Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Will Greed Trump Our National Values?

How far can greed take you?

Are you willing to give up truth?

Are you willing to give up compassion and aid to the needy and infirm?

Are you willing to stoke bigotry?

Are you willing to weaken the foundations of government?

Are you willing to disengage from international protocols?

Are you willing to abandon decency?

Are you willing to forego civic and social values?

Are you willing to live with fewer environmental protections, with fewer consumer financial protections, with fewer worker protections, with fewer food and drug safety protections, with fewer civil rights for all?

Are you willing to live with brinksmanship rather than diplomacy?

Are you willing to discard the promise of the Statue of Liberty, willing to extinguish its beacon of opportunity extended to all who yearn “to breathe free”?

These are all relevant questions in the Age of Trump.

Lest we forget, Bill Clinton’s presidential campaign in 1992 set the template with its sharply pronounced slogan, “It’s the economy, stupid.”

Under Trump the stock market keeps going in the direction set by Barack Obama—up.  Consumer confidence has skyrocketed. Unemployment remains low. Productivity is above 3% two quarters in a row. 

People, especially the rich, are feeling flush. You might say even greedy. They want “more.” 

But at what cost to our national id? 

Can more value in our asset bank trump our national values? Can more money make us proud to be Americans at the risk of losing what it has meant to be an American? 

I surely hope not.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Existential Threats: Jihadists or Neo-Nazis?

Which form of intolerance is a greater threat to Western civilization—extremist Muslims or neo-Nazis?

I posed that question to a buddy who had sent me an article by Giulio Meotti, cultural editor for Il Foglio, posted by Gatestone Institute, an international policy council chaired by John Bolton, former U.N. ambassador, the gist of which argued that Western civilization is endangered by jihadists, much as Eastern Christianity (in Arab lands) has been “extinguished” by them.  

My friend, a former elementary and high school classmate who is a retired U.S. foreign service officer, replied, “Intolerance is not the issue; the issue is how many innocent civilians have died world-wide traced to Salafist ideology.

“I served for 8 years at the U.S. Special Operations Command on Macdill Air Force Base, under Bush 43 and Obama. The Command categorized U.S. homegrown political extremes, from both the right and left, as the responsibility of Homeland Security and the FBI.  We never viewed Occupy Wall Street or the Alex Jones/Roger Spencer acolytes as an existential threat to the homeland.

“The 24/7 focus of our ops cell was draining the ideological swamp of global Jihadism.  Open Source reference tools outline the global reach of both AQ ( al-Queda) and ISIS and their death toll.

“Yes. I am more concerned with Salafism. ADL (Anti—Defamation League) and The AJC (American Jewish Committee) have the toolbox to handle these American losers on the right. 

“Europe replaced the Jews with Muslims.... that is their problem.”

Never one to shy away from a debate, my response followed:

“I respectfully but strongly disagree. I more fear a destruction of Western democratic values than a takeover of Western governments by a segment of a religion whose vast majority have shown a desire to be part of Western society with its openness and inclusiveness. 

“Sure, you can point to the wanton killings of non Muslims, and even Muslims from the wrong sect, as proof that Islamic extremists are evil. But their killings in Europe and the United States and Canada are insignificant (except, of course, to their victims and their respective families) compared to the “sanctioned” deaths we tolerate from permissive gun laws and violations of environmental and food/drug safety laws. In one year alone the U.S. has more deaths by guns than the total Americans killed by al-Queda, ISIS and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. And that includes 9/11. 

“We are witnessing a resurgence of fascism and totalitarianism in Western countries. While it might be said to be ignited by the presence of Muslim immigrants, both legal and illegal, it is not the sole reason. Income inequality and the replacement of meaningful jobs by technology or outsourcing have destabilized economies. 

“Western values are being challenged by a return to tribalism. Parts of Italy and Spain seek independence. Britain has Brexit. Poland is becoming anti-Semitic again not just to Jews but first to Muslims. Then to Jews. 

“Under the guise of trying to control the spread of Islamic terrorism the West is relaxing its commitment to shared values of democracy. We are letting fear dominate our thinking. 

“I am not advocating any abandonment of the battle against Islamic extremism. Hunt them down. Do not let them acquire WMDs (weapons of mass destruction). But do not let the battle destroy our principles. No torture. To the extent possible no civilian collateral casualties. No support for despots who deny their countrymen civil liberties. 

“Radical Islam was born from the oppression Arab rulers practiced on their people with the willing consent of America and other Western powers. That fact cannot be denied. Sadly, even if the extremists were to secure their own country, as ISIS has shown, they would be equally if not more repressive and evil than the rulers they would have ousted. What is clear is that the vast majority of ordinary Muslims reject extremism. 

“To prevent radical thought from spreading in the West we need to provide a stable economic platform plus education and civil rights to all. Regrettably, some will still not accept Western civilization. They will terrorize us. But they will be no more effective than the Las Vegas shooter. Yes, they will kill an untold number of Americans but unless we capitulate they will not be able to kill off our ideals.” 

I await his reply.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Mass Shootings, an Intractable Dispute and McConnell's Imprint on Our Future

From a Los Angeles Times article on the killings in Northern California Tuesday: “I thought this only happens to places like L.A. or New York,” Jose Garcia, owner of La Fortune Convenience, told the Los Angeles Times (

Now, why would he say that? In the 16 deadliest mass shootings in the United States since 1949, not one, not one!, occurred in either Los Angeles or New York City (

Sadly, mass shootings are part of Americana. They happen in schools, in churches, in McDonalds, in nightclubs, on military bases. But not in New York or Los Angeles. 

Numb. Week after week crazed men and the occasional woman perpetrate numbing acts of violence against innocents, many of whom are children. As a nation we are repulsed. But let’s put our reaction in historical perspective.

From our earliest days as colonists to European monarchs, to our formation as the United States of America, we have rarely done anything but accept, and even condone, mass killings, either on our soil or in foreign lands, by our citizens or other peoples. Consider our treatment of Native Americans. Or the death trips chained Africans endured crossing the Atlantic below decks aboard slave trading ships. Or the way we turned our backs on thousands of desperate souls fleeing Nazi Germany. Or how we mostly ignored the ethnic warfare in Rwanda and the Balkans? 

It is hard to find solace in our historical record. 

From a Sunday New York Times article on Trump administration efforts to find a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, here’s a quote: “After 10 months of educating themselves on the complexities of the world’s most intractable dispute, White House officials said, Mr. Trump’s team of relative newcomers to Middle East peacemaking has moved into a new phase of its venture  …” (

Now, Jews for decades have been pleased to be recognized for outstanding feats. Entertainers, scientists, Nobel Prize winners, athletes and so on, including a remarkable victory in the Six Day War, they all evoke cultural pride among the “chosen.” But there is no joy in associating Israel with “the world’s most intractable dispute.” Israel, for one, would argue it has sought peaceful co-existence from day one of its statehood in 1948 and even before. But let’s not argue that point.

I’d rather focus on the highlighted phrase. Should we not consider the friction over Kashmir between Pakistan and India, two nuclear powers, an equally, if not more, intractable, and potentially more dangerous, dispute? What about Korea? What about the Kurds wanting their own country and stifled by Iraq, Turkey and Syria? 

I’m sure there are other hotspots around the globe that could share equal billing with the Israeli-Palestinian discord, so let’s not be so quick to label any dispute the most intractable.

As long as we’re talking Israeli-Palestinian issues, earlier this month, November 2, marked the 100th anniversary of the issuance of the Balfour Declaration that stated the British government’s support for “the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people.”  

Rather than go into a dissertation on the history and pros and cons of the document, let me be personal about the Balfour Declaration. Several years ago, as part of my part-time work as a real estate agent, I had the extreme good fortune of seeing a draft of the Balfour Declaration, with handwritten notations and edits, hanging in the home of a client. That was a priceless moment.

He’s the One: Stephen Bannon wants him thrown out of office, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is arguably the politico most responsible for the rightward shift America will undergo for the next several decades.

McConnell’s unprecedented obstruction of judicial nominations during the last year or more of Barack Obama’s presidency has resulted in the appointment of conservative Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court and a slew of like-minded jurists to lower federal benches. These lifetime positions will set a reactionary tone for decades putting at risk hope for progressive, humane decisions that favor civil rights and individuals versus corporations and government (

The Bannon trope against McConnell is a public relations fight that obscures what is really happening in Washington. Congress may be crawling along but the real deconstruction of government is happening at the cabinet department level where regulation after regulation is being rescinded or amended to eliminate or reduce safeguards intended to protect workers, the environment and consumers.

The avuncular McConnell is a tempting target, in appearance and legislative accomplishment, but keep in mind it was his strategy that made a vote for Trump synonymous with a choice for the next Supreme Court justice. 

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Celebrating My Mother's Centennial Birthday

Were she still alive, my mother, Sylvia Margaret Gerson Forseter, would have turned 100 Saturday, November 11. You’ll notice I did not say she would have celebrated her centennial. It would not be incorrect nor disrespectful to say my mother never got much pleasure from turning the page on another year. As different infirmities invaded her body and mind she used to say, “Good health was wasted on the young.” 

That lack of birthday excitement, to my memory, transferred over to celebrations of her husband’s and children’s birthdays, as well, though she did enjoy the spotlight at the bar mitzvah affairs of my brother Bernie and me at the Aperion Manor on Kings Highway in Brooklyn. And she got a kick out of turning our home’s basement into a dance hall for our sister Lee’s Sweet 16 party.

Mom had a ribald sense of humor. If she saw you yawning she would say, “You wouldn’t be so tired if you slept at night instead of fooling around, but then sleep isn’t as much fun.”

On her night table at various times one could find a copy of Lady Chatterly’s Lover and Tropic of Cancer, risqué reading for the 1950s and 1960s.

Whenever a movie starring Tyrone Power was shown on television she would say, “He could park his shoes next my bed anytime” (as was the custom of the times, my parents slept in twin beds separated at first by a night table, though eventually the beds were pushed together to simulate a king size bed, albeit with a slight gap between the mattresses to accommodate their wooden frames).

Mom introduced her children to opera at the pre-Lincoln Center Metropolitan Opera House (she took me to see La Traviata and Tosca, the latter starring Renata Tebaldi and Franco Corelli—if you’re not into opera those names wouldn’t mean anything to you. But if you are an opera buff, you’d be envious).

She enjoyed musical theater. She instilled a love of that entertainment genre by taking each of her three children individually to a show each year so that each would feel special not just from the Broadway experience but also from having her solely to ourselves. 

She was, though, slightly snobbish in her reviews. One year Bernie wanted to see Flower Drum Song. But as it contained a modified strip tease scene and Bernie was just 14, she nixed his choice and took him instead to West Side Story. 

In successive years when I was 11 and 12, she took me to Camelot starring Richard Burton, Julie Andrews and Robert Goulet, followed by Kean, a musical about the early 19th century Shakespearian actor Edmund Kean, played by one of her stage heroes, Alfred Drake. Kean garnered so-so reviews. It ran for just 92 performances. Camelot became a semi-classic, with 873 performances on Broadway before being made into a feature film. As we were leaving Kean Mom asked me which play I liked more. I replied Camelot. She did not mask her disappointment in what she considered my plebeian taste. 

Some shows commanded viewing by the whole family. After our parents saw Fiddler on the Roof with Zero Mostel, they bought tickets for Bernie, Lee and me and her older sister, Pola. During intermission between acts, Aunt Pola, who had been sitting in a different section, came by to ask how we were enjoying the show and to say she had laughed so hard during one scene she wet her panties (earthy language not being one of the restraints practiced by our mother and her three sisters). 

Before I was a teenager they took the three of us to see Milk and Honey about the early years of Israel, and Take Me Along with Jackie Gleason, Walter Pidgeon and Robert Morse, a musical adaptation of Eugene O’Neill’s Ah, Wilderness. 

Most every night, at 8, Mom would lie down on the living room couch to listen as WVNJ-AM aired a complete musical recording of a Broadway show. Often I would sit with her, enjoying and learning by heart the music and lyrics to scores of shows. Our stereo was stocked with dozens of original cast recordings of Broadway shows.

Those memories reflect one aspect of the vibrant mother I grew up and lived with until she was in her mid-50s and I left home for graduate school, work in Connecticut and marriage to Gilda. She was social and sociable, a gracious hostess and good cook, a theater-goer and poker player, a successful business- and clubwoman, an independent world traveler. About the only thing she could not master was driving a car. 

Much of that persona vanished in her last two decades. I won’t dwell on the reasons why or the effect on her husband, children and grandchildren. She passed away at 78 on February 16, 1996. She left a divided legacy, which is to say, she led a normal life, with ups and downs, triumphs and disappointments, passion—good and bad—toward her family. All in all, a life worth remembering.