Archive for the ‘OUR WORLD’ Category

FIRE AND FURY

Last Tuesday, the Washington Post reported that North Korea has miniaturized a nuclear device to fit on an intercontinental ballistic missile. President Trump responded publicly that further threats by North Korea would be met by “fire and fury like the world has never seen.” I turned on CNN. For several seconds, national security reporter Jim Sciutto’s face revealed a fear I’ve never seen displayed by another journalist.

Will North Korea launch a nuke towards Honolulu, Seattle, San Francisco or Los Angeles? Will Kim Jong-un send missiles to Guam? An attempted strike by North Korea would be met by a harsh American response leaving Kim dead or with no functioning nation to rule. Yet it would be foolish to say that Kim might not launch a suicidal attack if he saw a concrete threat to his regime. American foreign policy must weigh the odds of all possibilities and measure its words. The difference between slim and none can be deadly.

Sophisticated diplomacy can reduce—although not eliminate—the chance of a strike by North Korea. This involves firmly but calmly communicating America’s commitment to use all the power we can summon in response to such a strike. For entirely practical matters, that warning should be made in private.

Why not a public statement like that voiced by Trump? As military and law enforcement strategists know, cornering an enemy often makes him more dangerous. We receive continuing reports of police requiring more training to de-escalate difficult situations. A peaceful outcome isn’t always possible, but it’s more probable when criminals or the emotionally disturbed—or a Kim Jong-un—see a way out without losing face.

I’m reminded of a story I read decades ago about a high-school teacher in Chicago. He encountered a student confronting others with a gun. He made no threat. Rather, he calmly said, “Here, let me hold that for you.” The student yielded his weapon. The teacher averted potential carnage.

Nuclear proliferation, particularly involving countries engaged in hostile rhetoric, such as Iran, must be taken seriously. Still, the United States and its allies—those we have left—must recognize a reality not of our choosing and one we may be powerless to reverse. Today’s interconnected world makes the transfer of technology relatively simple and swift. Added to that, nations in Asia and the Middle East—as elsewhere—boast people who are as bright and inventive as us. Disturbed as we may be, regimes with whom we maintain profound disagreements probably will develop nuclear weapons.

I’m hardly the first person to suggest we adapt our foreign policy to recognizing proliferation’s sad inevitability. To prevent calamity, we must make clear that our commitments to friends remain firm, and that we maintain the option to use nuclear weapons in response to nuclear attacks or massive conventional aggression. We must also make clear that talking out our differences, even if we don’t reach resolution, makes far more sense. And we must do this within the framework of diplomacy.

Responding to threats, no matter how vile, with public counter-threats raises the global temperature and risks buttons being pushed in the heat of the moment. Dealing with this issue requires level-headedness and considerable discipline. Mr. Trump’s comment this morning that the U.S. is “locked and loaded” again evidences failure to display these qualities.

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DON AND VLAD AT THE G-20

While the mainstream media lacked access to the conversation between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin at the recent G-20 conference, sources of mine with digital flies on the wall produced a transcript of the first part of their private meeting. It’s kind of interesting.

Don: “So, Vlad, we finally meet face to face. My face, of course, being much more manly and handsome than yours. I mean, the tan. And the hair. But I envy you. You get to be in a room with Donald Trump and his lackey. Sorry, Rex. No one held a gun to your head. Anyway, Vlad, you have anything worthwhile to say while I make you look important?”

Vlad: “Mr. President…”

Don: “I’m glad you called me that, Vlad. Because I am president. And I’m making America great again. Wait. Since I’m President, America is great again. That’s what my other lackeys tell me. Sorry, Rex, but I’ve always had lackeys. They’re beautiful. Know why, Vlad? And you, too, Rex. Because I can say and do anything, and my lackeys go, ‘Fabulous, Mr. Trump. May I kiss your ass again? It’s been so long. Since yesterday.’ When you’re the billionaire President of America, you’re big. Huge.”

Vlad: “Mr. President…”

Don: “There you go again with that Mr. President thing. You respect me. You love me. Not in that way. Or maybe. But a guy with the three wives Donald Trump has had doesn’t swing the other way. Jesus, I’ve had women you can’t imagine. Remember my 2013 Miss Universe pageant in Moscow? Beautiful girls all over me. Know why? Because I’m big, Vlad. Spelled h-u-m-o-n-g-o-u-s. You? You like to ride stallions. Me? I am a stallion. Not that you’re ever going to ride me. Maybe you swing that way. Is that a Russian thing? I don’t know anything about Russia. Except maybe nukes. You have nukes. Big deal. The frickin’ French have nukes. I mean, a guy like Macron has his finger on the button. Or whatever they use. Incredible. He could run the Miss Universe pageant in frickin’ Paris and never get laid.”

Vlad: “Mr. President, that’s what I want to speak with you about. Several contestants at the 2013 Miss Universe pageant have had babies. They claim you are the father. We provided DNA tests, since we have, of course, your DNA. You may have some explaining to do.”

Don: “You think I don’t use protection? Or maybe I didn’t. Doesn’t matter. Donald Trump controls his baby making thing at will. So, don’t think you can make up some ridiculous story to get me to make you a big shot by inviting you to the White House. And don’t tell me you made me President. Although I hear Russians are as good with computers as 400-pound guys in Jersey. See, America loves me. Look at this hair. I won the electoral college in the biggest landslide ever. Plus, I won the popular vote by ten million. Don’t tell me you win by more, because you’re always the only real candidate. And don’t have a cow. I’ll pay back those loans I took out from you guys by the end of my first term. Maybe after two. Possibly three. Four even. Why not more? Like you. Unless, after Christmas, I bail.”

Now you know.

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MOSCOW, ANKARA AND WASHINGTON

A look at three of the world’s prominent capitals reveals something disturbing. Although Russia, Turkey and the United States represent three very different cultures, Moscow, Ankara and Washington increasingly have come to share much in common.

Russia, primarily but hardly solely an Orthodox Christian nation, long has evidenced a strong penchant for autocracy. Its leadership’s ideology has covered many different ideological approaches—monarchy, communism and now kleptocracy. It’s the last trait on which I focus. Under Vladimir Putin, Russia’s post-communist foray into free markets has produced sparse capitalism aside from sales of oil and gas, and plentiful oligarchy. Putin’s friends and associates enjoy government contracts, cozy relationships with banks and permission to corner markets. Political and journalistic opponents face prison or death in startling numbers.

Turkey, a member of NATO, evolved from the Ottoman Empire that waned in the nineteenth century as “the sick man of Europe” then following World War One suffered its death blow. Under Kemal Ataturk, a secular government arose. Military rule slowly morphed into democracy producing a vital economy and a major geopolitical role in the Middle East. But Recep Tayyip Erdogan, an Islamist, has steadily guided the rise of Muslim influence in Turkish life accompanied by an erosion of Turkish democracy. Last July, he cracked down on a coup and imprisoned large numbers of politicians, military officers, academics, artists and journalists. This past Sunday, his constitutional referendum narrowly won. It will abandon Turkey’s parliamentary system and make Erdogan president with broad powers while negating the legislature and courts.

How does Washington fit here? How does it not? Donald Trump’s daughter Ivanka and son-in-law Jared Kushner maintain offices in the White House, represent the nation in meetings with foreign government officials yet still run their businesses. They represent a real threat of cronyism as witnessed by Ivanka’s company being granted three copyrights by China on the same day she had dinner with her father and Chinese President Xi Jinping at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate.

Ivanka denied any violation of ethics. After all, she said, she didn’t apply for the patents. Her lawyers did. What could be more tone deaf? Of course, her lawyers filed the papers. Companies of almost any size hire in-house and/or outside legal counsel to perform both specialized and routine tasks. Now, Chinese businessmen—and government officials connected to them—will expect periodic favors from the White House in return for preferential treatment granted Ivanka. To deny that represents not naïveté but callous cynicism.

Can a true kleptocracy be far behind? Mr. Trump insists he will not release his tax returns since he’s being audited. Some time ago, however, the head of the IRS stated that release of his returns was fine. What then is the problem? Do Trump’s returns hide investments and/or loans from Russian companies and individuals close to the Kremlin? Would they reveal legal tax breaks Mr. Trump has taken and wishes to extend in tax-reform legislation? Does businessman Trump seek to use the presidency for financial gain? Is he okay with relatives and friends doing the same?

Three capitals. Three cultures. One dishearteningly similar approach to government of the leaders, by the leaders, for the leaders. Sadly, many of the Americans who will be hurt most are voters who giddily put Donald Trump in a position to screw them.

Check out the first two chapters of my new novel The Odd Plight of Adonis Licht on this website. I’ll host a celebration on Sunday, April 30, selling and autographing softcover books. Can’t attend? Contact me or go to Amazon for a copy in softcover or digital format.

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INDIA, PART TWO

Spend two weeks in India (thanks, Sandra Lipkowitz of We Make Travel Easy), and you can write a book. I provided an overview last week. This week, I’ll present four brief takeaways.

The Taj Mahal. We saw palaces, forts, temples, mosques and monuments. None is more famed than this monument completed in 1648 by Shah Jahan to memorialize his wife Mumtaz Mahal, who died in childbirth at 38 after bearing 14 children. We’ve all seen the Taj Mahal in photos or films. I found it beautiful but no more so than in pictures. Yet I experienced an undeniable thrill actually being there, walking around it and going inside. Being up close and personal drives home the reality that peoples far from America created remarkable civilizations and works attesting to them. Takeaway: Much that is great in the world doesn’t stop at America’s shorelines.

People moments. Foreign tourists came to all the sites we visited, but Indians predominated. After all, Americans flock to Times Square, Niagara Falls, Graceland, the Grand Canyon and the Golden Gate Bridge. Indian visitors were mid- to upper-middle class for the most part, often young. School groups and families abounded. What occupied their attention? Taking pictures with their smart phones—as we were doing. This produced my favorite moments. Just as we wanted to take photos with Indians, Indians often approached us. We felt like celebrities. Our brief encounters offered delightful opportunities to reach across cultures and even language barriers (although many Indians speak English) by admiring cute children and sharing information about our lives. Takeaway: People everywhere share much in common—and love to share with each other.

Jewish connection. Tens of thousands of Jews once lived in India. Almost all moved on to Israel. In Mumbai, we visited the Kehilla Eliyahoo (Congregation of Elijah) synagogue, a spiritual home of the Baghdadis—Iraqi Jews who came to India under British rule. We spent a few days in Cochin, a major Arabian Sea port in the southern state of Kerala. Cochin Jews consist of two groups. “Black” Jews claim descent from Jews fleeing the destruction of the Second Temple by Rome (66 CE) and even to the time of Solomon (10th Century BCE). They intermixed with local peoples. The Pardesi or “white Jews” trace their ancestry from 16th-century spice traders from Arabia and Europe. We visited Jew Town—not a pejorative; the Maharajah welcomed Jewish traders and gave them special privileges. We strolled the shops of Jew Town Road, visited old synagogues and met Cochin’s oldest Jew, 94-year-old Sarah Cohen. Takeaway: It’s wonderful to be part of a global people with relatives and history everywhere.

Little me. New Delhi is 7,681 miles from San Francisco. While India is one-third the size of the U.S.—still a very large country—it has four times our population with many religions, cultures and languages. Indian history dates back millennia before Plymouth Rock. This realization can blunt American hubris. Yes, our charitable donations and visits along with U.S. foreign policy can play a role in improving the lot of many Indians and building a greater India, already the world’s largest democracy. But India’s place in the world will be defined and determined only by Indians. Takeaway: Travel makes a big world smaller. Sometimes, India made me feel smaller, too.

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INDIA, PART ONE

Posted Dec 2 2016 by in OUR WORLD with 3 Comments

Two weeks in India at the end of October and beginning of November gave Carolyn and me a fascinating look at another part of the world. Even a brief trip to such a distant place can provide for many thousands of words of commentary, and Carolyn wrote notes at length. I just absorbed it all, but I’d like to share a few thoughts this week and next.

Above all, India is a land of contrasts. If you’ve seen movies or news reports, you know that the country boasts a small wealthy upper class and a growing middle class which, while falling short of ours, has lifted millions out of poverty. That leaves, of course, another billion-plus Indians to struggle with daily survival.

In northern cities and villages (Cochin in the southern state of Kerala was different), the “homeless” live on the edges of city streets since sidewalks are rare. The air is foul (Delhi recently had a major emergency.) Dense traffic whirls by. Motorized rickshaws and motorcycles weave in and out among cars, buses and trucks. Two lanes of road contain at least four lanes of traffic. Horns honk continuously as vehicles seek to pass.

Pedestrians—virtually all the women in the north wearing brightly colored saris—walk not only at the sides of roads but in them. The streets themselves are very long with few traffic lights or stop signs, so crossing requires both ingenuity and courage.

Bony cows wander the streets in considerable numbers. They feed on garbage strewn everywhere. As objects of Hindu veneration, they can’t be disturbed or mistreated. Traffic stops or works its way around them. I saw a cow sprawled next to the metal divider on a highway. We detoured. A moment later, a huge antelope-like creature ran across all four lanes just in front of our vehicle. Camel carts and water buffalo also share city streets and country roads.

You wouldn’t want to drive in India. Yet Indian drivers and pedestrians navigate the chaos with grace. Your heart stops now and then, but on you go. I didn’t see an accident—not that India doesn’t have plenty. Neither did I see drivers or pedestrians lose their tempers. I doubt that Americans would react with the same calm and forbearance.

Indians also are merchants of the first order. In cities and villages, stores line the streets, upscale shops alongside more modest establishments. Because summers are brutally hot, Indians generally let building exteriors degrade, whether commercial or residential. We often visited high-quality shops whose plain facades concealed striking interiors.

Our hotels—all five-star—presented the same contrasts. We’d drive along a street filled with traffic, garbage and the poor to come upon a wall and then a gate. Armed security men checked under our vehicle for explosives, eyeballed us non-threatening Westerners accompanied by a licensed Indian guide and driver, saluted and opened the gate to let us in. We’d discover expansive grounds hosting a palace—usually figuratively but sometimes literally as many maharajahs have gone into the hotel business. In India, the term “gated community” takes on a whole new meaning

I loved the trip (if not the time devoted to shopping). The conditions in which most Indians live didn’t depress me because I understood the situation beforehand. What key impressions did I take away? Next week, I’ll offer several.

If you enjoy these posts, suggest to family and friends that they check out davidperlstein.com. Post something on Facebook, too. And consider that the world is a lot smaller than we often think. And, as I’ll mention next week, a lot bigger.

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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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PARIS AND BEIRUT

Last Friday’s terror attacks in Paris continue to dominate the news. Not everyone thinks that’s good. Lebanese commentators ask why Paris eclipses ISIS suicide bombings that killed 41 in a southern suburb of Beirut. That was a horror. But there are understandable reasons why the West cries for Paris.

Yes, the City of Light represents the West. Beirut is Arab. But here’s what really impacts Western sensibilities: Following the barbarity of World War Two, Europe reinvented itself. The Middle East—allowing for colonial and post-colonial influence—did not. The region failed to address its underlying religious, tribal and political conflicts.

Take Lebanon’s civil war. From 1975 to 1990, multiple factions slaughtered each other and innocents. Christian, Muslim—Sunni and Shiite—and Palestinian militias went at it. Syrian, Iranian and Israeli forces—as well as a multinational force—entered the country. Deaths are estimated at 150,000.

Now look at failed Arab wars against Israel despite the United Nations partition of Palestine, the assassination of Egypt’s president and peacemaker Anwar Sadat, and the bloody aftermath of the Iranian revolution. Add in the Iran-Iraq war in which at least half-a-million troops perished. Consider the brutal dictatorships of Saddam Hussein (Iraq), Muammar Qaddafi (Libya) and Syria’s Hafez al Assad, who in 1982 repressed the Muslim Brotherhood by flattening the city of Hama and killing from 10,000 to 20,000 people.

Tragically, there was more: Taliban savagery in Afghanistan. Jihadi attacks in Pakistan and India. Al Qaeda and 9/11. Saddam’s sacking of Kuwait. Iran-backed Hezbollah taking over southern Lebanon. The Arab Spring that produced Arab Winter. Hamas’ attacks on Israel that brought great destruction to Gaza. Hezbollah’s attacks on Israel and resultant suffering in Lebanon. The death cult of ISIS perpetrating such cruelties as the slaughter and sexual enslavement of Yazidis. Then there’s the Syrian civil war and more than 250,000 deaths.

Beirut didn’t disappear from the headlines because the West devalues Muslim lives but because Islamists and so many Muslim leaders do. The West is far from perfect. Colonization was wrong. But that was yesterday. Much of the Middle East so dwells on the past that it can’t focus on the future. (Sidebar: Only twenty years after the Holocaust, Israel established diplomatic relations with West Germany.)

When bombs explode in Lebanon—or elsewhere in the Middle East—the West takes such violence in stride. Sadly, bloodshed will continue as the norm until the region re-imagines governance beyond religious tyrannies, military dictatorships, royal families and corrupt faux democracies.

And this: On Tuesday, Islamist suicide bombers killed 32 people in northeastern Nigeria. The online edition of the Daily Star, Lebanon’s English-language newspaper, provided no coverage on its home page. I had to click on World News then scroll. Way down. In fairness, today’s Daily Star home page reported deadly terrorist attacks in Bamako, Mali and in Baghdad. Ongoing coverage remains to be seen. Lebanon, like the West, has its own issues.

So let’s mourn the deaths in Beirut. Let’s also see Muslims worldwide stand up to the hatred in their midst—the only hope for permanent change. Some are doing so now. I salute them. As the 18th-century philosopher Edmund Burke wrote, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”

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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POLAR BEARS AND PATIENCE

Posted Oct 30 2015 by in OUR WORLD with 1 Comment

Canada’s Hudson Bay freezes in late November. Before then, polar bears gather near sub-Arctic Churchill, Manitoba—population 800. Carolyn and I flew there last week to hunt polar bears with binoculars and our iPhones. Wow!

Polar bears don’t hibernate during winter. Over four months they stuff themselves on seals, consuming most of their annual calories. On the ice, polar bears exhibit incredible patience. A bear may wait motionless for two days at a seal’s air hole. Rippling water or a seal’s scent alerts even a sleeping bear. Sharp claws reach down. Powerful shoulders yank the seal out of the ice.

In spring, the ice breaks up. Currents circle floes east and south. Bears swim to shore and embark on an extended land journey back to Churchill. In October and November, bear watchers like us also descend on the town. Literally. There are daily flights and an occasional train but no road in.

Our expedition took us onto the tundra—flat and rocky, a few low ridges, lichen and other minimal vegetation, sparse small trees, lakes and ponds, a dusting of fresh snow. Our guide drove an arctic crawler the size of a large motor home with huge tires featuring gigantic treads. (Carolyn got a brief turn.) The crawler offered a heating stove, bathroom, school bus-type seats and large windows.

Sunday morning we parked near the edge of the bay. Whitecaps flashed in the sun. We saw a Red Fox. It proved a good sign. Moments later, we spotted a bear half-a-mile away. (If a rock moves, it’s a bear.) It approached over an icy inlet and stopped within 50 feet of us. Two more—probably siblings—came by. The first bear scampered off. The siblings came up to our crawler and checked us out. Later, a fourth bear approached within several hundred yards but shambled on towards town.

On Monday we parked on the other side of the inlet. We waited quite a while until a bear appeared. It kept its distance. After lunch we spotted another pair of siblings. We drove around the inlet and found them. They settled down 50 yards off and napped, one sprawled on the other. It was twenty degrees. A stiff wind blew their coarse white fur. No one left the crawler. It wasn’t just the cold. Polar bears are predators.

Bears often come into town. Federal rangers armed with rifles and “bear bangers”—loud blanks—plus lethal rounds protect Churchill until 10 pm. Guests out and about after that are advised to take a taxi. Container traps baited with seal also wait. A trespassing bear triggers the closing of a door. Rangers tranquilize the bear, weigh and tag it. Then they put the bear into “jail”—a building with two-dozen “cells.” Bears get only water and ice. Human contact is withheld. A month later, a helicopter releases them 50 miles away. About 20,000 polar bears have passed through the jail since the 1980s.

It was a gift to see these beautiful creatures in their natural habitat. Will future generations enjoy that experience? Global warming is decreasing the area and duration of the ice. If we exhibit patience and skip a few short-term pleasures to invest in a healthier planet, the answer might be yes.

The blog will take off on November 6 and return on November 13.

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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ISLE OF TYRANTS

Posted Oct 2 2015 by in OUR WORLD with 2 Comments

Official photographs reveal picture-postcard images: blue skies, azure waters, white beaches, green hills dotted with expansive estates. A golf course, naturally. A red-tile-roofed village hugs the sea. Yachts bob in the harbor. A pristine airstrip barely intrudes. Not that residents ever leave. This is the Isle of Tyrants.

The island’s core residents live in enviable luxury. Every spacious villa includes a swimming pool, tennis court, putting green and indoor bowling alley along with leading-edge satellite TV. Security personnel discretely patrol manicured grounds. All are vetted by the Global Commission on Retired World Leaders (GCRWL). So are the cooks, maids, chauffeurs and other residence staff—as well as the townspeople who work in the gourmet supermarket, connoisseur wine store, Michelin-starred restaurant, health club and elegant shops. Residents shop a lot.

Vladimir Putin calls the Isle of Tyrants home. So does Bashar al-Assad. Their compatriots are former presidents, kings, rogue generals, drug lords and an ayatollah. Even a former caliph. Some live with family members. Others host thoroughly screened guests—young women of striking beauty and worldliness. A few young gentlemen as well. Nothing is too good for the island’s residents. They, after all, have been good to the world.

Of course, no one celebrates the crimes for which they are responsible—murder, kidnapping, torture and looting national treasuries among them. Rather, they are recognized for voluntarily exiting their countries. Putin speaks frankly. “Before the Isle of Tyrants, I could never consider leaving the Kremlin. I was virtually president of Russia for life… not by choice but by necessity.”

Each resident faced the same quandary. With so much blood on his hands and so much purloined wealth—the average portfolio reaches well into the billions—ordinary retirement seemed impossible. A tyrant’s leaving office and staying in his home country risked prosecution by the new government followed inevitably by life in a cell or, more likely, a gruesome death. Fleeing to someplace like Switzerland or Luxembourg posed the specter of a one-way journey to the International Criminal Court or a revenge-seeker’s bullet.

The world community developed a win-win solution. Tyrants could respond to a time-sensitive invitation and retire “standing up.” Requirements were relatively modest. Prospective residents would return fifty percent of their assets to their home nations and shelter the remainder until their deaths. In the unlikely event of murder, those assets would go to the GCRWL; no nation could profit from a capital crime. Residents then would pay a $100 million initiation fee (nonrefundable; villa included) and a $1 million monthly maintenance fee indexed to inflation. (The formula is complex.)

Residents may leave the island only in the unlikely event that the village’s state-of-the-art clinic and world-class visiting specialists cannot solve a medical problem. Yachts may sail anywhere within three miles of the island’s coastline. Armed vessels and aircraft escort them.

A number of tyrants have taken advantage of the island’s hospitality. In turn, war and terrorism have subsided measurably. At first the price for peace seems steep. Wealthy nations still underwrite shortfalls for expenses, including an anti-missile missile system, helicopter gunships and naval patrols above and below the sea. Yet net national-defense expenditures across the globe have decreased. The Isle of Tyrants appears to be the biggest bargain the world has ever known.

A second island is under construction.

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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EUROPE AND THE SLIPPERY SLOPE

American politics often seizes up atop the slippery slope. When common sense dictates compromise, Democrats and Republicans refuse to take a first small step. They reason that a tiny compromise will lead to larger compromises eroding their core principles. Europe, too, faces a slippery slope in regard to refugees fleeing the Middle East and South Asia.

We’re all familiar with rickety boats crossing—or sinking in—the Mediterranean. Refugees come ashore in Greece and Italy then go on. Hungary, a way station to prosperous Germany, closed its border. Croatia, another way station, will no longer offer refuge. Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic said of refugees, “They will get food, water and medical help, and then they can move on… We have hearts, but we also have heads.”

Many Europeans are welcoming. Others fear the slippery slope. Let some refugees in and the inflow will become uncontrollable. Resources will dwindle. Moreover, as more Muslims gain a foothold in “Christian” Europe the Continent as we know it will cease to be.

How do you look into a child’s eyes and tell a family to return to a land of violence? For now, Europe doesn’t want to do that although it lacks a coordinated refugee strategy. Germany announced plans to host 800,000 refugees over the next year. The flow increased. Germany raised its target to one million. Chancellor Angela Merkel acknowledges German wealth and organizational skills. She also recognizes the moral issue confronting Germany, which slaughtered six million Jews and millions of others.

So we can all feel good, right? I think not. I’d love to believe that generosity of spirit always leads to universal peace and love. I can’t. Europe has done a poor job of assimilating millions of Muslims already settled within its borders. The Germans hold their large population of Turks, many native-born, pretty much apart. In turn, Turkish Germans remain aloof. They welcome German jobs. They’re uncomfortable with liberal Western culture, including equal rights for women and people with a range of sexual orientations. Across Europe and in the U.K., Muslim communities often find themselves at odds with mainstream society because of differing religious and cultural norms.

Maybe I’m prejudiced—influenced by the plight of Europe’s Jews. Young friends in Sweden (see “Should Jews Leave Europe?”) believe they cannot bring up Jewish children in their homeland because of Muslim anti-Israel and anti-Semitic attitudes. Parisian Jews visited my synagogue this summer. They want to come to America because Jewish life in France is perilous. French Muslims make it so. Several years ago, a film producer in London told me that the Jewish community is terribly frightened of Muslim hostility and influence. Yet it’s difficult for these Jews—educated and successful—to get into the U.S.

If Europe were as capable as the United States in assimilating people from different cultures, I’d encourage it to take in large numbers of refugees. Europe is not, and I can’t. Of course, the decision is Europe’s. But even now, European nations are taking a closer look at the challenges they face.

Still, even if Europe eventually closes off immigration, it will have ingested a significant number of Muslims. The conundrum—and it’s particularly upsetting at this time of year—is whether Europe can digest them.

I wish all who observe a peaceful, healthy and happy New Year. May you be sealed in the Book of Life.

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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