Syria on my mind.

On June 28, 1914, shots rang out in the streets of Sarajevo killing Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne. His death would plunge nations into the First World War. Millions died.

Fast forward to 2017, Syria is in the middle of a civil war, a war against terror, and a proxy war all wrapped in a single bloody conflict. I will not pretend to fully comprehend its complexities but, for our purposes, suffice it to say that you have those against the Assad regime, you have Assad and his army, and the terror group ISIS in a three-corner fight of sorts. Russia and Iran support Assad, while the US and the Western nations support various groups seeking the ouster of Assad, or hope to be independent like the Kurds.

Normally, the Syrian conflict should be just that: a conflict between Syrians but the presence of Russia, who actually resurrected its mothballed aircraft carrier to join the conflict, the US and its allies, and Iran, is making this a quagmire worthy of 1914 Sarajevo. While Russia and the US rely mostly on their air and special forces to assist their chosen sides, Iran’s Revolutionary Guards openly cross the border to fight for Assad, or against ISIS. The US and Russia may have thousands of troops in or around Syria. Iran has tens of thousands.

Worse, the conflict is starting to draw in other players. Israel bombed Syrian positions when wayward Syrian rockets flew into its territory. Parenthetically, Israel has also sent overtures to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA), which is in its own struggle against Iran for dominance in the Middle East. The Saudis, despite the fact that Osama Bin Laden and al-Queida — the terrorists behind 9/11 — were KSA-linked, is also pro-US. The US is also traditionally pro-Israel. The US also recently approved a billion dollar arms deal with KSA and its president’s opposition to the Iran nuclear deal entered into by his predecessor, which KSA dislikes, and his threat to abandon it are all common knowledge.

Recently, the KSA and the United Arab Emirates (UAE or Emiratis) with Egypt and Bahrain cut diplomatic ties with Qatar supposedly because the latter praised Iran (and Israel) and supported terrror groups like ISIS. Qatar denied the accusations but, curiously, the emir of Qatar thereafter called on Iran to congratulate its president for his re-election, which naturally pissed off KSA and the Emiratis. Turkey, which is fast becoming distant from the West, is siding with Qatar. The US president, contrary to what US diplomats were saying about the rift claimed credit for KSA and the Emiratis move to stop terrorist financing from Qatar. Russia appears to be sitting on the fence on this one having interests to protect with both KSA and Qatar; however, it appears to be more sympathetic to Qatar as its diplomats and state agencies have been meeting with their Qatari counterparts after the rift. Still, its energy needs require it to keep itself on the good side of KSA.

Then we have the US Senate passing a bill threatening Russia with sanctions for interfering with US elections. It still has to be approved by the US House of Representatives and Trump but, essentially, it seeks to penalize Russia’s energy program and anyone who assists Russia in said program. This does not sit well with the European Union (EU), especially Germany, who have companies involved in those programs. The EU sees the action as contrary to the agreed approach for joint action of the EU and the US when it comes to sanctions against Russia. It’s bad enough that Trump is alienating his Western allies in NATO. This can openly break the tenuous relationship between Trump and the EU-NATO. Germany has already voiced its concern that the EU can no longer rely on the US for leadership. Trump, with his America First byline, couldn’t care less it seems.

Finally, China and Russia, whom many have interpreted to be the biblical Gog and Magog, have recently decided to create a roadmap to military cooperation, among other things. Russia may no longer be as influential as it was at the height of the Cold War but nobody can deny the growing influence of the resurgent China whose efforts to create a new Silk Road is allowing it to create a sphere of influence from Asia to Africa and Europe. If we stick to the biblical interpretation that China and Russia are Gog and Magog, then they will bring with them a third of the earth. At the moment, Turkey and the Philippines appear to be among those willing to join them.

So, we have the US with KSA and its allies, China and Russia with Syria, Iran, Turkey, Qatar and the 1/3 of the world, the EU acting independently of the US and without the U.K. due to Brexit, and, somewhere out there, Israel, which freely bombs anyone that threatens, or it perceives to threaten, its existence.

Even if Syria is not our generation’s Sarajevo, it is certainly one of the falling dominoes leading to an unimaginable war. With all these interconnections, it is not difficult to imagine someone rightly or wrongly deciding to go after Israel and with that one move pull in the nations with all those strings binding them together into another world war, and where nations are armed with nuclear weapons, it just may be the real war to end all wars.

In a land full of oil, it just takes a wayward match to set things on fire. Some may say that it has all been prophesied and it will be impossible to stop it but I am a man of Faith and, therefore, believe that it does not necessarily have to end in Armageddon. My faith may be the size of a mustard seed but I believe it can move mountains, and we are promised that whenever two or more of us agree on Earth, then so shall it be in Heaven. If God can be persuaded by Lot to stay His hand from judgment against Sodom and Gomorrah, certainly places that seem to deserve God’s judgment, then we can also cry out to our Father to spare us from that terrible judgment.

Yes, Syria has me worried but I still choose to be hopeful about our future.

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The World is due for a correction.

I was talking to my dad this morning and our conversation drifted here and there. Out of nowhere, he suddenly said “I have a theory: democracy will kill itself. Why? The objective of democracy is to make everyone equal. People will never be equal in one aspect or another. So, it will fall on itself.”

If we look at the world around us, then we can easily see what he means. The rise of the populists is a worldwide phenomenon that appears poised to engulf the whole world. 

The root of all of this might be traced to the recent troubles with globalization. The near collapse of the global economy brought about by the greed of the largest banks in the US. One can say that the principles of democracy that made the big banks free to do as they did caused the global financial crisis. That caused people to fear what democracy has wrought despite the fact that the global financial crisis was brought about more by the lack of effective regulation to curb that greed that caused all the mess rather than a failure of democracy itself. 

Then there were those who were not able to benefit from an inproved economy. If you look at the last six to eight years in the Philippines and the US, then you would note how their economies have improved over time. The problem is that not everyone have felt the effects of that economic upturn. 

From there grew the strangest, strongest opposition to our democratic institutions that led to the take over by populists. Powered by social media (including hacks and bots), and driven more by anger and hate rather than any clear program of action, populists have managed to take control over the Philippines and the US. 

Similar movements have tried to get ahead in other parts of the world. So far UKIP in the UK has failed to make any headway although it was, surprisingly, able to get the UK to vote for BREXIT, and it may now be paying the price for it.

Le Pen in France is already having a hard time at it and a European nation had rejected a populist party.

I suppose that the world have seen what populists can do to a country and decided to go against it. In the Philippines, a misguided war on drugs is blamed for the deaths of 6,000 men, women and children, while the US is grappling with a rising  nationalist agenda. The planned replacement of Obamacare was embarassingly pulled out and its anti-Muslim immigration executive orders have been slapped down by US courts. If this is how populists run their country, then it is a terrible future ahead for them and all those thinking of electing populists into office.

However, this is all part of what it means to be a democracy. The citizens were free to elect populists into office (let us put the issue of hacks and bots aside for now). One might say this is just a phase where nations try to press the reset button to get a reboot.

The hope is of course that after this terrible experiment, there is still something left to reboot. We get over that, then democracy will rise again. Perhaps, democracy will in fact kill itself as my dad says but it is quite capable of bouncing back into existence like a phoenix from its ashes. It is a dream I have…

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I, God.

Today, we live in a world that is quickly losing any sense of appropriate boundaries in everything, and yet creates the most baffling restrictions.

Imagine this: we want to be able to criticize someone’s religion but his race is off-limits. The logic behind this is suppose to be one’s beliefs are different from who he is in his very core.  In other words, while we can supposedly change our beliefs like our religious beliefs, one’s race is something so fundamental in a person that criticizing it would be attacking his very person. Now, think about that. First, what if a person’s belief was so ingrained into him that one cannot easily separate one from the other? You think it is not possible? Think again. Recall all the hurt a single satirical illustration of the Prophet Mohammed in Charlie Hebdo caused. You think this is an extraordinarily singular event? It is not. That one illustration, even when cloaked in what we call one’s freedom of expression, did not just hurt the few who attacked the magazine’s offices but the majority of all Muslims. One can say much the same thing about Catholics. There are just some things that they feel they cannot compromise such as issues like abortion and contraceptives. Any debate allowing or restricting these will always be contentious, at times violent. Certain beliefs are part of someone’s inner being.

Second, when we are willing to accept actions as part of one’s freedom of expression — such as flag-burning that offends ultrapatriots — to the point of protecting it under law, then why wouldn’t something far more extreme be covered? When jihadists took exception to Charlie Hebdo’s satire and attacked, would that too be an expression protected by law? No less than Pope Francis did note that if you say something against his mother you may expect to get punched in the nose. Rights are never absolute yet we’ve lost sight of that simple truth in the drive to be more our selves.

Third, think of the other extreme. Why shouldn’t one be able to criticize another’s race? If we all have the right to speak what we want, when we want, under the great umbrella of freedom of speech, then surely one should not be restricted by something as “silly” as another’s feelings. Of course, that would be racism but, again, in a world quickly losing all sense of restraint, racism is just becoming another norm. This should not be.

We are turning too much in on ourselves. Deciding for ourselves what was set long ago. Imagine a white woman who identified as black. People ridiculed her and yet we allow people to identify themselves as male or female even when they were born female or male respectively. Taking everything to extremes, there are some who now identify as animals. We laugh. They are serious. Again, think about it: why shouldn’t they be able to choose what they want to be? Countries are now allowing children as young as ten to choose their gender, or just be someone other than who they were upon birth. Why draw the line on one’s ethnicity?

This world is changing…and not necessarily for the better. There are commentators who have noted the similarities (not literal naturally) of the situation today with the period prior to the First World War. Rising from the Industrial Revolution, a great many felt they were not part of the progress brought about by the new age of the 1900s. This is no different from those who now feel left behind by globalization of the 2000s. Germany of the 1910s wallowed in its sense of entitlement yet feared encirclement, which shadows 2010s’ China’s current situation. Populist movements as well as strong men proliferate then and now. If these situations tell me anything, then it is that people are turning more in towards themselves or their country. Think Brexit and the not so new US first policy of Trump. Other countries have been in it longer with nothing much to show for it. What does the U.K. and the US think it can do better? Yes, economically, they are in a much better place but the future is not so promising.

We note how much our children appear to be driven by a sense of entitlement. Again, more of one’s self over the many. Even their collective action betrays a bias towards self. Self. Self. And even more Self. Be it the individual or the state, we are more and more about our selves. What do we want? We want what we want. And we want more of it. We cannot sustain such a way, a philosophy, a movement. That can only lead to disaster. Remember, if these times mirror the early 1900s, then we are just a short time away from a great war. Three minutes away according to the Doomsday Clock. Is that what we want?

We need restraint. A healthy dose. As Agent Phil Caulson said in The Avengers, we can do with old fashioned. We need to be old fashioned. We may not really want it but we definitely need it.

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Fire in the Wind

Come November, it is not impossible to imagine the world welcoming a President Trump.

As much as a number of people all over the world may think it impossible, the truth is, if the Philippine experience is any indication, then the world has taken a turn they may not be ready to face. I actually thought traditional rules would govern the last Philippine election and couldn’t have been more wrong. True, I caught a whiff of a scent in the wind where people were  fed up with traditional politics but naively thought that it was there in every other election before but it had never really made a difference; so, why should it be different now? Surprise! It is different now. The first experiment in electing a populist leader came when the Philippines elected Erap Estrada into power. Unfortunately for him, his base was the poor and not much else. When the elite thought the experiment had gone far enough, they stepped in and ousted Erap from the presidency. It wasn’t pretty but it was pretty interesting. 

The last elections, however, was totally different. The winning candidate did not only have the support of the poor but a number of the elites as well. Most of these elites may or may have not supported Duterte directly but it appears that they did support Marcos Jr., a vice presidential candidate whose family is close to Duterte, whose supporters drew mainly from his late father’s supporters, and they are legion spanning the entire social spectrum. It has now been revealed that former President Fidel Ramos was instrumental in convincing him to run for president, and his funds were provided by Marcos Jr.’s sibling, Imee. He also has the support of another former president, Gloria Arroyo, who was earlier rumored to be the financier of his campaign. True or not, what these alliances show is that he has a broader support base than just the poor. So, this time, the anger over traditional politics was augmented by the very traditional political rivalry they hated creating the perfect storm that swept a man into the highest post of the land. He promised change, and people bought into it. We never really knew how much change he had planned but three months in and we are reeling in disbelief. This man is no traditional politician. Far from it.

If you look at the US today, then you will see the same convergence of forces brewing. There is a great dislike for traditional politics that a complete outsider had actually succeeded in stealing an entire political party. The Grand Old Party no less! At the same time, the other political party is fielding one of the most hated traditional politicians in America who has been in the scene for far too long for comfort for a lot of Americans. And even as the Republican candidate may be THE most reprehensible person to ever walk on God’s earth, the Democratic candidate has trust issues of her own, which makes her unliked over the entire social spectrum. If the Democrats are not careful, then they will lose the coming election, or even if it doesn’t happen in this election, then one or two down the road will result in neither of the traditional parties winning. Note that the Republican Party rumbling along today is nowhere near what it was just an election ago. Should Trump win, he will turn your world totally upside down. That I can promise you.

The difference between the US and the Philippines, however, is that there are only two running for the office in the US (well, three but the third is a non-entity at the moment who is not even up on his current events). There were five running in the Philippine’s last elections which resulted in a plurality vote for Duterte (the majority voted for someone else, just not the same person). So the US Democrats still have a shot, and, as things stand, this election is for them to lose.

The truly disturbing thing about this is that you can see it happening everywhere. While populist groups are barely winning in elections, the victory of BREXIT shook everyone up. Much of the victory comes from the fact that people think these populists don’t have the ghost of a chance to win. Complacency then is the enemy. If you don’t believe me, then just ask the Colombians. We already know people do not like traditional politics and politicians all over the world. The current crop of politicians need to reach out, be more inclusive, and stay relevant. If the people cannot identify with them, then they will surely see the coming into power of someone who not only is contrary to everything they work for but would probably throw their country into chaos.

Believe me, you wouldn’t want what we’ve got.

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