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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A Nation of Laws not of Men

If the recent spectacle in the US is anything to go by, then it should confirm everything we have known about Donald Trump from the beginning: he believes that his word is law, and everyone should obey him.

When he was just running for the presidency, we heard how he boasted that he would just grab a woman he fancies by the pussy because he believes he can, and for the most part, he was right. His victims were too shocked or scared to do anything about it. It is a totally predatory thing and indicative of his attitude in general, to women in particular. There was even that creepy clip where he greeted a child and said that he would date her when she’s eighteen. 

He fancies himself to be the ultimate businessman (let’s just forget all those bankruptcies he went through in the meantime). A great negotiator. THE man to be reckoned with.

Of course, not everything worked out as planned. He thought he can just ban Muslims from entering the US. The courts thought otherwise.

He wanted to change Obamacare with a single stroke. It didn’t quite work out that way. His first attempt was withdrawn even before it was ever considered by Congress.

Worse, his choice as Supreme Court justice could not get through and so he had to get his Republican lackies to change the rules for it to happen.

He bullied his way in the meeting with world leaders in Brussels and was ridiculed for it.

Now we see him trying to convince the head of the FBI to end the Flynn investigation. I compared that to a mafia don trying to tell a cop to look the other way. When he didn’t, the mafia don made him disappear. He must have thought he was still at the set of The Apprentice. “You’re fired!”

Unfortunately for him, like some of the mafia attempts to off someone that fails, Comey comes back from the dead to haunt him, and his testimony might take the don down.

The New York Times has an article that likened the attempt to have Comey drop the Flynn investigation to sexual harassment. Scary.

His seeming disregard for climate change and human rights are even more alarming. While pulling out of the Paris accord on combating climate change may arguably be a good thing because how can a man who thinks that climate change is a hoax convince the world to take it seriously, it also sends the wrong signal that a developed industrialized country will not help, or might even work against, fixing climate change.

Trump’s economic policy appears clear: make the most money with the least restrictions. Take away all the climate change concerns so big oil can do as they please, and coal can be big again — never mind that renewable energy is actually becoming cheaper and more efficient to operate. Now, they are taking down Dodd-Frank that was enacted to protect investors after the Sub-Prime Mortgage meltdown and the depression that followed in its wake. Chipping away here and there in the hope that money comes in. That’s his vision of a great America. 

Look at all that and you realize he is just about one thing and one thing only: The Donald; and he wants the Donald to have absolute power.

It is not surprising that he would be envious of people like Russia’s Putin and Xi of China because, in their respective countries, their word is law. Laws conform to the leader’s wishes rather than have the duly elected representatives of the people make laws that the president will then execute, which is how a democratic government should work. Trump believes his word should be law because, in his mind, he alone can save the US.

Unfortunately, the US Congress, filled with a Republican majority, is slowly giving him what he wants. There will be hell to pay. Maybe they think that Trump is still manageable and they can make him do what they want then dump him after one term — if not sooner removed by impeachment — or once they can come up with a suitable replacement. 

Here’s the thing, once you give power to a demagogue, and the people are drunk with illusions, it will be hard to reign him in and get the balance of power back among the three co-equal arms of a truly democratic government.

I could say the same of the Philippines with a president some quarters hail as a savior of the nation. His insistence on the supremacy of the executive arm over the others is troubling. His minions in Congress, particularly the speaker of the lower house, shares the view — at least, when the judiciary is taking a contrary view; otherwise, he would be pleading that the people respect the decision of the courts. It’s maddening.

Putin, Trump and their ilk want to have a nation of men, not of laws. There will be a point of reckoning when the people can no longer tolerate the abuses by such men. Even countries such as China know that there is a constant danger from those opposed to such a concept. It is their fear of such an uprising that makes them an oppressive state that belittles human rights allegedly for the sake of the common good.

This is no way to live out our lives living under the dictates of would-be Caesars. We cannot willingly forsake the freedoms that others have paid for with their lives for the covenience of short-sighted solutions to everyday problems. We need to live in a nation of laws where no man can ever be above it even if he is a duly elected president. Allowing ourselves to be lulled to sleep on our rights is not patriotism. It is nothing more than a surrender to absolutism. That is a price too high to pay for an illusion of peace.

We lived through such a hell once. Never again.

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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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Gog and Magog

In prophecy, Gog and Magog figure as a great threat first to the nation of Israel (in Ezekiel), and then to the Christian Church (in Revelations). It is said that even the seer Nostradamus mentioned them in an epistle to the then king of France. Whoever they are, whatever they are, it seems that they are coming, bringing with them death and destruction.

If you look at the world today, then you will note the growing tension between the US and its allies on the one hand, and China, Russia and its growing band of allies on the other. Over the years, the old USSR and China have been branded the enemy by the West for its attempt to bring communism to the world principally by violent revolution. Communism has failed to rule the world but these two have not stopped, leveraging their economies instead.

This began sometime in the 2000s when they were lumped together with the other growing economies, Brazil and India, to form BRIC. South Africa was later added — to make it plural, BRICS, as the joke goes. By the 2010s, Brazil and South Africa have shone less brightly despite the former still managing to stage the FIFA World Cup and the Olympics. India, known for its call centers and tech exports is drowning in pollution. 

Russia too is hobbled by the weakening oil prices on which it has mainly relied to run its economy. Just trying to keep things afloat has cost Russia much of its reserves. Still, its efforts to remain relevant in the world today is evidenced by its participation in the Syrian conflict where it has actually called forth its aircraft carrier to participate in the campaign to bomb ISIS positions that is controversial at best since some of those bombed appear to be civilians opposed to the Hassad regime and rebel forces supported by the West.

Then theres’s China. China that owns most of US debt. China that has surpassed Japan to be the second largest economy in the world. China who has been developing advanced weaponry to rival those of the West and with more money to do it.

China who has proposed to build an organization that could challenge the IMF. China who has been investing a lot in Africa, and China that could consider leaving the UN.

With the way things are in the US, it is not likely to be able to lead the West as it used to since the end of the Second World War. Most likely, the mantle will have to be borne by Germany, of all nations. Even the UK is effectively out of commission. With everything so topsy-turvy, the likelyhood of China, Russia and their allies to build their own international organizations increases ever so higher. Our own president has declared his willingness to join this particular bandwagon, and Turkey has recently said the same. Whether it is just a threat to the EU for delaying its application for membership or not, the implications are quite enlightening. We are now facing a distinct possibility that the world will even be more divided than what it was during the Cold War. Back then, we still had one UN. We may soon not have that, which makes efforts to negotiate peace even harder, and with that the spectre of war looms ever greater.

So, what do all these have to do with Gog and Magog? Interestingly enough, Gog and Magog have been interpreted to mean China and Russia, or a group or alliance led by them.

When I started this, I noted how Gog and Magog have been seen as an enemy of Israel and/or the Church. Look at what is happening today: the US-Israel ties have always been strong but with the election of Trump, it appears to be even stronger now with Netanyahu in Israel. While Trump may be open to Russia’s Putin, he is less likely to be so with China. Bad for business and Trump is first and foremost a businessman. A trade war with China may eventually lead to a shooting war. So, if you want to see it as a purely biblical event, then it is a possibility.

For the coming of Gog and Magog to be a threat to the Church, I think that it is enough that its teachings be threatened, and if there is something China and Russia is known for, then that would be their poor record on human rights. Something that the Philippines and Turkey are recently being criticized for. Something too that the Church has long been fighting for. Yes, the Church is not perfect but it struggles to be perfect as its Heavenly Father is perfect. The fight, therefore, is real.

The danger posed by Gog and Magog is that they will bring with them a third of the earth. If they are China and Russia, then the Philippines will be among the third. Here’s the rub, in the end, Gog and Magog lose. 

Damn.  

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“The enemy of my enemy is my friend.”

And so there it is. After dancing around the issue for the last two months, we finally see where the Philippines is heading: China and Russia. It’s not really much of a surprise considering the amount of abuse that the president has thrown the way of the US and the rest of the Western world, and the praise heaped upon China and Russia.

It should be obvious to everyone by now that the president really really really hates the US. He insulted the American ambassador to the Philippines, threatened to curse the US president, told US forces to leave Mindanao and, most recently, suspended joint patrols in the South China Sea, and shown no inclination to continue with joint military exercises with US forces because, he says, China doesn’t like it. Of course, there was also the oh so undiplomatic “FU!” to the EU. Meanwhile, he thinks Putin is actually an okay guy, and we haven’t really heard him say anything against China remotely near as harsh as what he has thrown at the West despite the fact that it has practically held the South China Sea hostage even as an international tribunal has already declared — in a case instituted by the Philippines no less — that China does not in fact have any historical claim over the contested area. China and Russia are now conducting joint military exercises in the South China Sea and Filipinos still can’t get in as they are chased out of the area by China’s coast guard. The president does not even appear to be interested in upholding the arbitral ruling as he tries to get China to agree to allow Filipino fishermen access into the disputed areas. Appeasement at any cost seems to be the chosen tact even if in at least one occassion, he noted that illegal drugs in the Philippines comes, and is being run from China, and if there is anything he supposedly hates more than the West, then it is illegal drugs.

As far as we can tell, much of the presidential anger against the West rises from the actions of US forces way back at the time when it was occupying the Philippines in the end of 1800s and early 1900s, especially in Mindanao. He views the US and the Western powers in general as old-time colonists that has no moral authority to question how he is running the country. Parenthetically, if he bothers to try to look hard enough, then he will see that China and Russia are actually no different.

Clearly, the president is free to choose to build bridges to China and Russia. If these countries are willing to give whatever aid to the Philippines in return for its friendship, then that would be most welcome. There’s nothing wrong with making more friends.

In a different time, it would even have made sense. China and Russia were part of BRICS, a group of countries that was supposed to lead the world economically. China indeed grew to become the second largest economy overtaking Japan while Russia made a killing when oil prices went stratospheric. The rest of the group, Brazil, India and South Africa, were all the envy of the world reeling from the Global Financial Crisis.

Then things went south. Oil prices plunged and Russia is losing its reserves trying to shore up its economy. Chinese manufacturing has stalled and there are plenty of questions surrounding its banks and their exposure to bad loans. Brazil managed to hold the Olympics (and the Football World Cup before that) despite the political and economic upheavals it was facing but it is no longer anywhere near where it was some ten years ago. South Africa has been overshadowed by its political problems as the party of the late great Nelson Mandela loses its footing. After showing much promise, India is now drowning in pollution.  Admittedly, the rest of the globe isn’t doing any better than BRICS. However, if the Philippines was looking to China and Russia for aid in the extent that the US and EU are now providing it, then I think it will be sorely disappointed. China might still be able to do so. Russia, not so much. Indeed, we haven’t really heard anything much from BRICS nowadays.

Still, one wonders how much these countries can actually give the Philippines when they have been hobbled by so many problems. Moreover, one Chinese analyst notes that the president appears to be just playing with China what with him flip-flopping every now and then. At present, China has pledged to build drug rehab centers and a national railway system. Russia appears to have pledged military hardware. For free. What exactly these are has yet to be revealed.

What is disturbing is that the president, in pivoting away from the US, touts the Philippine Constitution’s declaration that the country must follow an independent foreign policy as his justification. Now, it seems that as far as the president is concerned, an independent foreign policy just means independent from the US and apparently dependent on China and Russia. The president even said that he is about to cross the rubicon with the US. We can all just imagine what that would actually mean.

At this point, it may be wise to listen to former Secretary of Foreign Affairs Albert Del Rosario. Asked about what he thought of where we are now, he expressed the opinion that making new friends need not be at the expense of your old friends. Diplomacy he adds should not be a zero-sum affair: you don’t have to be all pro-China and anti-US, or vise versa. Unfortunately, these may fall on deaf ears as the president’s hatred for the West appears to have closed any possible balanced approach to the country’s foreign policy.

The painful thing about this is that if we call the president’s attention to this, then we just might get called a son of a whore for our trouble.

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