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Posts Tagged ‘SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE’

TRUMP VS. THE FIRST AMENDMENT: PART THREE (END)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Military, Politics, Social commentary on February 21, 2019 at 12:15 am

In January, 2018, the White House banned the use of personal cell phones in the West Wing. 

The official reason: National security.

The real reason: To stop staffers from leaking to reporters.

According to an anonymous White House source: “The cellphone ban is for when people are inside the West Wing, so it really doesn’t do all that much to prevent leaks. If they banned all personal cellphones from the entire [White House] grounds, all that would do is make reporters stay up later because they couldn’t talk to their sources until after 6:30 pm.”

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Other sources believe that leaks won’t end unless President Donald Trump starts firing staffers. But this could lead to his firing the wrong people. To protect themselves, those who leak might well accuse tight-lipped co-workers.

Within the Soviet Union (especially during the reign of Joseph Stalin) fear of secret police surveillance was widespread—and absolutely justified.

Among the methods used to keep conversations secret:

  • Turning on the TV or radio to full volume.
  • Turning on a water faucet at full blast.
  • Turning the dial of a rotary phone to the end—and sticking a pencil in one of the small holes for numbers.
  • Standing six to nine feet away from the hung-up receiver.
  • Going for “a walk in the woods.” 
  • Saying nothing sensitive on the phone.

The secret police (known as the Cheka, the NKVD, the MGB, the KGB, and now the FSB) operated on seven working principles:

  1. Your enemy is hiding.
  2. Start from the usual suspects.
  3. Study the young.
  4. Stop the laughing.
  5. Rebellion spreads like wildfire.
  6. Stamp out every spark.
  7. Order is created by appearance.

Trump has always ruled through bribery and fear. He’s bought off (or tried to) those who might cause him trouble—like porn actress Stormy Daniels. 

He’s never been able to poke fun at himself—and he grows livid when anybody else does.

At Christmastime, “Saturday Night Live” aired a parody of the classic movie, “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Its title: “It’s a Wonderful Trump.”  In it, Trump (portrayed by actor Alec Baldwin) discovers what the United States would be like if he had never become President: A great deal better-off.

As usual, Trump expressed his resentment through Twitter: The Justice Department should stop investigating his administration and go after the real enemy: “SNL.”

“A REAL scandal is the one sided coverage, hour by hour, of networks like NBC & Democrat spin machines like Saturday Night Live. It is all nothing less than unfair news coverage and Dem commercials. Should be tested in courts, can’t be legal? Only defame & belittle! Collusion?” 

By saying that “SNL’s” right to parody him “should be tested in courts, can’t be legal?” Trump has chosen to ignore the role of the First Amendment in American history.

Cartoonists portrayed President Andrew Jackson wearing a king’s robes and crown, and holding a scepter. This thoroughly enraged Jackson—who had repulsed a British invasion in 1815 at the Battle of New Orleans. To call a man a monarchist in 1800s America was the same as calling him a Communist in the 1950s. 

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During the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln was lampooned as an ape and a blood-stained tyrant. And Theodore Roosevelt proved a cartoonist’s delight, with attention given to his bushy mustache and thick-lensed glasses. 

Thus, the odds are slight that an American court would even hear a case brought by Trump against “SNL.” 

Such a case made its way through the courts in the late 1980s when the Reverend Jerry Falwell sued pornographer Larry Flyint over a satirical interview in Hustler magazine. In this, “Falwell” admitted that his first sexual encounter had been with his own mother.

In 1988, the United States Supreme Court, voting 8-0, ruled in Flynt’s favor, saying that the media had a First Amendment right to parody a celebrity.

“Despite their sometimes caustic nature, from the early cartoon portraying George Washington as an ass down to the present day, graphic depictions and satirical cartoons have played a prominent role in public and political debate,” Chief Justice William Rehnquist—an appointee of President Richard Nixon—wrote in his majority decision in the case.

Moreover, there is absolutely no doubt that Trump would be forced to take the stand in such a case. The powers-that-be at NBC and “SNL” would insist on it.

And recent history has shown that while Trump loves to sue those he hates, he does not relish being put on the stand himself.  

On October 12, The Palm Beach Post, The New York Times and People all published stories of women claiming to have been sexually assaulted by Trump. 

He accused the Times of inventing accusations to hurt his Presidential candidacy. And he threatened to sue for libel if the Times reported the women’s stories. He also threatened to sue the women making the accusations. 

He never sued the Times or the women.

TRUMP VS. THE FIRST AMENDMENT: PART TWO (OF THREE)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Military, Politics, Social commentary, Uncategorized on February 20, 2019 at 12:11 am

On May 10, 2018, The Hill reported that White House Special Assistant Kelly Sadler had joked derisively about dying Arizona United States Senator John McCain.

McCain, a Navy pilot during the Vietnam war, was shot down over Hanoi on October 26, 1967, and captured. He spent five and a half years as a POW in North Vietnam—and was often brutally tortured. He wasn’t released until March 14, 1973.

Recently, he had opposed the nomination of Gina Haspel as director of the CIA.

The reason: In 2002, Haspel had operated a “black” CIA site in Thailand where Islamic terrorists were often waterboarded to make them talk. 

For John McCain, waterboarding was torture, even if it didn’t leave its victims permanently scarred and disabled. 

Aware that the 81-year-old McCain was dying of brain cancer, Sadler joked to intimates about the Senator’s opposition to Haspel: “It doesn’t matter. He’s dying anyway.”

John McCain's official Senate portrait, taken in 2009

John McCain

Leaked to CNN by an anonymous White House official, Sadler’s remark sparked fierce criticism—and demands for her firing.

South Carolina Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, a close friend of McCain, said: “Ms. Sadler, may I remind you that John McCain has a lot of friends in the United States Senate on both sides of the aisle. Nobody is laughing in the Senate.”

“People have wondered when decency would hit rock bottom with this administration. It happened yesterday,” said former Vice President Joe Biden. 

“John McCain makes America great. Father, grandfather, Navy pilot, POW hero bound by honor, an incomparable and irrepressible statesman. Those who mock such greatness only humiliate themselves and their silent accomplices,” tweeted former Massachusetts governor and 2012 Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney.

Officially, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders refused to confirm or deny Sadler’s joke: “I’m not going to get into a back and forth because people want to create issues of leaked staff meetings.”

Unofficially, Sanders was furious—not at the joke about a dying man, but that someone had leaked it. After assailing the White House communications team, she pouted: “I am sure this conversation is going to leak, too. And that’s just disgusting.”

SarahHuckabeeSanders.jpg

Sarah Huckabee Sanders

No apology has been offered by any official at the White House—including President Donald Trump.

In fact, Senior White House communications adviser Mercedes Schlapp reportedly expressed her support for Sadler: “I stand with Kelly Sadler.”

On May 11—the day after Sadler’s comment was reported—reporters asked Sanders if the tone set by Trump had caused Sadler to feel comfortable in telling such a joke.

“Certainly not!” predictably replied Sanders, adding: “We have a respect for all Americans, and that is what we try to put forward in everything we do, but in word and in action, focusing on doing things that help every American in this country every single day.”

On May 14 Trump revealed his “respect” for “all Americans”—especially those working in the White House.

“The so-called leaks coming out of the White House are a massive over exaggeration put out by the Fake News Media in order to make us look as bad as possible,” Trump tweeted.

“With that being said, leakers are traitors and cowards, and we will find out who they are!” 

This from the man who, during the 2016 Presidential campaign, shouted: “WikiLeaks, I love WikiLeaks!” 

Of course, that was when Russian Intelligence agents were exposing the secrets of Hillary Clinton, his Presidential opponent.

And, in a move that Joseph Stalin would have admired, Trump ordered an all-out investigation to find the joke-leaker.

In January, 2018, the White House had banned the use of personal cell phones in the West Wing. 

The official reason: National security.

The real reason: To stop staffers from leaking to reporters.

Officials now have two choices:

  1. Leave their cell phones in their cars, or,
  2. When they arrive for work, deposit them in lockers installed at West Wing entrances. They can reclaim their phones when they leave.

Several staffers huddle around the lockers throughout the day, checking messages they have missed. The lockers buzz and chirp constantly from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday.

More ominously, well-suited men roam the halls of the West Wing, carrying devices that pick up signals from phones that aren’t government-issued. “Did someone forget to put their phone away?” one of the men will ask if such a device is detected. If no one says they have a phone, the detection team start searching the room.

Image result for images of cell phone detectors on Youtube

Phone detector

The devices can tell which type of phone is in the room.

This is the sort of behavior Americans have traditionally—and correctly—associated with dictatorships

In his memo outlining the policy, former Chief of Staff John Kelly warned that anyone who violated the phone ban could be punished, including “being indefinitely prohibited from entering the White House complex.”

Yet even these draconian methods may not end White House leaks.

White House officials still speak with reporters throughout the day and often air their grievances, whether about annoying colleagues or competing policy priorities.

Aides with private offices sometimes call reporters on their desk phones. Others get their cell phones and call or text reporters during lunch breaks. 

TRUMP VS. THE FIRST AMENDMENT: PART ONE (OF THREE)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Military, Politics, Social commentary on February 19, 2019 at 12:43 am

“Nothing funny about tired Saturday Night Live on Fake news NBC! Question is, how do the Networks get away with these total Republican hit jobs without retribution? Likewise for many other shows? Very unfair and should be looked into. This is the real Collusion!

So tweeted President Donald J. Trump on February 17.

Less than nine hours earlier, “SNL” had once again opened with actor Alec Baldwin mocking the 45th President. In this skit, Baldwin/Trump gave a rambling press conference declaring: “We need wall. We have a tremendous amount of drugs flowing into this country from the southern border—or The Brown Line, as many people have asked me not to call it.”

Right-wingers denounce their critics as “snowflakes”—that is, emotional, easily offended and unable to tolerate opposing views.

Yet here was Donald Trump, who prides himself on his toughness, whining like a child bully who has just been told that other people have rights, too.

The answer is simple: Trump is a tyrant—and a longtime admirer of tyrants.

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Donald Trump

He has lavishly praised Russian dictator Vladimir Putin, such as during his appearance on the December 18, 2015 edition of MSNBC’s “Morning Joe”: 

“He’s running his country, and at least he’s a leader, unlike what we have in this country”—a reference to then-President Barack Obama. 

During a February, 2017 interview with Fox News host Bill O’Reilly, Trump defended Putin’s killing of political opponents.  

O’Reilly: “But he’s a killer.” 

Trump: “There are a lot of killers. You think our country’s so innocent?” 

Asked by a Fox News reporter why he praised murderous North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Un, he replied: “He’s a tough guy. Hey, when you take over a country, tough country, tough people, and you take it over from your father …If you could do that at 27 years old, I mean, that’s one in 10,000 that could do that.” 

In short: Kim must be doing something right because he’s in power. And it doesn’t matter how he came to power—or the price his country is paying for it.  

Actually, for all their differences in appearance and nationality, Trump shares at least two similarities with Kim.

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Kim Jong-Un

Blue House (Republic of Korea) [KOGL (http://www.kogl.or.kr/open/info/license_info/by.do)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

First, both of them got a big boost into wealth and power from their fathers.

  • Trump’s father, Fred Trump, a real estate mogul, reportedly gave Donald $200 million to enter the real estate business. It was this sum that formed the basis for Trump’s eventual rise to wealth and fame—and the Presidency. 
  • Kim’s father was Kim Jong-Il, who ruled North Korea as dictator from 1994 to 2011. When his father died in 2011, Kim Jong-Un immediately succeeded him, having been groomed for years to do so. 

Second, both Trump and Kim have brutally tried to stamp out any voices that contradict their own.

  • Trump has constantly attacked freedom of the press, even labeling it “the enemy of the American people.” He has also slandered his critics on Twitter—which has refused to enforce its “Terms of Service” and revoke his account.
  • Kim has attacked his critics with firing squads and prison camps. Amnesty International estimates that more than 200,000 North Koreans are now suffering in labor camps throughout the country.

Thus, Trump—-elected to lead the “free world”—believes, like all dictators:

  • People are evil everywhere—so who am I to judge who’s better or worse? All that counts is gaining and holding onto power. 
  • And if you can do that, it doesn’t matter how you do so.

Actually, it’s not uncommon for dictators to admire one another—as the case of Joseph Stalin and Adolf Hitler nicely illustrates.

Joseph Stalin

After Hitler launched a blood-purge of his own private Stormtroopers army on June 30, 1934, Stalin exclaimed: “Hitler, what a great man! That is the way to deal with your political opponents!” 

And Hitler was equally admiring of Stalin’s notorious ruthlessness: “After the victory over Russia,” he told his intimates, “it would be a good idea to get Stalin to run the country, with German oversight, of course. He knows better than anyone how to handle the Russians.”  

Adolf Hitler

Bundesarchiv, Bild 146-1990-048-29A / CC-BY-SA 3.0 [CC BY-SA 3.0 de (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/de/deed.en)%5D

One characteristic shared by all dictators is intolerance toward those whose opinions differ with their own. Especially those who dare to actually criticize or make fun of them.

All Presidents have thin skins. John F. Kennedy often phoned reporters and called them “sonofbitches” when he didn’t like stories they had written on him.

Richard Nixon went further, waging all-out war against the Washington Post for its stories about his criminality. 

But Donald Trump has taken his hatred of dissidents to an entirely new—and dangerous—level.

On May 10, 2018, The Hill reported that White House Special Assistant Kelly Sadler had joked derisively about dying Arizona United States Senator John McCain.

Trump was outraged—not that one of his aides had joked about a man stricken with brain cancer, but that someone in the White House had leaked it.

IS THE TRUMP-PUTIN “BROMANCE” OVER?

In Bureaucracy, History, Military, Politics, Social commentary on December 5, 2018 at 12:33 am

The love-fest between Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump certainly got off to a great start.

No doubt well-informed on Trump’s notorious egomania, Russian President Putin called a press conference on December 17, 2015, to announce: “He is a bright personality, a talented person, no doubt about it. It is not up to us to appraise his positive sides, it is up to the U.S. voters. But, as we can see, he is an absolute leader in the Presidential race.”

2018 inauguration of Vladimir Putin 51-1.jpg

Vladimir Putin

kremlin.ru [CC BY 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0)%5D

Trump quickly responded. On the December 18, 2015 edition of MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” he said: “Sure, when people call you ‘brilliant,’ it’s always good. Especially when the person heads up Russia. 

“He’s running his country, and at least he’s a leader. Unlike what we have in this country”—an insult aimed at President Barack Obama.

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Donald Trump

Both Putin and Trump are well-known for their authoritarian characteristics. But more than one dictator’s admiration for another might explain their notorious “bromance.”

Trump has repeatedly attacked United States’ membership in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). He believes the United States is paying an unfairly large portion of the monies needed to maintain this alliance—and he wants other members to contribute far more.  

He has also said that, if Russia attacked NATO members, he would decide whether to come to their aid only after determining whether those nations have “fulfilled their obligations to us.”

If he believed that they had not done so, he would tell them: “Congratulations, you will be defending yourself.”

This clearly gave Putin a reason to prefer Trump over his 2016 rival, Hillary Clinton. Trump’s statement marked the first time that a major Presidential candidate placed conditions on the United States’ coming to the defense of its major allies.

The withdrawal of the United States from NATO would instantly render that alliance kaput. Its European members that have long hurled insults at the United States would suddenly face extinction.  

Even if their armed forces proved a match for Russia’s—which they wouldn’t—their governments would cower before the threat of Russia’s huge nuclear arsenal.  

Trump’s motives for his “bromance” with Putin have been more difficult to decipher.

Some believe that Trump—a notorious egomaniac—is simply responding to overdoses of Putin flattery.

Others think that, while visiting Moscow, Trump made himself vulnerable to Russian blackmail.

There are unconfirmed Intelligence reports that he paid—and watched—several Russian prostitutes urinate on a bed once slept on by President Obama and his wife at Moscow’s Ritz-Carlton Hotel. The alleged incident was reportedly captured by hidden microphones and cameras operated by the FSB, the successor to the KGB.

Then, on November 29, Trump’s longtime attorney and “fixer,” Michael Cohen, cast new light over the Trump-Putin relationship.

Cohen pleaded guilty in federal court in Manhattan to lying to Congress about the Russia investigation. 

Cohen admitted that he lied about the “Moscow Project”—the Trump Organization’s efforts to “pursue a branded property in Moscow.” To sweeten the deal, Trump planned to offer a $50 million penthouse suite to Putin. 

According to Cohen, Trump hid his business dealings with Russia throughout the campaign—while Moscow intervened to elect him.

Shortly after this news broke, Trump canceled his scheduled meeting with Putin at the December 1 G20 summit in Buenos Aires. 

Even so, Putin is not the first Communist dictator to find common cause with an avowed Right-winger.

On August 23, 1939, Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin signed a “non-aggression pact” with Nazi Germany’s Fuhrer, Adolf Hitler.

Joseph Stalin

The reason: Hitler intended to invade Poland—but feared going to war with the neighboring Soviet Union if he did so. By signing a non-aggression pact with Stalin, he avoided this danger—and gained “rights” to the western half of Poland.  

Adolf Hitler

Bundesarchiv, Bild 146-1990-048-29A / CC-BY-SA 3.0 [CC BY-SA 3.0 de (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/de/deed.en)%5D

In addition, Nazi Germany began receiving huge shipments of raw materials from the Soviet Union—as part of Stalin’s effort to placate Hitler and avoid a Nazi-Soviet clash.

And Stalin got something, too: The eastern half of Poland, which would be occupied by the Red Army.

But the Hitler-Stalin alliance lasted less than two years. It ended without warning—on June 22, 1941.

With 134 divisions at full fighting strength and 73 more for deployment behind the front—a total of three million men—the German Wehrmacht invaded the Soviet Union.

There are four ways Putin may now regret his “bromance” with Trump.  

First: Trump has not been able to lift the sanctions imposed on Russia by President Obama for subverting the 2016 election.  

Second: Democrats and even some Republicans have taken a more aggressive stance toward Russia because of that subversion. They have pressured European allies to impose tougher sanctions against Russia.

Third: Putin must be dismayed that his subversion of the 2016 election became known—and, even worse, is the subject of an all-out investigation. That investigation has proven highly embarrassing to Trump—and Russia.

Fourth: Trump is known for his egomania, not his loyalty. He may take offense at some future perceived Putin slight. In such case, he may well decide he doesn’t owe anything to the man he once called “a leader.”

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.

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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.

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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