Looking Ahead

It’s such a beautiful experience, moving through a crowd of gentle people, and then getting hooked on life, stretching out a hand and feeling the pulse of the Amazon, caressing the Andes and then making the leap from Tierra del Fuego to Cape Hope, gently cupping the Congo and pausing before merging into the thrum of Ethiopia. Stuck there, I reached across with the other hand and felt the rainforests of Southeast Asia, roamed over the Russian tundra, and then slowly squeezing inward around the pustule that is the Middle East, soaking it with the healing energy of life and love.

And later she said, hesitantly “It seems that it’s going to get worse.”

“I’m afraid that is what I see, too.”

With the air of one surrendering innocence, she hazarded “But it’s not going to affect people like us.”

I had to look away, trying to find a formulation that did not take air out of the joy she was sharing with me. “Well, in order to bring healing, we have to make a diagnosis. That means getting close enough to feel their pain.”

It’s the last hurrah of selfishness. It knows it, and so figures there’s nothing to lose.

As Matt Maher promises in “Hold Us Together”:

It’s waiting for you knocking at your door
In the moment of truth when your heart hits the floor

And you’re on your knees

And love will hold us together
Make us a shelter to weather the storm
And I’ll be my brother’s keeper
So the whole world will know that we’re not alone

Economic Nation Building

The engineers at NASA have been warning for at least a decade that the constellation of junk orbiting the Earth is reaching critical levels. Beyond a certain point, the junk multiplies through collision with working satellites. I first became aware of this as a just-deserts illustration: a nation had launched a satellite with a loose wrench on board. When the satellite failed, they launched its replacement into the same orbit. Shortly after activation, the wrench, still in orbit, sheared through the boom that tethered the solar panel to the antenna.

NASA tracks space junk large enough to cause such incidents, and satellites commonly maneuver to stay out of their path. The job was made far harder when China, without notice to the international community, decided to demonstrate its ability to threaten global communications by blowing a satellite out of orbit. This was not done in a clever way, which would have been to destroy the satellite from higher orbit, pushing the fragments into the atmosphere. Instead, the Chinese destroyed the satellite from below, creating fully one third of our orbital space junk in a single incident.

This is only one example of a large number of similarly irrational incidents. When I stopped to chat with a Chinese co-worker one day, he was pulling his hair in exasperation. The pig farmers upstream from Shanghai had overbred, and many could not sell their stock. Rather than negotiating with their neighbors, they simply pushed the pigs into the river. Thousands of pig carcasses were floating through Shanghai to the ocean. The Three Gorges Dam, once seen as a manifestation of the efficiency of authoritarian rule, is a large open septic pit, filled with junk that is damaging the dam wall. More recently, we have the idiotic bulldozing of coral reefs in the South China Sea to create a landing strip to support Chinese claims to resource rights. The Obama Administration has chosen to thumb their nose, sailing naval vessels within the artificially created “territorial waters.”

When fighting a war to suppress authoritarian rule, we are confronted daily with death and destruction, and tend to bemoan the difficulty of nation building. The situation in China is a disaster in slow motion, but the fundamental problem is the same: where in Iraq the political preconditions for multi-party rule had not been established before Saddam’s ouster, in China the preconditions for a managed economy had not been established.

Foremost among these is a clear separation of economic, military and political spheres of influence. When Russian liberalized its economy, Western advisers recommended a distribution of state assets to the public. While the common share holder was generally defrauded of their ownership, the strategy did create a class of corporate ownership that can resist totalitarian excess. As Putin has fought to reassert totalitarian control, many of them have relocated to England, where Gazprom reportedly has headquarters in London.

No such separation exists in China. This means, for example, that when China realized that it could not divest itself of its US Treasury debt, and in fact had to continue to finance it to avoid watering down of its existing holdings, it choose to extend its global reach by repurposing consumer electronics technology received from the West for military applications.

Given our deep dependency on China for manufacturing of our electronics, it’s not clear how we are going to wriggle out of this situation. Industrial automation is one possibility – I am aware that Philips has resumed manufacturing of electric razors at a lights-out facility in the Netherlands. The maker movement pushed forward by hobbyists in America may spawn a flood of such innovations over the next generation.

More immediately, we have the Pacific Trade Pact, which allows companies to sue governments for unfair trade practices. I am hoping that this includes fair labor, industrial hygiene and environmental preservation as criteria. This removes the problem of jurisdiction faced by federal negotiators attempting to negotiate trade disputes involving multinational corporations. But the likely outcome will be to force China to reduce its cultural bias against foreign investment, with the result that labor and environmental justice will lose its focus.

And then there is the standard proposition of economic nation building: concentration of wealth drives competition for creative minds, which creates a population that lobbies for universal rights. The alternative, of course, is the creation of a privileged class that looks only to its own interests, as illustrated in The Hunger Games, or as actually existed in the European nobility that successfully suppressed capitalism through the use of royal monopolies until the monarchy in England was distracted by a long struggle over succession.

In Russia, the West is in some sense fortunate that Putin has chosen to cement his power through military aggression. We have prior experience in resisting that practice, primarily through the application of economic pressure. But China has carefully insulated itself from that pressure, while simultaneously reaping the profits from manufacturing operations relocated by cost-cutting multinationals that cannot be regulated by any single national government. Worse, the Supreme Court’s Citizens United hearing the ruled that corporate political spending is “free speech” came suspiciously close on the tail of revelations that China was funneling money into the American political process through our Chamber of Commerce. China’s trade surplus is being used to control our political decision making.

What worries me most about this situation is that the problem of nation building through military intervention is a subject of open dialog in our policy institutes. No such focus appears to exist for the theory, practice and dangers of economic nation building.

Hitler created a German boom by renouncing reparations during the Great Depression, and rode the authority granted by the German people into World War II. The rest of Europe did not recognize the threat he represented, and ultimately had no leverage over his conduct. China is creating growth by exploitation of the environment and workers, and has proceeded to military breast-beating. Do our leaders in government and industry recognize the potential threat, and what are they doing to ensure that we can reign in the Chinese ruling class?

The Middle East as a Model for Climate Crisis

As the Ice Age ended, the Middle East was the cradle of Western civilization. The “four rivers” mentioned in the Bible met in the Persian Gulf. The Euphrates River Valley, cultivated with a sophisticated irrigation system, was a breadbasket for thousands of years. Unfortunately, the mountain waters coated the soil with clay long before iron and steel plows were invented. The climate warmed, and the introduction of sheep in the Central Asian steppes caused the grass to loose its purchase. The soil washed away in the rain. The carrying capacity of the land plummeted.

Today, much of the region is dessicated. Population levels are sustained by imports financed by oil revenues. Unfortunately, those revenues are not distributed uniformly. Both ethic and class prejudice allow a small minority to capture most of the wealth, while the less fortunate scrabble for bread and shelter.

What will happen when the oil is gone?

This is a significant factor in the rise of ISIS: the Sunni/Baath minority in Iraq lost control of oil revenues to the northern Kurds and southern Shias. While IS also uses extortion and sales of archaeological treasures to finance its operations, sale of oil from captured Iraqi and Syrian facilities is a mainstay.

The brutality of the regime is intense. As in failed African states, many of its fighters are locals without any other means of support.

Is there any means for external actors to control the downward spiral in such situations? Obviously the oil economy allowed the Sunni/Baath community to amass enormous wealth, and given the focus on capturing territory over sustaining a viable economy, an investment in guns and bullets reaps huge gains for the violent few. The material left by the US for use by Iraqi government forces was also a boon to IS. But is it reasonable to expect that we can keep weapons out of the region?

The harsh climate and conditions also make it difficult to secure borders. IS is now spreading eastwards into Afghanistan, the source of much of the world’s opium, a cash crop that has moved for decades into the Western world in spite of efforts to suppress it.

The response of much of the Syrian population has been to flee. Is it possible to supply them in the region, or must they relocate to more stable societies? The Palestinian refuge camps in the ’70s and ’80s were not successful. Do we have the wisdom and skills to do better now?

My concern is that if we do not set about applying ourselves to understanding how to manage this kind of chaos, we are going to be facing the same situation all over the world in the next eighty years. Although driven initially by natural glacial cycles, the Middle East and Central Asia are archetypes for the ecological collapse and social instability that comes with global warming.

Terrorism on American Soil

The Republican candidates have taken to the gun ranges and political stump, using the San Bernardino shooting to challenge President Obama’s strategy against the Islamic State.

Ted Cruz talks about “carpet bombing” terrorists. Umm – does that mean San Bernardino? Or the neighborhoods in Syria where IS partisans lay down their heads at night? Yes, Ted, if you were president, you could order the American military to indiscriminately kill people. Yes, you could become the biggest terrorist on the block.

But what really does IS have to show for San Bernardino? They managed to add fourteen people to the 30,000 killed annually in American gun violence? Wow, impressive. (Not!) Actually, given the parade of politicians going to the shooting range, maybe we should give them more credit. Maybe the marketing boost for the gun industry will increase the number and potency of weapons owned by Americans, and we’ll do a better job of killing each other as a result.

A little hard for IS to claim credit for that, though. Especially in comparison to Al Qaeda and 9/11. Clearly, something being done by the Obama Administration is working.

We are defeating terrorism by chopping the head off the snake and sowing suspicion among the violent cells that are scattered in its death throes. Keep your eye on the ball, people.

They’re All Crazy

In explaining my difficulty of focus yesterday at work, I mentioned San Bernardino and a friend averred that his vote for president would go to the first candidate to stand up and take mental illness seriously.

This while the Republicans in the Senate vote to repeal the Affordable Health Care Act. Spear-headed by the segment of the insurance industry that made money by excluding coverage for sick people (I was denied coverage because I was once prescribed anti-depressants for situational depression).

This while we had the Bureau of Land Management faced down in Nevada a couple of years ago by a rancher who used “state’s rights” theories to justify non-payment of land use fees. Not that Nevada didn’t cede land to the federal government because they couldn’t afford to secure the desert occupied by the Native Americans.

It’s not about crazy people – follow the money. It’s that people that are emotionally unstable are easy to sell nonsense to – like the idea that you’ll be safer if you and everyone else buy more guns.

San Bernardino

Once again we are confronted with a massacre – the work of an unbalanced mind unable to manage confrontation without a resort to violence.

The gun lobby caters to these people – principally criminals, as most semi-automatic handguns are recovered at crime scenes. The NRA has fought against implementation of methods that would ensure traceability of weapons flow through criminal hands for just this reason – it is the life-blood of their industry. And then there are those terrorized by criminal activity, those confronted with a steady diet of shootings, whose self-esteem and self-confidence erode slowly, until they grasp at the tools of terror as a means of asserting themselves against a violent world.

The NRA mouthpieces believe that we should all buy a gun, and spend hundreds of hours at firing ranges maintaining our expertise in their use. The sane consider this and their mouths fall agape. I mean – what do we maintain a police force for? Why should the public invest its energy in mastery of arms when we can earn enough money in that time to pay others to protect us?

The only reason is because the NRA fosters a mentality of violence in a community that is vulnerable to a loss of self-control. It is precisely these people that should be denied access to guns.

Given the statistics – more than one mass shooting a day this year, with no incidents that I am aware of in which the shooter was brought down by a gun-toting citizen – it seems reasonable to conclude that those prone to violence are the only ones making use of their weapons. The statistics are even worse when we look at domestic violence and suicides. So why are we allowing the gun industry to sell weapons at all, for other than sporting purposes?

It is time to end this cycle of terror, where protection of the rights of gun owners is used to mask a systematic practice of funneling guns to those that should not be allowed to bear them – a practice that generates violence that is used to stimulate additional gun sales.

It’s like trying to cure the plague by giving people the plague. It’s insanity. Really, think about it: do we really want to live in a society in which the first thing we think about every time we leave the house is being prepared to kill someone else? Why do we insist on permitting conditions under which it is impossible for the police to relieve us of that burden?

Respecting Parents that Plan

Who do you think you serve, you constructors of lies?

A woman that has an abortion lives the truth of her experience, and learns from it. It has been my honor to bring healing to them and their unborn children.

Only Satan turns a man’s mind to murder when love offers the alternative of healing.

You stand with one foot on the bridge to destruction. There’s only so long that Christ can hold you back.

OK. Still with the whining.

Let me be clear: if you haven’t had an abortion, or brought somebody through one to healing:

Think of the redemption that Christ brought to Saul on the road to Damascus.