Thursday, January 28, 2016

Analysis (with updates): Tensions with ISIS will rise after Obama comment

It is Thursday, January 28, 2016.  A comment by President Obama today made me think that tensions with ISIS will rise dramatically over the next few weeks.  If I'm right, much of our foreign policy that we perceive as spontaneous and "real," is not. 

There is hard proof (at least as hard as we're likely to get) that American wars are sometimes staged and manipulated (such as revelations by Pulitzer prize winner Dexter Filkins*).   A close reading of the news can see into things too.

The media reports today that President Obama is about to become more aggressive towards ISIS and is ready to accept more civilian casualties.  He's always been willing to accept civilian casualties, of course, killing hundreds with the recent bomber strikes in Syria and Iraq and untold thousands more with drone strikes throughout his two terms, so this announcement about accepting more civilian deaths is not informational- it appears to have a more sinister purpose.  I speculate that this purpose is to inflame the populations surrounding ISIS troops, who will hear the President say that America knows it is bombing women and children and has decided it's ok.  In this way the President's comment helps ensure that Syrians, Iraqis and Afghans will hate America sufficiently (if they don't already) to sustain a war.  

Many Americans will hear the news of Obama's comment and wonder if increasing civilian deaths is a good idea.  How will Obama handle the doubting Americans?  He will probably use a time-honored vicious circle:  The announcement that the U.S. will accept more civilian deaths means that aggressive behavior and attacks from ISIS will increase, so that any American voices objecting to ramped up harm against civilians will be drowned out by cries for revenge.  

In a matter of days virtually no Americans will remember Obama's comment about civilian casualties, though its fallout will be extensive.

If my analysis is correct, it indicates that we are not so much living in a time of war as acting out a scripted program.   History will remember us as the Sleeping Americans who didn't care about the difference between reality and a reality show.

Update, 2/2/16: U.N. mediated "peace talks" with Syria and the warring factions have begun, a further sign of impending violence.  After enough years of Middle-East "peace talks" that end in renewed conflict,  it does often seem that the covert purpose of  "peace talks" is to drive the combatants to fight  by announcing unacceptable proposals, with the added virtue that the world thinks the parties tried to find peace.

Update, 2/3/16: The U.N. Syria talks did end in violence (Assad's attack to regain Aleppo).  The talks were suspended until February 11.  The resumption of the talks at that time will probably herald a new round of tension and conflict.

Update, 2/5/16: As predicted above, and as expected by our handlers, everyone has forgotten Obama's statement  a week ago that he would accept more civilian deaths from U.S. attacks on ISIS.  To prove this forgetfulness, ask a few acquaintances today about the comment- odds are they will know nothing of it.  Meanwhile you can bet that tens of thousands if not millions of civilians in the Middle-East are well aware of the comment, and are thinking of it today after Russian jets, in support of Assad's move on Aleppo, reportedly killed 21 civilians- adding to a combined total, with Saudi Arabia, of thousands of civilians killed in recent actions.  The media audience in the Middle-East sees attacks from Russia, Saudi Arabia and Turkey as coming from a U.S. led coalition, though Americans are trained by their media to see no such coalition, just a conglomeration of ISIS enemies who don't get along with each other.  The Syrian people will make no distinctions today about which coalition member does the bombing: it will be the American led coalition, acting under Obama's acceptance of civilian deaths.  Meanwhile, an estimated 40,000-70,000 refugees from Aleppo (projected to reach 300,000 if fighting continues) are headed for the Turkish border, where the mood is not generous.  

Update, 2/7/16,  L.A. Times, Pg. 5 ("Syria, Iran warn Saudi Arabia on troops," reports:  

"On Thursday, Riyadh announced that it would consider sending ground troops [to Syria] to assist a U.S.-led coalition fighting the Islamic State militant group, a suggestion welcomed by the Obama administration."  

The article details the sharp escalation in the conflict that introduction of Saudi ground troops would entail, and shows how the region associates that threat of escalation with U.S. policy, as it will with an actual escalation.  What are the chances that many Americans today, on Super Bowl Sunday, with one sentence about a "U.S. coalition" buried in the Sunday paper, will rouse themselves to oppose a dramatic increase in American involvement in the Syrian civil war?  Clearly, since most Americans won't know it's happening, the chances are zero.  We will wake up tomorrow- hungover and oblivious after our sporting Bacchanalia- with no clue that millions of people think we are attacking them.  Then we will be shocked when they attack back.  

Update, L.A. Times, 2/10/16, "Islamic State tops a U.S. 'litany of doom,'" by Brian Bennett: "'The group's [Isis'] leaders are determined to strike the U.S. homeland,' [Director of National Intelligence, James] Clapper said."  Clapper characterized what is in store for America as a "litany of doom."

Update, L.A. Times, 2/11/16, a.m. ( On the eve of resumed U.N. "peace talks," as Assad fights to retake Aleppo, "Russian airstrikes destroyed two hospitals, leaving 50,000 people without critical care."  Russia claimed U.S. bombers did it.  Secretary of State John Kerry criticized Russia for hitting civilians, but the Arab world sees Russia's efforts as part of our own.  Indications of this will be detectable in the new "peace talks."

Update, 2/11/16, p.m.: The evening news reports that U.N. mediated talks, primarily between U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergei Lavrov, agreed to seek a "cessation of hostilities" in Syria.  The news featured long footage of Kerry and Lavrov shaking hands, smiling and talking, allies in this effort, one day after Russia reportedly bombed two Syrian hospitals and blamed it on the U.S.  "That's not good, and no good can come of it," as Hamlet said.  The stronger this cessation of hostilities, the stronger the negative reaction to come.

*Excerpt from Dexter Filkins’, “The Afghan Bank Heist” (

The vast armies of private gunmen paid to protect American supply convoys frequently use American money to bribe Taliban fighters to stand back. These bribes are believed by officials in Kabul and in Washington to be one of the main sources of the Taliban’s income. The Americans, it turns out, are funding both sides of the war.”

[On Feb. 16, I will be Cheryl Lubin's guest on her radio show, In Our Times, to discuss the Syrian conflict, gravity waves and more!  Tune in at 5:00pm on Tuesday, February 16 at]

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Poem on demand

I told my writing group
I average one poem per year
because of inspiration
or lack of it
Or lack of perspiration?
Doesn't a poem need to be written
Right here?  Right now?

Of course it does-
It always does
when the heart asks
“Where is my universe?
Does it come after this one?”

A poem will know
how to riddle us.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Thoughts on encryption

[Check out Harry the Human's new post, "A strong motivator for women," at]

A great debate is underway between Internet carriers like Microsoft and Apple versus intelligence agencies like the National Security Administration (NSA) about whether the right to privacy, guaranteed, so we thought, by the Fourth Amendment, should be protected by encryption that even the carrier can't read, let alone an intelligence agency.  Like all our public debates, this one is exhausting, with endless repetition of the facts concerning threats of terrorism weighed against potential government abuse.

Not for the first time, I note the irony that I'm a debate coach who feels that real debate, as opposed to the sport, is a waste of time.  Unless, of course, you enjoy listening to the same pro and con arguments for your entire life.  Note to Internet carriers and the government: Just make up your mind and let us know what you've decided.  That's what's going to happen anyway.

I've made up my mind, at least regarding encryption.  The battle for the Fourth Amendment is over, lost.  Read the arguments and you'll notice that even privacy proponents have stopped referring to the Fourth Amendment, which no government would adopt today as written, including ours.  Something of an embarrassment, I would think, that we'll need to figure out at some point, though it's hard to see how we could endure the commotion of a constitutional amendment process removing the privacy protections of a bygone age.  Probably we'll just have to live with this inconsistency in the Constitution.

Anyway, I've decided that I don't care who or what reads my email or blog.  I've got something better than the Fourth Amendment: Indifference.  When I quote respected journalist Dexter Filkins' revelation about covert CIA funding of the Taliban (see 1/28 post) no one reacts.  Hell, there wasn't even a reaction to Filkins' findings after they were published in the New Yorker Magazine, which has over a million readers.  Even veterans groups were unmoved by news that thousands of American troops were killed and wounded for a war that was, at times, fake.

Americans, it seems, are so sated by surplus that we can't rouse ourselves to care about anything theoretical, like the idea that the American government might unnecessarily prolong or start wars to serve the economic interests of what President Eisenhower, in a moment of bravery that no current politician would dare emulate, called the military-industrial complex (I've added to Eisenhower's formulation: the military-media-industrial complex, since the leading facilitator of war today is media).

Because of this indifference, I don't anticipate interference with my own free speech, just as the other estimated 20 million bloggers in the world are left to spout as they please.  Who cares?  The reading audience is so fragmented that nothing like a political response to anything currently on the Internet seems likely to emerge.

Back to encryption, without a real Fourth Amendment (i.e. one that has to be obeyed) why should I knock myself out throwing a tantrum?  Note to government and carriers: You may read anything on my computer.  In fact I welcome this opportunity to urge you to get rid of ISIS fast, with no hidden deals prolonging its reign of terror.  It's enough for me that you receive this one point.  As for the rest of my opus, I hope you find it engaging.

Friday, December 25, 2015

A Jew thinks about Jesus

It's timely that I went to Death Valley with my wife and middle son last week, the week before Christmas, because in Death Valley you can see the view from the level of time above us, in which our eras are nanoseconds, our lives picoseconds, flashing by unseen while the Funeral and Black mountains crash and grind on the dying surface of our troubled planet.  

The prophets of religions offer windows, too, into this level of time.  When God asked Abraham to sacrifice his son for a greater cause, some big picture, that big picture is the one where the life and death of our planet is itself over in a flash, agony and ecstasy combined and neutralized.   When Jesus said, "For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted," he was thinking in geologic time, where all human lives will have equalled-out, become smooth and difficult to remember.  So too when Mohammed wrote, "The ink of the scholar is more sacred than the blood of the martyr," he meant that the martyr acts only in the present, where emotions rule, while the scholar ponders the long view, in which the sum of human endeavor is a momentary, hopefully at times corrective static in space-time.

My grandmother told me when I was eight years old that Jews do not accept Jesus as divine, that Jesus was a very good Jewish man, but he was not a god or the son of God.  This is how cultures are formed.  My parents were secular and did not assert doctrinal ideas (other than the doctrine of withheld belief), but all it took to set my young world-view was one remark from my grandmother, while at that same moment, all around the world, millions of other children were undergoing doctrinal instruction.

Fast-forward forty years and I'm standing in a Catholic church in Oaxaca, Mexico, looking above the altar at a crucifix with a striking aura.  My family was up the street.  No one else was in the church.  The crucifix became a window into stretched-out time.  I saw the human race diminish in stature and relevance, as it does in Jewish stretched-out time, but then my grandmother's spirit came and said, "It looks the same, but God doesn't want you to look through that window.  Because He has the long-view, and sees things we can't, He wants, for some reason, for people to be separated.  He does not want a communal, Jungian consciousness.  People should be divided now, seeking definition through differences."

I wondered if I could tolerate this news.  And now, Christmas morning, 2015, when the world is being led into religious war, I'm ready to channel my grandmother and ask if the message is still the same.  I'll be right back.

I'm back.  I channeled my grandmother and she said that all the world's traditional cultures and religions are about to be re-written by a secular, scientific corporate state, and by others outside that mold, and a sense of this process is causing people to cling to their familiar memes, even go to war over them.  She said the re-definition will at times be traumatic, but that God is not looking for apocalypse per se, that He will accept freethinking, the perception of sameness, if it doesn't interfere with the process of re-definition.  

Given the alternatives, this news from my grandmother was the best Christmas present I could have received.  Happy holidays!

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Clinton and Trump kill the GOP, then what?

Last night's GOP debate strongly suggests that Donald Trump, who has destroyed any Republican candidate who might have given Hillary Clinton trouble (including himself) is a plant from her campaign.  In this episode Trump continued the destruction of his opponents with a spectacle of spite made possible by the vacuum that used to be occupied by Party bosses.  He may have thought this project up on his own for general self-aggrandizement, but if you wanted to create an anti-Hillary who was so repellent that even the most thorough political cynics (the majority of voters) would have to swallow their pride and vote for Clinton, Trump would be the logical creation.  The conspirators may not have intended to destroy the Republican Party in the process; its moribund state seems to have surprised everyone.

Why are so many people, including former Obama supporters, wary of Clinton?   She is a very skillful politician, probably the most skillful and aware in the current arena.  You have to admire that, but her skill is what has made so many voters mistrust her.  The Republicans serve as a grotesque foil for Clinton so that no matter what negative impact her ideas have, nothing is ever pinned on her.  She is able to duck.

Regarding foreign policy, there's reason to worry about Clinton's concept of war- its causes and purposes and the best way to execute it- in light of her Senate vote in 2002 in favor of Bush's invasion of Iraq.  That invasion was the single most destructive and counter-productive U.S. act since World War II. Clinton explains her vote as a "mistake" she would not have made if "she had known then what we found out later"(Obama avoided his "mistake" by not being in the Senate yet).  If you are old enough to remember that vote you very likely believed, like most people, that invading Iraq was a bad idea, that it was not the proper response to 9/11, given that Iraq was not implicated in 9/11. Fourteen years later the invasion payoff is that Iraq is a failed state and the Sunni troops we marginalized during the post-invasion chaos have emerged as ISIS. You'd think Clinton would worry now about her vote for a policy that resulted in ISIS, but with Republicans demanding carpet bombing of Raqqa she can relax and play the moderate.

Should we care about this media event we call a presidential election?  Will our lives be affected by the outcome?  Possibly, but if your interest is in stopping or at least impeding the apocalypse, the question of who should be president is more a matter of style than outcome.  Whether under a Trump or a Clinton, a Goldwater or a Johnson, war seems almost to come of its own accord. No current human political arrangements in the U.S. show promise for stopping it- the impulse to war can operate through or around any president.  Trump would be an overt instigator.  Clinton, like Obama, would rely on agents provocateurs.  Either way you get war, just with different styles.  Probably about the same body count.

From this perspective the question of our next president seems academic.

Maybe the real story is what seems the approaching end of the Republican Party.  The anxiety at the Party's inner core is intense now.  The leadership was taken unawares by Trump's overturning of party rule in such a public and humiliating way.  The people we used to imagine in "smoke filled rooms" do not know what to do, whom to call, whose ideas to listen to.   There is no agreement on vision or purpose.  If this isn't the end of the Republican Party, it's the beginning of the end.

And that means America will need a new political party, because a state with only one party is a dictatorship, which Americans don't like.   At the moment the elements that might form the platform of a new party are so diverse and ill-defined it's hard to see any coalescing.  But if the country needs a new party (and if one or two billionaires are interested) a new party will arise.

[Cheryl Lubin and I discuss science and fake war on her radio show, In Our Times, Dec. 15 at 5:00pm.  Download the podcast  at]