The festive season has begun and we are on the road this weekend.
HOPE YOU HAD A GREAT THANKSGIVING
See you next weekend.
BLOG 401 July 9, 2018
With the heat of summer comes the relief of sitting by a nice swimming pool and soaking your feet in the cool water. Maybe. Most of us are so hard at work we don’t have time.
During the next two months I’ll be traveling, finishing up book projects, and out of sight in the mountains. Consequently, I won’t be writing blogs again until after September 1. In the mean time, the new Early Faith for Today website will continue. If you haven’t tuned us in yet, summer offers an opportunity. The Christian faith is presented as it was in the first three centuries with application for today. Check it out.
Have a wonderful summer and I’ll see you in the fall.
Sorry, Friends. I’m out of pocket. My daughter is graduating with her doctorate degree from the University of California and I have to be there. The following week, Margueritte and I will be traveling, but I’ll be back with you on June 4, 2018.
Memorial Day weekend is a sobering time as we remember and honor those who have fallen in defending this country. In our families, we make our own private journeys to the graves of those we loved and lost. Bless you in such moments of remembrance.
My blogs focus on the Middle East and clarifying the on-going politics of the major countries in the region. I attempt to give a balanced view of events apart from personal concerns or vested interests. However, I have just returned from an important trip to Rome and a private audience with the Pope. Anyone interested in world peace and unity among previously hostile groups would be interested in my conversations with his Holiness. Consequently, I want to share with you the following press release from the Communion of Evangelical Episcopal Churches.
Pope Francis contacted Bishop Tony Palmer and Archbishop Robert L. Wise of the Communion of Evangelical Episcopal Churches asking them to come to Rome for a private audience and discussion of the Pope’s quest for unity and restoration of relationships between Roman Catholics and the Protestants. Archbishop Wise and Bishop Palmer also huddled with the Vatican’s office of Ecumenical Relations to discuss greater unity. Wise is a resident of Oklahoma City.
Archbishop Wise was former head of the Communion’s office of Ecumenical Relationships before turning leadership over to Bishop Palmer who lives in England. The CEEC knew Archbishop Jose Marie Bergoglio before his election and becoming Pope Francis. Both Palmer and Wise know him as friend while Pope Francis is a spiritual father to Bishop Palmer.
Archbishop Wise said, “the Pope is a gentle, gracious man with a unique gift of humility. His Holiness has a profound spiritual sensitivity and listens carefully to the leading of the Holy Spirit. We sat together and talked as friends.”
The tension between Catholics and Protestants positions was ended with the Vatican’s acceptance of Martin Luther’s doctrine of Justification by Faith. Both Wise and Palmer were present in Bari, Italy when this was publically proclaimed. Wise said, “The world should know the battle is over. We can love each other as Christians and stand shoulder to shoulder. Brotherhood now exists.”
Wise and Palmer met the Pope in his private residence behind the Cathedral of St. Peter’s in Vatican City. Earlier Bishop Palmer released a video tape of the Pope expressing his love and desire for unity with all Christians through the internet that was seen across the world. Archbishop Wise said, “A new day is at hand for the entire world. We rejoice in the Pope’s desire that we join hands in love and unity. Our task is to make sure the entire church understands that we stand at a new place in history.”
This press release reflects the Vatican’s concern to create a world-wide condition in which peace and unity help create a new environment for hope that struggling and warring parties can find new agreement. I believe it is worthy of our attention.
Robert L. Wise is travelling internationally this week and will have a blog for you when he returns on Monday, April 7, 2014. Thank you for your interest and stay tuned! The weekly blog will return a week from today. God bless you all.
WHAT’S COOKING IN EGYPT?
The results of elections appears to be universal. Candidates kiss babies, grin, wave, and promise everything from taking care of your old age to rejuvenating the country, And what happens? The week after the elcction when the dancing in the streets is done, the politicans get down to business and it’s nothing like they promised.
Today, the politicians in Egypt are getting down to business. The dust is clearing and the squeeze is on. What does it mean? Well, there’s good news and bad news.
Egypt’s new president Mohamed Morsi fired the military’s chief of staff and just threw out one of the major provisions that the military imposed on the government. Will Morsi’s actions stick? Hard to say. The military will probably wait and see what comes next. Morsi has definitely taken a major step forward in asserting the power of his office and propelling himself into an authoriative position over the military. How long he can prevail is a “wait and see” proposition. After it’s said and done, the military has the bullets and are well positioned to resist.
On the other hand, the most radical ideals of the Moslem Brotherhood don’t seem to be materializing. As is generally true of politicans, Mohamed Morsi has come face-to-face with political realities and that produces compromise. Morsi has made some of his own adjustments that involve backing away from some of his campaign promises. On of these compromises appears to be dropping the idea of changing the peace treaty with Israel. Such an adaptation takes a step toward a more peaceful Middle East.
In addition, recent visits by Secretary Hillary Clinton and Defense Secrerary Leon Penetta seem to be paying off in an unexpected way. In a recent blog, I noted Clinton got a nasty reception from Cairo demonstrators. However, she did come down on the side of constitutional government which put her on Morsi’s side in that struggle. During the visit, she warned of security issues in the Sinai and offered American help. Subsequently, terrorist gunmen in the Sinai attacked Egyptian border posts and comandeered two military vehicles used to storm the Israeli border. The unanticipated attacks deeply shook Morsi’s government. Morsi’s response is now viewed as an important test of the nascent presidency.
Indicating a renewned confidence in the United States, Egypt has now accelerated talks about American assistance in protecting the Sinai, including acquiring military equipment with electronic and aerial surveilance as well as police training. The American State Department warned that the Sinai is being used as a base for smuggling arms into Gaza for Palestinian extremists. Moreover, the USA has 700 American soliders in the Sinai as part of an international peacekeeping force in the area. Secretary Clinton expressed concern about the welfare of these American troops. While Egypt has always been sensitive about American direct involvment in its security, they do receive $1.5 billion dollars a year in assistance.
Egyptian troops, light tanks, attack helicopters are now pouring into the Sinai desert to root out the increasingly agressive Islamic militants. Egypt’s military action reflects a key provision of the l979 peace treaty which promised the demilitarization of the Sinai peninsula. Egypt’s push to secure the border is an important step indicating a continuing alliance with both America and Israel.
Morsi’s govenment’s actions seems to indicate the train may be back on the track in terms
of American and Israeli relationships. The next question is where the train is actually going.
Question: Is it possible for Egypt to come out of the current struggle in better shape than was previously thought?
BOOKS YOU’LL LOVE: THE STORY BEHIND THE STORY
The Assassins features three Russian killers: Alex Orlov, Sergei Lapin, and Nikolai Markov. The books notes a “remarkable sameness” in these men because I attempted to pattern them after Russians I met in different capacities during my travels in the Soviet Union. I saw pudgy-cheeked men, fattened from eating too much pastry and a consumption of vodka and cognac that to this day remains legendary. Often, one sees eyebrows that remind an observer of Leonid Brezhnev. Plum cheeks squeezing the eyes are in every public setting.
Why so similar and predicable?
Because that’s the way Russian society looks. Too much lard and grease in the diet.
As I traveled from Moscow to Minsk and on to St. Petersburg, I found the travel guides tried to impress me on how affluent their society really was. However, once you strolled down the main street of any city and then turned down a side street, you immediately realized that there weren’t any curbing on the streets. A visit to Kum’s Department store near the Kremlin revealed not a plush mall, but stalls boxed together like a flea market. During the Stalinist era, all resources went into armaments and the rest of the society dangled on the end of a thin thread. The Russian heritage had been to create illusions that were nothing more than cardboard and plywood store fronts with nothing behind them.
I wanted these assassins to fit the scenery that exists behind the illusions. Some years ago Gorbachev was briefly deposed by men in the Kremlin who appeared on television wearing the same gray suits, sitting together discussing why Gorbachev had to go. I think that particular coupe last three days, but during that time we got to see plenty of the “grayness” of official Soviet bureaucracy. My three assassins reflect the same bland, meaninglessness of the Soviet system.
Someone might protest that these three killers seem flat, colorness, and animalistic. Correct. Americans have become adjusted to exciting villians in the movies. We get everything from the Joker to Hannibal Lecter. We’ve come to expect exciting and challenging “bad guys.”
Even Vito Corleone and his sons became the anti-heros who were better than the other criminals so we ended up cheering for the Corlione family. Are genuine real-life criminals like this?
For some time I worked as a counselor in a 3,000 prisoner institution. At the end of the day, I’d generally went home depressed. The vast majority of the prisioners were not very bright and many were borderline normal. Their crimes were stupid and their behavior often ridiculous. Once they were released, many quickly returned for crimes ranging from shop lifting to holding up a small grocery store with a toy pistol. Coming from broken and deprived homes, their behavior tended to be predictable, meaningless, and often frighteningly destructive.
I wanted the assassins in my story to reflect the real world. Killers of this sort are definitely sociopathic and probably on the psychopathic side. That means they don’t feel the pain they inflict on others. Murderers are self-preoccupied and indifferent to the chaos they impose on other.
Only Masha Khaykina in the story was different. In her struggle to survive, she remained in touch with human values.
I hope my explanation makes the character a tad more real for you.
During my just completed trip to Israel, I traveled the country from the Syrian and Lebanese boarders to the Dead Sea. I remember when the salty water nearly bordered the highway. Currently, it has been reduced hundreds of yards. Israeli tourist still go down to the shores to sit in the sun or to take medicinal mud baths, but the sea level has become frighteningly low. Discussions are underway to increase the Dead Sea, including an idea to pump water from the Mediterrean. The problem is that the use of water from the Jordan River has decreased to allow little return to the lowest point on earth.
Just a little tidbit for my ecological minded friends.
Here’s the most recent update on the political front.
The Palestinian Authority has just proposed new informal talks with Israel. Before the talks can actually being, Israel must meet two conditions. The Palestinians are calling for the release of more prisoners and the importing of more weapons for the security forces in the West Bank. Abbas and Netanyahu have not met face to face since September 2010.
In response, the Israeli Prime Minister’s office said Netanyahu would meet for informal talks anywhere any time without any preconditions. In addition, Israeli officials said they were not aware of any shortage of weapons among Palestinian security personnel. Just two weeks ago, Israel released the bodies of dead terrorist for burial in Palestinians territories.
What’s going on here?
For some time, the Palestinians have been attempting to criminalize Israel. Everything Israel does is slammed with the intention of attaching labels of provocateurs, terrorists, and criminals. While the Palestinians would not admit it publically, prisoners held in Israel have been terrorist. In other words, without saying it, the Palestinians are admitting their people have been attacking the state of Israel. Quite the opposite of what they want to admit publically.
Secondly, asking for Israel to allow more weapons into the West Bank is an admission of how tightly Israel has been able to clamp down on weapon shipments. The PA is definitely in a defensive position and they know it.
In addition, the PA still maintains its original posture, that Israel must cease building settlements in disputed areas before genuine negotiations can begin for a peace settlement. They know Israel will not accept these terms as a pre-condition for talks. In other words, the PA continues to stall while attempting to appear ready to negotiate.
Long ago this strategy was played out by Yasher Arafat. As was revealed the last time Arafat walked out of negotiations, the PA has no intention of coming to terms with a peace agreement. As Abba Ebon once observed. “the Arabs never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.” The reason is simple. Palestinians will settle for nothing short of Israel being pushed into the sea. Rather than peace; they want conquest.
And what happens while they wait? Israel continues to prosper. The Palestinians languish in their own limitations. Will this current call to launch dialogue go anywhere? My hunch is that it is a shot at influencing world opinion to believe the PA is a peace-minded organization. Sorry, it is probably not worthy of inclusion in the media.
Can the PA even be believed … or trusted?
MIDDLE EAST UPDATE
Having just returned from Israel, I bring responses from the local scene. Landing in Tel Aviv immediately tells one that Israel is on the move. When I first came to Israel in l968, it was an entirely different country. One had to drive some distance to get to Tel Aviv. Not anymore! The city is a thriving metropolis that now virtually abuts the airport with skyscrapers shooting up into the sky! Israel is going forward.
However, concern remains.
Israel has never made claims against Iran. Nevertheless, the president of Iran continues to threaten the annihilation of Israel. The tension is like having your next door neighbor sitting on his roof with a machine gun aimed at your backyard. Here’s the problem.
United Nations atomic inspectors have indicated Iran now possesses enough enriched uranium to make four atom bombs. They have discovered that the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty has a loophole Iran is pushing. The treaty sets no limits on the level of enrichment purity. It only bars nations from converting civilian efforts into military use. Iran claims they are doing nothing barred by treaty obligations. A nuclear physicist with the Federation of American Scientists recently said, “Iran is raising eyebrows. But what it’s doing is a concern –not illegal.”
Try explaining that over coffee to an Israeli! They won’t buy the story!
Israelis know about the reality of life inside Iran.
Because of Western sanctions, factories are beginning to be forced to close or reduce production. Prodigious economic pain is generating discontent. Prices are high and manufacturing difficult. One producer of thread and textiles recently admitted that sanctions have aggravated pre-existing economic difficulties. In the June 17, 2012 edition of the New York Times, Nicholas Kristoff reported his findings after making a 1,700 mile trip through Iran. He discovered that the backlash of sanctions has produced anger with Iran’s leadership. Local citizens blame their own officials for the local problems. The average Iranian is far more focused on loss of work and income than they are on the fading hopes raised by the nuclear program.
As recent demonstrations revealed, Iran has a serious split in its own society. Many, many of the younger citizens are not buying what the Ayatollahs are selling. Their interest lies in a healthy open society rather than an imposed Moslem state. In this sense, sanctions appear to be working. This success raises questions about a military strike from Israel. Israeli’s understand this issue.
Talking with Israeli leaders revealed the heartfelt hope that sanctions will end the crisis and the IDF (Israeli Defense Force) will not have to strike. No one wants military actions if it can be avoided. On the other hand, they live with the motto “Never Again.” I found no hesitancy to strike if it becomes necessary.
IDF Chief of Staff Lt. General Benn Gantz offered strong reasons why Israel must be ready to strike immediately if necessary. He indicated that they are “super-ready” to strike if there is no progress in the current nuclear discussions with Iran. Gantz maintains total confidence in the air force and intelligence.
Of course, Iran has to be aware of Gantz’s remarks and that too poses an additional pressure on their position.
The bottom line? I found an expectation that confrontations are ahead. Let’s hope Iran realizes they are the ones hanging in the balance.
How long can Israel afford to wait?
Should America increase the economic pressure on Iran to provide a faster answer?
It doesn’t take long to understand how complex Middle Eastern struggles actually are. For example, The American State Department came up with the idea of a multibillion-dollar Iraqi police training program that was to be the centerpiece of a hugely expanded civilian mission. Since October, $500 million has already been spent. Now it turns out the Iraqi government didn’t want it in the first place, but no one asked them until after the money had been allocated. Now that the military is gone, the Iraqi government is aggressively asserting its sovereignty. And the police force idea is going down the drain. Sorry, State Department. You obviously didn’t pay enough attention to the locals.
Granted that it is much more difficult to know exactly what’s going on in Syria, but similar confusion appears to be ruling the day. Insiders appear to agree that Bashar Al-Assad is slowly hemorrhaging to death, but that’s not certain. Turkey currently hosts around 23,000 Syrian refugees running from Assad. Some fighting has spilled over into Lebanon. As Senator John McCain noted, “What is obvious and indisputable is that the Kofi Annan plan has failed.” What the cease fire idea actually accomplished was buying more buy for the Syrian regime to continue killing the opposition and civilians. However, citizens appear to have not given up their struggle to oust Assad.
Recently, Turkey’s prime minister personally addressed thousands of cheering Syrian refugees who had crossed into camps in Turkey. He proclaimed that Assad’s grip was growing weaker by the day and that victory was close. Whether his statement is true or not requires more information. The complete truth remains to be seen.
The Syrian regime has currently proposed elections in the near future. A new constitution was adopted that would limit a Syrian president to two seven-year terms Of course, Assad and his father ruled Syria for over 42 years. The idea of a new election in the midst of a civil war obviously hasn’t sparked enthusiasm.
The opposition immediately responded that without reforms any election would be meaningless. Haytham Manna, head of the National Coordination Body for Democratic Change in Syria, rejected the idea as ludicrous. He noted there are no characteristics of a normal election exist during war and upheaval. Assad appears only to be attempting to buy time – once again.
So where are we? Key constituencies supporting Assad include religious minorities such as Christians and Alawites. Both groups fear what a takeover by Sunni Muslim’s would do to them. (Assad is a Alawite, an off-shoot of Shiite Islam.)
Russia and China continue to attempt to shield the regime from harsh diplomatic sanctions. In a former blog, I pointed out that Russia is making millions (probably billions) by supply military arms and equipment to Syria. War lines the Russian pockets with gold. Western powers, including Turkey, remain unwilling to use force against Syria. The result? Stalemate.
Turkey prime minister told the refugees, “Sooner or later, those who have oppressed our Syrian brothers will be accounted for before their nation. Your victory is close.”
Sorry. Not close enough! (518 words)
Question: How long do you think the Assad regime can endure? By the way, why doesn’t the American government pay better attention to the daily circumstances unfolding in these foreign governments?