Archive for the ‘9/11’ Category

THE MINIMUM STANDARD

Last Monday, NPR’s “All Things Considered” broadcast an interesting feature about prejudice. Reporter Shankar Vedantam spoke of a professor discovering that people treat members of their own racial, religious, social or professional communities better than those outside them. This takes a Ph.D.? And what does it really mean?

According to Vedantam, a Yale professor suffered a serious hand injury. In the emergency room, she announced that she was a quilter—important to her—but received ordinary treatment. When she revealed she taught at Yale, in came a team of specialists. (The cost is another story). Vedantam cited an act of prejudice involving the initial treatment—one involving sins of omission rather than commission.

I’m not so sure. The professor’s routine care was probably outstanding. This was Yale! President Obama and the Giants’ catcher Buster Posey get more comprehensive, timely medical care than I do. Yet I get very good medical care and wish that everyone received at least the same. I don’t think I’m not being treated well because I’m not famous.

Along with prestige and wealth, familiarity and comfort create weighty factors regarding how people relate to each other. Human beings, like it or not, maintain an innate suspicion of “others,” even if differences are superficial. Such fear may be irrational on the conscious level, but it exists. Group loyalty tends to be deeply ingrained—taught certainly but also seemingly part of our DNA.

What to do? The Torah tells us that every human being is created in God’s image. Moreover, we should love our fellows as ourselves. Easier said than done. Some among us may exhibit universal affections, but I suspect genuine saints are few and far between.

The Mishnah states, “Kal Yisrael arevim zeh l’zeh.” All of Israel is responsible each for the other. Jews have a special responsibility to see to the wellbeing of other Jews. This attitude is hardly unique. African Americans, the Irish, 49ers fans, Latinos, Chinese, sorority sisters, Muslims, Native Americans and Elk Lodge members all understand.

Two Army experiences come to mind. At Officer Candidate School, the Jewish chaplain at Fort Benning had each Jewish senior candidate speak man-to-man with one Jewish junior candidate. That helpful chain linked men in class after class. In Columbus (Georgia) to purchase uniforms, I went to Sugarman’s and was delighted when the storeowner warmly greeted me as a landsman—a fellow Jew. (I can’t remember if I got a price break.)

Granted, our capacity to go the extra mile for everyone every day involves limitations, because our emotional energies aren’t boundless. We don’t feel the same attachment to everyone.

Still, legitimate affinities do not permit us to ignore the needs of others. A 9/11 or a Superstorm Sandy extends our sense of connection to everyone within sight or hearing. The nation grieves. The nation helps. But even on ordinary days, we must offer every person a minimum standard of decency, integrity, attentiveness and competence.

So here’s to the minimum standard. May we apply it to the max.

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.

DRAWDOWN

Last Wednesday, President Obama announced that in July he will start drawing down American troops from Afghanistan. Ten thousand will be gone by December 31, another 23,000 by summer 2012. It’s more than time.

America’s post-9/11 invasion of Afghanistan was warranted to find Osama bin Laden and destroy the training camps he’d established under Taliban protection—camps that would allow more al Qaeda plots against America. This represented an anti-terrorist strategy. The country supported it.

Then things headed south. We removed the Taliban, but the Bush White House blew a prime opportunity to get bin Laden at Bora Bora by withholding American special operations forces and subcontracting to Afghan warlords, who let bin Laden escape. The hunt continued, but American troops were diverted to Iraq. Before the war, then-Army Chief of Staff Gen. Eric Shinseki stated that we would need many hundreds of thousands of troops to pacify and recreate that nation. The Bush administration terminated his career then implemented one inept policy after another.

Over 4,000 American servicemen and women were killed in Iraq. Many more were wounded grievously as the U.S. pursued a counter-insurgency policy to support an unpopular government in a nation riven by religious and tribal antagonism. Yes, the 2008 troop surge reduced the violence. Our troops conducted themselves magnificently. But the folly of remaking Iraq in our image and the incredible cost remained unchanged.

President Obama re-focused on Afghanistan and removed combat troops from Iraq. But the continued anti-insurgency policy propping up the corrupt regime of Hamid Karzai piled one mistake on another. Over 1,500 American troops have lost their lives for an Afghan government with no validity in the eyes of its people. Peace talks with the Taliban are under way, although any agreement will likely prove worthless. In any event, Afghans will have to determine their own future for good or bad—and, regardless of our best intentions, whether we like it or not.

So here we have it. The U.S., in the midst of grave economic challenges, has spent $443 billion on Afghanistan. It costs $1 million to maintain a single serviceman or woman each year. A drawdown of 33,000 troops will save $33 billion better spent at home. Further troop reductions will save more money—and lives. We won’t completely leave Afghanistan for some time though. President Obama stated that he won’t tolerate a safe haven for Al Qaeda and the Taliban—at least the Taliban who won’t deal honestly with us. So we’re shifting to a policy of anti-terrorism. America isn’t withdrawing into isolation, the president emphasized—Sen. John McCain promptly accused the White House of retreating into Fortress America—but taking “a more centered course.” I agree with the president. Why?

Leslie Gelb, President Emeritus and Board Senior Fellow of the Council on Foreign Relations, put it best. “Whatever happens in Afghanistan now or five years from now won’t determine America’s future; what happens with America’s crushing debt will.”

Want to respond? Click on “comments” above then go to the bottom of the article.

 

TWO BOYS AND BIN LADEN

The other day I saw two boys running home after school. The “hare” sprinted ahead then faltered and stopped. The “tortoise” kept running and disappeared from view far ahead.

I thought of conservatives—and many liberals, too—who take the “hare” or sprinter’s approach to the economy. Either push some free-market buttons or throw government cash at the problem. Then watch the economy soar justlikethat. I don’t think so.

It took nearly a decade to find Osama bin Laden. Persistence and hard work bore fruit. President George W. Bush made a costly mistake in not letting American troops go after bin Laden at Tora Bora after 9/11, but he never intended for bin Laden to escape. President Obama concluded that our “friends” in Afghanistan and Pakistan should not determine American actions and moved forward with SEAL Team 6. They succeeded.

The markets yawned at bin Laden’s death. I liked that. Investors would have responded enthusiastically in the months after 9/11, but in some ways, bin Laden already was history. Investor attention focused on the state of the economy which, Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke reported a week ago, is recovering albeit slowly. New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, among others, has long written that many Americans fail to understand the depth of the hole into which the economy plunged and how much time we’ll need to get out of it. Quick fixes like cutting vital social programs to the bone or increased government spending that bloats the deficit may play to a number of voters but represent dereliction of duty.

Let’s give President Obama some credit here. Now that the birther movement has dissipated—less a few diehards who will remain—perhaps the nation will attend to real issues with an eye on reality. America’s penchant for mechanistic thinking—anything can be repaired quickly as if it were a car engine or some other mechanical device—requires modification. By opposing mechanistic solutions, Mr. Obama reveals himself to be a tortoise.

But as the 2012 election grows nearer, Republicans may find the tortoise too far out front to catch. Economic data keep trending up. Today’s non-farms payroll report showed a gain of 244,000 jobs. While unemployment rose from 8.8% to 9.0%, this most likely indicates growing confidence in the economy and more people reentering the job market. The Dow closed at 12810 on April 29 then dropped back this week, reinforcing a two-steps-forward, one-back approach. A very possible scenario: the Dow approaches 14000 a year from now when election season kicks into high gear. Many people have said to me that we’ll never see that number again in our lifetimes. Those conversations are now all of two years old.

Emotions have run wild over the last several years. But indeed, the President was born in Hawaii. Bin Laden is gone. And the economy, while not where we want it to be, has made significant progress. Americans may yet conclude that patience and pragmatism represent virtues.

I’ll be taking the next few Fridays off. It’s a great opportunity to review past posts—just scroll down. Want to respond? Click on “comments” above then go to the bottom of the article.

 

THE EMPEROR’S NEW OLD CLOTHES

The emperor is naked. Again. Now what?

In Hans Christian Andersen’s fairytale, “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” two weavers offer the emperor a new suit from cloth so delicate those who are stupid or foolish cannot see it. The Emperor accepts and wears his new clothes in a parade. Everyone praises his beautiful outfit. Only a little boy reclaims reality, calling out that the emperor isn’t wearing anything.

On December 14, one of the emperors of Hamas, Ismail Haniyeh, declared to a crowd in Gaza. “We said it five years ago and we say it now… we will never, we will never, we will never recognize Israel.” Spin it any way you want, but that’s as naked a statement of rejection as you can make.

How will the world respond? Will it disavow Haniyeh’s words? Or will it reinterpret them much as Big Brother in George Orwell’s 1984 maintained that, “Black is white and white is black”? As for the Palestinian Authority, will it continue the fiction of Palestinian reunification as a condition for reaching an agreement with Israel—of bringing Hamas into negotiations that Hamas declares purposeless? After three days, we’ve heard nothing. The silence leaves me more troubled than comforted.

Of course, it takes two. Will the Israeli government use Haniyeh’s statement to vindicate its refusal to extend compromises previously offered by former prime ministers Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert? Plain speaking: the Netanyahu government would be wrong to use Haniyeh’s speech as an excuse for abandoning a meaningful peace process with the P.A.—not that it isn’t backpedaling anyway. So far, not a word. But I can’t say I’m enthusiastic about Jerusalem’s policies. So what to do?

Tom Friedman in his New York Times column of December 11, “Reality Check,” proposed that the world step aside. If Israel and the Palestinians wish to pursue priorities other than peace, let them “live with the consequences.” I might agree if those consequences could be confined to Israel and the land on which a Palestinian state should reside. But the region can’t be hermetically sealed. We got that point on 9/11.

So I propose taking Friedman’s comments a step further. Let the United States in concert with the UN, European Union, Russia and the Arab League nakedly state what they already know. There will never be an agreement producing a viable Palestinian state and real peace unless both parties get down to the core issues and publicly acknowledge the only viable outcomes: East Jerusalem serves as the capital of Palestine. The Old City comes under joint/international control. Palestinian refugees forego a return to Israel while Israel contributes to the building of its new political neighbor. Settlers in the heart of the West Bank leave—or stay as permitted residents under Palestinian law. And a land swap enables Israel to keep its adjacent Jerusalem and Tel Aviv suburbs.

If anyone thinks that the core issues can be negotiated on any other terms, send me a check or money order for $1,000 and your size, male or female. I’ll stick an incredible new suit of the most delicate fabric in a #10 envelope and mail it immediately.

SNOW GLOBES AND ISLAM’S CIVIL WAR

Know those cute little snow globes—souvenirs of cities in northern climes? Don’t think about carrying one onto a plane. A few weeks ago, I saw a no-snow-globes sign in the New Orleans airport. New Orleans!

But I don’t downplay the Islamist threat. Bombs hidden in shoes or underwear or vehicles where crowds gather pose real dangers. Yet the struggle that involves us isn’t between Islam and the West. It’s within Islam.

A civil war is raging, and we’re caught in the crossfire. Islamists want to retreat to the seventh century and the time of the Prophet. Other Muslims wish to be part of the modern world, adapting Islam to it without rigid religious and cultural standards imposed by those who would establish a new caliphate.

America and the West stand in the Islamists’ way, and they fear us mightily. Why? I have to admit that President George W. Bush—whose administration harmed this nation terribly—hit the nail on the head. If only once.

After 9/11, Mr. Bush stated that terrorists (he couldn’t manage to say Islamists) hate us not for what we’ve done but for who we are. I agree. If Islamists took issue with America’s activities in the Middle East, as well as past European colonialism, they would be expressing political anger. But political conflicts can be overcome through negotiation and mutual concession. One’s enemy can become one’s friend. Been to Germany or Japan lately? Much more is involved.

Islamists fear the West’s commitment to democracy, capitalism (sensibly regulated), separation of church and state, and human rights. These values influence what we do because they define who we are.

If we withdraw from Iraq and Afghanistan tomorrow, if we leave our bases in the Persian Gulf, if we abandon Israel, they’ll still hate us. After all, Western values—our weaknesses as well as strengths—make themselves known on the Internet and television, in films, music, art and fashion. We offer Muslims choices. Islamists loathe choice.

Read Samuel Huntington’s The Clash of Civilizations (1996)? Those who believe that everyone in the world thinks the same way vilified it. The planet seems to have gone global. But differences among peoples exist. Thus the West interprets “justice” as finding agreed-upon solutions that end hostilities. In the Middle East, justice often equates to revenge. Theocracy—rule by God—creates a very different worldview among many in Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Gaza. The West, which experienced centuries of religious warfare, rejects theocracy save for the fringe on the Christian and Jewish far right.

That being stated, let’s remember that many Muslims wish to be part of the global society and responsible citizens in Western nations. They must stand against Islamism. We in turn must engage them with respect. Otherwise, America and the West cannot uphold our cherished values and continue to be what we are. 

BURNING BOOKS FOR FUN AND PROFIT

I’m going to burn a copy of God’s Others.

During the run-up to this year’s anniversary of 9/11, I learned an important lesson in public relations. After 40 years in advertising, you’d think I’d have picked up this bit of business savvy. But I’m not embarrassed. I’m encouraged. Now I can launch a wildly successful PR campaign for God’s Others. And I can do it on the cheap.

I haven’t chosen the venue yet. We’re a little sensitive to fire here in San Francisco after a gas line exploded in nearby San Bruno, killing and injuring residents, and decimating a whole neighborhood.

But this is business. So maybe I’ll torch God’s Others on the steps of City Hall. Lots of protests take place there. Or go incendiary in front of my neighborhood bookstore, Green Apple on Clement Street, and then celebrate with coffee at the Toy Boat. No hunting for parking or paying for a garage. I can walk. I might even burn a copy atop the Marin headlands, which look down on the Golden Gate Bridge. Makes for a great visual. They shoot car ads there all the time.

What’s important is that the media will fall all over themselves to cover the event. They’ve got a track record, you know.

Now, I’m not suggesting that burning my own book rather than someone else’s—particularly another religion’s scripture—will induce comments by President Obama or General David Petraeus. Hilary Clinton probably won’t call. But is a small mention by Katy Couric or Tom Friedman too much to ask?

This I know. If I get only 10 percent of the coverage provided to the pastor of a small evangelical church in Gainesville, Florida—the guy who threatened to burn the Quran on 9/11—I’ll sell a ton of books.

Of course, I’ll need to offer a reason why I’m reducing God’s Others to ashes. But I’m a creative guy. So maybe my justification will be that garlic doesn’t agree with me. Or the Golden State Warriors haven’t won an NBA championship in over 35 years. Or too much fog envelops my neighborhood. If the garlic growers in Gilroy, the Warriors’ dancers or the Chamber of Commerce burns my effigy so much the better. You know the old saying: bad press is better than no press. Way better.

After all, what does it matter if I act like a moron? The more ridiculous I am, the more the media will expose my name and face, the more copies of God’s Others I’ll sell, the more money I’ll make and the more I’ll spend. Which will stimulate the economy and encourage the stock market while our representatives in Washington are busy campaigning.

And that’s what being for God and country is all about, isn’t it?