The Ongoing, Never-Ending JFK Mythology

JFKCliff1066The latest eruption of John Kennedy hysteria, bordering on deification, seems safely behind us now that the 50th anniversary of his assassination has passed. Though there is much disinformation about JFK’s legacy that could and should be discussed, two areas stand out: his relationship to the Black Liberation Movement and his actions in Southeast Asia.

Despite all the evidence to the contrary, Kennedy has come to be seen as an ally of – even a hero of – the Black Liberation Movement. In fact, he opposed both the goals and actions of that movement from early in his term when terrorists were beating unarmed and vastly outnumbered Freedom Riders, to the final months of his life when four young girls were blown up in an Alabama church.

When black moderates announced plans for an action in Washington in 1963, Kennedy worked overtime to derail it, with significant success, mainly by strong arming black moderates eager to remain in good with the White House. As a result, the planned direct action protest with civil disobedience morphed into a march and the moderates went so far as to force the day’s most radical speaker, John Lewis of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, to drop portions of his speech critical of the administration.

As for Southeast Asia, many in the mainstream have argued that Kennedy was about to withdraw U.S. troops and leave the Indochinese to fight their own battles when he was assassinated. This fixation on what he might have done is understandable, for the historical record – what JFK actually did – is quite horrifying and laid the groundwork for the decade of slaughter that followed.

First was the escalation of U.S. aggression in Laos, accompanied by diplomatic shenanigans that undermined coalition governments that included the Pathet Lao revolutionaries despite their being the most popular force in the country. The goal, as always with empire, was all out victory and the annihilation of anyone who favored national liberation.

In Vietnam, a similar approach led to massive devastation. In the winter of 1961-62, Kennedy initiated the full-scale bombing of those parts of South Vietnam controlled by the National Liberation Front (all but Saigon and its immediate surroundings). The justification that bombing was needed to defeat the revolution masked the indiscriminate nature of the aerial assault, which resulted in casualties that were overwhelmingly civilian. And so the tone was set for the next eleven years of war.

It was also Kennedy who authorized the first use of Chemicals of Mass Destruction in Southeast Asia, with napalm the best-known and most deadly. Never had chemical warfare been used so extensively, though the U.S. had also used napalm in Korea in the early 1950’s. Again, the tone was established as massive amounts of phosphorous, Agent Orange and other chemicals were used for the rest of the war, chemicals the deadly affects of which are being felt to this day throughout Indochina.

And it was under Kennedy that the notorious strategic hamlets were set up throughout South Vietnam. “Strategic Hamlets” is a term worthy of Orwell at his best or Madison Avenue at its worst, designed to induce thoughts of happy, grateful peasants gathered around a campfire. The more accurate phrase would be Concentration Camps, as Vietnamese by the thousands were rounded up at gunpoint and forced to live behind barbed wire. Anyone who resisted was beaten or worse; anyone attempting to escape was shot. The aim was to separate the people from the NLF though the result, not surprisingly, as with the bombing and the chemical weapons, was the opposite, as ever larger segments of the population became supporters of the revolution.

As each of these moves failed and the NLF grew stronger, Kennedy ordered ground troops to Southeast Asia in the spring of 1962, the number of which he gradually increased until his death. There is no evidence to indicate any plan for withdrawal short of victory, the myth-making of Oliver Stone, Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. and so many others notwithstanding.

One way to get a handle on the JFK withdrawal myth is to recall another assassination in November of 1963, that of South Vietnamese dictator Ngo Dinh Diem. For much of 1963, Diem threatened to undermine empire’s goals by pushing for a negotiated peace with the NLF and a U.S. withdrawal. In response, Kennedy did what his kind frequently do in such circumstances: he authorized a hit on Diem and replaced him with generals willing to follow orders.

For all the wishful thinking about what Kennedy would have done in Indochina had he lived, the inescapable truth, as opposed to the fantasy, is that he escalated the war and initiated increasing levels of terror that eventually resulted in the deaths of millions. Significantly, there is no mention of withdrawal short of victory in the many Camelot memoirs, biographies and histories until after the tide had turned dramatically against U.S. aggression. Only then did the myth of “Kennedy the Peacemaker” emerge.

Perhaps the JFK cult can be explained by the odious legacies of his two immediate successors, Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon, both of whom massively escalated the carnage in Indochina and ultimately abdicated in disgrace. Odious their legacies may be but there’s no way around the fact that Kennedy’s legacy smells just as foul. Such an explanation also obscures the fact that it was Kennedy who established the terms for the domestic conflict that would rage throughout the 1960’s – outraged hostility on the part of the ruling class to the democracy movements that shook the empire to its foundations. It is those movements that will be remembered and celebrated long after the JFK cult hopefully, eventually, finally, finds its rightful resting place in the proverbial dustbin of history.

Andy Piascik is a long-time activist and writer for Z, Counterpunch and many other publications. He can be reached at [email protected]

Photo by Cliff1066

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“Obamacare” and the Bogus Healthcare Debate

OBAMACAREcharlesfettingerThe biggest secret of politics in the United States is that a majority of the population is to the left of both major parties.

This can be amply demonstrated by comparing public opinion on a host of issues to the policies pushed by corporate and political elites. Whether it’s US aggression overseas, raising taxes on corporations and the Super Rich, expanding social services or any number of other issues, there is a vast disconnect between the people and those who purport to represent them.

This perhaps more than anything explains the widespread lack of public interest in voting. Rather than a result of apathy or ignorance, as many elite pundits arrogantly assert, public withdrawal from the electoral process is actually an informed choice. Since people often rightly view voting as a lose-lose proposition, voter turn-out in the United States is significantly lower than anywhere else in the industrialized world, plus millions who do vote do so with little enthusiasm.

On no issue is the disconnect between elites and the public more striking than health care. For decades, public opinion has favored a single payer system such as exists in every other industrialized country. Simultaneously, corporate elites and their representatives in the two major parties have been waging an unrelenting war on the people’s right to comprehensive health care. Their goals are to privatize Medicare, destroy Medicaid, and shift the cost of employment-based plans in both the public and private sectors to workers.

This disconnect is what lends the discussion about the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) now before the Supreme Court such a comical tone. Amidst all the pathetic cries about Obamacare, nowhere is it mentioned that millions of those who oppose PPACA do so not because it’s a Marxist-Leninist attack on individual liberty, but because they recognize the law as a sell-out to the insurance and pharmaceutical industries. President Obama did not call on those who live and work on the frontlines of the health care crisis – nurses, social workers, public health advocates, the uninsured, the insured who have been denied necessary care – to write the bill. He delegated that task to insurance industry representatives, and they have been salivating ever since at the billions in additional profits they will reap when PPACA goes into effect.

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Abby Martin Breaks the Set on Obamacare: Where Corporations Come First

The Democrats’ claim that there was no political will for a public option, let alone single payer, was Elite Speak for those of us in charge don’t care what the public wants. No one who’s paying the slightest bit of attention should have expected otherwise. Candidate Obama received $25 million from the insurance industry in 2008, after all, roughly four times as much as John McCain. And as most reasonably bright nine-year olds understand, Met Life, Pfizer and the rest of the ruling class are not in the business of financing Marxist-Leninist revolution.

Following the lead of the rest of the world is off the table in the boardrooms of the Super Rich even though the lack of a single payer system has been an important factor in the decline of US industry’s competitiveness (Swedish, Japanese and German automakers, for example, do not have to pay a dime for workers’ health insurance). Instead, the 1% has moved much production overseas while attacking the living standards of those domestic industrial workers who remain. The massive shift of the costs of employment health plans to workers has been a major piece of the unprecedented upward redistribution of wealth that’s occurred in this country over the last forty years.

Regardless of what supporters of PPACA may say, our health care system will remain wholly inadequate. Costs will remain out of reach, care will still be denied, needed services will remain at unacceptable levels or disappear altogether, women, people of color and children will be disproportionately impacted, and the overall result will be a further deterioration in living standards for the vast majority.

Momentum for single payer is far from dead, however. Like all efforts for social justice, the push for single payer received a tremendous infusion of energy from the Occupy Wall Street movement. Among other things, Occupy shone much-needed light on who it is that really owns this country. If that light continues to grow brighter, the openings for real health care reform – not to mention many other necessary social changes – increase.

Andy Piascik is a long-time activist and award-winning author. Write him at [email protected]

Photo by flickr user charlesfettinger

Why Henry Kissinger Should Be Tried at the Hague

KissingerCliff1066Two months ago, hundreds of thousands of Chileans somberly marked the 40th anniversary of their nation’s September 11th attack. It was on that date in 1973 that the Chilean military, armed with a generous supply of funds and weapons from the US, and assisted by the CIA and other operatives, overthrew the democratically-elected government of the moderate socialist Salvador Allende.

Sixteen years of repression, torture and death followed under the fascist Augusto Pinochet, while the flow of hefty profits to US multinationals – IT&T, Anaconda Copper and the like – resumed. Profits, along with concern that people in other nations might get ideas about independence, were the very reason for the coup and even the partial moves toward nationalization instituted by Allende could not be tolerated by the US business class.

Henry Kissinger was National Security Advisor and one of the principle architects of the coup in Chile. US-instigated coups were nothing new in 1973, especially those in Latin America. Kissinger and his boss Richard Nixon were carrying on a violent tradition that spanned the breadth of the 20th century and continues in the 21st – see, for example, Venezuela in 2002 (failed) and Honduras in 2009 (successful). Where possible, such as in Guatemala in 1954 and Brazil in 1964, coups have been the preferred method for dealing with popular insurgencies. In other instances, direct invasion by US forces such as happened on numerous occasions in Nicaragua, the Dominican Republic and many other places, has been the fallback option.

The coup in Santiago occurred as US aggression in Indochina was finally winding down after more than a decade. From 1969 through 1973, it was Kissinger again, along with Nixon, who oversaw the slaughter in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. It is impossible to know with precision how many were killed during those four years; all the victims were considered enemies, including the vast majority who were non-combatants, and the US has never been much interested in calculating the deaths of enemies. Estimates of Indochinese killed by the US for the war as a whole start at four million and are likely far more. It can thus be reasonably extrapolated that probably more than a million, and certainly hundreds of thousands, were killed while Kissinger and Nixon were in power.

In addition, countless thousands of Indochinese have died in the years since from the affects of the massive doses of Agent Orange and other Chemical Weapons of Mass Destruction unleashed by the US. Many of us here know soldiers who suffered from exposure to such chemicals; multiply their numbers by 1,000 or 10,000 or 50,000 – again, it’s impossible to know with accuracy – and we can begin to understand the impact on those who live in and on the land that was so thoroughly poisoned as a matter of US policy.

Studies by a variety of organizations including the United Nations also indicate that at least 25,000 people have died in Indochina since war’s end from unexploded US bombs that pocket the countryside, with an equivalent number maimed. As with Agent Orange, deaths and ruined lives from such explosions continue to this day. So 40 years on, the war quite literally goes on for the people of Indochina, and it is likely it will go on for decades more.

Near the end of his time in office, Kissinger and his new boss Gerald Ford pre-approved the Indonesian dictator Suharto’s invasion of East Timor in 1975, an illegal act of aggression again carried out with weapons made in and furnished by the US. Suharto had a long history as a bagman for US business interests; he ascended to power in a 1965 coup, also with decisive support and weapons from Washington, and undertook a year-long reign of terror in which security forces and the army killed more than a million people (Amnesty International, which rarely has much to say about the crimes of US imperialism, put the number at 1.5 million).

In addition to providing the essential on-the-ground support, Kissinger and Ford blocked efforts by the global community to stop the bloodshed when the terrible scale of Indonesian violence became known, something UN ambassador Daniel Patrick Moynihan openly bragged about. Again, the guiding principle of empire, one that Kissinger and his kind accept as naturally as breathing, is that independence cannot be allowed. That’s true even in a country as small as East Timor where investment opportunities are slight, for independence is contagious and can spread to places where far more is at stake, like resource-rich Indonesia. By the time the Indonesian occupation finally ended in 1999, 200,000 Timorese – 30 percent of the population – had been wiped out. Such is Kissinger’s legacy and it is a legacy well understood by residents of the global South no matter the denial, ignorance or obfuscation of the intelligentsia here.

If the United States is ever to become a democratic society, and if we are ever to enter the international community as a responsible party willing to wage peace instead of war, we will have to account for the crimes of those who claim to act in our names like Kissinger. Our outrage at the crimes of murderous thugs who are official enemies like Pol Pot is not enough. A cabal of American mis-leaders from Kennedy on caused for far more Indochinese deaths than the Khmer Rouge, after all, and those responsible should be judged and treated accordingly.

The urgency of the task is underscored as US aggression proliferates at an alarming rate. Millions of people around the world, most notably in an invigorated Latin America, are working to end the “might makes right” ethos the US has lived by since its inception. The 99 percent of us here who have no vested interest in empire would do well to join them.

There are recent encouraging signs along those lines, with the successful prevention of a US attack on Syria particularly noteworthy. In addition, individuals from various levels of empire have had their lives disrupted to varying degrees. David Petraeus, for example, has been hounded by demonstrators since being hired by CUNY earlier this year to teach an honors course; in 2010, Dick Cheney had to cancel a planned trip to Canada because the clamor for his arrest had grown quite loud; long after his reign ended, Pinochet was arrested by order of a Spanish magistrate for human right violations and held in England for 18 months before being released because of health problems; and earlier this year, Efrain Rios Montt, one of Washington’s past henchmen in Guatemala, was convicted of genocide, though accomplices of his still in power have since intervened on his behalf to obstruct justice.

More pressure is needed, and allies of the US engaged in war crimes like Paul Kagame should be dealt with as Pinochet was. More important perhaps for those of in the US is that we hound Rumsfeld, both Clintons, Rice, Albright and Powell, to name a few, for their crimes against humanity every time they show themselves in public just as Petraeus has been. That holds especially for our two most recent War-Criminals-in-Chief, Barack Bush and George W. Obama.

Written by Andy Piascik at [email protected]

Photo by flickr user Cliff1066

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US Empire vs Venezuela: Opposing Democracy Once Again

venezuelaVirtually alone among world nations, the United States has refused to recognize the election of Nicolas Maduro as president of Venezuela. Unfortunately, this activity has become the norm in international affairs: the U.S. stands alone like the schoolyard bully, or nearly isolated with Israel, Saudia Arabia and Great Britain.

The people of Venezuela remember all too well that the American government instigated a coup that temporarily deposed the late Hugo Chavez, Maduro’s predecessor, in 2002. In the eleven years since, Washington has continued to fund opponents of the revolution and foment strikes, demonstrations and general unrest. In recent months, Venezuela expelled three U.S. diplomats who were working with opposition forces to undermine Maduro’s presidency.

Venezuela is justified to fear that this interference might escalate. Profits of investors are preeminent and any person or movement seeking to take control of resources for the popular good is branded an enemy and treated as such. The following examples are just the tip of the imperial iceberg:

Iran, 1953: The CIA helped overthrow the popular anti-monarchist Mohammad Mossadegh, largely because he nationalized Iran’s vast oil resources, and replaced him with the Shah. Oil reserves were returned to Western control and 26 years of despotic rule followed.

Guatemala, 1954: The U.S. overthrew the democratically elected Jacobo Arbenz and soon turned Guatemala into killing fields. Earlier this year, former dictator Efrain Rios Montt was convicted of genocide by a Guatemalan court. Those in the U.S. who made the killing possible and profited most from it, however, remain at large.

Vietnam, 1950’s: After the Geneva accords of 1954 set up elections to unify Vietnam, the U.S. spent the ensuing years making sure no elections were held, knowing Ho Chi Minh would win in a landslide. Twenty years later, after American forces had killed four million people and destroyed three countries, the Vietnamese drove the U.S. out anyway.

Congo, 1961: Three months after Patrice Lumumba became the first democratically elected Prime Minister of the newly-independent Congo, the U.S. helped overthrow his government (he was executed by his captors several months later). Soon thereafter began the murderous reign of Mobutu Sese Soku, who also embezzled billions of dollars, much of it “aid” from U.S. taxpayers, though successive American presidents were happy to look the other way because he ensured Western business elites easy access to the Congo’s vast resources.

Brazil, 1964: Reformer Joao Goulart had been president for three years when the military, with U.S. support, overthrew his government. Fifteen years of despotic rule followed, as all traces of democracy vanished amidst an orgy of torture and killing.

Indonesia, 1965: One of the bloodiest episodes in recent history began with a Washington backed and armed coup that resulted in the killing of approximately one million peasants and the installation of the dictator Suharto. Ten years later, Suharto invaded East Timor, again with crucial U.S. support (and weapons) and wiped out 30% of the Timorese population.

Dominican Republic, 1965: Shortly after the CIA assassinated long-time dictator and American puppet Rafael Trujillo because his act had gotten too extreme, Juan Bosch became president in the nation’s first free election in 38 years. Five months later, U.S. backed generals ousted Bosch, and a groundswell of popular support for his reinstatement was snuffed out by a U.S. invasion. Another Washington puppet, Joaquin Balaguer, became president in a fraudulent election that took place with 40,000 American soldiers occupying the tiny nation and participating in the murder of Bosch supporters.

Chile, 1973: Much as it has done in Venezuela in recent years, the U.S. began funding oppositionists and fomenting strife as soon as Salvador Allende was elected president in 1970. With additional help from the U.S., the Chilean military overthrew and murdered Allende in 1973 and the long reign of fascist Augusto Pinochet began.

Haiti, 1990-2004: In a country that suffered one agony after another under U.S. playmates Papa Doc and Baby Doc Duvalier, a popular upsurge led by the Lavalas party swept Jean Bertrand Aristide into office in 1990. A coup three years later by generals close to drug cartels begat brutal repression until Washington allowed Aristide to return on the condition he implement harsh austerity measures. When he chose instead to push the widely supported program of Lavalas, the Clinton administration whisked Aristide out of the country at gunpoint. Haiti has been ruled by heirs of the Duvalier tradition since.

One dramatic change in the last 50 years is the consistent opposition of the American public to such interventions. This was perhaps best illustrated in the 1980’s when U.S. solidarity movements undoubtedly prevented greater bloodshed in South Africa, El Salvador, Nicaragua and possibly other places. One striking feature were the thousands who travelled to work alongside Nicaraguan peasants as well as to serve as a human shield, knowing the U.S. backed contras were less likely to murder Americans. The intelligentsia here, if it ever reported this remarkable phenomenon, surely prefers to forget; people in Nicaragua and the rest of Latin America, not to mention the Washington planners of contra terror, most definitely have not.

Nicolas Maduro is not the issue. Hugo Chavez was never the issue and none of the individuals mentioned above were ever the issue. What was, and is, the issue is the effort of a galvanized populace to wrest control of their economic life from U.S. investors and the local stooges who do their dirty work. That is something the Super Rich here cannot abide, and all preventive measures are on the table, including war, unspeakable atrocities, even genocide.

By remaining ever vigilant and supporting those throughout the hemisphere (indeed, the world) who work to create a new day, we can perhaps block further U.S. interference in Venezuela, not to mention Colombia, Bolivia, Mexico, Honduras and oh so many other places.

Andy Piascik is a long-time activist and award-winning author who has written for Z Magazine, The Indypendent, Counterpunch and many other publications and websites. He can be reached at [email protected]

Austerity Hits Home With a Vengeance

Austerity is a word we don’t hear much in the United States, as business elites, politicians and the corporate media avoid saying it at all costs. Instead, they talk at great length about “deficits,” “out-of-control spending,” and the need for all of us to “share the pain.” This is a convenient dodge and an intentional one, for it shifts attention away from the Super Rich and the unprecedented upward redistribution of wealth we’ve experienced in the last forty years.

People in the rest of the world, as well as people of color here, by contrast, are all too familiar with austerity. They’ve been force-fed in large doses over many years, largely to the benefit of U.S. investors and often literally at gunpoint. Though each case varies, the general scenario is similar: to qualify for much-needed, high interest loans, states around the globe cut social programs, submit to privatization of public services, bust unions and slash wages while loosening regulations that protect the environment and workplaces.

The results invariably are the further impoverishment of the vast majority, greater profits for investors and an increase in the purchase by states of the weaponry required to quell the social unrest that generally follows (weaponry the U.S. is all too eager to supply). Never mind the misery of large swaths of the populace, the violent repression of dissent, overflowing prisons or all those dead bodies; to business elites, all are acceptable offshoots of profit-taking. Name a country in the global South and it has almost certainly been through this ringer, often more than once and sometimes with no end.

Now the same phenomenon is being inflicted on the people of the industrialized North, beginning with Europe, which was hit earlier and more harshly than the United States. With few exceptions, the people of the nations of Europe have experienced a decline in recent years in their living standards, all except for corporate and banking elites, who are wealthier than ever. Since the fall of Communism, Eastern Europe – to cite just the most extreme case – has become a huge new source of highly profitable investment opportunities for global capital, and the resulting pauperization of that part of the world has, for now, shattered the dreams of 1989-90.

The U.S. is no longer immune to austerity and President Obama’s decision to slash Social Security and Medicare benefits is only the latest blow. As living standards for most of us fall ever lower, the richest of the rich grow ever richer, far richer than any ruling class has ever been. Austerity is and will continue to be a truly bipartisan affair and liberals who think the Democrats are a significant alternative and right-wingers who believe the Democrats have been taken over by Marxist-Leninists would do well to consider that 1.) more wealth was redistributed from the 99% to the Super Rich under Clinton than Reagan and 2.) President Obama, with his cohort of Goldman Sachs advisors and GE executives, is carrying out virtually the same policies as his predecessor.

For much of the 20th century, a large portion of the U.S. population was shielded from the ravages of global capitalism and believed they had a stake in empire. Though those illusions are rapidly being shed, many turn not to resistance but to narcotics such as alcohol, pornography and sports; more ominous is the state’s incessant and intimidating call to rally around the flag in opposition to this season’s bogeyman – Saddam Hussein, Qaddaffi, Chavez, bin Laden, Assad, Milosevic, Aristide, Ahmadinejad, Kim Jong Un, and on and on and on.

The most effective and dangerous ploy, however, is the Super Rich’s trick of fomenting divisions within the populace where they might otherwise be united. Thus we get the hilarious spectacle of welfare queen Michelle Bachmann, a long-time recipient of large agribusiness handouts, rallying a segment of the population by railing against benefit programs for the poor and working class, her words received by the intelligentsia with grim seriousness rather than the derision they warrant.
From the Arab Spring to the ongoing and frequently massive demonstrations in England, Portugal, Spain, Greece and other countries in Europe to – perhaps most significantly – the Bolivarian Revolution sweeping Latin America, the dictates of the business class have been met with extraordinary resistance. Domestically, vibrant organizing in communities of color along with Occupy Wall Street and its hundreds of offshoots are leading the way. The tasks now are to revitalize the Occupy spirit, expand resistance and strengthen solidarity with people around the world who are fighting the same battle we are. Those are not easy tasks but the alternative – the rise in human misery to previously unimaginable levels – is increasingly becoming reality.

Andy Piascik is a long-time activist and award-winning author who has written for Z Magazine, The Indypendent, Counterpunch and many other publications. He can be reached at [email protected]