Archive for March, 2014

REAL SAN FRANCISCANS

Lots of people complain about changes in San Francisco. They see technology workers as threats to the city they love. I get it, but I don’t agree. Witness my recent post “Deported from San Francisco: A Fable.” Why? Many complainers conveniently define themselves as real San Franciscans and anyone who arrived in town a day later as pretenders.

We’re all immigrants or descendants of immigrants. I’m both. People always have moved to find better opportunities. San Francisco didn’t exist as a major city—and an instant one at that—until the 1850s when the Gold Rush drew newcomers from around the world. They built a “hella” city. Their efforts, not their birth records, made them San Franciscans.

So what am I? Could be I’m a real New Yorker. I was born in the Bronx and raised in Queens. But I’ve basically been away since I went off to college at eighteen. I lived in Texas for a while (San Antonio) and settled in San Francisco forty years ago. Would people who’ve moved to Manhattan or Brooklyn in the last decade consider me a real New Yorker now?

Do four decades in the Richmond District make me a real San Franciscan? I worked here, started a business, bought a home, brought up three children and became involved in public schools and my synagogue. I remember Mayor Joe Alioto, Giants shortstop Johnny LeMaster, the Omelette Parlor at SFO (best pancakes around), Blum’s at Macys, Bernstein’s Fish Grotto and Muni’s green-and-cream buses and streetcars (fare: 25¢). Do I count? Would I count with thirty years residency? Twenty?

What about my kids? They’re native San Franciscans. But my oldest son lives in Los Angeles. My middle son lives an hour east of Nashville, Tennessee. My youngest son lives here, but he spent three years at Humboldt State, a year in New York and another in Detroit before returning. Was it wrong for him to come back? Are my other two kids welcome?

Yes, San Francisco is changing. That’s only natural. Cities are akin to living organisms. They constantly evolve. That also goes for neighborhoods. Irish and Italians lived in the Mission before Latinos. Jews filled the Western Addition before African Americans—and my own Richmond District before an exodus from Chinatown thanks to the old 55 Sutter bus. Even New York’s fabled Lower East Side was German and Irish before it was Jewish. As the Jews moved out, other ethnics moved in. Today, the Lower East Side is hip.

Maybe it’s natural to think that those who come to a place after us lack bona fides. But what makes someone a San Franciscan or New Yorker or Chicagoan or whatever is the commitment they make to their city. It takes time to sink roots. But no law says people can’t pass through as they seek the place that’s right for them.

San Francisco’s challenges, marked by high rents and home prices, are very real. Placing the blame on people who make a good living is bogus. Turf wars hurt, not help. We can and should treat each other with more respect—and find genuine solutions while we’re at it.

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

Read the first three chapters of The Boy Walker, at davidperlstein.com. Order in soft cover or e-book at Amazon.com, Barnesandnoble.com or iUniverse.com. Check out Green Apple Books, too.

HONORING THE MEDAL OF HONOR

Last Tuesday, Lenny Kravitz received a posthumous Medal of Honor for conspicuous gallantry. Not the rocker/actor but his uncle for whom he was named. The elder Lenny Kravitz, who fought in Korea, proved an exemplar of courage. Decades after his death in combat, he also demonstrated what can go wrong in America—and right.

According to a National Public Radio report, Private First Class Kravitz manned a machine gun to cover his unit as it withdrew from a Chinese attack. He knew that he himself would not be able to retreat. He held off the Chinese assault long enough to enable members of his unit to escape and regroup—at the cost of his life. He posthumously received the Army’s second highest medal, the Distinguished Service Cross.

All this sounds like a sad yet ennobling battlefield tale. And the DSC certainly recognized PFC Kravitz’ heroism. But a friend of Kravitz, Michael Libman, now 83 and also an Army veteran, suspected something was wrong. “It took me a while to realize what was happening or what I thought was happening,” Libman told Audie Cornish on NPR’s All Things Considered. “And I had to find out, you know, just what to do about it to find out if I was right or wrong.”

What Libman found out was that a substantial number of men who received the Distinguished Service Cross had met the same criteria as those awarded the Medal of Honor. Except, that is, for one thing.

It appears that senior commanders hesitated to recommend Jews and other minorities for the Medal of Honor, although two-dozen Jews had been awarded the medal since its inception during the Civil War. Libman worked for decades to uncover the truth. Of 6,505 recipients of the Distinguished Service Cross, six hundred soldiers eligible for the Medal of Honor were Jewish or Hispanic.

Prejudice is not new in the United States. It will never completely disappear. But this nation has made great strides in reducing or eliminating prejudice. We’ve also made great strides in many other areas. No, the nation’s not perfect. It never will be unless human nature undergoes some profound—and unlikely—changes.

But a nation can be judged by its progress and how it continually raises the bar for freedom and decency. When President Obama presented the Medal of Honor to three living survivors—two Latinos and an African American—he demonstrated that we as a nation should and can adhere to the principles we say we cherish.

A follow-up: Michael Libman said of Lenny Kravitz, “I never thought Lenny was that type of fellow. He was a very, very mild guy and a very happy guy, and not very aggressive. But they found out he could be if he had to.” The same was true of my friend (First Lieutenant) Howie Schnabolk, who flew a medevac helicopter in Vietnam. While taking wounded soldiers off the battlefield on August 3, 1967, Howie was shot down and killed.

Our greatest heroes often demonstrate that courage comes from quiet determination, not bluster. That, too, is a good lesson for all of us to study going forward.

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

Read the first three chapters of The Boy Walker, at davidperlstein.com. Order in soft cover or e-book at Amazon.com, Barnesandnoble.com or iUniverse.com. Check out Green Apple Books and Books, Inc. in Laurel Village. 

CRIMEA, OBAMA AND LIMITS

Russia’s penetration of Crimea leads some people to question the will or competence of President Obama. They believe he has presided over a radical diminution of American power. The critics may be right. Or not.

The Crimean situation is complicated. A majority Russian-speaking, Orthodox population feels far closer to Russia than to its western-oriented, Ukrainian-speaking, Catholic “countrymen.” Still, shouldn’t Obama rattle the American saber? Reflecting on the presidents in my lifetime and just before, I’m not convinced the critics make a case—certainly if they don’t provide a specific strategy. So here’s what came before Obama:

After Nine-Eleven, George W. Bush left the killing or capture of Osama bin Laden to Afghan warlords—and blew it. Then he moved American forces from Afghanistan to Iraq. We toppled Saddam Hussein but left Iraq in a bloody shambles at great cost to us. Bill Clinton waged a partial war on Islamist terrorism but couldn’t halt it. Nine-Eleven took place ten months after he left the White House. George H.W. Bush may have played it smartest. In 1991, U.S. forces kicked Saddam out of Kuwait in 100 hours—then left.

Ronald Reagan, the epitome of American Cold War macho, couldn’t control civil wars in Nicaragua and El Salvador. In 1983, truck bombs killed 241 American servicemen in Beirut. Yes, the Soviet Union collapsed. For the most part, that was internal. Jimmy Carter, to whom some compare Obama, failed to keep the Shah on Iran’s throne. An attempt to rescue American hostages held by Iranian revolutionaries embarrassed our nation.

Gerald Ford warmed the seat in the Oval Office after Richard Nixon resigned. Nixon flexed American military muscle, continuing the Vietnam War until late March 1973. That represented four more years battling guerillas and an army from the Third World who toppled South Vietnam in 1975. Lyndon Johnson sent combat troops to Vietnam in 1964. It seems North Vietnamese naval forces twice attacked American ships in the Gulf of Tonkin. Only the second incident never took place. The war cost 58,000 American lives and plunged our society into turmoil.

John F. Kennedy sent military advisors to South Vietnam. And while he forced Russia to withdraw missiles from Cuba, he had to pull American missiles from Turkey. Dwight Eisenhower kept Americans involved in South Vietnam after the French withdrew. He did get us out of Korea as promised, and South Korea eventually became a global success. North Korea continues as a brutal dictatorship.

Harry Truman sent U.S. troops to Korea to combat communist aggression as part of a U.N. “police action.” Over thirty thousand Americans were killed. When Franklin Roosevelt died before I was born, the Allied victory over Germany and Japan was foreordained. Those allies included the Soviet Union to which Roosevelt and Truman yielded Eastern Europe.

Where will history place Obama among these presidents? I don’t know. I can say that for all its differences, today’s world poses the same basic problems as the one into which I was born. American military power remains great but not without limits. By acknowledging this, Obama may be behind the times—or possibly ahead of them.

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

Read the first three chapters of The Boy Walker, at davidperlstein.com. Order in soft cover or e-book at Amazon.com, Barnesandnoble.com or iUniverse.com. Check out Green Apple Books and Books, Inc. in Laurel Village. 

DEPORTED FROM SAN FRANCISCO: A FABLE

ROBIN: “I’m Robin Goldberg-Jimenez, and this is a KNUZ Radio special report on legislation regarding illegal residents recently passed by San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors. It seems that the board and the mayor are wasting no time in implementing the new law. Blake Wong-Shabazz reports from South of Market Street.”

BLAKE: “It’s chaos here, Robin. Or should I say one big happy celebration? It all depends on which side of the issue you stand. Police and sheriff’s deputies have fanned out over more than one square mile to roust what some San Franciscans call ‘undesirables.’ Many long-time neighborhood residents hail the move as setting things back to the way they used to be.”

ROBIN: “Blake, are the people being arrested putting up a struggle?”

BLAKE: “No signs of violence, but that’s to be expected, Robin. The illegal residents being handcuffed and placed in Muni buses for mass deportation beyond the city’s borders are young and energetic, but nearly all are college graduates. Many have graduate degrees. They’re not prone to violence. One young man I talked to while he was being cuffed said he’d rather not risk getting his expensive black-frame glasses broken.”

ROBIN: “And police and sheriff’s deputies are sure these people are illegals?”

BLAKE: “Robin, they say they’re absolutely sure. As you know, residents of San Francisco are required to submit their federal income tax returns to the city. Anyone under twenty-five earning more than forty-two thousand dollars must leave. Anyone from twenty-six to thirty can’t live in San Francisco if they make more than fifty-five thousand dollars. And there’s a whole grid of income qualifications for San Francisco residency to keep big earners under forty out, although the elimination age may be raised to forty-five for people without children.”

ROBIN: “Blake, I want to ask… wait… Our Jordan Matapang-O’Hara is coming in with big news from the Mid-Market area. Jordan?”

JORDAN: “I don’t know if you can hear all the commotion behind me, Robin, but that’s the sound of moving vans removing desks, sofas and espresso bars from all the social-media companies evacuating the area. They’re moving their offices out of town, they say, because their employees are being deported and don’t want to commute into San Francisco. Many companies are heading down to San Jose and some to the East Bay. A few are relocating to Nevada. The CEO of one up-and-coming tech company said she’s moving her operation to Waco, Texas.”

ROBIN: “Jordan, what have you heard from people who live nearby?”

JORDAN: “Well, no one really lives on Mid-Market… yet. They’ll wait for the moving vans to leave before they start occupying doorways and curbs. But one couple who lives in Bernal Heights did say that drugs, alcohol and prostitution on this stretch of Market Street are no problem for them, and that San Francisco is much better off when it promotes diversity.”

ROBIN: “That’s your KNUZ update on San Francisco’s purging of illegal residents. But wait. Our Sandy Brown-Krishna is at City Hall with an update on the mayor’s plan to trim San Francisco’s budget by thirty-five percent to meet this year’s projected drop in tax revenue. Sandy…”

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

Read the first three chapters of The Boy Walker, at davidperlstein.com. Order in soft cover or e-book at Amazon.com, Barnesandnoble.com or iUniverse.com. Check out Green Apple Books and Books, Inc. in Laurel Village.