Posts Tagged ‘President Obama’

LABELMANIA

In 1975, the International Ladies Garment Workers Union launched a TV campaign supporting American-made clothing. Workers—men alongside women—sang a charming ditty, “Look for the Union Label.” Given that so many jobs first fled union shops then were lost to offshoring, that label inside a garment made sense. Ultimately, the campaign failed. Americans preferred cheaper foreign-made goods. Today, we live with many other kinds of labels. They’re not working, either.

I refer to political labels. Democrat and Republican are two. You can also be a Libertarian, Green, Socialist or Communist (not many of those around). Here’s where confusion begins. Many people who register with a party aren’t members and don’t attend conventions or conferences. They don’t necessarily toe the party line, either. They use their registration to vote in primaries or caucuses. Now, states with open primaries make such registration unnecessary.

Another political label has gained prominence: Independent. Bernie Sanders used to be one. An Independent stays free of party registration or affiliation. Yet many registered Democrats and Republicans as mentioned above function as Independents. They freely cross party lines. Witness a label from the recent past: Reagan Democrats. You might even remember Dixiecrats. They became Republicans.

Labels also exist within labels. Some Democrats call themselves Progressives (Go Bernie!). Others Moderates (Go Hillary!). Or maybe also Progressives. Republicans identify as Conservatives or Tea Partiers or both. A few flirt with the label Rockefeller Republicans, i.e. Centrists. They tend to hide in the closet. Libertarians may call themselves Social Liberals and/or Economic Conservatives or downright Anarchists.

Then there are supporters of Donald Trump. Republican? Not necessarily. Conservative? Sometimes. Sometimes not. They often drift to another label: Authoritarian. Trump supporters may hold varied positions on such issues as immigration, taxes, abortion, and Muslims. But they share a deep anger at Washington. An Authoritarian leader, they believe, will disregard Congress and impose solutions. How? By being Authoritarian. Donald Trump will “make America great again” because he says he will.

Consider also Insiders and Outsiders. Congress’ popularity remains well under 20 percent. (Interestingly, the Gallup Poll of May 23–29, 2016 shows President Obama’s approval rating at 52 percent.) Many Americans believe that Congress accomplishes little to nothing because it’s composed of Insiders, also known as Politicians. Politicians’ first concern isn’t the general welfare but holding office. Not surprisingly, loyalty to their Democrat and Republican labels—thus assuring campaign funding—prevents Politicians from reaching across the aisle to get anything done.

And let’s not forget The Establishment. These rich people pull strings behind the scenes. Everyone hates The Establishment. Except everyone wants to be rich, which would make them part of The Establishment.

What to do? The philosophy of the famed comedian W.C. Fields has gained traction: “Hell, I never vote for anybody, I always vote against.” Voters can thumb their noses at The Establishment by replacing Washington Insiders with Outsiders. Although victorious Outsiders immediately become Insiders.

Labels offer easy choices between Right (your position) and Wrong (the other guy’s). Unfortunately, they keep us from thinking as individuals and approaching issues not as no-brainers but as complex. This November, we could do America a favor by dropping Labelmania and separating fantasy from reality. We might label that Patriotism.

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AFTER SCALIA, WHAT?

The death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia has stirred quite a political spat. Republicans, like presidential candidates Ted Cruz and Donald Trump, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, demand that President Obama not nominate anyone to the Court given that the 2016 presidential election is less than a year off. This line of thought is interesting but could lead to unanticipated developments.

I get the Republicans’ point. A new justice will play a major role in shaping the nation’s direction. They want the American people to have a say in the matter. But questions arise. For example, should a lame duck, eighth-year president be forbidden to take action on all major issues? Digging deeper, since the formal election process, which includes primary campaigning, starts in a president’s seventh year—Mr. Obama’s eighth year began this past January 20—should a president be sent to the sidelines in that seventh year? Wouldn’t a president better serve the Constitution by being active for six years then becoming a figurehead for two more?

Then again, not all presidents serve eight years (up to a maximum of ten if succeeding to the presidency), which requires election to two full terms. In my lifetime, John F. Kennedy (assassination), Lyndon Johnson (personal choice aka Vietnam), Richard Nixon (resignation—Watergate), Jimmy Carter (defeat—Ronald Reagan) and George H.W. Bush (defeat—Bill Clinton) all served less than two full terms (Kennedy less than one). So we might limit a president’s active service to the first two years of any term. During years three and four, presidential activity would be put on hold. The president could not make Supreme Court or other judicial nominations, introduce legislation from the White House or even serve as commander-in-chief without Congressional approval.

So a president would work actively for two years until election results wore thin. But consider this: Members of the House serve two-year terms. Why elect a president to be inactive for two years in each four-year term when the Speaker of the House, chosen by the majority party, could serve as the nation’s chief executive officer? The House Majority Leader would handle that body’s day-to-day business. Sounds like a parliamentary system rather than our constitutionally mandated presidential system? Let’s not get picky.

But hold on. Representatives position themselves for re-election at the start of their two-year terms if not right after Election Day. It makes no sense for a speaker to serve as chief executive when a new election is right around the corner. The American people should have their say. Unless, having just voted, they had their say.

Logic dictates a simpler solution: Eliminate the positions of President and Vice-President along with Congress. None of these folks provide true representation to Americans since there’s always another election just over the horizon. Leave all government functions to the states, which will serve as sovereign nations. Whether the Republic of Texas will accept passports from the Republic of California remains a question, but minutiae shouldn’t derail democracy.

In sum, if reactions to Justice Scalia’s death have taught us anything, it’s that the Constitution can be quite plastic in defense of the Founders’ strict intent. So let’s put the United States on hiatus. Another upside: we won’t have to hear crowds in Tehran chant, “Death to America.”

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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IT’S ISLAMISM

The Islamic State’s recent beheadings of two Japanese and burning of a Jordanian Air Force pilot bring reminders from Washington that we’re engaged in a “war on terror.” Nonsense.

Terror is a strategy, sometimes a tactic. We face an aberrant ideology. It’s Islamism, which seeks to impose by force its version of Islam and legitimizes any form of violence to do so. Islamism doesn’t represent all of Islam or all Muslims. But despite President Obama’s refusal to utter its name, Islamism is a form of Islam. Yesterday the President acknowledged ISIS’ religious roots at the National Prayer Breakfast, stating that, “no god condones terror.” ISIS’ version of Allah does.

It’s all about scriptural interpretation and human agency. Take Judaism. Exodus 15:3 states that God “is a man of war.” Deuteronomy 20:13 instructs that if a town refuses to negotiate terms of peace (surrender and forced labor) “you shall put all its males to the sword.” Yet centuries after these texts were written, the Rabbis rejected such violence. Yes, losing wars and risking Roman reprisal helped create that view. Yet three-dozen times the Torah calls for the death penalty regarding Jewish matters. The Rabbis made its implementation virtually impossible.

Muslims call Islam a religion of peace. It is—for those who interpret the Quran that way. The Quran* binds Muslims with Jews and Christians. “Our God and your God is one” (29:46). It promulgates religious freedom. “There shall be no compulsion in religion” (2:256). Further, “Believers, Jews, Christians and Sabeans—whoever believes in Allah and the Last Day and does what is right—shall be rewarded by their Lord…” (2:62).

Yet the Quran sees Jews and Christians departed from the monotheism of Abraham. “The unbelievers among the People of the Book and the pagans shall burn for ever in the fire of Hell. They are the vilest of all creatures” (98:7). How should Muslims respond? “Believers, take neither Jews nor Christians for your friends… Allah does not guide the wrongdoers” (5:51). Many more verses excoriate Jews and Christians.

Weighty questions confront Islam, although there is no single Islam as there is no single Judaism or Christianity. Can the Quran be read as metaphor? Can 1,400-year-old laws and customs be adjusted to co-exist with modern views in the 21st-century world? Is religious freedom acceptable?

Blood spilled for centuries before the West embraced the Enlightenment and religious pluralism. Yet many people cling to “one truth.” At yesterday’s National Prayer Breakfast—an interfaith event—retired NASCAR driver and keynote speaker Darrell Waltrip told attendees that if they’d never gotten on their knees to ask Jesus for forgiveness, “You’re going to hell.” In Cairo, the moderate Grand Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb of prestigious al-Azhar University, holder of a Ph.D. from the Sorbonne, expressed revulsion at the Islamic State’s barbarism: The perpetrators, he said, should be “killed, or crucified, or their hands and legs cut off” in accord with Muslim law.

In the ancient Middle East, to know someone’s name was to hold a measure of power over that person. May naming Islamism bring us a new honesty that opens hearts and minds worldwide.

*The Koran: Translated With Notes by N.J. Dawood, New York, Penguin Books, 1978.

Take a peak at my upcoming novel, Flight of the Spumonis. Click on NOVELS.

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“GLITTER”—A FABLE

Once, the people of a great land divided power between their king—chosen after each fourth harvest—and heroic knights. The king reigned in the Great Castle. The knights gathered in the Great Hall to debate at a trapezoid-shaped table. A round table would have upset the narrow hall’s feng shui.

Many knights wore beautiful armor. Some of their helmets, however, had loose screws. These knights could not always see what was before them. A few strutted in armor rusted by uncontrollable drooling. The marketplace speculated on injudicious parental mating.

One day the king proposed, “Let everyone in the land be given a daily banana.” Despite the kingdom’s wealth, not everyone could afford bananas, rich in health-enhancing potassium. A majority of knights assented. Bananas were made available to all. Still, some knights insisted that the doors to the treasury be locked and bananas restricted to only those subjects who could afford them. “Let them eat cake!” they cried. “Sugar promotes energy. Besides, we question the blasphemous tenets of modern dentistry.”

“Bananas for all!” announced the king. “It’s the law of the realm.” The opposing knights countered, “The law isn’t the law unless we say it is.” In protest, they established the Cake Party. Donning bakers’ garb and brandishing studded rolling pins, they bellowed, “The king must be removed and the Great Castle turned into a bakery.”

Some knights who opposed distributing bananas nonetheless believed Cake Party members to be several ounces short of a cup. Still, they feared making enemies. Chief among them was Sir John, who sat at the head of the trapezoidal table. “Only if the kingdom forswears spending on bananas,” he said, “can it amass more gold. Then everyone can buy their own bananas—although scientific evidence concerning potassium is questionable.” Hoisting a screwdriver, he sighed, “If only the king would negotiate and do as I say.” Then he watched as the Cake Party catapulted stale loaves of bread at the Great Castle’s walls.

The king, many knights and most of the people objected to these attacks, but Sir John held firm. Hadn’t he the kingdom’s best interests at heart? And if the Cake Party pried him from his chair, wouldn’t conditions worsen? But in truth, Sir John loved his special chair at the trapezoidal table more than gold or even croissants. The chair was covered in glitter and sparkled with bits of shiny metal and glass. Privately, Sir John granted that the Cake Party might be a cup or even two short of a quart. Yet he lusted after his glittering chair.

The kingdom foundered. Dragons, now emboldened, flew overhead, belching fire and brimstone. The rich hunkered in bunkers, their gold in iron vaults, while farmers’ fields and craftsman’s studios went up in flames. “Fools!” the people cried. In response, the Cake Party baked cakes and iced them with the words, “It’s a matter of principle.”

This, of course, is only a fable. And everyone knows the old saying, “All that glitters is not gold.” But legend has it that each morning, Sir John would stand in front of his glittering chair, wave at the dragons and with a long-handled wooden spoon wipe the spittle from his chin.

Many thanks to Michaela for inspiration. This post, however, expresses only the opinions of the author.

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Read the first three chapters of SAN CAFÉ and of SLICK!, named by Kirkus Reviews as one of the 25 Best Indie Novels of 2012, at davidperlstein.com. Order at iUniverse.com, Amazon.com or bn.com. 

RED LINES

It used to be called drawing a line in the sand. You can go this far someone would say, and no farther. Political negotiations for territory produced maps and lines in red to mark borders. This is mine. That is yours. Today, establishing a red line equates to warning other nations or groups not to undertake certain actions—or else. But such a statement produces difficult questions like: Or else what?

The revolution in Syria has taken 93,000 lives—a figure of the verified dead according to the United Nations. For the White House, lives were an issue in the Syrian civil war but not the issue. President Obama drew his own red line some time ago. If the Assad government used chemical weapons, then the U.S. would be forced to intervene. Claims of chemical weapon use surfaced. The White House determined the evidence insufficient and let the matter lie—at least publicly. Ultimately, proof came. So now?

We’ll provide the rebels with small arms and ammunition. Anti-tank weapons, too, I imagine. At least, that’s the public position. Britain and France also will provide light arms. The Saudis, fighting a proxy war against Iran, have supplied shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles

More difficult questions remain: Who will end up with all this materiel? Can the West buy the loyalty of any group we support with weaponry? And will the next step be the establishment of a no-fly zone to keep Assad’s air force grounded—a move that Mr. Obama currently rejects and the Russians oppose?

Having backed themselves into a corner, President Obama and his advisors are flying blind. Whatever strategy they settle upon may work. Or not. An old Yiddish proverb comes to mind: Man plans and God laughs. We’re talking, after all, about the Middle East.

Speaking of God, former Republican vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin suggested—and the satirical intent doesn’t go unnoticed—“Let Allah sort it out.” Fatalism plays a large role in the Muslim psyche. Inshallah one hears frequently. God willing. What does God will? Sunni and Shiite extremists believe God wills the destruction of the other. Many Americans, I suspect, will be glad to let sectarian forces savage each other. Of course, much innocent blood will be spilled in the process.

One of the perks of writing a blog is the freedom to tell the world how it should act. Regarding Syria, I’ll pass. But this I do know. Talking about red lines works only until one is crossed. Without a real consequence, the red line bleeds into the sand along with a government’s credibility.

It’s very possible that Mr. Obama’s strategy will mirror Mrs. Palin’s. We’ll do the minimum to protect some Syrian civilians while keeping Assad and Iranian-backed Hezbollah forces off balance. At the same time, we’ll attempt to minimize the buildup of too much power by Sunni rebels and the al-Qaeda Islamists who make up much of their effective fighting force. This may be the best we can do.

But we might also consider that publicly declaring a red line risks creating a straight line to disaster.

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Read the first three chapters of David’s novels SAN CAFÉ and SLICK! at davidperlstein.com. You’ll also find online ordering links for iUniverse.com, Amazon.com and bn.com. 

ROME AND TEXAS

Lately, I’d been tossing three items around in my head. They finally converged, reminding me of a lesson I learned on a ride at the Santa Cruz Boardwalk. Don’t lean back. You can’t stop the inevitable. Here’s what I mean.

For starters, the world really has gotten smaller. My parents never traveled outside the United States. Carolyn and I traveled through Western Europe a year after we were married. Our kids in total have covered Western Europe and a good bit of Asia—Indonesia, Myanmar, Thailand, China and Japan. (Carolyn and I can claim Thailand, Cambodia and Japan.) We’ve all been to Israel, and Carolyn and I to Jordan. And we’re not big travelers! My take on this? Many Americans share as much in common with “globalists” from other nations as with fellow citizens. Maybe more.

My thoughts also drifted to the Roman Empire. Chris Wickham, in The Inheritance of Rome: Illuminating the Dark Ages 400–1000, posits that the Western empire began to fall when “barbarians” conquered the grain fields of North Africa. Cheap grain held the empire together. Without it, various regions had to depend on themselves for food, acquiring more agricultural land and defending it. By the sixth century, they began to see themselves not as Romans but as separate ethnic identities.\

Finally, I’ve been intrigued that President Obama’s re-election has induced movements to secede from the Union. Conservative groups are sending petitions to the White House for response (a minimum of 25,000 signatures required). Texas leads the pack joined by Georgia, South Carolina, Louisiana, Missouri, Tennessee, North Carolina, Alabama, Oklahoma, Florida and Ohio.

So what’s going on? As the world shrinks, some folks want to relive “the good old days.” But those days as often divided people as united them. To these folks, the lessons of history mean nothing. The smaller states that replaced the Roman Empire in the West produced shrinking economies and lessened prospects for most people in a world dominated by local kings and nobles continually at war.

What, I ask, are the secessionists thinking? Do they seek to bond in a new but not necessarily contiguous nation? If so, will they find states’ rights any more prominent than they are now? Or do they want to form their own smaller, independent countries—an English-speaking Balkans in which a bevy of national identities risks creating new waves of international mistrust? And how will all these new countries afford the militaries conservatives so prize? The nuclear subs, carriers, jets, choppers, tanks, missiles and communications systems they might want cost big bucks—and belong to the U.S.A.

Of course, the secessionists basically are making a statement. They’re unhappy. Their candidate lost. But their message isn’t encouraging. Not because I expect another Civil War. But because the people promoting such dramatic change tend to abhor change.

At a certain level, it’s easy to understand the desire of many people to build walls and maintain the status quo. The older you get, the tougher it is to keep up. Some of my kids will tell you that. But in the real world, not moving forward inevitably means moving backward.

Several readers thought last week’s post, “An Affront to Humanity,” concerned a real woman’s real experience on a San Francisco Muni bus. Mea culpa. Sometimes my fables turn out a little more dry than anticipated. Think Israel and Hamas, re-read it and you’ll see it in another light. Whether you got it or not, please let me know.

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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.