Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Flag Burning

"Nobody should be allowed to burn the American flag - if they do, there must be consequences - perhaps loss of citizenship or year in jail!" – Donald Trump, Nov. 29, 2016

Once upon a Fourth of July I had an idea: burn the American flag.

It came to me after I bought a bag of small paper flags in a grocery store. These accoutrements of patriotism, affixed to toothpicks, were meant for hamburgers. I noticed that with just a little twisting, I could loosen and remove the toothpicks. In their place I inserted thin wooden matchsticks. The paper flags were thus attached to a means of ignition.

I got busy and made a few dozen of these American fireflags. It would be funny, I thought, to pass them out at random to see what happened, but I was too chicken to actually do it. I might just hand one to a Marine in civvies and get the shit kicked out of me. Gabrielle, though, said it would be a strong political statement and an opportunity for street theater – a trendy notion she picked up somewhere. She looked at me with beady little eyes. “We gotta do this!”

So the next day we drove downtown with a bag full of fireflags. We stationed ourselves along a busy sidewalk and began stopping people at random, offering them flags. Sooner or later, we figured, someone would explode. We had prepared remarks for anyone who reacted strongly – dialog for Gabrielle’s street theater – but were leaving what happened after that to chance.

When half an hour passed and nothing much had taken place, I began to think we had miscalculated. A few people accepted the fireflags, while others smiled curtly but otherwise ignored us. Then these two guys came along, young guys in business suits. Both stopped abruptly.

“What the hell is this?” the guy nearest me cried out.

“A flag on a matchstick.”

“You can’t burn flags.”

“Sure you can,” Gabrielle said. “Just strike this end on a rough surface – ”

“No, I mean you can’t – you can’t – ”

“Yes you can,” Gabrielle countered. “It’s in the Constitution. Freedom of speech.”

The guy was suddenly at a loss for words. But I could see him doing a slow burn.

“Let it go, Jimmy,” the second guy said calmly. “It isn’t worth it.”

“The hell it isn’t!” Jimmy replied. “I won’t let it go!” He turned back to Gabrielle and me – though his focus was on me. “I’m so sick of you goddam liberals spitting on everything that’s sacred to this country – ”

“We’re not spitting on the Constitution!”

“I mean the goddam flag!”

“It’s just a symbol,” Gabrielle said.

“It’s not just a symbol! It’s our country’s symbol! People have died for it!”

By now, I felt, certain things had to be said. “Didn’t they die for the freedom it represents?”

“They died for the flag. My father died for the flag.”

“I’m sorry for that. But do you mean to say the symbol is more important than the freedom?”

“You’re goddam right I do. You’re goddam right.”

He took a step toward us then, both his fists clenched. But his buddy intervened. “Jimmy, Jimmy, wait.” He grabbed Jimmy’s arms and pulled them behind his back and pinned them there, like a wrestling hold.

“Lemme go, Frank,” Jimmy demanded, wriggling his shoulders furiously from side to side. “I’m gonna kill this bastard.” He meant me. Gabrielle, I realized suddenly, was no longer at my side; she seemed to have shrunk back from the confrontation.

“Hold on, Jimmy, wait! He isn’t worth it! This piece of shit isn’t worth it!” Jimmy struggled some more. He was a big guy, and looked very strong, but Frank was bigger and held him fast.

Abruptly, Jimmy stopped. “All right all right all right.” His voice was calm. Frank eased his grip. I thought: now is when he will attack. But Jimmy had regained his composure; he smoothed out his jacket and straightened his tie. His eyes, though, stayed on me. “You’re lucky Frank was here to stop me. And that’s all I got to say to you.” He turned sharply and stalked away. Frank, too, leveled a hate stare before he turned and walked off.

Gabrielle had backed away about twenty-five or thirty feet. Her hesitant smile suggested guilt. “I think that’s enough for one day.”

My car was parked in the same direction Frank and Jimmy were walking, so we went the other way for a couple of blocks, turned a corner, and went into a used bookstore I knew of. After giving Frank and Jimmy enough time, we hoped, to be long gone, we walked back to my car and started driving home.

We didn’t say much as we sped along the freeway. For the time being I pushed Gabrielle’s vanishing act to the back of my mind. But thanks to her Id nearly been beaten to a pulp. We broke up a few days later.

How was it, I wondered as we drove, that something I found so amusing could spark such fury in someone else? Well, his father – that was plain enough. But Jimmy was wrong. No one dies for the flag. They die because of bad foreign policy. And that is a stupendous human tragedy; it should ignite everyone’s fury.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

JFK Conspiracy? The Debate Club

The following is the text of an op-ed I wrote in 2013 for the "Debate Club," a feature of the US News and World Report website. The occasion was the fiftieth anniversary of the JFK assassination. USNWR invited me and four others to answer their question – the title you see below.

Was JFK's Assassination a Conspiracy?

Only someone unfamiliar with the evidence would sincerely ask, “Was there a conspiracy to assassinate JFK?” It is easily demonstrable – no thanks to the media.

For all its virtues, the American media has been regrettably complacent, even hostile, in its treatment of both the assassination and independent research into that crime. And so the issue has a serious public relations problem; when researchers are acknowledged today it is usually derisive. “These people should be ridiculed, even shunned,” the New York Times Book Review sneered in 2007. “It’s time we marginalized Kennedy conspiracy theorists the way we’ve marginalized smokers.”

I beg to differ. Independent analysis of the official evidence by “these people” has clearly demonstrated the fact of conspiracy.

The present discussion sets aside the question of culpability; it is restricted to the evidence of Dealey Plaza, where the assassination took place. What that evidence shows is incontestable. As Vincent Salandria observed, “Dealey Plaza reeked of conspiracy.”

In its Report, the Warren Commission placed a gunman on the sixth floor of a building along JFK’s motorcade route through Dallas. Such a gunman would have been behind the presidential limousine when the shots were fired. Yet of the 121 Dealey Plaza witnesses whose statements appear in the Commission’s published evidence, 51, by one count, said gunshots came from the right front – that is, from the infamous grassy knoll. Only 32 thought shots came from the building, while 38 had no opinion.

Former Kennedy aide Kenneth O’Donnell, who rode in the ill-fated Dallas motorcade, said he heard two shots from the grassy knoll. He did not tell that to the Warren Commission, but later conceded, “I testified the way they wanted me to.”

The 8mm Zapruder film of the assassination unambiguously shows JFK’s head and upper body slammed back and to the left – obviously, from a bullet coming from the right front. This is elementary physics.

There is much more than this, of course, all of it a matter of record: Dealey Plaza witnesses who saw unidentified armed men in the vicinity. Witnesses whose observations suggest a radio-coordinated hit team. Three Dallas cops who encountered fake Secret Service agents, and one who testified to meeting a hysterical woman screaming, “They’re shooting the president from the bushes!”

It all demonstrates conspiracy – the how of it. The question of culpability, the who and the why, remains; it is all that really matters. It is where the conversation begins. We should expect, even demand, that our media lead the way.

Conspiracy in JFK’s death is a historic fact. To debate whether there was one perpetuates the erroneous notion that there is something to debate.

Even after half a century the assassination is not irrelevant. Nor is it too late to act. An early critic named Maggie Field once said that finding the truth about the murder of JFK was of utmost importance. “Until we can get to the bottom of the Kennedy assassination, this country is going to remain a sick country,” she said. “No matter what we do. Because we cannot live with that crime. We just can’t.”

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Life in the Fascist Lane

Like most Americans, I did not vote for Donald Trump. And like most, I am dismayed by a system that, through the electoral college, would elevate a manifestly unqualified, transparently corrupt caricature to the presidency.

Dismayed, and appalled. But not all that surprised.

I think the looming Trump presidency — this clear and present danger — is so unacceptable, that the spontaneous demonstrations erupting in cities around the country in the election aftermath may represent the beginnings of genuine resistance. Like Trump’s campaign, it signals something unprecedented in the United States.

Trump’s inability to see these demonstrations for what they are is consistent with everything we know. “Professional protesters, incited by the media, are protesting,” he whined in a poorly-worded tweet, from the insulated heights of Trump Tower. “Very unfair!”

Totally predictable. Can’t wait for that million women march.

During the primary season, a fascism expert named Robert Paxton said he was reluctant to label Trump a fascist. “It’s almost the most powerful epithet you can use,” he said. “I guess child molester might be a little more powerful, but not much.” (I keep hearing about Trump raping a thirteen-year-old, but a lawsuit was dropped a second time just before the election. Perhaps he has restricted his sexual molestation to adult women?)

Paxton reluctantly used the f-word in discussing the President-elect. Trump’s make-America-great-again slogan “sounds exactly like the fascist movements” from the first half of the Twentieth Century, he said, and his xenophobia “is directly out of a fascist’s recipe book...he even looks like Mussolini in the way he sticks his lower jaw out, and also the bluster, the skill at sensing the mood of the crowd, the skillful use of media.”

So there is plenty to be frightened of.

We have a known sexual predator and misogynist, a racist authoritarian, a climate change denier, and a shallow, narcissistic fool about to assume the presidency. I’ve thought for a long time that Trump doesn’t really care all that much about the presidency. For him, its validation, a trophy. This is a man, after all, who puts his name on everything, and has had a string of trophy wives.

In spite of signs that Trump is already betraying some of his campaign promises, the worst, I’m sure, is yet to come. Of course it is.