Friday, November 22, 2013

50 Years Later: November 22, 1963

Which theory is more plausible:  a lone gunman, hateful of and intent upon killing the president, coincidentally works in a building along a serendipitously planned parade route, or a conspiracy that could pin the assassination on him? In the midst of the Cold War, U.S. President John F. Kennedy had many enemies:  the Soviet Union, a continual threat since the Truman Administration, and its sphere of influence; communists at home and abroad; disgruntled, and staunchly anti-communist, elements within the CIA, military, etc; and the Mafia. The latter is the most interesting, because it is mainly a domestic issue – and Attorney General Robert Kennedy was infuriating mafiosos, who, allegedly, had “aided” in the election of his brother, by cracking down on their activities. Eliminating the U.S. Attorney General would have been problematic given the focus on them; on the other hand, a president, as shown, has many enemies both domestic and foreign. The CIA, military, etc, wanted their war against communism, which President Kennedy was seen as being weak against ever since the failed Bay of Pigs, while the Mafia wanted Attorney General Kennedy dealt with and rendered powerless.

One had the plan and resources, the other had the manpower; all were used to keeping secrets. Only thing needed was a staunch communist to take the fall.

Meanwhile, Lee Harvey Oswald was known as a self-avowed Marxist opposed to the Kennedy Administration’s anti-communist policies as documented by his own activities and that of the FBI investigating them. Oswald, and by extension his eventual killer Jack Ruby, did not even need to be party to any broader conspiracy – creating a perfect “patsy,” as Oswald himself claimed, who truly knew nothing, with the added bonus of being eliminated by someone with no knowledge as well. (Actually, Ruby, who did have some mob connections, very well may have blown any cover-up by killing Oswald on his own, thus inadvertently, if not unintentionally, exposing the assassination to conspiratorial scrutiny.) Strangely, though, the more people believe in a conspiracy, and the more others vehemently deny such, the more the conspiracy becomes evermore muddled in ambiguity.

Thus, both a mix of calculated scheme and fortuitous circumstance created an ideal cover-up that seemingly continues to keep the truth at bay even today.

There also are the details of the assassination itself. Of course, everyone knows, or at least should know, about the “magic bullet”; however, Oswald’s actions would seem the tricky part. In the narrative fed by official accounts, his portrayal is that of a calculating sociopath with delusions of grandeur working – either in concert or independently – for the communist cause. A person who coolly fires three shots in a matter of seconds, using a questionable rifle to boot, to kill the president of the United States because of those beliefs. Then, after the assassination, he acts panicky and paranoid…with nary an escape plan. No plans to seek asylum in Cuba, or maybe return to the Soviet Union, as a cause célèbre, or at the very least to immediately leave Dallas? He had not even packed an overnight bag. Instead, Oswald decides, as if on the fly, to return to his boarding house in a rush, grab a pistol (why didn’t he have it with him earlier in case of a standoff with police?), shoot a Dallas police officer (if it was in fact him), mill about downtown storefronts and hide in a movie theater where he is eventually apprehended.

As such, the before and after narratives do not mesh.

Even more, the apprehension of Oswald has to be the most masterful piece of detective work in the history of law enforcement. Even by today’s standards, with our surveillance cameras, 24/7 news, mobile phones, social media, etc, it must rank at the top. Within minutes of the assassination, they were able to determine the shooter’s position – thanks to the supposedly calculating assassin fortunately leaving behind the weapon and bullet casings – and quickly spread a description of him. Numerous eyewitness accounts help in the determination as well, despite expert opinion that such accounts are typically useless especially in a time of chaos. Other accounts either are ignored or suppressed ostensibly to focus on a pre-arranged narrative the conspirators attempt to peddle to the public through the media – propagandist tactics no doubt learned from the Nazis during World War II, a conflict only 18 years removed and still fresh in memory. In essence, it is an incredible orgy of evidence against an alleged lone gunman implausibly gathered in a short time.

How? Because Oswald was already on the radar; the conspirators simply had to control the necessary flow of information about him.

Whichever theory one subscribes to, not since President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination – at the hands of a conspirator, mind you – had a national tragedy so galvanized the United States. For the majority, on both sides of the political aisle, it commenced the descent of national morale from one of hope to that of disbelief. Only for those on the extreme partisan fringes did the president’s death carry an encouraging implication:  for those on the left, who believed Kennedy had not championed the liberal agenda enough, they could press harder in the name of a martyred leader; for those on the right, who believed he had betrayed the country by instituting his liberal policies, they could press the need for ideological change. Either way, there persists the “what if” of a mythic second Camelot lost that tragic afternoon in Dallas, Texas, 50 years ago today…either at the hands of a lone gunman or those of conspirators.

©2013 Steve Sagarra

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Apology Not Accepted

There is a growing epidemic in this country:  the public apology. Typically, it comes on the heels of wholly inappropriate public statements or actions by a public figure. As a society, we must stop accepting these apologies from people who should have known better beforehand. As George Costanza would say, “You can stuff your sorries in a sack!”

Of course, people have the natural right to their opinion with the varied protections – in particular, the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution – afforded free speech. Yet, modern society has come to an unspoken agreement that there are certain things that are wrong to think or say. Things deemed racist, sexist, homophobic, etc., or just outright rude and unsavory. Therefore, people must be held responsible for deplorable and offensive behavior, or we will continue the downward spiral into a depraved and disrespectful society.

While love may be never having to say you’re sorry, a polite society is one that never has anything to be sorry about in the first place. But, as Captain Jean-Luc Picard would say, “A line must be drawn here! This far, no further!”

©2013 Steve Sagarra

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Justice Served, Thy Revenue Collected

“If it were not for injustice, men would not know justice,” wrote the Greek philosopher Heraclitus. Everyone can agree that drunk driving is bad and indeed should be prosecuted to the extent of the law. With good reason, police in recent years have more frequently stepped up enforcement efforts; particularly, they are increasingly utilizing regular sobriety checkpoints to curb, if not stop, it. (Notwithstanding the warning system cottage industry that has sprung up in response on social media…letting you know which of your friends who follow such pages are the concerned drunks.) Yet, there is more going on at these checkpoints than just getting drunk drivers off the roads, with nary a protest of motive, or even constitutionality, by drivers cited for other less severe infractions like seatbelt violations. Yes, driving is a privilege, but even privileges have rules of conduct established by the law.

The revenue generated by these non-DUI/DWI infractions can be a windfall for municipalities, especially in times of fiscal crisis. Nevertheless, if it truly is about public safety rather than revenue generation, why institute a fine at all? Why not an old-school warning? Alternatively, give the collected fines to charities or victims’ advocacy groups. No, instead these fines go straight into the municipalities’ coffers – clear evidence that it is indeed about revenue generation. Many states also are exploring adding a "black box" to every vehicle for collecting mileage taxes. Yes, a mileage tax. Drivers taxed to use their vehicles – sales taxes, property taxes, gas taxes, etc. – not to mention registration fees, then subjectively fined for alleged improper use. Where does it end?

There is also the ongoing debate about red light and speed cameras (on top of so-called “traffic flow” ones). Specifically, their true purpose. Are they indeed just another revenue generator as many opponents contend, or are they truly meant as the safety measures that politicians and law enforcement tout them to be? What happens when the ordinances establishing them are ruled to be in violation of the law, or the cameras themselves outright violate it? What happens with the fines already collected? Does the company or municipality refund them, or does that too stay in the coffers? Since proponents maintain that these are not revenue tools, it certainly should not bankrupt either entity to give back the money. Otherwise, these cameras would seem to be exactly what opponents say they are – an (illegal) revenue generator.

In all of this, there exist the more critical issues of privacy as well as the right of protection against unreasonable searches. Throughout history, totalitarians have used checkpoints and monitoring systems as a means for the bureaucratic invasion of citizens’ lives. A chance for government officials to ask for proper documentation, i.e. license and proof of insurance, and spy on any circumspect habits deemed inappropriate for the greater good. All in the name of public safety. While the uniforms may have changed over time, the motive still has not. And it is not a case of approaching that future; we are already there.

©2013 Steve Sagarra

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Legalize & Regulate, Don't Prosecute

Recently, I watched a half-hour police show dedicated to the “scourge” that is marijuana. Let me be as frank as possible:  arresting, prosecuting and incarcerating people for pot possession is stupid. For decades, such efforts have wasted law enforcement resources that could focus on and be utilized in combating more serious crimes. Like domestic violence, rape and murder.

After 20 Years in Prison, Missouri Man Serving Life Without Parole for Marijuana Asks Governor for Clemency 

There are many myths about smoking pot, mostly perpetrated by those nauseatingly goody two-shoes who have never done it. They blindly believe what they have been told by other uninformed people or what they naively think they know from stereotypical sources. For starters, unlike with (legalized) alcohol or illegal drugs like heroin, there is no such thing as a “pot addict.” It doesn’t exist, made up to capitalize on the propaganda of fear. [See Reefer Madness] While some stoners may adhere to the mantra “wake and bake,” there is no sensation like that of a daily fix seen in typical addicts. When I was in high school, a friend’s parents sent them to rehab for their drinking and pot smoking; a month later they left rehab a graduate of heavier drugs, and still drank excessively. They no longer smoked pot though, which I guess was a win.

This leads to the second myth, which is that marijuana is a gateway drug. It isn’t. How do I know? Because I know many people, including myself, who smoked pot in their younger days; the only place it led to was a fast food joint or a grocery store’s chips and bakery aisles. Out of the handful, not a single person moved into heavier drug use because of pot smoking. Not one, and presently all…ALL…are, and have been, productive and successful in their chosen lives and careers. Even in the above example, my friend’s pot smoking isn’t what led to their heavier drug use as much as did their unnecessary, and unsuccessful, stint in rehab. As for condemning marijuana – a naturally growing plant, mind you – as an outlawed drug of choice, the only gateway it has led to are the ever increasing, and scarier, epidemics of synthetic drugs like meth. Well done.

Another reason for legalization and regulation, which may be the most rational argument, is limited government. This may seem counterintuitive, but it isn’t. While there are laws against excessive blood alcohol content and drunk driving, individuals are allowed to drink as they please on any given day – even though alcohol consumption can be directly linked to fatalities caused by the likes of drunk driving, heart disease and cirrhosis, as well as contributing to a high percentage of domestic violence, rape and murder. Only when a person’s alcohol use becomes a disruptive or criminal issue, does the government – law enforcement, legal system – step in. Counter to this, under probable cause alone, the government can intrude on an individual’s personal marijuana use no matter the amount or place of consumption – including your privately owned house, where, again, there’s a high percentage that your pot smoking will be fatal and disruptive only to the refrigerator and cupboard.

As I am not a doctor, I cannot ascribe to the benefits of smoking pot other than what has been documented by those in the profession:  patients with cancer, HIV and other diseases, unable to eat due to nausea and harsh medical treatments, regaining their much-needed appetites and those with debilitating pain able to ease their suffering. It is beyond time for the United States, as many individual states already have, to re-examine its marijuana laws on a national level; if anything else, with the constant threat of fiscal insolvency, doesn’t it make sense to generate tax dollars from a new, and potentially prosperous, stream of revenue? Or will it be too much competition for the alcohol, tobacco and pharmaceutical lobbyists’ dollars that line the pockets of their political and corporate sponsors in D.C. and on Wall Street in order to maintain the status quo? 

©2013 Steve Sagarra