Beyond the Cusp

April 28, 2013

Empty Threats

President Obama has managed to take the full might and power of the United States of America and make it as impotent as a child who threatens to hold their breath until they turn blue. Once again this week President Obama stepped up and reiterated his willingness to act should Bashir Assad or either rebel group utilize any of Syria’s extensive stores of chemical weapons. His actions were necessitated by reports of possible use of said chemical weapons as reported by the intelligence agencies of France and Britain. These reports coincided with a more strongly worded statement from the head of Israeli military intelligence that President Bashir Assad had indeed used his chemical weapons. The Israeli communicated that they had proof that Syrian troops had released Sarin nerve agent on two occasions and not just military grade tear gas whose use had been reported earlier. This was likely stressed as President Obama had discounted the use of the military grade tear gas as not being sufficient to cross President Obama’s red line on chemical weapon use. The Israeli report was initially confirmed by United States Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel who later retreated from his position claiming to have been surprised by the Israeli claim as they had not informed him while he had been visiting Israel earlier on the week. So, where does that leave things?


The thing about the Israeli claim is it was backed up by the Syrian rebel forces which are currently receiving nonlethal supplies from Western powers when they admitted to knowledge that Israeli agents were working within Syria and would quite likely have first-hand evidence of any chemical weapons use. For the rebels to actually admit to the presence of Israelis inside Syria is a rather bold statement that would not be issued lightly. Despite the mounting evidence that Bashir Assad has resorted to using his chemical weapons, President Obama has chosen inaction and a simple restatement of his initial threat that any use of chemical weapons by either side would result in immediate action by the United States. When the initial reports of potential use of chemical weapons was issued by Britain and France President Obama requested clarification as to which chemicals were known to have been released. When it was then reported that there were suspicions of possible caustic chemicals as well as the aforementioned tear gas, President Obama dismissed the rumored use of caustic agents dismissing them as equally possible industrial chemicals such as chlorine being accidentally released as a result of the use of explosive munitions. When President Obama backed off these initial reports it might have been understandable that the American threshold to qualify as chemical weapons use was higher than that of their European allies and Israel. But with the reports of Sarin gas being released on the battlefields of Syria one might expect a reaction from the United States at least somewhat stronger than words, especially a stale repetition of the President’s original warnings. Does President Obama really believe that setting a red line and then when it is violated, simply resetting the red line will gain respect from the likes of Bashir Assad, a treacherous dictator who has already murdered tens of thousands of his own countrymen and sent millions into exile will recoil in fear from mere words that President Obama has given indication he never intended to back with actual actions?


And Bashir Assad is far from the only world leader watching to see if President Obama is a credible leader who backs his words with actions. There is always North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Un, another one who likes to hear himself threaten. The one thing absolutely necessary to keep the likes of Kim Jong-Un impotent is to mean action when one threatens to use it. If Kim Jong-Un expects for a minute that any threat of action by the United States is not going to be actually executed, then he is very likely to act on his threats in the belief that there would be no real consequences. And Kim Jong-Un is not the most dangerous of threats on the international stage. There is Iran and the Ayatollahs with their nuclear project which thus far words have proven to be less than useless, yet here too President Obama appears to be satisfied to talk until a nuclear Iran is a verified fact and a half a dozen cities around the world lie as smoldering ruins. With new leadership in Mainland China there is a need for the words of the President of the United States to have great weight, not great doubts. It is for exactly such reasons that President Obama must not allow his word to become a matter for questions rather than being taken at face value and his every word heeded. It is for reasons of credibility that President Obama may find necessity requiring him to act against the Syrian chemical weapons threat. It is not necessary for United States military forces to put boots on the ground as all that is required to fulfill President Obama’s warnings against the use of chemical weapons would be to destroy the chemical weapon storage facilities. My bet would be that should President Obama decide to commit a couple of B-2 stealth bombers, as he did in a show of strength to Kim Jong-Un, to actually bomb the Syrian chemical weapon stores, Israel would be more than agreeable to provide accurate coordinates and might even offer to turn off the Syrian radar grid, though such would not be really necessary with stealth bombers. The old children’s rhyme, “Sticks and stones can break my bones but words can never harm me,” does not apply in the realm of world politics where words can do one great harm, even break more than bones.


Beyond the Cusp


March 12, 2013

Can We Retain Any Personal Privacy?

Is there any possibility for an individual to guard and establish their privacy in their documents, life, thoughts and correspondence? For the majority at large the answer is not easily. If your correspondence uses e-mail then you may as well publicize it in the New York Times unless you have some form of very advanced encryption software and even then it is likely that the government has the keys to unlock the majority of encryptions. If you read your news on the Internet then it is almost public record where you get your news and even which articles you read, how long you remained on each article and whether you saved it or even commented on it. This much capability was pretty much available to the government since the late 1980s and their abilities have only expanded since then. The government, if it should so choose, can also record any phone conversation; track your health through your doctor, hospital and any other care you may receive unless you take very stringent and likely expensive steps to assure your privacy. If the car you drive has On Star, Lo Jack or any other tracking or Internet connection in your automobile then the government can track the movement of you vehicle. If your cell phone is less than a decade old, and whose isn’t, then the location of your phone can be traced and this is true even if you have turned off the phone. Some of the newest and more advanced full-feature phones can be used to listen to sounds wherever the phone is located simply by activating the audio microphone and view the area of a room which the camera is able to view by remotely turning it on. These are but a few items and the future promises even less privacy for the individual citizen.


With the coming universal instillation of smart meters replacing the older meters the electric company, and thus the government, will be able to monitor your electrical usage and from this seeming unimportant data stream deduce a surprising amount about your life even to include when you have had a party or company stay with you for any stretch of time. Once everybody gets new appliances which will contain interface which is relayed through the power grid will give even more detail about your habits and other information about your life. Already the government is networking all cameras used in private monitoring such as those on ATMs, in convenience stores, in department stores, monitoring self-serve gas stations, and other security and monitoring systems in addition to the surveillance cameras installed by the government and monitoring all of them using facial recognition software in order to have the ability to track virtually all movement by people of interest entirely automatically and can set alarm points to warn if these people of interest visit places considered sensitive while also gathering complete information of the routes and places where one spends time or meets with others. No longer does it take manpower to shadow a suspect’s movements in numerous cities and soon in almost any city or large town in the industrialized world. Add in the fact that all ticket information is also available to the government often without the need for a warrant or other legal notice.


In the name of economic studies and other trending research the government has fairly complete information about all purchases including the individual who purchased every item which was paid with a credit card, bank card, debit card, check or almost anything other than cash. If the government has chosen to monitor an individual and they were thinking they could hide their transactions by using cash for all purchases they still run the risk of having their purchases being caught by surveillance cameras and thus being within the information net available to the government. Virtually anything a person does outside of their personal residence or the personal residence of others is directly able to be monitored fully automatically by software and computers through the data acquisition network the government has already in place today and it is only going to become more intense and sophisticated. Many cities around the world are already switching to high definition cameras with highly sensitive microphones which can be utilized to record all sounds or can be used in a directional mode to listen to particular conversations at the choice of the government monitors. Eventually this will also be accomplished purely by software once somebody has come to the interest of the government.


Should the government wish to go beyond the cursory automated surveillance and invest manpower in monitoring an individual there is nothing which would be beyond their ability to gather information. There exist systems which can use the windows of a room in order to listen to conversations inside the room using a laser from distance measuring the minute vibrations the sounds make on the window. Infrared viewers are able to pick up the place within a room of human bodies through walls up to a limited thickness and monitoring movements. Add on top of these abilities the operational deployment of many of these and other surveillance systems onto drones. This provides deployment anywhere from the top floor penthouse to the dense woodlands. With modern optics and numerous types of specialized sensors such as FLIR, radar, lidar and even sonic buoys to search in bodies of water the ability to monitor leaves nowhere in which to hide. Such systems as these are available to most law enforcement departments if deemed necessary as well as to anybody with sufficient funds or influence.


Of course whenever somebody notes the unbelievable extent to which the government, should they choose, can monitor and record every action, sound, purchase or anything else one does or is involved with down to the most trivial details they are labeled paranoid, crazy, exaggerating, or otherwise dismissed as nobody wants to admit that privacy has died in our society and nobody is beyond the ever-present all-seeing all-knowing eyes, ears, monitoring and recording of our own government. People desire to hold on to the mirage that they still have their privacy even to the point of lying to themselves if that is what is necessary. The truth unfortunately is that nothing is beyond the reach of the monitoring powers of our government and all of its various law and threat enforcement departments. The often uttered phrase that follows next is that if you have nothing to hide, then you have nothing to fear. But is every single act one performs within a normal life, even the most minor or smallest of transgressions, really completely legal and beyond being misrepresented in order to disparage or otherwise defame an individual? Who honestly believes that given the ability to record everything one does that it would all be seen as perfectly harmless to even the most wild-eyed government security personnel whose job depends on uncovering people whose actions are a danger to the state. Is every place you visit on the Internet wholly above any suspicions including the news and other information sites? Have you ever done an Internet search which might cast suspicions upon your motives? Remember that currently Google is in a partnership with the government in a project which is using the uses of the numerous search and information gathering services provided by Google to feed a study in order to research artificial intelligence. The claimed aim is to develop an actual and fully independent artificial intelligence which will be incorporated into computer systems and possibly robotic systems in order to facilitate the ability of these systems to advance and adjust their functional systems and software in order to improve performance. There are also plans to utilize the data for studies in the functioning of the human mind and to trend society to predict future needs and be able to address or influence societal direction.


The truth is that people have never had complete privacy but for most of history people have had sufficient privacy or the perception of privacy that gave them a feeling of comfort that they had general control over what they shared and that which they kept hidden. As technology progressed it actually had served to increase privacy for much of human history. It would be difficult to pick a date where that trend had finally turned the corner and privacy began to wane eventually to completely dissipate. We still have some amounts of privacy even if they monitor almost every act and impulse we ever perform within society. We are still secure in our dreams and thoughts and likely will be for the foreseeable future. Should the government ever find the ability to monitor our dreams and thoughts then we will have reached an age where everybody will be found to be a criminal. That is the eventuality of any society where thoughts can be legislated as illegal allowing for the conviction for impure or corrupt thoughts. As individuals we will tend to have dreams and thoughts which would be against any code of law even though we would never act upon those thoughts, but have the thoughts we will be unable to avoid. Dreams are often the release which allows us to live such thoughts releasing the temptation by acting these thoughts out in our subconscious dreaming while being completely law abiding in our conscious life. But, for now, we have privacy within our minds though not much beyond that. Maybe that will be sufficient but I will rather pretend that my level of privacy is somewhat greater and take comfort from that. My guarantee is that anyone who was assigned to monitor my life would likely fall asleep from utter boredom and that renders me safe.


Beyond the Cusp


February 24, 2013

A Question for Netanyahu

The election results were a ray of hope and promise for many in the Zionist communities. But there is a question which must be asked of Netanyahu because if there is any chance that his intended direction has been indicated by bringing Livni into the coalition while also acquiescing to her every demand; then the Zionist should stop any celebrations and begin to worry that another Likud Prime Minister is headed to the dark side. What would be the indications that Netanyahu intends to fall before the pressures from the Europeans, United States President Obama backed by his recent appointees to be CIA Chief and Secretaries of State and Defense, the numerous leftist NGOs and the rest of the world support groups backing the Palestinian ploy by the Arab and Muslim world to destroy Israel?

It truly was a shocking revelation to read that Prime Minister Netanyahu has accepted Tzipi Livni into the coalition and agreed to grant her the Justice Ministry which was the expressed position sought by Yair Lapid and also granted her request to be the lead in negotiations with the Palestinian Authority as her position supporting surrendering most if not all of Judea and Samaria along with half of Jerusalem including all of the Old City as well as the Kotel which would make it next to impossible for Naftali Bennett and the Jewish Home to also enter such a coalition. The first question that comes to mind is how Netanyahu could form a coalition without compromising his promises to Livni. The first sign of the unthinkable may have been occurring right before our eyes as Netanyahu appears to be spending great amounts of time wooing Shelly Yachimovich and the Labor Party to join his coalition. Should Netanyahu succeed in his wooing of Yachimovich and the Labor Party he would be well on his way to forming that both sides of center coalition which has been the center of much chatter since the election. This would also fit in with the rumors that Netanyahu will go to whatever length is necessary to keep Yair Lapid and Naftali Bennett out of the coalition. I know, how could Netanyahu fill out the rest of the needed Knesset seats to reach the minimum of sixty-one seats as even with Kadima along with Labor Party, Hatnuah and Likud-Beiteinu only gives him fifty-four?

That is where the unusual leadership by triumvirate of Shas comes into play. Despite the story fed to the media and membership of Shas that the three members of the triumvirate, Eli Yishai, Ariel Atias and Aryeh Deri, were equal and were working together there will always be the suspicion that not all members are truly equal. The truth is that Rabbi Ovadia Yosef as the spiritual guiding light is the true and undisputed true leader of Shas and he was the one who decided upon the triumvirate form of leadership in order to soften the inclusion of Aryeh Deri back into a leadership position immediately after he returned to politics after his conviction. This would likely mean that anything which Aryeh Deri decides for Shas will be supported by Rabbi Yosef and thus nobody would ever think to counter his decisions. Deri was well known to prefer Labor over Likud though he would ally with whichever was necessary to gain considerations for the Hasidic heart of Shas. It is this flexibility; some might say pragmatism, which has made Shas the coalition builder in Israeli history. Should Shas also join the above parties in a coalition, then Netanyahu would have his broad based coalition with sixty-five seats. The guarantor that this is Netanyahu’s desired outcome would be some generous deal made with Shelly Yachimovich in order to bring Labor into the coalition over her original denial of any possibility of her being in a coalition with Netanyahu.

Should this actually come to pass, then there are some additional questions which would soon surface. One of the foremost among them is what will Netanyahu do to keep such a coalition together with a number of his fellow Likud members probably having misgivings about their fellow coalition members? With Moshe Feiglin and Tzipi Hotovely and other Zionist and nationalist members within the Likud faction, how does Prime Minister Netanyahu expect to hold his coalition together and avoid losing a sure to follow vote of no confidence. Such would most certainly come attached to some piece of legislation made to satisfy either Tzipi Livni or Shelly Yachimovich or members of their parties by one of the parties not within the coalition, especially should such legislation either be detrimental to the Israelis residing in Judea and Samaria or other controversial subjects. Would Prime Minister Netanyahu purposely hold the members of the coalition to vote for anything which was brought before the Knesset by any coalition member? On the other hand, would Prime Minister Netanyahu deny members of the coalition bringing any motion which might challenge the coalition? And if either were the case, how would such a move be enforced? Would the coalition survive if Prime Minister Netanyahu challenged one of the other party leaders to hold their members to vote with the coalition or be removed from the Knesset and replaced with another minister appointed in order to enforce compliant voting? Would Prime Minister Netanyahu replace members of his own Likud Party in order to sustain his coalition? What would be the result from either of these actions? Such a coalition even if formed would appear on face value unsustainable. This may be conjecture but the possibility that Prime Minister Netanyahu may be headed in this direction is possible. This becomes even more likely if Naftali Bennett and Yair Lapid hold to their agreement not to enter the coalition without the other, an agreement I believe both will truly honor despite what some, including Netanyahu, may think or even be counting on.

Beyond the Cusp

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