Solid Walls of JFK

jfkMy generation has survived earthquakes, famine, Disco, AIDS, the End of the World (several times) and Richard Nixon.  For all our relentless whining, we’re actually a tough bunch of folks.  However, we are about to be tested as no generation before us has ever been.  Let me be the canary in the mineshaft and warn all humanity that, for the next nine months (about the same amount of time it took Rosemary to have that baby) we’re going to be up to our elbows in John Fitzgerald Kennedy – and it’s not going be pretty.  You might not have heard – but you will – that this is the 50th anniversary of his assassination.  From now until November 22nd, we’re going to be subjected to solid walls of JFK.

Before I get too deep into full-throated rhetoric, I want you to know that I believe John Kennedy was a good president.  He wasn’t necessarily Mount Rushmore great, but, as CEOs of the American Empire go, he’s definitely somewhere on the top end of the middle group.  The problem is it’s hard to judge.  We tend to credit him with initiating the good stuff (like civil rights) and to hand Lyndon Johnson the blame for mistakes (like Vietnam.)  What we forget is that Kennedy merely set the tone for both.  He didn’t have enough time to formulate policy.  It was Johnson who had to handle the follow-through and, alternatively, clean up the mess.  It’s this fundamental oversight that makes me wary of the approaching media tsunami.

We love JFK more for the idea of him than the man himself.  We want to believe that once there was a Camelot: a place where a bold young king gathered “the best and the brightest” around him, to spread peace and prosperity throughout the land.  An All-American America where daring New Frontier knights joined battle equally with the suits of things like corporate steel as well as the hard men of organized crime.  A place where lawyers used the honest tools of the law, not the loopholes; a place where journalists were honourable and money lenders trustworthy.  A place where smarts and the arts weren’t sins; where painters and poets rubbed shoulders with scientists and engineers; where university dons played metaphorical (and sometimes real) touch football with their political masters, each learning from each.  A place where race didn’t matter and our only adversaries were poverty and ignorance.  We want to believe that — for one brief, shining moment — the great tribes of America spoke with one voice; a voice that said we can do anything if we try.  We want to believe this because those of us who were there think we saw it happen.

Unfortunately, fifty-year-old memories have a way of clouding and fading and distorting the truth.

Fifty years ago, my generation was in the first bloom of immortal youth.  We see those years as a time of “sunshine, lollipops andjfk1 rainbows … brighter than a lucky penny.”  The Kennedy presidency is that tangible talisman that still tells us how young and unafraid we were.  We hold it dear to our hearts.  Yet it also holds the sum of all our regrets — all the shoulda, coulda things we woulda done if Lee Harvey Oswald had just called in sick that day.

For the last half century, day-late/dollar-short Cassandras have been turning history into legend, reworking JFK into the once and future king, soothsaying all the wonderful things he might have been.  Now, the Kennedy Camelot is about to get a modern-day makeover, courtesy of our ubiquitous media who can’t wait to cash in on an aging population, eager to squeeze in one last Look-At-Me.  They’re going to do it, too — and with all the spin that money can buy.  And Kennedy’s Camelot will take its place alongside Avalon, Shangri-La and Xanadu — unrecognizable to anybody but the myth makers.

General Petraeus: It’s Not About Sex

Since everybody from Maryland to Malibu has cranked up the volume on the Petraeus affair (affairs?) to Titillate, I’d like to stop the music for a second: “Hey, folks!  It’s not actually about sex!”  It’s hard to be the one dissenting voice in a chorus of post modern puritans obsessed with boobs, but hear me out.  People have extramarital affairs.  It happens.  I would venture to guess, that even as you’re reading this, there is more than one person out there either contemplating or actually committing adultery.  It doesn’t (with a shout out to George Carlin) warp your spine, grow hair on the back of your hands or lose the war in Afghanistan — although I imagine there’ll be some pretty serious grins going on around the Taliban campfires this winter.  Realistically, “until death do us part,” is considered a kind of general guideline these days.  Marriage is just another relationship with a beginning, a middle and a (sometimes sordid) end.  Such is life in the 21st century.

My point is even though General Petraeus is as guilty as a puppy sitting beside a pile of poo, everybody is missing the point.

Remember back in the 90s when Ken Starr got laughed halfway off the planet for having the audacity to want to know the wherefores and the whys of the Clinton/ Lewinsky misadventure?  Everybody got so tangled up in the tawdry little details of who did what to whom, when, they forgot the reason Ken was there in the first place.  Can’t remember?  Here’s a hint: it’s against the law to lie under oath — especially when, as president, you’ve sworn, before God and everybody, to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution against all enemies foreign and domestic.   Perjury is one of the criminal biggies, but in the case of President Clinton, nobody — except maybe Monica — cared, once the media started hitting below the belt.  It doesn’t matter now, of course, since Clinton has since been politically canonized by both parties and may go on to become the first, First Gentleman in US history.  However, at the time, it was pretty important that the president lied and equally unfortunate that everybody got so high school gossipy over the sexual nonsense that they ignored that fact.  I’m concerned that the same thing is happening now.

I’m not going to re-recite the Petraeus timeline here; if you don’t know it, you’ve obviously been abducted by aliens.  However, it is an agreed-upon fact, that, regardless of when it started or when it ended, General Petraeus’ affair with Paula Broadwell was discovered while he was head of the CIA.  The CIA!  The Central Intelligence Agency!  These are the boys and girls from Langley who are the second most secret (if I told you, I’d have to kill you) agency in the world.  They are so mysterious their entire history is based on rumour and innuendo.  Ask any birther, truther or certified-living-in-his-mother’s-basement nerd, and they will tell you the CIA has been the bogeyman in every underhanded conspiracy theory since Queen Isabella supposedly pawned her jewelry with the Fuggers to finance Christopher Columbus’ all-inclusive excursion to America.  They do secrets they way normal people do lunch!  Now, before you get your knickers in a knot about classified files on Paula Broadwell’s computer or government documents piling up on her coffee table, think about it.  Does Paula Broadwell look like a Taliban operative to you?  Is she going to trade her top secret pillow talk for everlasting fame in the land of the burka?   I don’t think so.  The problem is not Paula; it’s David.

Here’s the deal, if you’re the head of The CIA you have one job – one job! – secret stuff.  You are the Lord High Poobah of everything that is clandestine in America.  You know where the bodies are buried and you’re not supposed to tell anybody.  So, quite frankly, letting your extra-marital affair get splashed across every website this side of Pyongyang doesn’t look very good on the resume.   David, you should have done a better job than that.  After all, you had the entire resources of the American intelligence community at your disposal.  This isn`t just error in judgement, my mistake bad; it`s incompetent godawful.   Honestly!  You know you`re in trouble, when the guy who’s supposed to be running every covert operation in the world can’t keep his own privacy private.

Unfortunately, as the media titillation meter goes off the scale, people are forgetting that one essential detail.

Reckless Media: They’re At It … Again

It’s too early to talk about the American election (neither party has even had a convention yet) and too late to talk about Pussy Riot (they’ve already gone to jail) but oddly enough both are currently in the news.  Not only that, but each of them is causing a media storm the likes of which we haven’t seen since the glory days of Dick Cheney.  Everybody from the newly affiliated BBC and The New York Times* to the Tallahassee Truck Trader is bending themselves in knots voicing an opinion.  At the risk of crying “Collusion!” they’re all remarkably similar.  Coincidence?  I think not!

Ever since Mitt Romney named Paul Ryan as his running mate, the media has been ever-so-gently warning the public that the Republicans are now committed to throwing grandma, grandpa and 99% of the homeless in America under the corporate bus.  It’s amazing how many times you can call somebody a “mad dog” conservative — without using the “mad dog” part — and still get your point across.  There’s gotta be a Pulitzer in there somewhere.  Plus, quite a few opinionators have taken to giving Obama gratuitous election advice (whisper/whisper – it’s about Florida, stupid!) and they’ve even provided the president with a pro bono campaign slogan: Mediscare.  Actually, the prevailing media wisdom (outside the flyover states) is a Romney administration will be both stuck with Ryan’s insane financial plan (which can’t work) and at odds with it (which is unworkable.)  We call that working both sides of the street.

This is the same media that has given Joe Biden a all-inclusive “Get Out of Jail Free” press pass for the last five years.  No matter how many times Joe opens his mouth to stuff in the other foot, nobody in the media seems to mind.  As resident Canadian curmudgeon Rex Murphy observed recently, Delaware Joe may be the Jar Jar Binks of the Democratic Party.  And remember Joe was the guy who had his own presidential campaign cut short in 1988 when it was discovered he was a serial plagiarist – and not even a good one.  As I’ve said before, this may be the only time in history when an incumbent president is running against the other party’s vice-presidential choice!

Meanwhile, over in Russia, even before Vladimir Putin decided to march Pussy Riot off to prison, the western media was practically peeing its pants with excitement.  It was as if they’d won the Christmas Morning/Birthday/Valentine’s Day lottery.  Oh My God!  Feminist rock band!  Political protest!  Orthodox Church (Orthodox?  They’re Christians, right?) and neo-Czar Putin!  The thing was practically writing itself.  Then when Madonna and a few other celebs threw themselves into the fray, editors all over the world started passing out with the adrenalin hit.  Even the name “Pussy Riot” shouted Saturday Night Live and a Cooper Anderson (Anderson Cooper?) special.

I’m just going to stop the truck for a moment.  To clarify — I totally agree with Pussy Riot’s inalienable right to call Putin a putz if they want to.  Czar Vladimir the first is what happens when macho meets paranoid with a side order of tetchy.  Nobody’s calling Russia a liberal democracy, but two years in jail for name calling is treading on Kim Jong what’s-his-name-this-week territory.  Anybody who isn’t outraged by this kinda Classico-Soviet crap isn’t paying attention.

Okay, back to our story.  The thing that bothers me about this media funfest is nobody this side of Vistula River seems to be the least bit concerned that Pussy Riot was practicing their brand of girl power in an Orthodox Cathedral.  Again, just to clarify.  An Orthodox cathedral is a place of worship, a place of comfort and solace, a place where people seek to transcend the human experience and reach, however briefly, for spiritual guidance and well-being.  It is a place for contemplation and meditation.  For millions of people, it is a sacred place that is a tangible symbol of their personal journey to find meaning in this life.  If we have any respect for our fellow human beings on this planet, we most certainly must respect the need for spiritual well-being just as we respect the need for physical well-being. Even the nastiest of the secularists among us will admit that.  Yet, here we are on the business end of a media feeding frenzy and there’s not one hint that Pussy Riot’s uncontrollable urge to bring their message to the Russian people may have offended millions of them.  Or that it was wrong to choose a place of worship as the venue for their YouTube extravaganza.

These are just two vehicles on the information superhighway.  The American election is going to go on and on until everybody’s just about sick of it, and Pussy Riot will probably be forgotten in a week or two.  They’re two totally unrelated stories, yet they clearly demonstrate the same lockstep reporting that dominates contemporary media coverage. One of the essential components of a democratic society is a free and functioning media.  However, when that media is bleating in unison, it might as well be state-controlled — for all the good it does.

*Mark Thompson, the ex-honcho at the Beeb has been hired to run the show at The New York Times.  I guess, they’re all one big happy family.