UPSIDE DOWN PRIORITIES

UPSIDE DOWN PRIORITIES

One month and one week.

Two major news events. One major technological failure.

Russia invades Crimea and seems poised to take over the Ukraine

Malaysia Flight 370 disappears from the face of the earth.

We save our documents on our computers. The NSA can monitor our phones, e-mails, and every other electronic device we own. Yet, the aircraft industry has not put into service cockpit data in the “cloud” from all airplanes. Nor has it enabled the black box to be replaced by constant cockpit recordings between pilots and crew or hijackers and pilots and crew.

I have waited this past month to try and make sense of both the priority with which the media has covered these two stories, as well as to make sense of the reaction of the victims of both events. As for the stone-age mentality of the aircraft industry, that is possibly the most egregious fact that has come to our attention.

To begin…

It would be easy to compare Russia’s invasion of the Crimea and potentially the Ukraine with the Iraq invasion of Kuwait. It would be easy to say we, The United States, formed a coalition to liberate Kuwait because of oil, yet chose to issue silly sanctions on Russia that focus on prohibiting travel by high-ranking Russian officials to the United States. The reality is that there is an oil issue in the Crimea, not to mention a water route that is precious to a land-locked Russia.

Easy but not quite accurate.

Oil and waterways were not the reason. Our government decided to take the high road for some reason and not engage in a confrontation with our former arch-enemy. We played a quiet game of chicken, though for the moment there is no winner.

For days, weeks, and over a month now, the media has relentlessly covered every nuance and hypothesis of the missing plane. And, when there was nothing new to report (which was the case most of the time) we were treated to images of grief-stricken relatives crying about the “souls” aboard that Malaysian aircraft, or accusing the Malaysian government of lying and withholding information.

Russia’s daring military incursions were given short shrift in the media. If one really believed in conspiracy theories, one could imagine that Mr. Putin hijacked that Malaysian aircraft so the world would focus on the biggest aviation mystery since Amelia Ehrhart vanished in flight.

But here’s the thing that I have been wrestling with since day one of the disappearance of that aircraft.  After several days when no one except some rag tag Chinese so-called terror group (undoubtedly incapable of blowing up a balloon)  took credit for hijacking or blowing up the plane, there were no announcements from veritable terror groups and no demands for ransom. Which gets me to that elusive emotion called hope fueled by the duplicitous Malaysian government and I might add the Chinese government who refused to give hard facts to the families of the victims.

Hope is what we heard from the more articulate family members of the victims. Closure (a word I deplore as there is no such thing as “closure”) was being denied the families. They needed to see parts of the plane. They wanted to hear the transcript from the plane to the control tower. They insisted that the Malaysian government stop issuing false statements only to amend them later.

In my opinion, hope died on day two, or three or five after the plane disappeared. There had to be something or someone who clearly dealt with the families to relieve them of the belief that their loved ones were possibly alive.

Had the Malaysian government released the transcript, shared information with other countries who volunteered in the search for the plane and black boxes, and stated facts that were proven as they happened , hope would not have been an emotion that tortured the families even more than they were already suffering. Though I detest the word “closure,” a more acceptable definition might be the acceptance of loss without the need for visual proof of wrecked machines or lifeless bodies.

And, lastly, there are two issues that bother me to the point where boarding a plane gives me pause.

One is the question of technology that would make it possible regardless of time to know where a plane went down and what transpired in the cockpit. We have the technical knowledge. Obviously, it is a question of money. After all, how much is a life worth to say, Malaysian Airlines? Is it only the $5,000 per victim they offered the families?

The other issue is lithium.

We are forbidden to bring liquids, knives, guns, cream, razors, lighters, matches and a slew of other objects on board a plane. We are allowed, however, to bring our laptops which of course have lithium batteries. No one ever told us lithium was a potential risk. And yet, apparently it is if a plane carries mega kilos of lithium as cargo without being properly packaged.

In other words, what is the point of security checks, shoe removal, X-Ray machines, profiling and every other supposed caution that is mandatory for human beings who board a plane if those who load cargo do not make certain that it is properly packaged so as not to endanger the plane?

It seems to me that we live in a world that is filled with upside down priorities. Increasingly, borders are ignored, human rights are dismissed, those leaders and professionals we depend on for our very lives are more concerned with the bottom line and we, the people, have simply become lazy or apathetic in demanding change and definitive reaction when atrocities occur far from our shores or at the bottom of an ocean.

THE CONFLICT – REDUX

THE CONFLICT – REDUX

Tom Friedman’s editorial in today’s New York Times has abundant errors.

It seems to be a piece more about Secretary of State John Kerry’s so-called original last-ditch effort to cement an Israeli/Palestinian peace agreement. Kerry’s effort is far from original. There hasn’t been an American government official—be it an ambassador, president, vice-president, secretary of state or any other political pundit or elected official who has not, at one time or another, proposed similar solutions. Freidman claims that “Kerry is daring to test a question that everyone has wanted to avoid…” In Friedman’s words, “Is it five minutes to midnight or five minutes after midnight or even 1AM” which signifies beyond diplomacy?

Everyone involved in trying to come to a mutual conclusion to the conflict has always dealt with the same dilemma when listing concessions from either side. And, those concessions have always focused, among other points, on the continued constructions of Israeli settlements, several Intifadas where both sides have suffered inhumane losses, or simply a division in political thinking in the Knesset (hawks versus doves) or a fight to the death between El Fatah and Hamas who has successfully taken over Gaza. Frankly, any effort to effect any kind of conciliation between the Palestinians and Israelis has always been a last ditch effort that has always ended in failure.

With all due respect to Secretary Kerry and his courage to once again define the terms that could possibly begin negotiations, he has not come up with anything particularly innovative. And, with all due respect to Tom Friedman, he is correct in writing that at this point, given Israel’s military power and the Palestinian’s fragmented leadership, he fears that it could be way past 1AM.

When Israeli Prime Minister Yitzak Rabin was alive and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat was alive, they actually shook hands, albeit reluctantly, supposedly coming to an agreement to agree, and that pre-agreement went south in the time it took for Hamas to rear its ugly head and belittle the El Fatah “collaborators,” for even “settling” for anything less than wiping Israel off the map, as quickly as it took Prime Minister Netanyahu, then a right-wing candidate before Rabin was assassinated, to have his minions hold up placards of Rabin in a Nazi uniform.

Mr. Friedman writes about “core concessions” that would be the basis for any agreement—Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank based on the 1967 lines before the Six Day War, making East Jerusalem the capital of a Palestinian State, and of course forcing the Palestinians to recognize Israel as the “nation state of the Jewish people.” Kerry’s plan even reiterates what has been proposed countless times before, that any agreement would not include the “right of return” for Palestinian refugees to return to their homes which have either been razed or are now inhabited by Israeli families.

When I began to cover the Middle East back in the 1980s, I remember the keys. So many Palestinians that I interviewed or simply befriended and talked to presented the keys to their former homes as proof that they had once lived on a certain street within the 1967 borders or throughout the West Bank. It was a touching but pathetically useless gesture to ignore all the changes that occurred throughout the world and all the violence that took place in the region and that was ultimately exported to Europe. The only tangible surviving proof of ownership were those keys and the locks had long been changed.

There is no doubt that Prime Minister Netanyahu realizes intellectually how crucial it is to have a two-state solution but pragmatically and emotionally, I believe he also realizes that it is impossible for Israel to trust that withdrawing from certain strategic depths by relinquishing land will result in suicide bombings and other terrorist attacks instigated perhaps not by El Fatah but certainly by the more radical Hamas. And, while it is probably correct that the Palestinians can no longer launch a successful Intifada, those uprisings are history and were only one form of rebellion the Palestinians launched against Israel. There were many more that took different forms and that were as bloody and in the end, unsuccessful.

There is also no doubt that Mahmoud Abbas also recognizes intellectually that a two-state solution is economically and emotionally best for his people. Unfortunately, he inherited a job formerly held by Yasser Arafat who never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity. And, while Arafat was desperately trying to satisfy the sane and the insane within his people, the insane Hamas gained enormous power and support from other rogue Arab nations.

It was a losing battle for both sides of the conflict and that has not changed.

This entire conflict is not a question of negotiation or finding the perfect formula or even an imperfect formula to satisfy each side of the Green Line. This is a question of fear and anger on one side and hatred and resentment on the other. And, the tragedy is that that fear, anger, hatred, and resentment is in the DNA of a majority of Palestinians and Israelis both, handed down as a result of nurture as well as nature in equal amounts from generation to generation.

I commend Secretary Kerry for trying to leave the beleaguered President Obama with a positive legacy.

I commend Tom Friedman for watching the clock.

The problem is that the gilded coach has been a pumpkin for far too long, and Cinderella has resumed her housekeeping chores. Any other ending is pure fantasy which is why Cinderella is called a fairy tale.

The tragedy is that there will never be a civilized peace accord between the Israelis and Palestinians, which gets back to the thinking of their late leader, Mr. Arafat. He was successful in one way. He instilled in his people to live by his philosophy to never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity. As for the Israelis, trust has become a four letter word.

IN THE WRONG COMPANY — ALL ABOUT HUMAN RIGHTS

IN THE WRONG COMPANY
ALL ABOUT HUMAN RIGHTS

On 2 August 1990, Iraqi troops crossed the border into Kuwait. The Iraqi leader, Saddam Hussein, claimed that his military presence in Kuwait was not an offensive nor was it an invasion. According to Saddam, history made the incursion justified since back in the days when Iraq was part of the Babylonian Empire, Kuwait or at least the territory designated as the modern-day country of Kuwait was part of Babylonia and therefore, part of Iraq.

Like looters during natural disasters or riots, the Iraqi military and civilians looted, robbed, destroyed, plundered and pillaged stores, residences and political buildings with a vengeance that only the deprived could muster.

The world was shocked or at least distressed enough to form a coalition that ultimately, on 24 February 1991 until 28 February of the same year, rolled into Kuwait, drove out the Iraqis, and liberated Kuwait.

Back then, I remember thinking how odd that the world cheered as if the great democracy of Kuwait was freed from the tyrant, Saddam Hussein—that great democracy where women were not allowed to drive. That is not to say that polite people have the right to simply waltz into a neighboring country and claim it as their own. But that’s another story.

Unfortunately, that kind of oppression is still going on in Saudi Arabia. Women are still not allowed to drive, even though there is nothing in the Koran nor in any Islamic law that prohibits women from getting behind the wheel. Yes, yes, I know, when the Koran was written there were no cars. Women, however, were permitted to ride on donkeys or camels. But again, that’s another story.

The irony here is that there are many other laws in Saudi Arabia that call for the beheading of women for promiscuity and adultery, while beatings and stonings are common for women who, in the eyes of clerics, have disobeyed their husbands, brothers or fathers.

Recently, Saudi women have taken to the roads again and risked punishment which, if the movement hadn’t gone viral, would probably have been subjected to some form of brutality for their rebellion.

Actually this latest act of rebellion was not the first time women dared to drive cars in Saudi Arabia. It happened in 1990 and in 1991, coincidentally at the same time that Kuwait had been invaded and subsequently liberated. Those Saudi women who started the driving revolution were arrested, fired from their jobs, and attacked by name by clerics during their weekly sermons. Today, the consequences are less dire with fines of $80 issued to those women who dare to accelerate through Riyad and other Saudi cities. In fact, the law is so ludicrous that the reasons given for this ban on women behind the wheel sound absurd even to the more moderate Saudi citizens.

Religious extremists claim that women who drive risk becoming sterile or risk being abducted. Frankly, if these extremists were really honest, they would admit that giving a woman a modicum of freedom where she can get around town on her own wheels is a threat to the sexual segregation that is the foundation of Saudi society.

But let’s forget the driving question for the moment. Let’s see who are the twenty-nine countries with whom we are in bad company beginning with the death penalty:
Afghanistan, Bahamas, Belarus, Botswana, China, Cuba, Egypt, Guatamala, India, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Japan, North Korea, South Korea, Lebanon, Malaysia, Pakistan, Russia, Somalia, Suraname, Syria, Taiwan, Tajikistan, Tonga, United Arab Emirates, United States, Vietnam, and Yemen.

To be accurate, the Bahamas, Cuba, South Korea, Russia, Suraname, Tajiskistan, and Tongo have not used the death penalty in the last ten years or have issued a moratorium on its use.

And let’s see which countries who either hang, shoot, decapitate, stone, gas, electrocute, or use lethal injection can be considered our fuzzy friends. Guatamala, of course, where so many Americans take holiday, India, another holiday spot, Japan, our trading partner, Taiwan, a benign friend, and the United Arab Emirates with whom it behooves us to be nice.

There are other issues as well, beginning with abortion and women’s rights and perhaps including Sarah Palin’s latest rant about Christmas, but let’s just stop here and consider the following.

For the next category, it would be more simple to state which countries allow gay marriage: Beginning with the United States, only seventeen states recognize same-sex unions, as well as Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Denmark, France, Iceland, Mexico, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, the United Kingdom, Uruguay, and most recently the American State of Hawaii.
Of all the countries that perform gay marriage and all the countries that still use the death penalty, guess what? The United States (only seventeen of the states actually) are listed in both categories.

The one positive aspect when it comes to America is that more states are allowing gay marriage while less states are implementing the death penalty.

Recently, the media, however, has publicized the ridiculous law in Saudi Arabia about prohibiting women from driving.

My initial reaction was that soon Saudi women will be allowed to drive and will even be issued licenses while at the same time, women will be decapitated for what the government deems as disobedience, sexual transgressions and humiliating their male relatives.

As well, in the United States and throughout certain parts of the world, same-sex marriage will be denied to those men and women whose love does not conform with Sarah Palin’s idea about Christmas—to wit, the godless should stop worshipping pine trees and cute little decorations including make-shift mangers and get down to the real meaning of Christmas and the birth of Christ.

And speaking of Christ, the godless who oppose the death penalty are in the minority right here in the United States, as well as in the minority when it comes to allowing a woman’s right to choose.

The media, however, has chosen to publicize the ridiculous law in Saudi Arabia about prohibiting women from driving. My initial reaction was that soon Saudi women will be allowed to drive and will even be issued licenses while at the same time, women will be decapitated for what the government deems as disobedience, sexual transgressions and humiliating their male relatives.

The bottom line of this BLOG is that our global priorities are somewhat out of order and we, according to our politicians, the greatest democracy in the world, have somehow gone amuck when it comes to international human rights.

As for the media, of which I was once a working member, reporters should focus on those issues which are either life or death or impede basic human rights instead of issues of simple transportation, which should probably be put several notches down on the list of our priorities.

DAMAGED BEAUTY: OUR WORLD TODAY

DAMAGED BEAUTY: OUR WORLD TODAY

When I decided to redesign my website, the images and thoughts I had of the beauty of our world back when evoked nostalgia though mingled with a bit of sadness.

Back then, politically, socially, and culturally, strides were made that gave us hope that those issues we treasured and fought for would continue to improve. Politically, we believed our voices were heard when it came to equal rights, gay rights, abortion, protesting a war, enabling education for all regardless of their socio-economic status, as well as following the example of  many other nations that provide health care for their citizens. We even believed and expected that those we elected would evolve with the times.

We hoped. We believed. And, somehow we were fooled.

Several decades ago, we were secure in the knowledge that we were a two-party political system where social issues were not held hostage for political gain, and economic debate was based on knowledge rather than intransigent ideology. Our enemies were countries rather than random groups which professed a garden variety of lunatic agendas. Yet, even those countries that polarized our world eventually understood that they could not survive if their economic programs continued to starve their people both intellectually and socially.

As time passed and given what I had witnessed as a journalist throughout Europe and the Middle East, my perspective about the future grew increasingly pessimistic. My new website design and accompanying title were already completed when some of the most heinous and gratuitous  violence took place throughout the world—when our values seemed to disintegrate and what had been gained was suddenly on the verge of being lost.

DAMAGED BEAUTY: OUR WORLD TODAY turned out to be what I feared—a world knocked senseless by violence, hypocrisy, stupidity, and disappointment.

Without going into detail about the latest terror attacks, shootings at schools, shopping malls, movie theatres, or the abductions of innocent children and young women at the hands of certifiable psychopaths, the shutting down of our government was the most egregious example of our decline.

Tragically, we, the people, are responsible for electing politicians who care less for the most vulnerable among us and more about winning their respective districts. And, oh have the districts been redefined. Gerrymandering would be the word, or manipulating and changing state, city and county boundaries to favor one particular party or class.

Since the election of George W. Bush, the Republican party has been hijacked by a group of sanctimonious right-wing, hypocritical ultra-religious leaders, hell bent on blocking gay marriage, outlawing abortion, sabotaging gun control as well as even opposing background checks to buy firearms, resisting efforts to provide health care for all Americans, regardless of their economic status, and ultimately transforming the Republican Party into a group of politicians who, given who they have become,  will never see the inside of the White House except as visitors.

To focus on their hypocrisy—these are the politicians who believe government should stay out of our lives and yet, block laws for legal abortion and dictate how consenting adults should conduct their private lives. These are the same people who espouse patriotism and yet, have destroyed the two-party system. These are the Tea Party members who are isolationists at the same time as they encourage our incursions into distant countries under the guise of promoting democracy. And, yes, these are the people who aim to cut the budget so that returning wounded soldiers do not get proper care or for that matter, proper protective equipment to fight those senseless wars.

Recently our government was shut down for two weeks, resulting in the  elderly, indigent, children, as well as our wounded veterans, their families, and the families of those who lost their lives in Afghanistan and Iraq being at risk to lose their benefits—and all because a minority of those extreme right-wing Republicans decided to ignore our democratic system in an effort to obliterate Obamacare. Never mind that the bill for Obamacare, proposed by our President, was passed in the Senate and in Congress and validated by the Supreme Court, as is the procedure in our democracy.

Fortunately, there are still many sane and thoughtful Republicans.

Unfortunately, those Republicans who are sane were and continue to be terrified to stand up to the lunatic fringe of their party which has made our democracy a joke to the rest of the world, not to mention instilling fear in our allies and trade partners that the United States of America will eventually default on her debts.

The events of the past several weeks send a frightening message to the oppressed, while our enemies rejoice in our failure.

There is a bit of good news.

Senator John McCain is now perceived as a rational example of what a Republican once was and should be again. His flirtation with the mentally challenged Sarah Palin has faded into the past, while Palin is still fodder for satire and late-night comedians.

The other bit of good news is that Senator Ted Cruz was born in Calgary, Alberta in Canada, making him ineligible to be President of the United States.

And, lastly, the Obamacare debate has now focused on a faulty website rather than on the philosophical, emotional, and political viability of the health care plan itself.

Damaged Beauty: Our World Today.  To quote Winston Churchill when Lady Astor admonished him for being drunk. “Madame,” Churchill replied, “tomorrow I will be sober while you will still be ugly.”

We’ve come a long way since then.

Damaged beauty can be repaired.

Inner beauty takes far more time and effort.

And therein, lies our challenge.

THE PRETEND REVOCATION OF EXECUTIVE ORDER 10450

To begin with, why did President Obama accept the resignation of General David Petraeus?

Pressure? Morality? Fear of political reprisal? Or, does the President really believe what President Eisenhower, J. Edgar Hoover, and President Lyndon Johnson feared back in the 1950s and 1960s before Executive Order 10450 was revoked — precisely on June 4, 1974?

Forget the reasons behind the headlines about Petraeus and Broadwell. Just focus on the headlines themselves for the moment.

General David Petraeus had an affair with his biographer, Paula Broadwell. It started sometime in the Spring of 2012 — not the affair, but the FBI’s monitoring of the General’s e-mail. Apparently several FBI workers suspected that an intimate exchange between Broadwell and Petraeus made reference to corruption. As it turned out, the messages were merely sexual in content and did not compromise the General’s political or military knowledge or position as Director of the CIA.

According to the media, the relationship between Petraeus and Broadwell began in 2010 and continued through 2011 when the General was commanding troops in Afghanistan. When asked why they were monitoring the General’s e-mail, one source in the FBI claimed that the Agency feared that Broadwell had access to Petraeus’ personal e-mail which, among other messages, contained classified information. Obviously, Petraeus’ position as CIA director gave him top security clearance and because he was married, according to that same source in the FBI, it was reason enough to monitor the exchanges between the General and Broadwell.

Which gets us back to Executive Order 10450.

During the Eisenhower administration, when McCarthy and other crazies saw communists behind every tree, forbidden sexual encounters were somehow connected to treason, though we all know forbidden sexual encounters go back to before the Roman Empire, when there were no “official” communists lurking to overthrow Caesar. Nonetheless President Eisenhower signed Order 10450, which prohibited the hiring of federal employees, cabinet members, political advisors who were either homosexual, communists, drug users, or were known to have other sexual perversions. The reason given was that those with the “wrong kind” of sexual preference, left-leaning liberals who perhaps leaned a bit too left, and drug users (not clearly specified as the number of prescription drugs back then were far few than there are today) were potentially vulnerable to blackmail by Soviet intelligence and other foreign enemy agencies.

For many, namely the someone who was in the front line of those crazies and who terrified every American president during his reign, J. Edgar Hoover, applauded the Order and made no secret about how necessary it was given what happened during the Johnson administration.

In 1964, Walter Jenkins, a close advisor to President Johnson was dismissed for his homosexuality. Allegedly caught in a men’s room at a YMCA with a grown man — read that again — a grown-up, consenting adult — Hoover spearheaded the investigation of Jenkins and back then, basically ruined his life.

Never mind that during that time fighting men and women were dying in Vietnam in a war that was “protecting” Asia, from the spread of Chinese communism, which to me, was as immoral — losing those precious lives — as fighting a war that murdered abortion doctors, bombed their clinics, beat gays to death, or penalized people for taking anti-depressants.

Shamefully, it wasn’t until 4 June 1974 that Executive Order 10450 was revoked.

Or was it?

Officially it was.

But the world has changed and now a married man (or woman for that matter) holding a high level top security position is forced to resign because he or she has an extra-marital affair. And our men and women are still dying in Iraq and Afghanistan, gay marriage is still illegal in the majority of states, our economy is unhealthy, people (American) people are starving and homeless, candidates (remember Romney) are still against abortion, rape is God’s will if the victim gets pregnant, etc., etc., etc.

In essence, though Order 10450 is officially revoked, the mind set of that filthy law is still embedded in the hearts and minds of all those who voted for a candidate (Romney) and his cohorts who have expanded that list of potentially dangerous transgressions originally found in 10450.

Should we all assume that added to that archaic order is that anyone in a sensitive government position should be “allowed” to resign (we’ve come a long way) and not just be excoriated and fired for infidelity to a spouse?

When General Petraeus’ privacy was compromised by the FBI and he was “caught,” he wrote a letter to his CIA colleagues (part of which was his letter of resignation) stating, “After being married for over 37 years, I showed extremely poor judgment by engaging in an extramarital affair… Such behavior is unacceptable, both as a husband and as the leader of an organization such as ours. This afternoon, the president graciously accepted my resignation.”

What was so “gracious” about Obama accepting Petraeus’s resignation, a man whose military and strategic brilliance is a fact? Reason enough because he had an affair? What does Obama have to gain in his second term by pandering to those who are still locked into the 1950s and the moral agenda of someone like J. Edgar Hoover? Why didn’t President Obama simply say that the General’s professional talents and abilities override his sexual desires, which, by the way, are none of our business.

After all, this was not a case of sexual harassment, rape, pedophilia, wanton sexual exploits a la Dominique Strauss Kahn that involved prostitution rings, orgies, and violence against women or using government money to finance the affair.

Here’s something else to think about.

This particular transgression for which General Petraeus resigned could actually mean that the former director of the CIA could face a court martial.

It boggles the mind to know that the crimes that could bring on a court martial include a consensual affair, preceded by investigations of those involved, perhaps even going back years to learn if the perpetrators had engaged in extra-marital sex before.

And here’s something else to ponder.

Men and women in the military can be court martialed for the following reasons: drug related charges, crimes of forgery, perjury, maiming, murder, and, this is the best, the rape of a woman other than the soldier’s wife. In other words, raping your wife in the military is still OK.

The CIA and the Department of Defense should spend more time monitoring suspected terrorists, taking more seriously the fact that Iran is close to delivering a nuclear weapon, uncovering enemy cells throughout the country, finding alternatives to keeping suspected terrorists in abhorrent conditions at Guantanamo, bringing to justice those Wall Street titans whose banks were bailed out by the government but who refuse to circulate that money to improve the economy, ridding the streets of the homeless, and helping those who are victims of natural disasters.

But no.

Instead, they are spending time and money on monitoring the e-mail of a much-decorated general who has proven himself time and again to be a loyal, brilliant, and caring commander of young men and women fighting senseless wars in Afghanistan and Iraq as well as being credited for developing the “surge” that contained the insurgents in Iraq after the fall of Saddam Hussein.

There are so many scandals that seem to fall under the radar of media scrutiny, scandals that profoundly affect the lives of our troops fighting overseas or Americans living here who are left to fend for themselves after hurricanes or other natural disasters.  Scandals overseas such as below-standard military equipment, or post-injury facilities to treat and rehabilitate our returning soldiers, or disaster agencies and insurance companies that can’t seem to get it together to help people in a time of dire need.

Do we really care that one of the e-mails the FBI found made reference to Petraeus and Broadwell having had “sex under a desk”?

And finally, how much time did the press spend trying to dig up the most unflattering photograph of Mrs. Petraeus and juxtaposing it next to the most appealing picture of Ms. Broadwell?

My hope is that during this last term of President Obama, one of the issues that is raised is to define morality or immorality as it pertains to the challenges we face in the 21st century.

THERES A SUCKER BORN EVERY MINUTE

“THERES A SUCKER BORN EVERY MINUTE”

P.T. Barnum

Several years ago when I was in Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza researching my book on women suicide bombers, ARMY OF ROSES, as well as filming a documentary on the same subject, the following question kept coming up.

“Are you for or against suicide bombings?”

On the surface it would have seemed to be a ridiculous question assuming, that is, that the question held no concealed agenda. After all, how could anyone be “for” suicide bombings that killed not only Israeli civilians but Palestinian youth as well?

As it turned out, the question was not so simple.

When a Palestinian asked the question, if one replied in favor of suicide bombings, it meant that the person was automatically in favor of a Palestinian State. To be “against” suicide bombings meant that the person asked was in favor of continued Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza.

It was a black and white question that demanded a black and white response. There was no gray area. Qualifying a negative response (to be against suicide bombings) by adding that while one was against either the suicide of Palestinian youth or the murder of Israeli civilians was not part of the equation. Nor was expressing the belief that killing under any circumstance is not acceptable even though one might believe that Israeli settlements should not be built on disputed Palestinian land, or that radical Palestinian military and political groups must recognize the State of Israel before there can be any comprehensive peace.

Any secondary condition or opinion that wavered from that black and white question was simply not relevant.

In the past few years since my book was published on women suicide bombers and the documentary was aired, suicide bombings have abated, at least in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza. Yet, the black and white aspect of that loaded question has morphed into another form.

Mitt Romney’s recent trip to Israel is a perfect example of that black and white mentality when it comes to people pleasing and taking sides in this long and painful Mid-East conflict.

Mitt met with high rollers on the Israeli right, as well as with an American Las Vegas magnate and, without equivocation or expressing certain pivotal conditions, stated on all sound bites and televised interviews that he was absolutely 100% for the State of Israel without any mention of some kind of conciliation that the Palestinian entity could and should survive. Not a word about the need for a two-state solution; not a word about ceasing to inflict Israeli settlements in the West Bank and Gaza; not a mention of any historical rights of the Palestinian people; not a nod or a visit to the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah.

Zip. Zero. Nothing.

It has been said now after the fact that Mitt was only there to raise money for his campaign against President Obama. While that is clearly true, even more to the point, Mitt went to Israel to show his support for a country that is a pivotal part of any American Presidential election. Israel is the catalyst that, at the end of the day, either helps to put a candidate in the Oval Office, or exiles the loser to face defeat and debt.

It is not by accident that I am not differentiating between right-wing or left-wing Israeli administrations, or Palestinian administrations that either recognize Israel or state that they want the “Zionist Entity” wiped off the map, or between Republican or Democratic candidates who sniff the climate and pontificate based on if the wind is blowing toward Mecca or the Wailing Wall.

With the exception of Jimmy Carter who caused more chaos in Iran during his brief administration and who unfortunately goes down in history as the organizer of the handshake between Menachem Begin and Anwar Sadat—that ended in one dead President, and one disgraced Prime Minister—that brought an Israel/Egyptian peace, no candidate for President of the United States has ever moved into the White House under a pro-Palestinian banner. And that includes all the 20th and 21st century presidents who might have disliked Jews and Israeli policies but knew that not supporting the security of the State of Israel, or even hinting at the possibility that the Palestinians should not continue to live under occupation, were two guaranteed losing popular propositions.

Even President Obama has been clever enough not to bring up the issue of an Israeli/Palestinian peace accord. And, for that matter, perhaps he is even near genius to stay away from the Syrian bloodbath or in what was so optimistically referred to as “Arab Spring” that ended with our “close friend,” Hosni Mubarak, having been tried, convicted, and sentenced to death, or Moammar Ghadaffi, a new friend, being dragged through the streets and ultimately shot to death by a group of thugs on international television.

I know, I know, everyone in the world, at least everyone who is sane wants peace and democracy. Face it, we’ve come a long way but somehow never progressed from those old Westerns where the good guys wore white hats and the bad guys wore black hats. Nor have we been adverse to putting a white hat on a bad guy who saw the light and found God, or putting a black hat on a former good guy who somehow irked his people and ended up on the losing side of an uprising.

We just go with the flow and men like Mitt Romney continue to fool us suckers into believing they are for peace. What guys like Mitt don’t tell us is that  peace without compromise is an unattainable black or white issue. But then again, in the Arab world, peace with compromise also ends in a dead-end process, albeit with a few “open” doors. Tricky, isn’t it?

I, for one, would like all American candidates and/or politicians to look us in the eye and explain that keeping the pre-requisite scales as they are and the crucial issues in place in order to win elections means we can cozy up to the oil-rich nations, notwithstanding savage behavior and an absence of human rights, defend Israel while still harboring deep religion-based anti-Semitism, form alliances with “good” Arabs against “bad” Arabs as long as we keep our friend, Israel, out of the fray, fight wars in faraway places instead of focusing on feeding, educating, clothing, and housing that good old 90% in the U.S.A.

If candidates and/or politicians are willing to step up and be honest, I would imagine that they would also pay homage to P.T. Barnum and finish every press conference or speech with his famous words, “There’s a sucker born every minute.”

REMEMBERING DMITRI NABOKOV

On 23 February 2012 in Montreux Switzerland, Dmitri Nabokov, son of the author, Vladimir Nabokov, died.

Dmitri’s death touched many throughout the world for a variety of different reasons. For some, he was the last link to his father as he was the guardian of Vladimir Nabokov’s literary works and memory. For others, he was a great friend whose zest for life and penchant for courting danger were contagious. Whether he climbed the Swiss Alps, pushing himself and some of us to the limits of our strength, or raced Ferraris and Vipers, scaring us to death when he drove at race-car speeds around the hair-pin curves in the Alps on the way to dinner, or simply entertained us with his model trains and helicopters, Dmitri was an original. There was no one like him.

For me, his death marked the end of a fifty year friendship that had its ups and downs, ins and outs, and that began in 1962 when I was a sixteen year old student at a boarding school in Montreux, Switzerland. It was there, spending Christmas at the Montreux Palace Hotel, that I met Dmitri who had come to visit his parents for the winter holidays. Through Paul Rossier, then director of the hotel, Dmitri was able to take a look at my passport to find out my name, age, and where I came from. When my school friend and I were having tea in the Rose Bar, Dmitri wandered in and struck up a conversation. “How’s the weather in New York?” he said to which I replied, “I wouldn’t know since I’m in boarding school in Montreux.”

That was the beginning of our relationship that had many incarnations throughout the world for half a century.

After graduation, when I entered the University of Lausanne, I traveled with Dmitri periodically to Milan where he studied voice with Professor Luigi Toffalo. By then I was eighteen and in total awe of the opera singers who studied and performed with Dmitri, potential stars such as Luciano Pavarotti, Franco Corelli, Fernando Corena, Nicolai Ghiaurov, and many others. After I returned to New York, Dmitri was there when I married and had my daughter, when I divorced and remarried, there with my parents when we celebrated birthdays, anniversaries, and finally I was there when a series of tragedies occurred.

When his adored father died, Dmitri was not only bereft and lost but took on the full responsibility of his mother. Worried about her health, Dmitri asked me to come to Montreux, and for reassurance asked that my father, a cardiologist, come as well to examine his mother. We came and stayed for several weeks. While Vera Nabokov was in mourning, she was physically in good shape. As for Dmitri, not only was he prepared to change his life and routine to be near his mother, but he was worried about how to go about managing his father’s legacy. The concern showed on his face. He had lost a certain spark in his eye and his usual ready smile. Slowly, he adjusted to the job and began to organize his time so he could be near his mother to comfort and work with her.

A year later, the unthinkable happened.

In 1978, I was at the International Monetary Fund annual meeting in Washington when a nurse at the emergency room at the CHUV—Centre Hospitalier Universitaire—in Lausanne called my hotel. She asked if she could put Dmitri on the phone. His voice was faint but his words were clear. “I’m dying, Boobsie,” he said, “please come but don’t tell Mother.”

There was no decision to make, except to get to New York, pack a bag and take my daughter with me to Lausanne. He had crashed his Ferrari while on the way to the dentist from Montreux to Lausanne. Whether it was a spontaneous explosion or sabotage, we never found out but Dmitri had suffered third-degree burns over 40% of his body, and a broken neck. When I got the call, he was hanging between life and death. Before I left for Switzerland, I called Vera Nabokov and with feigned innocence, asked to speak to Dmitri. Her response told me she had no idea the extent of his injuries. “He’s not here,” she said. “He suffered a minor traffic accident.”

Within days, she learned the truth. Both she and I could only see Dmitri through a glass partition where he was swathed in bandages in the burn unit. Miraculously, he survived and was eventually moved to a rehabilitation center where he stayed for more than six months. Again, I traveled to see him with my daughter and saw that while he had survived, his blue eyes were dull and lifeless, but still had his usual and unbelievable will to fully recover. There was no doubt that he understood quite well that his road to recovery would be long and arduous.  After he was released, he came to New York and stayed with me for several weeks. When he was in New York, he saw some of his closest friends, Brett Schlesinger, Sandy Levine, and others who were so instrumental in providing laughter, evoking memories from their time in the United States Army together, and making him aware that so many people loved him and needed him.

Time passed and with it other sad and happy events in both our lives. Dmitri was writing, translating his father’s works, taking care of his father’s literary estate, working with Nikki Smith and Peter Skolnik, his agent and lawyer, to reissue so many of Nabokov’s books. Eventually, he bought an apartment in West Palm Beach and divided his time between there and Montreux. By then, I had moved to Paris but Dmitri and I were in close touch and through him, I met and became good friends with his cousin, Ivan Nabokov, an esteemed editor in Paris, and his wonderful wife, Claude. Ivan and Dmitri had shared a childhood together, been roommates at Harvard, and shared a lifetime of family memories and history.

The good times began to unravel when, in 1991, Vera Nabokov was in the last stages of Parkinson’s. Dmitri called me from Palm Beach and asked that I go to Montreux, assuring me he would meet me there as soon as he could get a flight. I arrived that evening from Paris. Dmitri arrived the following day. Madame Laundy, Vera Nabokov’s “dame de compagnie,” was with her at the hospital. That evening she called and said, “Madame Nabokov has gone like a candle flickering in the breeze.” When we arrived at the hospital, I understood why Dmitri was unable to go through the usual bureaucratic exercises. It was simply too much for him. He asked me to identify his mother’s body. He also asked me to remove the gold wedding band from her finger. Ironically, the Morgue was under construction. Following the nurse to the basement of the clinic, I watched as she opened one door after another, containing various and unknown people who were waiting for relatives to claim them, until she found the room where Vera Nabokov was resting in peace. Doing the necessary to satisfy the Swiss rules of death, I removed her wedding ring and gave it to Dmitri.

As per Dmitri’s wishes, we dressed her in a light blue dress that matched her eyes, and said our good-byes before she was removed to the crematorium. Nikki Smith was there for Mrs. Nabokov’s cremation, as were several other close friends including all the wonderful women who had cared for her during her illness, and who had cared for Dmitri as well. To say it was difficult for Dmitri was an understatement. His only close relatives were Ivan and Claude Nabokov. His closest literary colleagues remained Bryan Boyd, Vladimir Nabokov’s biographer, Steve Parker, Nikki Smith, Peter Skolnik, and Stacy Schiff, Vera Nabokov’s biographer, as well as several of his father’s foreign publishers. The friendships Dmitri had made in Palm Beach, the few friends he had in Switzerland and those who had been around since he was in his twenties remained loyal and attentive. The women who had cared for his parents were still with Dmitri and now, along with several collaborators such as Tatiana and Tony Epicoco were extraordinary in keeping up with all the office work concerning the Nabokov literary empire. The organization and support, however, did nothing to avoid more tragedy. 

In the early 2000s, Dmitri became seriously ill. The doctors were baffled. There was no one diagnosis that could explain why he had slipped into a coma. As expected, I came to Montreux, as did Ivan and Claude Nabokov, and Brett Schlesinger, and all of us, including his devoted staff, believed that this was the end. But once again, the boy cheated death and came out of the coma, recovered as fully as possible considering he had been suffering from diabetes and polyneuropathy for years.

Life went on.

There is no doubt that I have left out some who were also decent, honest and loyal to Dmitri during his life and whom he considered to be close friends and colleagues. But while his virtues were many, his one flaw cost him disappointment and often money.

Other than Dmitri’s accomplishments as translator, opera singer, and race car driver, he was charming, caring, sympathetic, funny, brilliant, and so very naïve. It is this last trait that made those of us who knew him, understood him and adored him, fearful that he often succumbed to the charms of the charlatans of this world.

The ultimate illness that cost Dmitri his life was double pneumonia. His organs were failing, though his heart was incredibly strong. He was on massive doses of antibiotics, had feedings tubes, fluids, a bit of morphine, and a tube down his throat to clear his airway clogged from the ravages of the double pneumonia. He rallied once and Tatiana and Tony were elated that he could go home. Alas, it was not meant to be. On the day he was to be discharged from the hospital, his fever spiked and he relapsed. He slumbered, unable to speak, eat, and barely respond to the words of his doctors, nurses, and caregivers. Tatiana and I were in touch almost every day by phone. At one point, she told me that she had put the receiver to Dmitri’s ear and Ivan Nabokov spoke to him in Russian, addressing him by the childhood name his closest family called him. When Tatiana told me that, I asked if she could put the receiver to his ear for me. “This is Boobsie,” I said, evoking the name he always called me, “and Brett and Sandy and I want you to fight this thing. We love you.” There was never a response because the tube made it impossible for him to speak and the organ failure affected his awareness of time, place, and person.  Within days, however, my sadness, however, almost became overshadowed with outrage.

Within days of the end, I became aware of a woman named Lila Azan Zanganeh who had apparently written a book about Vladimir Nabokov in which she invented imaginary conversations with the late author.  While the book took literary license, readers understood that she could never have known Vladimir Nabokov given that he had died in 1977 before Azan Zanganeh was even born. People understood the conversations were invented by the author.

Without mentioning others who were equally outraged and shocked, I was told about an article in the Guardian newspaper written by Azan Zanganeh shortly after Dmitri’s death that was filled with self-serving false statements obviously intended to put her career before the death of someone she claimed was a friend.

Azan Zanganeh had met Dmitri several times before she began the book on his father and while writing the book, she visited him in Montreux, according to his staff, twice during the year. More to the point, she managed to insinuate herself into his entourage until, as she wrote in the Guardian, “he began to trust me and I him…” Perhaps…

As was so typical of Dmitri who had always been sensitive to pretty young women, at one point, he asked her if she would take on the job of “gouvernante” of his household, or chief housekeeper who directed the maids, cooks, and other domestic workers. Curiously, in the Guardian article Azan Zanganeh wrote after Dmitri’s death, she mentions this and claims she “politely refused” his job offer. For a writer to be offered a job as a chief housekeeper must have been vexing to say the least…

According to Dmitri’s staff, while he was in hospital, she called and was clearly “hysterical,” asking that they put the phone to his ear and screaming into the phone, “I love you, Dmitri. Don’t die etc…” In fact, at one point, one of Dmitri’s closest collaborators had to take the phone away from Dmitri’s ear and politely tell Azan Zanganeh that she was disturbing what they wanted to be complete “tranquility” as he slowly departed. That in itself is not venal. As one of Dmitri’s colleagues said, some people handle “death without dignity.” What is unconscionable is that in the Guardian article, the opening line is the claim by Azan Zanganeh that she “spoke to Dmitri fifty five minutes before he died on 23 February 2012.”

The truth is that the tube that cleared the airway made it impossible for Dmitri to speak to anyone, or even understand what was said to him, or even breathe unless it was cleared every thirty minutes. Only once, did he say “oui” or “yes” when asked a question by his doctors, a response that gave everyone hope that perhaps, just maybe, there was sufficient brain activity to resume treatment.

In the Guardian article, Azan Zanganeh further positions herself as the expert on Dmitri’s illness and his death, as well as claiming to have had a relationship with him that was intimate, and intense. Even more egregious and an affront to Dmitri’s memory is that she writes about his relationship with his parents as though she was there, knew them,  and was not only privy to but became Dmitri’s confidant concerning his feelings toward his mother and father.

Bryan Boyd’s biography of Vladimir Nabokov, a scholarly effort that took years and relied on Vladimir’s words is the ultimate reference to the late author. Stacy Schiff’s biography of Vera Nabokov where she spent hours talking to Dmitri, friends, relatives, and even me while we were in Montreux, is legitimate and factual. Neither book is even vaguely comparable to Azan Zanganeh’s effort to promote herself and her potential work on Dmitri before he was even cremated.  

It is not only dishonest but distasteful for Azan Zanganeh to appoint herself the expert on Dmitri, especially in the last stage of his life.

For those who cared for him, worked closely with him, collaborated with him, loved him, and knew him for decades, it is an affront to Dmitri’s memory to have this girl invent scenarios, circumstances, and conversations, as well as attribute feelings to Dmitri by exaggerating her importance in his life. And, because he is no longer to defend himself, challenge her, or deny her words, her actions are vaguely immoral.

Dmitri is gone. For those of us who knew him, it is a monumental loss, unimaginable that he is no longer with us. For others who only knew of him, it is a loss as well of a man who kept the greatness of his father’s works alive for the world to enjoy.

CRIME AND PUNISHMENT

Without getting into a polemic about who owns what and who was there first, the latest news flash out of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s office in Jerusalem that made it to the front page of the New York Times is simply shocking.

Netanyahu and his cabinet decided to withhold $100 million from the Palestinian Authority as a punishment for the Palestinians having gone before the United Nations in a quest for statehood. Further, the withholding of these funds which were taxes and custom payments due the Palestinians, was also a punishment because of secret meetings between the Palestinian Authority and the extremist group, Hamas. For weeks while the money was withheld, salaries of Palestinians throughout the West Bank and Gaza went unpaid. Children went hungry and men and women worked expecting to get paid and instead were told there was no money to pay them. How does that help to win hearts and minds?

This latest move by the Israeli government was shocking for several reasons. First of all, where is the understanding and sympathy for the Palestinians who did nothing different than the Israelis did decades ago when they went before the United Nations to claim a State for the Jewish people? And, where is the humanity within Israel, especially for a country and a people who understand suffering better than most, to create such hardship?

Israel claims it wants nothing more than peace and safety for their people. The Palestinians claim they want to live in peace on their own land. Both continue to use terror in all its forms to achieve their presumed goals. And, apparently when terror is not used and Palestinians take their cause to the United Nations, they are still punished with a more sophisticated form of violence.

For years, the reason that peace between Israel and the Palestinians has failed is complicated. Simply put, Israel refused to cede land and liberty because Palestinians were committing terrorist attacks and targeting Israeli civilians. When the attacks were aimed at Israeli settlements in what is considered occupied land, the result was mixed emotions—sympathy for the victims and sympathy for the attackers.

Some of us were outraged that Israel persisted in building settlements on disputed land when a moratorium on new Israeli outposts, villages or cities was an intricate part of any peace plan. When Palestinian attacks happened inside Israel—in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem or any other Jewish city, the hearts and minds of most people went with the innocent victims.

That is not to say that land is not the fundamental issue to any peace accord. It is and will continue to be until the Palestinians accept the existence of the State of Israel, which means at worst, that the Jewish State retreat to the 1967 borders. Unfortunately, there are zealots on both sides. There are the Israeli leaders who continue in arrogance to build settlements. And, while the Palestinian Authority has recognized Israel’s right to exist, their partners, Hamas and other extreme groups, have refused. For years the joke around Israel was that Palestinian extremists want peace alright, a piece of Tel Aviv, Haifa, Jerusalem and every other centimeter of Israeli land. Retreat to the 1967 borders in not an option for extremists on both sides.

Perhaps the time has come to redefine terror.

Terror is used to shock, intimidate, harm, and terrorize one’s enemy.

The most common form of terror is violence—as in suicide bombs, attacks on schools, murdering sleeping parents and children, targeted killings, Katushya rockets aimed across borders into Israeli cities, hijackings, to list a few.

If people wonder why terrorists attacked a pizzeria in Jerusalem, or Saudi terrorists crashed planes into the World Trade Center, the answer is always, “because they could.”  While terrorists do have a wish list of targets, it is mostly a matter of opportunity and more than often, the killers have to settle for second or third choices.

More subtle terror tactics are the weapons of the privileged. Financial terror, which the Israelis can and do use is because, once again, “they can.”

While it is true that Israelis do not strap on bombs and wander into a group of Palestinian civilians and detonate those bombs, it is also true that Palestinians use the only method of terrorism available to them. Strikes don’t mean anything. Refusing to work only means that there are hundreds of other Palestinians who are just waiting to take on any job available. There are no unions or organized labor forces. As for protests, they are a luxury in that part of the world and, as we have seen countless times, are met with bullets and tear gas.

To be perfectly clear, this is not an apology for blowing up innocent civilians. Rather, this is a warning that starving an entire population is as effective a terror tool as violence. Depriving people of food, shelter, medical care, and warmth is as violent a punishment as death—a slower and more angry death perhaps but still a death of hope, pride, and belief in the future.

What happened to a mutual understanding of wanting a homeland?

What happened to a mutual understanding of taking that quest to the United Nations?

What happened to memory?

More dangerous is what happens when both sides—Israeli and Palestinian—exert punishments that exceed the magnitude of the crime?

ARAB SPRING OR ARAB WINTER?

While I am writing this, in the background is President Obama addressing the United Nations. For some, this is an historic day—21 September 2011. For others, it is more of the same, a different form of warfare that will lead to yet another kind of warfare and on and on…

The history of conflict in the Middle East between Israel and the Arab nations has gone through many different stages.

In the beginning, shortly after the Second World War, when the United Nations meant something both politically and influentially, the organization voted to create the Jewish State.  When the Palestinians were offered their own legal entity within the West Bank and Gaza, Yasser Arafat—the man who never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity—refused.  The reason would remain etched in stone for the duration of time—all of the land or nothing and they (the Palestinians) would fight to the death to reclaim what they claimed was theirs, which was not only the West Bank and Gaza but also the newly-created State of Israel.

During that time, Jordan was the occupying force in the West Bank and Egypt controlled Gaza. All the Arab nations applauded the Palestinians. Yasser Arafat became a hero and a symbol of the Palestinian struggle and the Arabs vowed to support the plucky Palestinians until Israel was obliterated from the map. Digging in their heels, Jordan and Egypt did nothing to improve the living conditions of the Palestinian people who languished in abysmal conditions in refugee camps. Egypt did not allow them to cross over from Gaza into Egypt to work. Jordan, whose population consisted mainly of Palestinians, did nothing as well to help them build an infrastructure which would have included schools, hospitals, or agricultural knowledge. Instead, the Arab world did exactly what they should have done to exemplify the tragedy of the displaced Palestinians. They ignored their plight. Jordan was fearful that the Palestinian majority would overthrow the concocted Hashemite Kingdom and Egypt was flexing its muscles as the leader of the Arab world.

Two of the many wars, uprisings, targeted killings, terrorist attacks, and skirmishes that followed changed the map of the Middle East and left us where we are today—with the American President addressing the United Nations on the subject of Palestine.

The first war happened in the 1950s.

In the early 1950s, Egypt violated the terms of the Egyptian-Israeli armistice agreement and blocked Israeli ships from passing through the Suez Canal, a major international waterway. It also began to block traffic through the Straits of Tiran, a narrow passage of water linking the Israeli port of Eilat to the Red Sea. This action effectively cut off the port of Eilat—Israel’s only outlet to the Red Sea and Indian Ocean. Closure of the Suez Canal and the Tiran Straits damaged Israel’s trade with Asia. Foreign ships carrying goods bound for Israel and Israeli ships carrying goods bound for the Far East were forced to take a long and costly circuitous route to the Atlantic and Israel’s Mediterranean ports.

At the same time, Palestinian Arab fedayeen (militants, based in Egypt, Jordan, and Syria) launched attacks on Israeli civilian centers and military outposts. A now-familiar pattern began—attacks by Arab fedayeen and retaliation by Israeli troops.

In July 1956, Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser nationalized the Suez Canal which not only affected Israeli trade, but also British and French oil interests and commerce with the West. For the first time in history, France, the United Kingdom and Israel had a common interest—to liberate the Suez Canal to achieve free passage through international waters. Israel had an additional agenda—to end terrorist attacks on their civilians within the borders of Israel.

On 29 October 1956, Israel began an assault on Egyptian military positions which ended by the Israeli capture of the Gaza Strip and the Sinai Peninsula.

The second war was in 1967, fought in six days in June, from the 5th until the 10th.  After a long period of tension between Israel, Egypt, Jordan and Syria, Israel launched several surprise air strikes against its neighbors. The end was decisive when Israel took control of the Gaza Strip and the Sinai Peninsula from Egypt, the West Bank and East Jerusalem from Jordan and the Golan Heights from Syria. The rest is recent history.

To capsulize, the Palestinians remained in the refugee camps—this time under Israeli control—in abysmal conditions. The Arab world used the Palestinians as a glaring example of Israeli brutality. Peace conferences were organized both for public consumption and behind the scenes negotiations. On 26 March 1979, the one and only peace accord was actually signed under the auspices of the United States and President Jimmy Carter. President Anwar Sadat, the President of Egypt and Menachem Begin, the Prime Minister of Israel, shook hands and signed an agreement to end their decades-long state of war. Two years later, on 6 October 1981, Anwar Sadat was assassinated by a group of Fundamentalist army officers. The rest is even more recent history.

More peace conferences, uprisings, Palestinian targeted killings, Israeli incursions, tanks versus stones, suicide bombers killing themselves and Israeli civilians, poverty, hopelessness, and intractable Palestinian leaders who aligned themselves with radical Islamic groups against arrogant Israeli leaders who kept on building new settlements on disputed land.

Spring 2011 arrived with all the beauty of buds, flowers, birds, sunshine, and bloodshed. The Arab world finally realized that they had been governed by despots and dictators who had billions in oil dollars, lived in sumptuous luxury, while the people suffered starvation, unemployment, and an absence of human rights. The list is long.

The Arabic Rebellions of the Arab Revolutions actually but unofficially began on 18 December 2010 in Tunisia. By Spring 2011, it had spread to Egypt, and then to Libya where a civil uprising resulted in the fall of the Ghadaffi regime. Civil uprisings occurred also in Bahrain, Syria, and Yemen, while there were major protests in Algeria, Iraq, Jordan, Morocco and Oman. Minor protests broke out in Kuwait, Lebanon, Mauritania, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Western Sahara. Israelis and Palestinians were not exempt. In May 2011, there were increased clashes between Palestinians and Israelis at Israeli borders, clearly inspired by the so-called Arab Spring revolts. The major slogan of the demonstrations was Ash-sha’b yrid isqat an-nizam or “the people want to bring down the regime.”

Perhaps the most interesting and telling reaction to the rebellion was that brute force was not the only method used to quell the protests. The ruling regimes used internet censorship to stymie the use of social media by the protestors as to where to gather for marches, protests, and demonstrations, and where and when to close businesses and strike.

The world was ecstatic. Democracy was finally taking hold in those Arab countries where people had been subjugated for hundreds of years. Those who understood the improbability of democracy in those regions where there had never been equality or the freedom to vote knew that the only cohesive structure in place was the Mosque. It would only be a question of time before the Muslim Brotherhood and other radical political factions such as Hamas or the Islamic Jihad would come to power and lead the people into another kind of subjugation. Those same people also understood that countries under the control of extreme Islamic groups would join together to wage war against Israel.

Perhaps the world had forgotten that in the charter of Al-Fatah, Yasser Arafat’s political party, was the call for the total destruction of Israel. Perhaps the world has also forgotten that right now within the Palestinian entity on the West Bank and Gaza there are two governments. Roni Shaked, one of the pre-eminent experts on Palestinian affairs who writes for Yediot, a major Israeli newspaper, calls the two states Fatahland led by Mahmoud Abbas or Abu Mazin (his nom de guerre) and Hamastan led by Ismail Haniyeh. While Abu Mazin is received in Europe and the United States because of his lip service agreement to peace with Israel, Ismail Haniyeh has refused to take out the edict in the Hamas charter which calls for the total destruction of Israel.

Abu Mazin has the worst job in the world. He is restrained by Hamas to come forward and actually sign an accord, assuming that he understands economically and socially it would be the best course for the Palestinian people. So, once again, the Palestinians never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.

Someone within Al Fatah had the brilliant idea of going to the Security Council at the United Nations and asking the Council to vote on granting Palestine permanent status as a member nation as well as making Palestine a State. It was clearly a short-cut approach after decades of attempting to negotiate a viable peace between Israelis and Palestinians, and a short-cut that would provide nothing except an official recognition of a state that had no cohesive government, borders, or willingness to live peacefully with Israel. This act motivated and foolishly inspired by Arab Spring (read Arab Winter) was a direct challenge to the American President who had the power to veto the motion. And herein was the dilemma.

If President Obama did not veto the motion, he would lose the right-wing Christian vote and support of the Jewish American population. If he did not veto the motion, he would once again be accused of being an Arab, or a Muslim, or of being sympathetic to a group of people who somehow were in the same camp as those who took down the World Trade Center.

Barak Obama has the second worst job in the world after Abu Mazin.

During his speech in front of the United Nations this morning, President Obama explained in a most measured and eloquent manner the facts of life. It is up to the Palestinians to unite and enter into peace negotiations with Israel. The United States would be willing to broker any peace accord along with those European countries who were also interested in securing restraint throughout the Middle East. But the United States would not endorse a short-cut measure that had not yet addressed the critical issues concerning borders, a recognition of Israel, and a better life for the Palestinians.

Unfortunately, there will be fallout from Obama’s decision and most probably within two days or so, the Palestinian delegation will take this vote before the General Assembly. Win or lose during that round, there are, however, far more serious problems.

War in the Middle East is inevitable. When the rest of those Arab nations eventually fall to those who are or who will rebel against the despots and dictators, the radical Islamic groups will take power. Democracy is a far-off dream that can never happen as we, in America, know it. Ultimately, when there is no more Mubarak or Ghadaffi to blame for the economic woes of those Arab countries, Israel will be the target. This time around the options are plenty—biological warfare, cyber warfare, more terrorism, suicide bombings, and yes, even the export of terror to our shores. This is a zero sum game.

Once, several years ago when I was traveling throughout the West Bank and Gaza filming a documentary entitled Army of Roses about the first six women suicide bombers, I was asked the following question many times by many Palestinians.

“Are you for or against suicide bombings?”

I understood the implication.

If I was against suicide bombings, I was pro-Israeli occupation.

If I was for suicide bombings, I was pro-Palestinian statehood.

In defense of Barak Obama, he is in the same bind. The fact that he vetoed this fast track to Palestinian statehood does not mean he is against the creation of a Palestinian State. At the same time, I would hope that just because he has a cordial television moment with Benjamin Netanyahu does not mean that he is in favor of continuing to build Jewish settlements on disputed land.

There should be no trick questions. There should be no hidden agendas. And, most of all, the world should understand that Arab Spring is really Arab Winter. There are no winners. There are only losers. If someone does not force face to face negotiations with results, Arabs and Israelis will be slipping on the icy slopes of repression or oblivion instead of basking in the sunshine of freedom.

JOURNALISM 101

As a former working journalist and now a writer of fiction and non-fiction, I felt the time was right to give all of you listeners out there the lowdown on how the media functions.

Courses in journalism obviously focus on the facts, teach how to construct the opening paragraph which is to list the object of the report along with some tag lines that rope the reader in so that he or she will continue reading until the next paragraph, hoping to get more facts that were only alluded to or written to titillate in the opening salvo. Fair enough.

Armed with a degree and the starry-eyed objective of becoming a household name who is fortunate enough to be in the right place at the right time, there is always that remote possibility of winning a prize for reporting on something either better than anyone else or that no one else knew in time to scoop your own piece. Of course, the Hollywood of journalists is the television reporter who gets to tell a story backed by internecine uprisings, hostage situations, or just plain old natural disasters. The ultimate television journalist is no longer the “anchor” but rather the Anderson Cooper who is everywhere all the time there is something spectacular happening.

Take this latest disaster in the making and by the way, in the making for the last several days when Hurricane Irene hit the Bahamas and began her way up the East Coast of the United States, battering a bunch of southern states. Even FEMA got into the act with dire warnings and predictions all, in my opinion, because they and mostly everyone else screwed up Katrina to the point of shame and disgrace. But here’s what you did not know. One of the most crucial courses in Journalism 101 is the grave expression. It is done like this: a slight shake of the head, slightly narrowed eyes, furrowed brows, and an imperceptible quake in the voice. The teleprompter reads something like this, as in the case of poor old battered-herself, disappointing Irene. “She is barreling along the East Coast and will hit at 10 AM, predicted to be a 4, with massive damage and high winds in excess of 120 miles an hour, and rain of up to 20 to 24 inches. Wow!

We left our city apartment (coincidentally only one block from Zone A in New York City, to speed up to the country to secure our outdoor furniture—glass included—and make sure that our house was buckled up against poor old Irene. In constant touch with friends in the city, and fielding calls from friends in Paris, France, we arrived at our country house to find glorious sunshine, muggy weather, and nary a slight breeze. That was yesterday.  We dragged glass tables and furniture and surveyed huge trees to see, based on the calculations of the meteorologists and other weather pundits, of the direction of the wind, if there was the risk of those trees crashing into our house or barn. Hard to tell. The word on the screen and in the papers was that this was one time when the wind was coming from all directions to form some kind of a deadly funnel that would destroy everything in its path – north, south, east, west.

My husband who is from the South and has lived through many hurricanes back in the 60s and 70s when hurricanes were serious business (you know, before Al Qaeda and Khadaffi and Saddam, and massacres at high schools) instructed me to buy flash lights, candles, double D batteries, and, get this, cans of  Dinty Moore stew. No problem up until I read the Dinty Moore part on his list. As an aside, let me just say that in 1985, he showed up at my apartment in New York City during the last “monster hurricane” with rope, a miner’s cap with a light, water, flash lights and every other bit of hurricane paraphernalia he could find to “save” me. I was amused to say the least and he was incensed that I did not take the warnings seriously. Anyway, this time around, I put on my former journalist’s serious face and trudged out to the market to buy everything on the list, including a new product that Dinty Moore offered which was dumplings and chicken which, by the way, I wouldn’t feed to my dogs let alone my husband.

We are armed to the hilt, so to speak, sitting here in the country, with an array of crystal candle sticks on our counter in the kitchen, flashlights poised on every table in every room—and this is a very big house—gallons of water, along with a generator in case power goes out and we have to preserve our food in the refrigerator.  So far, there are a few drops of rain but frankly this is several hours after the deluge was meant to hit.

Call me cynical but I never believed that poor old Irene would really wreak havoc in New York City—Long Island, the Jersey Shore, parts of Brooklyn and other spots near the water, OK—but not in the actual city of New York.

Nothing is black or white so let’s give some credit to those disaster pundits and meteorologists and even some of those students of Journalism 101’s method of communicating the end of the world. But it got me thinking about what I have always sort of known all along. The attention span of the viewer or listener is probably not much longer than the shelf life of a banana. Back in my day, there were real stories to report—wars, uprisings, massacres, terror attacks, sabotage etc. There were and are also far too many human tragedies that turn the stomach and rob us of faith that all mankind and womankind has some glimmer of humanity. Based on this latest reporting of Irene, however, I am convinced of the following truths in some of the most current news stories.

  1. Saddam Hussein was pulled out of that hole, relieved of his lice, and shipped off to Monte Carlo where he is a croupier in a casino. The revolution in Iraq would have happened anyway given the many religious factions and certainly aided and abetted by American interference.
  2. Moammar Khadaffi mailed in his retirement letter weeks ago and is in Tuscany with his wives and children. Riots there are based on anger that the world forgave him for Lockerbee.
  3. Dinty Moore stew is passed off as Boeuf Bourgogne in some of the best French restaurants in New York City.
  4. Dominique Strauss Kahn is divorcing Anne Sinclair and marrying Diallo (his alleged victim), a plan that was hatched by the Socialist party in France months ago to show that they are not at all racist against their former Francophone population. The plan was also hatched to show how the United States is a “rush to judgment” country that tries to bend over backwards to treat people of color decently given our history of segregation and slavery.
  5. Contrary to public opinion, Anderson Cooper’s family’s wealth comes from the manufacturing of flashlights, bottled water, and double D batteries.

No doubt I am taking a risk writing this. Perhaps I shouldn’t tempt fate. Don’t think it hasn’t occurred to me that when my husband and I return from dinner this evening at a lovely restaurant bordering the upper Hudson River, Irene may just have flexed her muscles and made sure every huge tree on our property has crashed into our house. But I stop myself. After all, I am not one of those people who apologizes to house guests if the weather is bad. Not my fault! Blame those disaster pundits and meteorologists.