Friday, November 22, 2013

Nobody Asked Me, But...

My dad stepping on my favorite doll (my sister’s, of course.) A pigeon landing on my head (there are photographs.) Crying when my mom dropped me off at school in 1962.

These are the earliest snippets I have of childhood memories. And then this day, November 22, fifty years ago happened. And I have my first extensive and continuous memory.

The assassination of Kennedy has been compared, rightly, to 9-11: it was a moment, frozen in time, suspended in space, that we will reflect on for the rest of our lives.

In some ways, the Trade Center and Pentagon attacks had a deeper meaning than the assassination. Innocent Americans going about their daily routines, caught up in a tragedy of near-astounding proportions, that could have been you or me. The killing of a President, tho, there can only be one at a time.

And in many ways, the reverberations of the JFK killing ran deeper in the soul of the nation than 9-11 ever could.

We were barely 15 years removed from achieving the pinnacle of world acclaim, helping to defeat the Axis powers in World War II, ramping up a military economy at home that saved millions, maybe tens of millions, from extreme poverty and degradation. The roots of the civil rights movement were only just taking hold across the nation. We began to recognize that there were problems in the nation that we had to unite to address, standing behind a government who wanted only to do good.

At the head of that government stood a young, vibrant, charismatic man. John Kennedy was the very embodiment of America of the early Sixties: dynamic, without limits, a fairy tale prince for a fairy tale land. They called it “Camelot,” and it was an apt description, for the events that transpired this day fifty years ago amounted to the defeat of Arthur by Mordred and his betrayal by Guinevere and Lancelot. It washed the innocence of the Quest right from the eyes of Americans: the belief in the infallibility of American democracy, of American freedom, and of American invincibility.

In those three shots by a disaffected American that tore the very mettle of the intellect of the American government, we were thrust into the present, into modern day America. We became this raging, seething monster, lashing out at even the slightest insult.

We had, not to put too fine a point on it, a national case of PTSD.

You can trace the JFK assassination through so many threads of recent history. The civil rights movement became the centerpiece of the subsequent Johnson administration, as did the “War on Poverty” (even in doing good, we raged and made war.) And both of those echo this day in the dying embers of the raging backlash of conservatives against “the takers” and “those people.”

You can even trace the Presidency of Barack Obama to that moment when Kennedy’s brain was splattered across the pavement in Dealey Plaza. The potential of a Hillary Clinton or Elizabeth Warren presidency rests in that history. Would these have happened earlier or later had Oswald missed? Who knows? We can only know what has happened.

You can trace it militarily, too. We amped up the Cold War via the Vietnam conflict, creating what Dwight Eisenhower termed “the military-industrial complex,” to prove to the Soviets that we were not weak, despite the flaw of the killing. To this day, we send our youth to die in remote lands fighting for beliefs and ideals stretched to a gossamer-thin membrane to cover the economic folly of 1% of the nation. We have seen four years of peace since 1963: the Carter administration. We felt so exposed by the assassination that we struck out, as the best defense is a good offense.

I was five. I was in first grade. It was late on a Friday afternoon, and we had art class. A convenient excuse for us to make a mess with Tempra paints and for the teacher to pack up for the upcoming weekend, just moments away. I was carrying a tray of paints back to my desk. I was marching up the right-hand aisle of a poorly-lit classroom  in an older school, by the coat closet. You remember those, the ones with the folding wooden doors that always managed to be both splintered and safe at the same instance. I was feet from my desk, when the principal made the announcement, that terrible sentence “The President has been shot and killed.”

She put the microphone up to the radio, maybe it was the TV, and there was Walter Cronkite repeating in his stentorian voice, a bedrock of calm despite his obvious turmoil, “From Dallas, Texas, the flash, apparently official: (reading AP flash) "President Kennedy died at 1 p.m. Central Standard Time." 2 o'clock Eastern Standard Time, some 38 minutes ago.”

And with that, the nation, the world, was never the same.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

As If Things in the Middle East Weren't Crazy Enough...

A bomb went off by the Iranian consulate in Beirut:

Two explosions, at least one caused by a suicide bomber, rocked Iran's embassy in Lebanon on Tuesday, killing at least 23 people, including an Iranian cultural attaché, and hurling bodies, cars and debris across the street.

A Lebanese-based al Qaeda-linked group known as the Abdullah Azzam Brigades claimed responsibility for what it described as a double suicide attack on the Iranian mission in southern Beirut.

Lebanon has suffered a series of bomb attacks and clashes linked to the 2-1/2-year-old conflict in neighboring Syria.

Security camera footage showed a man in an explosives belt rushing towards the outer wall of the embassy before blowing himself up, Lebanese officials said. They said the second explosion was caused by a car bomb parked two buildings away from the compound.

Now, here’s the thing: The two bombers were Sunni members of al Qaeda. Lebanon is in a struggle for freedom against Syria and Bashar al-Assad – a Shi’ite – who is backed by Iran, a Shi’ite nation.

We’re going to need a scorecard soon.

This might tend to complicate matters for our talks with Iran, to be certain, particularly if al Qaeda and her affiliates perceive Iran as capitulating to the secular West. There may be more flies in the ointment before this all smoothes over. Remember that al Qaeda has in the past gotten (and likely continues to get) strong financial and logistical support from Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

Again, nations closely aligned with western interests. This is not just about Sunni/Shi’a. This becomes more of a focus on the future of Islam in totality, and which sect gains the upper hand and by extension, gets the candy of dealing with the rest of the world.

And there’s a wild card and likely the only reason Iran is even bothering to discuss its nuclear program: China, which has grown over the past decade to become Iran’s closest strategic partner, giving Iran cover to develop ties in Asia. China’s permanent position on the UN Security Council gives it a fairly dominating position in influencing how the world treats Iran. It’s no coincidence that the moment China expressed even tepid support for sanctions (2010) against Iran that the ayatollahs moderated their language and allowed a moderate presence in the secular government and open demonstrations by liberal Iranian factions.

And Now For Something Competely Different...

Monday, November 18, 2013

Couldn't Happen to a Nicer Bunch of Creeps

So Liz Cheney, Senate candidate from Wyoming, and sister Mary, an out-of-the-closet lesbian, have begun a war of words over same-sex marriage.

The simmering feud between the daughters of former Vice President Dick Cheney over same sex marriage has reignited on social media. 

Mary Cheney and her wife Heather Poe took to Facebook to express their disappointment after Liz Cheney  - a GOP candidate for Senate in Wyoming - repeated her opposition to same sex marriage during a television interview. 

"Liz - this isn't just an issue on which we disagree - you're just wrong - and on the wrong side of history," Mary Cheney wrote. 

In a separate Facebook post, Heather Poe called her sister-in-law's comments "offensive." 

The Cheney family has struggled with Mary’s lifestyle “choice” for nearly a decade now. In terms of the potential for her marriage, you may recall in 2004 Dick Cheney was about it, and famously responded, “With respect to the question of relationships, my general view is that freedom means freedom for everybody.”

Apparently, the apple fell far from the tree.

It’s no secret, I think, that the Cheneys are Machiavellian by nature, with a stubborn inability to change a single opinion even in the face of overwhelming evidence that they are wrong. It seems this tendency, valuable in western state politics, could come back to haunt them in their own backyards.