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WHAT AMERICA LOST WITH JFK

In Bureaucracy, History, Military, Politics, Social commentary on November 24, 2022 at 12:10 am

Fifty-nine years ago, on November 22, 1963, two bullets slammed into the neck and head of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy.

It has been said that JFK 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 atmospheric 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 later Secretary of Energy) showed similar pride in not knowing there are nine judges on the United States Supreme Court:

Rick Perry official portrait.jpg

Rick Perry

“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.   

Donald Trump—as a Presidential candidate—went even further. After winning the Nevada caucuses in February, 2016 he said: “We won the evangelicals, we won with young, we won with old, we won with highly educated, we won with poorly educated! I love the poorly educated.”

Image result for Public domain images of Donald Trump

Donald Trump

His senior adviser, Kelleyanne Conway, set the tone of his administration’s approach to the truth right at the outset. Asked why then-White House press secretary Sean Spicer had lied about the size of the crowd at Trump’s inauguration, Conway replied: 

“You’re saying it’s a falsehood. And they’re giving—Sean Spicer, our press secretary—gave alternative facts.” 

“Alternative facts” aren’t facts—they are falsehoods.

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.

During the 2016 Presidential campaign, Donald Trump infamously chortled after winning the Nevada Republican primary: “We won with poorly educated. I love the poorly educated.”

And, that November, “the poorly educated” elected him President.

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

AMERICA NEEDS TO MIND ITS OWN BUSINESS

In Bureaucracy, History, Military, Politics, Social commentary on August 1, 2022 at 12:10 am

“When trouble comes up anywhere in the world, they don’t call Beijing. They don’t call Moscow. They call us.”

So spoke President Barack Obama on the September 28, 2014 edition of 60 Minutes.

And, according to former CIA agent Michael Scheuer, that’s the problem: America can’t learn to mind its own business.

Scheuer is a 20-year CIA veteran—as well as an author, historian, foreign policy critic and political analyst.

Michael Scheuer

From 1996 to 1999 he headed Alec Station, the CIA’s unit assigned to track Osama bin Laden at the agency’s Counterterrorism Center.

He has served as an adjunct professor at Georgetown University’s Center for Peace and Security Studies.

He is best-known as the author of two seminal works on America’s fight against terrorism: Imperial Hubris: Why the West is Losing the War on Terror (2003) and Marching Toward Hell: America and Islam after Iraq (2008).

Scheuer says that Islamics don’t hate Americans because of “our way of life”—with its freedoms of speech and worship and its highly secular, commercialized culture.

Instead, Islamic hatred toward the United States stems from America’s six longstanding policies in the Middle East:

  • U.S. support for apostate, corrupt, and tyrannical Muslim governments
  • U.S. and other Western troops on the Arabian Peninsula
  • U.S. support for Israel that keeps Palestinians in the Israelis’ thrall
  • U.S. pressure on Arab energy producers to keep oil prices low
  • U.S. occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan
  • U.S. support for Russia, India, and China against their Muslim militants

Scheuer contends that no amount of American propaganda will win “the hearts and minds” of Islamics who can “see, hear, experience, and hate” these policies firsthand.

But there is another danger facing America, says Scheuer, one that threatens “the core of our social and civil institutions.”

And in Marching Toward Hell he bluntly indicts that threat: The “profound and willful ignorance” of America’s “bipartisan governing elite.”

Scheuer defines this elite as “the inbred set of individuals who have influenced…drafted and conducted U.S. foreign policy” since 1973.

Within that group are:

  • politicians
  • journalists
  • academics
  • preachers
  • civil servants
  • military officers
  • philanthropists.

“Some are Republicans, others Democrats; some are evangelicals, others atheists; some are militarists, others pacifists; some are purveyors of Western civilization, others are multiculturalists,” writes Scheuer.

But for all their political and/or philosophical differences, the members of this governing elite share one belief in common.

According to Scheuer, that belief is “an unquenchable ardor to have the United States intervene in all places, situations and times.”

And he warns that this “bipartisan governing elite” must radically change its policies—such as unconditional support for Israel and corrupt, tyrannical Muslim governments.

Otherwise, Americans will be locked in an endless “hot war” with the Islamic world.

During his September 28, 2014 appearance on 60 Minutes, President Obama admitted that the mostly Sunni-Muslim Iraqi army had refused to combat the Sunni army of ISIS.

Then followed this exchange: 

Steve Kroft: What happens if the Iraqis don’t fight or can’t fight? 

President Obama: Well….

Steve Kroft: What’s the end game?  

President Obama:  I’m not going to speculate on failure at the moment. We’re just getting started. Let’s see how they do.

It was precisely such a mindset that led the United States, step by step, into the Vietnam quagmire.

In the Middle East, as in Vietnam, the United States lacked:

  • Real or worthwhile allies in Iraq or Syria;
  • A working knowledge of the peoples it wants to influence in either country;
  • Clearly-defined goals that it seeks to accomplish in that region.

America rushed to disaster in Vietnam because its foreign policy elite felt it had to “do something” to fight Communism anywhere in the world.

Now Americans—in and out of government—feel they must “do something” to stop the routine carnage that is life throughout the Middle East.

In December, 2012, Kayla Mueller, an idealistic 24-year-old American woman, arrived in Syria to assist Syrians caught up in their own civil war. And on August 4, 2013, she was kidnapped and held for ransom.

In 2015, she was killed—whether by her terrorist kidnappers or Jordanian airstrikes remains unclear.

On February 23, 2015, Carl Mueller appeared on the “Today” show, to protest the refusal of the United States Government to pay ransom demands to her terrorist kidnappers. 

“How many mistakes have we all made in life that were naïve and didn’t get caught at? Kayla was just in a place that was more dangerous than most. And she couldn’t help herself. She had to go in there and had to help.” 

But did she?

Is: "Ostaggio Usa Kayla Mueller uccisa in raid aereo giordano" - la Repubblica

Kayla Mueller

There were thousands of communities within the United States desperate for the help of a caring social activist. And thousands of organizations—such as Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA), Habitat for Humanity and Catholic Relief Services—that would have been thrilled to enlist her services.

And she could have made lives better without constantly facing the dangers of kidnapping by Islamics determined to humiliate and slaughter Americans.

Michael Sheuer is right: The United States should learn to mind its own business and quit intervening in the affairs of Middle Eastern governments and peoples. 

Kayla Mueller is proof of the rightness of that assertion.

THE WHITE POOR: LOVING THOSE WHO DESPISE THEM: PART TWO (END)

In Bureaucracy, History, Politics, Social commentary on July 27, 2022 at 12:12 am

Republicans have long tried to prevent or eliminate programs that aid the poor and middle-class, including:

  • Social Security (since it began in 1935)
  • Medicare
  • National health insurance
  • Food stamps
  • WIC (Women, Infants, Children).

So why are so many poor Americans now flocking to this party’s banner?

Two reasons: Racism and greed. There are historical parallels for both.

First, race:

In 1999, historian Victor Davis Hanson noted the huge gap in wealth between the aristocratic, slave-owning minority of the pre-Civil War South and the vast majority of poor white Southerners.

Victor Davis Hanson (@VDHanson) | Twitter

Victor Davis Hanson

“Before the war in the counties [Union General William Tecumseh] Sherman would later ruin, the top 10% of the landowners controlled 40% of the assessed wealth.”

In contrast, “more than half of those who were lucky enough to own any property at all still possessed less than 15% of the area’s valuation.”

So Hanson asked: “Why did the millions of poor whites of the Confederacy fight at all?”

He supplied the answer in his brilliant work on military history, The Soul of Battle: From Ancient Times to the Present Day, How Three Great Liberators Vanquished Tyranny.

Nonfiction Book Review: The Soul of Battle: From Ancient Times to the Present Day, Three Great Liberators Vanquished Tyranny by Victor Davis Hanson, Author Free Press $30 (496p) ISBN 978-0-684-84502-9

One of those liberators was General William Tecumseh Sherman, who led 62,000 Union troops in a victorious “March to the Sea” through the Confederacy in 1864.

So why did so many poor Southern whites literally lay down their lives for the wealthy planter class, which despised them?

According to Hanson: “Behind the entire social fabric of the South lay slavery.

“If slavery eroded the economic position of the poor free citizens, if slavery encouraged a society of haves and have-nots…then it alone offered one promise to the free white man–poor, ignorant and dispirited–that he was at least not black and not a slave.”

And the planter class and its allies in government easily fobbed off their poor white countrymen with cheap flattery. Said Georgia Governor Joseph Brown:

“Among us the poor white laborer is respected as an equal. His family is treated with kindness, consideration, and respect. He does not belong to the menial class. The negro is in no sense his equal. He belongs to the only true aristocracy, the race of white men.”

Related image

Arlington House and plantation, former home of Robert E. Lee

Similarly, poor whites now flock to the Republican Party–which holds them in equal contempt– in large part to protest the 2008 election of the first black President of the United States.

According to a Pew Research Center study released on July 22, 2011: “Notably, the GOP gains have occurred only among white voters; a 2-point Republican edge among whites in 2008 (46% to 44%) has widened to a 13-point lead today (52% to 39%).”

Since the 1960s, Republicans have pursued a campaign policy of “divide and rule”–divide the nation along racial lines and reap the benefits at election time.

  • Republicans opposed the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
  • Republicans opposed the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
  • Republicans, with Richard Nixon as their Presidential candidate in 1968 and 1972, pursued what they called a “Southern strategy”: Use “code language” to stoke fear and hatred of blacks among whites.
  • Republicans have falsely identified welfare programs exclusively with non-whites. (Of the six million Americans receiving food stamps, about 42% are white, 32% are black, and 22% are Latino–with the growth fastest among whites during the recession.)

Thus, in voting Republican, many of these poor whites believe they are “striking a blow for the white race.”

And they can do so in a more socially acceptable way than joining a certified hate group such as the American Nazi Party or Ku Klux Klan.  

Since 2015, openly racist groups such as the Klan and the American Nazi Party have flocked to the banner of Presidential candidate Donald Trump. By enthusiastically courting their support, the real estate mogul has made it possible for Republican candidates to openly display their own racism.

Now greed:

In the hit play, 1776, on the creation and signing of the Declaration of Independence, there is a telling exchange between John Dickinson and John Hancock. It comes during the song, “Cool, Cool, Considerate Men.”

Dickinson, the delegate from Pennsylvania, urges Hancock, president of the Second Continental Congress, “to join us in our minuet.” By “us” he means his fellow conservatives who fear losing their property and exalted status by supporting American independence from Great Britain.

John Dickinson

Hancock declines, saying: “Fortunately, there are not enough men of property in America to dictate policy.”

To which Dickinson replies:  “Perhaps not. But don’t forget that most men with nothing would rather protect the possibility of becoming rich than face the reality of being poor.  And that is why they will follow us.”

Today,  poor whites generally identify with the CEOs of powerful corporations. They believe the Republican gospel that they can attain such wealth–if only the government will “get out of my way.”

They forget—or ignore—the truth that government, for all its imperfections, is sometimes all that stands between them and a wide range of predators.

In return, the CEOs despise them as the privileged have always despised their social and economic “inferiors.”

Unless the Democratic Party can find ways to directly address these bitter, Politically Incorrect truths, it will continue its decline into insignificance.

THE WHITE POOR: LOVING THOSE WHO DESPISE THEM: PART ONE (OF TWO)

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Politics, Social commentary on July 26, 2022 at 12:16 am

On July 22, 2011, ABC News carried the following story:

The Pew Foundation, analyzing voter identification, found “the electorate’s partisan affiliations have shifted significantly” since Barack Obama won office in 2008.

The GOP had gained strength among white voters, most specifically “the young and poor.”

Whitehead Institute - News - 2011 - Whitehead Member Mary Gehring named a Pew Scholar

A seven-point Democratic advantage among whites under age 30 three years ago had turned into an 11-point GOP advantage. And a 15-point Democratic advantage among whites earning less than $30,000 annually had swung to a slim four-point Republican edge by 2011.

In addition:

  • The GOP gains had occurred only among white voters.
  • Republicans had made sizable gains among white voters since 2008. Fifty-two percent of white voters called themselves Republicans or leaned to the GOP, compared with 39% who affiliated with the Democratic Party or leaned Democratic.
  • Democrats had lost their edge among lower income white voters.
  • In 2008, Democrats had a 15 point lead among white voters with family incomes less than $30,000.  By 2011, Republicans had a four-point edge among this group.
  • The GOP’s lead among middle income white voters had grown since 2008, and Republicans held a substantial advantage with higher income white voters.
  • Republicans have made gains among whites with a high school education or less. The GOP’s advantage over Democrats had grown from one point in 2008 to 17 points in 2011 among less educated whites.
  • Republicans had made smaller gains among white voters who had college degrees.

Five years later, in 2016, these masses of disaffected white men would overwhelmingly vote for Donald Trump, a real estate mogul-turned-celebrity-TV-host of “The Apprentice.”

Trump had been born into a life of luxury. He began his real estate career at his father’s real estate and construction company. He rose to wealth and fame after his father, Fred, gave him control of the business in 1971.

Similarly, soon after acquiring the family business, Trump set out to build his own empire—hotels, golf courses, casinos and skyscrapers across North and South America, Europe and Asia. Of the 515 entities he owns, 268 of them—52%—bear his last name. He often refers to his properties as “the swankiest,” “the most beautiful.” 

During the Vietnam war, his father reportedly paid a doctor to claim that Trump suffered from “bone spurs” in his foot—thus enabling him to escape the draft.

Donald Trump

In short, Trump has literally nothing in common with the masses of poor whites who worship him. 

Howard Stern, the notorious radio host, has known Trump many years. Commenting on the appeal Trump has for his followers, Stern says: “The oddity of all this is the people Trump despises most, love him the most.

“The people who are voting for Trump for the most part …he wouldn’t even let them in his fucking hotel. He’d be disgusted by them. Go to Mar-a-Lago. See if there’s any people who look like you. I’m talking to you in the audience.”

Yet, while the poor worship Trump and Republicans generally, there is a disconnect between them: Since 1980, Republicans have pursued a policy of gutting programs aimed at helping the poor—while repeatedly creating tax-breaks for the wealthiest 1% of the population.

For Republicans, the patron saint of this “love-the-rich-screw-the-poor” ideology remains Ronald Reagan—two-time governor of California and twice-elected President of the United States (1981-1989)

Ronald Reagan, who taught Americans to worship the wealthy

Among those charting Reagan’s legacy as President was former CBS Correspondent David Shoenbrum.

In his bestselling autobiography, America Inside Out: At Home and Abroad from Roosevelt to Reagan, he noted:

  • On January 28, 1981, keeping a pledge to his financial backers in the oil industry, Reagan abolished Federal controls on the price of oil.
  • Within a week, Exxon, Texaco and Shell raised gasoline prices and prices of home heating oil.
  • Reagan saw it as his duty to put a floor under prices, not a ceiling above them.
  • Reagan believed that when government helped business it wasn’t interfering. Loaning money to bail out a financially incompetent Chrysler was “supporting the free enterprise system.”
  • But putting a high-profits tax on price-gouging corporations or filing anti-trust suits against them was “Communistic” and therefore intolerable.
  • Tax-breaks for wealthy businesses meant helping America become stronger.
  • But welfare for the poor or the victims of a predatory marketplace economy weakened America by sapping its morale.

“In short, welfare for the rich is good for America. But welfare for the poor is bad for America, even for the poor themselves, for it encourages them to be shiftless and lazy.

“Somehow, loans to the inefficient management of American corporations would not similarly encourage them in their inefficient methods,” wrote Shoenbrun.

Republicans have sought to dismantle Social Security ever since that program began in 1935. And Republicans have furiously opposed other programs aiding the poor and middle-class—such as Medicare, food stamps and WIC (Women, Infants, Children).

In short, this is not a political party with a history of rushing to the defense of those most in need.

So the question remains: Why are so many poor Americans flocking to its banner?

The answer lies in the history of the American South—and slavery.

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

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Military, Politics, Social commentary on July 15, 2022 at 12:10 am

Fifty-nine 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 July 14, 2022 at 12:11 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 July 13, 2022 at 12:10 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.”

Thank You, Mr. President - The Press Conferences Of JFK - YouTube

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 July 12, 2022 at 4:09 pm

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.”

More than 53 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 July 11, 2022 at 11:58 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 July 8, 2022 at 9:43 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 him 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.

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