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REPUBLICANS: WEAPONIZING HATRED, DISAVOWING ITS RESULTS

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on June 19, 2017 at 1:08 am

On January 8, 2011, Democratic Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was shot in the head while meeting with constituents outside a Tucson, Arizona, grocery store. 

After a miraculous recovery, she continues to struggle with language and has lost 50% of her vision in both eyes. Although she returned to her Congressional duties, her injuries forced her to resign in 2012.

The shooting claimed the lives of six people and left 13 others wounded.

One of those killed was Arizona’s chief U.S. District judge, John Roll, who had just stopped by to see his friend Giffords after celebrating Mass.

The youngest victim was nine-year-old Christiana-Taylor Green, whose desire to one day enter politics had led her to attend the scheduled meeting with her Congresswoman, Giffords. Her having been born on September 11, 2001, added a special poignancy to her tragic death.

Rep. Gabrielle Giffords

Although the actual shooter, Jared Lee Loughner, was immediately arrested, those who fanned the flames of political violence that consumed 19 people that day have remained unpunished.

Gabrille Giffords, then 40, was a moderate Democrat who narrowly won re-election in November, 2010, against a Republican Tea Party candidate.

Her support of President Barack Obama’s health care reform law made her a target for violent rhetoric–especially from former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin.

In March, 2010, Palin released a map featuring 20 House Democrats that used cross-hairs images to show their districts. In case her supporters didn’t get the message, she later wrote on Twitter: “‘Don’t Retreat, Instead – RELOAD!’”

Image result for Images of Sarah Palin's crosshairs map

As the campaign continued, Giffords found her Tucson office vandalized after the House passed the healthcare  overhaul on March 21, 2010.

Giffords sensed that she had become a target for assassination. In an interview after the vandalizing of her office, she cited the animosity against her by Right-wingers:

“For example, we’re on Sarah Palin’s targeted list, but the thing is, that the way that she has it depicted has the cross-hairs of a gun sight over our district. When people do that, they have to realize that there are consequences to that action,” Giffords tells MSNBC.

At one of her rallies, her aides called the police after an attendee dropped a gun.

In April, 2010, Giffords  supported Rep. Raúl Grijalva after he had to close two offices when he and his staff received threats. He had called for a boycott of Arizona businesses in opposition to the state’s controversial immigration law.

“I am deeply troubled about reports that Congressman Grijalva and members of his staff have been subjected to death threats,” Giffords said.

“This is not how we, as Americans, express our political differences. Intimidation has no place in our representative democracy. Such acts only make it more difficult for us to resolve our differences.

But intimidation–and worse–does have a place among the tactics used by influential Republicans in the pursuit of absolute power.

Increasingly, Republicans have repeatedly aimed violent–and violence-arousing–rhetoric at their Democratic opponents.

This is not a case of careless language that is simply misinterpreted, with tragic results.

Republicans like Sarah Palin fully understand the constituency they are trying to reach: Those masses of alienated, uneducated Americans who live only for their guns and hardline religious beliefs–and who can be easily manipulated by perceived threats to either.

If a “nutcases” assaults a Democratic politician and misses, then the Republican establishment claims to be shocked–shocked!–that such a thing could have happened.

And if the attempt proves successful–as the Giffords shooting did–then Republicans weep crocodile tears for public consumption.

Consider the following:

  • Rep. Randy Neugebauer (R-Tex.) yelled “baby killer” at Bart Stupak (D-Mich.) on the House floor.
  • Florida GOP Congressional candidate Allen West, referring to his Democratic opponent, Rep. Ron Klein, told Tea Party activists: You’ve got to make the fellow scared to come out of his house.  That’s the only way that you’re going to win. That’s the only way you’re going to get these people’s attention.”
  • Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) said Tea Partiers had “every right” to use racist and homophobic slurs against Democrats, justifying it via Democrats’ “totalitarian tactics.
  • Rep. Michelle Bachmann (R-Minn.) said she wanted her constituents “armed and dangerous” against the Obama administration.
  • Right-wing pundit Ann Coulter: “My only regret with Timothy McVeigh is he did not go to the New York Times building.”
  • Senator Phil Gramm (R-Tex.) “We’re going to keep building the party until we’re hunting Democrats with dogs.”
  • Rep. Louisa M. Slauter (D-NY) received a phone message threatening sniper attacks against lawmakers and their families.

For more than 50 years, Republicans have vilified government–except when they controlled it. They convinced millions of  Americans that Democrats are potential traitors, if not actual ones. 

They have routinely slandered Democrats as: 

  • Plotting to “take away your guns.”
  • Wanting to turn America into a welfare-dependent society.
  • Being “Godless” and intending to force atheism on believing Christians.
  • Plotting to allow the United Nations to “take over” the United States.

Consciously or not, Republicans have taken their cue from Adolf Hitler, who advised in Mein Kampf: “All effective propaganda must be confined to a few bare essentials.

“Those must be expressed as far as possible in stereotypical formulas. These slogans should be persistently repeated until the very last individual has come to grasp the idea that has been put forward.”

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.” 

JFK: ONE HUNDRED YEARS LATER: PART FIVE (OF TEN)

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Military, Politics, Social commentary on May 10, 2017 at 12:01 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 (RICO) Act. 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 TV mini-series, “Blood Feud,” clearly implied that the Mob was responsible. At its heart 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 vacuum stepped the victorious North Vietnamese communist Ho Chi Minh.

Kennedy–then U.S. Senator from Massachusetts–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 overwhelming 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.

Searching 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.

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 openly flourished among government and army officials.

Ngo Dinh Diem

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 advisers 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, Madame Nhu, fed growing world outrage by her ridicule of “monk barbecue shows.”

American efforts to stop Diem’s anti-Buddhist 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: ONE HUNDRED YEARS LATER: PART FOUR (OF TEN)

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Military, Politics, Social commentary on May 9, 2017 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 Southern racists–whether Republican or Democrat. They decided whether Kennedy’s foreign policy initiatives would be approved or opposed–especially 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 country. 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 (1957–59), he had interrogated about 800 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. The FBI had long steered clear of organized crime investigations, largely because its director, J. Edgar Hoover, feared corruption of his agents.

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 assured 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: ONE HUNDRED YEARS LATER: PART THREE (OF TEN)

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Military, Politics, Social commentary on May 8, 2017 at 12:08 am

By October, 1962, Nikita Khrushchev, premier of the Soviet Union, had supplied Cuba with more than 40,000 soldiers, 1,300 field pieces, 700 anti-aircraft guns, 350 tanks and 150 jets.

The motive: To deter another invasion.

Khrushchev also began supplying Castro with nuclear-tipped ballistic missiles.

Their discovery, in October, 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 on the previous day by a high-altitude U-2 spy plane.

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

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

The Kennedy administration never admitted that JFK had been waging a no-holds-barred campaign to overthrow the Cuban government and assassinate its leader.

Kennedy convened a group of his 12 most important advisers, which became known as Ex-Comm, for Executive Committee.

For seven days, Kennedy and his advisers intensely and privately debated their options. 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 by the use of military force if necessary.

Kennedy finally settled on a naval 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 nuclear 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  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 Soviet Union.

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

Privately, he also promised to remove obsolete 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.

The Right attacked Kennedy for refusing to destroy Castro, thus allowing Cuba to remain a Communist bastion only 90 miles from Florida.

The Left believed it was a needless confrontation that risked the destruction of humanity.

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

It also made him face the brutal truth that a miscalculation during a nuclear crisis could destroy all life on Earth.

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.

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 continue, but the amounts of deadly strontium-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 journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. My fellow Americans, let us take that first step.”

JFK: ONE HUNDRED YEARS LATER: PART TWO (OF TEN)

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Military, Politics, Social commentary on May 5, 2017 at 12:10 am

During the 1960 Presidential campaign, then-Senator John F. Kennedy promised to build a Peace Corps to train people in underdeveloped nations to help themselves.

John F. Kennedy

In March, 1961, the program went into effect, with the President’s brother-in-law, Sergent Shriver, as director.

Starvation, illiteracy and disease were the enemies of the Corps. Any nation wanting aid could request it. The first group of volunteers went to the Philippines, the second to Ecuador and the third to Tanganyika.

The problems of the underdeveloped world were too great for any single organization to solve. But the Corps lifted the spirits of many living in those countries. And it captured the imagination of millions of Americans–especially those of thousands of idealistic youths who entered its ranks.

To combat the growing Communist threat to Latin America, Kennedy established the Alliance for Progress. He defined the Alliance’s goal as providing “revolutionary progress through powerful, democratic means.”

Within two years he could report:

“Some 140,000 housing units have been constructed. Slum clearance projects have begun, and 3,000 classrooms have been built. More than 4,000,000 school books have been distributed.

“The Alliance has fired the imagination and kindled the hopes of millions of our good neighbors.  Their drive toward modernization is gaining momentum as it unleashes the energies of these millions.

“The United States is becoming increasingly identified in the minds of the people with the goal they move toward: a better life with freedom,” said Kennedy.

Critics of the program, however, charged that the President was trying to “dress up the old policies” of Franklin D. Roosevelt in new rhetoric. Since FDR’s time, the United States has believed in giving economic aid to Latin America.

Much–if not most–of these billions of dollars has wound up in the pockets of various right-wing dictators, such as Anastasio Somoza and Rafael Trujillo.

Meanwhile, Kennedy was urging action on another front–that of outer space.

“This generation does not intend to founder in the backwash of the coming age of space,” declared the President.  He committed the United States to putting a man on the moon by the end of the decade.

As indeed it happened less than six years after his death–on July 20, 1969.

Kennedy’s idealistic rhetoric masked his real reason for going to the moon: To score a propaganda victory over the Soviet Union.

Another of his anti-Communist goals: To remove Fidel Castro from power in Cuba at almost any cost.

Fidel Castro

Immediately after the failed Bay of Pigs invasion, Kennedy appointed his brother, Robert–who was then the Attorney General–to oversee a CIA program to overthrow Castro.

The CIA and the Mafia entered into an unholy alliance to assassinate Castro–each for its own benefit:

  • The CIA wanted to please Kennedy by overthrowing the Communist leader who had nationalized American corporate holdings.
  • The Mafia wanted to regain its lucrative casino and brothel holdings that had made Cuba the playground of the rich in pre-Castro times.

The mobsters were authorized to offer $150,000 to anyone who would kill Castro and were promised any support the Agency could yield.

“We were hysterical about Castro at about the time of the Bay of Pigs and thereafter,” then-former Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara testified before Congress about these efforts. “And there was pressure from JFK and RFK to do something about Castro.”

Nor was everyone in the CIA enthusiastic about the “get Castro” effort.

“Everyone at CIA was surprised at Kennedy’s obsession with Fidel,” recalled Sam Halpern, who was assigned to the Cuba Project. “They thought it was a waste of time. We all knew [Fidel] couldn’t hurt us. Most of us at CIA initially liked Kennedy, but why go after this little guy?

“One thing is for sure: Kennedy wasn’t doing it out of national security concerns. It was a personal thing. The Kennedy family felt personally burnt by the Bay of Pigs and sought revenge.”

It was all-out war. Among the tactics used:

  • Hiring Cuban gangsters to murder Cuban police officials and Soviet technicians.
  • Sabotaging mines.
  • Paying up to $100,000 per “hit” for the murder or kidnapping of Cuban officials.
  • Using biological and chemical warfare against the Cuban sugar industry.
  • Planting colorful seashells rigged to explode at a site where Castro liked to go skindiving.
  • Trying to arrange for his being presented with a wetsuit impregnated with noxious bacteria and mold spores, or with lethal chemical agents.
  • Attempting to infect Castro’s scuba regulator with tuberculous bacilli.
  • Trying to douse his handkerchiefs, cigars, tea and coffee with other lethal bacteria.

But all of these efforts failed to assassinate Castro–or overthrow the Cuban Revolution he was heading.

“Bobby (Kennedy) wanted boom and bang all over the island,” recalled Halpern. “It was stupid. The pressure from the White House was very great.”

Americans would rightly label such methods as ”terrorist” if another power used them against the United States today. And the Cuban government saw the situation exactly the same way.

So Castro appealed to Nikita Khrushchev, leader of the Soviet Union, for assistance.

Khrushchev was quick to comply: “We must not allow the Communist infant to be strangled in its crib,” he told members of his inner circle.

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