How to Deal With ISIS

An invisible, well-hidden, lethal enemy may be the most difficult thing to protect against. That probably has been true since the main weapons were sticks and stones.

Recently I bumped into one of the smartest, retired, very senior generals in our military world.

I asked why we had not adopted the same strategy and tactics that ISIS uses to counter them with the same kind of uncertainty that keeps us off balance.

The answer I got surprised me: “Who said we were not doing that?”

He went on to say that within the constraints imposed by our commander in chief, we are trying to do just that. He added that it does not help to keep that fact secret. The more imbalances ISIS feels, the less they can accomplish, so we should bellow our intentions, just not any specific plans.

His wish is that we had started down this road much earlier and were now pouring on the coal more aggressively.

One of the choke points constraining the White House has been fear of “boots on the ground” because the country is war-weary.

He fears that the White House has failed to make the case of distinguishing real boots on the ground (Army units) from the kind of pseudo boots that special forces and CIA regularly use with great effect.

We have seen in Ukraine how Putin has gotten away with using Russian troops who have no markings of the military on their uniforms. That process seems very underhanded, but what they are doing is even more underhanded. We presumably could recruit quite large units of multinational volunteers who together could constitute quite an impressive threat to ISIS forces, who are still not too numerous. Those units also presumably could make use of our powerful abilities to transport and communicate tactical strength. Think the raid that took out Osama bin Laden.

If ISIS were surprised often enough by effective paramilitary incursions, we could tilt the scale of advantage quite quickly.

Assuming my retired general friend knows what he is talking about — which I do — we all should start barking at the White House to up the ante big-time along these lines.

I have been a longtime admirer and supporter of Obama. On this matter I feel he is being too cautious and timid.

Come on, POTUS, let’s get to work.

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Where There Is a Will, There Is a Way

Obama summed up one part of his recent rave SOTU saying:

“I know there’s bipartisan support in this chamber. Members of both parties have told me so. Where we too often run onto the rocks is how to pay ….. As Americans, we don’t mind paying our fair share of taxes, as long as everybody else does, too.”

Our Red friends, despite both their intransigence and their simple embrace of less government as the solution to all modern problems, with very few exceptions agree with Obama and his Blue friends about the substance of improving education, immigration, health issues, infrastructure and most of the other crucially important topics Obama touched on.

Somehow, however, they seem to believe that left alone market forces magically can produce the needed changes in all those subjects. When asked ‘how’ that can happen, they rarely have any explanation without some kinds of nudges and leadership from government.

Yes, there will always be priority differences when it comes to dividing the pie. And, of course, few will get just what they want.

When reds and blues bicker endlessly, particularly about economic choices and the powerful current evidence from recent past events, everyone loses beginning with citizens in need and politicians who want it both ways — for example better job training with no more costs.

Another issue reds and blues basically agree on is the need for less counterproductive red tape.

A snowball of regulation started in about 1905 and has been gathering size and speed ever since. The task of balancing competing interests in a complex modern society has become bigger and more complicated as society passes over a narrow, dangerously steep path into the changed new 21st century world.

If the assumptions just referred to are anywhere nearly correct — and they are! — then it suggests that the first thing the reds and blues need to do is agree on what they agree on in substance BEFORE addressing the issues of costs and priorities.

Where there is a clear difference of view on substance, those issues should be put in a different pile for further debate.

At least then the time and energy of the debate can be focused on the costs and how to allocate, obtain and prioritize them.

At that point the will to address the substance is established and the public can then see and decide if enough will has been brought to bear to satisfy what the public hoped to see achieved.

That leaves regulatory reform as a remaining obstacle. One of today’s bigger problems is that regulatory structures are created to deal with each succeeding regulatory need. The bureaucrats who staff those structures are focused on whatever their mandate is. The jerseys on their backs may say ‘banking’ but they also indicate ‘government’ [or the public interest] but those people see themselves as carrying the broad public interest even though their legal mandate is much more narrowly defined.

We need to introduce into all regulatory processes an advocate of ‘the broad public interest’ in somewhat the same way that newspapers have invented editors at large to keep in mind the broad public interest in fair and balanced comment and reporting.

Obama laid out a grand agenda of substantive needs ahead. He wisely suggested that the politicians narrow the focus of their differences on costs. And, has on other occasions aligned himself with regulatory reform.

The time is ripe for both parties to heed his wisdom. The reds, if they have serious hopes for 2016, need to be seen as addressing the peoples’ needs. The blues can protect their 2016 candidate by pushing forward the Obama agenda of doing what all citizens need and want.

Evolution: Technology vs. Humans

A visit to the Galapagos Islands is an eye-opening experience for the old and young alike. The fact, for example, that there are unique sea creatures in that one place that are quite unlike anything else in the world seems amazing. How come they never evolved?

In the mid 1800s Charles Darwin observed that scene carefully for a number of years, thought about it all for several more years and then finally pronounced his theory of evolution to a world of skeptics. Today, about 150 years later, most educated people have fully grasped the theory, understand it well and fully accept it.

One of the cornerstone pieces of the evolutionary process is that all species slowly but surely adapt to changes in the world around them that impact their existence.

How humans’ bodies and brains react to the changing world is a critical factor in how society works. For a very long time the changes in how the world around us works occurred slowly enough that an average person was pretty able to adapt to those changes as they occurred.

For example, dating from the first printing presses in the 1400s, humans have maintained a vastly growing universe of knowledge and information. For most of that time, the rate of change in humans and technology remained pretty much in sync.

In about 1900 the pace of innovation and life suddenly began to speed up exponentially. The automobile, the airplane, the telegraph, the telephone, movies, TV and now the Internet and social media have dumped a tidal wave of vast proportions unexpectedly into the laps of humans.

Of course, there are benefits from that, but whatever they may be, they are still quite invisible. It strongly appears that humans’ brains have yet to evolve enough to be fully able to deal with today’s very different world of data and information about everybody and everything.

On the one hand, The relatively few people who may have mastered the overload from those new technologies also may have become much better informed and smarter than people used to be.

On the other hand, the gap between those people who have mastered the new world and those who have not has widened along the same lines of growing income inequality.

And — here is the real rub — both groups of people have become fractionated, confused and politically disoriented, which has led to serious breakdowns in the workability of our governance processes.

We tend to blame our elected officials for the breakdown in our political system, because they are where the failures become most visible and appear to hurt many people. By definition those people are easy to blame because people already think they are overpaid and underperform. It seems that voters do not recognize themselves in the mirror.

Politicians complain that they are only reflecting what they are feeling and hearing though all the vast media, which, of course, is amplified, distorted and often disorienting.

Either we have to wait for humans to slowly evolve to be able to cope with this overload of information — and that could be a long time — or we have to focus on this, the problem, and see if at least there can be some transitional steps to help cushion the problem along the way.

Until we do that, we have to accept that we are destined to live with a defective governance system for quite a long time.

A recent biography of Adolf Hitler by a distinguished British historian, Ian Kershaw, reveals, among other things, how Germany’s defective political system in the 1920s and ’30s was a very important factor that enabled Hitler to worm his way into power.

I am not suggesting that something that bad awaits us. But if we remain as passive as Germans did then?

An Ugly Dilemma

As chance dictates I am writing from Paris, the scene of the latest, though not the largest, horrendous clash between “representatives” of the civilizations of Muslim religious believers and western Judeo Christian believers.

The clear goal of the shootings aimed at the Paris cartoon magazine Charley Hebdo was an alleged response by Islamist terrorists to punish what they described as a blasphemy of the prophet Mohamed.

Apart from the fact that there is nothing, it is reliably said, in the Koran about criticism of Mohamed on which to base an attack, the French believe in their freedoms of religion, expression and speech with the same degree of importance and seriousness as we do in the United States.

The consequences of those killings unleashed a massive wave of anger and bitterness in France and around the world against Muslim extremism. A slogan,”Je suis Charlie,” has now taken its place in the lasting phrases of the world.

There also is a questionable, but eternal, belief that the pen wields more power than the sword.

Therein lies the roots of an ugly dilemma.

[1] Charlie’s pen evidently aroused the anger of extreme Islamists, which triggered their bullets.

[2] “I am Charlie” was the response to the bullets.

Sadly no words or images can protect individual humans against the sword.

The Islamist leaders thrive on public excitement and attention to further arouse and recruit more angry Muslims.

The ugly dilemma is how to deal with the underlying problem:

–If the world refuses to play eye for eye, killing likely will go on undeterred.

–If the world is aroused to kill Muslims at random, more killing will continue and
even more Muslims may become extremists.

So what options exist for the free world to address that ugly dilemma?

The Pope has suggested that it is not a good idea to allow or encourage criticism of any religion. As the leader of about one billion Catholics his view is of understandable. He may have been trying to embrace the US exception to protection of free speech which does not allow the crying of fire in a crowded theatre. In this case, however, that is a stretch. As a man of peace, the Pope suggests limits on comment about religion in the press and the internet. In this case, he seems to be suggesting that it is not wise to poke a sore wound regardless of how the wound came to be. Sadly, it seems his thought is not going to be practical.

I have asked in recent days three Muslims, who appeared to be far from extremists, what they would do to address the dilemma.

One said: “It is all about money. The free world should create a modern Marshall Plan to seek parity of education and economic opportunity between Muslims and the rest of the world over the next half century.”

A second one said: “Kill all the Islamist extremists with whatever it takes!” I asked if he would enlist. He said, “YES!” He added that he believed less than one percent of all Muslims are bringing shame and worse to the rest of the Muslim world which is bad for the whole world.

A third one said: “Shine a bright light on why the extremists exist and who they are.” He explained that if the world only knew that the extremists are simply like the Mafia in the United States in the 20th century — a quite small group of power hungry and greedy mobsters, it might be easier to shut them down.

If there were an easy simple answer, we would already know it.

The solution, of course, will be a stitching together of the ideas above.

We should also remember that a stitch in time can save nine, but a dropped stitch …can unravel everything.

Risk of a ‘Crying Wolf’ Problem

This thought will be short and sweet.

An epic snowstorm was predicted for New York City last week. “Storm of the century” rhetoric flooded airwaves. The mayor and the governor jumped on the bandwagon and buttoned everything down and tight. Then… well, not much. A millibar or two of atmospheric pressure turned 30 inches of projected snow into more like six.

Our political leaders are, of course, now being castigated for their misjudgment. They were clearly right, but for one simple point. Right because “Better safe than sorry” is always the best and proper course in matters of municipal lives. Wrong because mayors and governors are not weather forecasters.

Clearly, what they should have said was something like this:

The forecasts strongly suggest that we may be in for a record blizzard — up to three feet in places. Weather forecasting, for all its technology, is still a bit of an art. A tiny shift of nature’s movements can send predictions for any specific location at any moment of time wildly off base — for better or worse. We are conscious of avoiding crying wolf, because we want the shepherds always to take us seriously. There definitely are weather wolves out there.

Beware, be careful and be grateful if it turns out to be less serious than it might have been.

Short of a better qualifier to their reasonable actions, our local leaders deserve very high marks.