Posts Tagged ‘Ted Cruz’

DECODING BRUSSELS

In the early days of the American revolution, Thomas Paine wrote, “These are the times that try men’s souls.” The Islamist attacks in Brussels last Tuesday reminded us that these are always the times that try men’s (and women’s) souls.

Despite security efforts—additional arrests have been made since Tuesday—some terrorists slip through the net. U.S. security has been effective but hardly foolproof. European security lags, particularly regarding sharing information. But Europe is also challenged by large Muslim communities—most isolated from national cultures—which spawn and serve as havens for discontents.

How to prevent further attacks? The movie Eye in the Sky ponders moral limits on our use of force. Helen Mirren plays a British colonel commanding a multi-national force seeking to capture or kill members of the Islamist al Shabaab in East Africa. All Western military personnel work from home bases. A crew outside Las Vegas operates a drone—an eye in the sky. Hovering above a Kenyan house, it sends back images of wanted British and American Islamists. Small optical devices put in place by a local operative reveal the house to be the staging ground for imminent suicide bombings.

I give nothing away when I write that the “eye” carries two Hellfire missiles. But launching risks killing innocent people. The film offers a fairly even-handed debate about whether even a single “civilian” casualty is acceptable if a strike will eliminate the threat of attacks that may kill dozens of others.

As to Brussels, the attacks came only days after Belgian security forces captured Salah Abdeslam, wanted for participation in the November attacks in Paris. Belgian operations may have been flawed. “They’re way behind the ball and they’re paying a terrible price,” said Rep. Adam Schiff, ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee. Better communication with Turkish security might have helped prevent the bombings. Regardless, Europe’s Schengen Area, 26 nations in which borders can be crossed without documents, may become the next casualty.

We in the U.S., particularly during election season, must face the reality that another attack can happen here. We must also decide how to use our security and military forces wisely. On Tuesday, Donald Trump again called for using torture in questioning Islamist suspects. Ted Cruz said that police should secure Muslim neighborhoods. He likened Islamist acts to gang crimes. But gangs commit crimes in their own neighborhoods. Jihadis don’t. What neighborhoods are police to secure? What does that even mean?

Fighting Islamism requires maintaining a level of humility and avoiding demagoguery while aggressively pursuing those who wish to harm us. Military action must be part of the mix. The Defense Department today announced the killing of ISIS’ finance minister. That’s good. But as defense secretary Ashton Carter advised, leaders can be replaced.

According to Raffaello Pantucci, director of international security studies at London’s Royal United Services Institute, “There is a realization that this is not a war you can bomb or shoot your way out of, but you have to deal with individuals who are radicalized at home, to examine the reasons that they are exploring this other identity.”

So once again our souls confront a world in which violence or its threat remains a constant. Our greatest challenge may be protecting our values along with our security.

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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

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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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GOING HOME—MYTH AND REALITY

Carolyn and I went to New York last week to see Yosi and Hurray for the Riff Raff at Carnegie Hall’s sold-out Zankel Hall. New York is “home.” I grew up in Queens—Rego Park. But going home goes only so far. Time travel constitutes risky business.

On Friday, we took the subway to 63rd Drive and the Shalimar Diner, a location for the 2013 movie The Wolf of Wall Street. My parents ate thousands of meals and desserts there. Accompanied by my son Aaron and son-in-law Jeremy, we had lunch with my sister Kay and brother-in-law Herb. My mother’s favorite waitress, Denise, still works there!

After, we walked to the apartment building where I grew up. Then we stopped in a supermarket for matzo meal to take back to San Francisco. Carolyn makes her matzo balls from scratch. At Ben’s Best deli on Queens Boulevard, we shared a potato knish. Last stop: the Rego Park Jewish Center where I was bar-mitzvahed in 1957, and Kay and Herb married in 1960.

Next day, Carolyn and I went to the West Village for lunch with Aaron and Jeremy, and their lovely friend Allison. Strolling back to our hotel, we stopped at 100 West 17th Street at 6th Avenue. My grandparents Sam and Kayla Perlstein lived there in 1914 when they and three of their children, including my father Morris, became American citizens. The site has been a parking lot for years. We’d been there before. No wistful expectations disappointed us.

I love visiting the old neighborhood and other familiar places. But they belong to the people who live there now. The only thing to which I can claim ownership is memories.

I reflected on that following Monday’s Iowa caucus. The top three Republican candidates—Ted Cruz, Donald Trump and Marco Rubio—all appealed to voters who want to go home again. These folks, regardless of age, hold cherished memories of yesterday’s America—white, Christian and orderly—the last term meaning that people “knew their place.” Some of their memories ring true. Most are illusory. Think about slavery followed by segregation, hatred of Jews and other ethnic groups, the 60-hour workweek with no minimum wage, the lack of safety in factories and mines, old age without Social Security and Medicare, the Depression, the vicious McCarthy era in the 1950s and the painful waging of the struggle for civil rights.

Neither the candidates nor many caucus-goers understand that returning to the past is unwise and also impossible. Rego Park, for example, has changed dramatically for the simple reason that it’s a living neighborhood, not a museum. I can’t gripe. My grandparents helped change New York’s demographics when they arrived from Warsaw in 1906.

If we need inspiration to embrace change while still shaping it to America’s values, let’s look to the Middle East. Islamists seek to return to the 7th century—the time of the Prophet. In Israel, Palestinians long for the 12th century when Saladin defeated the Crusaders. The Jewish far right wants to retreat even further—3,000 years to the united monarchy of David and Solomon. History laughs.

The author Thomas Wolfe wrote the classic novel You Can’t Go Home Again. I suggest that we can—but only when we acknowledge that home can never be as it was.

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.

The blog will take a week off and return on February 19.

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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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AND THE WINNER IS…

On Wednesday, Congress finally agreed to reopen the government and extend the debt ceiling. Many House Republicans yielded and joined with Democrats to end Washington’s latest stalemate. Yet TV showed House Speaker John Boehner fist pumping. “We fought the good fight,” Boehner said. “We just didn’t win.” He seemed to suggest that Republicans really didn’t lose, either. That left me curious about the political outcome.

Yesterday, The New York Times saw definite losers. “Republicans Lose a Lot to Get Little” headlined a story by Jeremy Peters. A Times editorial addressed “The Republican Surrender.” Its lead: “The Republican Party slunk away on Wednesday from its failed, ruinous strategy to get its way through the use of havoc.” But The Times represents only one voice in the United States. A brief survey of other newspapers and related websites revealed a variety of opinions—and non-opinions.

Closest to home, the San Francisco Chronicle headlined, “End of shutdown boosts Democrats.” Of course, this is Nancy Pelosi country. So I went online to get the word from between the coasts.

Dallasnews.com (The Dallas Morning News) simply stated, “Federal employees get back to work after 16-day shutdown.” No winners and losers here. Still, an editorial offered, “Budget deal is reached, but internal split is harming GOP.” Orlandosentinel.com (The Orlando Sentinel) led with, “Lock your car while pumping gas, cops warn.” I had to scroll down to find, “Post-crisis, Obama tells Congress to get to work.” Is the State of Florida in a state of denial?

Kansascity.com (The Kansas City Star) showcased a sex assault case. But an editorial—if you looked for it—asserted, “GOP political tantrum has damaged America.” Ajc.com (The Atlanta Journal-Constitution) stayed with the story: “Obama: ‘American people are completely fed up.’” Columnist Jay Bookman offered the moral: “Excessive certitude proves to be a damn poor substitute for intelligence.” Memphisdailynews.com (The Daily News) led with Shelby County foreclosures dropping 10 percent in the last quarter. Again, I had to scroll for news of the agreement. Commercialappeal.com (the Memphis Commercial Appeal) didn’t run a story at all.

Only a TV news clip—from St. Louis yet—was available at cincinnati.com (The Cincinnati Enquirer). On the other hand, azcentral.com/arizonarepublic (The Arizona Republic) led with: “Obama signs bill averting default on debt, ending shutdown.” Neutral stuff. The site also ran an Associated Press report by Donna Cassata noting, “To Senate Republicans, Cruz and [Sen. Mike] Lee [Rep.–Utah] are near pariahs” but that “Among ‘tea party’ Republicans, Cruz’s popularity has climbed, from a 47 percent favorability rating in July to 74 percent, according to a Pew Research Center poll released Wednesday.” A presidential run gaining steam? The top story at deseretnews.com (Utah’s Desert News) concerned football changing the life of a teen with Asperger’s Syndrome.

After all this, I’m thinking that winning and losing is a matter of perspective. But two things seem certain. The sound we heard coming out of Washington wasn’t cheering but the clink of the can again being kicked down the road. And if anyone got the short end of the stick, it wasn’t the Republican Party—it was the American people.

In a previous version of this post, I referred to Ted Cruz as a Republican senator from Florida. Cruz represents Texas. I must have confused him with Marco Rubio. Now how could that happen? 

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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.