Archive for August, 2009

He was a Kennedy

By Thomas Wark
A friend roused me from my bed to deliver the news of Robert F. Kennedy’s assassination. We mourned together. We wondered together what kind of mindless hatred fosters the vile murders of not one, but two, Kennedy brothers. We wondered about the playboy kid brother, the last prince of the American Camelot. Should he retire from public life, build a Maginot Line around the Hyannisport complex, and shield himself from the forces of ignorance and hate? Or did he have the stuff in him to carry the torch?
Ted Kennedy’s life, which ended just before midnight Tuesday, gave us our answers. As John M. Broder wrote in his excellent New York Times obituary:
“He was a Rabelaisian figure in the Senate and in life, instantly recognizable by his shock of white hair, his florid, oversize face, his booming Boston brogue, his powerful but pained stride. He was a celebrity, sometimes a self-parody, a hearty friend, an implacable foe, a man of large faith and large flaws, a melancholy character who persevered, drank deeply and sang loudly. He was a Kennedy.”
When the large flaws cost him the opportunity to seek the presidency, as his brothers had done, his large faith in himself drove him to become the most effective senator of his century. In the last 46 years, no piece of legislation to help the the sick, the poor, the wretched masses yearning to breathe free has become law without his stamp upon it. When President Obama signed the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act last April 24, we inaugurated the largest expansion of civilian service since the Depression Era Civilian Conservation Corps.
I hope legislation that establishes quality health care for every American will be enacted, and will bear his name, as well, for it was probably the greatest cause of his long and distinguished career.
Journalists’ memories of Teddy tend to be associated with the Large Flaws. I directed a team of superb journalists, including the two-time Pulitzer Prize winner Gene Miller, covering Apollo 11. On the day before Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldren were scheduled to fly down to the moon, Miller told me that the bosses had ordered him off the moon flight. What could possibly be more important in July of 1969 than the first moon landing? “They want me to go to Martha’s Vineyard,” Miller said. “Teddy Kennedy’s got himself into another mess. A young woman’s dead.” We expected “another mess” for the playboy brother. He was a Kennedy.
Similarly, we were not surprised when a Kennedy nephew hit the supermarket tabloids after a night of drinking with Uncle Ted. He was accused of rape by a woman he picked up in a bar after what he said was consensual sex on the beach at the Kennedy estate in Palm Beach. A New York editor remarked to me, “it wasn’t the kids who suggested that they go out bar-hopping. It was the 60-year-old guy.” He was a Kennedy.
Another journalist friend remembers walking into the Sherry Netherland bar in midtown Manhattan late one night. “I sat down about three barstools from Teddy, then married to Joan,” he recalls. “He was in the enthusiastic company of several girls, and surrounded as well by a band of dark-suited protectors. Everybody in the place was watching the Kennedy action, in which the three or four ladies were all vying for his attention. No mystery there, as beyond being Teddy, he was the best-looking guy in the place. ” He was a Kennedy.
I remember a guy so focused on the legislative process that as he strode across the Russell Senate Office Building Rotunda one day in the 70s, two of the bevy of aides jogging to keep up with him had to steer him by his elbows to prevent his walking into a pillar. He seemed to be conducting four or five conversations at once, barking orders, questions, thoughts, dictating memos. . . .until he spotted my companion, David Rosenbaum of the New York Times. Instantly he was transformed. His smile lit the hall. He thrust out his hand in welcome in that vigorous Kennedy style. “DAY-vid, ” his brogue roared. “How ARE you?” He was a Kennedy.
But what I will never forget is the venom and bile he inspired in the Republican right.
A confession: In my college days I was an officer in the campus Young Republicans. My roommate then — and lifelong dear friend thereafter — was chairman of the organization.
Over the years we drifted in opposite directions politically. A few years ago we had dinner in Los Angeles. As usual, we agreed to disagree, in gentlemanly fashion, on the political topics of the day. Until Teddy’s name came up.
John fulminated so apoplectically that I feared he’d have a stroke. “Why do you hate Ted Kennedy so much?” I asked when he’d calmed down.
John, one of the fastest thinkers and most articulate speakers I’ve known, sputtered briefly. Finally he blurted:
“Because he’s a KENNEDY!”

Read more of Thomas Wark’s blogs at

Leave a Comment

Power to the People!

By Steve Klnger

A letter to the editor has been going around that shines a penetrating light on the health care reform debate…and a lot more.

George Ovitt wrote the following to the Albuquerque Journal:

Do Without the Government?
AS PRESIDENT OBAMA’s modest proposals for reforming a disgraceful health care system have met with cries of “socialism, pill ” I suggest that we listen to the angry protests and move immediately to terminate all government interventions in our lives. 
Let’s end all student loan programs and aid to education; all food and drug inspections; all oversight of airline and railroad safety; all protectionist tariffs. 
Let’s get rid of the SEC and go back to the balmy days of 1929; please, health no more FDIC — pure socialism. And the dole, also known as Social Security — who needs it! Medicare is for communists, as is the interstate highway system; no more National Parks, no disaster relief: “Free” people fend for themselves. 
The National Weather Service is pure socialism, as is space exploration; shut down all federally-sponsored medical research, end the granting of patents, gut the NSF, NOAA and the rest of pinko science. Close the National Mall, sell off our National Archives and the Library of Congress. 
Once all this is done, we Americans can finally breath free, just as people do in other countries without governments — the Congo, Sudan and Iraq. 

I say, good points, but Mr. Ovitt doesn’t go far enough. While we’re getting the government out of our lives, let’s not forget to shutter the Postal Service; no doubt UPS and FedEx can deliver mail for 44 cents a piece. Let the AMA and Big Pharma take over the Centers for Disease Control, and the insurance industry run FEMA.

Terrified to death our health care system will turn into another Great Britain? Then we need to do away with the Veterans Administration, which staffs and runs the VA hospitals and pays the doctors, just like the British do.

In fact, why stop there? Talk about a socialist enterprise, what about the military itself? Let’s take the Bushian initiative to its logical conclusion and privatize the entire military so the same contractors who have made an obscene fortune in Iraq, slaughtering civilians, electrocuting workers and making billions of Pentagon dollars disappear, can do likewise all over the world.

We’re the compassionate souls who want to rescue the uninsured masses from government meddling, so of course we’re all lining up to turn in our Medicare cards and return our Social Security checks because Americans of any age and circumstance can pull ourselves up by our bootstraps. Better yet, we want to keep the American Dream these socialist reformers would take away from us: When we get rich we don’t want no damned guv’ment taxing our future fortunes. We don’t want anything to get in the way of us being able to buy back our foreclosed homes.

So let’s put a stop to this communist takeover. We don’t need no representatives in Washington or Muslim Kenyan Nazi white-hating dictators spending our knee-replacement money on death panels and illegal immigrants. In fact, we don’t need no laws, rules or elections at all. Let’s just shout the bastards down – and shoot ‘em if we have to.

Power to the people!

Leave a Comment

Notes on the 64th anniversary of Hiroshima-Nagasaki

Following is the text of my remarks earlier today at the Pax Christi Prayer for Peace vigil in El Paso.
By Steve Klinger

A couple of years ago around the time of this solemn observance I was dismayed to see a commentary in the Las Cruces Sun-News with the headline, order Thank God for the Atomic Bomb. It was written by a local Limbaugh wannabe and basically took the position that we should be forever grateful God decided American lives were more important than Japanese.

As I wrote in response then and repeat today, medicine what horrifies me isn’t so much the opinion – theology aside – on the necessity of the bomb as the attitude: the self-righteous conviction that can prompt such statements without a shred of regret or remorse for the unspeakable horror unleashed on that day. If every nation with a nuclear weapon feels foreign lives are worth less, remedy and civilians are just collateral damage, it’s all too chillingly easy to move from deterrence to pre-emption to aggression with nuclear weapons. And the uniquely horrific destruction and suffering they cause becomes unconscionably marginalized.

Unfortunately, New Mexico, home to the first atomic bomb, has the largest stockpile of nuclear weapons in any one location in the world, at Kirtland Air Force Base, up the road on I-25. Despite some reductions, there are still estimated to be 2,000 nuclear weapons at the Kirtland Underground Munitions Maintenance and Storage Complex. Nuclear weapons are being researched and developed at our two national laboratories, Los Alamos and Sandia; we have a nuclear waste storage facility near Carlsbad, and the University of New Mexico has lucrative and secretive ties to Boeing and the Air Force Space Weapons Lab at Kirtland. The Air Force base is estimated to have a $5.6 billion impact on the Albuquerque economy.

For all the rhetoric about commercial development of space and the fanfare about Spaceport America being built in Sierra County, it is undeniable that the next great nuclear danger is space weaponry, and New Mexico is part of ground zero for that effort as well. But when I discuss any of the dangers associated with this industry I often get a hostile reaction from those who stand to profit from it or have been indoctrinated with the mantra that having more nukes than anyone else somehow makes us safer.

The great author Noam Chomsky, speaking in Santa Fe a few years ago, noted that “deterrence raises the prospect of ultimate doom because it leads to an action-reaction cycle in which others may respond, dependent on hair-trigger mechanisms which are massively destructive.” He added that the militarization of space could very well doom the species, and New Mexico is one of the centers where this potential destruction of the species is taking place.

In a doctrine launched under the Reagan administration and furthered by every succeeding president until now, control of space for military purposes has been an abiding priority. The U.S. has repeatedly blocked space peace treaties, and Bush 43 moved the goal from control to ownership of space, capable of instant engagement anywhere.

There is some modest good news so far under the Obama administration. A huge $2 billion project to replace but also develop and build new warheads at Los Alamos National Lab has been slowed down – though not halted. President Obama’s first nuclear weapons budget also slows the Lab’s plutonium pit factory (to develop warhead cones) and amounts to a 6 percent decline in weapons programs there.

The National Nuclear Security Administration Budget would grow by 9 percent with this proposal, with most of that growth in nuclear nonproliferation. Now nonproliferation efforts are admirable, but how is it not the height of hypocrisy to demand that other nations stop developing weapons that we ourselves continue to possess and stockpile?

Dr. King said, “The choice before us is no longer between violence and non-violence. It’s non-violence or non-existence.” Over 40 years later, nuclear weapons remain the ultimate form of violence.

As humans who value all lives, we have a steep mountain to climb before we can see the world’s nuclear arsenals peacefully dismantled. We need to change the mindset that more nukes makes anyone safer, and question whether what’s good for the military-industrial complex is worthwhile or justifiable for New Mexico, Texas, the United States, the human species and the planet.

If the answer to those questions is a resounding no, then we must dedicate ourselves to educating our loved ones and our neighbors – and then our opponents – that peace and disarmament are not dirty words but the building blocks of a safer future – the only future. By continuing to bear witness to the Hiroshima and Nagasaki abominations we take solemn steps forward on that climb. But they are only the first steps along a path we must resolve to travel daily to elevate our collective consciousness.

That journey must begin with two words: Never again!

Leave a Comment