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John Kerry: Climate Change Is ‘World’s Most Fearsome’ Weapon of Mass Destruction

02/20/14

climate-change_Image Credit-kwest:Shutterstock

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“When 97 percent of scientists agree on anything, we need to listen, and we need to respond. . . . And the results of our human activity are clear. If you ranked all the years in recorded history by average temperature, . . . you’d see that all 10 of the hottest years on record have actually happened since Google went online in 1998.” —Secretary of State John Kerry in Jakarta, Indonesia, Feb. 16, 2014

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But Will He Oppose Keystone XL Pipeline?

In a speech in Jakarta, Indonesia, on Sunday, Secretary of State John Kerry called climate change “perhaps the world’s most fearsome weapon of mass destruction,” and urged international action to combat greenhouse gas emissions.

The science of climate change is leaping out at us like a scene from a 3D movie. It’s warning us; it’s compelling us to act. . . . When I think about the array of . . . global threats . . . terrorism, epidemics, poverty, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction—all challenges that know no borders—the reality is that climate change ranks right up there with every single one of them. . . . 

We should not allow a tiny minority of shoddy scientists and . . . extreme ideologues to compete with scientific fact. . . . This is not opinion. This is about facts. This is about science. The science is unequivocal. . . . 

Notwithstanding the stark choices that we face . . . there is still time. . . . But the window is closing. . . . The United States is prepared to take the lead in bringing other nations to the table.

us-state-kxl-co2-scenarios-When he was a United States senator (1985–2013) and the Democratic candidate for president in 2004, Kerry was a strong advocate for environmental protection and action against climate change. However, as Think Progress points out, his fine-sounding speech “is utterly at odds with State’s logic-twisting Keystone-friendly Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the proposed Keystone XL pipeline.” Joe Romm of Think Progress writes:

A must-read new analysis by Oil Change International finds that “all of the scenarios used by the State Department” in their Final Environmental Impact Study (EIS) of the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline “result in emissions that put us on a path to 6 degrees C (11°F) of global warming according to the International Energy Agency (IEA).” Talk about mass destruction! 

A report about Kerry’s speech on the BBC’s Global News podcast (2/16/14) includes comments by  environmental correspondent Matt McGrath suggesting that, with President Obama under intense political pressure to approve the Keystone XL pipeline, and with a decision possibly to be announced this year (after the 2014 midterm elections?), “this is Kerry laying down [for the eyes of the world] the Obama administration’s green credentials, their determination to get a [climate change] deal in the future.” Kerry’s speech, he said, was not only for an international audience but also for American listeners.

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Back to 2009: How “Hopenhagen” Became “Brokenhagen”

Countdown-Copenhagen1In related news see BBC environmental correspondent Matt McGrath’s report, “Emissions Impossible: Did Spies Sink Key Climate Deal?,” on how the NSA helped U.S. officials monitor the communications of other nations’ negotiators at the 2009 climate summit in Copenhagen, “according to documents released to a Danish newspaper by [Edward] Snowden.”

“All the spying in the world wouldn’t have secured an agreement in Copenhagen,” said a Danish source of McGrath’s. “We all knew the Gordian knot was that China wouldn’t accept an agreement that omitted the Kyoto Protocol and the US wouldn’t accept one that included it. This was impossible to cut through and everyone knew this beforehand.” 

And so it was that “Hopenhagen” rapidly became “Brokenhagen.”

•  See LNW’s “Copenhagen Climate Accord Better Than Nothing (Sound Familiar?)” (12/19/09), which includes links to many climate-related articles and web sites.

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Photo credit: kwest / Shutterstock

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Pete Seeger, 1919–2014: A Life of “Defiant Optimism”

02/1/14

SUB-SEEGER-OBIT-superJumbo

“Realize that little things lead to bigger things. . . . there’s a wonderful parable in the New Testament: The sower scatters seeds. Some seeds fall in the pathway and get stamped on, and they don’t grow. Some fall on the rocks, and they don’t grow. But some seeds fall on fallow ground, and they grow and multiply a thousandfold. Who knows where some good little thing that you’ve done may bring results years later that you never dreamed of.”Pete Seeger, on Democracy Now

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Let Us Now Praise Him and Thank Him

There is so much to admire about Pete Seeger, who died this week at 94, that one hardly knows where to begin. “We Shall Overcome,” “If I Had a Hammer,” “Turn, Turn, Turn,” and “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?”—there are so many great songs he wrote, or refreshed and arranged for popular use, always inviting the audience to sing along, that it is difficult, and not at all cheering, to imagine what a different and poorer world this would have been without Pete Seeger and his music (the two are indistinguishable). Think of all the protests, demonstrations, sit-ins, teach-ins, and celebrations those songs and others have accompanied.

We admire Pete Seeger for his activism, generosity, his indomitable optimism, his ever-open mind, and sheer energy. For many of us, he was an old man (and a very accomplished, legendary one) for so many years that we could be forgiven for asking, upon hearing of his death, Oh, was he still alive?

ToshiSeege-obit-popupHe was indeed, and he performed as recently as 2009 at Barack Obama’s first inaugural celebrations, singing Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land” with Bruce Springsteen and his grandson Tao Rodriguez-Seeger at the Lincoln Memorial (see photo below), and at an Occupy Wall Street concert in 2011 when he was a young man of 92. His wife, Toshi-Aline Ohta Seeger, died in 2013, just days before the couple’s 70th anniversary. (The picture at right shows the Seegers in 1992.)

Pete Seeger knew everyone and played with everyone, from Lead Belly and Woody Guthrie to Paul Robeson, and Bob Dylan, to Emmylou Harris and David Byrne and members of the Jefferson Airplane. In the 1930s he collected folk songs with Alan Lomax and traveled and sang with Woody Guthrie. He sang for the labor movement in the 1940s and 50s (including for Eleanor Roosevelt and others at a racially integrated party at a CIO hall in Washington in 1944), and sang for civil rights and antiwar demonstrations in the 1950s and 60s, and for environmental causes from the 1970s to the 2010s. He sang with the Almanac Singers (including Woody Guthrie) in the 1940s and the Weavers in the 50s. In the late 1950s he refused to cooperate with the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) and narrowly avoided being sent to prison for contempt of Congress.

“I am not going to answer any questions as to my association, my philosophical or religious beliefs or my political beliefs, or how I voted in any election, or any of these private affairs. I think these are very improper questions for any American to be asked, especially under such compulsion as this.” —Pete Seeger, testimony to House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) on Aug. 18, 1955

He was picketed by the John Birch Society and other right-wing groups, which boosted ticket sales, and for many years he was blacklisted from performing on TV because in the 1930s he had been a member of the Young Communist League. He did, however, eventually manage to perform his antiwar song “Waist-Deep in the Big Muddy” on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour in 1968, after it was initially censored by CBS. As the New York Times obituary explains:

As the United States grew divided over the Vietnam War, Mr. Seeger wrote “Waist Deep in the Big Muddy,” an antiwar song with the refrain “The big fool says to push on.” He performed the song during a taping of “The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour” in September 1967, his return to network television, but it was cut before the show was broadcast. After the Smothers Brothers publicized the censorship, Mr. Seeger returned to perform the song for broadcast in February 1968.

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Dave Van Ronk, the Brooklyn-born folk and blues singer on whom the Coen brothers’ new film Inside Llewyn Davis is (loosely) based, wrote of his admiration for Seeger in the late 1950s:

I think that the man is really great, in almost every sense of the word. . . . Artists of Seeger’s genre are hard to come by in this day and age. He is, in my opinion, taste and honesty personified, and a Seeger concert is a lesson which no singer of folksongs can afford to miss. When he speaks on the stage, his voice rarely rises above a conversational level, and yet he is heard. There is no phony upstaging at all. As a matter of fact, “stage presence” of the Broadway variety is entirely absent. Seeger does not act; he is.

I think that this is the key to his entire greatness. The man has no need to act in order to establish contact with his audience. He genuinely respects the people who are listening to him and refuses to insult their sensibilities with insincere theatrics. . . .

He is not “preserving” folklore but living it, and so are we, and he knows it. He neither sings up nor down to his material but with it. And there is no dichotomy between the performer and the content of his songs. . . . When he sings, all of him is involved. Which is another lesson that many singers of folksongs could profit by.

—from The Mayor of MacDougal Street: A Memoir (pp. 67–68)

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For more about Pete Seeger’s exemplary life of “defiant optimism” in music and activism, we recommend the following • New York Times obituary, “Pete Seeger, Champion of Folk Music and Social Change, Dies at 94,” and “Pete Seeger, a Folk Revivalist Who Used His Voice to Bring Out a Nation’s” • Democracy Now’s special report • Amy Goodman’s “Pete Seeger: Troubadour of Truth and Justice” • John Nichols’s obituary in The Nation, “Pete Seeger: This Man Surrounded Hate and Forced It to Surrender” • and this affectionate appreciation by Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo.

The photograph below shows Seeger performing Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land” at the “We Are One: Opening Inaugural Celebration at the Lincoln Memorial,” with grandson Tao Rodriguez-Seeger (left) and Bruce Springsteen in January 2009 (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster). Below that, Pete Seeger, 92, in 2011 joining Occupy Wall Street by marching from a concert at Symphony Space to Columbus Circle (photo by Marcus Yam for The New York Times).

This Land

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Occupy

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An ‘Obamacare’ Success Story

01/9/14

AFAInsurers, Too, Must Be Held Accountable

Our friend Stephen in NYC, who has contributed good ideas to this blog before, shares his experience in enrolling with an insurer. Stephen makes the very important point that the news media (including us bloggers) would serve the public interest if we would “start reporting on the incompetence of the health insurance companies and their technologically defective systems for enrollment, rather than putting all the blame for the recent mishaps of health insurance enrollment on the ACA rollout. My own experience is a case in point.”

One week after his old health-insurance policy lapsed, and three weeks after he mailed his application (with payment) to a New York health insurance company—and after speaking to eight customer service representatives and supervisors at the new insurance company over the past week—he was finally enrolled in the policy he had applied for (retroactive to Jan. 1), perhaps moved along by the threats he made earlier that day to alert the New York State attorney general, U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, and WOR-TV’s “Help Me, Howard” if his policy was not in effect within 24 hours—in addition to the letter that he had sent to The New York Times the day before, which is copied below.

To the Editors:

The NY Times and most other (all other?) news organizations have been covering the mishaps of the ACA rollout and ascribing them entirely to the incompetent programming of the new fed health-exchange website and some state health-exchange websites. I’d like to suggest, from my recent experience trying to get a 2014 health-insurance plan by enrolling directly with a NY health-insurance company (i.e., NOT through an exchange), that much of the incompetence is with the health-insurance companies themselves and has nothing to do with ACA. I’m still trying to get my new health-insurance company, Emblem Health, to actually enroll me in their 2104 health-insurance plan (as opposed to theoretically enrolling me)—and I applied directly through their own system, not through the fed or state health exchange.

As of today, Jan. 7, I still don’t have health insurance (my 2013 plan lapsed on Dec. 31), even though I sent my application for enrollment, along with a check for payment, by mail on Dec. 16—and it was received there on Dec. 19. Since then, I have called Emblem Health numerous times and have spoken to seven customer representatives and two supervisors, and was assured on Dec. 31 that my enrollment was in fact being processed, and that I would receive an e-mail affirming that I would be enrolled shortly and that my coverage would be retroactive to January 1. I have received nothing. I called Emblem Health again today and spoke to another customer representative, who searched on the Emblem Health system and found that my name was not on it yet. Tomorrow, I will be calling the supervisor to whom I spoke on Dec. 30 AND ON Dec. 31 (when I stayed on the phone continuously for 3 hours), to ask her why I have not heard from her about my enrollment nor received the e-mail confirming my imminent enrollment and retroactive coverage. (It’s a good thing I’ve had no health emergencies during this past week.)

So when I read or hear news reports of how bad ACA is, I’ve decided to be skeptical, and I’d like the NY Times to demonstrate some of that same skepticism, and to report on the effectiveness (or lack thereof) of the insurance companies and what appears to be their technologically defective systems for enrollment. I would be happy to share with a NY Times reporter more details of my frustrating experience trying to enroll for a health-insurance plan outside the exchange.

Well done, Stephen. Congratulations. But note how much time and effort he had to expend—time he had to take from his freelance work, which means a loss of some potential income. It should not have to be so difficult.

Dear readers, we encourage you to share your experiences in enrolling with health care providers under the Affordable Care Act. You can also share your stories—success stories, we hope—on Facebook at ACA Success Stories (facebook.com/acasuccessstories). Bloggers, reporters, hold the companies accountable, too, as well as the elected officials and pundits who are obstructing progress and exaggerating glitches and malfunctions for political gain.

We would also recommend that readers take a look at Rachel Maddow’s emphasis on the slow start of ‘Romneycare’ in Massachusetts (TRMS 1/2/14). This healthcare coverage expansion program, now regarded as a success for the people of Massachusetts, is roughly the template on which the Affordable Care Act was designed.

Despite Successes, 47 Million Americans Lack Health Coverage

Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo finds that some 9 to 10 million people have gained health care coverage because of the Affordable Care Act, and that about 5 million “currently do not have coverage because individual states decided not to opt into Medicaid expansion.” By the end of 2013, more than 1.1. million Americans had signed up for healthcare coverage through Healthcare.gov. (One Charles Gaba has been compiling data on the number of people who have enrolled for healthcare coverage through the 14 states that have exchange sites.) Still, the Kaiser Family Foundation reports, some 47 million Americans are without healthcare coverage.

For political reasons, of course, Republicans want the president’s healthcare expansion initiative to fail.

While we’re “redistributing blame” for the ACA’s rocky start, let’s look also at what Steve Benen calls “the scourge of the wingnut hole” (the term “wingnut hole” was coined by Ed Kilgore). Whenever the totals of people enrolled in healthcare insurance programs under the Affordable Care Act are given, Benen says, “it’s worth remembering that the coverage totals would be far greater were it not for “red” states refusing to accept Medicaid expansion”—5 million greater, as Josh Marshall reports above.

In a related article, Ryan Cooper at the Washington Post’s Plum Line points out: 

About 5 million people will be without health care next year that they would have gotten simply if they lived somewhere else in America. . . . The court effectively left it up to states to decide whether to open Medicaid, the federal-state program for the poor and disabled, to more people, primarily poor working adults without children. . . .

Twenty-five states declined. That leaves 4.8 million people in those states without the health care coverage that their peers elsewhere are getting through the expansion of Medicaid, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation estimate. More than one-fifth of them live in Texas alone, Kaiser’s analysis found.

Expanding healthcare coverage has been, and will continue to be, a struggle. But it is the good fight. It’s our hope that the circle of coverage will expand steadily, eventually to include all Americans, and that the insured will be able to have their policies in good health (that is, not to need them for anything too serious).

Further Reading

Healthcare.gov

Kaiser Family Foundation

Healthcare coverage at Think Progress

Healthcare at Mother Jones

Healthcare at The Nation

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Welcoming the New Year 2014

01/1/14

NewYear2Warm good wishes to all for a healthy and prosperous new year, inwardly and outwardly. We hope your prayers will be answered, especially your prayers for peace, for a stronger, more civil nation, for understanding and cooperation between persons, parties, and nations. Let the poor be better fed, the naked clothed, the shivering warmed . . . and let the forests and rivers grow thick with fishes and trees, turtles and birds, etc. Let humankind become a better steward of the planet that has been given to us to inhabit (but not to waste), more worthy and more considerate of the natural abundance around us.

We wish and pray for strength and persistence in abundance for those who work for the public good—health, education, employing the jobless and feeding the hungry—and for the reinforcement of the infrastructure (roads, levees, bridges) and the restoration of the environment we all need. Let the defenders of the public good prevail against those (especially the already highly privileged) who would weaken and diminish the benefits and liberties hard-won over many years of struggle for the common man and woman. And courage and abundance of cooperation for those who work to protect the earth and living things.

For those wearied by much toil and little pay, let there be better opportunities. For the discouraged, let there be rewards for their efforts, and renewed energy for further attempts. For the hungry parents of hungry children, and the idle, frustrated would-be workers, let there be well-paid labor, generosity of neighbors, and new chances to find and earn the bread of life. None should have to be hungry, nor without work.

For all these things, and more, we pray, and wish you and all your friends and family a much better new year, and stronger hope and energies, in 2014.

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Honoring Mandela

12/6/13

Greg Bartley:Camera Press:Redux*

“I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”

Nelson Mandela, statement from the dock at opening of his trial [aka the Rivonia trial] on charges of sabotage, Supreme Court of South Africa, Pretoria, April 20, 1964

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We wish to join with the thousands, indeed millions of admirers around the world who are paying tribute to the wise and dignified world leader who died yesterday in Johannesburg, South Africa, at the age of 95. When one considers that Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela was imprisoned for 27 years by the apartheid government of South Africa, subjected to a life sentence of hard labor and often solitary confinement, it is a wonder he even survived to be released in 1990, much less that he lived another 23 years.

We admire Mandela not only for his courage to risk his life in opposing a cruel, oppressive regime, not only for his will to survive through a potentially never-ending imprisonment, but also for his insistence on making peace and building a “rainbow” country where many ethnicities coexist. One of Mandela’s greatest achievements, besides being the first black president of South Africa (1994–99), was his establishment of the Truth and Reconciliation commission to investigate human rights abuses carried out by the apartheid regime of the Afrikaner National Party that ruled South Africa from 1948 to 1994. (The white Afrikaners, mostly descendants of Dutch colonialists, comprised only about 20 percent of the population.)

Wikipedia summarizes his early life:

A Xhosa born to the Thembu royal family, Mandela attended the Fort Hare University and the University of Witwatersrand, where he studied law. Living in Johannesburg, he became involved in anti-colonial politics, joining the [African National Congress] and becoming a founding member of its Youth League. After the South African National Party came to power in 1948, he rose to prominence in the ANC’s 1952 Defiance Campaign, was appointed superintendent of the organization’s Transvaal chapter and presided over the 1955 Congress of the People. Working as a lawyer, he was repeatedly arrested for seditious activities and, with the ANC leadership, was unsuccessfully prosecuted in the Treason Trial from 1956 to 1961. Although initially committed to non-violent protest, he co-founded the militant Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK) in 1961 in association with the South African Communist Party, leading a sabotage campaign against the apartheid government. In 1962 he was arrested, convicted of conspiracy to overthrow the government, and sentenced to life imprisonment in the Rivonia Trial.

Rachel Maddow opened her show last night with a concise but comprehensive overview of the apartheid (Afrikaans = “apartness”) system that Mandela and other South African activists risked their lives to oppose, including a brief account of the Sharpeville Massacre of 1960 in which the South African police opened fire on a crowd of protesters, killing 69. Rachel spoke with Congressman John Lewis of Georgia, who described how inspiring the South African struggle was to young American civil rights activists were inspired by the courage of the South African resistance movement, and later spoke with former congressman and Oakland mayor Ron Dellums about the push for divestment from South African corporations that finally cracked the De Klerk regime.

FreeMandelaIn “Six Things Nelson Mandela Believed That Most People Won’t Talk About,” Think Progress reminds us:

1. Mandela blasted the Iraq War and American imperialism.

2. Mandela called freedom from poverty a “fundamental human right.”

3. Mandela criticized the “War on Terror” and the labeling of individuals as terrorists, even Osama Bin Laden, without due process.

4. Mandela called out racism in America.

5. Mandela embraced some of America’s biggest political enemies [he is shown embracing Fidel Castro].

6. Mandela was a die-hard supporter of labor unions.

All of these stands make us admire him even more. Read the whole piece for important details.

And, demonstrating how this principled activist was an annoyance and a threat to the views of the right in the U.S. as well as in Johannesburg and London, Think Progress also details “The Right Wing’s Campaign to Discredit and Undermine Mandela, in One Timeline.”

Anti-Apartheid Activism at LSU and South Africa House in London

On a personal note, we recall attending a lecture at LSU in the mid 1980s by South African journalist Donald Woods, a close friend of Steve Biko, leader of the anti-apartheid Black Consciousness Movement who had died from beatings while in police custody. Woods was banned from editorship of his newspaper and harassed by the South African government; he fled South Africa and became a traveling spokesman against apartheid. (Peter Gabriel recorded the popular song “Biko” [1980], and director Richard Attenborough made a popular film of the story of Woods and Biko’s friendship, starring Kevin Kline and Denzel Washington, titled Cry Freedom [1987].)

We were in London in the summer of 1986 and witnessed the large anti-apartheid protests outside South Africa House, the embassy, in Trafalgar Square, where demonstrators were holding up Divest Now posters and chanting against the whites-only regime in that former British colony. Some years later, the anti-apartheid protests were going strong in the San Francisco Bay Area, as well—and that is one reason why, when Mandela toured the United States a half year after his release from prison, he came to Oakland to thank the citizens of the Bay Area for their strong push for institutions there, including the University of California, to divest from South African companies. The financial pressure took a toll, and at length the regime buckled and released Mandela and took steps to dismantle the apartheid system.

2013: Passing of African Lions

We note with sadness but enduring respect that this year has seen the death of two great men of Africa who are admired around the world. In March the renowned Nigerian novelist Chinua Achebe (b. 1930), author of Things Fall Apart, died at the age of 82. Things Fall Apart (1958) has been translated into about 50 languages and has sold some 8 to 10 million copies. Guardian (U.K.) obituary of Achebe here.

VirGebruikDeurBlankesMandela Obituaries, etc.

The Guardian (U.K.)

The New York Times

BBC

The Times (Johannesburg)

Statement by President Barack Obama on the Death of Nelson Mandela

Audio recording of Mandela’s statement at the Rivonia trial, April 20, 1964 (from National Archives of South Africa)

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Photo credit: Greg Bartley / Camera Press / Redux. Free Mandela poster found at The Man in the Green Shirt (Tumblr blog).

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“And Death Shall Have No Dominion”:
A Tribute to President John F. Kennedy

11/22/13

“So Let Us Persevere . . .”

JFK 1952 by Philippe Halsman

“If we cannot end now our differences, at least we can help make the world safe for diversity. For, in the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children’s future. And we are all mortal.” commencement address at American University, Washington, June 10, 1963

“And death shall have no dominion” —Dylan Thomas

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Rarely has a November passed by that this blog has not paused to pay respects to the memory of President John F. Kennedy. We keep an “eternal flame” of our own lighted not only because of a feeling of personal connection to him—from an Irish Catholic family kinship, and having been taken as a toddler to a 1960 campaign stop at an airport in the South, and being just old enough to watch the post-assassination and funeral coverage on a black-and-white TV—though these would be reasons enough. We repeatedly bring President Kennedy to our readers, or vice versa, because of what he stood for, what he accomplished, and what he symbolizes.

What Does ‘John F. Kennedy’ Mean?

It may be that, despite the limitations of what he was able to accomplish during his too-brief presidency, because of the ideals he represents, because of the hope and activism he still inspires, President Kennedy is more influential postmortem than during his lifetime. And it’s possible that the murky, still nebulous circumstances of his death (by whom, really, and why?) add to the mystique of the Dead King, the Slain Prince, and all that might have been possible, and might still be possible, if we summon his spirit. He dwells now on the mythological level, in the realm of ideas and legend. (This may explain the success of Jacqueline Kennedy’s posthumous establishing of a “Camelot” myth. At least in the public mind, there was no Camelot connection with the Kennedy White House before Nov. 22, 1963: Mrs. Kennedy’s myth-making began with an interview with Theodore H. White, author of The Making of the President 1960, a week after the assassination.)

kennedy-for-president-buttonjpgNow, on the fiftieth anniversary of the assassination in Dallas (November 22, 1963, was also a Friday), many other, more learned voices are commenting on the accomplishments and significance of President Kennedy’s “Thousand Days” in office—what he did and what he failed to do. We only wish to honor his long-standing commitment to peace; his refusal to be cowed or bullied by the military chiefs or the CIA during the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 (especially after he was burned by the CIA’s brilliant idea for an invasion of Cuba at the Bay of Pigs in 1961); his reluctance to escalate U.S. involvement in Vietnam and his intention to withdraw troops; his establishment of the Peace Corps, etc.

He supported, though cautiously at first, civil rights and desegregation of public facilities, especially in the South. He had a plan for expansion of medical coverage for the poor and elderly that became what we know as Medicaid and Medicare, and he supported strengthening voting rights. Much of his desired or proposed legislation was left to his able successor, President Lyndon B. Johnson, to push through Congress—thus the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the establishment of Medicare and Medicaid in 1965 through expansion of Social Security.

Because of the historical circumstances of his time, the national priorities, and his own proclivities, Kennedy was more focused on foreign affairs than on domestic policy (the Soviet Union’s building of a wall through Berlin, supporting Fidel Castro in Cuba, and beginning to build ballistic missile silos in Cuba, etc.). But he also called the nation to put a man on the moon by the end of the decade (this too had national security components), and his vision was realized by the successful mission of Apollo 11 in 1969.

About the Assassination, and the “Conspiracy” Controversy

And, of course, on this fiftieth anniversary, many media pundits and  establishment historians are busy pouring concrete over the hardened conventional wisdom about the lone gunman, the “case closed,” the truths proved by the Warren Commission Report, etc. This is not the occasion—and perhaps not the place—to expound our views on the assassination, but we have read enough books and articles, seen enough documentaries, and attended enough panel discussions to be thoroughly convinced that the president was shot at by multiple shooters, and we doubt that Lee Harvey Oswald was one of them. (As for the plausibility of a “conspiracy theory,” remember that the attacks of 9/11, too, resulted from a conspiracy.) The most convincing explanation we have found of why Kennedy was killed is in the sober and methodical JFK and the Unspeakable by James W. Douglass, excerpted below.

405px-John_F_Kennedy_Official_Portrait

About the presidency of John F. Kennedy, among many other excellent sources, we recommend:

Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr., A Thousand Days: John F. Kennedy in the White House (1965), by the former special assistant to the president

Theodore C. Sorenson, Kennedy (1965), by the former special counsel to the president

Robert Dallek, An Unfinished Life: John F. Kennedy, 1917–1963

Robert Dallek and Terry Golway, Let Every Nation Know: John F. Kennedy in His Own Words (2006), book and CD. “Perhaps the best of all the books on JFK.” —Senator Edward M. Kennedy

For more about the assassination:

James W. Douglass, JFK and the Unspeakable: Why He Died and Why It Matters (2008)

Jim Garrison, On the Trail of the Assassins: My Investigation and Prosecution of the Murder of President Kennedy (1988), by the former district attorney of New Orleans who brought the only case relating to the assassination to trial (1967)

Robert J. Groden, The Killing of a President: The Complete Photographic Record of the JFK Assassination, the Conspiracy, and the Cover-Up (1993). Groden served as a photographic consultant for the House Select Committee on Assassinations.

Mark Lane, Rush to Judgment (1966, 1992)

Films:

Thirteen Days (2000, on the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962), directed by Roger Donaldson

JFK, directed by Oliver Stone (1991)

The Men Who Killed Kennedy (1988), a comprehensive, multi-part British production, refreshingly independent of biases of mainstream U.S. media

Other sources about John F. Kennedy:

John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum

Warren Commission Report (digitized)

And more here . . .

Unspeakable1-199x3001JFK and the Unspeakable

“John Kennedy’s story is our story, although a titanic effort has been made to keep it from us. That story, like the struggle it embodies, is as current today as it was in 1963. The theology of redemptive violence still reigns. The Cold War has been followed by its twin, the War on Terror. We are engaged in another apocalyptic struggle against an enemy seen as absolute evil. Terrorism has replaced Communism as the enemy. We are told we can be safe only through the threat of escalating violence. Once again, anything goes in a fight against evil: preemptive attacks, torture, undermining governments, assassinations, whatever it takes to gain the end of victory over an enemy portrayed as irredeemably evil. Yet the redemptive means John Kennedy turned to, in a similar struggle, was dialogue with the enemy. When the enemy is seen as human, everything changes.”

—James W. Douglass, from the Preface to JFK and the Unspeakable: Why He Died and Why It Matters

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For a generous sampling of President Kennedy’s speeches, we recommend the book + CD Let Every Nation Know: John F. Kennedy in His Own Words by Robert Dallek and Terry Golway (2006). Each of 34 speeches is introduced, but transcripts are not provided. For transcripts, see the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library & Museum, under the tab “JFK.”

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Related Topics at Levees Not War:

We Cannot Fail to Try

So Let Us Persevere . . .

Marching on Washington for Economic and Social Justice

In Honor of Medgar Evers and Res Publica

Tom Hayden, SDS and SNCC Alums: Happy 50th, Port Huron Statement!

How the World Has—and Has Not—Changed in 50 Years

Nagasaki, Not Forgotten

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[ This post also appears at DailyKos ]

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Photograph of John F. Kennedy, 1952, by Philippe Halsman; official White House portrait of John F. Kennedy by Aaron Shikler (1970). Photograph on book cover by Jacques Lowe, Coos Bay, Oregon, 1959.

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GOP Is Not to Be Trusted with Adult Responsibilities

10/17/13

5938796728_63d4816b74Two-Week Tantrum Epitomizes GOP’s Recovery-Strangling Refusal to Share in Work of Governing

And so, after 16 days, after a $24 billion loss to the economy, and just hours before the United States was about to pass through its federal debt limit, with potentially catastrophic global consequences, the Senate (81–18) and House (285–144) have approved a budget deal that could have been voted on weeks ago—months ago, really. The bill will keep the federal government operating through Jan. 15, 2014, and extends the debt ceiling only until Feb. 7. None of the GOP’s demands were met.

In effect, 162 of 278 Republican members of Congress—that’s 58 percent—voted for the United States to default on its debt for the first time in the nation’s history.

If You Vote Republican, Don’t Expect Functional Government

GOP representatives did, however, sing all three verses of “Amazing Grace” in a caucus meeting on Tuesday before voting, again, not to reopen the government.

We have observed often before that Republicans nowadays do not seek office in order to govern, as Democrats and independents understand the term, but rather to hold power—power to dismantle government. Republicans in the generations of Dwight Eisenhower and Richard Nixon had different governing philosophies from their Democratic brethren, but at least they all agreed that the point of holding public office was to serve what they regarded as the public good (which, for both parties, usually included portions of private and corporate good, too). President Eisenhower, for example, pushed Congress relentlessly to pass the Federal Aid Highway Act of 1956 that authorized what is today a 47,000-mile system of interstate highways throughout the United States, widely regarded as the single greatest public works project in the nation’s history. President Nixon, though he is remembered for darker accomplishments, oversaw the establishment of the Environmental Protection Agency and the Occupation Safety and Health Administration, and his progressive legislation included the earned income tax credit, Equal Employment Opportunity Act, and the Endangered Species Act.

Today’s Republican party, such as it is, is motivated by no such constructive purpose. Having purged moderates and what the true believers call RINOs (Republicans in Name Only) from their ranks, and now living in fear of primary challenges from fervent, purer-than-thou Tea Party radicals, surviving GOP officeholders seem able only to obstruct and stall the normal operations of government on the federal level—while being paid $177,000 per year. At the state level, however, the GOP has shown great energy and ingenuity in rolling back hard-won voting rights, women’s access to reproductive choice and birth control, cutting further the taxes of the rich and striking down taxation and regulation of industry, and helping the spread of guns in bars, restaurants, schools, playgrounds, churches, etc.

9880045165_92902a4cd9Senate Republicans have used the filibuster against President Obama’s proposed legislation and nominees with a frequency never seen before in American history. Robert Draper, author of Do Not Ask What Good We Do: Inside the U.S. House of Representatives (2012), has written about a once-secret meeting the night of Obama’s inauguration in January 2009 in which Republican leaders gathered to plot an all-out obstruction of all of the new president’s initiatives. This while the nation and the world were plunging down an economic abyss brought on largely by Republican laissez-faire economic policies and “fiscal stewardship” of tax-cutting and massive privatization. (If the GOP had had its way, the Social Security system would have been privatized . . . before the 2008 financial meltdown.)

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Shutdown, with No Exit Strategy, Shows GOP’s Governing Style

And so, just as the Republicans were helping drown the U.S. economic recovery in every way imaginable, giving not a single vote to the new president’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (the stimulus) of 2009, and blocking from even coming to the floor for a vote the American Jobs Act that Obama first proposed in a speech to a joint session of Congress two years ago, so their most recent, 16-day, shutdown of the federal government contained in concentrated form all the destructiveness of their regressive, anti-democratic, and truly job-killing (in)activity of the past several years.

We have also written at times about Democrats’ weaknesses (there are many), but if Americans want functional government—from passage of legislation that benefits the public, and roads and bridges and levees in good repair, to food and drug inspections and air traffic safety, not to mention the social safety nets of Social Security and Medicare and unemployment insurance—then remember that voting for one party results in a fairly functional government, imperfect, but moving toward broader coverage of people’s rights and benefits. The other party—well, the past two weeks have shown that even when they manage to hijack a plane, they really do not know how to fly or bring it in for a landing, and, in any case, they would have already cut funding for paying the flight training school instructors, air traffic controllers, and turned out the lights on the pot-holed runway.

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What Are the Democrats Saying?

President Obama after the Shutdown’s End:

The key now is a budget that cuts out the things that we don’t need, closes corporate tax loopholes that don’t help create jobs, and frees up resources for the things that do help us grow—like education and infrastructure and research. . . . 

Let’s work together to make government work better, instead of treating it like an enemy or purposely making it work worse. That’s not what the founders of this nation envisioned when they gave us the gift of self-government. You don’t like a particular policy or a particular president, then argue for your position. Go out there and win an election. Push to change it. But don’t break it. Don’t break what our predecessors spent over two centuries building. That’s not being faithful to what this country is about.

Remarks by the President on the Reopening of the Government, Oct. 17, 2013

Senator Elizabeth Warren:

I am NOT celebrating tonight. . . . the reason we were in this mess in the first place is that a reckless faction in Congress took the government and the economy hostage for no good purpose and to no productive end. According to the S&P index . . . $24 billion has been flushed down the drain for a completely unnecessary political stunt.

$24 billion dollars. How many children could have been back in Head Start classes? How many seniors could have had a hot lunch through Meals on Wheels? How many scientists could have gotten their research funded? How many bridges could have been repaired and trains upgraded?

The Republicans keep saying, “Leave the sequester in place and cut all those budgets.” They keep trying to cut funding for the things that would help us build a future. But they are ready to flush away $24 billion on a political stunt.  

Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), e-mail to supporters, Oct. 16, 2013

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gop_demands1

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Top two illustrations by Chamomile Tea Party. ‘Republican Demands’ chart by The Washington Post’s Wonkblog.

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Positively Giddy

10/5/13

The Only Thing They Have to Fear Is . . . Government Itself

Pre-Existing Condition

“We’re very excited. It’s exactly what we wanted, and we got it.” —Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN)

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“The mood in the Capitol on Saturday, at least among Republicans, was downright giddy. When Republican leaders presented their plan in a closed-door meeting on Saturday, cheers and chants of “Vote, vote, vote!” went up. As members left the meeting, many wore beaming grins.” —NYT 9/28/13

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“[Economists] make all sorts of predictions. . . . Many times they’re wrong, so I don’t think we should run government based on economists’ predictions. —Rep. John Fleming (R-LA)

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“There is no such thing as a debt ceiling in this country. I would dispel the rumor that is going around that you hear on every newscast that if we don’t raise the debt ceiling we will default on our debt. We won’t.” —Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) on CBS This Morning, 10/8/13

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They’ve Been Planning a Shutdown for Years

Isn’t it delightful that they are so pleased with themselves? The 80-odd members of Congress known as the Tea Party caucus who insisted on this government shutdown and repeatedly refused to negotiate a budget with the Senate—these distinguished members of Congress continue to be paid from their $174,000-per-year salary. (Congressional salaries have come to $2.6 million as of Oct. 10; see chart below.) Meanwhile, 800,000 “nonessential” federal workers from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the National Hurricane Center, the Centers for Disease Control, inspectors at the Food and Drug Administration, Department of Agriculture, and the Consumer Product Safety Commission; staff at NASA, EPA, FEMA, and the National Park Service, and other federal agencies and departments are made to stay home with no pay, or to work with no pay. (See “Five Ways the Government Shutdown Is Threatening Our Health and Safety.”)

These distinguished members of Congress who style themselves “fiscal conservatives” and rail against federal debt, who recently voted to cut $4 billion per year from programs that feed the needy, are costing the nation $1.6 billion every week while the government is shut down. That’s $40 million per hour. The shutdown is now in its second week, and, other than insisting on getting their way, and issuing new demands daily, the House Republicans have no plan to restart the U.S. government.

US deficit 2013[ Republicans speak constantly of “this growing federal deficit,” but ignore the fact that in the Obama years, the deficit has been steadily shrinking, and ignore the fact that in 2001 George W. Bush inherited a budget surplus from Bill Clinton, and (aided by their votes) left Barack Obama with a $1.3 trillion budget deficit. The bar graph here—click for a closer look—shows the years 2008–2013 (projected). See the bars getting smaller? ]

From Think Progress and The Washington Post’s Wonkblog, here are  just a few of the immediate consequences of the government shutdown:

Food and Nutrition: Food stamps will still be available, but the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) nutrition program, a service meant to help new and expecting mothers and their young children get nutritious foods, will not. Roughly 9 million Americans depend on WIC.

Housing: The nation’s 3,300 public housing authorities will stop receiving payments from the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Disaster Relief: In preparation for a potential shutdown, the Utah National Guard is holding off on sending a team to help rebuild areas in Colorado devastated by massive floods last week.

Health Care: The National Institutes of Health will stop accepting new patients and delay or stop clinical trials.

Financial Services: The Small Business Administration will stop making loans, federal home loan guarantees will likely go on hold, and students applying for financial aid could also see delays and backlogs in applications.

Think Progress notes, “All this will come at a price. The last two shutdowns during the Clinton era—one lasted six days in 1995 and another stretched 21 days at the end of 1995 and beginning of 1996—cost the country 0.5 percentage points of gross domestic product (GDP) growth and more than $2 billion (in today’s dollars) in unnecessary expenses—as government employees abandoned their jobs to prepare for the shutdown.”

For more on how the shutdown will affect day-to-day life, click here and here. The NBC News chart below was published on Oct. 10, ten days into the shutdown.

ShutdownChart

The Shutdown Is Not (Only) about “Obamacare”

“We need to make sure that you are going to be with us when we shut down the government, which we will do if we win the majority this year.” —Rep. Lynn Westmoreland (R-GA), addressing Faith & Freedom Conference, 2010

The tactic of shutting down the government, threatened or promised in 2010, as it was carried out by House Speaker Newt Gingrich in 1995, was originally intended to enforce fiscal restraint. The hardline Tea Party caucus of some 80 members pivoted to apply the threat of a shutdown as a way of repealing the Affordable Care Act, which they call, pejoratively, “ObamaCare.”

“We urge you not to bring to the House floor in the 112th Congress any legislation that provides or allows funds to implement ObamaCare . . .” —Aug. 21, 2013, letter from Reps. Michele Bachman, Jim Jordan, and about 80 other Tea Party caucus representatives to Speaker John Boehner

6th Congr.Distr-LAIt is important to understand that the Republican members driving this thing have been not only threatening but also promising to shut down the government at least since they were running for office in the 2010 midterm congressional elections. These radical congressmen—and they are not “conservatives,” as they like to call themselves, but are extremists, anarchists—are mostly white men from gerrymandered districts who are largely safe from any electoral consequences: they won’t have to pay a price for their brinksmanship and shenanigans in the next election because everyone in their district (which may look like the 6th district of Baton Rouge’s Bill Cassidy, M.D., shown at right) thinks very much the way they do. Either they do not have many poor people, people of color, immigrants, or college-educated liberals in their districts to worry about, or those minorities who do live, or try to eke out an existence, in their districts will most likely have a harder time voting, if they’re still on the list, next time around.

“Cut It or Shut It . . . We Want Less”

Before the current shutdown, Congressional Republicans have threatened seven times to take the government down, or take the economy over a cliff (remember the fiscal cliff?), just since early 2011. They have been looking for excuses to “cut it or shut it.”

As Steven Benen wrote in “A Series of Near-Death Experiences” at the Maddow Blog:

In April 2011, congressional Republicans threatened a government shutdown. In July 2011, congressional Republicans created the first debt-ceiling crisis in American history. In September 2011, congressional Republicans threatened a government shutdown. In April 2012, congressional Republicans threatened a government shutdown. In December 2012, congressional Republicans pushed the nation towards the so-called ‘fiscal cliff.’ In January 2013, congressional Republicans briefly flirted with the possibility of another debt-ceiling crisis. In March 2013, congressional Republicans threatened a government shutdown. 

And now . . .

Why John Boehner is allowing a comparatively small group of representatives in the House to control the agenda is beyond our understanding, though we can imagine he wants to keep his position as Speaker of the House. At least it was beyond comprehension before a front-page article in the Sunday, Oct. 6, New York Times, “A Federal Budget Crisis Months in the Planning,” reported that the billionaire conservative activist Koch brothers, Charles and David Koch, had put some $200 million into fighting the Obama healthcare law, funding such groups as Tea Party Patriots, FreedomWorks, Americans for Prosperity, and Heritage Action, a close relation to the Heritage Foundation. These groups ran media spots against some 100 Republican members of Congress who declined to sign on to the Tea Party letter to House Speaker John Boehner mentioned above.

Cracks Appear in Republicans’ United Front

Business, and even some conservative action groups, worried that this has gone on too long already, are beginning to back away from the hardline House Republicans. On October 9, the Koch brothers sent a letter to Congress stating that Koch Industries “has not taken a position on the legislative tactic of tying the continuing resolution [for funding the government] to defunding Obamacare.” Similarly, on the same day, Heritage Action CEO Michael Needham gave essentially the same message to reporters.

“We’re not going to be disrespected. We have to get something out of this. And I don’t know what that even is.” —Rep. Marlin Stutzman (R-IN)

photo-tea-party-shut-it-down1The Republicans have no plan to end the standoff. They have dug themselves in too deep to pull back out. They insist that the president and the Democrats must compromise. But the Senate passed a continuing resolution some six months ago, and at least four times the House Republicans refused to join in a conference to work up their own budget proposal (as happens in a functioning Congress) because that would have required some compromise. Further, the “clean” budget bill that the Senate has been trying to get the House Republicans to vote on is billions below what the White House requested. The House Republicans held off because they wanted to drive this up to the very brink—they wanted leverage to make demands for further cuts, and then, with the Tea Party caucus’s urging, for defunding and repeal of “Obamacare”—and then, if necessary, over the cliff. Now the car is falling, falling, and they don’t know how to repeal gravity, either.

What worries business leaders and Wall Street is that vocal members of congressional Republicans apparently do not believe that blowing through the debt ceiling (around November 1) is anything to worry about. Economists across the spectrum see a default on the national debt as insane and catastrophic, with global repercussions that could dwarf the financial meltdown of 2008, but even Republican senators are blithely unconcerned. On Oct. 9, the ninth day of the shutdown, Fidelity Investments sold off its U.S. Treasury bonds out of concern that the government may indeed default, and the U.S. government’s borrowing costs have risen sharply—another unnecessary addition to the national debt brought to us by the “fiscal conservatives.” (“Deadlock Worry Jolts the Market for T-Bills”)

The Huffington Post has been running a list of Republican members of Congress who say they are willing to cast an up-or-down vote on a budget without “repeal Obamacare” strings attached. These members of Congress should be encouraged (contact information here) to stand up, speak out, and implore their likeminded members to vote with Democrats to restart the government. Perhaps this has gone on long enough?

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Geography of Inhumanity Posing as Fiscal Discipline

Below are two maps, the first (by The New Yorker) showing the congressional districts of the “suicide caucus” of Tea Party Republicans who pushed for the government shutdown. Almost every district has been made into an impregnable fortress where the representative can be as extreme as he or she wants to be without worrying about having to pay an electoral price.

Note the geographical similarities with the second map (by The New York Times), which shows the areas of the United States where poor and uninsured Americans live. The two maps are essentially the same: the hardline conservatives pushing the shutdown largely represent the states whose governors and legislatures refuse to allow expansion of the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”), even though they have high populations of poor, unhealthy people.

•  “Where the Suicide Caucus Lives” (The New Yorker, 9/26/13), showing districts of Republicans who signed a letter demanding that Speaker John Boehner pass legislation to defund Obamacare

•  “Millions of Poor Are Left Uncovered by Health Law” (The New York Times, 10/2/13)

SuicideCaucusCongressDistricts_final_big-01

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Where Poor and Uninsured Americans Live

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Top illustration by Chamomile Tea Party.

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