By ALLEN G. BREED, Associated Press

 On the very day John F. Kennedy died, a cottage industry was born. Fifty years and hundreds of millions of dollars later, it’s still thriving.

 Its product? The “truth” about the president’s assassination.

 ”By the evening of November 22, 1963, I found myself being drawn into the case,” Los Angeles businessman Ray Marcus wrote in “Addendum B,” one of several self-published monographs he produced on the assassination. For him, authorities were just too quick and too pat with their conclusion.

 ”The government was saying there was only one assassin; that there was no conspiracy. It was obvious that even if this subsequently turned out to be true, it could not have been known to be true at that time.”

 Most skeptics, including Marcus, didn’t get rich by publishing their doubts and theories — and some have even bankrupted themselves chasing theirs. But for a select few, there’s been good money in keeping the controversy alive.

 Best-selling books and blockbuster movies have raked in massive profits since 1963. And now, with the 50th anniversary of that horrible day in Dallas looming, a new generation is set to cash in.

 Of course, the Warren Commission officially concluded in 1964 that Lee Harvey Oswald had acted alone — and issued 26 volumes of documents to support that determination. But rather than closing the book on JFK’s death, the report merely served as fuel for an already kindled fire of doubt and suspicion.

 Since then, even government investigators have stepped away from the lone assassin theory. In 1978, the U.S. House Select Committee on Assassinations ended its own lengthy inquiry by finding that JFK “was probably assassinated as a result of a conspiracy.”

 That panel acknowledged it was “unable to identify the other gunman or the extent of the conspiracy.” But armed with mountains of subsequently released documents, there has been no shortage of people willing to offer their own conclusions.

 Among the leading suspects: Cuban exiles angry about the Bay of Pigs fiasco; Mafiosi enraged by Attorney General Robert Kennedy’s attacks on organized crime; the “military-industrial complex,” worried about JFK’s review of war policy in Vietnam.

 One theorist even floated the notion that Kennedy’s limousine driver shot the president — as part of an effort to cover up proof of an alien invasion.

 Anything but that Oswald, a hapless former Marine, was in the right place at the right time, with motive and opportunity to pull off one of the most audacious crimes in American history.

 ”As they say, nature abhors a vacuum, and the mind abhors chance,” says Michael Shermer, executive director of the Skeptics Society and author of “The Believing Brain,” a book on how humans seem hardwired to find patterns in disparate facts and unconnected, often innocent coincidences.

 Polls underscore the point.

 About 6 in 10 Americans say they believe multiple people were involved in a conspiracy to assassinate Kennedy, while only one-fourth think Oswald acted alone, according to an AP-GfK survey done in mid-April. Belief in a conspiracy, though strong, has declined since a 2003 Gallup poll found 75 percent said they thought Oswald was part of a wider plot.

 The case has riveted the public from the start. When the Warren Commission report was released in book form, it debuted at No. 7 on The New York Times Best Sellers List.

 Two years later, attorney Mark Lane’s “Rush to Judgment” dominated the list. The Warren Commission, he argued, “frequently chose to rely on evidence that was no stronger and sometimes demonstrably weaker than contrary evidence which it rejected.”

The book has since sold millions of copies in hardcover and paperback, says Lane.

 Since then, dozens of books with titles like “Best Evidence,” ”Reasonable Doubt,” ”High Treason” and “Coup D’Etat in America: The CIA and the Assassination of John F. Kennedy” have sought to lay responsibility for JFK’s death at the highest levels of the U.S. government — and beyond.

 British journalist Anthony Summers, whose BBC documentary became the 1980 book “Conspiracy,” says many conspiracy buffs “are fine scholars and students, and some are mad as hatters who think it was done by men from Mars using catapults.”

 Unlike the later coverage of Watergate, there were no reporters like The Washington Post’s Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, who were told by their editors, “Get on this and don’t get off it,” says Summers, whose works focused on people and events largely ignored or treated cursorily by the official investigations. “Nobody went down there and really did the shoe leather work and the phone calls that we’re all supposed to do,” he says.

 For many, the Kennedy assassination has become “a board game: ‘Who killed JFK?’ So you feel free to sit around and say, ‘Oh! It’s the mob. Oh! It’s the KGB’ … and have no shame,” scoffs Gerald Posner, whose 1993 book “Case Closed” declared that the Warren Commission essentially got it right.

 The Oswald-as-patsy community has vilified Posner.

 But the lawyer says he didn’t set out to write a defense of the Warren Commission. Instead, he planned to go back through the critical evidence to see what more could be determined through hindsight and more modern investigative techniques — “and then put out a book that says, ‘Read THIS book. Here are the four unresolved issues of the Kennedy assassination, with the evidence on both sides.’”

 Halfway through the allotted research time, Posner went to the editorial staff with a new idea: A book that says flat-out who killed Kennedy.

 ”Who?” one of the editors asked, as Posner retells it.

“Oswald,” he answered.

 ”And who?”

 ”Oswald,” Posner says he repeated. “And they literally looked at me as though I had just come in from Mars. And you could tell there was this feeling of, ‘Oh my God. He’s read the Warren Commission and that’s all he’s done.’”

 ”Case Closed” went on to sell 100,000 copies in hardcover. “I would have never thunk it,” Posner says.

 Unlike Posner, Vincent Bugliosi, author of 2007′s “Reclaiming History: The Assassination of President John F. Kennedy,” embarked on his book expecting to vindicate the Warren Commission.

 What he didn’t expect was for it to balloon into a 1,650-page behemoth — with a CD-ROM containing an additional 960 pages of endnotes — that cost $57.

 ”STOP writing,” he recalls his wife telling him. “You’re killing the sales of the book.”

 The 78-year-old lawyer blames the conspiracy theorists. “We’re talking about people,” he explains, “who’ve invested the last 15, 20, 25 years of their life in this. They’ve lost jobs. They’ve gotten divorces. Nothing stops them.”

 ”Like a pea brain,” he says, he responded to all of their allegations. “It’s a bottomless pit. It never, ever ends. And if my publisher … didn’t finally step in and say, ‘Vince, we’re going to print,’ I’d still be writing the book.”

 Despite its girth and hefty price tag, “Reclaiming History” had a respectable first printing of 40,000, says Bugliosi, best known as the former deputy Los Angeles district attorney who prosecuted Charles Manson.

 But in a 9,400-word review, Gary L. Aguilar, a director of the Washington-based Assassination Archives and Research Center, wrote that the only thing Bugliosi’s book proved was “that it may not be possible for one person to fully master, or give a fair accounting of, this impossibly tangled mess of a case.”

 Bugliosi omitted or distorted evidence and failed to disprove “the case for conspiracy,” Aguilar wrote.

 Lamar Waldron is not surprised at the success of people like Bugliosi and Posner.

 ”The biggest money has been generated for the authors … who kind of pretend it all was right back in 1964 and nothing really has happened since,” says Waldron, who has co-written two books on the assassination. “The large six-figure advances and everything like that don’t go to the people who dig through all those millions of pages of files and research for years.”

 In “Ultimate Sacrifice” and “Legacy of Secrecy,” Waldron and co-author Thom Hartmann used declassified CIA documents to make the case that JFK (and later his brother Robert) were killed because of plans to overthrow Cuban dictator Fidel Castro — and the Mafia’s infiltration of that operation. Waldron says the books have sold a combined 85,000 copies since 2005.

 And now, Leonardo DiCaprio and Robert De Niro are set to star in a feature film version of “Legacy of Secrecy” — with a reported price tag of up to $90 million.

 That’s one of a pair of major movies — landing on opposite sides of the Oswald-as-lone-gunman debate — due out this year.

 Oscar winners Marcia Gay Harden and Billy Bob Thornton have signed on for the Tom Hanks-produced “Parkland,” named for the Dallas hospital where Kennedy was pronounced dead. That project, which Hanks’ website describes as “part thriller, part real-time drama,” is based on a small portion of Bugliosi’s magnum opus.

 A TV movie is to be made from another new book, “Killing Kennedy,” co-written by Fox News host Bill O’Reilly, which had sold 1 million copies within four months of its release in October. In a note to readers, O’Reilly wrote: “In our narrative, Martin Dugard and I go only as far as the evidence takes us. We are not conspiracy guys, although we do raise some questions about what is unknown and inconsistent.”

 Academy Award winner Errol Morris is working on a documentary about the assassination. He did not respond to an interview request.

 One film, critics say, has done more than anything to shape the public’s perception of the assassination: That’s Oliver Stone’s 1991 drama, “JFK.”

 ”He made this kind of paranoid conspiracy theory respectable,” says New York writer Arthur Goldwag, author of “Cults, Conspiracies, and Secret Societies.”

 The movie tells the story of New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison, played by Kevin Costner. Garrison remains the only prosecutor to bring someone to trial for an alleged conspiracy to kill Kennedy.

 The film is “a remarkable litany of falsehoods and misrepresentations and exaggerations and omissions,” Posner says. “The reason that I’m so hard on Stone is because he’s such a good filmmaker. If he was a schlocky filmmaker, it wouldn’t matter.”

 Shermer, of the Skeptics Society, agrees that Stone’s role in stirring the conspiracy pot is “huge.”

 ”You tell somebody a good story, that’s more powerful than tons of data, charts and graphs and statistics,” he says. “And Oliver Stone’s a good storyteller. He’s biased and he’s very deceptive, and I don’t trust him at all. But the movie’s great.”

 Stone’s publicist said the director had “chosen to pass on this opportunity” to comment.

 ”JFK” took in more than $205 million at the box office, nearly two-thirds of that overseas, and has since raked in untold millions more in television royalties, pay-per-view, and videocassette and DVD rentals.

 In the recent AP-GfK poll, respondents were asked how much of what they knew about the JFK case came from various sources. Only 9 percent cited movies or fictional TV shows, while the greatest portion, 37 percent, said history texts and nonfiction books.

 About two dozen JFK-related titles are due on bookstore shelves in coming months, says Patricia Bostelman, vice president of marketing for Barnes & Noble booksellers. Among them is “They Killed Our President: The Conspiracy to Kill JFK and the Cover-Up That Followed,” by former pro wrestler and Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura.

 Other authors are taking advantage of the anniversary to reissue or expand on previous works.

 Waldron is working on a book focusing on mob figures who confessed to being part of a conspiracy to kill the president. Summers is publishing a sequel to “Conspiracy,” incorporating material released since 1980, while Bugliosi has a “Parkland” paperback to accompany the movie release.

 And “Case Closed” will soon appear for the first time as an e-book. Despite the mountains of documents released since its publication, and a mountain of criticism of his conclusions, Posner says there is no plan to update it, other than perhaps including a new foreword.

 ”I moved on to other subjects,” he says.

 On Nov. 22, 1963, John Kelin was a 7-year-old second-grader in Peoria, Ill. He says the Kennedy assassination is “my earliest clear memory in life.”

 But he didn’t really give the case much thought until 13 years later, when as a sophomore at Eastern Michigan University he attended a lecture by Mark Lane. It was the first time he saw the Abraham Zapruder film that captured the moment when Kennedy was fatally wounded.

 ”Using slow motion and freeze frame, Lane made sure that all of us sitting in that hot, poorly ventilated auditorium understood that Kennedy’s head and shoulders were slammed backward and to the left, and that Lee Harvey Oswald’s alleged shooting position was behind the presidential limousine,” Kelin wrote in a book, “Praise from a Future Generation,” about early critics of the Warren Report. “In a way, that lecture was the genesis of this book.”

 Kelin bristles at references to a conspiracy theory “industry,” preferring to think of himself as part of a grass roots response to the government’s “severely flawed, unsatisfactory explanations for what really happened in 1963.”

 His publisher, Wings Press, has “made intimations” about releasing a digital edition of “Praise” for the 50th anniversary. Meanwhile, Kelin has written another JFK book — a fictional account of how he came to write the first one.

 ”It’s kind of a satire of the present-day research community,” he says, “with a love story thrown in to try to broaden the interest level.”

 The title: “Conspiracy Nut.”

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AP writer David Porter in Newark, N.J., also contributed to this report.

 

Breed is a national writer, based in Raleigh, N.C. He can be reached at features(at)ap.org. Follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/AllenGBreed

 

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Note: The Associated Press-GfK Poll was conducted April 11-15, 2013 by GfK Roper Public Affairs and Corporate Communications.  It involved landline and cell phone interviews with 1,004 adults nationwide. Results for the full sample have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.9 percentage points, it is larger for subgroups.

Online: http://www.ap-gfkpoll.com

 

Kayla Mueller’s brother: Swap with Taliban raised IS demands

PRESCOTT, Ariz. (AP) — The brother of an American woman who was killed after spending months as a hostage of Islamic State militants says Kayla Mueller’s situation worsened after the government traded five Taliban commanders for a captive U.S. soldier.

The militants increased their demands after the May swap for Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, Eric Mueller told NBC’s “Today” in an interview that aired Monday.

“That made the whole situation worse because that’s when the demands got greater,” he said. “They got larger. They realized that they had something.”

Mueller’s death was confirmed Feb. 10 by her family and U.S. officials. The Islamic State group claimed she died in a Jordanian airstrike, but U.S. officials have not confirmed that. The Pentagon said it didn’t know how she was killed.

The 26-year-old international aid worker, who grew up in Prescott, Arizona, was captured in August 2013 after leaving a Doctors Without Borders hospital in Aleppo, Syria.

Mueller’s brother and parents spoke to “Today” host Savannah Guthrie. The family has declined repeated requests for an interview with The Associated Press.

Mueller’s father, Carl Mueller, said that the United States’ willingness to swap for Bergdahl but not pay ransom or allow ransom to be paid for his daughter “was pretty hard to take.”

“I actually asked the president that question when we were in the White House,” he said without elaborating.

Mueller’s parents said in the interview that the U.S. government put policy ahead of American lives.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Monday that the Mueller family had been put in a difficult position by the U.S. policy against making concessions to terrorists, but he defended it as being in the best interests of the nation.

“The president is confident that his administration did do everything that was possible within the confines of that policy — using our military might, using our intelligence capability, using our diplomatic influence — to try to secure the safe release and return of Kayla Mueller,” Earnest said.

A recent Associated Press-GfK poll found that only 3 in 10 Americans think the United States should pay a ransom to save an American hostage overseas, even if it’s the only way to rescue the hostage. A quarter of Americans say there are circumstances when the United States should directly negotiate with a terrorist group.

The poll of 1,045 adults was conducted online Jan. 29-Feb. 2. The margin of sampling error for all respondents is plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.

The Obama administration has defended the Bergdahl swap. Some U.S. lawmakers were outraged by the exchange of five Taliban commanders held at the Guantanamo Bay prison for the Idaho native who left his post in Afghanistan and was captured and held by the Taliban for five years.

The Joint Chiefs of Staff unanimously supported the exchange, insisting that the United States has a sacred commitment to men and women who serve that it never will leave anyone behind on the battlefield.


AP-GfK Poll: Most back Obama plan to raise investment taxes

WASHINGTON (AP) — The rich aren’t taxed enough and the middle class is taxed too much. As for your taxes, you probably think they’re too high as well.

Those are the results of an Associated Press-GfK poll that found that most people in the United States support President Barack Obama’s proposal to raise investment taxes on high-income families.

The findings echo the populist messages of two liberal senators — Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Bernie Sanders of Vermont — being courted by the progressive wing of the Democratic Party to run for president in 2016. The results also add weight to Obama’s new push to raise taxes on the rich and use some of the revenue to lower taxes on the middle class.

Obama calls his approach “middle-class economics.”

It’s not flying with Republicans in Congress, who oppose higher taxes.

But Bob Montgomery of Martinsville, Virginia, said people with higher incomes should pay more.

“I think the more you make the more taxes you should pay,” said Montgomery, who is retired after working 40 years at an auto dealership. “I can’t see where a man makes $50,000 a year pays as much taxes as somebody that makes $300,000 a year.”

According to the poll, 68 percent of those questioned said wealthy households pay too little in federal taxes; only 11 percent said the wealthy pay too much.

Also, 60 percent said middle-class households pay too much in federal taxes, while 7 percent said they paid too little.

Obama laid out a series of tax proposals as part of his 2016 budget released this month. Few are likely to win approval in the Republican-controlled Congress. But if fellow Democrats were to embrace his ideas, they could play a role in the 2016 race.

One proposal would increase capital gains taxes on households making more than $500,000. In the survey, 56 percent favored the proposal, while only 16 percent opposed it.

Democrats, at 71 percent, were the most likely to support raising taxes on capital gains. Among Republicans and independents, 46 percent supported it.

Obama’s other tax plans didn’t fare as well.

About 27 percent said they favored making estates pay capital gains taxes on assets when they are inherited, and 36 percent opposed it.

Just 19 percent said they supported the president’s aborted plan to scale back the tax benefits of popular college savings plans, 529 accounts, named after a section in federal tax law. Obama withdrew the proposal after Republicans and some Democrats in Congress opposed it.

“I think that’s a poor idea,” said Jamie Starr of suburban Atlanta. “Being that I’m a mother of five children, that is a wonderful program.”

“That’s kids trying to make their own away in this world without having student loans,” she said.

Obama’s proposal to levy a new tax on banks was supported by 47 percent of those surveyed. Only 13 percent opposed it, while 36 percent were undecided.

It’s tax season, that time of the year when people are confronted by their obligations to the government. The poll found that 56 percent of us think our own federal taxes are too high, and 4 percent said they pay too little.

If taxes are increased, a slight majority said the additional money should help pay down the national debt. Using the money to cut other taxes or fund government programs were less popular options.

Republicans, in general, are more likely than Democrats to oppose higher taxes, except when it comes to low-income families.

Only 19 percent of respondents said low-income families pay too little in federal taxes, but there was a significant split between the political parties. Just 10 percent of Democrats said low-income families pay too little, while 33 percent of Republicans said they don’t pay enough.

According to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, the poorest 20 percent of households paid less than 1 percent of all federal taxes in 2011, the latest year for data. The top 10 percent paid more than half of all federal taxes.

That’s OK, said Sen. Sanders, an independent from Vermont, because wealthy people have seen their incomes soar while the rest of the country’s wages have been much more flat.

“Most people understand that at a time when the rich are becoming much richer, the middle class is continuing to disappear,” Sanders said. “And people also understand that the very wealthy and large corporations are able to take advantage of huge loopholes, which enable them not to pay their fair share of taxes.”

Obama has been pushing to raise taxes on the rich since his first campaign for president in 2008. He has had some success. In January 2013, Obama persuaded Republicans in Congress to let income tax rates go up for families making more than $450,000 a year. It was part of a deal that made permanent a large package of tax cuts first enacted under Republican President George W. Bush.

Some liberals are looking for a candidate to push for higher taxes on the rich in the 2016 race. Sanders and Democrat Warren would fit the profile, though Warren says she is not running for president and Sanders says he has not made up his mind.

Among Democrats, Hillary Rodham Clinton is seen as the front-runner for the nomination; she has yet to make her candidacy official.

Clinton hasn’t offered specifics on how she would approach taxes as a candidate. But she offered a glimpse of her views following Obama’s State of the Union Address in January, when she tweeted that Obama “pointed way to an economy that works for all. Now we need to step up & deliver for the middle class. #FairShot #FairShare.”

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The AP-GfK Poll of 1,045 adults was conducted online Jan. 29-Feb. 2, using a sample drawn from GfK’s probability-based KnowledgePanel, which is designed to be representative of the U.S. population. The margin of sampling error for all respondents is plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.

Respondents were first selected randomly using phone or mail survey methods, and later interviewed online. People selected for KnowledgePanel who didn’t otherwise have access to the Internet were provided access at no cost to them.

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Online:

AP-GfK Poll: http://www.ap-gfkpoll.com

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Follow Stephen Ohlemacher on Twitter: http://twitter.com/stephenatap