Oh – That Carrier Group

Apparently there was some confusion that the US sent a Navy carrier group to intimidate North Korea’s leader. This blogger has learned that rather the Trump Administration was drawing on its real estate expertise to cool off tensions by innovative means. Vice President Mike Pence, close collaborator in salvaging manufacturing jobs in Indiana, delivered the equipment personally:

PenceCarrier

The gift was received enthusiastically by the North Korean leader:

KinJongUn

Cruise Out-Of-Control

Genesis 2 introduces the seventh day of Creation with a brief lull in the relationship between God and the world.

By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.

[NIV Gen. 2:2-3]

Having rested, God – who is Unconditional Love – then picks up his work in the Garden of Eden, demonstrating to Adam and Eve the virtues of love. In that context, there is peace between the animals. That peace is shattered when Adam and Eve choose to eat of the fruit of “the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” They chose no longer to submit to the guidance of love. They chose to figure out how to do it on their own.

Jesus is the hope of the world because he had the strength to demonstrate the power that stands behind those that chose to love unconditionally. In the years both before and after that demonstration, however, we see that the Darwinian practices of brutal confrontation are often strong in the human relationships and politics. Many people still live like animals.

This is the context for my reaction to the decision by the Trump Administration to launch missile strikes against the regime of Syria’s dictator, Bashar Assad. The immediate response of Russia has been to claim the diplomatic high ground, asserting that the US action was illegal.

Assad has survived in Syria for one reason, and one reason only: Putin’s support. Russia has used its veto power in the UN security council to prevent coordinated global action against the Syrian tyrant. When the rebels were poised to oust Assad, Russia then intervened militarily, and along with Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, have now put the rebels on the defensive.

In a series of votes in the UN Security Council, the Obama Administration had established Russian complicity in the humanitarian crisis in Syria. Our NATO ally, Turkey, has suffered greatly as the destination of opportunity for 3 million Syrians fleeing the war. Both of those institutions – the United Nations and NATO – were therefore poised to demand Russia’s removal from the UN security council, allowing unified international action to suppress Russian and Chinese military adventurism around the globe.

Russia was the guarantor the Syria had no chemical weapons. By resorting to force before the international community had established that indeed a chemical weapons attack had occurred using sarin gas, Trump has made the conflict one of brute force between two parties. By acting without consultation with our allies, Trump has undermined the institutions that could have acted to discipline Putin across the globe.

It’s all very satisfying to punch a bully in the nose, but it just adds confusion to a situation that should be managed by institutions of law enforcement. Trump has undermined US authority in those institutions – NATO and the United Nations. His action will have long-term consequences that will be to the advantage of those that seek to sow chaos across the globe – principally for the purpose of preventing humanity from grasping the enormous power that arises when we adopt peace and love as the guides to our conduct in all spheres of life.

A far better course would have been to mount a campaign to expel Russia from the UN security council.

Golly, Gowdy

While the press digs in against President Trump, the Republican establishment doubles down on its support for him. Why?

Observation: if Russia did hack the US election, it succeeded only because over the last 35 years the Republican super-money PACs spent billions of dollars smearing Hillary Clinton’s name. Russia succeeded only because in the House of Representatives Gowdy’s Benghazi committee unlawfully used the investigative powers of Congress for pure political purposes.

The Republican flight from reality left them with a con man for a presidential candidate in 2016. They were looking at the final humiliation: the breaking of the glass ceiling by a candidate that they had realized 35 years ago would be the woman most likely to accomplish that goal. They were desperate.

Given the corruption, the lies, the hatred – what wouldn’t they have done to avoid that outcome?

I’m wondering: who was guiding the Russian operation. Was it really Vladimir Putin on his own? Or did he have help? Putin may be simply the fall-guy patsy for people like Karl Rove and the Koch Brothers.

And this may be why Ryan and McConnell are undermining the investigation – because it leads back, ultimately, to the Republican Party itself.

Kleptocrats, Unite!

Rachel Maddow is building the case that Rex Tillerson’s actions at the State Department – and principally the firing of the top career civil servants – are consistent with the goals of Russian leader Vladimir Putin.

To those that understand Putin’s Russia, the goals are simple: transfer as much wealth as possible from the Russian state to private ownership. This is called “kleptocracy” – government serving the financial interests of the leadership. Putin has made an art of this game, becoming arguably the richest man in the world.

As CEO of Exxon Mobil, Rex Tillerson was awarded Putin’s “Friend of Russia” designation for his stand against U.S. sanctions that impeded Exxon’s ability to exploit oil and gas resources in Russia. The methods used to enforce those sanctions were situated in the U.S. State Department. Those methods were also used to bring pressure against Exxon for its actions elsewhere in the world.

So Tillerson’s business history supports the conclusion that the State Department, with its focus on human rights and equity, is a nuisance to those trying to get business done in the world. My guess is that this is consistent with Trump’s goals, particularly as it has become clear that our President is almost certainly in violation of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, for which the sentencing mandates jail time. Cleaning out the top of the State Department will allow the administration to identify and elevate career diplomats that share their priorities, and perhaps protect themselves from prosecution.

So Rachel, don’t push the Russian connection too hard. Trump and Tillerson share with Putin the attitude that government should be turned to the purpose of making money. Their kleptomania may be sufficient explanation for their policies. Regardless of whether Putin is using blackmail to coerce their actions, the Trump administration is composed of people that appear to be inspired by Putin’s success.

The Russians are Coming, The Russians are Coming!

RussianCodeWe are engaged in World War III. Vladimir Putin go the drop on us, organizing a disinformation campaign that has allowed nationalists throughout the Western World to rise to prominence, undermining Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign by releasing hacked documents to support the Republican contention that she was unable to secure secrets.

Russia’s leading opposition figure released a video that both documents the luxurious lifestyle and the ownership structure that allows Putin’s inner circle to protect the wealth they have embezzled from the Russian people. The production include footage from drones flying over huge compounds owned by Putin’s second-in-command, Dmitry Medvedev, a man whose government salary is less than the U.S. President’s.

I don’t think that I need to make any claims regarding the source of this information. It’s almost certainly a tit-for-tat by our intelligence services.

In the last year of his term, the Obama Administration leveled a $700 million fine against DeutscheBank for facilitating embezzlement by Russian officials. Donald Trump netted nearly $60 million through the sale of an estate in Florida to a Russian kleptocrat. The key question in this war is whether American’s intelligence services have the means to hack the hidden accounts to drain away the funds, or means through financial accountability laws to freeze the assets.

If Vladimir Putin had a significant portion of his personal wealth seized by foreign governments, would he respond with a nuclear counter-strike?

It’s hard to judge. The similarities between Putin and Russia’s last strongman, Josef Stalin, are eerie. Stalin, too, sent state security agents around the world to assassinate actual and supposed enemies.

Stalin set the terms of the Russian campaign to build nuclear weapons. The program was driven by terrifying threats against failure, leading to short-cuts that left massive environmental degradation around many of the facilities. Russia eventually created a hydrogen bomb capable of vaporizing everything within a ten-mile radius of the explosion, with a 100-mile-wide fireball.

Stalin was motivated by threats against the Soviet system on his own territory, and may have seen nuclear weapons simply as a protection against invasion. Putin, however, feels free to cross international borders to achieve his domestic and foreign policy aims. Would he honor the constraints recognized by Stalin?

If he does, this war will proceed much as did WW II following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Better, it will progress at internet speed. Putin has already seized two of Russian’s most senior information security officers, presumably believing that they were responsible for some of the information that appeared in the US intelligence briefing on Russian intervention in the presidential election. Given that Putin has engaged in a war with an invisible enemy pushing photons down optical cables, this kind of paranoid response is going to run out of control. While Putin is decimating the ranks of his information security office, the US side will tighten control over technical secrets at its facilities, preventing any future WikiLeaks releases, and focus narrowly on the weaknesses of Russian cybersystems.

Putin may rely on couriers to run the country, but you can’t move money and conduct cyber warfare by those means. His international web of criminal terror will be strangled.

God’s Plan: A Love Story

slide1

Translation: Combining science and the Bible, we know that it took a billion years before any living creature was capable of loving the entire world (the Garden of Eden). Unfortunately, animal behaviors are strong. The most powerful animals dominate through fear and anger, which cause the brain to degrade, so today the world is ruled by angry vegetables. When they’ve finished making a mess, the rest of humanity will join with the angels and other living creatures to cover the world with love.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

All About Us

I’ve decided to attend services at the Unitarian Society of Santa Barbara. The first service convenes at 9:15, which dovetails nicely with the Dance Tribe celebration at 11.

In the context of Trump’s immigration ban, last week’s service was serendipitous. A local couple shared pictures taken last year on the island of Lesbos, the point of access to the EU for those fleeing conflict throughout the Middle East and Central Asia. The refugees were drawn by Angela Merkel’s pledge of sanctuary to cross from Turkey over the five-mile channel on rubber rafts. Rafts made unstable by choppy seas and shoulder-to-shoulder passengers. As water was taken on, personal goods were often tossed overboard.

The refugees arrived on rocky shores against a steep cliff. Happy but exhausted, they were forced to climb up to a receiving zone, because laws prohibit private transport of illegal immigrants. The presenters ignored this risk, ferrying young and elderly alike in their car. Seeing the stress on the faces of parents, they also brought in paper and markers, inviting the children onto blankets where many of them documented the crossing – not excluding, in one little boy’s picture, those lost in the waters.

Reverend Julia Hamilton favors the spiritual image of the “cloud of witnesses,” and in this case, the cloud was hung around the sanctuary: photographs of children with their pictures. I struggled to maintain my composure, feeling their exhaustion and confusion beating through time, and echoed in places around the world. We rode through it, and in the receiving line afterwards, I simply asked “May I?”, before joining the hands of the husband and wife in mine, bending forward to allow my cloud to affirm theirs. When I offered “Thank-you for your compassion,” the woman echoed “Thank you!”

Today’s service was more typical: a reflection on personal spiritual growth. After inveighing against identification of our selves with our struggles, Rev. Hamilton continued with a parable on the traps of dogma and creed. Visiting with another master, the Zen poet Basho quoted sage after sage, until his host interrupted to ask: “Basho, you are clearly a master of Zen teachings. But could you offer me one thought of your own – one authentic expression of self?” Basho’s embarrassment deepened minute by minute as nothing came to mind. Finally, he looked outside and felt welling up in him:

The old pond.
A frog jumps in.
Splash!

His host clapped in delight.

Rev. Hamilton explained the parable as signifying the importance of being where we were – we are not our struggles, but nor our we are achievements. We are who we are in the moment.

As she illustrated the point, I found myself wondering when she was going to remark on the emptiness of a journey made alone. But it never came. That is the challenge of Unitarian Universalism, full of iconoclasts synthesizing the views of many traditions, each achieving a unique spiritual practice. In the best case, the seeker stands on the shoulders of avatars from every culture; in the saddest case, the seeker ends up like Basho – empty of personal understanding. It was this contrast that Rev. Hamilton developed: the spiritual journey is a journey to self-knowledge.

I really didn’t catch the last ten minutes of the service, my mind spinning as I grasped at methods for expressing the flowering of my own journey from sterile self-knowledge. For some reason, they crystallized in haiku form, bringing surprise and delight to her eyes when I intoned:

Through loving,
God finds meaning:
Us.