Archive for December, 2012

WHAT IF?

At year’s end, the United States faces interesting questions. What if our economy really is improving? What if the naysayers are wrong about the President’s position on taxes and spending cuts? And what if Washington responds accordingly? I’m not wearing rose-colored glasses, but a level of optimism may be justified. Here’s why…

First-time unemployment claims dropped to 350,000 for the week ending Dec. 20. The current four-week moving average stands at 356,750—the lowest since March 2008. Some economists tagged 400,000 as the milestone for stopping job loss and 350,000 as the target for meaningful job growth. We’re getting close. Oh, and in October (the most recent date for figures), single-family home prices rose for the ninth month in a row. Meanwhile in November, contracts for home resales hit a 2-1/2 year high.

Good news about the Treasury, too. It recently sold the last of its shares in the insurance giant, AIG. The $182 billion bailout rankled some people—particularly Tea Partiers—but America’s financial system was on the brink. And while the matter should never be considered a business opportunity for Washington, the Treasury cleared a $22.7 billion profit.

The government also is getting out of General Motors. Steven Rattner (The New York Times, Dec. 19) wrote that Washington should recover all but $14 billion of the $82 billion in TARP funds invested in Detroit (Chrysler also needed assistance; Ford made it through on its own). Auto sales have increased from 10.4 million in 2009 to a projected 15 million-plus for 2012. Moreover, Rattner reports, as many as 250,000 workers have been added.

Just as encouraging, American manufacturing may be coming back. In the Dec. 2012 Atlantic, Charles Fishman writes about General Electric bringing appliance manufacturing onshore from China. Why? Product designers, production specialists and marketers can all work face to face. GE is lowering manufacturing costs while eliminating shipping costs from Asia. In the same edition, James Fallows writes about small start-up companies designing and manufacturing products here (San Francisco is on the cutting edge) to respond faster to market demand. We won’t re-capture all our lost jobs, and new jobs will require more education. But the future offers exciting new opportunities.

Add to that, the U.S. may be heading towards energy self-sufficiency and more. Roger Cohen pointed out in the Times (Dec. 14) that the U.S. National Intelligence Council (NIC) sees the nation being a major energy exporter as soon as 2020. This will result from new technologies enabling dramatic increases in the production of shale oil and natural gas. There are risks, yes. But risks can be overcome. Improved mileage standards will help, too. Cohen cites the NIC study: “The prospect of significantly lower energy prices will have significant positive ripple effects for the U.S. economy, encouraging companies to take advantage of lower energy prices to locate or relocate to the U.S.”

I’ve always believed in American ingenuity and flexibility. What if Congress—particularly Speaker John Boehner—demonstrates enough ingenuity and flexibility to believe in our nation’s strengths and turn away from the Fiscal Cliff lying in wait? What if they got out of the way and actually put America first?

May the New Year be a good one for you!

Responding is simple. Click on “comments” above then go to the bottom of the article.

Read the first three chapters of David’s new novel, SAN CAFÉ at davidperlstein.com. SAN CAFÉ is available at iUniverse.com, Amazon.com and bn.com.

THE SLIPPERY SLOPE

If a journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step, that first step often is the most difficult. So we go nowhere. Witness the fiscal cliff and gun violence. Why? We fear the unknown leading us down a slippery slope.

Fear of the slippery slope is ancient. Proverbs 2:12-15 warns against a series of actions actions culminating with following evil people. The Mishna (Pirke Avot 1:1) calls for building a fence around the Torah to prevent violations of the Law. For example, while Torah (Exodus 23:19 and 34:26, Deuteronomy 14:21) forbids boiling a kid in its mother’s milk, the Sages push the fence out by forbidding mixing any meat and dairy.

Recently, I mentioned to a friend means testing for Social Security. He dismissed discussing the idea. Tax the full Social Security benefit (85 percent now is taxable) instead, he said. What did he fear? Even mentioning reductions for upper-income retirees would cause fear of the slippery slope. Americans en masse would assume that everyone’s benefits eventually would be reduced.

That’s no way to create policy. Sure, you have to do the math to determine whether fully taxable benefits might sufficiently ease future pressure on Social Security versus cuts at the upper end. But let’s be honest. If benefits for recipients with incomes (tax-free included) of, say, $125,000 were lowered by 10 percent with a 15 percent cut for people with incomes of $200,000 and above, those folks’ lifestyles wouldn’t suffer. Meanwhile, people who must survive on Social Security would retain their full benefits and could count on them in the future.

Discussions about gun violence produce the same illogic. Ban AR-15 military-style weapons, according to the National Rifle Association, and Washington will ban all guns. Thus Wayne LaPierre, NRA executive vice president, stated this morning that armed guards should be posted in all schools. Which leaves assault rifles unaddressed until attempts are made at mass murder. So let’s get serious. Many people hunt. Their weapons should not be confiscated. Others want to protect their homes. Fine—if they’re properly licensed and thoroughly trained. And they understand the risks Nicholas Kristoff pointed out in yesterday’s New York Times.

But whatever your opinion, it’s nonsense to withhold rational discussion so we can separate fact from fiction and find a gun policy that makes more sense—even if it’s not perfect—than the one we have now.

The problem is that many people equate putting everything on the table with accepting everything on the table. So they refuse to talk at all. If you’ve ever been involved with a group trying to solve a problem, you know that the first rule is to consider all suggestions. Censorship, other- or self-directed, greatly limits finding good solutions.

What now? We’ll likely find ourselves suffering from paralysis yet again. And that’s what demagogues love. They stir up fears of the slippery slope to obstruct—and chase political payoffs at the nation’s expense. When Proverbs 2:15 warns against “Men whose paths are crooked / And who are devious in their course,” we should take notice. Because what’s really scary isn’t the slippery slope. It’s slippery people.

Responding is simple. Click on “comments” above then go to the bottom of the article.

Read the first three chapters of David’s new novel, SAN CAFÉ at davidperlstein.com. SAN CAFÉ is available at iUniverse.com, Amazon.com and bn.com.

BLACK IS WHITE—AND BLACK

In George Orwell’s novel 1984, Big Brother, the symbol of tyranny, declares that “Black is white, and white is black.” This marks just one example of “doublethink,” which twists truth and falsehood. But doublespeak is more than fiction, as we learned in Gaza last week.

On Saturday, Palestinians celebrated Hamas’ twenty-fifth anniversary marked by the first-ever visit to Gaza by Hamas’ political leader Khaled Meshaal. Doublespeak was the order of the day. Yet Meshaal also spoke quite plainly with no attempt at deceit.

Let’s go first with the blatant lie. Hamas claimed victory over Israel in their recent hostilities. Following the declaration of a truce, Gazans celebrated their triumph. How obvious was Hamas’ victory? As obvious as their unguided rockets killing six Israelis and doing some property damage. I’m not sure that any other nation or group has won a war by inflicting so few casualties—although every life lost is precious—and so little damage.

The fact that 170 and perhaps more Gazans were killed—and the civilian lives among them also are precious—in no way seemed to diminish Hamas’ triumph. Why would it? Those casualties represent martyrs sent directly to heaven by Israeli missiles, which were guided with considerable precision towards military targets, often located in civilian areas of densely populated Gaza. The upshot? Being on the high end of a 28–1 kill ratio with considerably more damage to infrastructure—victory photos show many Gaza buildings in ruins—defines winning.

But black also can be black. Meshaal made no attempt at subterfuge when he told an adoring crowd he would never recognize Israel and vowed to “free the land of Palestine inch by inch.” Perhaps some in Europe and in other regions of the world took that as a statement devoted to peace and brotherhood (other than the Islamic kind). But Meshaal left little room for doubt. “Palestine is ours from the river to the sea and from the south to the north. There will be no concession on an inch of the land,” he said. And, “We will never recognize the legitimacy of the Israeli occupation and therefore there is no legitimacy for Israel, no matter how long it will take.”

All this leaves the future a bit murky. Critics expect Israel to negotiate peace with Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas. I’d like that, too. But while Abbas says he wants a peaceful solution and vows no violence, he seeks unity with Hamas. And he never disavowed Meshaal’s remarks. On Monday, Meshaal repeated his own desire for Palestinian unity. Again Abbas, that seeker of peace, made no response.

So do me a favor. If you know how a united Palestinian people can negotiate a peaceful two-state solution while also seeking the destruction of Israel, let me know. For now, I can only conclude that in the Middle East—and among those in the West who would rather engage in fantasy than reality—black and white can be one and the same. Which leaves everything at least fifty shades of gray.

Responding is simple. Click on “comments” above then go to the bottom of the article.

Read the first three chapters of David’s new novel, SAN CAFÉ at davidperlstein.com. SAN CAFÉ is available at iUniverse.com, Amazon.com and bn.com.

SAHARA DRY

When it comes to humor, there’s dry and there’s Sahara dry. A writer can craft a piece so tongue-in-cheek it flies over readers’ heads. I plead—maybe—guilty.  Several readers thought “An Affront to Humanity” (November 23) concerned a real woman’s real experience on a San Francisco Muni bus. Nope. As I wrote in a postscript last week, it was all about Israel and Hamas.

True, dry humor can be rewarding. The novelist Claudia Long wrote about my first novel, a geopolitical satire set in the Persian Gulf: “SLICK! is filled with action and atmosphere so deftly drawn that we don’t realize until a moment later that David Perlstein is pulling our leg.” (No cash changed hands.) Claudia must be right. Kirkus Reviews gave SLICK! a star as a “book of remarkable merit” and featured me in a column in their April 15 issue. (More big news in two weeks.)

So will readers “get” my new novel, SAN CAFÉ? Set—except for two scenes in the Bay Area—in the fictional Central American nation of San Cristo, SAN CAFÉ is anything but dry. When the novel begins, it’s raining like hell. Moreover, SAN CAFÉ has lots of dark moments. Kirkus—bless ‘em—cites “a no-holds-barred willingness to examine some considerably dark terrain.” (Let’s also not forget Kirkus’ comment about the “whip-smart prose.”) Yet the satire often is broader than in SLICK! To be on the safe side, I offer an author’s guide to understanding several of the main characters.

Jesús Garcia-Vega is an ardent leftist. His name combines the obvious with that of a brand of cigars my father smoked when I was a kid—Garcia y Vega (four for a quarter). Silly? Heck no. Garcia-Vega admires Fidel Castro. Fidel’s nickname? The Big Cigar.

Capitán Enrique Hauptmann-Hall is a Cristano but doesn’t have a Spanish name. No, his grandparents weren’t Nazis who fled the Allies’ wrath. Like many of the wealthy in Latin America, his family descended from powerful European colonialists who, in their Christian-mercantilist fervor, took the natives to the cleaners. No wonder he has an attitude. He also flips out. See chapter one.
Whitman Scharq is founder, chairman and CEO of Mobys Inc., the world’s largest coffee retailer. And yes, he’s left a lot of blood in the water. But what can you expect from the head of a company pioneering Yo Mobys! And ¡Mobys Aquí¡ pushcarts to keep people in America’s ghettos and barrios alert while generating extra corporate revenue?

Maria Skavronsky is an exotic beauty, half Cristano (mom) and half Russian (dad). An alumna of Stanford and of Harvard Law, she’s also a former modern dancer and a devoted single mom. No wonder she’s so damned dangerous.

Easy, right? Although we haven’t even discussed the Italian media diva Adella Rozen (what’s wrong with purple hair?) and Bobby Gatling, my hero—kind of—with nerves of steel, a heart of gold and a right knee resembling papier maché.

As a former hockey-mom vice-residential candidate from the state with the nation’s largest landmass likes to say, “How’s that workin’ for ya?” Or am I being Sahara dry?

Responding is simple. Click on “comments” above then go to the bottom of the article.

Read the first three chapters of David’s new novel, SAN CAFÉ at davidperlstein.com. SAN CAFÉ is available in soft cover and digital format at iUniverse.com, Amazon.com and bn.com.