Posts Tagged ‘Mitt Romney’

ACCEPTING MIND CONTROL

My January 15 post, “Loyalty and Betrayal,” explored the unwillingness of many people to disagree with a group to which they belonged—even when they knew something was wrong. Two more examples highlight the danger inherent in giving up independent thinking and submitting to mind control.

Fundamentalist religious sects long have abounded. Judaism has its share. Many ultra-orthodox sects are part of the Hasidic movement founded in the 18th century. Hasidism sought to replace a dry intellectual approach to Judaism with a direct, spiritual approach. The movement soon ossified. Hasidim removed themselves from the rest of the world—and much of the Jewish people.

The story of Shulem Deen proves instructive. The former Sqverer Hasid tells a sad, shocking yet inspiring tale in his memoir All Who Go Do Not Return (Graywolf Press, 2015). Deen grew up in a Hasidic family in Brooklyn and wound up studying at a Yeshiva in New Square, a small town in New York’s Rockland County. Many ultra-orthodox Jews have retreated there.

Deen studied Torah and Talmud but precious little English—he was a native Yiddish speaker—and math. A secular education is a necessity for making a living. This was of little concern to the Sqverer Hasidim and their rebbe, an all-powerful leader. Yeshiva learning kept Sqverer boys apart from the “other.” Nonetheless, Deen attempted to know about the rest of the world. He also questioned Sqverer beliefs and the very existence of God.

But Deen was part of a rigidly organized community. Per tradition, a wife was chosen for him. He married at 19 having previously met his bride for no more than a few minutes. An older man gave him a cursory lesson about sex. It was little help. Over time, Deen and his equally ignorant wife figured out enough to have five children.

Deen learned more English, got jobs in Manhattan, and surreptitiously connected with the world through TV and the Internet. He wrote a blog and found many other Hasids and other ultra-orthodox Jews asking the same questions. Interestingly, they didn’t all want to leave their communities, which offered familiarity and warmth to those who followed their rebbes’ dictates. But inquiry was forbidden. Ultimately, Deen’s community excommunicated him. His wife sought a divorce. She and his children turned away from him.

Deen now lives in Brooklyn. He wears standard American clothes. He also shaved off his beard and payess (sidelocks). Life poses challenges, but he is continually learning. His writing career has blossomed.

This leads me to the contest for the Republican presidential nomination. The party hierarchy has basically disowned frontrunner Donald Trump. Competing candidates Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio have vilified Trump. (Mitt Romney, the 2012 Republican candidate, called Trump unfit.) Yet all the other candidates said that they would support Trump if he won the nomination.

Does it make sense that many Republicans would so hate the “other”—Democrats and modest Republicans—that they would support a man they believe disastrous for America? Does it make sense that anyone would abandon his or her right to think and act independently, and tow the party line in Orwellian fashion? (Black is white, war is peace.) Yes, people want to belong. But at what price? It seems bizarre. Probably not to Shulem Deen

If you’ve been enjoying these posts, suggest to family and friends that they check out davidperlstein.com. Post something on Facebook, too. But don’t think that if you do, I’m controlling your mind. Or am I?

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HUMILITY

San Francisco Giants catcher Buster Posey just won the National League’s Most Valuable Player award. (The Tigers’ Miguel Cabrera won the AL MVP.) I hope neither tells the world, “I’m humbled.” Baseball players often say that, given the game’s roots in small-town America where seemingly no one can be humble enough. But I’m rankled by false humility and the inability to offer a gracious thank you. Maybe it’s a Jewish thing.

I’m taking a class on Mussar (ethics or soul-traits) with Rabbi Larry Raphael at Congregation Sherith Israel. We’re reading Everyday Holiness: The Jewish Spiritual Path of Mussar by Alan Morinis. From a Jewish perspective, humility doesn’t mean denying one’s worth but rather acknowledging it without inflating it. Morinis graphs the teachings of Maimonides in which humility runs on a scale from self-debasement (“I’m not worthy”) to arrogance (“I am the greatest.”) Writes Morinis, “Proper humility means having the right relationship to self, giving self neither too big nor too small a role in your life.”

Recently, we’ve seen humility practiced and also abandoned. Republicans thought that Mitt Romney would be a shoo-in to win the presidency. We know how that went. In the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy, New Jersey Republican Governor Chris Christie showed humility by complimenting Federal relief efforts and President Obama. He also wisely instituted alternate-day gas rationing. In New York City, according to The New York Times (11-9-12), Mayor Michael Bloomberg considered rationing “and also mused in the Sunday meeting that perhaps the best option was to simply allow the free market to dictate how people would find gas.” Days later, the hubris of free markets having failed, Mayor Bloomberg instituted rationing. The situation improved immediately.

Recent geopolitical events also have demonstrated a lack of humility—and disastrously so. The George W. Bush administration believed that the United States could assert its will anywhere—even in the treacherous Middle East. It provided us with debacles in Iraq and Afghanistan. So did our generals, according to Thomas E. Ricks (“General Failure”) in the November Atlantic Monthly. Ricks states that American generals, particularly after World War Two, increasingly have let a lack of humility keep them from developing more informed and nuanced understandings of the wars they led and the broader, long-term implications of their decisions.

Now we approach the Fiscal Cliff. If President Obama and Congress believe they have solutions to America’s sluggish economic growth and burdensome deficit, that’s good. Problem solving requires healthy egos. Who would vote for a candidate who says, “I have no clue but give me your vote anyway”? On the other hand, real humility dictates that we learn from others and that while we have thought through our positions, we may have overlooked other options along the way.

Hopefully the President and Congress will agree on sound policy decisions in the coming weeks. If so, the culture of politics is not likely to lead them to say, “I’m humbled.” But if uncompromising partisanship leads us over the cliff the American people will rightly say, “You have a lot to be humble about.” And just maybe, voters will do something about it in 2014.

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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.

QUESTIONS

The election is over. We can all take a breath. But that breath better be short. Because looking back—and forward—a lot of questions come to mind.

1. If the nation is as bad off as so many people believe, why did President Obama win? Discontent should have swept Mitt Romney into the Oval Office as it did Ronald Reagan in 1980 when he trounced Jimmy Carter. Granted, Mr. Obama won on a narrow popular-vote basis. Do those who voted for him know something about this nation that Romney supporters don’t? (Thursday’s report of first-time state jobless claims dropped to 355,000, a continuing sign that employment is slowly expanding.) Can Republicans learn something from this election?

2. If the Republican Party is a party of “old white men,” how did Mr. Romney come so close? The GOP seems trapped within a narrowing demographic. Yet many disaffected voters who aren’t “old white men” almost put Mitt Romney in the White House. The ideologues on the right opposed Obama from day one. But many Americans who voted for Obama in 2008 or didn’t take to Romney demonstrated disappointment with the President’s  record. What did they think Obama should have done? What does Obama believe he should do differently? Can Democrats learn something from this election?

3. Will Congressional leaders choose patriotism over power? House Speaker John Boehner and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi face re-election every two years. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell—who elevated making Mr. Obama a one-term president to the top of his priority list in 2008—also faces re-election in 2014. Senate Majority leader Harry Reid has until 2016. All want to be re-elected. Have they and other Congressional leaders the courage to move to the center and end Washington’s gridlock? Or will they keep pandering to their political bases and hold the nation hostage to their ambitions? Can Congress learn something from this election?

4. Will the American people face reality? Many Americans believe that the President and Congress can control both the domestic economy and global economy. Washington can regulate pragmatically to help prevent the kind of economic bubble that led to the Great Recession. It also can encourage the building of infrastructure, from roads and bridges to better schools. But what assurances can it make of success? Will Americans continue to believe that the economy can be controlled like a dancing bear in a circus? On the geopolitical front, the U.S. can help foster positive outcomes. But do we really believe that “American Exceptionalism”—and this indeed is a great nation—grants us not only the right to recreate the world in our image but also the unfettered ability to do so? What lessons have we taken from Iraq and Afghanistan? Can the American people learn something from this election?

America in 2012 is not the America of 1952… or 1972… or 1992. The rest of the world has changed even more. One of our great strengths is flexibility. Will we use it? Or will holdouts on the edges of the right and left look backward?

I believe that Americans can look forward to better times. But we will never provide suitable answers to our extensive challenges until we start asking suitable questions.

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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.

SNAKE EYES

Following last Monday’s presidential debate on foreign policy, San Francisco Chronicle columnist Debra J. Saunders offered sage advice. “Foreign policy is an oxymoron. When U.S. presidents deal with countries like Libya, Syria or Iran, whatever they do is a roll of the dice.”

The Middle East is a complex place. We must navigate it carefully. But calling for pumping up the United States’ already prodigious military muscle at any cost and urging the commander-in-chief to jump into every fray can quickly roll snake eyes—generally a losing proposition.

I’m delighted that Ms. Saunders saw Governor Romney moderating his position Monday night. But I’m troubled that over the last year, the Romney campaign—and all the candidates vying for the Republican presidential nod—continually accused President Obama of being too soft regarding Iraq, Afghanistan and Iran, and abandoning Israel.

Of course, Governor Romney may disagree with the Republican base he had to impress to win the nomination. He may always have been more hesitant about the use of force. But politics often leads candidates to take positions they personally reject. The logic is simple. The candidate can help the nation only by being elected. And the candidate cannot be elected without support from the party base, which may espouse extreme or aggressive positions. So the candidate must uphold those positions until reaching office—then maintain them to assure re-election. Finally, after four years in office, an enlightened president can move the country forward.

Politics—the need to look tough—can get the nation into war. But politicians don’t fight. President Obama, who has shown restraint, never served in the military. His daughters are too young. Neither did Governor Romney nor his five sons who, he said some years back, served their country in better ways—by campaigning for him. (If you’ve forgotten, the draft ended in 1973.)

Not only can politics start wars, politics can lead to military disaster. Our involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan set a standard for ineptitude not on the part of our troops but on the part of Washington. Going back, internal politics—getting tough on Communism—got us into Vietnam and kept us there.

Karl Marlantes, a decorated Vietnam combat veteran and author of Matterhorn, a magnificent novel of the Vietnam War, informs us that politics shapes the battlefield. Washington imposes unworkable policies on the military. Just as bad, officers from general down initiate foolish battles to enhance their prospects for promotion. In Matterhorn, it’s all about body counts. American commanders inflate them while manipulating American casualty numbers to minimize their impact on Washington and the electorate—and their careers. The grunts in the bush pay with blood.

Americans have produced remarkable books and films about war. They include The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane, Norman Mailer’s The Naked and the Dead and Philip Caputo’s A Rumor of War along with the Oscar® winning The Hurt Locker written by Mark Boal and directed by Kathryn Bigelow. None are “John Wayne” versions of glory in combat. They defer to the truth.

I hope our presidential and congressional candidates will read or see one before again rolling the dice. Because snake eyes again could be the outcome.

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Read the first 2-1/2 chapters of SLICK! at davidperlstein.com. Which, by the way, received a great review and a coveted Star as “a book of remarkable merit” from Kirkus Reviews. To purchase a signed copy, email me at dhperl@yahoo.com. SLICK! also is now available at iUniverse.com, Amazon.com and bn.com.

THROW THE FLAG

Like tens of millions of Americans, I watched the presidential debate on Wednesday night. Before then, I’d been thinking about how these debates might be structured to better serve voters. Only after the debate did I come up with a solution.

My thinking pre-debate was that the candidates play to the crowd—not only to the TV audience, which is huge, but also to the live audience. It would be difficult not to feed off the energy of people sitting in front of you, people who can be sensed—and heard—if not necessarily seen. Regrettably, playing to the crowd lends itself to bombastic claims and sharp put-downs. The candidates tend to shed far more heat than light.

Wednesday evening’s debate took the live audience out of the picture. Moderator Jim Lehrer ruled that following applause accompanying the candidates’ introductions, the audience could not make any audible responses. The audience followed his instructions.

I’d also had another idea. Have the candidates discuss—rather than debate—the issues with either one moderator or, better yet, two or three. The discussion would take on the aspect of a Charley Rose show with the candidates facing either the moderator or each other but not the camera. This might eliminate grandstanding in front of the TV audience. Wednesday night’s format was not quite the same, but silencing the live audience did keep the debate civil.

Yet a disturbing problem remains. Whatever the format, presidential debates provide a forum for candidates to bend or distort the facts—and more importantly, the truth. Whoever the moderator(s) may be, whatever the questions, the candidates feel entirely free to lie. The debates may give voters a good idea of a candidate’s “presidential demeanor” and the ability to express such traits as “warmth” and “concern.” But they leave us clueless as to whether what a candidate says is actually so. The candidates know they can deceive. They exploit such opportunities with frequency and gusto.

So I propose that all further debates engage the candidates both with one or more moderators and a panel of fact-checkers—on stage or in studio. As in the NFL where a coach may elect to throw a red flag to challenge an official’s call, the candidates will have their own red flags. Hear a fib? Toss a flag.

But wait, as they say in infomercials. That’s not all. Even if the candidates don’t throw a flag, the fact-checkers will. Every statement is up for review. As soon as a candidate utters a blatant falsehood or distortion, a red flag will be tossed into the air. The fact-checkers will then provide the truth to the moderator, who will read a statement of fact or unbiased third-party evaluation to the candidates and the audience.

I like this approach. Because the problem with the debates is that while one candidate or the other often is declared the “winner”—Mitt Romney came out on top in my opinion, at least in terms of style—the American people end up the losers. As constituted, the debates undercut the presentation of clear, understandable policies. And that’s the truth.

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

Read the first 2-1/2 chapters of SLICK! at davidperlstein.com. Which, by the way, received a great review and coveted Star as “a book of remarkable merit” from Kirkus Reviews. To purchase a signed copy, email me at dhperl@yahoo.com. SLICK! also is now available at iUniverse.com, Amazon.com and bn.com.

TOP DECK: A FABLE

Mitch and Barry attended law school together but hadn’t seen each other for years. Still, they immediately recognized each other as they boarded a boat for a cruise on San Francisco Bay. Mitch, an investment advisor from Boston, was in the city on business as was Barry, a union attorney from Chicago. Neither anticipated the storm blowing in from the Pacific.

Both Mitch and Barry paid for exclusive seats on the top deck. These offered the best views of the city, Bay Bridge, Alcatraz, Golden Gate Bridge and Sausalito. The sky was overcast, but service on the top deck—covered and enclosed by panoramic windows—was first class. Expensive champagne and cocktails flowed. Waiters restocked the buffet with a series of elaborate dishes.

“It’s starting to rain,” Barry commented as they sat at a table for two. “Is it?” Mitch asked, focused on his plate of crab legs. Barry rearranged his arugula salad. “Coming down pretty hard, actually.”

They first heard the commotion after circling under the Golden Gate Bridge. It didn’t take long for news to reach them. As the rain poured and the wind howled, the boat—a multi-million-dollar marvel—was taking on water. Tourists on the lower deck—which cost a fraction of what Mitch and Barry paid, and offered only hot dogs and soft drinks—were scrambling to get up to the top. “Seems they don’t like getting wet,” said Mitch. A man holding aloft a plate with a slab of prime rib responded, “They won’t make it. Some of the people up here gave the crew some cash. They’re blocking the doors.”

Barry frowned. “If that lower deck fills with water, things could get dangerous.” Mitch signaled a waiter for another Scotch. Barry pushed his plate away. “If we don’t let those people come up from the lower deck, we could have a disaster on our hands.” Mitch held up a crab leg and grinned. “It’s their own fault,” he said. “Besides, half of them got rides with free tickets. We’re actually paying their way.”

Barry shook his head. “Look,” Mitch responded. “Those people down below could have sat where we are. All they had to do was work as hard as we do. They didn’t. Now they’re getting their just desserts.” Mitch’s eyes lit up. “Did you see that dessert spread?” He started to rise. A huge wave toppled him back into his seat. He recovered his balance. “What matters is, you and me… we’re safe up here.”

Barry clutched the table. “If this storm keeps up and those leaks get any worse, we all could be in trouble.” Mitch struggled to his feet. “Barry, you were always the softhearted one. What do those people down there have to do with us?” Then the boat began to sway.

For a week, the local media provided round-the-clock coverage of the cruise boat that capsized and sank in San Francisco Bay with all passengers lost. In Washington, Congress debated a resolution of condolence. After a month, both the House and the Senate tabled the matter for further study.

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

Read the first 2-1/2 chapters of SLICK! at davidperlstein.com. Which, by the way, received a great review and coveted Star as “a book of remarkable merit” from Kirkus Reviews. To purchase a signed copy, email me at dhperl@yahoo.com. SLICK! also is now available at iUniverse.com, Amazon.com and bn.com.

INSULT TO HUMANITY

David Brooks, the New York Times columnist, offers fascinating insights into the workings of the human mind in his book, The Social Animal. Brooks points to how we often judge people in milliseconds based on stimuli recognized only the subconscious. I had that experienced with a recent photo in the San Francisco Chronicle.

I immediately responded to the face of a man distorted by emotion—not so much anger as hatred. I knew who he was, where he was and what he was feeling. What I read confirmed what a glance told me. The man was an Iranian at a rally in Tehran protesting the existence of Israel.

We know the background. Iran has opposed Israel ever since the revolution of 1979 created a religious-dominated government. It has bankrolled and trained terrorists. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and most of the world believe that Iran seeks nuclear weapons—a charge Iran denies. Israel has declared its right to a conduct a preemptive attack to deter an existential threat. President Obama has stated that Iran must not be allowed to develop nuclear weapons; American military action remains an option. Mitt Romney offers no disagreement. Tehran responds that it will target American military bases and ships in the Persian Gulf—and Israel, of course—should Israel and the West attack its nuclear facilities.

Geopolitics? And then some! But the face of the man in the photo did not reflect the age-old competition for land and resources. It displayed much more. Here’s why…

Last Friday, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad bellowed, “The existence of the Zionist regime is an insult to all humanity.” Opposing Israel’s existence is justified to “protect the dignity of all human beings.” Ahmadinejad, who denies the Holocaust—which tells you something—called Israel “a corrupt, anti-human organized minority group standing up to all divine values.” Iran’s Grand Ayatollah and Supreme Leader—the latter term also tells you something—Ali Khamenei has called Israel a “cancerous tumor” that must be eliminated. Also last week, Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah boasted from Lebanon that precision-guided rockets could kill tens of thousands of Israelis. Military targets? No concern. Human beings? Let the slaughter begin.

So what’s the point? The very existence of a Jewish state on land Muslims once conquered offends God and brooks no toleration, no compromise.

Yes, Jews can hate, too. A few days ago, Jewish teens in Jerusalem engaged in several attacks on Arabs. One involved a severe beating. But here’s the difference: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu immediately stated, “We are not prepared to tolerate racism in Israel.” President Shimon Peres declared, “I am full of shame and outrage… This is an intolerable incident of violence that we must uproot from our midst.” The vast majority of Israelis and Jews worldwide echoed their sentiments.

When Jews practice such hatred, they defame Judaism. Israel and the world Jewish community marginalizes them and justly so. Yet governmental and institutional hatred as expressed by Iran, Hezbollah, Hamas and others draws wide acceptance—or at best apathy—in the Muslim world. It often attains smug agreement in much of the rest of the world, too.

And it makes quite clear just who is insulting humanity.

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

Read the first 2-1/2 chapters of SLICK! at davidperlstein.com. Which, by the way, received a great review and coveted Star as “a book of remarkable merit” from Kirkus Reviews. To purchase a signed copy, email me at dhperl@yahoo.com. SLICK! also is now available at iUniverse.com, Amazon.com and bn.com.

INVISIBLE

What if you looked in a mirror but couldn’t see yourself? That’s standard for Dracula. Also for Jews. We’re recognizable as one of the nation’s most accomplished ethnic groups and yet so easy to overlook. Three recent experiences illustrate what I mean.

The April 9 issue of Newsweek featured a cover-story headline bristling with imperatives (italics mine): “Forget the Church: Follow Jesus.” Inside, the article’s headline started with a more journalistic approach: “The Forgotten Jesus.” Cool. I love reading about religion. The subhead continued: “Christianity has been destroyed by politics, priests, and get-rich evangelists.” There’s a point of view here. Okay. But then comes another imperative: “Ignore them, writes Andrew Sullivan, and embrace Him.” Who, me?

Sullivan told readers, “Christianity itself is in a crisis” and delineated where it has gone wrong. Many evangelical leaders, he stated, have hijacked Jesus for their own purposes. Interesting. But Sullivan didn’t cite Catholic or Protestant leaders or academics. He was his own source (with help from Thomas Jefferson, who rejected most of the wording in the Christian Bible).

Suddenly, Newsweek wasn’t reporting on religion. Instead, it provided a soapbox for a preacher with no clue I subscribe. Sullivan revealed, “I’ve pondered the Incarnation my whole life. I’ve read theology and history. I think I grasp what it means to be both God and human—but I don’t think my understanding is any richer than my Irish grandmother’s.” I’ve read theology and history—and I have no clue how anyone could be both God and human. But I’m a Jew. So I guess Newsweek screwed up and sent me its Christian edition—unless the magazine is now a blog. Perhaps in late May—at Shavuot, marking the giving of the Torah at Sinai—I’ll see a cover head reading, “Forget Your Rabbi: Follow Moses.” But I doubt it will roll out nationally.

Ross Douthat also had something important to say in his April 7 column in The New York Times. In “Divided by God,” he referred to the varied theologies of Barak Obama, Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum, writing, “These divergences reflect America as it actually is: We’re neither traditionally Christian nor straightforwardly secular. Instead, we’re a nation of heretics in which most people still associate themselves with Christianity but revise its doctrines as they see fit, and nobody can agree on even the most basic definitions of what Christian faith should mean.” I don’t propose that Ross Douthat has it in for Jews. But we’re just not in the conversation. America remains a “Christian nation.”

Finally, Carolyn and I shopped at the Marina Safeway. The last two items scanned by our smiling checker were Passover matzoh and Shabbat candles. He handed Carolyn the receipt and wished us both, “Happy Easter.”

At least the cartoonist Hilary B. Price (Jewish) offered a Passover-themed strip in Tuesday’s San Francisco Chronicle. The media mention for the week. And Wednesday night, when we declined bread at the Clement Street Bar & Grill, our waitress, Baseball Mary, asked if we’d like matzoh then brought us some.

This morning, I thought I caught a glimpse of myself in the bathroom mirror. But I suspect I’m delusional.

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

Read the first 2-1/2 chapters of SLICK! at davidperlstein.com. Which, by the way, received a great review and coveted Star as “a book of remarkable merit” from Kirkus Reviews. To purchase a signed copy, email me at dhperl@yahoo.com. SLICK! also is now available at iUniverse.com, Amazon.com and bn.com.