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The outbreak of Ebola in the West African countries of Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia is a tremendous health crisis for the world. First identified in 1976, there have been at least seven previous outbreaks. These were all contained in relatively small geographical areas and about 2,000 people were infected. All of the other outbreaks occurred in villages away from main population centers.

However, the epidemic we’re now facing started in Guinea in a village that was right on the border of Sierra Leone and Liberia. Patient zero was a 2-year-old boy who died on 6 December, 2013. By the end of March, it had reached Liberia, by the end of May, it spread to Sierra Leone. It was in Nigeria in July and in Senegal in August. It has reached the main population centers of Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone.

The official WHO count of the infected is currently just over 9,000 with about half of those having died. However, the morality rate was raised to just over 70% and this reflects the lack of reliable numbers in countries whose health care systems have been devastated by the disease. My reading is that the actual number of current infections is about 20,000.

On the 30th of September, Thomas Eric Duncan, a man who returned from Liberia to visit his family in Dallas, was diagnosed with Ebola. He became America’s patient zero. He infected two of the people who nursed him in the hospital. On October 12, it was Nina Pham who came down with Ebola, and, on October 15, Amber Vinson.

My intuitive reading is that we’re not going to have a world-wide Ebola pandemic. Moreover, we’re not going to see any significant spread of the disease in the United States. Unless you are someone who works with currently infected Ebola patients, either in Africa the United States or elsewhere, you can rest assured you are going to die eventually of something else. But Ebola is not going to kill you or make you sick.

Ebola fits the archetypal expectation of a doomsday disease. It fits the picture of a science fiction scenario of humankind’s downfall resulting from the invasion and destruction of the natural habitats of plants and animals and the consequent migration of viruses living in animals to humans. We’re familiar with these themes from movies like Outbreak and the book Hot Zone.

In order to gain some perspective on the panic and irrational fear that this archetype of health doom can activate in us, it’s important to know some basic information about Ebola virus disease.

The best scientific information we have is that Ebola resides in fruit bats. The fruit bats drop fruit which the animals eat or defecate or drool on animals which then develop the disease. The humans find a dead animal in the forest or hunt the bats for food and the virus jumps from animals to people. The cause of the current epidemic is a single animal to human transmission.

Once infected, there is an incubation period of 2 to 21 days before any symptoms occur. The average time for symptoms to appear is 8 to 10 days. The first symptoms are fever, sore throat, headache, muscle pain and fatigue. It looks initially a lot like a flu bug. These symptoms are followed by diarrhea, vomiting and massive fluid loss. A person can lose 10 to 20 liters a fluid a day at this stage.

The final stage is low blood pressure, organ failure, coma and death. External and internal bleeding can occur at this stage and has been reported in 18% of the cases.

The virus particles attach themselves to the inside of blood vessels compromising them and the patient loses water, electrolytes, and other nutrients. If the person doesn’t recover, death occurs within about a week or two weeks from the onset of the first symptoms.

Ebola is transmitted from person to person when a previously uninfected individual has contact with the body fluids of the patient or touches the skin of the patient. It still needs entry to the body through a cut in the skin or body opening like mouth, nose, or eyes. However, once you get the virus on your hands, it can get into the body relatively easily since people are often touching their faces.

At the later stages of the disease, viruses are present on the skin and the skin may also be contaminated with the body fluids of the patient. The body of a person who has recently died of Ebola is a significant infection risk.

The Center for Disease Control has put out information that says that Ebola is not an airborne disease and that it’s not spread by coughing or sneezing. Therefore, you can’t get it from causal contact like sitting next to someone in an airplane. Scientists who study these types of diseases say that the chances that Ebola will mutate into an airborne disease are basically nil and that we shouldn’t be worried about that prospect.

However, there has been significant cognitive dissonance between the information that has come from official sources like the CDC and the images we see in news reports featuring people in hazmat suits disinfecting everything in sight including the sidewalk.

Ebola is a Level 4 biosafety disease. The biosafety level is determined by how dangerous a disease is with regard to its fatality rate, how infectious it is, and the lack of current cures, treatments, and vaccines. By comparison, plague and rabies only rate Level 3. There is no Level 5.

Because of the biosafety level, anyone doing research on Ebola has to be covered from head to toe in protective equipment. People dealing with Ebola patients are also supposed to be similarly covered in personal protective garb.

When Thomas Eric Duncan was diagnosed with Ebola, Thomas Frieden, the head of the CDC, said “we’re stopping it in its tracks in this country.” He further said any hospital with isolation capabilities could care for an Ebola patient. Then two nurses that worked with Duncan came down with the disease.

It’s helpful to track what happened with Thomas Duncan at Texas Health Presbyterian. Duncan apparently got infected when he carried a sick person back to their apartment in Liberia when they were refused admission to a hospital because there was no room. He gave false information about having had contact with an Ebola patient and flew to Brussels and then eventually to Dallas. He had no symptoms at the time.

He went to the emergency room at THP on the 25th of September. Although he disclosed that he had recently been to Liberia, he did not say that he had had contact with an Ebola patient. He was sent home even though he had a temperature of 103 degrees. He returned on the 28th and sat in the emergency room for three hours. Then he was put in isolation. For two days he was treated by nurses who did not have full protective gear.

Even after his diagnosis on the 30th, the protective gear was not initially adequate. Moreover, the nurses were not given sufficient instructions on safety protocols such as how to put on the gear and remove it. There was no plan in place for how to deal with the toxic waste that accumulated.

The United States has four facilities that are specialized and practiced in dealing with Biosafety Level 4 diseases. Altogether they can accommodate a total of 9 patients. Pham and Vinson have since been moved to these facilities.

Before she was diagnosed, Vinson flew from Dallas to Cleveland and then back to Dallas. She called the CDC and asked if she should fly back to Dallas since she had a fever of 99.5. But they gave her the go ahead since 101.5 was considered the threshold for a possible Ebola symptom. They have subsequently lowered the threshold to 100.4.

Vinson was diagnosed the day after she returned and fear spread. Two schools were closed in Ohio because an employee had flown on the same airplane as Vinson, although not even on the same flight. Three schools were closed in Texas when it was learned that students were on the same flight with Vinson.

The Louisiana State Attorney General obtained a restraining order to prevent incinerated waste from the apartment where Duncan stayed from being buried in a Louisiana landfill.

Senator Rand Paul did his part to increase the fear by first speculating about whether or not we’re going to have a pandemic.

Then he stated that the government was lying about the risk factors with respect to Ebola not being spread through casual contact because the CDC said you should avoid being within three feet of a person with Ebola for a prolonged period of time without protective equipment.

He speculated it could be transmitted through coughing. In his mind, if this is the close contact you should avoid, then we’re potentially at risk from sitting next to someone in an airplane, for example.

We can see now that we’re dealing with both incomplete information and disinformation about Ebola. Incomplete information with respect to communicating the basis for the risk assessment we’re facing with Ebola and disinformation from people like Rand Paul who have something to gain by distorting the true story and blowing it out of proportion.

The confusing messages we’re getting about Ebola are partly a result of our current governmental dysfunction. It would be great if we had someone of trusted authority, say, for example, a Surgeon General, that could be instrumental in clearing the air of misconceptions about Ebola.

However, we don’t have one because the Senate has never brought President Obama’s nominee for that post up for a vote due to concerns that his choice would offend the NRA. Putting Thomas Frieden, the head of the CDC, in that role is unfair to him because he’s not trained to be a public spokesman.

Although there is a lot we still don’t know about Ebola, there have been studies that established some basic scientific consensus about the disease. President Bush initiated some of the research on Ebola fearing it could be used as a bioterror weapon. Research was cut back due to political wrangling over the budget but a substantial amount was still done.

What we do know is that during the incubation period between the time the person is infected and develops the first symptoms, they are not contagious. This is because the virus hasn’t had a chance to as yet fully ramp up its exponential replications in the human body. It’s barely present in the blood at this point and not present in other bodily fluids. It doesn’t even reach the threshold of detection until the first symptoms appear.

People become more and more infectious as the disease progresses. Thus the CDC guidelines of avoiding prolonged close contact with someone that has Ebola by staying three feet away makes sense because you don’t want to touch the person or even touch what they have touched nearby.

Rand Paul’s hysteria about the “incredibly contagious” Ebola fails to take in account the level of illness of the person with the disease.

With respect to spreading Ebola through coughing, CDC studies show no evidence that this is a factor. In previous Ebola outbreaks, the people who got the disease were uniformly the ones who touched and cared for the patients, but not others who lived in relatively tight quarters. Some of these patients had coughs. This supports the statement that Ebola is not transmitted by airborne means.

None of the Duncan’s relatives become sick even though they were in small apartment with him. Their 21 day period of isolation ended on October 19.

With respect to the Ebola virus mutating into something that is airborne, this is a theoretical possibility that would support a science fiction scenario. But it is not very feasible from the standpoint of biological science. In a pathogen that already affects human beings, a basic change in the method of transmission has never been observed.

The virus would have to rebuild itself from the ground up to accomplish such a change, and it is under no evolutionary pressure to undergo that much modification, if this is even possible.

We don’t have to be worried about who you’re sitting next to on the bus or in the airplane. If they are infectious enough to be a real risk to you, they aren’t going to be on mass transportation.

With respect to the future of Ebola, my reading is that the current outbreak is going to be contained some time in the spring of 2015. The total number of infected people will be less than 50,000.

There have been only 4 countries outside of the three West African countries where Ebola has spread. Nigeria and Senegal have already contained their infections and have reported no new infections. Spain had one person who got ill treating an Ebola patient similar to the nurses in Dallas. She has since recovered.

My reading is that we’re not going to see any more than one or two more cases in the United States during this epidemic outside of people who come from Africa for treatment. The temperature screenings of people at airports is an effective deterrent although it can’t stop people without symptoms who develop them later.

Resources are starting to pour into the affected countries and more care units are being built.

Treatments and vaccines are on the way as the current crisis gives research into Ebola a huge kick in the butt. There is already the blood transfusion treatment from people who have recovered and hence have antibodies to the virus. In addition, more Zmapp is on the way.

Zmapp is a process whereby antibodies are grown in mice and then bioengineered into tobacco plants.

There is TKM-Ebola, a RNA interference drug, that is being tested. Four other anti-viral drugs that have also shown some promise.

Two vaccines are in human trials and a third is being developed. There are three separate research firms developing rapid diagnostic kits which can tell if a person has Ebola in ten to fifteen minutes.

It’s a good thing that we have an opportunity to test out these new vaccines and therapies, but it’s not going to do that much to alleviate the toll in Africa. I see that doubling what we have now at 20,000 cases.

When the crisis has passed and we reflect on the meaning of this event, an important element will be crisis information management. It was handled badly in the United States and unnecessary panic and fear resulted.

Part of the problem is that our understanding of Ebola virus disease is far from complete. The Biosafety Level 4 issues make research and data collection hazardous.

The scientific consensus narrative of what Ebola is and how it is transmitted is not going to be sufficient to allay the fears of people who get fragmentary information at best or who are influenced by self-serving agents of disinformation at worst.

For example, scientists speak in terms of probabilities. So they would say that there is very low risk of someone who has Ebola but has no symptoms or is in the very first stages of symptoms posing a risk to others through casual contact without body fluid transmission.

They would say that the prospect that Ebola could mutate into an airborne disease is extremely improbable, but not that it’s impossible.

But very low risk is not the same as no risk. When panic and fear are aroused, what is possible morphs into reality.

The next big shock about the Ebola virus disease will be the revelation that, in 5% of the cases, the incubation period between infection and first symptoms is longer than 21 days. People who have been in isolation for 21 days without symptoms pose very low risk to others of having Ebola. But, again, very low risk is not equal to no risk.

It makes sense to me that Obama would appoint a political figure as Ebola czar who can coordinate responses and be responsible for information management. Perception management is a political skill not something that scientists and doctors have particular expertise in.

My reading is that the 21 days is a sufficient isolation time period to keep us out of any realistic threat from sleeper Ebola patients. You have to weigh the benefits of excess caution with the consequences of drawing too big a circle around the problem.

If the isolation period is increased to 42 days, for example, this will make it more difficult to get the cooperation of the people who need to be isolated. Similarly, banning travel from the afflicted African countries will only encourage people to evade the restrictions and lie about their histories in West Africa making contact tracing more difficult.

Moreover, this still won’t eliminate every possible threat of infection because there are some people who have the virus but show no symptoms at all.

We’re all subject to irrational fears when emotional activations shortcircuit the higher centers of the brain. I’ve found it’s helpful to have some way of dealing with unreasonable fear and bringing things back into realistic perspective.

I call my application SORTA which stands for Spiritual Opening to Realistic Threat Assessment. This is how it works. When I’m possessed by a fear that is probably excessive and unwarranted, I want to know if it’s a real threat or not.

For example, I’m headed for the bank at the last minute. Should I be worried about getting there on time? I take a deep breath and, as I exhale, I envision a grounding rod going through my body into the mineral kingdom of the earth.

Then I ask my Higher Self, Is this threat real? Is this so? I assume that there is an aspect of myself that has more grounded information that is presently available to my emotionally addled brain and mind and I call on that aspect with a direct question. Then, if the fear proves unfounded, I can relax and proceed to my destination efficiently without putting myself at risk for a panic induced blunder.

In summary, my reading is that the world is going to contain this disease not later than the middle of next year. There will be new outbreaks from time to time from new animals to human transmissions, but we’ll be much better prepared to contain these new sources of Ebola.

We’re going to be safer and wiser in the long run because we’ll have the science and the technology to cope with future epidemics, even new Biosafety Level 4 threats that are still out there. The chance that these diseases could be made into bioweapons is greatly diminished for the future.

I’m less confident that, as a world community, we’ll take in the lessons of Ebola and become a more just and ecologically intelligent society as a result. This epidemic went out of control because the World Health Organization and others who might have been able to intervene effectively at the beginning did not respond in time with the resources needed.

Sadly, I feel this is due in no small part because the affected people were impoverished Africans.

If the Ebola epidemic teaches us anything, it’s that, as a community of nations, we’re all living on one small globe where the numbers of interactions we have with each other increase year by year so that whatever crisis affects one nation eventually affects us all.

The death of Robin Williams on August 11 has affected me deeply as well as millions of others who loved and admired him world-wide. Although I never met Robin, I feel like I have lost a personal friend. This living archetype of lightness, exuberance, joy, and play has been taken from us.

When someone we care about leaves our lives through suicide, it’s natural to feel a sense of powerlessness and even betrayal. I imagine these feelings are the source of some of the unkind things that people have written about the way in which Robin choose to bring his life to a close.

But don’t include me in that group. I do feel sadness and grief, but I also feel empowered by Robin’s life and example. His life’s work is this wonderful affirmation of life as he reflects back the joy, grace, beauty, complexity, absurdity, and challenge of the human condition.

Robin’s death by suicide is not a happy story. At the end of his life, he had a mental health falldown with severe depression. I imagine he saw the Parkinson’s diagnosis as something that would eventually take away what he loved to do.

We watch in amazement at the energy level that he brought to every stand-up performance and at the depth of emotion he evokes with every dramatic role. It is astounding that he was able to maintain his emotional and physical health for as long as he did and as well as he did.

At least some of his work was an impressive demonstration of channeling as he let energies flow through him all the while keeping the tone of gentleness and kindness that was his nature.

We lose sight of the shadow side of genius. We see great people through the lens of their achievements and we fail to acknowledge the price a great gift exacts in terms of imbalances it creates in other areas of life.

With Robin no longer with us, there is an opportunity to look at his life’s work at a whole and appreciate it as never before. I see this as a celebration of the beauty and wonder of being alive.

In Robin’s case the teaching is greater than the teacher. In addition to being inspired by his positive example of lightness and love, I am also empowered by the manner of his death.

In choosing to end his life through suicide, this is for me a negative role model that can help me gain perspective on my personal challenges.

How this works is seeing someone else choices lead to outcomes that are not what I want. Then I have a strong motivation to find a different path. For example, both of my parents were alcoholics.

From their behavior I saw that I want to have some other outcome in my life. So, I choose a drug free life and by mid life gave up drinking alcohol in all forms.

I’ve never had drug and alcohol issues in my life and, although I have times of unhappiness and sadness, I’m not subject to deep depression. Suicide is somewhat difficult for me to envision as a life choice since I see it as murdering oneself and I’m committed to nonviolence.

Robin got to a point where he was apparently unable to embrace life. And, although I’m probably going to stick around no matter what, I have same issue in a slightly different form.

There have been many times when rather than affirming life in the fullness of whatever thoughts, feelings, and emotions are present, I have numbed myself out. In addition to substance addiction, there is also process addiction. I have struggled with this all my life. In process addiction you kill the fullness of the moment.

My preferred forms of process addiction have been through sleep and self-hypnosis. By sleeping longer than you need or lying in bed after awakening without getting up, you can go into a lethargic state where feelings and emotions are muted.

Similarly, self-hypnosis can be a wonderful way to regenerate energy by total relaxation for up to an hour. But, if you feel asleep in it, or go well past the hour, there is again lethargy and numbness.

I’ve made great strides in overcoming this behavior in the last year or so and I want to go to the point where it is no longer a factor in my life. Then I can manifest my full potential of being alive in every moment and fully experience whatever thoughts, feelings, and emotions are happening in my energetic field.

My pathway of healing is through the application of the compassionate witness. Through witnessing my process, I can gain perspective and live from choice rather than reflex.

Robin is that icon that calls me back to the witness. His compassion is legendary as reflected in his kindness and generosity to so many. He is also the amused witness of the human condition and we need that as well. We need some faculty that can see our challenges in sufficient perspective to appreciate the humor in it.

No matter how many people love and respect you, if you get to place where you can’t love yourself, you’re in deep trouble. There is a propaganda war happening with the mind. Negative and sometimes toxic thoughts compete for our attention with loving and positive elements.

If you don’t have an active program of countering this negativity with affirmations and appreciation, you can lose the war and then maybe even your life.

May I bring my affirmations to bear in every moment of confusion and uncertainty.

I love myself as I am in this moment. I love my process as it is in this moment. I rejoice in being one with all of who I am. I rejoice in the challenge of this moment. I am one with my personal power as it is in this moment. I love myself in the limitations that I experience in this moment. I stand in the ungroundedness and strive from Grace in this moment.

Thanks Robin, you compassionate amused witness, for inspiring me to write this and to let go of a little bit of my fear of being seen.

On this 14th day of December, the holiday season is now in full swing. This year the energetic weather changed abruptly around the 1st of December and we’re thrown into the season of existential intensity.

By existential intensity I mean a mood which includes some or all of the following elements: Excitement, anticipation, a sense of it’s being a meaningful time, uncertainty, anxiety, and apprehension. I imagine everyone would concur with the first three aspects in this description of the holidays. But this time also has its shadow side.

For anyone with relatives who have drinking problems, the holidays can be a time of remembrance of trauma and upset. For anyone whose family life or personal relationship life is not what they would like it to be, this time of year can be one of intensified unhappiness.

To avoid sounding like Scrooge incarnate, let me preface my further reflections with some personal appreciations of the holiday season. I like some of the Christmas stories with Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol my favorite. I find Christmas lights awesome and beautiful.

I enjoy the many opportunities for community and social connection that come with holiday parties. I love going to movies at this time of year. I appreciate the tangible sense of charity and good will that people often have. I relish the opportunity to start on the 1st of January by being congruent with my goals for the coming year.

For almost everyone, whatever kind of work you do, the holidays have periods where everything comes to a dead stop and work responsibilities are greatly diminished.

However, this does not mean that the holidays are a vacation. A vacation is a self-structured time when you get to go where you want and engage in whatever recreational activities you fancy.

On the contrary, the holidays are a time of frenzy. The days are often stressful and overscheduled. I imagine there are some who thrive on the frantic pace, the crowds, and the confusion. That would not be me.

So why do we do what we do? More importantly, does our habitual holiday routine really serve us? With due respect to other holiday traditions such as Hanukkah and Kwanzaa, let me reflect a moment on Christmas.

Christmas is supposedly a celebration of the birth of Jesus although no one knows when Jesus was born. The December 25th date was picked by the Church because there was already a Roman holiday on that date and they wanted to upstage the pagan rituals that had been celebrated for a long time around the time of the winter solstice.

We traditionally exchange gifts on that day but why? What does this mean? There is also a culling of millions of trees which are bought into homes, decorated and then discarded. We would be hard put to articulate what that tradition signifies.

Of course, we’re doing more or less what our parents did before us and so on for hundreds of years into the past.

I do not mean to denigrate ritual, ceremony or tradition. These things are very important for us as individuals and as a culture. When archetypes are activated, we need these frameworks to help us channel the emotional energies that are aroused into life affirming activities.

The archetypes are ingrained patterns of response to times of special significance such as the longest night of the year and the return of the light, the end of the calendar year and the beginning of the New Year. The archetypes are expressed as symbols and metaphors.

Christmas has come to symbolize home, family and relationship.

With respect to the cultural transformation that we’re going though in the early years of the 21st century, we’re suffering from a loss of symbols and metaphors that have a living meaning for us and that speak to our souls.

When we unconsciously follow tradition for the sake of tradition alone, we’re vulnerable to acting simply to meet the expectations of others. Then what is most meaningful to us can get lost in the shuffle.

But we have another option. That is to create our own rituals and ceremonies and to pioneer traditions that have deep personal significance. Then we can have authentic Christmas, authentic New Year’s irrespective of what others are doing or have done in the past, irrespective of how eccentric or conventional that might be.

We can move forward with a reinvention and re-envisioning of the holidays in alignment with what feels most important for us.

Should it be case that we have past holiday trauma or present social unhappiness at this time of year, we have options there too. We can begin by giving ourselves the gift of forgiveness for any persons who have caused us pain or upset in past holiday times or in personal relationship. With forgiveness everyone wins.

We don’t have to build monuments to our past trauma or our past unhappiness. Instead compassionately witness whatever feelings are present and shift attention to your deepest heart’s desire.

The pain that you experienced then or may be experiencing now is not your fate or your destiny. It’s just a fact of your life. Your future is still what you make it to be.

Find empowerment in taking on the challenge of transforming unhappiness into what you want there to be. Whatever challenges you have now are just what there is to be transformed.

Don’t waste your energy comparing yourself to other people and their circumstances at the holidays. Some people have a happy social life and the holidays are an opportunity to rejoice in that. But no one has a perfect social life. Social discontent is an inescapable feature of the human condition.

Put your focus on being the person you want to be and be grateful for the challenges that you are given that motivate you to expand and grow. In a life of total contentment, there would be limited opportunity for positive change.

Should you find the holidays a stressful time, it is helpful to remind yourself of some basic strategies of stress resilience. A more important point in this respect is to allow generous margins of time for every endeavor. A cramped time is almost always stressful. Whatever cannot fit comfortably in the time frame can be put over or let go completely.

Practice slowing down the pace of your activities. Whatever is done with full attention is more enjoyable and generally more effective as well.

When, in spite of your best efforts, stressful events occur, fall back on the disturbance protocol. Distressing thoughts may come into our mind or perhaps something relatively unimportant causes us to go into upset. There may be conflict with someone else.

Begin by compassionately witnessing the disturbance. Acknowledge the feelings, whatever they happen to be, and then go to place of loving yourself in your limitations because you’ve just stumbled over one.

Ask yourself how are you with how this is? Then go to even though I feel … I still love and accept myself. Even though this has happened, I still love and accept myself.

In the second step go for an intention to strive from Grace in this moment and in this circumstance. Striving from Grace means opening to an inner source of wisdom and inspiration beyond your immediate conscious inventory. I envision this source as the Higher Self.

The third step is asking for Guidance from the source. Two direct questions can take you there. What’s best? and What do I need in this moment? The expectation of Grace will be an experience of Grace. The fourth step is to follow the Guidance given.

Taking a minute before you react to a disturbance is often the difference between sanity and insanity. In my acronym speak, I called this taking a MONOT, a moment of noticing.

See what you can notice about what’s happening within you and in the outside situation. Noticing calms the brain and allows some space so you can respond from choice rather than reflex.

If, for some reason, you have to act before you have time to do all the steps, fall back on step 3 and just ask your inner source What’s best?

Today is the 50th anniversary of the assassination of John F. Kennedy in Dallas, Texas on November 23, 1963. For those of us old enough to remember that day, the pain and disbelief still remains. The national trauma is for us an unforgettable lived experience. May we never have to suffer through such a day again.

In my science fiction fantasizing, I have often envisioned having a time machine where I could go back in time and change history. At first I went to the grassy knoll thinking a second gunman, the person who fired the fatal shot, was certainly there. But, there was no one.

So, in future fantasy trips, I imagined confronting Oswald on the sixth floor of the Texas Book Depository and scaring him off from his intended actions.

On reflection, I see this would have been a mistake. Changing the time line would have unintended consequences. We might wake up to find Mitt Romney as our president or John McCain with Sarah Palin as vice-president.

I imagine we’re fortunate that time travel is either not possible, or alternatively that some benevolent interdimensional overseers are protecting the time line so such a reversal of history does not happen.

Had Kennedy not been killed, it seems likely that the Vietnam War would not have happened, or at least not turned out to be the full scaled military intervention that ensued.

From another perspective, however, some of the things that Lyndon Johnson was able to get through Congress might not have happened as soon as they did. The Civil Right Act, the Voting Rights Act, Medicare, Medicaid and Food Stamps were all programs Johnson was able to pass using his influence and political skills with Congress.

Civil Rights was an issue Kennedy had championed in the latter part of his presidency. With his untimely death, there was momentum to complete part of the martyred president’s agenda.

From that date 50 years ago until the present time, we still wonder how this incomprehensible event come to be. The results of the official investigation, that a lone gunman, Lee Harvey Oswald, shot the president from the sixth floor of the Texas Book Depository, have always been suspect in one way or another.

A recent poll showed 61% of the American public still believes that Kennedy’s death was part of some larger plot. That Kennedy’s death was almost a random act, a crime of opportunity by a single emotionally unbalanced individual acting on his own initiative is hard to take in versus the view that it was part of some larger political or geopolitical scheme.

How could someone as insignificant and unbalanced as Oswald kill one of the most powerful men in the world with no help from the outside? He would have had less than nine seconds to fire three shots at the president using a mail order bolt action rifle from a distance of 265 feet.

If the official story of the assassination were a novel, it wouldn’t sell. Too much suspension of disbelief would be required for the unlikely chain of events to unfold as they were said to have done.

The ten month long Warren Commission investigation which was supposed to uncover the truth ended up contributing to the uncertainty of what happened that day. This was due in no small part to the fact that the commission’s work was skewed from the beginning by a mandate to deliver a singular verdict of Lee Harvey Oswald as the lone unassisted gunman.

If there had been a conspiracy to kill Kennedy, Johnson didn’t want to know about it and he made this clear to the commission. He didn’t want to risk a war by invading Cuba, if the Cubans were behind it, or with the Russians, if they were responsible. So the evidence gathered was filtered to suit the preordained conclusion. The official investigation was anything but complete and thorough.

Thus was born the conspiracy universe, a vast industry of investigation, speculation, disinformation, and alternative reality construction. Trust in government as an institution that can be counted on to operate with integrity and truthfulness was dealt a blow from which it has never recovered.

After fifty years of taking in information about the Kennedy assassination, my reading is that, ironically, the conclusions of the Warren Commission, arrived at as they were, are basically correct. Oswald killed Kennedy from the book depository, and he didn’t have any help.

Although the conspiracy industry has generated unnecessary fear and suspicion in many areas, one service it has performed is actively pursuing whatever investigation leads were available in the Kennedy killing. And after fifty years, not a single credible alternative explanation to the Oswald as long gunman thesis has stood up to scrutiny.

Every single thread that purported to show that Oswald could not have been the shooter has been run to ground.

Here is one example from my own experience. I remembering watching the assassination drama unfold on television after I returned from school. I always thought it extremely odd that Oswald had been named a suspect so quickly.

He was taken into custody just 70 minutes after the shooting. Moreover, his shooting of police officer J.D. Tippit just before then came about when Tippit had received a radio message with a description of the suspect in the assassination that matched Oswald. When Tippit asked Oswald for identification, he was shot at point blank range.

I thought if they were on to Oswald so quickly, they must have had some advanced information about him that would warrant making him a suspect. And if so, why didn’t they do something to prevent his being a threat to the president?

The real story is different though. Shortly after the shooting, the police closed off the book depository and only Oswald was missing from the staff. Moreover, they found his rifle and the empty cartridges on the sixth floor where Oswald had been seen earlier. The manager gave Oswald’s description to the police.

When Ruby killed Oswald two days after the assassination, the opportunity to find out more about what was motivating Oswald was lost forever. Moreover, Ruby’s actions fed the conspiracy mill.

I doubt a surviving Oswald would ever have told us much. This was certainly true of the men convicted in the assassinations of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr.

My reading is that the key to Oswald actions are revealed in an earlier assassination effort. According to his widow, Marina, he told her he tried to assassinate General Edwin Walker, an extreme right wing figure, on April 10, 1963 using the same rifle that was used in the Kennedy killing.

So, we see here someone with violent tendencies motivated by political considerations. Oswald didn’t need someone to persuade him to become a political assassin. He didn’t need someone to whisper in his ear. That was his ambition.

In my reading, there has been a cover-up in the Kennedy assassination that goes beyond the already well documented limitations of the Warren Commission.

Oswald, having defected to Russia and returned, was certainly someone with big CIA file. What did the CIA know about Oswald and when did they know it? Thousands of pages of CIA documents that deal with the assassination have never been disclosed. The disclosure has been put over until 2017 and even then some pages may be redacted.

The Secret Service, the FBI and the CIA were negligent in the assassination of President Kennedy. Someone with Oswald’s history should have never have been allowed to slip into relative anonymity especially when he has a job that is directly on the route of the president’s motorcade.

It’s sad and disconcerting that this part of the assassination story has never come fully to light. Maybe we could have learned some lessons that would have enabled security agencies to share information more effectively and avoided having to repeat the same scenario on 09.11.2001 when the dots were all there and no one connected them.

On balance, it’s probably a good thing to learn that we can’t trust the government to tell us the truth since protecting their own interests can trump all good faith attempts to reveal the full story. Even though the Warren Commission got it right, they did it in a way which undermined our trust.

In our own day, we’ve got to find the middle way between distrusting the government and believing everything we read on the internet. Yes, the truth is out there, but you have to keep your critical perspective to discern it.

Oswald’s killing of Kennedy was a wildly improbable event. Any one of a hundred different outcomes had to be just the way they were for this to happen.

Had the Secret Service not taken the bubble off of Kennedy’s limousine, for example, Oswald would not have had such a clear view of his target. The odds that he would be able to fire a fatal shot under the constraints of time and distance with the weapon he had are daunting. Yet he did.

Our universe is made up of improbable events. If you take a look in the mirror, you’ll see one. What are the odds that the one individual sperm out of millions would fertilize the egg to become you? I think this shows that the way the world works is still some steps beyond the power of our mental capacity to reduce it to simple explanations.

My belief is that we’re always in the perfect lesson. I think this is true for us as individuals and for the nation as a whole. Even an event as heart rendering as the assassination of our president has much to teach us.

Shutdown Endgame

The government is going into its second week of shutdown. When will it end? What’s does the endgame look like?

I predicted that the Republicans would not go to the extreme of letting the government shut down. But they did. So, some of the assumptions that went into that prediction need to be reconsidered.

In about 10 days, the United States will be out of money to pay its debt obligations and, unless something happens between now and then, we will go into credit default for first time in our history. The economic consequences of this are on a spectrum ranging from very bad to catastrophic. The economic well-being of the world is at stake as well as that of our country.

There are those in the Republican Party who believe that not raising the federal debt limit would be a good thing. From their point of view, this is just a drastic measure to ensure a balanced budget where we don’t spend more than we take in. Moreover, closing down the government is also a desirable exercise since it can serve to demonstrate how irrelevant the federal government is with respect to the well-being of average citizens.

Of course, these are many of the same people who don’t believe in evolution or the reality of climate change and who were totally convinced that all the 2012 election polls were biased and that Romney would win the election by a landslide.

John Boehner does not fully subscribe to the alternate reality consensus of his most politically extreme members, but he’s been recruited into being their puppet.

The campaign to use the threat of a government shutdown in order to destroy Obamacare is not something that arose overnight. It’s been a systematic well-financed effort that has been months in the planning.

On August 21, Mark Meadows, a North Carolina representative, circulated a letter asking fellow House members to link funding the government to a defunding of Obamacare. In the Senate, Ted Cruz took up the campaign.

Meadows only got 80 fellow Republicans to sign on to his letter. Ted Cruz is widely perceived as a self-promoting pompous ass by most of my colleagues on both the Democratic and Republican sides of the aisle. So how did we get to this political standoff between two intractable positions on the part of Democrats and Republicans?

Boehner never wanted to go all in to shutdown the government to get rid of Obamacare. His preference was to use the leverage of the debt ceiling to extract economic concessions from Obama and the Democrats. But the crusade to defund Obamacare gained traction among Republican House members, and he was left with the choice of opposing the extreme elements of his party and using Democrats to pass a clean continuing resolution or joining them.

Afraid he would lose his speakership if he didn’t go along, he signed on to their cause. He really thought that Obama and the Democrats would go for some kind of compromise to keep the government going and avoid default. After all, they had done this before in response to the last debt limit crisis. The result was the sequestration budget debacle of 2011. Sequestration systematically reduced spending across the board in most programs.

The Republicans have become dupes of their own propaganda which espouses that the majority of Americans oppose Obamacare. They thought if they couldn’t repeal the law, they could at least delay it and eventually kill it with the death of a thousand cuts. In taking on this fight, they felt they would be gaining support in advance of the 2014 elections. Moreover, they feared if they didn’t make a stand before the law started to go into effect and uninsured people started to benefit from the program, it would be too late.

The reality is that the polls indicate that although 46 percent oppose Obamacare, only 37 percent oppose the Affordable Care Act. Of course, these are the same. Obamacare has been maligned by a systematic and well-financed attempt to distort and discredit it. And the percentage of people who oppose the law doesn’t take into account those who oppose it because it didn’t go far enough to provide universal health care benefits.

72% of the public said that they opposed shutting down the government in order to defund Obamacare.

Learning from their 2011 experience, Obama and the Democrats have taken a stand on a principle of no longer giving in to political extortion. They realize that concessions to the Republicans at this point just encourages them to demand more at the next debt limit or budget crisis.

The result of the shutdown so far is that Obamacare is starting to gear up with no delay and the Republicans are shouldering the majority of the blame. Every day that passes weakens the Republican brand and makes it less likely they can win the Senate in 2014 or even hang onto their majority in the House.

Having gone to extreme measures to defund Obamacare and getting so far nothing in return, it’s hard for Boehner and the Republicans to back down. Not raising the debt ceiling would have a much greater lasting negative impact on the economy and that is now at risk.

Boehner has said that he will not allow a default to happen. However, he’s also said that he’s not going to bring a clean continuing resolution to the floor of the House, and he won’t consider raising the debt limit without spending cuts.

Moreover, in an outrageous pants on fire moment, he falsely claimed that he did not currently have the votes to pass a clean continuing resolution even though 22 members of his caucus said they would vote for such a bill if it came up. This would be more than enough to create a majority with the Democrats.

It’s becoming clear to even some of the politically extreme Republicans that their efforts to defund and delay Obamacare have failed. Obama and the Democrats are not going to cave at this point and give Republicans concessions on Obamacare that would not otherwise have gained.

My reading is that the endgame for the government shutdown turns on the discharge petition now working its way through the House. If enough House Republicans sign the petition, they can put a clean funding bill up to a majority vote by October 14. This is the moment for the less alternate reality consensus Republicans in the House to take back some of their power and turns the lights back on.

If they get the required signatures for the petition, Boehner’s hand will be forced and he’ll bring the bill to the floor himself to avoid being circumvented completely.

Boehner is going to be under considerably more pressure to raise the debt ceiling than he was about government shutdown. Boehner is a major beneficiary of financial support from corporations and their lobbyists and he risks alienating his financial base by letting default happen.

My reading is that the discharge petition gambit is going to work and the government shutdown will end in about a week’s time. I also see the debt limit being increased without budgetary concessions by the Democrats.

The irony here is that the Republicans are not really losing the budget wars. They have every rational incentive to pass a clean continuing resolution and raise the debt ceiling and let things remain unresolved with respect to the major budget issues.

The sequestration is not a one year deal. Unless it’s modified, the government will suffer across the board cuts again in 2014 and this will continue every year until 2021. A sequestration spending level in 2014 would be almost the same as what Paul Ryan proposed in 2012.

Because Obama and the Democrats are taking a strong stand on principle, our democratic principles as the rule of the majority while respecting the rights of the minority will be preserved. A minority of the minority will not be allowed to bully the rest of us into submitting to their agenda.

The Tea Party’s ability to tweak the Congress to their will is at its high water mark. However, its influence in the Republican Party will continue and the Republicans will be putting forward an alternative reality consensus candidate in 2016. My reading is that this will be Ted Cruz.

The outflow will be that the Republicans will not have a realistic chance to win a national election for the foreseeable future. Their numbers in the Senate and the House are also going to be diminished going forward.

What I see is that they will pick up only 2 Senate seats in 2014 and these gains will be reversed in 2016.

Unfortunately, there will be continuing political gridlock in the remainder of 113th Congress with very few bills of any substance making it into law.

The Tea Party came into being as a reaction to the cultural crisis of rapid change that we’re going through as a country and as a civilization. Rather than adapting to change by choosing transformation, they are motivated by less functional responses. These are regression and acting out. Regression is an attempt to put things back the way they were before changes came into effect and return to some previous conditions that are imagined to be more ideal.

So the Tea Party faction wants to repeal Obamacare and take us back to a time before this overhaul of our health care system. The conservative nature of the current Republican Party with its resistance to change and belief in the beneficial nature of past states has made common cause with them in this venture.

However, the Tea Party is also sourced by channeling the upset and uncertainty of changing conditions into acting out. The government is then the enemy and the source of pretty much all perceived danger for the future.

When Boehner and the rest of his caucus in the House signed onto the Tea Party effort to shut the government down in order to defund Obamacare, they’ve allowed themselves to be assimilated by this political extremism. However, in acting out against the government, the shutdown also has the effect of acting out against the interests of the Republican Party.

They’ve gone from having a lock on the House in 2014 and an even chance to win the Senate in 2014 to virtually no chance to win the Senate and a even money chance to lose the House. The pragmatic parts of the Republican establishment cannot allow this situation to continue. So the shutdown and debt limit will be given up in the short run without concessions on either Obamacare or broader budget issues.

I see this happening within a day or two of the 14th of October. This doesn’t mean they have given up their leverage around the budget, however. The continuing resolution is only for a few weeks and the debt limit extension will be same. Moreover, there is no agreement on a budget. So, there will be negotiations around budget compromise but only after the government shutdown ends and the debt limit is raised.

We’re going to have dysfunctional government until at least January, 2015. Then with the Republican Tea Party members diminished in the House, there is opening for positive change.

Unless Congress passes a continuing resolution to fund the government, most government services will cease after October 1. A shutdown at this time would be much more severe than the partial government shutdowns we experienced in 1995 and 1996. No budgets have been passed for the last few years so the government has nothing to fall back on if a continuing resolution does not pass.

Moreover, by the end of October, the government will default on its debt obligations unless the debt ceiling is raised.

My reading is that neither of these worst case scenarios will come to pass. The Republicans cannot afford to shut down the government. They would shoulder the majority of the blame and be the target of the public outrage that would result.

The damage to the Republican brand would cost them the House in 2014 and sabotage their efforts to gain a majority in the Senate. The same consequences would ensue from not raising the debt ceiling.

In light of these dire prospects, it may seem difficult to understand how the Republican Party has come to this particular impasse. With the support of all but one House Republican, the House passed a bill that ties the continuing resolution to a complete defunding of Obamacare.

This bill has no chance in the Senate where the Democrats have a clear majority. Moreover, it would face a certain presidential veto if it made it through Congress.

This is an attempt at political extortion not an effort at reaching any sort of compromise. It’s not rational to believe that the Democrats would give up on their health care reform measure three years after its passage and on the eve of a major portion of its implementation. The health care insurance exchanges are set to come on line October 1.

With respect to the Republican Party, it’s clear that the tail is wagging the dog. There are only about 48 Tea Party caucus members in the House out of 233 total Republicans with maybe 40 others who support them. Yet Tea Party Republicans make up about half of all likely primary voters.

Republican House members in the red states are much more in fear of having to survive a primary from their own party then they are of Democratic opponents.

The linkage to defunding Obamacare with the continuing resolution and the debt ceiling has been spearheaded by Texas Tea Party Senator Ted Cruz. He has said that this may be the last chance to stop Obamacare.

Once the insurance exchanges go into effect, people will be invested in the new health care options. The perceived danger is that the relative negative perception that people have of the Affordable Care Act will change once it starts to be implemented and the public starts to see the benefits. Then some of the myths about the law will be dispelled.

You might think that, if you didn’t like Obamacare, it would be a much smarter political strategy to work to modify aspects of the law you found most objectionable rather than trying to get rid of it altogether. The Democrats have been working for decades to institute health reform and they aren’t going to give up their law as long as they hold a majority in the Senate and have their party’s guy in the White House.

However, the no compromise attitude towards Obamacare as a whole has been embraced by the Republican Party. They see the support for this law as leverage to try to gain control of the Senate in 2014 when Democratic are running for election in the traditionally red states of Alaska, Montana, South Dakota, Arkansas, Louisiana, North Carolina, and West Virginia.

However, even if they gained control of the Senate, Obama would still be president so eliminating Obamacare would not survive a presidential veto. It seems the Republicans get caught up in their own rhetoric and believe that the public sees Obamacare as this great evil that has to be eradicated at all costs. Moreover, as stated above, they have a vested interested in placating the Tea Party element in their own party.

House Speaker John Boehner is trying to make a show of party unity, placate the Tea Party wing of his party while also avoiding a government shutdown.

His concern is that, if he just used mostly Democrats to pass a continuing resolution against the wishes of his caucus as a first strategy, he would be in trouble as speaker. So, he sent a continuing resolution bill to the Senate knowing it would return with the defunding of Obamacare stripped out.

Harry Reid is doing his part in this implicit conspiracy to get Boehner off the hook by playing out the Senate’s consideration until the last possible minute. Then the House would have to accept the Senate’s version or shut down the government because there will be no time to do anything else.

When Boehner gets the Senate version, my reading is that he’s going to appeal to Democrats to pass a continuing resolution because there will be no other option to avoid a shutdown. He will claim his hands are tied.

Senator Cruz is the wild card in this scenario because he’s not cooperating with the Republican establishment’s effort to do some kind of symbolic protest of Obamacare while funding the government. He is on a one man crusade to shut the government down in order to get rid of Obamacare.

Cruz is the reincarnation of Joe McCarthy. Rather than communists in the government, his mission is killing Obamacare. Like McCarthy, Cruz is an attention junkie and he’s willing to do whatever it takes to stay in the limelight no matter the harm it might do to the country.

Cruz is running for president in 2016 and his crusade is designed to make him stand out from the rest of the presidential hopefuls. The more criticism he receives from the other Republicans, the better it is for him because then he can claim he’s a man of the people, not a tool of the establishment.

Thus, he’s been egging on the House to go all in with respect to actually shutting down the government even though the majority of Republicans do not want to do that. Cruz’s emergence as the leader of this Obamacare fight is an attempt to take over leadership of the entire party.

My reading is that he will eventually be successful in this and emerge as the party’s standard bearer in 2016. In the long term, he’s going to be embraced as the new Ronald Reagan.

The outcome that I see to this crisis is that the Senate version of the continuing resolution will be passed and the debt ceiling will get raised without the Republicans getting any concessions from the Democrats at all. By tying these issues to a defunding of Obamacare, they are waging a fight they can’t win and they are not making any progress on other issues that they could be negotiating on.

The Tea Party will feel betrayed by Boehner, but my reading is that they will not have enough votes to depose him as leader.

With a party fighting with itself, it’s going to be more difficult to reach compromise on any basic issues with the Democrats. There is no effective leadership in the Republican Party and Ted Cruz’s effort to fill that vacuum is going to be bitterly opposed in the short term.

The unfortunate result is that it’s going to be very difficult to get anything passed in the 113th Congress and the economic issues will just be kicked further down the road without resolution.

The Republican Party is in the midst of the most profound crisis it has ever experienced. It did not respond to the 2012 political defeats by becoming more inclusive and more diverse. Instead it’s moving in the direction of becoming even more conservative and demographically narrow. It’s starting to become a party of right wing political extremism that sees any compromise as surrender of basic principles.

2014 is on course to be one of the rare moments in United States election history where the party out of power in the White House loses seats in the off year election. My reading is that the Republican Senate leader Mitch O’Connell is going to be defeated in Kentucky.

Republicans weren’t always the party of the most conservative politics. They were actually the progressive party back in Lincoln’s time. Even as late as the 1960s, there used to be liberal Republicans. However, I see three trends that have been pushing Republicans more to the right.

Republicans have become the party of corporate interests and billions of dollars have become available to support super conservative causes. For example, the Koch brothers have bankrolled the Tea Party to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars.

The conservative nature of Republicans makes it more difficult for them to embrace change and then their tendency is to reinforce ideological principles in the face of crisis such as the transformation our whole culture is undergoing.

In our media driven world, we’re also seeing where political advocacy and performance art gets merged together. Performance art is generally some kind of outrageous attention getting stunt which never takes itself that seriously.

But when it presents itself as serious political discourse, there is a double danger. On the one hand, the performer may lose sight of the difference between his acting role and his authentic self. He can get lost in his role.

On the other hand, some aspect of the public may come to take his performance at literal face value. This is a problem because the actor can’t really deliver on what his role promises and his followers are counting on him to do exactly that.

Performance art as politics is really a scam and unfortunately it’s a scam that rakes in really big bucks. When Rush Limbaugh is confronted on whether he really believes some of the outrageous things he says, his response is that his program is meant to be entertainment. The more extreme the rhetoric, the greater the dramatic value and the more money that comes in as contributions. A dysfunctional reality consensus is created that is generated by the performance artist and sustained by the suspension of disbelief on the part of the followers.

So we have the spectacle of Ted Cruz filibustering the very law which he advocated the House pass. He’s leading the Republican Party down a road of disaster and it’s a really great show. He’s relishing every moment of it.

The excitement of December 21, 2012 and the Mayan Calendar rollover date is now eight months behind us.  As I forecast in my book 2012: the Real Story, the outcome of this date was nothing special. 

However, the lack of an especially noteworthy or world defining moment on December 21 does not mean that there have not been significant steps in the evolution of the collective consciousness of humankind at the end of 2012 and in the first months of 2013. 

Change is happening incrementally rather than suddenly or catastrophically.  The incremental nature of these changes makes it harder to perceive and acknowledge them and to keep things in perspective.

For the most part, my predictions for 2013 as outlined in the 2013 Forecast and 2013 Forecast Part II blogs are still pretty much on track.  Science and technological transformation is still happening at a dizzying rate.   Global ecological peril continues to grow and there has been a quantum insignificant focus on remedial efforts.   

It’s still an open question whether the combination of scientific and technological innovation plus a growth of global spiritual intelligence that could source the will to implement new technology will happen at a sufficient pace to head off planetary ecological catastrophe. I’ll say more on this topic in a future blog.

Economic conditions continue to show slow improvement throughout the world and in the United States. The economy of the United States is showing remarkable strength   considering the changes we’re forced to adapt to in such aspects as robots replacing human beings in many job areas.

On the political front, the Republican Party is continuing to choose regression as their response to change.  The result is that socially conservative issues come to the fore, especially in the states where they have political control. Candidates who embody a far right wing agenda gain ascendancy. 

Several states with Republican legislative majorities have moved to undermine voting rights and restrict voting. North Carolina and Texas are the most egregious examples.  Women’s access to health care and their reproductive rights are under systematic assault in many of the red states.

The party’s self-reflection on their election falldown in 2012 was that they needed to broaden their base and appeal more to minorities, women, and young people.  However, their legislative actions do not support that vision. 

For example, immigration reform is dead on arrival in the House of Representations, at least for this year.  The 22 bills passed by Congress in the first eight months of this year represent a historically unprecedented epic nadir in congressional effectiveness.  It shows how much the Republicans are still working with an anti-Obama obstructionist agenda rather than having any positive program of their own. 

From what I’ve seen so far this year, the 2016 presidential race is developing as I predicted it would with Hillary as the Democratic candidate and Ted Cruz for the Republicans.  Cruz won’t lose as badly as Goldwater did in 1964 when the GOP only won five states, but it will still be another huge setback for the Republicans. 

I also see some gains for the Democrats in the House in 2014.   Although they stand to lose two net seats in the Senate, they will maintain control there.

The quixotic efforts of Ted Cruz and other Tea Party aligned members of the Senate to shut down the government in an effort to defund Obama-care are not going anywhere.   All they will accomplish is splitting their caucus.  This will be the first of many internal conflicts within the GOP pitting the Tea Party against establishment Republicans ahead of the race to designate a new leader of the Republican Party for 2016.

The place in my forecasts for 2013 where I haven’t seen things very well is with regard to the civil war in Syria.  I thought by this time the rebels would have overrun Syria and Assad would be dead or in exile. 

Instead the conflict has become a dangerous regional war pitting the Free Syrian Army, several Sunni dominated Arab countries, Europe, the United States plus some elements of al-Qaeda against Assad’s forces, Hezbollah, Russia, Iran, and Shiite elements from Iraq. 

If you wanted to entertain a worst case scenario of global war, this could be your World War III scenario.  Fortunately, my reading is that this is not going to happen.  It’s an arms advantage that keeps Assad in power, and Europe and the United States have the will and the means to level that playing field. 

The recent nerve gas attack by Assad’s forces is going be a turning point in the war.  The effort of the regime to blame the attack on the rebels is not going to win many hearts and minds, either in Syria or aboard.  Even Iran has condemned the use of chemical weapons. 

Assad’s use of nerve gas will force Obama’s hand to intervene with military action.  I don’t see this as an engagement on the scale of the no fly zone in Libya though.  The intent will be to deter Assad from further chemical weapons attacks. 

What I see happening is a limited bombing and cruise missile attack of only a few days duration.  I don’t see any large scale intervention by Western powers in the civil war although their arms shipments to the rebels already constitute intervention.

My prediction is that Assad’s government will crumble in the early months of 2014. He’ll then have to negotiate an end to the war or face annihilation from his enemies. This may seem to be an unfounded prediction since the consensus in most quarters is that neither side can win a military victory. 

However, the gas attack tips the balance in favor of the rebels as it makes Assad out to be a genocidal maniac. Taking him out of power in Syria then becomes a priority for the world community. Moreover, this priority will trump concerns about what kind of social and political instability would result from his fall.  

My reading is that we’re moving into a situation in world history where the governments of the world find some actions to be intolerable. Then collective action is brought to bear to remedy the situation.  The use of chemical weapons crosses a red line, not only for the United States, but also for the world as a whole. 

Of course, several nations and groups are allied with Syria in this war including Iran and Russia.   However, in the long run, they will prove to be relatively powerless to save Assad. 

One wonders why Assad ordered a chemical attack at the very time when UN inspectors were coming into the country.  My reading is that he is upping the stakes for the various players hoping that his allies will get more involved in a larger war.   

He’s provoking an attack by the United States and its European allies in the hope of being able to play victim and gain sympathy and support.   He’s hoping that at least his allies will buy his absurd claim that the rebels gassed their own people.

My take is that Assad, in his narcissistic arrogance, considers his control of Syria to be of indispensable concern to his allies.  Thus, he believes that creating a scenario where he’s picked on by Europe and the United States will push the conflict to the point where his allies will have to go all in to support him.  It indicates desperation though and shows how vulnerable he is to losing control over Syria.   In short, Assad is acting out hoping to draw in more help from outside.

Beyond this regional war trouble spot, things are moving along in a progressive direction in the some other parts of world. North Korea has moved away from their war mongering rhetoric and is now seeking to negotiate.  A more moderate leader has won election to be the new president of Iran.

On the democracy frontier, things seem to be going backwards in Egypt. This is disconcerting. This is part of the spiral progress of the Arab Spring though.  We can’t expect countries with little or no history of democratic institutions to have an immediate and smooth transition to representative democracy after many years of autocratic rule.

On the world scene, there is plenty here to support the viewpoints of both pessimists and optimists.   We’re in a truly chaotic and tumultuous time.  My reading is that we’re going through a period of collective existential crisis.  This is just what you would expect if our civilization is in transition on many fronts.    

Our challenges are real. The stakes are nothing less than the quality and meaning of our lives.  The outcomes are all uncertain.  

My reading is that we need to confront and more fully articulate these challenges so that we can gain some perspective on what we’re going through as a civilization and be able to celebrate the points of real progress that are all around us but are often overlooked and unseen.  I’ll have more to say on this topic in the next blog.

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