The Kennedy Legacy

Not just politics as usual

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Today we remember that freedom is worth defending and our values worth protecting. In the face of new threats and challenges, may we draw unity and shared purpose from the resilience our country showed in its darkest days.
Congressman Joe Kennedy III

Filed under Never forget 9-11

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Native Americans deserve respect

By Kerry Kennedy

Kerry Kennedy is president of the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights and a member of the Council of Advisors to the Association on American Indian Affairs.

When the Washington Redskins begin their season Sunday, their name is likely to attract as much attention as their on-field performance. After a year in which prominent sportswriters stopped using the nickname, the US Patent Office canceled the team’s trademark, and President Obama suggested he favors a new name, it’s clear that the Redskins cannot simply wait out the latest round of criticism.

This is good news. There is no place in America for epithets like “redskin” or caricatures like the Cleveland Indians’ Chief Wahoo.

But it would be wrong to presume that eliminating offensive names and mascots from sports would end the larger problem that gave rise to them in the first place: Americans’ indifference to and ignorance of Native Americans. Most Americans imagine Indians as belonging to the nation’s past, but, at 6 million strong, they are a vibrant part of its present, deserving of the same respect due to all Americans.

Banning offensive mascots is certainly a step toward extending that respect, but there are more substantive actions our leaders can take that would help accomplish the dual purpose of elevating Native Americans’ presence in our national life and easing the challenges they have confronted for too long.

Not all Native Americans face those challenges, but they are real, particularly for the nearly 3 million who live on reservations. By many measures of social well-being, Native Americans trail the rest of the nation. According to the most recent data, the poverty rate among American Indians and Alaskan Natives is 28 percent, compared to about 15 percent for the rest of the nation. Native Americans graduate high school at a rate 14 percent lower than the general population, and Native American youths are twice as likely to die before age 24 as any other race.

These problems have not received sufficient national attention. Few Americans live near reservations, making it easy for our representatives to ignore the pain that affects so many Native American communities. Last year, for instance, when Congress failed to pass legislation to avert the budget sequester, lawmakers scrambled to exempt programs like Medicaid and food stamps. But their eleventh-hour effort excluded many programs crucial to American Indians.

Our national indifference to Native Americans is unacceptable, and it has lasted for too long. Throughout his career, my father, Robert Kennedy, was deeply interested in the rights of Native Americans. Speaking in 1963, he said, “That these conditions can be allowed to prevail among a people uniquely entitled to call themselves the first Americans . . . is nothing less than a national disgrace.” More than half a century later, we have made little progress.

One solution that many Native American leaders endorse is giving tribes more sovereignty over their land and peoples. The United States recognizes most tribes as so-called “sovereign dependent” nations — autonomous, but with many strings attached. President Obama has been more engaged on this issue than his recent predecessors, restoring land to tribes and giving them broader powers to prosecute crimes in Indian country. These are encouraging developments, but Native Americans deserve an even larger role in governing their land.

In addition to recognizing Native Americans’ authority over their own territories, the United States should encourage the preservation and fostering of tribal cultures. Not only are Native American arts and languages a crucial (if overlooked) part of America’s broader cultural mosaic, but they are also a powerful tool for change — teaching young Native Americans about their rich heritage has been shown to improve their self-esteem and academic performance. By contrast, several studies shave found that racist nicknames, which flatten that richness into a crude stereotype, harm their self-esteem.

Banning offensive mascots would be a powerful gesture, a signal to Native Americans that as a nation, we regard them as more than symbols.

But recognizing their authority over their own land and working with them to preserve their culture would be an even more significant step: a demonstration that we regard them not only as the first Americans, but as fellow Americans.

(Source: bostonglobe.com)

Filed under Native Americans Kerry Kennedy

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These photographs by Mark Shaw, never used,  were taken during the Bay of Pigs disaster in 1961.  The President later commented that he had decided not to release them. ‘I looked too serious.’  It was a grim, tense day, but he brought none of this to the top floor of the White House.  Afterward he had lunch, a sandwich and fruit on a small tray.  He made no mention of the cause and reason for his quiet.

(Source: jfk-and-jackie, via jj-kennedy)

Filed under JFK John F. Kennedy Jackie Kennedy

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Rory Kennedy on Vietnam, Iraq, and Ferguson

By Marlow Stern

They call her “The Quiet Kennedy.” Rory Kennedy, the youngest of eleven children to the late U.S. Sen. Robert F. Kennedy (D-NY) and Ethel Kennedy, doesn’t seem to share some of her siblings’ passion for the limelight but does, in her own discreet way, share their passion for social justice. For Rory, this seemingly inherent appetite for altruism is sated through the medium of documentary film, where the 45-year-old filmmaker has tackled issues ranging from AIDS (Pandemic: Facing AIDS), the Iraq War (Ghosts of Abu Ghraib), and turning the lens on her own family, in Ethel.

Her latest film, Last Days in Vietnam, opens in select theaters on Sept. 5. The documentary chronicles the last few days—in particular, the last 24 hours—of the Vietnam War. With the North Vietnamese Army closing in on Saigon, a group of besieged American soldiers and diplomats tried their best to beat back against the White House’s order to only evacuate U.S. citizens, instead trying to save as many South Vietnamese citizens as possible. Kennedy’s film includes interviews with diplomats, soldiers, and helicopter pilots who were all on the ground at the U.S. Embassy in Saigon, as well as several South Vietnamese who were left behind and forced into reeducation camps—some for as long as a decade—by the NVA.

In a wide-ranging discussion, Kennedy spoke to The Daily Beast about the disturbing similarities between our exit strategy in Vietnam and that of Iraq, the dire situation in Ferguson in the wake of the Michael Brown killing, and much more.

Why did you feel the need to make a documentary about the final days of the Vietnam War?

The executive producer for the project, Mark Samels, had approached me to do a film about the last days in Vietnam. I’ve always been interested in Vietnam, feel it’s a seminal event in our nation’s history, and have explored it over the years—but I hadn’t been interested in doing a documentary about it. I felt there had been a lot done about Vietnam, and didn’t know if I could add anything new to the discussion. Then, after doing research, I learned that there was a lot more to the event that took place. The final days were, collectively, an extraordinarily dramatic moment, and when I came across the stories of the people on the ground who’d gone against U.S. policy—which was just to get the Americans out of Vietnam, since Saigon was falling very quickly—and risked their lives to save the Vietnamese, I didn’t feel that story had been told in any significant way. A lot of people feel they’re familiar with the events through the iconic photo of the helicopter leaving the U.S. Embassy in Saigon, but a lot of people I talked to while making the film didn’t really know what had happened. In addition, I felt the film was really timely given our departures from Iraq and Afghanistan.

Your late father, former Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, proposed a three-point plan to end the Vietnam War in March 1967. Is that part of the reason why you’re fascinated by it?

Well, 52,000 Americans died, and it was also tied up in the 1960s protest movement. I think that the war itself, and the lessons that we can learn from that war, are still enormously relevant. As you look at what’s happening in Iraq in the last couple of months—the last six weeks or so, particularly—it really feels like it’s an echo of what happened in Saigon in 1975. We can learn how you get out of a war and what kind of questions should be raised in entering into a war by how we extract ourselves. And we clearly haven’t learned them yet. 

What parallels do you see between the shoddy job we did exiting Vietnam, and the shoddy job we’ve done in exiting Iraq?

There’s a great op-ed piece by Kurt Johnson, who runs The List Project, that I recommend everyone read. He was talking about how he’s been trying to get out of Iraq who were our allies, who are now subject to torture and their families are being killed because of their alliance to the United States. They’re on a long list that’s caught up in the bureaucracy of Washington, and they’re not getting out of the country. President Obama campaigned, in part, on the claim that he’d make sure these people would be given safe haven and that we’d look out for our allies, and it’s not happening in any widespread manner. We have a responsibility to the people who we’ve left behind.

Now, there’s the recent awful news of James Foley, the journalist who was beheaded by ISIS. A terrorist organization like ISIS emerging does also seem to be a byproduct of the poor job we did in exiting Iraq.

It’s horrible. So horrible. And yes. I don’t know if I would draw direct parallels in that manner, because I’m not sure the North Vietnamese government that took over after Vietnam were the evil villains that they were depicted to be, or that they had the long-term implications that people feared in having the communist regime take over. And we’re now allied with Vietnam against China. But I do think that going back to the people who are on the ground, and how they’re impacted from our presence—and then we withdraw from the presence—is significant. You can’t prove it, but would the Vietnamese have been better off if we’d never been there? I think there’s an argument to be made that they would have, and I think that’s probably true of Iraq, too.

You very publicly endorsed Barack Obama in 2008, but a lot of people seem to be losing faith at this point—especially with regard to Iraq and some of his foreign policy decision-making.

I think that there are certainly decisions he’s made that have been limited, and that I’m disappointed in. But I think Iraq was Bush and Cheney’s war, and it’s important for them to bear the responsibility for being there. This is, in part, the lesson of the Vietnam War—once you got to the point we got to in April of 1975, there are very few options that are available. That’s where we are with Iraq. Now, Obama’s going back in there in what he claims is an isolated manner. Is that the best option? I don’t know if that’s the best option. I feel for the people on the top of the hill, and I think it’s important to save the people who we got into this mess. The reality is that there are no good options. With Obama going back into Iraq and with ISIS, viscerally I feel like we should do this, but can we think this through? What’s the plan? What’s the end goal? How long are we going to do this for, and how are we going to get out? Those discussions aren’t happening in a deep and thoughtful manner.

But going back to original question about Obama, I do have some disappointments in Obama. I do think he’s had a tough go of it with the extremists on the Republican side and the Tea Party movement, which has made navigating Washington near-impossible. He hasn’t done a great job working with our own party and I don’t want to let him off the hook entirely, but when there are so many people in positions of power whose only goal is to undermine Obama, and to not have the government work for the people, is a unique position to be in over these last eight years.

Do you think the rise of the Tea Party and the constant obstruction—“undermining,” as you put it—that Obama’s faced is, to a degree, born out of racism? Or is it purely political?

I don’t really see it coming out of racism as much. I think there are pockets of it. I think if Hillary was there, it would be the same thing—and then it could be born out of sexism, I suppose. But I think it’s what the Democrats represent overall and their ideals more than the particular person that’s articulating them. Although the fact that he’s African-American probably galvanized certain pockets on the far right wing to be more motivated to undermine him, so that level of racism certainly exists, but I wouldn’t say it’s a defining factor with the Republican Party.

Read more about Rory’s vision on the situation in Ferguson, the wedding of her brother Bobby and her new projects.

Filed under Rory Kennedy Kennedy