Friday, November 22, 2013

November 22, 1963

It's not a cliché to say that if you were above the age of reason 50 years ago on this day, you remember with a preternatural clarity where you were and what you were doing the moment you got the news that John F. Kennedy was dead.

I was in my seventh grade art class at Assumption School in Westport, CT making a collage out of construction paper when Sister Superior of the Order of Notre Dame announced over the loudspeaker in her inimitable Boston accent that the president had been shot and killed.  

Here are some links:

Art Buchwald's memorial poem.

Michael Winerip of the New York Times on a reunion of Kennedy's honor guard and body bearers.

A sampler of Kennedy's speeches.

Kennedy and Obama and the March of Folly by Alexander Cockburn.


Jay - Ottawa said...

Don't skip over the link to Cockburn's article of 2009.

Zee said...

The article by Alexander Cockburn was reprinted at an opportune time, as I watch the pundits duelling over JFK's legacy and the not-so-all-important question as to whether or not he was a “conservative” or a “liberal” by today's standards.

Certainly, there are interesting parallels between JFK and Obama, but there are some striking differences, too.

For all his faults—especially his serial marital infidelities, which were disgraceful—JFK seems to me to have been much more the “genuine article” than that consummate pretender, Obama. The general concensus today appears to be that Obama pretty much lied and deceived his way into the Presidency with the help of a credulous media, as evidenced by the HUGE contempt in which he is now held by those whom I might call “real Progressives,” as distinguished from the Obamabots.

Yes, JFK was wealthy, and was groomed from an early age to assume political office. I often wonder if he joined the military and sought out combat duty merely as part of a “punch list” of things that he needed to do in preparation for a run for office. Still, he had no way of knowing that he was going to put himself at serious physical risk and go on to become a genuine “war hero,” something that certainly didn't hurt him in his first run for Congress. Before he ran for President he served three terms in the House and a full term in the Senate, rather more experience than the silver-tongued, less-than-one-full-term, Senator-cum-Imposter, Obama.

And I don't think—though I was only 13 at the time of his assassination—that Kennedy lied to the American public with the alacrity and facility that Obama has so clearly exhibited. Though certainly, like all presidents, Kennedy did lie, as with the cold-blooded murder of Ngo Dinh Diem. Still, when caught with his trousers down around his ankles, he took full responsibility, as he did for the Bay of Pigs debacle.

Obama seems to never tell the truth when a lie will do.

Again, for all his faults, IMHO, with Kennedy the American people got a serious President of and for the times, if not necessarily one of whom we would approve today, knowing now how American Imperialism has turned out. Perhaps that's why JFK, fully 50 years later, is still held in some esteem today, unlike Obama, who now seems to enjoy the contempt of some 63% of the American public.

Meanwhile, the phony battle between liberals and conservatives over JFK's legacy goes on.

I think that I'm going to tune it out.

4Runner said...

In my own personal--and more perfect--world, after JFK's killing the 2d Amendment would have been repealed. That might have spared us the ensuing five decades of looney male loners exorcising their demons by gunfire aimed at assorted other human targets such as kindergartners.

"Well-regulated" militias--what a sad, sick joke!

James F Traynor said...

Of course JFK was conservative. He was Irish Catholic, one of 'ours', as my mother would and did say. 'He's rich but he can't hide it', she said, or something very close to it . It was a long time go - before he held elective office. She was a maid at the Biltmore (of 'under the clock at' fame). She was right. She had good 'antennae', honed in the 'troubles'.

He inherited the Bay of Pigs from Eisenhower, but he didn't follow through, as I think Eisenhower would have, following the opinions of the Chiefs of Staff at the time. Though I may be wrong there; Eisenhower was becoming disenchanted with the Pentagon. But Ike definitely started the ball game.

Ditto on the Cuban Missile Crisis. History will give him good marks for that - if there is a history.

James F Traynor said...

Oh, 4Runner, you're going to hear from Zee on that. Rant alarm! Rant alarm!

Zee said...

@James (and @4Runner)--

Sorry to disappoint, but there will be no “rant” this time. Karen kindly gave me the opportunity some months ago to express my observation that a number of respected, liberal Constitutional scholars—with impeccable academic credentials—have concluded that the “right to keep and bear arms” is an individual right, independent of any enrollment in a [“well-regulated”] militia and, unless some new and unexpected, restrictive argument against the Second Amendment arises, that's all I have to say about that.

If you've read my essay, 4Runner, you are certainly welcome to disagree with it. Still, I would hope that you would bring a few Constitutional scholars of equal repute to bolster your case. I was pretty comfortable with having Alan Dershowitz, Laurence Tribe, Akhil Reed Amar, Jonathan Turley and Leonard Levy (more or less) “in my corner.”

Or, of course, you are welcome to work toward the repeal of the Second Amendment as Alan Dershowitz has advocated, which is the only avenue that he sees for its overturn. That's been the Holy Grail for gun control advocates since 1963, with absolutely no success.

Oh. And by the way, JFK happily accepted a Life Membership from the National Rifle Association, expressing his view that the NRA “fills an important role in our national defense effort.”

Once upon a time, it helped if soldiers could shoot straight, which is what the NRA perceived its original mission to be.

Also—and something of which I was hitherto unaware—the Wikipedia article names a couple of surprising members of the NRA: Whoopi Goldberg and James Earl Jones.

I found that interesting.

James F Traynor said...

No rant? Hmmm. And what, pray tell, was that? I know. A min-rant. It's all right Zee, we love you anyway.

4Runner said...

Zee, you may have the foremost liberal scholars on your side of a legal fine point, but let's say a repeal of the 2d Amendment--which is what I advocate-- might have prevented the massacre @ Sandy Hook Elementary School on 12/14/12. Would you settle for that?

Zee said...


In a single word, “No.”

I see a benefit to the Second Amendment because it protects my individual right to own firearms for self-defense, something that I see as a “natural right,” anyway. So I'm not prepared to easily surrender that right if it could save just one other life, or even the 8,775 firearms-caused homicides in 2010.

Per my essay, this does not mean that reasonable controls may not be placed on individual gun ownership, though we could probably argue forever as to what constitute "reasonable controls."

Fred Drumlevitch said...


As you undoubtedly know from my past comments at Sardonicky, I too support the Second Amendment (and Zee's conclusion vis-à-vis the tradeoff you proposed), but, in contrast to Zee's primary concern with self-defense, my support for the Second Amendment largely derives from the broader considerations of deterrence against tyranny. When in October I cross-posted at my blog Zee's Second Amendment essay, I prefaced it with an 800-word introduction focused on that consideration. Zee's piece and my introduction are still easily reachable via my blog link on Karen's sidebar, or access it via this:

You suggested the repeal of the Second Amendment as a worthwhile tradeoff for avoiding the Sandy Hook massacre. I will raise a different and much larger tradeoff that you have ignored: What if the existence of a widely-armed populace prevents the rise of tyranny?

One could argue at length how effective an armed populace would be against the vast power available to a modern government. I suggest that it might be more effective than you might think. The U.S. military's less-than-sterling performances in Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan have demonstrated that poorly-equipped insurgencies can be surprisingly effective.

But that's not the issue, because my primary point deals not with the overthrow of tyranny, but rather, its prevention. I believe that a widely-armed populace serves, de-facto, as a significant deterrent to the establishment of tyranny. I believe that was the primary original motivation for the Second Amendment, and I assert that such motivation remains valid today. Perhaps even more valid these days, given the deliberate widespread violation by government of the Fourth Amendment, and the marginalization of the First Amendment via governmental veal-penning of peaceful public protest into barely-visible locations and a consolidated corporate mass media that largely ignores them.

That the Second Amendment provides deterrence, not a guarantee, against tyranny doesn't negate its value. Proper calculation of the value of an uncertain outcome requires consideration of both the probability of each possible occurrence and each impact. Those two terms get multiplied together (and then summed over all different outcomes) to produce what in probability is referred to as the "Expected Value". (All too often, both the probability and the impact of an event are underestimated; such was the case with respect to the tidal wave that struck the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear reactors).

It is reasonably well-established that just the three major tyrannies alone of the twentieth century caused, directly or indirectly, well over 100 million deaths. (See for a sobering compilation). A modern tyranny establishing itself in the world's foremost military power (that's us), that has thousands of nuclear weapons and the means to deliver them worldwide, could kill hundreds of millions or even several billion people. A worst-case scenario could be the elimination of all human life. Even a lesser impact could be the end of contemporary civilization (such as it is). Measured against all that, I assert that if the widespread distribution of private firearms in the U.S. enabled by the Second Amendment reduces by even one percent the chance of such an outcome, it represents an "expected value" of millions, perhaps tens of millions, of lives saved.

And that is in addition to the individual right to self-defense argued by Zee.

Zee said...


I should have referenced your Introduction to my essay on your blog in my second "mini-rant," as I agree with it completely.

Thanks for rectifying my omission.

Pearl said...

In all the discussion about the need (or not) for more stringent gun
control, we forget certain facts about the Kennedys. They were risk takers and JFK's assassination could have been avoided had he listened to advice and chosen a safer vehicle to tour Dallas in. He knew he had many enemies in and out of government and that Dallas (or Texas) was not the safest place to be in for controversial figureheads. Then there was Ted Kennedy, who when drunk, drove his car with his assistant in it off a bridge and caused her
death. It was particularly sad as he was in mourning for his late brother
and ruined his political future.
John F, the president's son, was killed along with his wife and
sister-in-law when he took risks in flying a plane he was not well trained to fly in questionable weather despite warnings by others. One could also wonder why Robert ran for president knowing the enemies he had who would try
to prevent him from achieving that aim.

Although this does not soften the need for stricter gun control laws, it does highlight that JFK's assassination was highly preventable, especially since there is a fairly strong belief that one of the agents behind their car, trying to protect them raised his rifle and then fell back with the gun firing and hitting Kennedy in the head.Ted Kennedy redeemed the family name with his work in the Senate which was commendable, especially on health care which he had hoped Obama would fight for.
But he lived with the family curse which was partially self inflicted.

Zee said...


Don't overlook Joseph “Joe” Kennedy, Jr., JFK's older brother, as a tragic risk-taker.

“During World War II [Joseph “Joe” Kennedy, Jr.] left before his final year of law school to begin officer training and flight training in the U.S. Navy. He earned his wings as a Naval Aviator in May 1942 and was sent to Britain in September 1943. He piloted land-based PB4Y Liberator patrol bombers on anti-submarine details during two tours of duty in the winter of 1943–1944. Kennedy had completed 25 combat missions and was eligible to return home. He instead volunteered for an Operation Aphrodite mission...”

“Operation Aphrodite made use of unmanned, explosive-laden Army Air Forces Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress and Navy PB4Y-1 Liberator bombers, that were deliberately crashed into their targets under radio control. These aircraft could not take off safely on their own, so a crew of two would take off and fly to 2,000 feet (610 m) before activating the remote control system, arming the detonators and parachuting from the aircraft...”,_Jr.

According to the foregoing Wikipedia article, Kennedy was chosen for the first U.S. Navy “Aphrodite” mission, and was killed when the explosive with which his PB4Y-1 Liberator bomber was laden detonated prematurely.

As I mentioned above, I have often wondered if JFK volunteered for combat duty in order to further “validate” himself as a candidate for Federal office.

One might wonder the same about his older brother. Yet “Joe Jr.” had more than distinguished himself as a combat veteran by piloting a full 25 bombing missions, which qualified him for an honorable trip home.

So why did he volunteer for “Operation Aphrodite?” Was it a sense of duty? Was it a “feeling” that he hadn't yet done enough to earn the needed votes that he would be seeking when he ran for public office? Or was it just the tragic Kennedy curse that the Fates would assure that their reach would always exceed their grasp?

Jay - Ottawa said...


What makes us so sure the majority of gun owners will point their weapons in the right direction after American elites drop the soft edge of the current authoritarian drift and direct the army and police and other security agencies to openly crush the disgruntled population?

Given the current political views of most gun owners –– very much unlike the views expressed by Fred and Zee –– I suspect most will, after the balloon goes up, slip easily into the mode of (A) paramilitary collaborators with security forces or (B) survivalist brigands in the hills swooping down on nearby villages or displaced people roaming back and forth in search of relief. To trust that the mass of gun owners is already intimidating to the Pentagon and the militarized police is highly dubious.

Seriously now, do gun owners who are educated, aware and civic-minded form the core or the mass of the NRA, or right-minded and progressive Second Amendment proponents? Is it just a left-wing myth that gun owners are in the majority ignorant, authoritarian, libertarian, fundamentalist, individualistic and/or very successfully propagandized by neocons and other fascist strains of the elite?

The thousands of democratic and civic-minded people with guns (like Fred and Zee) are, I suspect, in the minority; and, if ever the balloon should go up in America, these fine gun owners will be vastly outnumbered by the millions who would slip easily into the shoes of A or B, above.

Protest now is much more easy than it would ever be after the elites come to the point when they’re sure of success if they take the gloves off. But what is happening now, while there’s still time to roll back the advance of tyranny? Lots of push back? No. Are enough people aware of the drift into tyranny? No.

The security forces now under the thumb of elites have little reason to hold back because of guns in the hands of millions. Across the land, I see more confusion than protest, more acceptance than pot banging, more passivity than resistance, more division than solidarity. We who come to Sardonicky, read Hedges, turn regularly to Moyers and Counterpunch and the like are roughly what percentage of the population? More than 10%?

Henry A. Giroux puts the question and hints at the odds this way:

“Why are millions not protesting in the streets over these barbaric policies that deprive them of life, liberty, justice, equality, and dignity?”

Fred, convince me that most gun owners think as you do and will actively stand against tyranny with their guns, if necessary, or are even serving as a deterrence today against the march of tyranny. Within the circle of Second Amendment proponents, you and your arguments are scarcely representative of the whole.

Jay - Ottawa said...

Fred, more than the rest of us and to his credit, is onto the right thing, although I'm not so sure about the means, guns, getting the results we want. Usually, guns waste more people than they save. But, one way or another, it's going to require unyielding resistance to turn things around. On that we are in full agreement.

As Howard Zinn once wrote, civil obedience is the problem, not civil disobedience. Here's Matt Damon reading that passage by Zinn against continued civil obedience.

James F Traynor said...

God, I've never heard so much bullshit in all my life. We really do suffer from testosterone poisoning or whatever else it is that makes us so goddamn nuts.

Jay - Ottawa said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jay - Ottawa said...


One of our long-time commenters passed this on to me. You too may find it worth the 45 minutes it takes to hear out Henry Giroux on Moyers.

At around 21 minutes Giroux talks about the bane of the elite's militarization of governance as a solution for society. I think his cautionary note also applies to good guys who say we can scare off the army or shoot our way out of tyranny if only enough of us resolve to arm ourselves with that intent.

James F Traynor said...

Jay, yeah, it was worth it.

Fred Drumlevitch said...

Part 1:

@Jay - Ottawa:

You've raised some good and important (and somewhat depressing) points, many of which I have considered previously. Certainly, there are real elements of danger as far as an armed populace is concerned. I agree that the paramilitary and brigandist scenarios you raised are both possible (and not mutually-exclusive) outcomes. Afghanistan and many other failed nations have operated that way for a very long time. The answers aren't clear cut, and what may work at one time or circumstance may not work at another.

And as you said, no doubt many firearms owners are ignorant, authoritarian, even fascistic in outlook. But as we've discussed previously, people are varied, complex, and hold a wide range of opinions on different subjects, and, at the very least, it's bad strategy for progressives to stereotype an entire group as opponents when some could potentially be your allies, at least for awhile. (Even FDR understood the need to ally with Stalin during part of WWII! Compare that to the ineffectiveness of the fractured rebel groups in Syria).

I think one might find more fundamental common ground than previously believed on many issues afflicting this nation, if one minimizes the stereotypes and engages one's opponents — while still determinedly fighting for progressive positions. I do believe that your description of many people as having been successfully propagandized to a neocon or even fascistic outlook is an accurate characterization. As I've said at other times, I think that transformation is less a sign of innate popular resonance with right-wing ideology than it is of the money/corporate co-optation of Democrats and the failure of progressives to adequately make their case, in both words and action. Deep down, I think that most people across much of the political spectrum want the same sort of things for themselves and their families. But at the same time, when push comes to shove, how many people will "do the right thing"? And if they do, will it be in an sufficiently-timely manner? (I think it was Churchill who said that Americans can be counted on to do the right thing — after they've tried everything else). Public opinion now in the current internet era is far more changeable than it once was, but plutocratic propaganda has also grown far more sophisticated. How does it all balance out? Edward Snowden was initially considered a traitor by many who fairly quickly changed their minds to view him as a courageous, beneficial whistleblower. On the other hand, there will always be some eager to be prison or concentration camp guards.

Our important creations, be they large physical structures such as bridges or skyscrapers, or more abstract ones such as corporations or institutions of governance, should be well-crafted, built with an economy of materials yet fully capable of their intended purposes and immune to serious failure. A suspension bridge shouldn't fall if several of its supporting cables break. A tall building shouldn't progressively collapse if a fire rages on several floors. A corporation shouldn't be an economic tower of cards. And most important of all, democratic institutions shouldn't be hijack-able to the causes of injustice or militarism or oppression.

One can achieve immunity to serious failure in one of two ways: 1) perfection of design and construction — an ambitious and seldom-achievable goal — or 2) redundancy, and checks-and-balances. It's that second, more common and more practical methodology that has failed, or been deliberately subverted.

Fred Drumlevitch said...

Part 2:

The U.S. Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and subsequent Amendments created a government with strong checks and balances. Far from perfect for many people, both U.S. citizens and foreigners — as Howard Zinn and others have ably pointed out — nevertheless, over the course of nearly two centuries, until recent decades, U.S. government did seem to be improving. Perhaps most important for the long term, we did avoid the establishment of outright tyranny domestically. Post 9/11, that no longer seems assured. And that seems intimately connected to the destruction of fundamental checks and balances.

Consider war-making by the United States. Constitutionally (Article I, Section 8, Clause 11 of the United States Constitution), it supposedly requires the consent of Congress, the formal deliberations of which should function as a check to any impetuousness of the executive. Instead, we no longer see formal declarations of war, just overly-broad and open-ended resolutions authorizing Executive use of force. Plus, the Pentagon strategy of widely distributing bases and weapons programs among so many different districts produces a widespread economic bias in favor of military spending and concomitant militarism.

And in recent years we're seeing a similar modus operandi with regard to spending for "Homeland Security" weaponry and other domestic militaristic outfitting, with the overwhelming majority of Congressmen trying to grab a share for their own districts.

The Fourth Amendment? In the garbage can, by way of secret presidential directives, ill-conceived legislation, and Star-Chamber-style judicial actions.

The First Amendment? Mostly the same fate, via local ordinances that overly restrict peaceful protest, coupled with militaristic "law enforcement", and mass-media corporate consolidation, which all work together to marginalize dissent.

So perhaps you can understand why I might say, as I did in my introduction to my cross-posting of Zee's Second Amendment essay, that while people of a rational, moral, progressive bent certainly desire an end to gun violence, and may fervently wish that firearms had no presence in the civil affairs of man — we must consider that given current conditions and the deliberate violation by government of our other supposedly-guaranteed liberties, the widespread distribution of private firearms enabled by the Second Amendment may well be the most important still-operational deterrent to the transformation of our nation into a fully totalitarian one.

I grant that the Second Amendment is an inadequate deterrent against determined fascism, and might also fail via unintended consequences. It's not my first choice for the preservation of liberty, but it may be the best that we've got left. And as I've argued before on this forum, it might effect liberation by an indirect route, because we're not yet up against hard-core fascism. Mostly, we're dealing with what Sheldon Wolin called "inverted totalitarianism". The totalitarianism with a velvet glove. The plutocracy currently doesn't need massive brutal repression — not when propaganda and entertainment work so well, giving them probably at least 80% of what they would get under a traditional totalitarian regime, and at lower cost. That current relatively-high level of reward and low costs, balanced against a widely-armed populace, means that the risk/reward equation for moving against the people just doesn't yet pay off for the plutocrats. Of course, one can't rule out them getting either greedy or scared, and therefore unleashing vast naked brutal force. But I don't think that will happen in the near future. That gives the American people time to become enlightened, organize, determinedly demand, and hopefully nonviolently bring about genuinely-liberating transformative action.

Fred Drumlevitch said...

@Jay - Ottawa:

Thanks for the link to the video clip of Matt Damon reading Howard Zinn, and the Henry Giroux Counterpunch article. I watched/read both.

Watching the Giroux appearance on Moyers will have to wait until tomorrow.

Zee said...


On whose “side” will America's gun owners “come down” when “the balloon goes up?”

First, let me say that I think that you're asking a bit much of Fred—or me, or any other gun owner—when you ask us to offer you solid reassurances that “most” of America's 70-80 million firearms owners will stand with you against tyranny “when the balloon goes up.” Speaking for myself, I'm confident that if one looks hard enough amongst those millions of gun owners, one will find examples of every stereotype you have named, but also many who will stand with you—and me—when the time comes. As to where the majority will fall, well, who knows? I have my prejudices, which I will discuss below, but maybe—as Fred and I have suggested—it will be enough for the PTB not to know the answer to that question, either. (BTW, as I understand it, Fred does not “pack,” and may not even own a gun at all.)

So why do I believe that, in general, gun owners will resist a truly tyrannical government? Well, partly, it's because we are attached to our guns and the rights and responsibilities that go with them, and I believe that the first people a tyrannical government will come after will be us and our guns. Just look at the efforts at gun confiscation during Katrina. Some may submit passively, but because of our individualism and libertarianism—which I don't see as pejoratives, BTW—eventually, some of us will shoot back.

Based on my direct knowledge of my own circle of shooting friends, I find it laughable for you to suggest that most of us will retreat to caves in the hills and become “survivalist brigands in the hills swooping down on nearby villages or displaced people roaming back and forth in search of relief,” or “paramilitary collaborators with security forces.” While we do indeed differ from you politically—the reasons for which I explain below—we are your friends and neighbors, after all.

Or, at least we used to be prior to about 1968, at which time the Left decided to launch a relentless war on our constitutional rights, determined to destroy us, ban and/or seize our property, and, as a means to those ends, demonizing us all as

“ ignorant, authoritarian, libertarian, fundamentalist, individualistic and/or very successfully propagandized by neocons and other fascist strains of the elite[.]” (Your words, though I find some of them puzzlingly contradictory.)

We have also been characterized as having a sickness in our soul ( i.e., mentally ill), having replaced God with a worship of guns, and even being “terrorists with blood on our hands.”

How incredibly insulting!

The Left created a fictitious stereotype for sociopolitical purposes that has since become a self-fulfilling reality as a necessary means to gun-owners' survival. Democrats not only rejected us but reviled us, and the Republicans were more than happy to take us in. Thomas Frank laid it all out in What's The Matter With Kansas? which the Left seems consciously determined not to understand.

And now you want to use “Are they with us or ag'in us?” as a criterion that will decide whether the Second Amendment still has a broad social benefit?

Guess we'll just have to see how this plays out, because America's gun owners are sufficiently alienated from the social mainstream—with good reason, as I see it—that most of them won't be entertaining any questions about their loyalties from the Left any time soon.