Posts Tagged ‘George W. Bush’

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 Some historians believe that Jack Kennedy would have withdrawn American advisors.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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THIRTY PIECES OF SILVER

On August 22, the S&P 500 Index set a record for stock market bull runs (an aggregate annual increase of at least 20%) by reaching 3,453 days. The streak began on March 9, 2009 when the Great Recession pummeled the economy; the S&P closed at 676. On August 23, President Trump told Fox & Friendsthat if he were impeached, the stock market would crash. Really?

Let me run some numbers. This past Wednesday (August 29), the S&P set another new record at 2,914. That’s a 27% increase over Trump’s 18 months in office—roughly 18% annually. That’s good. But over the seven months since last January 26 when the S&P 500 set a previous high, the S&P was up only 44 points—little more than 0.1%.

Now, go back to November 1, 2016 with the presidential election a week off and fewer than three months remaining in Barack Obama’s second term. The S&P 500 closed at 2,165—a 320% increase over the 92 months since the March 2009 low. From that date during the Obama presidency—remember, he inherited a financial collapse from George W. Bush—the S&P climbed nearly 40% a year.

Yes, the bull market continued under Trump. But it began under Obama. Did Obama have a better grip on the economy? Not necessarily. A president can affect the economy through good or bad judgement, but most economists warn that the economy has a life of its own. Raising or lowering taxes, the Fed changing interest rates, running a budget surplus or deficit, regulating or deregulating the financial industry may—or may not—produce corresponding market gains or losses.

Economic trends, domestic politics and world affairs also produce unexpected results. For example, markets often drop during the threat of war then rise when war begins. Investors prefer certainty to uncertainty, knowing when to choose between plan A or plan B. Also, investors—particularly on Main Street—often act irrationally, chasing bull markets and driving up stocks until they’re overvalued and collapse.

If you own stocks in some form—about half of Americans do—and follow them daily, your financial hopes and dreams experience regulars ups and downs. When a president “delivers” positive market returns in the present, you might fear rocking the boat, ignoring historical fact that long-term, markets rise. So here’s a question:

If Congress finds wrongdoing on the part of Donald Trump before or after the Mueller commission releases its report, would you oppose impeachment? The hit to the market—if there is one—likely will be short-term. Remember the dot.com boom? The dot.com bust followed. Then a recovery. Then another plunge. Then another record recovery.

Despite market history, some Americans may heed Trump’s warning. They’ll betray the nation for thirty pieces of silver. Or, depending on their portfolios, a great deal more. All to prop up a facade of short-term stability. That would make a mockery of American ideals.

This nation doesn’t need Donald Trump to thrive. Yes, Americans put him in the White House—albeit with fewer citizen votes than Hillary Clinton thanks to the Electoral College. Still, the United States deserves better. We’re hardly a perfect nation. But we’re far too good to be misled by an egotist who professes faith in Jesus while worshipping the dollar.

I have not computed percentage increases to account for compounding, but the absolute numbers are—pardon the word—facts. This post was vetted by my financial advisor, Ira Fateman of SAS Financial Advisors. Any errors, however, are mine alone.

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PRESIDENTIAL LEGACIES

During this season’s “House of Cards” (Netflix), the wife of the presidential candidate challenging the evil incumbent Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey) says of her husband: “He has a chance to be a fine president. A great president.” Maybe. But presidents don’t create legacies, and those who think they do subject the nation to great and unnecessary risks.

We hear much about the Affordable Care Act being Barack Obama’s legacy. Obamacare represented just a step forward. American healthcare has a long way to go. Moreover, President Trump and Republicans vowed to “repeal and replace.” Will they? We’ll see. But I suspect Mr. Obama’s legacy will reflect not what he set out to do but what he had to do. (More later.)

I doubt George Washington took office thinking about his legacy rather than the job at hand. He had to react to the creation of a new form of government under the Constitution. During his eight years in office, Washington had to shape the executive branch from scratch. He also had to contend with the pioneering efforts of a newly devised Congress, Supreme Court and thirteen states. All had their own Constitutional visions. Washington’s legacy consists of navigating unchartered waters successfully.

Abraham Lincoln assumed office with the nation on the brink of splitting. Shortly after his inauguration, the nation toppled over the brink. Lincoln’s greatness lay not in promoting grand plans by which history would hail him but in meeting this daunting challenge—leading in ways about which he may never have given prior thought.

Yes, some presidents see opportunities. Thomas Jefferson sent Lewis and Clark across the west and spearheaded the Louisiana Purchase. But he did so in response to Napoleon and European geopolitics. Jefferson earned good grades. To assure peace after “the war to end all wars,” Woodrow Wilson pushed the establishment of the League of Nations following World War One, which America entered well into his prsidency. Congress balked. Ultimately, the League failed. Wilson’s reputation is spotty. Franklin D. Roosevelt took office during the Depression and did much to provide a safety net for Americans while pushing the economy towards recovery. FDR made mistakes along the way, but he’s idolized by many.

George H.W. Bush, with no legacy in mind, responded to Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait and ousted Iraqi forces in a 100-hour war. Then he withdrew American troops. His son George W. Bush responded to 9/11 with the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. The younger Mr. Bush, with little knowledge of the region, decided to remake the Middle East. History will not be kind.

Back to Barack Obama. Whatever he thought he might accomplish—health care reform being a massive item on his agenda—he entered the White House with the American economy unraveling. He responded by rescuing financial institutions “too big to fail.” For that, he’s been lauded and vilified. While time will offer new perspectives, I think his actions will establish a very positive legacy if one unplanned.

I’m baffled by people who believe that a president’s first concern should be his (and someday, her) legacy. All presidents can do is shoulder their burdens and meet challenges with their best efforts. The world mocks our plans, and history exercises its own judgement.

Have a great Fourth. And remember, you can purchase THE ODD PLIGHT OF ADONIS LICHT directly from me or at Amazon. If you enjoy these posts, suggest to family and friends that they check out davidperlstein.com. Post something on Facebook, too.

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TERRORISM 101

Everyone talks about stopping terrorism. But to do that, we must understand what terrorism is. That will help us make rational, as opposed to emotional, decisions about what might work and what won’t.

To begin, terrorism is not a lone wolf or a pair of gunmen with a grudge who shoot up a school or movie theater. That’s criminal insanity and subject to another discussion. Terrorism constitutes a tool—acts of violence or the threat of violence to further an ongoing political or religious cause. Today’s most aggressive and pervasive such cause is Islamism—the desire of some Muslims to impose their fundamentalist tenets on the Muslim world now and the rest of us later.

Islamists know that military conquest of the West isn’t possible. But for now at least they have no intention of conquering us. Instead, they utilize terrorism on a relatively small if murderous scale to sow fear. This they hope will produce enough turmoil to lead to civic unrest and induce Western governments’ withdrawal from engagement with the Muslim world. Weak Muslim nations then will be easy prey.

How do you defeat terrorism? Terrorism, I repeat, is a tool. Intelligence services and military forces can uncover terrorist plots and strike at perpetrators, planners, supporters and advocates. But terrorism cannot be eliminated without discrediting its underlying ideology.

Truth helps. Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama did the United States no favors by talking about a War on Terror for fear of offending Muslims. Mr. Obama finally used the word “Islamism” in his recent speech from the Oval Office. This was long overdue. Sadly, he often has failed to communicate with candor and anything approaching the passionate resolve Americans expect.

At the same time, many of the steps he has taken have been correct if limited. And Mr. Obama understands that Islamism will not be obliterated without the assistance of the Muslims it directly threatens. Yet obtaining that assistance won’t be easy. According to a July 2014 poll by the Pew Research Center, “The Middle East is the sole region where anti-Americanism is both deep and widespread. Eighty-five percent of Egyptians and Jordanians and 73% of Turks voice a negative opinion of the United States. Only 10% of Egyptians, 12% of Jordanians and 19% of Turks have a favorable view.” Fortunately, the numbers are slightly more favorable than a year earlier.

Still, Donald Trump wants to ban all Muslims from entering the U.S. Ted Cruz calls for carpet-bombing Raaka (Syria), ISIS’ self-proclaimed capital, killing masses of civilians along with ISIS fighters and administrators. Both acts will alienate our own Muslim citizens and Muslims abroad who might work with us.

Statesmanship must play a major role in combating ISIS. It demands carefully chosen—but not misleading—language. This means not backing other Muslim nations into a corner while retaining our strong resolve. I recall a newspaper article from years ago. A teacher in a Chicago high school encountered two combative students. One had a gun. The teacher never threatened. Instead, he said, “Let me hold your gun.” The armed student—called out but not cornered—yielded the weapon.

I ask Republican candidates to think before they speak—a tall order. And I ask our government to acknowledge reality. Both rabblerousing and disingenuousness only make the problem worse.

The blog will take a break during the end of the year and resume on January 8. Merry Christmas to those who celebrate and to all, best wishes for a happy, healthy, rewarding New Year.

Read the first two chapters of FLIGHT OF THE SPUMONIS here at www.davidperlstein.com. You can get a signed copy from me or order a soft cover or e-book at Amazon.com.

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