Tuesday, November 26, 2013

New Hampshire Medicaid: Chris Muns and Nancy Stiles

So here's the thing about Medicaid: Most people do not want to think about it.
Most people do not want to think about prisons, either.
These are things which happen to other people and we have enough to think about when it comes to things which might happen to our own selves.

So, when Obamacare (now the Affordable Care Act) gets passed, New Hampshire gets offered a lot of dollars if it will only sign on, but Republicans in New Hampshire, particularly Republicans in the Senate, like Nancy Stiles, see treachery in these dollars, and they know those are tainted dollars, dollars likely to lead us down some dark, sinister road to perdition. These are dollars with Democratic fingerprints all over them, and they vote to refuse the money, on principle. On the principle that no money from Democrats, even if it goes to New Hampshire citizens, can be good money.

But, as Mad Dog has said, Medicaid is  not something most people in New Hampshire care about, because Medicaid is for poor people, welfare queens, people who are not willing to work, people who would accept government charity, people who are lazy and undeserving. 

Even if all that were true, there is a problem with the Republican position: When those lazy, undeserving people get sick, they do what?  They go to...you guessed it, THE EMERGENCY ROOM.  And guess who pays for their care?  The deserving, upright, hard working citizens of New Hampshire. 

It's not a direct tax bill you see on April 15th, but that does not make it any less real.

Think on that, Granite staters.

As Chris Muns said, rather forlornly, after Nancy Stiles voted with her Tea Party friends to reject federal Medicaid funds, these Republicans don't care who they hurt, or how crazy their position is, from a public policy or public health viewpoint--they only care about an ideology:  Government is bad. Democrats are bad. Democrats handing out money is doubly bad. Bad. Bad. Bad. 

The question is, do the good folk of New Hampshire really want to be led by fundamentalists?  

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Mad Dog and Marijuana

Mad Dog must admit, from the outset, he does not smoke marijuana, has never given it a fair try, has never smoked cigarettes, although he once tried and found the experience uninspiring, does not drink caffeinated drinks, cannot tolerate much alcohol, although he has tried to develop a taste for wine and beer, just cannot.

(In fact, Mad Dog married a Jack Mormon, whose entire family can regularly drink Mad Dog and all his relatives under the table.)

Having said all that, Mad Dog may not be qualified to say much about marijuana, but that will not keep him from trying.

Patrick Radden Keefe's article about Mark Kleiman and the legalization of marijuana in the state of Washington, which appears in the Nov 18 New Yorker, triggered a potent memory in Mad Dog.

Sometime in the mid 1990's Mad Dog received a notice to report to  the Rockville, Maryland Courthouse at  the Montgomery County seat for jury duty. Mad Dog's initial reaction was dread and anger: Mad Dog was in the private practice of medicine and if he were taken out of his office for a week he would have trouble meeting his payroll, his rent and his expenses, while most of the members of the jury pool would be getting a free holiday from their government and corporate offices. 

But when Mad Dog was seated for a trial the judge assured everyone this would be a one day trial and Mad Dog quickly became enthralled by the experience:  The defendant was seated at a table in the courtroom and the jurors filed in and took their places in the jury box. Mad Dog was the 13th juror, the alternate juror.

Looking around him at his fellow jurors, and then across the room at the defendant, Mad Dog could see immediately this defendant was marked as clearly "guilty" and stood next to no change of acquittal. The jurors looked much like Mad Dog, white, dressed in the wardrobe of  Ann Taylor, Brooks Brothers, Talbot's, Barney's--white bread through and through. Guido, the defendant hand been cleaned up for the occasion:  clean shaven,  dark slacks and a new, pressed shirt, but the clean up would not help Guido, whose dark, slicked back hair and Hispanic/Mediterranean features marked him as guilty, guilty, guilty.

The judge asked the jury if anyone knew of any reason he or she should not hear this case of the sale of marijuana. Mad Dog raised his hand and the judge told him to approach the bench and they turned on some white noise machine and the prosecutor and the public defender flanked Mad Dog as Mad Dog explained to the judge Mad Dog did not believe selling or using marijuana ought to be illegal.  The judge asked Mad Dog, "But if the state could prove to your satisfaction the defendant did in fact sell marijuana and that selling marijuana in Montgomery County is illegal, could you find the defendant had violated that law?"  Mad Dog had to admit, meekly, he could. That satisfied the prosecutor and Mad Dog was told to go take his seat. 

The only witness for the prosecution was a florid faced Montgomery County detective named O'Shaunessey (or something Irish) and he testified he had been sitting in his car, with a delicatessen sandwich on a waxed paper wrapper in his lap, looking through binoculars at the housing project buildings 150 yards away, across a playground and walkways. He was on a stakeout on a separate case, looking for some felon, when he saw a young man in a red tropical shirt drive up, park and start talking to Guido, who had been working with his brother, under the hood of his car. Guido reached into his pocket pulled something out and slapped the hand of the red shirted guy and Detective O'Shaunessey knew, from years of observation, he had just seen a drug deal go down, and the pass off of a packet of something illegal and the exchange, with another hand slap of cash. 

O'Shaunessey reached for his radio and rained down mayhem upon the playground and environs of this housing project,  as half a dozen Montgomery county police and detectives swarmed over the grassy knoll, guns drawn, brushing aside squalling infants, and young children, and their mothers and nannies, as they raced across the 150 yards, toward Guido, his brother and the unfortunate buyer in the Hawaiian Punch shirt. 

By the time the cops reached the scene of the crime, Guido had disappeared into his apartment building and the cops arrested his brother, who had just lifted his head from under the hood and was bewildered, thrown to the ground, arms pinned behind his back, handcuffed and told he had just sold some drugs to the tropical shirt felon.

Guido then emerged from his apartment and breathless cops realized they had arrested the wrong guy and they arrested Guido. It is not clear how long Guido's brother had his arms pinned behind him. 

Presented to the jury for their viewing pleasure and edification was the roll of cash found in Guido's pocket, the cell phone he carried. Guido had no drugs on his person. Hawaiian Punch had a packet of marijuana in his pocket.

The prosecutor held up the roll of cash and the beeper confiscated from Guido at the scene and said, "This money, this beeper, which is used by drug dealers to set up sales,  is all the evidence, taken with Detective O'Shaunessy's testimony, you need."

Now the beeper as an incriminating article struck Mad Dog as particularly bogus. Mad Dog ran an inner city clinic in Washington, D.C. and every 13 year old carried a beeper. Most of these beepers were not even operational--that would have meant a monthly bill and required a credit card. They were simply status symbols. If you had a beeper, you were cool, a player. The prosecution never even established Guido's beeper was activated. The roll of money, Guido's lawyer explained, was no crime, no indication of venality. Guido, like many project people, had no bank account, no checks and lived on a cash economy and the arrest occurred on a Tuesday afternoon, and Guido had just been paid.

Guido's public defender made one tactical error, by saying Guido had purchased the beeper because his girlfriend was pregnant and he needed to be reached when she went into labor, which suggested to the white, upper class Montgomery County jurors: A/ Guido had fathered a child out of wedlock  B/Guido did not live with the mother of his child and C/ Guido likely did not support the mother. D/ The mother was likely some 13 year old child, living with her parents, who would not allow Guido near her except for the event of the delivery, because they knew Guido was a no good scum bag, a point of view the jurors, at a glance, could readily understand.

To Mad Dog, if the story were true, it suggested at least Guido intended to do the puffing and panting with the mother of his child at the delivery.

Probably none of these assumptions was true.  But the fact all these assumptions were in play suggests an explanation why the vast preponderance of convictions for marijuana sale and possession occur among the underclass in America although the numbers of middle and upper class children and people who use the drug vastly outnumber those in the underclass who do.

After the testimony, the judge instructed the jury which rose to go deliberate in the jury room and Mad Dog prepared his impassioned argument for acquitting poor Guido,  when he heard the judge call his name and summon him to the bench. The judge said, "Those also serve who only watch and wait." And the judge dismissed Mad Dog, who would not be allowed in the jury deliberations with the 12 real jurors.

In the hallway, the prosecutor and the public defender collared Mad Dog to ask how he would have voted. Why these two were so interested escaped Mad Dog. But they were 20 somethings and they had done at least some work on the case, and it was a game to them and they wanted an early signal about who might win. 

"I'd have voted to acquit," Mad Dog told them. "The cops arrested the wrong guy initially which speaks to confusion about who actually saw what when. And no drugs were found on Guido. No packet was actually seen through the binoculars. In fact, the major risk to public safety that day was all the police with their fingers on their triggers, running around among a dozen children on the playground. If anyone should have been charged, it should have been O'Shaunessey for reckless endangerment."

The prosecutor told Mad Dog, the only other juror he had as a choice for  the 13th juror was someone who had been convicted of marijuana possession a decade earlier. So Mad Dog, even after his statement to the judge looked like a better bet. Even in that white bread county, they couldn't find 14 people who had never used or admitted to using marijuana. 

So Guido went down, found guilty, found guilty by a jury of his peers, convicted of selling a packet of marijuana, sent off to jail, missed the birth of his son, likely lost his job at Jiffy Lube. 

The whole concept of being tried by a jury of your peers, as Mad Dog understands it, arose in English law and was incorporated by the English colonists who wrote the American constitution. No peasant wanted to be judged by a jury of disdainful aristocrats who would not know about the status symbol value of a beeper (or its 18th century equivalent) among the peasants. But that jury of your peers thing has been perverted by the complexities of class and class resentment and disdain in America today. So the poor get tried in front of a jury of their betters and they get sent to jail more or less ruthlessly and ineluctably. 

Maybe he's moved to Washington State by now, where he would likely be arrested even today, for selling marijuana on the black market.  

As Keefe observed in the New Yorker:  "When legal marijuana goes on sale, sometime next spring, the black market will not simply vanish; over-the-counter pot will have to compete with illicit pot. To support the legal market, Kleinman argued, the state must intensify law-enforcement pressure on people who refuse to play by the new rules."

It's third season of the wire, coming to real life, where Major Howard Colvin's experimental "Hamsterdam" emerges on the streets of Washington state. As David Simon and the Wire ensemble so intricately and clearly showed, the results of drug legalization, even for the most benign drug, marijuana, will likely not be pretty and will create new problems. 

Hopefully, the new problems will be less damaging than the current problems. But watching that third season should be required viewing for legislators from New Hampshire to California.

It's all right there, in the good book called "The Wire," if anyone would actually brave up and watch it.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Is America More Dysfunctional Now than Ever?

With all the talk about the staggering start to Obamacare, with the crumbling of the middle class, the emergence of gridlock as a permanent state of Congress, the capacity of a few Southern states to throw a wrench into the gears of the federal government, we hear  a lot about how things are simply not working, dysfunctional and blame is assigned depending on your Republican or Democratic roots.

But, the fact is, banks are lending. Maybe to the wrong people, maybe for the wrong projects, but they are in business. Insurance companies (outside of health care insurance) are doing business and cheating their customers just as happily as they ever have. Automobiles are being made, sold, crashed, replaced. Hospitals are doing surgery, admitting patients, discharging at least some of them.

The military has found wars to fight, and although they are winding down some wars, new opportunities for dropping bombs, shooting guns, air lifting troops to war zones will inevitably present themselves. Career advancement in the military may not be as rapid or assured as it was when the armed forces were larger, but in the era of eternal war, which has persisted since WWII, things look good for the military's long term prospects.

Our infrastructure may be crumbling, but, eventually, unless the Tea Party wins more elections, the government will get around to refurbishing bridges, roads, telephone and power lines. 

Fracking may pollute under ground aquifers, but we are likely to be less hostage to Saudi sheikhs and we may be more energy independent and we may even use methane, wind and sun power better someday.

When you look at the 1860's, with open rebellion from the states which became the Tea party states, or at the 1960's, when boys were torn from the bosoms of their families, sent to Vietnam and killed, today's mercenary armies look much more benign--at least for the 98% of people who know they will never have to wear a uniform and shoot a gun in combat.

It may not be the worst of times/ best of times, but, for now our problems are mostly financial, and financial problems were worse in the 1930's.  Just about every problem we face now, was worse at some other decade in our history.

Of course, it will take only one terrorist with a nuclear bomb to undo this rosy picture, and we ought not tempt fate.

But we ought not despair. History can be a wonderful nostrum.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Eric Schlosser: Command and Control or Lack Thereof

Eric Schlosser
"When the missile left the ground, you could feel it in your bones. The blast, the roar, the sight of the flames slowly lifting the Titan II upward--they suddenly affected me. They were more visceral and powerful than any Cold War story. I had grown up in the 1970's hearing about missiles and warheads, throw weights and megatons, half believing that none of those weapons really worked, that the fears of nuclear Armageddon were overblown and based on some terrible fiction. The Titan II hesitated for a moment and then really took off, like a ten-story silver building disappearing into the sky. Within moments, it was gone, just a tail of flame somewhere over Mexico.
Watching that launch, the imaginary became tangible and concrete for me. It rattled me. It pierced a false sense of comfort. Right now thousands of missiles are hidden away, literally out of sight, topped with warheads and ready to go, awaiting the right electrical signal. They are a collective death wish, barely suppressed. Every one of them is an accident waiting to happen, a potential act of mass murder. They are out there, waiting, soulless and mechanical, sustained by our denial--and they work."
--Eric Schlosser, Command and Control

Thus ends Eric Schlosser's book, Command and Control. It is a catalog of accidents involving nuclear bombs: Bombs dropped five feet while being loaded into airplanes, bombs carried in airplanes which crash and explode, and one bomb which was simply struck by a falling wrench when a nineteen year old Air Force Airman--just a boy really-- dropped a wrench piercing the "skin" of a Titan II missile, setting off a chain of events culminating in the missile exploding, taking lives with it, as airmen and officers frantically tried to undo the mistake, the slip of a metal tool. 

The book is repetitive and could have used some editing, as events and time sequences are jumbled,  but that is forgivable in a book which took 6 years to write. Even the repetition and losing track of sequences of events is not wholly a distraction, in that it builds the central thesis which is that all works of man are inherently subject to error and are flawed, imperfect creations which can do harm as well as function the way they were intended to function.

Schlosser takes us through eras past, when the Soviet Union constructed a perimeter defense of nuclear tipped missiles which would automatically fire, unless manually over ridden, if the system detected  an "attack" from the United States occurred. It was straight out of "Dr. Strangelove," because the Soviets never told the United States about this system, so it had no deterrent effect. It was simply an instrument of reprisal. 

He takes us through the current perils of India and Pakistan armed with nuclear weapons, of terrorists who are plotting to steal a few.

The critical point Schlosser makes is that more weapons have not made us more secure, but less.  

We once had three parts to our deterrent scheme: Part One, Airplanes with nuclear bombs which were kept aloft circling the northern borders--Pease in New Hampshire was part of the Strategic Air Command--and New Hampshire was targeted because airplanes with nuclear bombs flew out of Pease; part two,  missiles in the ground in places from Arkansas to Kansas to Washington state to California; and part three,  missiles in submarines which were and are essentially undetectable and untouchable and are enough of a deterrent all by themselves, because there are enough of these stealth weapons to kill Russia and before that, the Soviet Union several times over.

The problem with the airplane part is that airplanes were clearly  ineffective. They never would have reached their targets. They also were very risky to the owners, i.e. the people of the USA. Airplanes crashed. They accidentally dropped bombs on the land they flew over, namely the United States of America. Fortunately none of these mishaps resulted in the detonation of the nuclear part of the bombs, but that was, as one of the generals said, "Part good technology, part  heroism and part divine intervention. The last part being by far the most important." The airplane part was kept going because the Air Force wanted to be in on the game; air force generals wanted to be power players in the game. And they had political clout. But the lumbering B-52's were kept parked by runways, or lumbering into the sky long after they were a credible threat or deterrent. They were like so many Don Quioxte's, riding on broken down steads off to do glorious but doomed battle, no real threat to anyone.

The problem with the in ground missiles is they needed maintenance, and they were sitting ducks. The Russians could target them, and did, dozens of times over and the ground missiles would be wiped out in any first strike. There was once a plan to move the missiles around in a massive shell game, to thwart a first strike, to remediate this vulnerability, but this plan was too expensive even for the American Congress. Even jackasses can occasionally do sums. So the missiles we've got which are still in the ground, are magnets for nuclear missiles from Russia, but likely they pose more threat to the communities they are buried near than to any city in Russia or any Russian military base.

The submarines were and are still pretty much invulnerable, as long as no captain or crew goes berserk, and as long as communicating with all those submarines occurs flawlessly.

This is a worthwhile book. It is a book Congress men and women should read, if they can still  read at all.

Mr. Schlosser has written about other important topics: he has focused on the American food chain, made a movie based on Michael Pollen's Omnivores Dilemma, the excellent "Food, Inc."  He has written about the American prison system.   So he picks topics we do not want to think about, because thinking about these things it makes us uncomfortable.

The problem is, this is the same problem "The Wire" encountered. Truth, no matter how important, when it becomes too uncomfortable, is something the greater public (and I use that phrase ironically) is apt to deny, or to ignore or to simply refuse to hear. As magnificent as "The Wire"was, it never won an Emmy, never won a large audience. It was simply, funny as it could be, in the end, too sad and depressing. And this may be the fate of Command and Control an important topic we'd rather not think about.

As T.S. Eliot observed: Humankind cannot bear too much reality.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Where Everyone's an Expert

Mad Dog recalls, only dimly, some novel by Flannery O'Connor--may have been Wise Blood-- which had a character, a twenty-something, who feels "called" to preach God's word and he stands on the street corner proclaiming "truths" which he just simply "knows, " like, "There is no man without sin."  This scene made a great impression on Mad Dog, because it portrayed so clearly that desire to be a person who "knows." This was an unschooled, thoroughly ignorant young person who, on some level, understood his own paucity of knowledge, rigorously examined,  and he wanted to become a person of wisdom and knowledge, without the drudgery of acquiring wisdom and knowledge. 

There is almost an Augenblick diagnosis of the man who has only phony, dreamed up knowledge: He is wide eyed, excited, eager, while the man who has acquire knowledge slowly, systematically, rigorously is slumped shouldered, burdened by the effort and almost burdened by the weight of his knowledge. Where the ignorant zealot is eager to convey the simple truths he knows, the genuine article has no simple truths, only complex truths. 

This will for instant understanding and enlightenment may be the same impulse which causes people to blog--instant punditry: I speak, therefore I know.

The same impulse is clearly what fuels many people to talk, read, exchange about politics and the blood brothers of politics: economics and sociology.

You can see this will to be a savant in Ted Cruz, Rand Paul and New Gingrich. They all share that sense of urgency, the will to preach, to make others understand the truths they "know," truths, which of course, are only the containers for the realities these men wished were true.

When Ted Cruz says the battle over Obamacare is really the first skirmish in the war between those who would abolish the free market in this country and those who believe in capitalism and free market, he is preaching his gospel on the street corner, speaking in tongues.

When Rand Paul says we need to cut government spending and reduce deficits because government spending is unsustainable and will cause economic catastrophe, he knows these things because he wants to believe them. Paul Krugman, of course, looking at history and at numbers and debating this proposition over the years, knows  just the opposite: We ought to be spending more in times of slow economic growth.

These articles of political and economic faith cannot be tested with double blind, randomized, prospective, controlled studies.  That's what makes them articles of faith. 

It is precisely because nobody can really know whether more spending will save us or sink us that the actors proclaiming, declaiming, exclaiming do so with such urgency and drama--when you don't really know, you better look like you have no doubt.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

My Own Private JFK

Fifty years! Hardly seems possible. Some part of you always remains 16.

JFK was the first President Mad Dog can really remember in great detail, personally. Eisenhower was a gray old man. Now that Mad Dog has learned more about Eisenhower's critical approach to the reactionary forces within the US military, Ike looks a lot better. But then Eisenhower was just another irrelevant old man.

And now JFK looks...well, a lot different.

What swept Mad Dog away as a teenager was the marketing, the glamor machine--JFK had that great regional accent which made him sound smarter and more exotic. The only regional accents Mad Dog heard growing up were from the South, and Mad Dog associated those accents with stupidity, brutality and backwardness. 

And there were those press conferences, full of wit and joy and class. And those gatherings at the White House of luminaries, Nobel prize winners, scientists, artists, athletes. One night, JFK stood in front of a glittering dining room, looked around at all the famous, accomplished people and said, "This is perhaps the greatest concentration of talent, creativity and accomplishment to be present in this room in  the White House,  since Thomas Jefferson dined here, alone."

Mad Dog pleaded with his parents to allow him to go downtown to the Kennedy Inauguration, and finally they gave consent, but it snowed 8 inches and that much snow paralyzed Washington, DC. So Mad Dog had to watch it on TV at home, the same way kids in New Hampshire did. Robert Frost tried to read a poem he had written for the occasion, but the sun reflecting off the snow blinded him and JFK stood up to shade the lectern so Frost could read, but Frost gave up trying to read and said he would recite a poem he didn't need to read, one he knew from memory, a poem called, "The Gift Outright." There he was, an old man, standing next to the youngest President, reciting from memory. A lovely moment in American history.  Mad Dog never saw JFK in the flesh. He did meet Jackie Kennedy, much later, when Mad Dog was a resident in medicine at New York Hospital, but never JFK himself.

Mad Dog's father thought Kennedy something of a light weight, and he could not abide Jackie Kennedy. Every time Jackie's name came up, Mad Dog's father would tell the story about when she was a cub reporter and he had to take a telephone call from her,  to answer some questions about some government program and what really struck him was "that awful, brassy voice."  She had no class whatsoever. Just a pushy career woman, trying to make it in Washington.  When she gave her famous televised tour of the White House with that phony whispery voice, Mad Dog's father just howled. "You want a breathy whisper, go for Marilyn Monroe. She, at least, is just being funny and she is a class act."

Apparently, JFK may have agreed.

We know more now. JFK took his pleasures where he found them. His sexual mores were aligned with those of his father. You married a woman, who you put on a pedestal, and you bedded other women, for pleasure. Once Upon A Secret is but one memoir of a woman who JFK had procured, brought to the White House and had sex.  All those sexual adventures mean to Mad Dog now, is JFK lived in an era which demanded he lie about his sex life, an era which has not yet ended.

The Friday Kennedy was shot, there was supposed to be a Judy Collins concert at the  high school, which Mad Dog was in charge of publicizing and there was considerable criticism Mad Dog had done a pretty poor job. Judy Collins was then an  unknown folk singer and she had agreed to appear at the  high school because it had the biggest gym in the county--a field house with a geodesic dome designed by Buckminster Fuller, and the ticket sales had been anemic and that field house was going to be empty. Of course, the concert was cancelled with the news from Dallas.

A few kids at school had transitor radios, but  it was not like today, where everyone is  linked in--radios were not usually turned on until the bus ride home from school. But students  looked out their windows and all those yellow buses were pulling up in front of the school and it was only 2 o'clock in the afternoon. There was that long line of buses and everyone knew something was up. And kids who had radios, turned them on.

They interrupted classes with a Public Address system announcement. 

They were smart enough to select Mr. Good to deliver the news. He really did live up to his name: Everyone really liked him. He was the vice principal.  He said the President had been shot in Dallas but there was no word as yet about his condition. On the way to the buses, kids clustered around anyone who had a radio to his ear, and they knew before they got on the buses: the President was dead.

That school, Walt Whitman High School,  was just miles from the District line, and most of the kids were children of  federal employees, civil servants, Congressmen,  Cabinet officers. Like adolescents everywhere, the students  were more concerned day to day with who was cool and who was dating whom, and it did not matter much what their parents did for work, or who was a Senator's daughter. It mattered if she was cute or bright or stupid, but nobody cared much if your father was a Congressman. But at that school most kids did feel some direct connection to the federal government, and even if their parents were Republicans, nobody was anything but distraught that day. Didn't matter if Kennedy was a Democrat, the idea that somebody could shoot dead the President of the United States made everyone pretty grim.

Personally, Mad Dog was furious. Mad Dog was mad at himself for thinking about how at least he would not have to look out at all those empty seats in the field house and feel like a failure, but he was really furious about the idea somebody could shoot the President, his  President, a President to whom he felt somehow personally connected. 

We heard a lot about Texas over the next few days, how they were all a bunch of haters down there.  But we could see the television images from Dallas and it was pretty clear not everyone in Texas was happy Kennedy had been shot.

As fate would have it, Mad Dog's college girlfriend was from Houston and one of his best friends from Dallas.  Mad Dog sort of made them exceptions, like people in the South made exceptions for Negroes they knew personally. "Oh, he may be a Negro, but he's okay."  That's the way Mad Dog felt about Texans in college. In the end, though, there was a cultural gap between Mad Dog and the girl from Texas.  Broke up with her in medical school. It would never have worked. You can take the girl out of Texas, but you cannot take Texas out of the girl.

But back to Kennedy.

As for his presidency, Command and Control (Eric Schlosser) tells the story Mad Dog had not appreciated, about just how close we came to nuclear war and the most harrowing part of it was not the craziness of Khrushchev, but it was the craziness of our own military leaders, who seriously urged JFK to launch a first strike against the Soviet Union. How did these maniacs rise to the top of the American military?

JFK was rendered impotent to pass legislation to reverse Jim Crow in the South. There were drinking fountains, bathrooms, restaurants, motels for whites only throughout the South and others marked "Colored."  JFK himself was clearly appalled by this. But the Democratic party in those days was a Southern party. Only the Confederate states voted reliably Democratic, against the Republican party of Lincoln, while New Hampshire had William Loeb of the Manchester Union Leader, and the Granite State was reliably Republican, as was much of the Midwest.

LBJ, who may have murdered JFK, changed that alignment of the parties. He pushed for the passage of the Voting Rights Act, and legislation which made segregation illegal and the South jumped ship and turned Republican on a dime.

So, in retrospect, JFK was a transition figure, who managed to keep America from going over the Armageddon cliff, but could not do much to change the nature of life in America for the underclasses. He really could not accomplish much. And he did inject advisers into Vietnam. We'll never know whether or not he would have extricated us from Vietnam. 

We do know he did not push the button during the Cuban missile crisis.

And avoiding Armageddon is no small accomplishment.