"JFK was a man of collected letters: Predecessors' writings treasured"
By Michael Levenson, Boston Globe Staff, February 15, 2008
Abraham Lincoln negotiates payment for legal services rendered. George Washington accepts some plants from Mrs. Carroll. Andrew Jackson regrets that he cannot attend Independence Day celebrations in Philadelphia. John Adams weighs the merits of appointing a relative to high office.
Of all the moments recorded in presidential correspondence, these are far from the most pivotal. But that didn't matter to President John F. Kennedy, who snapped up the letters like any other collector scanning eBay or watching "Antiques Roadshow."
Even while he was leader of the free world, managing the Cold War abroad and confronting the civil rights movement at home, he managed to keep an eye out for curios that caught his fancy. And if it happened to have the signature of a famous president, all the better.
"More so than most other presidents, he had an abiding interest in history, and I think he believed he could learn lessons from history," said Frank Riggs, a former curator at the John F. Kennedy Library and Museum in Dorchester, which is putting reproductions of the letters on display today.
Museum officials, who typically showcase Kennedy memorabilia, are trotting out the letters to cele brate the Presidents Day holiday on Monday.
Kennedy learned history at home. His mother, Rose Kennedy, clipped articles from the newspaper and quizzed him on the events of the day. His grandfather - John "Honey Fitz" Fitzgerald, who was mayor of Boston - took him on walks along the Freedom Trail. When he fell ill as a boy, he read Churchill in his hospital bed at the Mayo Clinic. And at Harvard, he wrote his senior thesis, "Why England Slept," on England before World War II.
In the White House, the past greeted him at every turn. He decorated the Cabinet Room with a bust of Lincoln, which presided stoically over negotiations during the Cuban Missile crisis. A sculpture of the Greek historian Herodotus glowered at him from his desk. His wife, Jacqueline, gave him as a gift a sculpture of a Roman soldier.
When a lot of historical documents came up for sale at Sotheby's, Kennedy scribbled a note to an aide in the margins of the auction booklet: "I'd be interested to know what some of these go for," he wrote, according to Thomas J. Putnam, museum director.
Officials are not sure how Kennedy acquired the letters from Washington, Jackson, and Lincoln, which date from 1789, 1836, and 1854, respectively. The Adams letter from 1813 was given to him by a prominent businessman. Putnam said the museum archives contain several dozen letters from Kennedy's collection, many from governors of Massachusetts.
If any of the letters resonate with Kennedy's own term in office, it is probably the one from Adams, which the second president wrote to President Madison, counseling him on the risks and rewards of appointing a relative to office. Putnam pointed out that when Kennedy acquired the letter in 1961, he had been criticized for appointing his brother Robert as attorney general.
Adams argued that presidents should not fear appointing relatives to office.
"A president ought not to appoint a man to office because he is a relation; nor ought he to refuse or neglect him for the reason," Adams wrote on March 23, 1813. "There would be no justice to the individual, to the president himself, nor to the nation in such a rule."
"Sincerely yours, JFK: Letters between a former Eagle editor and the slain leader have been found"
By Benning W. De La Mater, Berkshire Eagle Staff
Tuesday, March 11, 2008
Picture this: John F. Kennedy, the senator, is sitting in his Washington office in 1956.
He picks up the June 20 edition of The Berkshire Eagle and reads a piece penned by then columnist Richard V. Happel criticizing Kennedy and his brother Bobby for an apartment at 122 Bowdoin St. in Boston that they rarely use, calling into question their residency in their home state.
Miffed, Kennedy dictates his thoughts to his secretary, signs the letter and sends it to his friend, Eagle county editor John G.W. Mahanna.
"I saw an article written by Richard V. Happel in the June 20th issue of your paper in which he stated that I have a four-room apartment in Boston in which I 'almost never spend a night in the apartment, which is used mostly by the senator's staff.' Both of those statements are in error. I have lived in this apartment for ten years, have used it continuously when I have been in Massachusetts and it has been completely satisfactory to my needs. It has never been used as an office by the members of my staff.
"As for Bobby, he is like thousands of other government employees who live in the District, but use relatives' homes in the state in order to maintain their residency and for which he pays taxes. He does have a home, however, on Cape Cod where his family spends part of the year.
"If you think it wise, you might illuminate Mr. Happel on this."
'Wonderful, colorful stuff'
This missive and 16 others from JFK to Mahanna have recently been put up for sale by the Connecticut auction house, University Archives.
John Reznikoff, founder and president of University Archives and a signature expert, said the collection is a unique nugget of history that provides a glimpse into the daily chores of an ambitious young politician and the friendship he had with a local editor.
"The content is excellent," Reznikoff said. "Some of it deals with the everyday workings of a busy senator, and some of it is just wonderful, colorful stuff. It's one of the larger correspondences I have seen from a president."
Five of the letters are signed by Kennedy himself — some with the script Jack, some with John — 11 are signed by a secretary, and one is a printed signature.
They span a 10-year period, from an April 21, 1950, dispatch telling Mahanna that he hopes to meet with Pittsfield Mayor Robert Capeless soon, to an Aug. 5, 1960, letter declining an invitation from Mahanna to visit the Berkshires because of a busy schedule.
A March 5, 1958, letter from Kennedy relays information from an Army officer concerning a Civil War cannon on the lawn of the Hinsdale library. An April 15, 1958, letter informs Mahanna that Kennedy is trying to get Monsignor John D. Donahue of St. Francis' Rectory in North Adams federal assistance under an urban renewal program. And a July 31, 1957, correspondence addresses Mahanna's desire to have Morewood Lake in Pittsfield stocked with brown trout.
Letters for sale
Reznikoff, whose company deals in high-end historical artifacts, said the letters will be sold on the Internet at www.universityarchives .com and will range in price from $700 to $2,500.
Reznikoff purchased the letters last month from Bonhams & Butterfield auction house, but could not divulge the individual who previously owned them.
Contacted at the family home in Florida yesterday, Mahanna's son, Jonathan Mahanna, 60, confirmed that he sold a small collection of his father's letters to Bonhams & Butterfield six months ago.
"I suspect that this lot came from those letters," he said.
Jonathan Mahanna, who grew up in Pittsfield and has managed a number of ski resorts on the West Coast, is currently working to restore his parents' Port Charlotte, Fla., home. His mother, Evona, died last year, and his father, Dec. 10, 1984.
He said his father's relationship with Kennedy began during World War II.
John Mahanna, a Navy man, was on leave from fighting in the Pacific, visiting San Francisco. He went to check into a hotel, but it was booked. Another Navy man in line, hearing that he was from Massachusetts, said, "You can bunk with me if you want." It was Kennedy, and the two struck up a friendship.
After the war, Mahanna returned to his job as a reporter at The Eagle. The two stayed in touch. Mahanna became a county editor, and, during JFK's runs for both Congress and the Senate, he helped stage appearances for the politician in Berkshire County.
"My mother would organize social teas for Mr. Kennedy," Jonathan Mahanna said. "They supported his campaigns."
The couple attended Kennedy's wedding to Jacqueline Bouvier, and whenever he was passing through the area, Kennedy would stay with the Mahannas at their homes — 20 Warwick St. and 164 Bartlett Ave.
"I remember we would pick (Kennedy) up at the Pittsfield Airport when he would arrive," Jonathan Mahanna said. "He probably came to our house about five or six times. On Bartlett, he had an allergic reaction to our dog in the middle of the night, and we had to take him to (the former) St. Luke's Hospital."
When Kennedy was elected president, he asked John Mahanna to work for him.
After 26 years at The Eagle, Mahanna left for Washington, taking a position as a public relations specialist with the Office of Civil Defense and, later, as a liaison in the office of the secretary of the Army as well as a number of other positions.
"Kennedy thought a lot of my dad," Jonathan Mahanna said. "(My dad) was a great writer, a very good speech writer."
Mahanna lived in an apartment in Washington, while the family remained in Pittsfield until Jonathan Mahanna and his sister Joan graduated from high school. Mahanna retired from public service in 1976.
Jonathan Mahanna said he still has fond memories of the times spent with Kennedy. He still has the scapula that Kennedy gave him when he was a child.
"What I remember is that he was very sincere," he said. "A very warm person, a devout Catholic. Very gracious."
Just three years ago, Jonathan Mahanna was going through his father's belongings when he came across a half-finished book he was writing called "The Human Touch." It detailed his relationship with Kennedy and is chock-full of interesting anecdotes and details.
Sellers at Bonhams & Butterfield fought hard to get Jonathan Mahanna to sell the book, but he would not budge.
"No way — it's way too valuable," he said. "It's history."
To reach Benning W. De La Mater: email@example.com, (413) 496-624.
"JFK's growth as a politician shown in well-timed exhibit: 'The Making of a President' highlights early achievements", By Matt Viser, (Boston) Globe Staff, August 27, 2008
On a 1937 trip through Europe, a 20-year-old John Kennedy wanted to know whether European unrest would lead to war. He was also looking for affordable accommodations in Paris.
"The general impression also seems to be that there will not be a war in the near future," he wrote in a journal that is being made public for the first time in an exhibit to be unveiled today at the John F. Kennedy Library.
Several sentences later he wrote that, speaking in French, he had mistakenly invited a soldier to dinner, "but succeeded in making him pay for it."
Timed to coincide with this year's presidential elections, the new exhibit focuses on President Kennedy's early life to illustrate some of the raw ingredients required to make a successful presidential candidate.
"I hope this shows what makes someone decide they want to, or can, become president," said James Wagner, exhibits specialist at the library. "I hope people will see what in his experiences prepared him."
A report card from Harvard shows that he might have had an inauspicious start, receiving a D in history his sophomore year. A page in his class notebook shows the future president toying with his signature, writing it four times in the top left-hand corner with various cursive shapes for the J and K.
The exhibit, called "The Making of a President," is being presented as two current presidential candidates try to use their biographies to demonstrate why they should be president.
Democratic Senator Barack Obama has leaned on his world travels and an unusual childhood spent in Indonesia to demonstrate that he would bring a new approach to international diplomacy. Republican Senator John McCain has frequently used his military service and five years as a prisoner of war to highlight his character and service to his country.
The exhibit recalls how Kennedy also relied on personal biography in his early campaigns. He handed out tie clips in the shape of PT 109 - the Naval vessel he was aboard in 1943 when it was rammed and sunk by a Japanese destroyer in the South Pacific.
The first national magazine cover he appeared on, PIC, The Magazine for Young Men, had "Congressional Candidate John F. Kennedy, War Veteran." His campaign ads for his Senate run had his military service featured prominently underneath, "Highlights of a courageous and clear-thinking career!"
The exhibit also has a video that shows Kennedy in his Senate office, a rudimentary version of the biographical videos that are created today to encapsulate presidential candidates.
"For JFK, a big part of it was his biography," Wagner said. "The war was a big part of his story, and that piece of his biography was very effective. It was something people could identify with."
There is a postcard Kennedy wrote to his mother on his first visit to Washington, when he was 12. "Dear Mother, Just arrived and very tired. We are going to the Capital tomorrow. Good night. Love, Jack."
There is a journal that Kennedy kept with him throughout the 1940s, writing in it quotes he liked (one page includes quotes by Abraham Lincoln, Huck Finn, and himself). Toward the end of the 1940s, he started writing down names of potential Massachusetts supporters, who might help him in his first congressional campaign.
Also on display is his nominating paper for the US Senate, certifying his signatures from Massachusetts residents. Kennedy needed 2,500 to get on the ballot, but he collected 262,324, perhaps to thwart any would-be challengers.
In 1945, during a brief career as a journalist with International News Service, Kennedy went to San Francisco to cover the formation of the United Nations. The library has some of his scrawled notes on display, along with his business card.
There are draft pages for his book "Profiles in Courage," and a certificate he received when he was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for it. On display is the Underwood typewriter he used to write his senior thesis, which later became his first book, "Why England Slept."
On their first wedding anniversary in 1954, Jackie Kennedy gave her husband a leather-bound copy of his major speeches as a freshman senator.
She also inscribed a poem in the first few pages, which the library has displayed:
Meanwhile in Massachusetts, John Kennedy dreamed
Walking the shore by the Cape Cod Sea
Of all the things he was going to be
Matt Viser can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Berkshire Eagle - Editorial
Saturday, September 13, 2008
There are any number of organizations throughout the nation, state and Berkshire County that couldn't function without the volunteers who selflessly devote their time and expertise. There may be many more people who would volunteer if they knew how to get involved and could find the time to do so. A bill filed in Washington yesterday by Senator Edward Kennedy, a Massachusetts Democrat, and his long-time friend and colleague, Senator Orrin Hatch, a Utah Republican, will provide this assistance to the benefit of organizations across the country.
The "Serve America Act" is based on the successful AmeriCorps program, and will create "corps" to address areas of national need. The hope is that at least 175,000 Americans will volunteer to tackle everything from the dropout crisis in schools, to improving health care in low-income communities, to finding new ways to improve energy efficiency, for a few examples. Training will be given to those in need, with fellowships offered to retired citizens who can either serve as volunteers or train others in their specific areas of expertise.
The bill provides tax incentives to businesses to encourage them to allow employees to take paid leaves for full-time services. It also provides grant money to enterprising individuals who want to start volunteer programs in areas that are not currently being addressed. The plan is to find ways to encourage Americans from every age group and walk of life to volunteer for their community.
Among the co-sponsors of the Kennedy-Hatch legislation are Senators Barack Obama and John McCain, which should mean that the effort will have White House support next year regardless of who wins. As America confronts challenges on a variety of fronts, it must call upon its citizens to help solve them, and bipartisan support of this imaginative legislation should assure that help will arrive.
Eighteen years ago, Senator Kennedy sponsored the National and Community Service Act which created volunteer opportunities and led to the creation of AmeriCorps, and finally to the landmark legislation introduced yesterday. Senator Hatch observed in a filing ceremony that Americans are selfless by nature but "the hectic lifestyle we all live often crowds out our ability to give service." The "Serve America Act" will help busy Americans find ways to provide that service.
Photo by AP
AMERICAN ICON: As president, John F. Kennedy inspired even some of his toughest critics, including President Eisenhower.
"45 years after tragedy, John F. Kennedy legacy thrives"
By Joe Fitzgerald, Saturday, November 22, 2008, www.bostonherald.com, U.S. Politics
It was 45 years ago today that an assassin’s bullet ripped a hole in America’s heart, even that part of America that hadn’t supported the candidacy of our 35th president, John Fitzgerald Kennedy.
By the time he was shot down on this date in 1963, JFK had charmed the socks off many critics with irrepressible warmth and self-effacing humor.
When asked to describe how he became a hero as the commander of PT-109 in the South Pacific, he replied, “It was involuntary; they sank my boat.”
There was a breath of fresh air about him from the get-go.
The late Billy Sutton, who introduced him to Charlestown voters in 1946 when JFK ran for Congress in the old 11th District, and who later became his first secretary in Washington, loved describing his pal, especially to anyone born too late to have experienced the Camelot phenomenon.
“He reminded me of a young Charles Lindberg, lean and gaunt,” Billy said. “Very rich, however. We used to say that even though the Fitzgeralds and Kennedys hailed from Boston, we suspected Jack came in by way of a plane from Florida.”
Billy particularly loved recalling JFK’s arrival in the nation’s capital, where he joined the 80th Congress.
“Congressmen (Sam) Rayburn and (John) McCormack had placed the new member from Boston on the Education & Labor Committee. Jack was flying in from Florida. Ted Reardon and I spent the morning waiting for him while Rayburn’s people kept calling: ‘Where is he?’
“Finally he shows up and I said, ‘Jack, you’ve got to hurry! You’re late.’
“He said, ‘Billy, I haven’t had my breakfast. Tell me, how long have Mr. Rayburn and Mr. McCormack been on the Hill?’ I guessed perhaps 50 years. He said, ‘Then another 14 minutes won’t make any difference,’ and ordered his three-minute eggs.”
Billy was one of this town’s all-time political characters.
But his most cherished assignment was returning to the site of the assassination to address the North Dallas Democratic Club on the 20th anniversary of JFK’s death.
“They were still feeling guilty,” he later recalled. “So I told them, ‘Don’t ever forget it was your state’s 26 electoral votes that sent Jack to the Oval Office, ending anti-Catholic bigotry.
“ ‘And it was Lyndon Baines Johnson who engineered the most fitting tribute to him, passing Civil Rights legislation.
“ ‘Jack loved you, and I know he’d have wanted me to tell you that.’ ”
All across the land, among those by whom this date will never be forgotten, memories like these will come to mind, recalling how a youthful president broke down barriers and wound up endearing himself even to those who did not welcome his arrival. It’s a quintessential American story.
And if it happened once, who’s to say it can’t happen again?
Article URL: www.bostonherald.com/news/us_politics/view.bg?articleid=1134048
"JFK Museum highlights inaugural address in exhibit"
By Denise Lavoie, Associated Press Writer, January 8, 2009
BOSTON --With less than two weeks before Barack Obama makes his inaugural address, he might heed instructions President John F. Kennedy gave to his speechwriter: "add style & eloquence," "shorten sentences & words," "eliminate I" and most important, keep it short.
Those notes from Kennedy speech writer Ted Sorensen are part of a new exhibit that opened Thursday at the John F. Kennedy Museum & Presidential Library, featuring original drafts of Kennedy's landmark address and its most famous line: "Ask not what your country can do for you -- ask what you can do for your country."
Ted Sorensen, Kennedy's close adviser and speechwriter, said he sees many parallels with Obama. Both were young senators who were told they had no chance at the presidency. Both reached out to young voters, both focused on diplomacy in foreign policy and both said they felt deeply about the plight of the underprivileged.
"The control of arms, the search for peace and the need to help those who are poor and miserable in the developing countries of the world -- it wouldn't surprise me if some of those themes stressed by Kennedy are echoed, in his own words, in Obama's talk," Sorensen said Thursday.
The exhibit includes the earliest surviving draft of Kennedy's address, Sorensen's notes describing Kennedy's instructions for the speech, another draft handwritten by Kennedy, and pages from the final speech used during his inauguration on Jan. 20, 1961.
Sorensen's notes on Kennedy's directions for the speech include "add style & eloquence," "shorten sentences & words," and "eliminate I."
Sorensen said Kennedy told him to avoid domestic issues at a time when the Cold War was at its height and the prospect of nuclear war was on the minds of Americans, and stressed brevity.
"He believed that those who drone on lose their audience and their impact," Sorensen said.
Curator Stacey Bredhoff said Kennedy's call for public service and freedom around the world still resonates today, particularly for those who remember hearing his speech live. Also on display at the museum are the family Bible Kennedy used to take the oath of office and the dress, coat, muff and hat Jacqueline Kennedy wore to the inauguration.
"We are marking the inauguration of another new president, and so the idea is that people would be interested in maybe looking back at President Kennedy's inaugural address because it is widely viewed as one of the most enduring inaugural addresses in U.S. history," she said.
The exhibit will run through 2009.
"Feds spending millions on Kennedy legacy in Massachusetts"
By Steve LeBlanc, Associated Press Writer, March 11, 2009
BOSTON --More than one out of every five dollars of the $126 million Massachusetts is receiving in earmarks from a $410 billion federal spending package is going to help preserve the legacy of the Kennedys.
The bill includes $5.8 million for the planning and design of a building to house a new Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the Senate. The funding may also help support an endowment for the institute.
The bill also includes $22 million to expand facilities at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library & Museum and $5 million more for a new gateway to the Boston Harbor Islands on the Rose Kennedy Greenway, a park system in downtown Boston named after Kennedy's mother and built on land opened up by the Big Dig highway project.
A spokeswoman for Sen. Kennedy, who at 77 is battling brain cancer, said he hadn't requested the money for the library and institute, and that there are dozens of other earmarks in the spending bill for homeless services and community health centers.
The $22 million JFK library earmark was sponsored by fellow Massachusetts Democrat Sen. John Kerry, who is also a top sponsor for the money for the Kennedy Senate Institute. Kerry defended the library project, which he said is needed to upgrade the facility.
"This National Archives project will eliminate the worst archival storage space problem in the presidential library system and it will facilitate six years of work to expand the library," Kerry said in a statement. "This shovel-ready project will also bring much-needed jobs to the area."
A proposal to build a national institute on the U.S. Senate and to name it after Kennedy has been under discussion since 2003, but accelerated after Kennedy was diagnosed with cancer.
Local officials last year announced they were seeking up to $100 million to build the institute, which they said would focus on the Senate in general and Kennedy's more than four decades of service to the body. The facility will be located in Boston on a four-acre plot near the JFK library.
About $20 million has already been raised for the institute, including contributions from drug companies, insurance companies and hospitals. Tentative plans called for a replica of the Senate chamber itself, as well as programs to train new senators.
The list of earmarks provided by Kennedy, Kerry and the state's all-Democratic congressional delegation highlights programs throughout the state, including $3 million to preserve New England fisheries; $1.7 million for land acquisition at Cape Cod National Seashore; and $333,000 to study any links between environmental pollutants and breast cancer.
"These funds will create jobs that are desperately needed, and will provide lasting benefits for all our citizens long into the future," Kennedy said in statement accompanying a list of earmarks.
The billions in earmarks in the federal spending bill have been a source of contention.
President Barack Obama signed the bill which he described as imperfect. He said it must signal an "end to the old way of doing business."
Critics led by Republican Sen. John McCain have denounced the 8,000 pet project contained in the bill as pork.
The Boston Globe, Op-Ed, LINDA J. BILMES
"Help wanted in public service"
By Linda J. Bilmes, April 15, 2009
A SLOW FUSE is burning under the federal government that threatens to derail the Obama administration's ambitious plans for economic recovery, healthcare reform, financial regulation, and much else. That problem is the looming crisis in government staffing. Nearly half of all federal employees are on the verge of retirement - including 90 percent of the managers who run the biggest programs. Meanwhile, decades of neglect have left the rest of the government workforce chronically weak, poorly trained, understaffed, and facing an acute skills shortage.
After decades in which "big government" was seen as the source of many of the nation's problems, America is finally realizing that markets alone will not keep the country safe, secure, and prosperous. We need a strong, effective public sector, with a highly functioning workforce, for the well-being of the nation.
This will require a huge shift in our national mindset. The public, the media, and elected officials need to drop the destructive "gotcha" attitude toward civil servants, which has prevailed since the Reagan era, and which discourages talented people from joining government and undermines the morale of current employees. Instead of accentuating the negative, we need a culture that recognizes and rewards the dedication of government workers and restores the prestige and satisfaction of a civil-service career.
Change will also require money. As my colleague Jack Donahue has shown, federal wage levels have fallen further and further below the private sector over the past 30 years. Compensation levels need to be rethought. The federal government is the largest single employer in the United States, with 1.9 million employees (including 65,000 in New England). Average starting salaries for graduates taking federal government jobs is around $59,000, with slow and uncertain upward progress. At the top of the tree, relatively low pay and intense political scrutiny is making it hard to fill key jobs the administration relies on to implement its policy initiatives.
The federal government's people management remains rooted in another era. The idea of investing in the workforce - which is what drives superior performance at America's best companies - is still largely foreign to the civil service. While we entrust federal employees with public safety, security, and health, we spend less than one-third per capita on their training compared with private firms and the military.
Today the volume and complexity of government work are sharply increasing, but training budgets are actually being cut. By contrast, a recent survey of US industrial companies showed that training budgets are one of the few areas of spending likely to increase in 2009 - because good companies know that the financial payback from training is so high they are willing to invest in it even during a severe recession. The military also views training as essential to creating an effective organization of individually reliable members.
The lack of attention to people skills has sullied the government's image among potential recruits. Two-thirds of college seniors say they would prefer to work for private or nonprofit organizations, primarily because they do not see the federal government as a "caring" employer where there are opportunities for advancement. They are also put off by practical impediments - for example, 70 percent of graduates say they can only afford to wait four weeks to begin a job, but the federal government takes three months to make a job offer.
The United States needs a "Civil Service GI Bill" designed to train federal workers in leadership, management, procurement, and technical skills. Based on results from the handful of federal agencies that have undertaken such reforms, we project that $21 billion invested in the workforce over a decade will produce a payback of $300-$600 billion through better design and management of contracts, improved supervision, and reduced waste and duplication.
If we continue to be cavalier about the problems affecting the federal workforce, we jeopardize our future prosperity. Economic recovery plans will take longer and be more costly to implement. And we will witness a steady decline in the way that America is governed.
Today, as the country faces serious challenges on many fronts, we have an unprecedented opportunity to reinvigorate public service. Let's not let this moment pass.
Linda J. Bilmes, a lecturer in public finance at the Harvard Kennedy School, is co-author with W. Scott Gould of "The People Factor: Strengthening America by Investing in Public Service."
Ben and Buffy Lenth of Boulder, Colo., are Peace Corps volunteers in Mexico. (Essdras M Suarez/Globe Staff)
"A world of needs, a dwindling Peace Corps: Call goes forth to rethink, revive mission JFK launched"
By Susan Milligan, Boston Globe Staff, April 19, 2009
QUERÉTARO, Mexico - Watching proudly from the Rose Garden as the first team of young Peace Corps volunteers left in 1961 for two-year missions in Africa, President John F. Kennedy turned to his aide, Harris Wofford, and mulled the ambitious future for the international service organization he had just created.
"Think what it will be like when it's a million," Wofford, now 83, recalls Kennedy saying.
Nearly a half century later, Kennedy's dream is still far from being realized. The Peace Corps, which reached a record 15,000 volunteers in 1966, now is barely half that size. Budget constraints are forcing the agency to cut another 400 volunteers, as post-9/11 security costs and the global drop in the value of the dollar strain the Peace Corps' resources.
At a time when the Obama administration is seeking to repair the image of the United States around the world, an estimated 20 nations are ready to accept Peace Corps workers. But the agency can't afford to start new programs in all of them. And despite the Peace Corps' still potent image as a symbol of American idealism, reformers say the organization must make fundamental changes to meet modern diplomatic and technological needs.
Interviews with dozens of current and former Peace Corps volunteers and officials reveal an agency still eager to spread American goodwill around the world, but hamstrung by budget woes and bureaucratic hurdles that frustrate efforts to bring in the more experienced volunteers needed for a modern Peace Corps.
There is also, they say, a reluctance to consider broader foreign policy goals when deciding where to send volunteers. It is a stance that many say undermines the Corps' mission: An organization dedicated to demonstrating America's commitment to understanding other cultures operates in only two Arab countries, Jordan and Morocco.
The organization has no volunteers in Indonesia, the largest Muslim nation in the world, but has 109 people in Vanuatu, a remote group of islands 3,500 miles southwest of Hawaii, and scores more in Caribbean resort islands such as Antigua and St. Kitts.
"Some people get very upset when you suggest there are a few worms in mom's apple pie [but] I would like to see better pie," said one former Peace Corps country director, Robert Strauss, who oversaw operations in Cameroon.
Senator Christopher Dodd, one of the Peace Corps' top legislative backers, put it this way: "There really needs to be a top-down examination of the Peace Corps. I'm not for fundamentally altering the concept behind it, but you need to give it its own 21st century mandate."
Dodd, a Connecticut Democrat, served as a Peace Corps volunteer in the Dominican Republic in his youth and has introduced legislation to both expand and reform the organization. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee held hearings on the measure in 2007, but has not acted on it.
The Peace Corps is not an aid organization or a charity, and officials do not want receiving countries to look to the Corps as a source of easy cash for local projects. The organization's stated mission is to help international development through the work of trained volunteers and to help foreigners and Americans understand one another better.
The Peace Corps' interim director, Jody Olsen, declined through a spokesperson to be interviewed, saying it was inappropriate for her to discuss the future of the organization while President Obama has yet to appoint a permanent director.
Obama, who made national service a theme of his campaign, has called for doubling the size of the Peace Corps, and is expected to sign the Edward M. Kennedy National Service Act, a sweeping bill that includes a Peace Corps expansion. But Peace Corps supporters note that several presidents before Obama have made the same request, only to see the agency's shoestring budget be flatlined in congressional budget negotiations.
"We spend more on the military marching bands," said Mark Gearan, who was director of the Peace Corps under former president Bill Clinton. "This is 1 percent of 1 percent [of the federal budget]. There's no question that there's a wellspring of interest around the country. We just have to broaden the awareness of it and then fund it."
Rajeev Goyal, regional coordinator of More Peace Corps, a group of former volunteers seeking to expand the program, said, "It's kind of depressing to me. There are millions of people in this country who want to serve, but the government is not creating the opportunity." Still, many of the woes facing the Peace Corps are not directly related to budgeting, Dodd and others said, but to agency practices that have not kept up with the times.
While some programs may still reflect the 1960s model of young college graduates living in mud huts and digging irrigation ditches, reformers are calling for more programs like one underway in Mexico. There, highly educated scientists and economists are providing technical help to Mexican agencies. The effort is structured to allow the country's government to run its own programs without appearing to be a charity case of the United States.
Retirees and mid-career professionals are increasingly applying to the Peace Corps, but many say their entry was delayed - and greatly complicated - by stringent health and financial standards geared more toward recent college graduates.
For example, Peace Corps rules demand that applicants report virtually every health problem they have ever had, even relatively minor ones, delaying the process for older people likely to have had illnesses or surgeries. "It takes too long. A physical for 20 minutes in the military, and I was in," Dodd quipped.
Applicants must report any change of marital status during the application process (since the Peace Corps does not want anyone using the program to escape financial obligations), and must be free of debt (except some student loans), making the process complicated for anyone with a home mortgage. "I had a house in San Francisco. I had to undo my affairs - something a 22-year-old doesn't face," said Scott Belser, a 59-year-old now posted in Mexico.
On a strategic level, reformers say, the Peace Corps needs to rethink where it sends volunteers. The organization is adamantly apolitical, and volunteers do not want to be used for short-term foreign policy objectives. But many officials said the Peace Corps is missing an opportunity to improve relations in critical regions, while keeping volunteers in areas where such people-to-people diplomacy is no longer needed.
Byron Battle, the country director in Mexico and former director in Mali, wishes the Peace Corps would expand to India, Turkey, Egypt, Tunisia, Indonesia and - when it's deemed safe - to Pakistan. Other officials would add Vietnam and Brazil to the list.
Mark Schneider, who directed the Peace Corps during the last two years of the Clinton administration, hopes volunteers will be sent back to Haiti, where security worries forced the suspension of the Peace Corps there in 2005.
"You've got to make sure that the places they're living and working make sense," Schneider said.
Meanwhile, others wonder why the Peace Corps is still in Caribbean vacation spots, or in Romania and Bulgaria - both of which are now in the European Union, and could look closer to home for developmental help. The Peace Corps sends English teachers to China, but Strauss believes that China - which owns a great deal of US debt - should be able to pay for the teachers, many of whom work at universities.
"I am a firm believer in Peace Corps, but I am not a firm believer that Peace Corps needs to be in every one of the places it is, or that it's an effective use of this very limited amount of money," Strauss said in an interview from Madagascar, where he now is a business consultant.
Current and former Peace Corps volunteers are passionate about their mission, describing their years of service as transformative and beneficial for both the volunteer and the foreigners in their Peace Corps communities. Joseph P. Kennedy III, a Harvard Law School student and great-nephew of the former president, called his time in the Dominican Republic "one of the most rewarding experiences of my life so far," and has twice gone back to visit the community where he lived from 2004-2006.
Kennedy saw that young men in the country's touristed waterfall areas were being paid just 10 cents an hour to "literally haul tourists on their backs" as they traversed the area. The practice fueled resentment between the young Dominicans and the visitors, who had paid luxury tour groups up to $100 for the trip, and balked at being asked for tips by the young men, unaware of the low wages the Dominicans were being paid.
Kennedy helped the local community gain regulatory control of the tourist area, and charge an admission fee, which subsidized a visitor's center, local community projects, and training for the guides. The young guides, now professionally trained, were paid more by the tour companies.
Peace Corps volunteers "do represent some of the best foreign diplomacy you can get," Kennedy said.
But many volunteers say it's difficult to bring about creative solutions because the Peace Corps fails to provide resources that many church groups and private aid organizations have at their disposal. The Peace Corps mission is to provide people - not cash - so volunteers must raise money to pay for even the smallest expenditures.
In one African nation, Peace Corps volunteers completed a project to grow more food, but did not have the $200 needed to build a fence to keep out hungry goats - a project a private aid organization could have done easily, a Dodd aide reported. Dodd's bill would allow volunteers more leeway in raising funds for their projects.
"For nearly 50 years, it's been an historic accomplishment," Dodd said of the Peace Corps. "But you can't only look at past successes. Every organization, including the Peace Corps, needs to make adjustments if they're going to continue to succeed."
"General Petraeus to speak at JFK School of Government"
Associated Press - April 19, 2009
BOSTON --The commander of the troops in Afghanistan and Iraq is coming to Harvard to talk about leadership and lessons from the U.S. military.
Gen. David Petraeus is scheduled to speak at the John F. Kennedy School of Government on Tuesday. Petraeus took charge of Central Command in October after 20 months as the top U.S. commander in Baghdad.
He is credited with effectively overseeing the "surge" strategy in Iraq.
He has said a similar move wouldn't work in Afghanistan because there is not enough infrastructure on the ground to handle it, and because it is imperative Afghans not view coalition forces as conquerors.
President Obama has ordered 17,000 more U.S. troops to bolster the 38,000 American forces in the country.
"Gallery installs Eunice Kennedy Shriver portrait"
AP, May 9, 2009
WASHINGTON --The National Portrait Gallery is installing a painting of Eunice Kennedy Shriver, the sister of President John F. Kennedy, who founded the Special Olympics and champions the rights of the mentally disabled.
This is the first portrait commissioned by the museum of an individual who has not served as president or first lady. It will be installed Saturday during a ceremony with Shriver and her family.
The painting by David Lenz, the father of a Special Olympics athlete, depicts Shriver, 87, on the sand near her Cape Cod home with five other individuals. Four of them are Special Olympics athletes and one is part of the Best Buddies program, which Shriver helps to lead.
Lenz was selected after winning the museum's Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition with a painting of his son.
(Dina Rudick/Globe Staff)
"JFK awards given to 2 who warned of finance crisis"
boston.com - AP - May 18, 2009
BOSTON --Two U.S. federal regulators who sounded early warnings on the financial crisis and a Liberian peace activist who helped end that nation's civil war were honored for their efforts Monday at the John F. Kennedy Library in Boston.
Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. chairwoman Sheila Bair, former chairwoman of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission Brooksley Born, and peace activist Leymah Gbowee (LAY'-mah BOH'-wee) were presented with Profile in Courage Awards, annual honors named for a 1957 Pulitzer Prize-winning book written by John F. Kennedy.
"(It's) a special honor to present the award to three women who have inspired all those who seek to bring about change in their political systems," said Caroline Kennedy, daughter of President Kennedy and head of the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation that administers the awards.
Bair was one of the first to speak out about the subprime lending crisis, and Born warned a decade ago that unregulated financial contracts, including credit default swaps, could pose dangers to the economy. Gbowee organized a group of Christian and Muslim women to challenge Liberia's warlords.
In accepting her award, Bair said she was proud to join the list of those who have received past Profile in Courage awards. "I'm particularly pleased to be joining two other female awardees who stood up when some of their male counterparts failed to act, or worse, actively fought them," she said.
Gbowee received her award on behalf of the Liberian women who were featured in the "Pray the Devil Back to Hell" documentary about Liberia's civil war.
"For us women of Liberia, this award is a call that we will keep walking until peace, justice and the rights of woman (are) not a dream," Gbowee said, "but a thing of the present."
Isabel McIlvain's 1990 bronze statue of President Kennedy on the steps at the State House was paid for by private citizens. (Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff)
"Glimpses of JFK: His youth and vigor of mind and body are still celebrated in places big and small"
By Christopher Klein, Boston Globe Correspondent, May 24, 2009
It's hard to imagine that John F. Kennedy, the epitome of endless youth, would have turned 92 this Friday. Forty-five years after his passing, memories of JFK still burn brightly, and Boston's native son remains one of the country's most beloved presidents. As another eloquent commander-in-chief and his young family evoke comparisons to the Kennedys, anyone wanting to relive the days of Camelot can still find plenty of JFK's old haunts around his hometown.
Kennedy's path to the White House started from a green clapboard house with yellow trim. The 35th president was born in a modest home on a quiet, tree-lined Brookline street on the afternoon of May 29, 1917. Visitors to the John F. Kennedy National Historic Site can walk through his boyhood home and view a short movie about the Kennedy family. The house has been restored to its 1917 appearance, right down to JFK's bassinet in the nursery, the crock of baked beans atop the kitchen range, and the miniature chairs and table in the dining room where Joseph Jr. and John ate before graduating to the grown-ups' table. Pick up a brochure with a self-guided walking tour of the Coolidge Corner neighborhood that includes other Kennedy-related sights, such as the former St. Aidan's Church where JFK was baptized and served as an altar boy. The more spacious home at the corner of Naples and Abbotsford roads, where the Kennedys moved in 1920, was the birthplace of Eunice, Patricia, and Robert. 83 Beals St., Brookline, 617-566-7937, www.nps.gov/jofi, open through Sept. 27.
A trip to the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library & Museum begins with an 18-minute introductory film, told in Kennedy's words, that covers his career up to his nomination at the 1960 Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles. Visitors then wander through exhibits encompassing the campaign and the defining moments of the Kennedy presidency. A re-creation of Kennedy's Oval Office includes his personal effects, such as his rocking chair, ship models, and the coconut shell on which he carved a distress message after the sinking of his PT-109 in World War II. In a stark black hallway, haunting drumbeats and television coverage of Kennedy's assassination on Nov. 22, 1963, play on a continuous loop and leave a lump in the throat even of those who weren't alive for that tragic day in Dallas. Columbia Point, Boston, 617-514-1600, www.jfklibrary.org.
At the other end of the Red Line from the museum is Kennedy's alma mater, Harvard University. Although his grades were seldom higher than a C in his first two years, Kennedy improved his performance enough to graduate cum laude. As a freshman, JFK lived behind Harvard Yard's wrought iron gates in Weld Hall before spending his remaining years in Winthrop House along the banks of the Charles River. Today, Harvard reserves his dorm room for the use of visiting dignitaries, particularly political notables who visit the School of Government, which bears Kennedy's name. The park adjacent to the Kennedy School features a fountain and pillars that contain inscriptions from his most notable speeches.
According to lore, a 6-year-old John Fitzgerald Kennedy gave his first political speech at the Parker House Hotel during a fete celebrating his maternal grandfather, John "Honey Fitz" Fitzgerald, the former congressman and two-time mayor of Boston. Kennedy told the crowd, "This is the best grandfather a child ever had." The crowd ate it up like the hotel's signature rolls, and a master orator was born. Kennedy announced his 1946 candidacy for Congress at the hotel, and his bachelor party was held in the dark-paneled Press Room. According to some accounts, he also proposed to Jacqueline Bouvier at the hotel. The Last Hurrah restaurant on the ground floor features a JFK Lobster Roll and a Jackie O sandwich made with roasted portobello, red pepper, and brie. 60 School St., Boston, 617-227-8600, www.omnihotels.com.
Locke-Ober, the traditional lair of Boston's power brokers, was also a favorite dining spot of Kennedy's. The dark mahogany interior, plate-glass mirrors, and ornate brass fixtures exude a timeless Brahmin air. Dinners at Locke-Ober weren't just social occasions for JFK. While plotting his run for the presidency, he often had policy discussions with Harvard intellectuals in one of the private rooms on the third floor. The lobster stew and one of the private rooms are named in Kennedy's honor. 3 Winter Place, Boston, 617-542-1340, www.lockeober.com.
Eleven days before delivering his memorable inaugural address in January 1961, the president-elect delivered another eloquent oration, his "city upon a hill" speech, to the Legislature at the Massachusetts State House. Although he never served underneath the golden dome, a bronze statue of Kennedy, full of vigor and hair perfectly coiffed, stands outside the State House's west wing. The youthful JFK looks as though he is ready to bound down the steps and stride confidently to a new frontier. Because of security regulations, the Beacon Street sidewalk is as close as visitors can get to the statue. 24 Beacon St., Boston, 617-727-3676.
When Kennedy decided in 1946 to run for the congressional seat once held by his grandfather, he moved to Boston and rented a two-room suite in the old Hotel Bellevue, down the hall from Honey Fitz. The building at 21 Beacon St. is now private housing, but the hotel name remains engraved above the doorway and detailed stonework and ornate iron balconies adorn the exterior. Around the corner, between a coffee shop and a barber, is the entrance to 122 Bowdoin St., which was Kennedy's registered voting address when he served in Congress and even when he resided at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. On a chilly Election Day morning in 1960, Jack and Jackie cast their ballots in the basement of the West End Branch of the Boston Public Library, which today is the Old West Church at 131 Cambridge St.
Whenever he had the chance, JFK enjoyed trekking up the stairs of the Union Oyster House and settling into booth 18 in the dimly lighted dining room. Surrounded by oil paintings of mighty clipper ships, he pored through the Sunday newspapers as he savored a bowl of lobster stew. Today, a framed American flag and a small plaque above the tabletop's bowl of oyster crackers note that the high-backed booth was Kennedy's favorite. 41 Union St., Boston, 617-227-2750, www.unionoysterhouse.com.
The Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway, the ribbon of parkland healing the scar left behind from the Big Dig, is dedicated to the memory of Kennedy's mother, Rose, the family matriarch. In a bit of irony, the greenway supplanted the elevated highway that was named in honor of her father. The plaque that once graced the John F. Fitzgerald Expressway, which includes a depiction of Honey Fitz, has found a new home at the corner of Cross and North streets on the edge of the North End neighborhood where Rose grew up. The historical marker mounted between the broken windows and peeling paint of the doorways of nearby 4 Garden Court is the only clue that Rose was born at the site.
Even though the North End has been transformed from a heavily Irish neighborhood into a predominantly Italian one, photographs of the Kennedys still hang next to portraits of Rocky Marciano and Italian World Cup teams in Hanover Street storefronts. St. Stephen's Church, in the shadow of the famous steeple of the Old North Church, is where Rose Kennedy was baptized in 1890 and where her funeral Mass was held in 1995. A plaque outside features her quote: "The most important element in human life is faith." 401 Hanover St., Boston, 617-523-1230.
The political memorabilia lining the walls of Doyle's Cafe, Boston's premier political watering hole, include an oil painting of Jack and Bobby Kennedy and a paper ballot from one of JFK's congressional runs. The dining room dedicated to Honey Fitz features plenty of family photos as well. There's no better place in Boston than this Irish pub to raise a toast to the city's most famous descendant of the Emerald Isle. 3484 Washington St., Jamaica Plain, 617-524-2345, www.doyles-cafe.com.
Christopher Klein can be reached at email@example.com.
Fourth- and fifth-graders from the Winship School in Brighton helped Caroline Kennedy open the new 30,000-square-foot wing of the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum today. (Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff)
"New wing opens at JFK Presidential Library"
By Jenna Duncan, Boston Globe Correspondent, May 4, 2011
The new wing of the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum was opened today in an official ceremony, adding 30,000 square feet to the Dorchester Bay building.
The wing boasts a classroom, a staging area of exhibits and curatorial work, and a temporary exhibit gallery, library officials said. Half of its space will be used for archival storage, they added.
“I am proud to open this addition that provides essential storage space for the historical treasures housed in this library and will allow it to fulfill its mission as the dynamic center of education that my parents envisioned,” said Caroline Kennedy, daughter of the slain president and president of the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation, in a statement.
The federally funded addition was built after a 2001 review by the National Archives and Records Administration that found the storage problems were the worst in the presidential library system. Now more than 20,000 artifacts from the collection will be stored in the wing.
“This newest addition ensures that the library has museum-quality conditioned space to protect and preserve the treasures from John F. Kennedy’s life and times and creates new opportunities to engage the public in the story of his historic presidency,” said Tom Putnam, director of the library, in a statement.
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