleazy nightclubs.
  • With no George Bailey to save his younger brother, Harry, from drowning in a frozen pond, Harry drowns.
  • With no Harry to live to become a Naval fighter pilot in World War II, he’s not on hand to shoot down two Japanese planes targeting an American troopship.
  • As a result, the troopship and its crew are destroyed.

George is forced to face the significant role he has played in the lives of so many others.

Armed with this knowledge, he once again embraces life, running through the snow-covered streets of Bedford Falls and shouting “Merry Christmas!” to everyone he meets.

Audiences have hailed George Bailey as an Everyman hero—and the film as a life-affirming testament to the unique importance of each individual.

But there is another aspect of the movie that has not been so closely studied: The legacy of its villain, Henry F. Potter, who, as  played by Lionel Barrymore, bears a striking resemblance to former Vice President Dick Cheney.

Lionel Barrymore as Mr. Potter.jpg

Henry F. Potter

It is Potter—the richest man in Bedford Falls—whose insatiable greed threatens to destroy it.  And it is Potter whose criminality drives George Bailey to the brink of suicide.

The antagonism between Bailey and Potter starts early in the movie. George dreams of leaving Bedford Falls and building skyscrapers. Meanwhile, he works at the Bailey Building and Loan Association, which plays a vital role in the life of the community.

Potter, a member of the Building and Loan Association board, tries to persuade the board of directors to dissolve the firm. He objects to their providing home loans for the working poor.

George persuades them to reject Potter’s proposal, but they agree only on condition that George run the Building and Loan. Reluctantly, George agrees.

Later, Potter tries to lure George away from the Building and Loan, offering him a $20,000 salary and the chance to visit Europe. George is briefly tempted.

Related image

But then he realizes that Potter intends to close down the Building and Loan and deny financial help to those who most need it. Angrily, he turns down Potter’s offer:

“You sit around here and you spin your little webs and you think the whole world revolves around you and your money. Well, it doesn’t, Mr. Potter!

“In the whole vast configuration of things, I’d say you were nothing but a scurvy little spider.”

It is a setback for Potter, but he’s willing to bide his time for revenge.

On Christmas Eve morning, the town prepares a hero’s welcome for George’s brother, Harry. George’s scatter-brained Uncle Billy visits Potter’s bank to deposit $8,000 of the Building and Loan’s cash funds.

He taunts Potter by reading the newspaper headlines announcing the coming tribute. Potter  snatches the paper, and Billy unthinkingly allows the money to be snatched with it.

When Billy leaves, Potter opens the paper and sees the money. He keeps it, knowing that misplacement of bank money will bankrupt the Building and Loan and bring criminal charges against George.

But at the last minute, word of George’s plight reaches his wide range of grateful friends. A flood of townspeople arrive with more than enough donations to save George and the Building and Loan.

The movie ends on a triumphant note, with George basking in the glow of love from his family and friends.

But no critic seems to have noticed that Henry Potter’s theft has gone unnoticed.  (Uncle Billy can’t recall how he lost the money.) Potter is richer by $8,000. And ready to go on taking advantage of others.

Perhaps it’s time to see Potter’s actions in a new light—that of America’s richest 1%, ever ready to prey upon the weaknesses of others.

Justice never catches up with Potter in the movie. But the joke-writers at Saturday Night Live have conjured up a satisfactory punishment for his avarice.

In this version, Uncle Billy suddenly remembers that he left the money with Potter. Enraged, George Bailey (Dana Carvey) leads his crowd of avenging friends to Potter’s office.

Potter realizes the jig is up and offers to return the money. But George wants more than that—and he and his friends proceed to stomp and beat Potter to death.

The skit ends with with George and his friends singing “Auld Ang Syne”—as they do in the movie—as they finish off Potter with clubs.

America is rapidly a divided nation—one where the richest 1% lord it over an increasingly impoverished 99%.

The time may be coming when many Americans are ready to embrace the SNL approach to economic justice.

THE HEYDRICH SOLUTION

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on June 27, 2017 at 9:25 am

Johnny Depp is an acclaimed actor. But his skills as a comic have sparked a backlash. 

“When was the last time an actor assassinated the President?” he asked while speaking at the Glatonbury Festival on June 22.

Related image

Johnny Depp

The Glastonbury Festival is an annual, five-day celebration of contemporary performing arts that takes place near Pilton, Somerset (England).

Perhaps Depp sensed that he was making himself a target for the Secret Service, for he quickly added that he was not referring to himself: “I want to clarify, I am not an actor. I lie for a living. However, it has been a while and maybe it is time.”

Predictably, Donald Trump’s family did not find the joke funny. 

The next day, Lara Trump, wife of the President’s son, Eric, called Depp’s comments “really, really sad—as a family member and as an American.”

Related image

Eric and Lara Trump

Appearing on Right-wing Fox Network’s “Hannity,” she told its host, Sean Hannity: “It’s happening to Donald Trump because he is Donald Trump. Their candidate failed, because they have nothing else to say. They have no platform; they have no real leader; they have no message.

“So the only thing they can do is pile on the President. Unfortunately it is to the detriment of the country. 

“It’s really sick, Sean. The Republican Party is becoming the only party of tolerance here in the United States.” 

On Twitter, Donald Trump Jr. called for Disney to dump the star of the “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise.

“President Trump has condemned violence in all forms, and it’s sad that others like Johnny Depp have not followed his lead,” said deputy White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders.

Apparently these Trump enthusiasts forgot Trump’s series of threats against his Republican and Democratic opponents throughout the 2016 campaign:

  • On March 16, he warned Republicans that if he didn’t win the GOP nomination in July, his supporters would literally riot: “I think you’d have riots. I think you would see problems like you’ve never seen before. I think bad things would happen. I really do. I wouldn’t lead it, but I think bad things would happen.”
  • That Republicans clearly saw this as a threat is undeniable. Paul Ryan, their Speaker of the House, said on March 17: “Nobody should say such things in my opinion because to even address or hint to violence is unacceptable.
  • On August 9, Trump told a rally in Wilmington, North Carolina: “Hillary [Clinton] wants to abolish, essentially abolish, the Second Amendment. If she gets to pick her [Supreme Court] judges, nothing you can do folks. Although the Second Amendment people–maybe there is, I don’t know.”

Clinton’s camp instantly responded with fury.

“Don’t treat this as a political misstep,” Senator Christopher S. Murphy of Connecticut, who has called for stiffer gun laws, wrote on Twitter. “It’s an assassination threat, seriously upping the possibility of a national tragedy & crisis.” 

“Well, let me say if someone else said that outside of the hall, he’d be in the back of a police wagon now, with the Secret Service questioning him,” said Michael Hayden, former head of the CIA and National Security Agency (NSA).

The Trump campaign issued a statement denying that he had meant any such thing. 

Three days after Trump’s Hillary remarks, Operation Antrhopoid, a UK-French-Czech historical film, appeared in theaters. Its subject: The 1942 assassination of SS Obergruppenführer (General) Reinhard Heydrich.  

A tall, blond-haired formal naval officer, he was both a champion fencer and talented violinist. Heydrich joined the Schutzstaffel, or Protective Squads, better known as the SS, in 1931, and quickly became head of its counterintelligence service.

Reinhard Heydrich

In September, 1941, Heydrich was appointed “Reich Protector” of Czechoslovakia, which had fallen prey to Germany in 1938 but whose citizens were growing restless under Nazi rule.

Heydrich immediately ordered a purge, executing 92 people within the first three days of his arrival in Prague. By February, 1942, 4,000-5,000 people had been arrested.

In January, 1942, Heydrich convened a meeting of high-ranking political and military leaders to streamline “the Final Solution to the Jewish Question.”

An estimated six million Jews were thus slaughtered.

Returning to Prague, Heydrich continued a policy of carrot-and-stick with the Czechs—improving the social security system and requisitioning luxury hotels for middle-class workers—alternating with arrests and executions.

The Czech government-in-exile, headquartered in London, feared that Heydrich’s incentives might lead the Czechs to passively accept domination. They decided to assassinate him.  

Two British-trained Czech commandos—Jan Kubis and Joseph Gabcik—parachuted into Prague. 

On May 27, 1942, the assassins waited at a hairpin turn in the road always taken by Heydrich. When Heydrich’s Mercedes slowed down, Kubis lobbed a hand grenade at the car. The explosion ruptured Heydrich’s diaphragm, spleen and lung.

On June 4, Heydrich died of his injuries.

For Donald Trump, movies and jokes about assassination carry supreme—if unnoticed—irony.

It is Trump who repeatedly raised the issue of using violence and assassination to attain political ends. The last thing he needs are reminders—like Depp and Anthropoid—that Right-wingers can also be targets for death.

JFK: ONE HUNDRED YEARS LATER: PART TEN (END)

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Military, Politics, Social commentary on May 17, 2017 at 12:22 am

Fifty-three years ago, on November 22, 1963, 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. For America, as for JFK, beating the Russians to the moon was the end-goal.
  • 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 perseverance.

 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 insisted on being well-informed. He speed-read several newspapers every morning and nourished personal relationships with the press-–and not for altruistic reasons. These journalistic contacts gave Kennedy additional sources of information and perspectives on national and international issues.

During the 2012 Presidential campaign, 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 for why President Barack Obama had intervened in Libya.

Texas Governor Rick Perry (and now Secretary of Energy) 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 Court 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….”

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

Sarah Palin rewrote 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.

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, about 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.

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

And they resented 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.

Many Americans believe that decline arrived with the 2016 election of Donald Trump. In fact, they believe it was Trump who announced it after winning the Nevada Republican primary: “We won with poorly educated. I love the poorly educated.”

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: ONE HUNDRED YEARS LATER: PART NINE (OF TEN)

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Military, Politics, Social commentary on May 16, 2017 at 12:05 am

Elected to the House of Representatives in 1946, John F. Kennedy served six undistinguished years before being elected U.S. Senator from Massachusetts 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 Catholicism would have been blamed for the loss. And this would have likely prevented his 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. Compared 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.

Related image

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 often-reported antics of his two young children–Caroline and John–added to the atmosphere that change was under way.

But Kennedy was not so committed to reform as many believed:

  • As a Senator he had strongly opposed abolishing the Electoral College.
  • He never protested 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 the United States should recognize “Red” China, but didn’t try to change American foreign policy toward that nation.

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;
  • The Mob;
  • 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 humiliating the Soviet Union during the Cuban Missile Crisis.
  • The Mob–in retaliation for the administration’s crackdown on organized crime.
  • 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 Assassinations 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, 53 years after JFK’s assassination, no court-admissible evidence has appeared to convict anyone other than Oswald for the murder.

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

But his sudden and violent end shocked 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: ONE HUNDRED YEARS LATER: PART EIGHT (OF TEN)

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Military, Politics, Social commentary on May 15, 2017 at 12:26 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, charming 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-deprecating. 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 controversy emerged when he named his brother, Robert, Attorney General. Critics charged that the appointment smacked of nepotism–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 to remove 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 on a South Pacific island. From there, 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: ONE HUNDRED YEARS LATER: PART SEVEN (OF TEN)

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Military, Politics, Social commentary on May 12, 2017 at 12:07 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 Jacqueline 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, JFK’s father, 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 could have exposed Kennedy to a shocked public.

And if Giancana hadn’t done it, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover might have.

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. Neither RFK nor JFK could 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. Monroe’s behavior, fueled by emotional instability, alcohol and pills, became increasingly erratic. And she grew convinced that Kennedy should divorce Jackie and make her the new 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 that year.

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: ONE HUNDRED YEARS LATER: PART SIX (OF TEN)

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Military, Politics, Social commentary on May 11, 2017 at 12:03 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 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 different conclusion: That Kennedy planned to quietly remove American military advisers 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 protégé 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 subcommittee.

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-out 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 (Jacqueline 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 tawdry 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 2013, the Internet Movie Database listed a total of 94 movies, mini-series. TV dramas and even comedies featuring the character of John F. Kennedy.  

Roads, bridges, tunnels, highways, parks, playgrounds and schools have been named after him.

As Thurston Clarke wrote in JFK’s Last Hundred Days: “There is no test of literary merit except survival, which is in of itself an index of majority opinion. By that standard, Kennedy was a great President.” 

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