Friday, November 22, 2013

He Died in Vain

The bad guys won. They got away with it, covered their tracks and consolidated their power within the US government.

Was John F. Kennedy a threat to that power structure? You bet he was.

Was he a power-grubbing politician and a dangerous Cold Warrior himself? Of course he was, but one of the salient facts in the Crime of the Century is how rapidly he was changing towards the end of his short life.

His sins were mighty, and like all our presidents, his public image was a myth. But the JFK who the world saw in the fall of 1963 was very different from the one who took office in 1961.

Both Khruschev and Kennedy were profoundly shaken by the Cuban Missile Crisis, and both men had to defy their military advisers to pull back from the brink. Let us remember the message Bobby Kennedy brought to Anatoly Dobrynin, in an effort to find a way out: "If the situation continues much longer, the President is not sure that the military will not overthrow him and seize power."

His enemies were not feckless losers, as defenders of the "double lone nut coincidence theory" would have you believe. The means, motive and opportunity belonged to well-dressed sociopaths in the halls of power, who had experience toppling governments and did not shrink from the use of lethal violence. 

Lee Oswald did not have the power to change the president's motorcade route so it would wend its way past his window. Jack Ruby did not have the power to delay the prisoner's scheduled transfer until he was ready and in place. And whatever else you can say about magic bullets, grassy knolls and autopsy reports, the coincidence theorists have a high bar to clear when it comes to their extraordinary claims. 

That would concern the details of Oswald's trip to Mexico City, where he was quite obviously impersonated by someone seeking to tie him to the KGB's assassination bureau – a few short months before the guns of November were sounded. If you don't know the details of this, you simply haven't done your homework. And if you can't explain that away, you shouldn't try to mock anyone who speaks of conspiracy theories. 

But the mockery is not in short supply. Critics of the absurd Warren Commission hypothesis are routinely conflated with those who believe the moon landing was faked, Elvis is alive somewhere, and a race of grey-skinned alien lizard people secretly rule the earth. The reasoning is that since wacky people believe wacky stuff, that means no powerful groups have ever conspired to seize or maintain power. 

I expected a torrent of lone-nutter bullshit around this anniversary, as previous milestone years treated us to portentous "debunkings" of the deluded conspiracists. Well-publicized tomes like Posner's and Bugliosi's were treated to hosannahs in the mainstream media, while their lapses and calculated omissions were ignored. Anniversary specials on TV routinely advance the daring claim that the Warren Commissioners actually got it right after all. Meanwhile, serious scholars and researchers are simply ignored, when they're not being compared to a cargo cult. 

The most common twist this year is a kind of smug armchair psychoanalysis of the "conspiratorial mindset." Such folks just have a deep need to explain away complex historical events with a simplistic "good vs. evil" explanation, unable to face up to the truth that coincidences sometimes happen. 

I think there is a good deal of projection involved here. The research community is fully cognizant of the complexity of the hall of mirrors that constitutes the historical record of the greatest murder mystery of all time. It's the coincidence theorists who seem to yearn for closure. Perhaps they simply have a psychological need not to question the self-serving confabulations of the cover-up. 

Or maybe they just like being on the side of the winners.

The most disheartening line comes from those who urge us to put this all behind us, because there's nothing more we can learn about it, and it wouldn't matter even if we could. But we're talking about one of the major pivot points of our history – and just like WWII and the Civil War, we live with its effects every day. 

The murder of JFK ratified the worldview of his killers. It was the paradigm Ike tried to warn us against. It was what Harry Truman recoiled from, when he cautioned, shortly after the events in Dallas, of the possibility of an American Gestapo, and the rise of a "right wing totalitarian country."

And now? We're marinating in it. The Global Corporate Empire pretty much gets its way, and no president will ever challenge it – the way JFK challenged the bankers, the oil companies, the steel magnates, or the military. Now, presidents look over their shoulders, knowing there are lines they will not cross – if it even occurs to them to cross them in the first place. 

Now we live in a permanent wartime economy, and Wall Street screws us all with impunity. The war on poverty has been replaced by a war on the poor. John Mitchell warned us that this country would be going so far to the right, we wouldn't recognize it anymore. And he was right. I don't recognize the country I was born into. 

Jack Kennedy died in vain. The ideals he stood for, the lessons he learned, were all for naught. That is, unless the rest of us learn them, too. However flawed a person he was, however hyped his myth, he really did inspire millions to work for a better world. What's most important about his life is just this: He evolved, and that's his real legacy. So maybe we can, too.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

The Daniels Rant

So I awake this morning to find that a Facebook friend has posted a 20-paragraph Charlie Daniels rant to my timeline, mostly about Obamacare. (not linking to it, but you can find it on Charlie’s FB page, where the most recent comment reads “Daniels/Nugent 2016!”) Since he took the trouble to do this (instead of posting it to his own timeline and hoping I'd read it), I have to assume he’s interested in my reply. So let's have a respectful exchange of views. Oh, and since Daniels took 20 paragraphs, this may take some time.

The first paragraph is actually one long formidable sentence. Aside from the violent imagery at the end, it boils down to the monstrosity of the less-than-sterling rollout of Obamacare. So yes, the right wing gets some bragging rights here: It's a slow website. If the website gets fixed, people will quickly forget about it, and if not, not. Moreover, the latest estimates show that roughly 3% of the public will end up paying higher premiums, though they will also be getting better coverage. When the president said people who liked their insurance could keep it, it appears he underestimated how many people really like crappy health insurance. Another point to the critics.
But the part I like best is the speculation that “even the most arrogant administration in history would be embarrassed by such a thing.” We already have a test case on this: the Bush Administration's rollout of its health care reform, Medicare Part D, complete with major website glitches. They may have been embarrassed, but they simply rolled up their sleeves and got back to trying to make it work. The interesting part is this: most Democrats passionately opposed the scheme (because it featured huge handouts to pharmaceutical companies, increased costs for seniors in the "donut hole," and, unlike Obamacare, was not paid for). But instead of having a hissy fit and shutting down the government, the Democrats in Congress decided that Medicare D was the law, and worked with the White House to help implement it.
Oh and by the way: Obamacare rolls back Bush's subsidies to Big Pharma and closes the donut hole.
So, Mr Daniels goes on to complain about the "fiscal monster" that gnaws at the vitals of future generations. This is pretty rich. Not only did President Bush put Medicare D on the credit card, he also passed along the costs of two major wars. Then he crashed the global economy, which, among other things, jacked up the price of the government safety net for the millions of newly unemployed. And meanwhile, Obama has cut in half the size of the deficit he inherited from W - and Obamacare is not only paid for, it reduces the deficit.
Paragraphs 3 and 4 write off 40% of the American public, down a bit from Mitt Romney's very successful "piss off 47% of the voters" strategy. Mr. Daniels is of the opinion that "entitlement checks" are about to stop being issued. Well, they would have if the GOP has forced a default last month, but that's a different story. Social Security is solvent through the 2030s and can be fixed with minor tweaks. Medicare spending is the main driver of future costs, but if the Republicans have a better idea than Obamacare for reining in those costs, they're keeping it a pretty big secret.
Paragraph 5 is a complaint about government bureaucrats. Previously we had health insurance company bureaucrats telling people that could not have any insurance if they had pre-existing conditions, and that if they got really sick they'd either be kicked off insurance or have caps imposed so that their costs would go through the roof. Now the government bureaucrats say that's not allowed. Apparently this is tyranny.
Paragraphs 6 through 11 constitute a potpourri of complaints unrelated to Obamacare, including the IRS, Solyndra and Benghazi scandals that worked so well in the last election. Other than to say I'd be happy to compare Obama's record on embassy attacks to George Bush's, I think we can move on.
Paragraphs 12 through 14 express the writer's disenchantment with both political parties. I think I speak for everyone on the left when I say that if Tea Party sympathizers want to break the Republican Party in two and start their own, they are more than welcome to do so.
Mr. Daniels concludes by yearning for a God-fearing person (who does not hail from a coastal community) to wield a sword and helmet and cleanse our nation. Let us assume for the moment that this is not a call for violent insurrection. All I can say is that if you can name a single such person, acceptable to the Tea Party, who has the remotest chance of coming anywhere near 270 electoral votes in the 2016 presidential election, I am all ears.