Archive for the ‘POLITICS & THE ECONOMY’ Category

AMERICA’S REAL CRISIS

On Tuesday night, Donald Trump offered his pitch on TV that America needs a wall across our Mexican border because we face a grave crisis. The president was right. But not necessarily about the wall.

Most Americans agree that the United States has a right to control its border and who may enter the country, including refugees. This does notrepresent an anti-immigrant stance. Despite Emma Lazarus’ moving poem, we no longer can open our borders to all the world’s tired, poor and huddled masses yearning to breathe free. We’d be swamped. Moreover, the nation has changed. In 1906, my father—as a small child—sailed into New York Harbor past the Statue of Liberty. America’s western frontier had been deemed closed less than 20 years earlier. The Wright Brothers flew the first powered airplane little more than two years before. Now, we’re a post-industrial society.

Will more wall—we’ve built over 700 miles of barriers, many during the Obama administration—best secure our border with Mexico? Maybe. Read Bret Stephens about Israel’s “smart fences” in yesterday’s New York Times. The problem is, Trump spews hysteria, obscuring reasonable discussion.

Effective leaders examine potential solutions to problems rather than pre-determine them. They call on experts—widely scorned by those on the right—listen to ideas, then propose approaches based on reality rather than ideology or politics.

Congress doesn’t help. It continually fails to pass comprehensive immigration legislation. Some members feel heat from the far left, who want open borders. Others fear the far right who, like Trump, would accept limited numbers of ethnic “Norwegians,” who meet their definition of true Americans as white Christians.

Lately, Trump said he’ll accept a steel barrier rather than a concrete wall. Yet former White House chief-of-staff John Kelly stated that the idea of a concrete wall was shelved a year ago. Trump kept trumpeting that wall to incite and deepen his base rather than widen it. He insists that Congress appropriate $5.7 billion for a symbol of border control, not a well-thought-out solution. And Mexico will pay now thanks to the recent trade deal. Really?

Engaged in a pissing match with the new Democratic House majority, Trump insists that the 800,000 federal workers going without paychecks today support him—and will if the government shut-down continues for months, even years. Really?

Frank Bruni wrote in last Tuesday’s New York Times that “it’s not really a wall that Trump is after, if indeed it ever was. It’s a victory for victory’s sake. It’s a show of his might. It’s proof of his potency.” Bruni added, “Seldom has a president’s ego been this tender, and seldom has it required so much shoring up. There’s not enough concrete in creation for that job.”

Like the Energizer Bunny, Trump keeps on going. On Wednesday, he said he has a right to declare a national emergency. Yesterday he said he well might exercise it.

A workable new immigration policy demands stepping back to lay out the facts and objectively determine our options, no matter how imperfect. That our president is incapable of doing this represents a true national emergency. His insistence on a wall as a political sop to his base sends a loud message that the Oval Office is swamped by ignorance and incompetence. That’s America’s real crisis.

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HAUNTED BY HISTORY

Old newsreels and propaganda films of World War One can be difficult to relate to. Camera vibrations and slower frame speeds produce herky-jerky images in black and white. But Peter Jackson (Lord of the Rings and Hobbit trilogies) has completed a documentary that brings the Great War to life. It’s haunting.

The trailer for They Shall Not Grow Old shows how Jackson digitally restored footage from Britain’s Imperial War Museum, adjusting the frame rate, colorizing many clips and transforming some into 3-D. (Read a fascinating overview in The New York Times.)

The documentary also provides voiceovers taken from BBC interviews with British vets in the ’60s and ’70s. Additionally, lip readers determined what some troops were saying, and actors with accurate regional accents dubbed scenes.

Obviously, uniforms and equipment are dated. The number of missing teeth, given the British love of sweets and war’s ravages, is astounding. But these soldiers no longer seem caricatures from an almost mythological past but our contemporaries. Note: Britain and its colonies lost 750,000 troops. The U.S. lost 53,000 after entering the war in 1917. Altogether, World War One took nine to 15 million lives.

Most Americans don’t come close to knowing these figures or the causes of a war that never should have been fought. We long have become a nation—even more so over the last two years—proudly ignorant of history and its impact on our present and future. The vengeful Treaty of Versailles (1919) sowed the seeds of World War Two.

In 1954, the U.S. became the dominant Western power in Indochina following France’s humiliating defeat at Dien Bien Phu. The Eisenhower administration knew little about Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, but Cold Warriors feared Communist Ho Chi Minh becoming a puppet of China. In reality, Vietnam had been hostile to its northern neighbor for 1,000 years. Some historians believe that Jack Kennedy would have withdrawn American advisors. I wouldn’t have bet on it.

Lyndon Johnson feared drawing conservatives’ wrath and sent more advisors until we staged the Gulf of Tonkin incident as an excuse to land major combat forces in the South. Richard Nixon, who won the presidency in 1968 after LBJ chose not to run for re-election, boasted of a “secret plan” to end the war. He waited until ’72—after re-election—to unveil it. Slaughter continued there, riots and societal breakdown here. Nixon’s secret? “Peace with honor.” Translation: Leave. We lost the war and 58,000 troops. South Vietnam fell.

George W. Bush and his handlers knew nothing about the Greater Middle East. Post-9/11, we went into Afghanistan to find Osama Bin Laden. Fine. Then we blew it. He escaped. We stayed. We’re still there. In 2003, we invaded Iraq to destroy weapons of mass destruction and create an American-style democracy. We found Saddam Hussein but no weapons. No matter. Mass destruction followed.

Ultimately, that led us into Syria. Now, we’re reversing course and leaving. I believe this move is premature—and dangerous. Secretary of Defense James Mattis does, too. He resigned yesterday.

They Shall Not Grow Old reminds us of George Santayana’s advice: “Those who forget history are condemned to repeat it.” It offers sound advice to each new generation. What truly grows old is our ignoring it.

To those who celebrate these holidays, Merry Christmas and Happy Kwanzaa! To all, Happy New Year!

The blog will take some time off and return on Friday, January 4.

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MBS SPEAKS

My dear American friends: I, Mohammed bin Salman, Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, wish to offer perspective on the unfortunate passing of Saudi citizen Jamal Khashoggi. Prepare yourselves.

To begin, your CIA is mistaken—again. I told your president I had nothing to do with Mr. Khashoggi’s untimely demise. As he knows, when a foreign leader says “I didn’t do it” (do not see The Simpsons, season 5, episode 12), he didn’t do it. Mr. Khashoggi was strangled and dismembered. We Saudis only behead people—those who offend Islam as we define it, or commit murder (unless blood money is paid), adultery or witchcraft. I know. I not only represent Saudi law, I amthe law.

We seem to have a culture gap. Americans feel uneasy that Saudis (men only) wear beards like the Prophet, Jesus and ZZ Top, while Saudi women conceal themselves in public (eye slits do not restrict vision that much). This leads to confusion, such as Saudi’s “role” in 9/11.

Fully FOUR of the 19 hijackers were citizens of nations other than Saudi Arabia. Do the math. That’s a humongous (I love American slang) 21%. You would be thrilled if your portfolio increased 21% every year so you could experienced something of the financial fantasy enjoyed by loyal Saudi princes.

Also, some people think that as “kingpin” of OPEC, Saudi instigated oil’s rapid price rise in October 1973—and the West’s subsequent economic plunge—to hurt nations that supported Israel after Egypt and Syria attacked the self-proclaimed Jewish state. Fake news. We merely used the marketplace to express solidarity with our Arab brothers and attempt to forestall global warming. We know hot weather. And if we love big, high-performance automobiles, there are only 34 million Saudis among the planet’s 7-plus billion people. Again, do the math. How much pollution can the Kingdom produce?

Finally, do not take this Khashoggi nonsense as personal. It’s only business. My good friend Donald, who also loves gilt furniture and gold toilet seats—has explained that Saudi Arabia will purchase over $100 billion of U.S. weapons. What is a smattering of red blood against blue-collar jobs and corporate profits for white people?

In sum, America needs Saudi Arabia to depress oil prices and increase sales of American arms so we can defend your nation against our treacherous Arab brothers—Yemeni Shiites backed by Iran! Besides, their children would only grow up to be terrorists.

And without us, Jared Kushner’s secret peace plan for Israel and the Palestinians doesn’t stand a chance. Remember, Mr. Trump keeps campaigning to make America great again. Of course, he’s only had two years in office. Until America means something, the Kingdom will protect you.

A century ago, your President Calvin Coolidge said, “The business of America is business.” Would you risk your economy—especially after General Motors announced massive layoffs—by offending my Kingdom? Mr. Trump warns that we will buy arms from Russia and China, each headed by a good friend of his but nonetheless a hard-headed businessperson (I am PC).

I conclude that a so-called journalist lacking loyalty to his country (namely me) fell to a conspiracy of which I, as all-powerful Crown Prince, knew nothing. Actually, I was shocked! So dry your crocodile tears and get down to business by minding your own.

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WHAT NOW?

The midterms are done. President Trump hailed a great victory (see Orwell, George, 1984). Republicans did expand their majority in the Senate, but Democrats took control of the House. What now?

I’ll begin by stating there’s no better time for Americans—religious or not—to heed Leviticus 19:18: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Espousing differences is legitimate, and recognition of this principle represents the essence of civility.

Alas, during the midterm campaigns, some on the left rejected the concept of civility. They viewed the other side, aka the far right or any conservatives, as inherently bad. Civil discourse cannot be permitted. Compromises cannot be reached.

Sadly, the nature of civility is misunderstood. Those who espouse it—centrists left and right—accept disagreement on policies and will work with their opponents to fashion win-win solutions, understanding that no one gets everything they want.

At the same time, civility’s proponents need not—shouldnot—accept the hateful rhetoric of demagogues and racists, including such statements as, “There were fine people on both sides” of the white-supremacist, anti-Semitic rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.

What now? The House’s new Democratic majority, perhaps led by former Speaker Nancy Pelosi, has the opportunity to stand up for its ideals, propose legislation to transform those ideals into a reality—infrastructure for starters—and undertake governmental oversight consistent with the House’s obligations. All while reaching across the aisle.

Or, the Democrats’ left flank can inform their centrist party colleagues and Republicans that they refuse to support any legislation President Trump proposes. Period. Oh, and propose steps towards impeachment. More gridlock?

Trump and GOP members of Congress may launch their own gridlock initiative by blocking any and all Democratic proposals. Period. At least they’ll be consistent. The White House may also seek to impede the investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 elections. On Wednesday, Trump asked for—and received—the resignation of Attorney General Jeff , whose recusal from overseeing the investigation angered Trump no end.

Trump filled the post of acting AG with Matthew Whitaker, who has publicly cast doubts on the Robert Mueller-led investigation. By the way, earlier this morning Trump said he doesn’t know Whitaker—just his reputation. Then again, Trump once denied knowing who former KKK grand dragon David Duke was. A true innocent!

The Whitaker appointment stirred a hornet’s nest. Some legal scholars believe that a constitutional crisis exists: the president cannot appoint an acting head of a cabinet-level department without consent of the Senate. And while Mueller may be overseeing the writing of the final report, will Whitaker attempt to withdraw funding for its completion. Or, if too late, will he withhold it from Congress? If he’s still around? Democratic pushback is a certainty.

And bank on this: A Democratic committee chair willsubpoena Trump’s tax returns. Trump will refuse. The matter will end up in the Supreme Court. Things will get uglier.

If we actually believed in our national motto E pluribus unum—Out of many, one—we’d find ways to accommodate each other. But centrists may represent only a minority of Americans. And Trump will do everything possible to divide rather than unite a nation inexorably headed towards a majority of minorities—many whites’ greatest fear.

What now? I can only propose that civility beats civil war.

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TRUMPINOCCHIO

I’m TrumPinocchio & I want to be a Real Boy, not a Wooden Knockoff. But my Nose grows every time I Lie. Which I NEVER. Hold on. Have to hold iPhone I’m texting on farther away.

Sure, sometimes I exaggggerate. That 400-lb. Guy in bed who hacked Democratic National Committee’s emails? He only goes 350. Not in shape like my Pal Vlad Putin, who told me Russia DIDN’T do it. That’s settled!! Wait. Have to push iPhone away some more.

I love the American people. But not Crooked Hillary. She put our security in jeopardy using her own email server. Treason! That’s why loyal Americans scream, “Lock her up!” I just use my iPhones. China listens? Xi Jinping’s my Pal. Time out. Another phone adjustment.

Liberals hate me because they can’t handle The Truth. Like Criminal Hordes trying to get into America through Mexxxico. Nine-year-old girls do Terrible Things when they run in Packs of Two. Enemies of the People—CNN & Failing New York Times—don’t report that half infant boys storming border are members of MS-13. Whoa.Tough to use phone at this distance.

So much Hate. Horrible. Can’t we respect different opinions? Fine People marched in Charlottesville along with what Fake Media—Enemy of the People—called White Supremacists. What’s wrong with saying America needs more Norwegians? Last Monday, why did Jews jump all over Mike Pence for inviting Messianic Rabbi to his campaign rally. Of course Rabbi prayed in the name of Jesus the Messiah. More Jews accepting Jesus every day like regular Americans do. Crap! Hard to poke right Keeyzs.

Real Truth? Election coming. Republicans will win 75% of seats. Why? America loves ME, the Great Uniter!!!! That’s why I didn’t call Barack Obama (Fake American!) or Crooked Hillary (lock her up!) or anyone else (like that Globalist—I never said Jewish—Immigrant Lover George Soros) after that “Bomb Stuff.” One cranky American with a van covered by Trump Stuff means nothing. Screen getting fuzzy. New glasses?

That “Bomb Stuff” & that synagogue Shooting? (Congregants should have been carrying!) Excuse for Enemy of the People to stop covering my campaign rallies. They sent crews to Pittsburgh. Squirrel Hill. Probably Democratic neighborhood. I went to Pittsburgh. Lots of protestors. Simple message for those traitors: Guns don’t kill People. Patriots riled up by Traitors kill people.

Night after the Shooting? I told Real Americans we can’t let Sicko interrupt Campaigning. Or Baseball. I campaigned. Also tweeted about terrible Dodgers pitching change in Game 4 of World Series. (LOSERS!!) Next day I tweeted about Guts, which I have more than Anyone (along with Very Large Brain): “Just watched Wacky Tom Steyer, who I have not seen in action before, be interviewed by @jaketapper. He comes off as a crazed & stumbling lunatic who should be running out of money pretty soon.” “Bomb Stuff” shows up on Wacko’s doorstep, he cries. BOO HOO!!!

They say President sets moral tone for nation. That’s why I’m bringing Ammerikka together in Peece & Harmonie. Damn! Phone duct-taped to wall. Hard to type with tip of Nose but getting Hannnggh of it.

Wait till Midterms. Then 2020. Americans will see me as a REAL Boy. Who knows? Maybe someday I’ll become a Real Man.

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BLOOD MONEY

In J.C. Duffy’s October 20 comic panel “The Fusco Brothers,” a waitress asks a brother, “How did you get hold of a kid’s menu?” Answer: “You’d be surprised how easy it is to overpower a 10-year-old.” There went the lame Saudi excuse about the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

The Saudis first denied Khashoggi was murdered. Then they claimed he got into a fistfight and died from a chokehold. A 60-year-old man duking it out with 15 security men? The excuse was laughable—except to Donald Trump. But then, Trump thought a 400-lb. guy lying in his bed may have hacked Democratic National Committee emails preceding the 2016 election. Finally, the Saudis conceded the murder—a rogue operation—was premeditated.

Still, what’s wrong with violence against journalists? At a Montana rally, Trump supported Representative Greg Gianforte, who body-slammed journalist Ben Jacobs in May 2017 and pleaded guilty to misdemeanor assault.“ Any guy who can do a body slam, he’s my kinda guy.”

Yesterday morning, Trump tweeted about pipe bombs sent to the Clintons, Barack Obama, others and CNN: “A very big part of the Anger we see today in our society is caused by the purposely false and inaccurate reporting of the Mainstream Media that I refer to as Fake News.” There’s a reason for pipe bombs. Maybe the suspect arrested this morning, Cesar Sayoc Jr., will enlighten us.

Re Khashoggi, Trump was not required to jump to conclusions and demand the ouster of Crown Prince Mohammad bin Sultan (MBS), Saudi’s de facto ruler. But he didhave to publiclyproject America’s concern about the U.S.-Saudi relationship. And mean it.

Trump hedged. So did investment managers who attended MBS’ three-day global investment conference in Riyadh. Some prominent Americans bowed out. They included treasury secretary Steve Mnuchin (who nonetheless went to Riyadh), the CEOs of Blackstone Group, JPMorgan Chase, and American, British and Dutch officials. Attendees remained hungry to do business. Many also seemed embarrassed. Alan Rappeport wrote in The New York Times (October 23): “Bankers kept their name tags obscured behind ties.”

But not too embarrassed. According to Rappeport, Tally Zingher, chief executive of Dawsat, a healthcare start-up, “considered not attending, but decided that she was not prominent enough to make a statement by skipping the conference.” Michael Slater of Northern Trust (disclosure: I wrote marketing pieces for Northern Trust years ago), said of the murder, “It’s just noise to me. The people I need to see are here, and that’s what I care about.” Deals made amounted to tens of billions of dollars.

The Khashoggi murder also seems to be noise to Trump. While acknowledging a serious cover-up, he refrains from halting arms sales of $110 billion to the Kingdom and withdrawing our support from its civilian-targeting war in Yemen. At stake: security (it’s against Iranian proxies), corporate profits (political support) and jobs (votes). To Trump, now a self-proclaimed “nationalist” with its dog-whistle implications, American interests come down to money. That includes blood money.

The world can be nasty. Accordingly, Washington often allies with nations of questionable—or horrible—political and human rights records. But presidents engaged in realpolitik still must advocate principles of law and decency and push nations to achieve them. Otherwise, like Lady Macbeth, they’ll never clean the blood off their hands—and ours.

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WHAT’S IN A NAME?

People often ask me how I pronounce my name: Perl•stine (long “i”) or Perl•steen (long “e”). The latter is accurate. I appreciate the inquiries. Most people try to get others’ names right as a mark of respect. Some self-important people don’t.

As it happens, my family name was probably pronounced Per•el•shtine when in 1906 my grandparents landed at Ellis Island from Warsaw with three young children, including 2-1/2-year-old Moishe Chaim (my father). Moishe became Morris, and everyone else took an Americanized first names. Still, the family’s naturalization certificate (1914) displays the name Perelstein. Shortly after, the second “e” disappeared.

We value our names. The Torah relates that people sought to build a tower to the heavens (the Tower of Babel) to make a name for themselves (Genesis 11). In Genesis 12:2, God promises Abram (later Abraham), “I will make your name great.”

Shakespeare throws this tenet a curve. “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet,” says Juliet in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. She’s a Capulet and loves a Montague—the name alone sufficient to earn her family’s displeasure. Call Romeo “a Montague,” and you label him a monster.

As kids, we defended ourselves from schoolyard bullies who mangled our names or hurled epithets with “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names (or words) will never harm me.” This lesson seems lost on our Schoolyard Bully-in-Chief.

At a recent political rally in Iowa, Donald Trump errantly referred to California’s Democratic Senator Diane Feinstein as Fein•steen. It’s Finestine(long “I” in both syllables). Am I quibbling? I think not. Senator Feinstein has become the latest object of Trump rallies’ chants of “Lock her up.” Because she opposed Trump in the matter of Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court, Trump sought a way to lash out. What better way for a 12-year-old to advance political discourse than to mispronounce the name of an opponent.

Also, to “dog whistle” a key message to his supporters. I suspect Trump well knows how Senator Feinstein pronounces her name but wanted to remind his supporters that the Senator is—gasp—Jewish. The real pronunciation might mislead them into thinking her background (and that of her second husband whose name stayed with her) German.

As it happens, Trump’s paternal grandfather Americanized his name from Drumpf. Nothing wrong with that. But Senator Feinstein had to be called out since a significant segment of the far-right exudes anti-Semitism, including those who marched in Charlottesville, Virginia last year chanting, “Jews will not replace us.”

Ah, you say, the President’s daughter Ivanka is Jewish. She converted to marry Jared Kushner. Good luck. When Trump stated re Charlottesville that there were good people on bothsides, he threw Ivanka and Jared under the bus. Unless he numbers these particular Jews among “the good ones” who toe the Republican line enumerated by Christian conservatives and white supremacists (they sometimes overlap) lamenting white people’s loss of their “rights”—a euphemism for monopolistic political, economic and social power.

Yes, sometimes people address me as Perl•stine. I correct them. They appreciate it. They understand the integrity names because they hold others in regard. Such esteem was offered a few years back in the Oval Office. I hope it will be again—soon.

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THE CORROBORATION CONUNDRUM

In February 1942, the notorious gangster Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel went on trial in Los Angeles for the 1939 murder of fellow mobster Harry “Big Greenie” Greenberg. One of the killers, Allie Tannenbaum, agreed to cooperate. However, District Attorney John F. Dockweiler faced a problem.

California law demanded corroboration by a second witness. The state had that witness: Abe “Kid Twist” Reles, a feared hit man for New York’s Murder, Inc. (Yes, there once were a lot of vicious Jewish gangsters.) Before the trial, the New York Police Department stashed Reles away under 24-hour guard at Coney Island’s Half Moon Hotel. Somehow, the canary flew out the sixth-story window. Lacking wings, he was unable to reach L.A. to sing.

No mob historian would exonerate Bugsy Siegel (a character in the new novel I’m writing). But the requirement for corroboration—or hard evidence—handcuffed Judge A.A. Scott. He dismissed the case.

The recent Senate Judiciary Committee hearing—not a trial—on now-Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh brings the Siegel trial to mind. Dr. Christine Blasey Ford testified under oath that as a teenager, she’d been sexually assaulted by a drunken teen-age Brett Kavanaugh. The charges came late in the day, and the committee reassembled to probe the matter. The hearing seemed awkward and incomplete. At the last minute, the FBI ran a short, limited investigation. No corroboration appeared.

Democrats, believing Dr. Ford, supported her. Republicans, with no corroboration to spoil their likely victory, supported Judge Kavanaugh. The 50–48 confirmation vote fell almost strictly along party lines with one crossover on each side: Republican Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) against and Democrat Joe Manchin (West Virginia) for.

The Kavanaugh nomination and hearing divided America. The Great Divider, aka Donald Trump, first found Dr. Ford’s testimony credible, then cited the lack of corroboration, then ridiculed Dr. Ford, then called her testimony a Democratic hoax.

Does corroboration matter? Trump declared that young men must be wary of being victimized by women who attack their character with false claims. He’s hardly a reliable source for such advice. Moreover, millions of women have horrible stories to tell. But Republicans correctly cited corroboration as a basic tenet of American jurisprudence. The accused is presumed innocent; the burden of proof lies with the state.

Still, lack of corroboration did not disprove Dr. Ford’s claim. Moreover, women who have survived sexual assaults ranging from thoughtless and disrespectful to violent often cannot provide corroboration. When they do, their complaints frequently are dismissed, generally by men too busy with “other important matters” and, frankly, unconcerned.

I believe that Brett Kavanaugh assaulted Susan Blasey Ford. However, I do not knowit. This I doknow: The oft-scowling Mr. Kavanaugh, through his belligerence, disrespect towards Democratic members of the Judiciary Committee and partisan statements, resembled a teenager caught with his pants down, snarling and screaming to apply a verbal fig leaf. For this alone, I would have voted against confirmation.

That said, corroboration matters and hence America’s conundrum. We must follow our judicial principles in spite of what we “know” about the accused. That’s why Bugsy Siegel had his case dismissed.

Justice, however, sometimes is served in other ways. In 1947, Ben Siegel met his through a gangland assassination. Regarding Brett Kavanaugh, history may render an unkind verdict.

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DEMOCRACY’S NOT DEAD YET

Several nights ago, I heard a symphony of foghorns. I live two miles from the Pacific and half that distance from San Francisco’s Baker Beach and the Golden Gate. Yet extended periods of time often pass between my visits to the beach to admire the ocean’s size, energy and mystery.

So it is with much in life. Beauty and wonder often are much closer than we realize. Politics, war and disasters—natural and man-made—attract our attention. We close our eyes and minds to the good that also surrounds us.

Another matter relates. Tomorrow (Saturday) night, Jews will celebrate Simchat Torah (Joy of the Torah). Then or on Sunday, synagogues will unroll a Torah scroll and read the last verses of the year’s final portion, V’zot HaB’rachah(And This is the Blessing), which concludes with Moses’ death. Without a pause, reading will continue with the first verses of B’reishit(Genesis) with which the Torah starts, presenting creation and life.

Why read the same text year after year? The scholar Jeffrey Tigay explains that we find new insights on every page (as we might at the beach or in a forest), “not because the Torah has changed, but because we have changed since we read it a year ago.”

Looking past immediate concerns, Americans can gain new perspectives on our present situation and our past—hear the call of the Liberty Bell too often drowned out by shouting. We may discover that the nation’s strengths outweigh its weaknesses.

I’m not wearing rose-colored glasses. As I write, I’m gazing at the cover of October’s The Atlantic. This special edition asks a disturbing question: “Is democracy dying?” Editor-in-chief Jeffrey Goldberg titles his introduction “The Crisis in Democracy.” A toxic brew of populism, tribalism, Donald Trump and technology worries a number of The Atlantic’s writers and contributors. Nothing new here. A recent edition of Foreign Affairsconsidered the same matter. The non-Fox media continue to do so.

Sure, there’s plenty of worry to go around. Witness the hyper-partisanship surrounding yesterday’s Senate testimony by Dr. Christine Blasey Ford and Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanagh. Yet America weathered previous storms.

White people enslaved black people. The Ku Kux Klan promoted racism and segregation not just in the South but all over the country. Universities and medical schools restricted Jewish matriculation. Women couldn’t vote until 1920. In the 1930s, upwards of thirty million Americans listened to Father Charles Coghlan’s anti-Semitic radio broadcasts. After Pearl Harbor, Franklin Roosevelt ordered the internment of Japanese-Americans. Throughout our history, the nation also suffered a series of economic depressions and, of course, 9/11.

Un-democratic, prejudicial laws and customs have always had strong proponents. Hence the secession of the Southern states leading to the Civil War, considerable opposition to women’s suffrage in Congress and later political maneuvering like Richard Nixon’s southern strategy. All these battered and bruised American democracy. We moved forward.

I’ll give the last word to New York Times columnist Roger Cohen, writing from Greece: “Democracy is stubborn. It raises our gaze. It is the system that best enshrines the unshakable human desire to be free. Athens reminds us of that. America reminds us of that. It fails. It falls short of John Winthrop’s ‘city upon a hill.’ It strives still to fail better.”

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LAUGHING UNTIL WE CRY

A recent comic strip in the San Francisco Chroniclerelated to a matter I discussed with a stand-up comic at last Sunday’s annual Comedy Day in Golden Gate Park. Our chat yielded an interesting but dark observation.

Wiley Miller’s “Non Sequitur” panel presents a man in blue overalls, white tee shirt and red baseball cap, which in front might have read Make America Great. He stands, pen in hand, before a large sign: Entrance Exam. Behind it is an angel at a velvet rope. Another—God? St. Peter?—sits at a tall desk and holds a quill pen.

The man must answer a single question to enter heaven: Nazis are (check one) good, bad. The man appears stumped. The seated angel/God/St. Peter asks, “Remember when this was the easiest test in the universe?”

Most readers get Miller’s take on Donald Trump’s comment following the neo-Nazi rally in Charlottesville, Virginia over a year ago: There were “some very fine people on both sides.”

You may not laugh, but Miller’s humor bites. Satirizing the powerful, especially when they are inane, represents a necessary act of protest. Will Miller’s panel change the outcome of November’s midterm elections? Lead to Trump’s leaving the White House? Likely it will be forgotten—but, added to all the humor out there, could prove the straw that broke the camel’s back.

As to the discussion: Jill Maragos is a stand-up comic who performed at Comedy Day along with dozens of others. As always, I enjoyed her brief set. She’s a funny woman booking gigs around the country.

When I saw her backstage, Trump came up as a subject for stand-up. Jill doesn’t think he’s a good one. I see her point. Not that I couldn’t write material for myself: Have you noticed that Trump’s hair matches the pale yellow sofa in the Oval office? Did the White House order new fabric dyed to match the president’s hair? Or did Trump like the sofa’s color so much, he ordered his stylist to match it?

But including Trump in a stand-up routine performed over time can’t replicate the skewering by late-night TV hosts and Saturday Night Live. They enjoy the advantage of timeliness. A team of writers takes off on some Trumpism that hit the news that day or that week—something specific and fresh in people’s minds.

Generalized material doesn’t work so well. Jill supplied an appropriate (a word missing from Trump’s vocabulary and behavior) reason. Audiences have had enough of him. It’s not that they necessarily stop getting the news. It’s that the situation is so horrific, stand-ups have to pick their spots.

Satiric comic strips and editorial cartoons remain important. Trevor Noah, Stephen Colbert, Jimmy Kimmel and SNL also will keep firing away. Trump will express his displeasure. Buffoons and blowhards—one president can be both—hate being laid bare like the emperor in his new “clothes” portrayed in the Hans Christian Andersen story.

Trump’s low approval ratings indicate that more Americans view him not as the king he pretends to be but as the court jester. But unlike as in Shakespeare or Game of Thrones, the audience has discovered that within the ignoble body of this fool lies an ignoble heart. That observation may draw a wry smile but not likely a laugh.

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