Thursday, August 27, 2009

A Tribute to the 'Liberal Lion of the Senate,' Edward Moore (Ted) Kennedy, 1932-2009

While a Scandal Stemming From a 1969 Car Accident at Chappaquiddick Forever Barred Him From the Presidency, Ted Kennedy Ended Up Garnering a Far Greater Degree of Accomplishment in His Nearly Half-Century in the Senate Than He Could Possibly Have Amassed During Four or Eight Years in the White House -- Although His Lifelong Goal of Universal Health Insurance Remains Unfulfilled

Family portrait: Senator Edward M. Kennedy is pictured to the right of his older brothers, President John F. Kennedy and Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy in this photo taken at the Kennedy family compound in Hyannisport, Massachusetts in the summer of 1963, just months before the president was assassinated. Although fate would forever bar Ted Kennedy, who lost his 18-month battle with cancer early Wednesday morning at the age of 77, from following in his brothers' footsteps to the White House, he would nonetheless have a far greater impact on America in his nearly half-century in the Senate than he ever could have had in four or eight years as president. (File photo courtesy Getty Images)

(Posted 5:00 a.m. EDT Thursday, August 27, 2009)


We all knew it was coming.

We knew it was coming from the moment we learned 18 months ago that Senator Edward Kennedy had been diagnosed with inoperable brain cancer.

We knew it was coming when the Massachusetts Democrat was noticeably absent from the funeral on August 14 of his sister, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, a tireless advocate for the mentally disabled and founder of the Special Olympics, who died four days earlier at the age of 88.

And we knew it was coming when it was disclosed by The Boston Globe last week that the senator, fully aware that his passing was imminent, had written to state leaders in his native Massachusetts asking them to change a state law to allow Governor Deval Patrick to make an appointment to fill his seat on an interim basis until a permanent successor is elected 145 days -- five months -- later.

Yet when the news of the Massachusetts Democrat's death at age 77 finally broke during the wee hours of Wednesday morning -- too late for the print runs of the nation's daily newspapers save for those on the West Coast -- it nonetheless stunned us all, friend and foe alike.


The "Liberal Lion of the Senate" -- whose tireless, lifelong dedication to the cause of economic and social justice for all Americans probably would have earned him the moniker "The Happy Warrior" had a fellow senator and later vice president named Hubert H. Humphrey not claimed it first -- had many doubters in 1962 when he ran for his older brother's vacated Senate seat after John F. Kennedy won the presidency two years earlier.

After John was assassinated in 1963 and brother Robert was gunned down while seeking the Democratic presidential nomination in 1968, many believe that Edward -- the youngest of the Kennedy brothers who was universally known by his nickname, Ted -- was thought to be a shoo-in to win the White House himself, despite fears that he, too, would fall victim to an assassin's bullet.

As fate would have it, a personal scandal stemming from a 1969 car accident would forever disqualify Ted Kennedy from winning the White House. Yet that turn of events proved to be a blessing in disguise, for in his 46 years in the Senate -- a tenure longer than any other senator in U.S. history except Robert Byrd of West Virginia and Strom Thurmond of South Carolina -- Kennedy gained far greater power and influence than he could likely ever have garnered in four or eight years as president.

Yet Kennedy died with his greatest lifelong crusade -- universal health insurance for all Americans -- still unfulfilled and the subject of intense debate, one that has been markedly affected by his absence from the Senate chambers.


President Obama, who is vacationing with his wife and children at Martha's Vineyard, near the Kennedy family compound at Hyannisport, issued a statement Wednesday saying he was "heartbroken" by Kennedy's death. "His ideas and ideals are stamped on scores of laws and reflected on millions of lives ... in all who can pursue their dreams in an America that is more equal and more just, including myself," the president said.

"The Kennedy name is synonymous with the Democratic Party, and at times Ted was the target of partisan campaign attacks. But in the United States Senate, I can think of no one who engendered greater respect or affection from members of both sides of the aisle," Obama continued.

In many ways, the president owes much of his election victory to Kennedy, whose ringing endorsement last year of the then-senator from Illinois in the race for the Democratic nomination against fellow senator and former first lady Hillary Clinton was seen by many as the symbolic passing of the political torch carried by the Kennedys to a new generation.

The president will deliver the eulogy at a funeral Mass for the senator scheduled for Saturday in Boston. The senator's remains will later be flown to Washington for burial alongside his assassinated brothers at Arlington National Cemetery.

Both the funeral Mass and burial service are scheduled to be closed to the public. However, the senator's body will lie in repose for public viewing at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library at Dorchester, a Boston suburb, on Friday from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. EDT, followed by a 7:00 p.m. EDT memorial service Friday night at the library.

The two-hour memorial service will also be closed to the public, due to space limitations, but is likely to be televised live.


Edward Moore Kennedy was born at St. Margaret's Hospital in Boston on February 22, 1932, the youngest of nine children of Joseph P. Kennedy, Sr. and Rose Fitzgerald, who were both members of two of the most prominent Irish-American families in the city.

Ironically, his older brother John, according to The Boston Globe's obituary published in today's (Thursday's) editions, asked that he be named the newborn's godfather and that the baby be named George Washington Kennedy, in honor of the nation's first president. His parents said yes to John's first request, but no to the second.

Frequently uprooted as a child as the Kennedys moved several times -- to Bronxville, New York; Hyannisport, Massachusetts; Palm Beach, Florida and to London while his father served as the U.S. Ambassador to Britain -- the young Kennedy attended ten different schools by the age of eleven.

Kennedy's life was marked repeatedly by family tragedies, even as a child. Between the ages of eight and 16, Ted endured the trauma of his sister Rosemary's lobotomy in her early 20s that left her incapacitated for the rest of her life, along with the deaths of his brother Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr. during World War II and his sister Kathleen Agnes Kennedy in a plane crash in 1948.

It was a family "curse" that would continue for decades, including the assassinations of his brothers John and Robert in the 1960s, the death of his nephew, John F. Kennedy, Jr. in a plane crash in 1999 and most recently the passing of his sister Eunice earlier this month.

Yet through it all, Ted Kennedy soldiered on as the patriarch of a clan that for a generation was the closest thing America had to a royal family.


When his older brother John won the presidency in 1960, Ted was eager to succeed him in the U.S. Senate, but because of his age -- he was a year younger than the constitutionally-mandated minimum of 30 to be eligible to run -- he was forced to wait two years until a special election in 1962.

Kennedy's quest for the Senate was an uphill battle all the way. He first faced a Democratic Party primary challenge from Massachusetts Attorney general Ed McCormack. McCormack had the support of many liberals and intellectuals, who thought Kennedy was too inexperienced and whose expulsion from Harvard University in a cheating scandal became an issue during the race.

Kennedy also had to confront the widely-held notion that with one brother in the White House as president and another serving as attorney general, "Don't you think that Teddy is one Kennedy too many?" But Kennedy turned out to be a tough campaigner.

In a televised debate, McCormack said "The office of United States senator should be merited, and not inherited," and said that if his opponent's name was Edward Moore rather than Edward Moore Kennedy, his candidacy "would be a joke."

That didn't sit well with viewers, who thought McCormack's debate performance was overbearing; combined with the family political machine fully behind him, Kennedy won the September 1962 primary by a two-to-one margin. In the November special election, Kennedy defeated Republican George Cabot Lodge II, the son of former Senator Henry Cabot Lodge Jr., who gave up his seat to be Richard Nixon's vice-presidential running mate in the 1960 election.


Throughout his 46 years in the Senate, Kennedy was a tireless champion for civil rights. With fellow Senator Hubert H. Humphrey as his mentor -- the "Happy Warrior" from Minnesota challenged the Democratic Party as early as its 1948 convention to adopt a civil-rights platform to end segregation and discrimination against African-Americans in the South -- Kennedy adopted as his own Humphrey's steadfast belief that "the best measure of government is how it treats its children, its elderly and the sick and needy who cannot take care of themselves."

Kennedy regarded civil rights as "America's great unfinished business" and over the years, he sponsored or co-sponsored one civil rights bill after another, most recently the Lily Ledbetter Equal Pay Act -- the first piece of legislation signed into law by Obama in January -- that expands workers’ rights to sue over unequal pay.

Kennedy was also a co-sponsor of the proposed Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which would extend the provisions of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to ban anti-gay discrimination in employment.

He was also a fierce opponent of anyone he perceived as a threat to Americans' civil rights and civil liberties, blocking the 1987 confirmation of Robert Bork to the U.S. Supreme Court, whose views on civil rights were considered too extreme even for some conservatives.

He was less successful, however, in blocking the Supreme Court confirmations of conservatives Clarence Thomas, Antonin Scalia and, more recently, Samuel Alito and Chief Justice John Roberts.


Having come from a family that has been plagued by tragedies, it was perhaps inevitable that Ted Kennedy would suffer a personal tragedy himself, when in July 0f 1969 -- just days after the nation celebrated the Apollo 11 moon landing -- Kennedy drove his car off a bridge on Chappaquiddick Island, Massachusetts, plunging into a tidal channel.

Mary Jo Kopechne, a former campaign worker for Kennedy's late brother Robert, was a passenger in the senator's car. Kennedy was able to escape the vehicle, but Kopechne wasn't and she drowned.

After Kopechne's body was found, Kennedy gave a statement to police saying that he had taken a wrong turn and accidentally drove his car off the bridge. Later, he pleaded guilty to a charge of leaving the scene of an accident after causing injury and received a suspended sentence.

The incident became a national scandal and forever foreclosed Kennedy from becoming president -- a fact that was driven home to him in 1980 when he ran for the Democratic nomination against incumbent President Jimmy Carter.

Despite Carter's own unpopularity, the president easily defeated Kennedy. But many of Kennedy's supporters refused to back Carter in the general election and he ultimately lost to Ronald Reagan.


But while America made it clear that it didn't want to send Kennedy to the Oval Office because of Chappaquiddick, Massachusetts voters were much more forgiving of their senior senator and re-elected him seven times.

And it proved liberating to Kennedy family patriarch. Freed from the political constraints that the presidency places on whomever occupies that office, Kennedy was able to accomplish far more of what he sought out to do in the Senate.

But the one thing that Kennedy was most passionate about -- and dedicated his entire public life to achieving -- remains unfulfilled with his death: Universal health insurance for all Americans. Nonetheless, Kennedy did succeed in increasing funding for cancer research (long before his own cancer was diagnosed), expanding the State Children's Health Insurance Plan (SCHIP), tighter regulation of private health-maintenance organizations, or HMOs and greater portability for workers' health insurance.

Already, Kennedy's death has spawned a rallying cry for supporters of health-care reform: "Do It for Teddy!" At least one blogger, Balloon Juice's Anne Laurie, has called for reform legislation to bear Kennedy's name -- a lasting tribute to the man who dramatically called health-care reform "the cause of my life" in a stirring speech at last year's Democratic Convention in Denver.

How will Ted Kennedy's passing ultimately affect the often-acrimonious debate? Only time will tell.

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Volume IV, Number 64
Copyright 2009, Skeeter Sanders. All rights reserved.


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Monday, August 24, 2009

Anti-Hate Watchdog: Far-Right Extremists Girding for Domestic Terrorist Campaign

New Report by Southern Poverty Law Center Backs Up Homeland Security's Warning That Anti-Government Militias Driven by Racism and Xenophobia Are Joining Forces With White-Supremacist and Neo-Nazi Groups for a Campaign of Harassment and Intimidation That Could Escalate into Hate-Motivated Terror Attacks Across the Country


In the months since Barack Obama was elected the nation's first African-American president, both the federal government and private anti-hate watchdog groups have been increasing their monitoring of white supremacists and other far-right-wing extremists believed to have come "unhinged" by the reality of a black man becoming head of state. Now the Southern Poverty Law Center, the nation's best-known anti-hate watchdog, has issued a new report revealing that the extremists are coalescing to unleash a campaign of harassment and intimidation that law-enforcement authorities fear could escalate into a wave of domestic terror attacks of a magnitude comparable to the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995. (Image courtesy

(Posted 5:00 a.m. EDT Monday, August 24, 2009)
(Updated 2:30 a.m. EDT Tuesday, August 25, 2009)



San Francisco Chronicle

SAN MATEO, California — A former student at a high school in this San Francisco suburb, armed with 10 pipe bombs, a chainsaw and a sword, planned to forge a path of destruction through his old campus Monday, authorities said.

Investigators believe his plan was to kill people with bombs, then slaughter the survivors with the chainsaw and sword. Instead, the 17-year-old was able to detonate only two of the bombs -- injuring no one -- before staffers at the school tackled him and police arrived.

On Monday evening he was at juvenile hall after being questioned by police and prosecutors. His name has not been released because he is a juvenile. Prosecutors said no decision had been made on whether to charge him as an adult.

Police, including members of the San Mateo SWAT team, descended on the school and evacuated students and staffers to a nearby middle school, then combed the campus for more bombs and evidence.

Authorities said the suspect had previously been a student at Hillsdale but had not attended the school last year. Video footage shot by KTVU-TV showed a young man with a wispy beard in a white T-shirt being led away by police.



After nearly a decade of "flying under the radar" of public scrutiny, far-right-wing militia groups, income-tax resisters and self-identified "Patriots" are once again making headlines.

But this time, they've found common ground with avowed white supremacists and neo-Nazi groups and appear to be engaging in a campaign of harassment and intimidation that potentially could lead to a wave of deadly domestic terrorism, according to a newly-released report by a prominent anti-hate watchdog organization.

The 24-page report by the Southern Poverty Law Center, entitled "The Second Wave: Return of the Militias," notes that once-popular militia conspiracy theories are making the rounds again, this time accompanied by nativist theories about secret Mexican plans to "reconquer" the American Southwest.

The report warns that while the so-called "Patriot" movement may not have the white-hot fury that it did in the 1990s, it "clearly is growing again," and that Americans -- particularly law-enforcement agencies -- "need to take the dangers it presents seriously."


The SPLC's warning comes on the heels of an similarly alarming report released in April by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security that warned that "The consequences of a prolonged economic downturn" -- combined with the election last November of Barack Obama as the nation's first African-American president -- "could create a fertile recruiting environment for right-wing extremists and even result in confrontations between such groups and government authorities. . ."

Homeland Security's April warning was roundly attacked by conservative politicians and media pundits. Then came the attack in June by James von Brunn, a heavily-armed white supremacist, at the U.S. Holocaust Museum in Washington. Von Brunn went on a shooting rampage that killed a black security guard and sent hundreds of tourists fleeing for cover before he was shot and wounded by police.

Investigators found a list in von Brunn's car of numerous places in and around the nation's capital that they believe the gunman also intended to attack -- including the White House, The Washington Post building and the Washington bureau of Fox News.

The SPLC's report cites law-enforcement officials across the country reporting a "worrying uptick" in so-called "Patriot" movement activities and propaganda. "This is the most significant growth we've seen in 10 to 12 years," the report quotes one official as saying. "All it's lacking is a spark. I think it's only a matter of time before you'll see threats and violence."


Most disturbing, the SPLC report says, is that the all-white and nearly all-male "Patriot" movement -- long known for its anti-government militancy -- has been radicalized by the fact that the federal government is now headed by a black man, in the person of President Obama.

Combined with high levels of non-white immigration, both legal and illegal, and a steady erosion in the white percentage of the U.S. population -- to the point that whites will lose their majority by the middle of the century, according to the Census Bureau -- the "Patriot" movement, which in the past was not primarily motivated by racial hatred, has found common ground with white-supremacist and neo-Nazi groups, the SPLC report says.

Many white supremacists see Obama's election as the first clear evidence of the decline of the white population's majority in the U.S. -- and with it, their hold on the levers of power and authority. The result has been a significant increase in racially-motivated incidents in the past year after it became clear that Obama would win the Democratic presidential nomination and the November general election.

The SPLC report also blames right-wing politicians and media pundits for having "helped to spread 'Patriot' and related propaganda, from conspiracy theories about a secret network of U.S. concentration camps to [the "Birther" movement's] wholly unsubstantiated claims about the president's country of birth."


The SPLC report doesn't shy away from naming names. It cites Ted Gunderson, a retired FBI agent, as telling a gathering of anti-government militiamen in Pensacola, Florida that the federal government "has set up 1,000 internment camps across the country and is storing 30,000 guillotines and a half-million caskets in Atlanta."

The report says that Gunderson told the militiamen that the materiel is being gathered by the government for the day it declares martial law and moves in to round up or kill its opponents. "They’re [the Feds] going to keep track of all of us, folks!" Gunderson is quoted as saying.

Outside Atlanta, a so-called "American Grand Jury" has issued an "indictment” of Obama for fraud and treason because he wasn’t born in the United States and is illegally occupying the presidency, the report says, with other self-appointed "grand juries" across the country -- none of them convened by any court of law -- quickly following suit.

Even in the overwhelmingly Democratic Northeast -- where Obama racked up the greatest electoral landslide of any Democratic presidential candidate since Lyndon Johnson in 1964 -- die-hard right-wing opponents of the president are nonetheless organizing against him, the SPLC report said.

In Massachusetts, for example, members of Oath Keepers, a newly-formed group of law enforcement officers, military personnel and veterans, gathered on April 19 -- the anniversary of the 1993 Branch Davidian disaster in Waco, Texas and the Oklahoma City bombing two years later -- to reaffirm their pledge to "defend the U.S. Constitution" against what the group sees is an "illegitimate" administration in Washington.


The SPLC report notes that, "Although there has been a remarkable rash of domestic terrorist incidents" since Obama’s election last November, "it has not reached the level of criminal violence, attempted terrorist attacks and white-hot language that marked the militia movement at its peak."

But the report does warn that "militia training events -- huge numbers of which are now viewable on YouTube videos -- are spreading," and that, according to one law-enforcement agency it did not identify, at least 50 new militia training groups have sprung up in less than two years and that sales of firearms and ammunition "have skyrocketed amid fears of new gun-control laws."

More worrisome to authorities, the report said, is that "Militiamen, white supremacists, anti-Semites, [xenophobic] nativists, tax protesters and a range of other activists of the radical right are cross-pollinating and may even be coalescing."

The report quotes Bart McEntire, a special agent for the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, as saying that, "You’re seeing the bubbling [of anti-government sentiment] right now." McEntire, a Virginia-based supervisory agent for the bureau who has infiltrated racist hate groups, said of the rising militancy: "You see people buying into what they’re saying. It’s primed to grow. The only thing you don’t have to set it on fire is a Waco or Ruby Ridge."

Another federal law enforcement official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, agreed. "They’re not at the level we saw in ’94-’95,” the official said, "But this is the most significant growth we’ve seen in 10 to 12 years. All it’s lacking is a spark. I think it’s only a matter of time before you'll see threats and violence."


In fact, threats and violence from the radical right already are accelerating, the SPLC report noted, including a spate of high-profile murders committed by white men "with anti-government, racist, anti-Semitic or pro-militia views," including the killings of three Pittsburgh police officers by a white man who had been stockpiling weapons in fear that the Obama administration would push for new gun-control laws.

In Maine, another white man, believed by authorities to be a neo-Nazi "very upset” with Obama's election, was stockpiling materials in his home to make a radioactive "dirty bomb" in what police believe was a possible plot to assassinate the president. But the man, identified as James Cummings, never got the chance to finish making his bomb -- he was shot and killed in February by his estranged wife.

In Tennessee, two neo-Nazi skinheads were arrested by federal agents last October on charges of plotting to assassinate then-candidate Obama as part of a killing spree, shooting or decapitating more than 80 other African-Americans.

Two months earlier, law-enforcement officers arrested two other white men in a suburb of Denver in an alleged plot to assassinate Obama while he delivered his acceptance speech at Mile High Stadium at the conclusion of the Democratic Convention.


The SPLC report also blamed right-wing politicians and media pundits for contributing to the rise in anti-government militancy. It singled out Texas Governor Rick Perry, a Republican, for raising the prospect of his state seceding from the Union "several months after Obama’s inauguration," a notion that was first brought up a decade earlier by the militia group Republic of Texas following the Banch Davidian debacle at Waco.

The report also blasted Representative Michele Bachmann (R-Minnesota) for her highly controversial comment that she feared Obama was planning "re-education camps for young people" reminiscent of those established by China during the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s; and Representative Spencer Bachus (R-Alabama), for "evoking memories of the discredited communist-hunter Senator Joseph McCarthy," who in the 1950s warned of 17 “socialists” in Congress.

CNN’s Lou Dobbs came under sharp criticism in the report for "treating the so-called Aztlan conspiracy" -- secret Mexican plans to “reconquer” the American Southwest -- as a bona fide concern and for giving airtime to "Birther" conspiracy theorists who adamantly insist that Obama is not a native-born U.S. citizen, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary -- and even his own network’s definitive debunking of the "Birthers'" claims.

Fox News host Glenn Beck -- whose show has become the target of an advertiser boycott after he called Obama a "racist" who "hates white people" -- was cited by the SPLC for having also called the president "a fascist, a Nazi and a Marxist" -- even giving airtime to militia conspiracy theories alleging a secret network of "government-run concentration camps."

While the SPLC report did not make any detailed recommendations on how to deal with rising far-right militancy, it did make clear the need for increased vigilance. The movement, the report said, "clearly is growing again," and that Americans -- particularly law-enforcement agencies -- "need to take the dangers it presents seriously."

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(For the full text of the SPLC report, CLICK HERE).

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Volume IV, Number 63
Copyright 2009, Skeeter Sanders. All rights reserved.


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