At approximately 1.24 pm on Saturday, September 12, a fire started in a shed near a rural home in Cobb. Fed by very high winds and high temperatures, the fire raged out of control. By 6.30 pm, it had scorched 10,000 acres. By Sunday 50,000 acres were burned. By the 23nd of September, the fire had burned over 76,000 acres and was still only 80% contained.

Approximately 1900 structures have been destroyed by the latest count. This makes the Valley Fire the third worse fire in California history as measured by the total number of structures lost.

Almost all of the buildings at the Harbin Hot Springs Resort were reduced to rubble. A couple of dome structures on the top of the hill survived as did some bathrooms that had metal roofs.

The people at Harbin and the people in the surroundings communities had very little time to evacuate so many people lost almost all of their possessions along with their homes and immediate livelihoods. Fortunately, only 4 deaths have been attributed to the fire so far.

Since I have been going to the workshops of the Human Awareness Institute at Harbin Hot Springs for 31 years, I know many of the people affected by the fire who worked there or lived nearby.

The Stan Dale Conference Center that was the Northern California home venue for the HAI workshops for all these years is completely destroyed.

How can we deal with such loss and maintain our emotional center?

I think the most important thing is not to obsessively focus on loss as loss but to pivot our attention as soon as we can to what we want to create from this point forward.

It’s important to allow ourselves to grieve and feel the sadness. But then celebrate life. Choose love, choose empowerment.

I find empowerment in the circumstances of my life by taking on the premise that I’m always in the perfect lesson. When I’m caught up in an unfortunate and unwelcome situation, I look for lessons and I always find them.

The first lesson I find in the pain of the Valley Fire is a new understanding of the Buddhist teaching that all form is ephemeral and impermanent. Everything that is structure is in the process of change and evolution. We’re caught up in cycles of creation and destruction. This, of course, includes our physical bodies as well.

I’m reminded of the importance of appreciating and celebrating the things I love and what I love to do while they are still available to me. The time to express and cherish what I’m passionate about is now, not some time in the future that I think is more convenient.

Although the buildings of the Harbin Hot Springs Resort are gone, Harbin has not been destroyed. The springs have not gone away, nor have the pools that contained the water. The destruction of the infrastructure of Harbin Hot Springs is also ephemeral and impermanent.

As Stan Dale was fond of saying: “All endings automatically equal new beginnings.” The end of Harbin as we knew it is the beginning of a new Harbin that will be rise up from the ashes of the old.

My forecast is that Harbin will be fully open for business by January, 2017. It will take more time to replace all the buildings destroyed, but there is also the opportunity to redesign Harbin from the ground up.

If you feel like you’ve lost your personal sanctuary, at least for the time being, this opens up a possibility to find other sanctuaries.

The second lesson that I take from the Valley Fire is about climate change. Destructive climate change is not something theoretical that may happen decades in the future. It’s here now. California has not been this dry in 500 years and human activity sourced climate change is to blame.

The empowerment I take from this perspective is a wake-up call to get my personal career act together so I can be more influential in spreading the awareness of our planetary peril.

We must do what we can to educate others who want to take refuge in climate change skepticism and denial. We’ve all got to do what we can to mobilize our civilization to take action before critical thresholds of climate change make our planet much less livable for ourselves and all other species.

The third lesson of the fire is about meaning. Form and structure is transitory but there is a sense in which meaning is always conserved. Sentient life is always evolving towards its higher possibility.

This means in practical terms that there is as much meaning after the catastrophe as there was before. We just have to search it out.

Harbin is never going to be same as it was nor are the lives of the people who were burned out of their homes or had their work lives drastically affected. But there is at least as much meaning available after this terrible and unfortunate event as there was before. The loss of what was before creates an opening for new meaning to manifest.

So a new Harbin Hot Springs Resort has the opportunity to redesign itself and correct some things that didn’t work in the old version. Individuals can rebuild homes or find new places to live. The sudden end of one work opportunity opens doors to new ones that may not have ever been considered before.

A less dramatic aspect of this same lesson comes into play whenever we lose something we really like or depend on. This forces us to find a replacement. More often than not, the thing we get to replace the old is an improvement in function or quality.

A fourth lesson is about service. There is a real opening here to improve the quality of your life by helping others who are in need. Embrace grief, celebrate life, choose love, choose empowerment.

If you know someone who was affected by the fire, reach out to that person and offer whatever help you can. Let them know that they are not alone. If you have the means, contribute to the funds for the survivors of the fire.

We live in a very interesting time in human history and in the history of our country. Our society and the very foundations of our civilization are undergoing rapid change fueled in no small part by an explosion in information technology and other technological advances. The well-being of each nation state is integrally tied up with what happens in other parts of the world. We could be on the cusp of living in a world where illness, poverty, starvation, and war are all fading into history as we take on a more responsible stewardship for the vulnerable ecology of our planet.

Sadly we’re not there yet and how things will unfold in the future is very uncertain. What happens in the United States is very critical in this historical drama because our missteps can result in tremendous setbacks for the entire world as illustrated by the economic turmoil of 2008.

Political outcomes in this country make a tremendous difference. The last Republican president brought us the Great Recession and the Iraq War and its disastrous consequences including the rise of the Islamic State. With Obama as president, we’ve had economic growth and relative stability and some better foreign affairs outcomes as witnessed by the Iran diplomatic initiative as an alternative to war.

Of course, the President of the United States is not solely responsible for economic or foreign affairs outcomes, but how they respond the challenges that we face going forward can make the difference with regard to whether we end up in a positive or negative tipping point.

Now we’re in a new presidential election cycle and there is no incumbent running. On the Democratic side, only two candidates have a chance to win: Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. The tremendous enthusiasm and overflow crowds that Sanders attract is a real surprise. Bernie is a democratic socialist and his message is a populist appeal to economic and political justice that addresses issues of wealth inequity and undue political influence of big money interests.

There is an element of the corruption of our present society that he points up. This is a plutocratic distortion where the interests of the wealthiest are protected at the expense of everyone else. This trend was exacerbated by the Citizens United Supreme Court case which allows individuals to contribute unlimited amounts of money to Political Action Committees that advocate for candidates that support their interests.

The winner of the Democratic nomination is going to have to tap into this unhappiness about how our society is rigged in favor of the wealthy. My reading is that Clinton is going to win easily.

Sanders doesn’t have sufficient credible standing with minority voters compared to Clinton. Moreover, at age 73, he looks old. He doesn’t fit our image of a strong and vigorous president.

When we look at the primary contest in all of the states, Clinton has a clear advantage in funding and from having an experienced political team already in place.

On the Republican side, we see an unprecedented number of major candidates running for the nomination of their party: 17 in all. These include a business man, Donald Trump; a business woman, Carly Fiorina; and a retired neurosurgeon, Ben Carson. In addition, there are 4 sitting Senators and 1 former Senator: Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, Marco Rubio, Lindsey Graham, and Rich Santorum and 4 sitting and 5 former governors: Scott Walker, Chris Christie, John Kasich, Bobby Jindal, Jeb Bush, Mike Huckabee, Rich Perry, George Pataki and Jim Gilmore.

There are a lot of reasons why so many people are running for the Republican nomination this year. There is no incumbent this year and the highest office is much more winnable than when running against an incumbent president.

This year the Republicans don’t have a clear front runner or someone who is the consensus choice of their party the way Clinton seems to be for the Democrats.

The political duopoly of two parties that we have in the United States has historically meant that very seldom does one party win the Presidency in three successive elections. Harry Truman after Roosevelt and George Herbert Walker Bush after Reagan are the exceptions since WWII. So the Republicans feel this is their big chance to win the White House.

With Citizens United, a candidate only needs a couple of super wealthy donors to be financially viable and sustain their campaign. Underdog candidates feel they have a chance to hang in the process long enough to capture the imagination of the electorate.

We have to ask ourselves why anyone wants to run for president. The answer is usually because they want to have power and influence. They also want to imprint the country with their own ideas of how things should be.

On the spectrum from narcissism to idealism, I think the balance is tipped a bit on the narcissism side for this cycle especially on the Republican side. Bernie Sanders stands out as someone who has more idealistic focus than others. I give Clinton some credibility in this respect as well.

Running for president, even if you have virtually no chance to win the nomination, can still be a ticket to a better book deal, speaking fee, or Fox channel gig. It’s a chance to be relevant and capitalize on this time in the media spotlight.

Also, you could be picked for vice-president or given a choice spot in the government of the next president. Finishing number two or three is not without its perks and rewards.

If Trump were not running, the big three in the Republican field would be Jeb Bush, Scott Walker, and Marco Rubio. Ohio Governor John Kasich has the best chance to come out of obscurity to be the nominee.

Kasich is the person who has the best chance of beating Clinton in 2016. He’s got a 55 percent approval rating in his own state so he could claim a positive track record of executive accomplishment. He would probably carry Ohio in a general election and that might be the deciding state.

The problem with Kasich is that he expanded Medicaid in his state as part of the Obamacare option where the federal government helps pay for Medicaid. That’s a fatal flaw in a year where alignment with right wing positions trumps electability.

Jeb has by the far the most money and is the favorite of the establishment wing of the party. His establishment ties work for him but are also a liability. It’s too easy for Republican primary voters to perceive him as more of the same establishment political initiative that failed in 2012.

Moreover, Jeb is gaffe prone and is sort of boring as a candidate. He would be a retread of the George W. Bush presidency and, although there may be some Bush nostalgia in the Republican Party, this doesn’t translate to the general electorate very well so his electability is not something that can be taken for granted.

Marco Rubio is an attractive and personable candidate but lacks substance. His time in the Senate has not resulted in any positive outcome associated with his personal effort. He is a likely choice for vice-president as the eventual nominee will want to capitalize on his Cuban ethnic background.

My prediction is that Scott Walker will emerge as the Republican nominee. He will be proclaimed as the new Reagan as a super conservative who can win the general election. Walker is very socially conservative and will appeal to those in the party who champion these issues. Also, he’s a genuine Tea Party fiscal conservative and can claim to have reduced the size and impact of government interference in his state.

Walker has only a high school education, does not come from wealth and privilege, and has an anti-intellectual attitude. His father was a Baptist minister. All of these aspects should appeal to working class voters.

Of course, when you look at the record of his impact in Wisconsin on the economic front, it’s pretty much a horror story. Falling median income levels and lethargic job growth have lead to a shrinking middle class in Wisconsin since he became governor.

Walker has pioneering the stripping of union rights and the reduction of funding for education. Wisconsin now spends more on prisons than it does on public universities.

Seen through the filter of Tea Party mentality though, many of these results are accomplishments rather than disqualifying outcomes.

Walker is a very capable and shrewd politician. In his political career he’s won 10 elections in a row. He can give the impression of being a reasonable man even when he’s got an extreme agenda.

Also, and not least in importance, he’s got the backing of the Koch brothers, the sixth richest people in the world with a combined net worth of $86 billion dollars.

Donald Trump, however, is currently leading and even lapping the field with a support level more than twice that of the nearest competitor. My reading is that Trump’s popularity is a bubble that will burst once we get closer to actually counting any votes. The romance with the Trump candidacy is somewhat similar to the feelings people when they first meet someone they are attracted to. The tendency is to project ideal qualities onto this person and be blind to their shortcomings.

However, once the romance phase ends, you have to deal with day to day reality and then issues of compatibility have to been taken into account. In case of the Trump candidacy, this moment of reckoning will happen when he has to define policy positions and outline his plans for addressing the real issues we face as a country. How will he deal with climate change, for example?

Donald Trump is an actor playing himself in a reality show called the Republican Presidential Primary Race. One sense in which our culture is askew is highlighted by the fact that Fox News media organization is sponsoring him in a reality television segment called a debate. This is after Fox News set up the rules for who could participate in this show limiting the cast to 10 characters and relegating the other 7 main candidates to a warmup act.

Politics has always been a diversion and even seen as a kind of sport. But, it’s still sad to see that the only other choice we have in who can be president is going to be partly decided by who is best at a game that is rigged to support the bottom line of a right-wing media empire.

My forecast on the debate is that it’s going to be underwhelming and not live up to its hype. The other candidates are going to ignore Trump as much as they can and he is going be somewhat out of character by trying to seem like a reasonable person and refraining from personal attacks.

This debate is not Trump’s Waterloo though. He’ll continue to be strong for a few months until the public gets bored with his act. There is really no substance to his campaign.

Why Trump has shot to the top of the primary field requires some explanation. His poll numbers actually spiked after he demonized Mexican immigrants and denigrated Senator John McCain’s war service record.

This is unprecedented in recent political history. Trump is gaining traction by violating norms of political correctness. This is seen as a virtue because it gives him the appearance of someone who speaks his mind and as someone who is not being manipulated by political consultants like a merchandized product. He is one person running who is not a professional politician. Thus, there is a hope that maybe he can change the way things have always been done.

Also, Trump outrageous statements give voice to what some in the political extreme of the Republican base believe but are afraid to say. He comes across as a spokesperson for those who are in extreme reaction to the liberalization of our culture.

This liberalization is blamed on the left wing elite and left wing media. In reality, it’s part of the increased pace of evolution of attitudes and social norms in our country and in the world as a whole fueled in no small part by the democratization of media through social media like Twitter and Facebook.

Trump’s credibility is his persona as a successful business man. “I am very rich,” he boasts. He claims his personal wealth means he doesn’t need outside money to run for president and so is not going to be obligated to donors and lobbyists after he wins the election.

His economic message is a kind of plutocratic populism. The answer to the issue of middle class wage stagnation, for example, is just to make everyone rich. He can run the country successfully just as he has run his companies.

His populism appeal draws on the same sense than the electorate as a whole share that there are profound disturbances in our society that need remedies. Only from the standpoint of the extreme political right wing base, this disturbance is sourced in government interference.

Trump is Mr. Blusterful and this aggressive style appeals to people who see themselves surrounded by sinister forces defined as any group that is not like them.

Trump’s appeal is very limited if you look at the general electorate. In the most generous reading of his poll numbers, he’s got no more than 25% support of the Republican electorate.

If you count Republican partisans and those who lean Republican as 40% of voters, this is still only 10% of the whole. He would be anathema to more than 50% of the general voting population.

Trump is not going to run as a third party candidate. He can’t afford it.

In spite of his boosts of how he could easily self-fund a campaign for president, he is actually a puny billionaire. According to the Forbes list, he only ranks as number 405 in the world and counting duplicate rankings where two or more people have the same rank because of the same wealth level, this means there may well be 500 people in the world who are richer than Trump.

Conservative purity rather than pragmatic electability is going to dominate the Republican primary season this cycle and Trump’s prominence only pushes things more in this direction.

I returned from a six day retreat where I had no internet access and the first thing I saw on the news was the story of the massacre in Charleston, South Carolina on June 17, 2015.

Dylann Roof, a 21 year white male, walked into the Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston during a Bible study session. After sitting with the group for an hour, he pulled a .45 caliber handgun from his fanny pack and killed nine people, reloading his gun numerous times. The victims were all African Americans.

He seems that he has planned the attack for six months and picked the Emmanuel AME Church because of its historic significance. Founded in 1816, AME is the oldest historically black congregation south of Baltimore and has played a role in civil rights struggles going back before the Civil War.

He said his motive was to start a race war. A manifesto discovered on a website with pictures of Dylann holding the Confederate Battle Flag reveal an individual who had fairly recently discovered white supremacy and racism and had embraced this ideology as his reason for being.

The FBI has classified this horrific event as a hate crime but said it didn’t meet the criteria for terrorism. I think this is because Roof was not part of any organized political movement and was a solitary crusader against what he saw as the threat that blacks and other racial minorities posed to the white race.

By any reasonable definition, this is terrorism. He’s on a mission that he hopes will result in cultural and political change. We can fall into the trap of looking at this issue through the lens of who commits the crime. If they are people outside of the majority group, Muslims, for example, we have no difficulty in calling it terrorism.

For sure, Roof was motivated by hate but this was not a spontaneous act or one committed under the influences of drugs or alcohol. He sat through an entire hour of Bible study before he started shooting just before the closing prayer.

He said he almost changed his mind “because the people were so nice.” Moreover, he was from the town of Eastover which is largely African-American and had black friends. In his manifesto he stated that he did not grow up in a racist family or environment.

When confronted with why he wanted to hurt people, he said he had to carry out “his mission.”

The Federal Bureau of Investigation defines terrorism as “the unlawful use of force or violence against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives.”

The plan of starting a race war seems to fit this criterion of furtherance of political and social objectives pretty well.

The reality is that it’s a both a hate crime and a crime of domestic terrorism. We’re in denial of both our history and our present if we skip over the terrorism component of this heinous crime.

We don’t want to acknowledge the fact that Americans kill and main each other for reasons of political oppression. We would rather think that terrorism is about those others who come from outside our borders with intent to cause us harm.

There has been a long and bloody history of domestic terrorism against black people in our country especially since the Civil War. The intent has been intimidation, suppression, and control. The Charleston massacre was a racially motivated act of domestic terrorism.

We’re moving towards a more tolerant and inclusive world as a whole. This has inspired a sometimes violent reaction from people who see this as a threat to their way of life. There is the rapid evolution towards multiculturalism and tolerance of diversity. Some see this as undermining their status and privilege and are in extreme reaction to it.

The positive story is that these domestic terrorist and hate crime incidents often produce a result which is the opposite of what is intended. The bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham in 1963, for example, helped inspire the Civil Rights Movement and was instrumental in the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Now with the massacre at Charleston, the Governor of South Carolina and both of the Senators from that state are calling for the removal of the Confederate battle flag from the State Capitol grounds.

Amazon, Sears, Walmart, and eBay, are all removing Confederate battle flag theme products from sale.

There has been an outpouring of genuine sympathy for the victims who welcomed a disaffected young white man into their black congregation for Bible study only to be murdered by him. The attitude of the families of the victims was to declare that love is stronger than hate and to express forgiveness
The background issues which are the context from which Dylann Roof carried out his horrific acts will still remain after this event fades from public attention. Racism is still prevalent in America and it’s more than a white/black issue. All racial and ethnic minorities are subject to its maleficent influence.

American’s gun laws are not going to change any time soon. It’s still going to be easy for people like Roof to get the guns that they can use to commit mass murder. Common sense reforms like universal background checks and limiting the size of magazines on guns are not going to happen in the face of an entrenched gun culture mentality.

Tragically, it looks as though it’s going to take several more massacres before we finally do something reasonable about gun control.

Yet there are two others aspects of this case where I see we can do something as individuals that can help us move towards the inclusive and compassionate world we want to live in.

Dylann embraced white supremacy and racism as his purpose. He apparently got his indoctrination to this ideology from the internet rather than from joining a white supremacy group of some kind. An unemployed high school dropout, he had been spending his time doing drugs and playing video games. Now he had a purpose and a mission.

This is sadly similar to what seems to be happening to disaffected Muslin youth around the world who have embraced the ISIS ideology and who travel to Syria to kill and often to die.

Our evolving world leaves some of us without a sense of purpose and meaning. This is especially true of people from relatively privileged backgrounds where there is no immediate struggle to meet basic survival needs.

What we need are positive role models. People who can embrace the transformations happening in our world and embody a sense of purpose and meaning which serves the greater good.

If enough of us find our own unique purpose and meaning, we can create a positive frequency that others can entrain to. The rapid transitions of our world produce a cultural chaos and we need heroes who can take on the work on reinventing civilization by creating new forms of empowered community based on the principles of inclusion and compassion.

What will move us forward doesn’t have to be something complex and ambitious. Even the smallest service you can render to a community that is supporting the greater good will be of great importance. We need people to be enrolled in serving the transformation of humanity.

The second thing we can do is to learn to be more compassionate both with others and with ourselves. The horror that Roof perpetrated resulted from toxic judgments that he took on and with which he became identified. Let him be our negative role model and then let’s move in the opposite direction.

We can do better at understanding how judgment works and how it can go astray and poison our minds with hate.

It’s important here to distinguish between judgment and discernment. There is no escaping the need for discernment. This is better, this is worse. This is acceptable, this is not. This is something for me, this is not. This is something I prefer, this is something I recoil from. I need to say yes to this, no to that.

Discernment can be something we arrive out from our compassionate witness. It’s compatible with compassion. Toxic judgment is not.

Judgment seems to have four components: projection, reaction to past events, disinformation, and preferences. Projection is seeing what you don’t like or accept in yourself as what’s wrong with another individual. I judge others are grotesquely fat just when I’m not accepting my own body mass, shape, and fitness.

We also carry a lot of reactions from the past into the present. If I once had a conflict with a man named George, I may now I look with fear and suspicion on the next man I meet named George.

We often form judgments based on insufficient information. We assume, for example, that people are acting unfairly, jumping to the head of the line, for example, when in reality they’re just joining their companions who have been there holding a space for them.

Preferences are the most difficult aspect of judgment to see in perspective. Our tendency is to see our preferences are being what is good, true, and right and to see the preferences of other people as bad and wrong.

The reality is that we experience the world through the narrow perspective of our preferences such as our Enneagram point and Myers-Briggs type and anything other than that is experienced as uncomfortable and unfamiliar.

It’s easy to slide into making others wrong for having different preferences. We can fall into vilifying what is not preferred. Then the person or aspect which is not preferred becomes the enemy who has to be excluded and shunned.

But, we wouldn’t have a functional world without all of the diversity of preferences that exist. We need everyone’s quirks to make up an interactive ecology of differences.

For example, economically and politically speaking, it’s important to have voices from many different spectrums because every economic and political viewpoint highlights some prominent values and puts others in shadow.

So, what to do when in spite of our best efforts, we judge others?

Compassionately witness this disturbance within yourself. Look at how that person you judge could be your perfect teacher instructing you in what is not yet healed in yourself.

Look to see if you can find wonder and discovery in how they are doing things other than how you would do them.

Don’t judge yourself for judging. You’ve caught yourself in the act so now you can embrace whatever discernments are needed without having to make the other or yourself bad and wrong.

When we can learn to see our judgments as some combination of our wounds, our ignorance, and our quirks we don’t have to take them too seriously. We can open to new perspectives and leave our righteousness behind.

When we judge other less, we’re also going to be kinder to ourselves. This is a vital point in moving towards a more inclusive and compassionate world. For, whatever you don’t own or accept within yourself is going to become the face of an enemy in the world.

When we accept and love ourselves in awareness of our limitations, we become a loving presence and a positive influence for everyone around us. Then we can practice discernment with compassion.

Saying no when that is needed becomes our opportunity to treat others in a loving way as we embrace the diversity of our rapidly changing world with tolerance and understanding.

We make the world a more compassionate place through one act of compassion at a time.

On March 24th, Germanwings Flight 9525 crashed in the French Alps killing 144 passengers and six crew members.

When the flight recorder was recovered, it became clear that the co-pilot, 27 year-old Andreas Lubitz, had prevented the pilot from returning to the cabin and, while in the cockpit alone, had activated the flight computer to initiate a eight minute descent from an altitude of 38,000 feet to the level that crashed the plane.

Since the controlled descent of the plane could only have resulted from a pilot intervention, we know that the crash of 9525 was a deliberate act of mass murder and suicide.

It appears that Lubitz had no religious or political motivations.  He left behind no written indications of a plan to crash an airplane or what his actions were intended to be a statement of.  His recent behavior until the time he locked the pilot out of the cabin was not unusual and did not indicate that he was a mentally deranged individual.

Weeks before the crash, he had purchased two new automobiles and had talked about future plans.

Although we can’t know for sure, it’s quite plausible that his decision to kill himself and everyone else on board the airplane was a relatively spontaneous act of opportunity and not something that had been planned well in advance.   Investigators have found no evidence of a plan.

The Germanwings crash boggles the mind.  What does this tell us about airline safety?  What kind of a world do we live in where random acts of violence take innocent life on a mass scale perpetrated by individuals who appear normal until the last moment?

Do we live in a universe where things just happen randomly without any higher reason or purpose? Can we still affirm meaning in the face of these tragic and monstrous events?

It would be reassuring if we had good evidence that Lubitz was suffering from severe mental illness.  There are always going to be cases where crazy people do insane things, and the crash of Germanwings was certainly a morally insane thing to do.

What has come forward to date, however, only indicates the Lubitz was having a personal life crisis and that he had some history of depression.  We know he was estranged from his long-time girlfriend who is pregnant with his child.

We know he was having vision problems that threatened his life dream of being a full-fledged pilot on the best airlines.  We know that he had been under medical care and had been given doctor notes that said that he was not medically fit to fly on some occasions including the day of the fatal flight.

Because of German privacy laws, it was easy for Lubitz to conceal his medical issues in the short run from his company.  But he was surely in fear that his medical problems would eventually catch up with him and clip his wings.

None of these background details though are adequate explanation for why Lubitz did what he did.  We’ve all had personal life crises and, although we may have acted out at times, a spontaneous act of mass murder is way beyond anything we can envision doing when we put ourselves in his shoes.

The crash of Germanwings does not help us to feel more secure in our airplane flights.  After 911 we have succeeded in making the pilots safer from the passengers by making the cockpit doors unbreachable from the outside.  But it’s very difficult to protect the passengers from a pilot or copilot who goes nuts.

Sadly, there have been other pilot or copilot intentional plane crashes since 1982.  In that year, a Japan Airlines pilot deliberately crashed his plane into Tokyo Bay killing 24 people. In Morocco, in 1994, 44 people were killed in a crash of Royal Air Maroc Flight 630.

In 1997, 104 people died in a crash of a SilkAir Flight 185 in Indonesia.  In 1999, 217 people were killed on EgyptAir Flight 990.  33 people died in 2013 on Mozambique Airlines Flight 470.

And, of course, the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 in March, 2014 with 239 people on board over the Indian Ocean must have been the result of deliberate pilot or copilot actions.

Overall, however, plane crashes from any source are very rare events and so airlines feel justified in sacrificing some measure of safety for profit.  Putting cameras in the cockpit, for example, would be a relatively inexpensive way of monitoring pilot behavior.

If we can engineer self-driving cars that stop themselves when they see a crashing coming, we wonder why airplanes don’t have more crash avoidant features to counteract pilot error or malice.

In the United States, the rule is that there must always be two people in the cockpit at all times. If the pilot or copilot leaves the cockpit for any reason, they must be replaced by another crew member, although that person could be a stewardess.  Now the two person rule is being adopted by airlines in other countries.

We can also expect some tightening of the procedures for reporting medical conditions of pilots in the future and better measures of their psychological fitness.

It’s an unfortunate characteristic of our technologically advanced modern world that the wrong person at the wrong time in the wrong place can do enormous damage.  Airplanes are always going to be potential weapons of mass destruction.

Our technology with all of its wonders engenders a certain measure of physical insecurity because nothing mechanical is any safer than the mental soundness of its human operators.

This speaks to the first lesson that we can draw from this tragedy.   The technologically driven transformation of our civilization has got to put more focus on spiritual and mental well-being if we’re going to survive our adolescence as a species.

Vulnerabilities of human nature are the most problematic aspect in any positive scenario of our long term future.

From the airline safety perspective, this could mean giving pilots more time off and better pay.   We need to acknowledge the stresses they are under and make allowances for these.

It’s unclear what interventions could have made a difference for Andreas Lubitz.  When I look into his mental state through a clairvoyant lens, I see someone who is suffering from a spiritual blindness.

Spiritual awareness enables us to see our profound connection with other people, other life, and all that is.  We understand that what we do matters because every action and every thought affects the whole.  We can see beyond our immediate personal concerns to meanings that transcend ourselves.  We can embrace the joy and wonder of the world and all that’s in it.

Lacking this perspective, we’re vulnerable to falling into the illusion that we don’t matter and that our actions make no difference whatever they are.   The world can then seem to be a hostile, indifferent place where things happen randomly and are fundamentally without meaning or purpose.

The movie No Country for Old Men portrayed this worldview.

My reading is that Lubitz crashed the airplane as a reaction to a belief that his life was going to fail.   It was an act of defiance against the perceived absurdity of the universe.

Lubitz highlights the choice that we all have to make between affirming meaning or denying it. It can be a literal life and death decision. The denial of meaning takes us into an unhealthy place that sabotages our spiritual and mental well-being.   It’s also not the way the world is.

The wisdom traditions of every culture, drawing on the peak experiences of human beings for tens of thousands of years, all point to a meaning filled world.

My view is that this is not just a result of some artifact of human experience.  The universe is also a sentient being in its own right. It is not a cold, dead thing.  Everything that is evolves towards its higher potential and human beings are part of this grand evolutionary unfolding.  Meaning is resident in the universe outside of ourselves and we must engage with it as best we can.

We can always uncover meaning if we look deeply enough and it invariably points to our greater potential.   Our lives are a series of growth conspiracies.  We’re always in the perfect lesson.  Whomever we encounter is always the perfect teacher.

So we must also embrace Andreas Lubitz as our teacher.  As unspeakably horrific as his actions may be, they can serve us as a negative role model.   Note what he did and go 180 degrees in the other direction.

We must not allow ourselves to wallow in spiritual blindness in moments of discouragement and setback. Trust that meaning is available if we make an effort to search it out.  Know that we are not alone.  Reach out for help in the human world.  Make a stand to choose love rather than violence.  Ask for Guidance and be patient as perspective unfolds over time.

We have a moral imperative to live fully empowered lives.  We’re the tip of the spear of the evolution of all that is.  Our spiritual and mental well-being affects everyone around us. As we thrive so does our family, our community, our nation, our planet, and the larger whole of which we are an integral and interactive part.

Like 2010, the 2014 midterms were another election disaster for the Democrats. When all the election results are complete, the Republicans will have gained a total of 9 Senate seats. This will give them 54 seats to 44 for the Democrats plus the two independents that caucus with them.

On the House side, Republicans will have won a net of 13 seats giving them 247 to 188 for the Democrats. This will give the Republicans their biggest majority in the House since 1928.

The Republicans won a net of only two new governorships, but very conservative and Tea Party backed governors won reelection in several states. Rick Scott was reelected in Florida, Paul LePage in Maine, Rich Snyder in Michigan, and Scott Walker in Wisconsin.

Republicans also prevailed in the governor’s race in three blue states: Massachusetts, Maryland, and Illinois. The only Republican loss for governor was in Alaska where an independent candidate won.

Republicans also gained more than 300 new seats in state legislatures in 2014.

The Republicans won the Senate races in every single red state that voted for Romney in 2012 but also in Iowa and Colorado that voted for Obama in 2012 and in North Carolina that voted for him in 2008.

Incumbent Democratic Senators will have lost in Alaska, North Carolina, Colorado, Arkansas, and Louisiana. In four other states, retiring Democrats will be replaced by Republicans: Montana, South Dakota, West Virginia, and Iowa.

Every single member for the House Tea Party Caucus who ran in 2014 was reelected. Seven did not run. Three retired and four left their seats to run for the Senate. However, ten new Tea Party types won election in the House. Therefore, the total number of Tea Party people in the House increased by three giving them the same percentage of the Republican caucus that they had in the last Congress of about 21%.

If, like myself, you happen to be someone who favors a progressive government focused on dealing with the complex issues that we face in the 21st century such as climate change, immigration, affordable health care, campaign finance reform, and regulation of financial institutions, the midterms might seem to be the beginning of a political dark age where the plutocrats and their allies in the Republican Party are going to dominate for the foreseeable future.

Moreover, in addition to having the members to make a move to roll back the significant legislation that the Democrats were able to pass in the last six years, they would seem to have momentum going into the 2016 presidential campaign. Having won control of both houses of Congress, they will now go all out to win the presidency as well.

The new Congress will have Jim Inhoff, the arch climate change denier, as head of the Environment and Public Works Committee and Ted Cruz as head of the Senate subcommittee that oversees scientific funding.

To some extent this dark outlook for the Democrats is justified. It’s very unlikely that even a big Democratic wave in 2016 will win back the House. The Republicans control of state legislatures in the 2010 elections coincided with the ten year census, and so they were able to gerrymander many House districts creating safe Republican seats.

Redistricting won’t happen again until 2020 and the Democrats have a lot of ground to make up in state legislatures between now and then to be able to reverse the Republican gerrymandering advantage.

The nine new Republican Senators who were elected in 2014 to replace Democrats are not likely to be voted out of office any time soon. Six are from red states and all will have the advantage of incumbency in the next election.

When we look at the big picture, however, the Democrats are actually now positioned to have a big comeback in 2016 in both the Senate and the presidential race.

Had the Democrats hung onto Senate control in 2014, this would have created more of an opening for Republicans to win the presidency in 2016. Just as the American voter does not like to see one party dominate too much and hence tends to vote for the party out of power in midterm elections, the same psychology applies to the presidential race after one party has had two terms.

Only in two elections in the last 66 years has a party been able win two terms and then elect their person in the next election. Harry Truman won in 1948 after Roosevelt had had four terms and George H.W. Bush won after Reagan’s two terms in 1988.

But the Republicans are now the governing party and so voter discontent can focus on them as the group who are not alleviating the sense that things are going in the wrong direction and that nothing is getting done in Congress.

The 2014 election was not a validation for a substantive Republican agenda for the future, nor was it a reflection of a basic change of opinion in the Republican brand in general. Just prior to the election a national poll showed the Democrats had a 42% favorable and 52% percent unfavorable rating. The Republicans on the other hand were at 38% favorable and 54% unfavorable. The current numbers are at about 40/48 for the Democrats and 37/52 for the Republicans in favorable and unfavorable ratings.

Moreover, on several ballot issues, voters favored the Democratic agenda. A ballot measure for universal background checks on firearm purchases was approved in Washington State. Personhood amendments were voted down in Colorado and North Dakota. Voters raised the minimum wage in Alaska, Arkansas, Nebraska, and South Dakota. Recreational use of marijuana was approved in Alaska, Oregon, and the District of Columbia.

Two governors who advocated gun control measures were reelected: John Hickenlooper in Colorado and Dan Malloy in Connecticut.

Two progun state senators in Colorado who were voted into office in 2013 in a recall election to protest gun control legislation lost their seats to Democrats.

In 2016, 24 Republican seats are up for reelection versus only 10 Democratic seats. Moreover, Republicans will have to run in seven states which Obama carried in 2014: Florida, Illinois, New Hampshire, Iowa, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin.

The Democrats who had to run for reelection in 2014 had the advantage of a presidential election turnout in 2008 that was about 60%. Just over 36% voted in 2014. We can expect a similar Democratic Party favorable uptick in turnout in 2016 of at least 20%.

After their own election fiasco in 2012, Republicans vowed to become a more inclusive party and reach out to Hispanics and other minorities, younger people, and women voters. However, in the intervening years before the midterms, there was never any substantial change in their message or focus.

Consistent with their actions in the Congress, the Republicans didn’t campaign on any positive agenda. Their via negativa was about stopping Obama and his policies. They also played on security fears and claimed that Obama was not doing enough to protect us from Ebola and ISIS.

You would think that with control of both houses of Congress, the Republicans would now be in a position to put forwards bills that would define their solutions to our nation’s challenges and thus to have specific and substantive policies to put forward in the 2016 presidential campaign.

My reading is that this is not what we’re going to see over the next two years for the most part. I don’t see the Republicans morphing on the whole from obstructionists into problem solvers.

Part of the reason for this is the continuing influence of the Tea Party. Although the party establishment was able to rein in the excesses of the Tea Party and prevent them from nominating candidates who were too extreme to win the general election in the 2014 midterms, the Tea Party is still a strong force in the House with about 50 to 60 members.

When they vote at a bloc, they can prevent Speaker of the House Boehner from passing anything with just Republican votes.

In the Senate there will be more Tea Party types that before: Ben Sasse, Tom Cotton, Joni Ernst, Cory Gardner, and Bill Cassidy. They toned down their rhetoric for the general election and avoided saying as little as possible about the social conservative views they hold. Yet, they are fellow travelers with the Waco Bird Caucus of Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, and Mike Lee.

The Republican establishment was able to fend off Tea Party challenges for every one of the Senate races in the primaries where a Republican incumbent was running. The Tea Party was only able to defeat two Republican incumbents in the House races. John Ratcliff replaced 91 year-old Ralph Hall in Texas and Dave Brat defeated Eric Cantor in Virginia.

It might seem then that the Tea Party influence is on the wane in the Republican Party. Republican congressmen will not have the same concern about a primary challenge in their party going forward as they have had in previous elections.

You would think this would embolden them to moderate some of their positions and move away from no compromise strategies like shutting down the government or refusing to raise the national debt limit. The Republican leaders in the House and Senate have in fact promised to avoid these two moves in the 114th Congress.

But the Republican Party in Congress is currently a coalition of people of different ideological inclinations. The spectrum runs from responsible legislators like Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski, and John McCain to right wing extremists like Louie Gohmert, Steven King, and Ted Cruz.

Some of the most extreme Republicans from the last Congress are not going to be there in 2015. These include Paul Broun, Michele Bachmann, and Steve Stockman. However, the new crop of House Republicans includes more ideological purist types: Dave Brat, Tom Emmer, Mia Love, Glenn Grothman, and Ken Buck.

I fully expect Joni Ernst to replace Michele Bachmann as the most outrageous female Republican congressperson.

John Boehner and Mitch McConnell are going to have to make some moves to appease the most extreme elements of their party in the coming Congress in order to maintain the fiction of a unified Republican caucus.

We’re already seen this happen in the last Congress with the shutdown of the government over attempts to destroy Obamacare and taking the country to the brink of default on the national debt. Boehner pursued a lawsuit against Obama that was destined to go nowhere as a way of trying to preempt the calls for impeachment of the president.

The most extreme right wing of the Republican Party has effective veto power over whatever the more reasonable people in their caucus try to do.

So I don’t see the Republican led Congress in 2015 being an opening for getting things done in Congress on any substantive basis beyond a couple of trade bills and an infrastructure bill. It’s going to be Congress versus the President in a test of wills. The dysfunction of Congress is going to get worse.

When we look at the deep story of what happened in the 2014 midterms, we can begin to see the dynamics that are at work leading us to a 114th Congress that will go down in infamy as the worst and least productive of all time.

The Republicans managed to add 13 House seats and sweep every contested Senate election except for New Hampshire in spite of being less favorably perceived than Democrats as a whole. However, this is what the majority of people in the United State think and the majority did not vote. Only about 36% did. This was the lowest turnout in a national election since 1942.

When we look at who actually voted, the voters that usually trend Democrat were down in numbers from 2012. Black, Hispanics, people under 30, and single women did not turn out in the numbers they did in 2012.

65% of the midterm electorate were 45 and older and only 13% were 18 to 29 years of age. It was an older, whiter electorate.

Although there are slightly more people who identify as Democrats than there are Republicans in the country as a whole, there are more highly partisan and ideological conservative voters than liberal ones. The most partisan people are the ones who turn out in disproportionate numbers in low turnout elections.

Nonpartisan independent voters make up the biggest voting bloc in every election and they trended Republican especially in the last few days leading up to the election.

The Democrats did not succeed is energizing their base for the midterms. They were handicapped in this respect to some extent because President Obama was considered a liability in several of the contested Senate races so he was not invited in to spark the Democratic base.

My reading is that the independents went for the Republicans in significant numbers in part because of some underlying belief that Republicans in control of both chambers of the Congress could break the deadlock and get some things done. Caught up as it was in deplorable dysfunction, something different needed to happen rather than a continuation of the status quo.

The Ebola crisis and the emergence of the ISIS threat also helped the Republicans in the last months before the election. People foolishly believe that Republicans are better at keeping them safe in insecure times than Democratic leaders.

Two-thirds of the public felt that the country is moving in the wrong direction and three-fourths said that they didn’t believe their children would have a better life than what they presently enjoyed. So there was a mood of overall discontent and economic pessimism.

Going into the election, only one-third of voters felt that the economy is getting better. On any gross national measure, this belief is absurd. Considered where the economy was in 2009 when Obama became president, we’ve seen an unprecedented economic turnaround. In the last months of 2014, there is no inflation, interest rates are very low, unemployment is under 6%, gas prices have crashed, the deficit is shrinking at a rapid rate, the stock market is at record highs, corporate profits are booming, 200,000 jobs are being added per month, and the GNP was at 4 percent for the last quarter.

These economic facts, however, do not translate into voter motivation to support Democrats. To some extent, the issue is misinformation. People don’t know that the deficit has declined at a rapid rate in Obama’s six years, for example.

Moreover, Republicans have an advantage in people’s perceptions of which party is going to help the economy based in the brand identification of Republicans with business issues.

Although the majority of people feel that the economy is rigged in favor of the wealthy, they still persist in believing that the Republicans are more likely to benefit them as individuals in the middle class and below.

The perception that the economy is not improving is sourced in the economic frustration of the middle class. Middle and lower income people have not seen much improvement in their economic bottom line even when the economy as a whole is making great strides and the wealthiest are making out like bandits.

People are losing hope in the American dream of being able to dramatically improve their economic circumstances through hard work and wise investment.

Since the Democrats had the White House and the Senate, they are seen as the governing party and hence as responsible for the economic stagnation of the middle class.

My reading is that the Republicans are going to drive their new election band wagon off the cliff with legislative efforts which favor the wealthy and multinational corporations but that do little for the average working individual.

This is the big opening for Democrats to seize the moment and advocate for populist policies that support the middle class.

There is a lot more to the deeper story of why the midterms turned out as they did and what we can expect going forward as the political and economic institutions of our nation go through unprecedented and sometimes chaotic transformation. This will be Part II of this thread.

This is an off year election for a president in his second term. Historically, this scenario has proved to be a banner year for the party out of power gaining seats in both houses of Congress.

My reading is that this will also be true in 2014. Republicans will make significant gains in the Senate and also win seats in the House. I see them winning a handful of seats in the House, 7 in all, and flipping five seats currently help by Democrats. I see Republican takeovers in Arkansas, Louisiana, Montana, South Dakota, and West Virginia.

However, my reading is that Kansas will go to an independent candidate who will eventually caucus with Democrats. I also see a Democratic pickup in Georgia.

The Republicans will gain a net of only three seats and fall short of their goal of taking over the Senate.

Here are all of my predictions for the Senate:
Alabama – Jeff Sessions, Republican running unopposed. Winner: Sessions
Alaska – Mark Begich Democrat, Dan Sullivan Republican. Winner: Begich
Arkansas – Mark Pryor Democrat, Tom Cotton Republican. Winner: Cotton
Colorado – Mark Udall Democrat, Cory Gardner Republican. Winner: Udall
Delaware – Chris Coons Democrat, Kevin Wade Republican. Winner: Coons
Georgia – Michelle Nunn Democrat, David Perdue Republican. Winner: Nunn
Hawaii – Brian Schatz Democrat, Campbell Cavasso Republican. Winner: Schatz
Idaho – Nels Mitchell Democrat, Jim Risch Republican. Winner: Risch
Illinois – Dick Durbin Democrat, Jim Oberweis Republican. Winner: Durbin
Iowa – Bruce Braley Democrat, Joni Ernst Republican. Winner: Braley
Kansas – Greg Orman Independent, Pat Roberts Republican. Winner: Orman
Kentucky – Alison Lundergan Grimes Democrat, Mitch McConnell Republican. Winner: McConnell
Louisiana – Mary Landrieu Democrat, Bill Cassidy Republican. Winner: Cassidy.
Maine – Shenna Bellows Democrat, Susan Collins Republican. Winner: Collins
Massachusetts – Ed Markey Democrat, Brian Herr Republican. Winner: Markey
Michigan – Gary Peters Democrat, Terri Lynn Land Republican. Winner: Peters
Minnesota – Al Franken Democrat, Mike McFadden Republican. Winner: Franken
Mississippi – Travis Childers Democrat, Thad Cochran Republican. Winner: Cochran
Montana – Amanda Curtis Democrat, Steve Daines Republican. Winner: Daines
Nebraska – David Domina Democrat, Ben Sasse Republican. Winner: Sasse
New Hampshire – Jeanne Shaheen Democrat, Scott Brown Republican. Winner: Shaheen
New Jersey – Cory Booker Democrat, Jeff Bell Republican. Winner: Booker
New Mexico – Tom Udall Democrat, Allen Weh Republican. Winner. Udall
North Carolina – Kay Hagan Democrat, Thom Tillis Republican. Winner: Hagan
Oklahoma – Matt Silverstein Democrat, Jim Inhofe Republican. Winner: Inhofe
Oklahoma – Connie Johnson Democrat, James Lankford Republican. Winner: Lankford
Oregon – Jeff Merkley Democrat, Monica Wehby Republican. Winner: Merkley
Rhode Island – Jack Reed Democrat, Mark Zaccaria Republican. Winner: Reed
South Carolina – Brad Hutto Democrat, Lindsey Graham Republican. Winner: Graham
South Carolina – Joyce Dickerson Democrat, Tim Scott Republican. Winner: Scott
South Dakota – Rick Weiland Democrat, Mike Rounds Republican, Larry Pressler Independent. Winner: Rounds
Tennessee – Gordon Ball, Democrat, Lamar Alexander Republican. Winner: Alexander
Texas – David Alameel Democrat, John Cornyn Republican. Winner: Cornyn
Virginia – Mark Warner Democrat, Ed Gillespie Republican. Winner: Warner
West Virginia – Natalie Tennant Democrat, Shelly Moore Capito Republican. Winner: Capito.
Wyoming – Charlie Hardy Democrat, Mike Enzi Republican. Winner: Enzi.

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.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.