Howard Epstein



And Now Let’s Make The Desert Boom, III


Scandal in the White House

I’m proud of the fact that … there hasn’t been a major scandal in the White House”, President Obama will say (reportedly) in his final major TV interview to be broadcast Sunday evening. Oh no? YOU are the major scandal, Mr President, but for only three more days (thank G-d). Having beat the retreat over eight years for American power, influence and strength, both strategic and tactical, from the Baltic, through the Eastern European states, by way of the Middle East and the Gulf, to the South China Sea, Obama cannot see that the self-induced shrivelling of American influence is scandalous?

Now, both Russia and the Chinese are pumped up by gains that they could never have made (or even dreamed of) without Obama’s brand of transactional foreign policy, and the alleged desire to make America loveable again. (Duh! Did he really believe in that nonsense as a tenet of foreign policy? What did he think? That he could appease Al Qaeda like that – the way that the French seek to sanitize themselves against future Islamic aggression by diminishing Israel?)

The true scandal of the Obama White House is that it is hard to know which of the challenges his successor has to face down is the most dangerous. Well, that scandal and the failure to engage with Congress, without which no business gets done within the Beltway. Oh, and the scandalous disaster that is race relations in the USA today, the Blacks having been hopelessly let down by America’s First Black President (likely to be its last for some time too, if only by reason of the Black vote).




The Democrats Trumped

How much worse could the Trump White House be? We shall find out, but a clue as to how he got there was provided last week by the pundit daughter of Senator John McCain, who tweeted: “This Meryl Streep speech is why Trump won.” Interesting – how some people (read “real people”) get it and Hollywood Luvvies do not. (When I want to hear from them, I shall buy a cinema ticket.)

Danger, Danger Everywhere, and What Am I Supposed to Think?

So, the Baltic states, Eastern Europe, Ukraine, North Korea, South China Sea, Syria, India-Pakistan and cyberspace: all these represent nodes of potential conflict for the USA in 2017 but, again, which is the most dangerous of all? Hidden in plain view in that list is North Korea, whose imminent threat to the Continental United States will soon be causing people up and down the West Coast to ask how everything they know got to be directly threatened by a slave nation which specializes in just two things: famine and the development of deliverable nuclear war-heads. (The answer, by the way is another Democrat Leader of the Free World, President (“Aw, gee, Monica. You can call me Bill”) Clinton. Common to Clinton and Obama is ace-negotiator Wendy Sherman, who gave both North Korea and Iran everything for which they ached; although the latter is another story, to which we shall briefly return.


Get Out of That One, Donald

Whereas by careful communication and negotiation most issues can be defused, with North Korea there is no one normal with whom to communicate, much less negotiate. Kim Jong Un, the corpulent, third generation, heartless, child-like (like from a horror movie) tyrant, who has been  fixated on atom bomb tests and missile systems, is now expected to be able to produce fifty nuclear warheads, and an intercontinental ballistic missile system to deliver them, within a handful of years. The Pentagon no longer frets about if but when.

There is a further problem, too. North Korea is much like Israel: one well-aimed nuclear device and it is all over. No strategic depth, you see; but, for Israel, this causes more problems for its potential nuclear aggressors than for the Jewish State. Why? Because Israel has a multi-faceted, multiple second-strike capability. Absent strategic depth for us, our enemies can be sure that we will retaliate and take them down with us. Mad? That is right: MAD – Mutual Assured Destruction. It is what kept the peace throughout the Cold War.

Where North Korea is concerned, however, they will not have second-strike capability for many years; but allowing them to get into the position in which they could deliver the first strike is the scenario that the US has to eradicate. Let me repeat that: “HAS TO ERADICATE”. To fail to do so could be (may well be) to allow them to nuke (say) Seattle, whilst contemporaneously delivering an ultimatum via (probably) the Chinese that, unless a list of demands be met, other US cities would fry before the US could launch a devastating attack on North Korea or just as it did so. Result? More American cities than just Seattle would, along with much of North Korea, be sure to be fried.

Do you think it cannot happen? If you were Donald Trump, would you risk it? Would you like to be the US president that lost Seattle, LA or San Francisco – or a combination of them? Who would? So what is to be done?

Are There no Alternatives?

It is no good expecting the Chinese to disarm North Korea. They prefer to live with the current risks than bring down the Kim regime and suffer the near certainty of 25 million North Korean refugees descending on them. It has been requested of, and ignored by, the Chinese for years. The Russians? Forget it. Now that they are (or see themselves as) the great rivals of the USA in the Leadership of the World contest, they will not proffer so much as a finger to assist the USA out of that or any other hole – and it is difficult to see what leverage they could have with North Korea in any event.

Time to Think the Unthinkable

There came a moment in WWII when the USA was faced with the choice between another twelve months of war with Japan (and another million casualties, including hundreds of thousands of dead GIs), on the one hand, and destroying a Japanese city – two actually – on the other. President Truman (from whom no-one had expected much, given that he had not even been elected president but had succeeded on the death of political colossus F D Roosevelt), stepped up to the plate. Cometh the hour, you might say, cometh the man. So, too, might Donald Trump yet excel when time comes to think the unthinkable. Faced with a choice between losing a West Coast city or wiping out North Korea’s offensive capacity in a pre-emptive nuclear strike designed to sanitize every potential offensive target, what would you do?

What would you do if all your grandchildren lived on the western seaboard and all your assets were invested in Palo Alto companies? Of course, no-one likes to think about the North Korean lives wasted, but we are back to that old ethical conundrum, the trolley car test.

The Trolley Car Test

The signalman sees a trolley car (a “tram” to the Brits) bearing down on four railway workers. Their certain death is imminent. All the signalman has to do is throw a lever and he diverts the trolley car to a side track – where one little child has been abandoned! (In another version, it is the signalman’s child.)



How Has Your Tesla Been Programmed?

This ethical problem has raised its head again recently in connection with autonomous vehicles. The array of cameras and sensors on your fully-autonomous Tesla (available soon) sees two children about to step into its path from the left, and simultaneously appreciates that the only way to avoid running them down at 80 kph (50 mph) is to swerve to the right – into the path of a minivan, which it recognises as having a 15 passenger capacity. How should it have been programmed in Palo Alto (or, just as likely, Israel)?

Goodbye Seattle – or Pyongyang

Not fair, is it, asking you to make a decision like that? But if you knew that your whole family was on the minivan (not that the Tesla ever could), then which choice would you prefer the programmers to have built in? No contest? That is why you would prefer to let perhaps a million North Koreans be turned into radio-active dust to save an equal or larger number of Americans. And that is why many people would support President Trump, if he were advised that the only way to prevent North Korea from achieving the ability to deliver a “device” to Seattle would be to take out every military target north of the DMZ, irrespective of the “collateral damage” (read non-combatant North Korean folk) – and did so.

The Israel Angle

And why might this heart-achingly difficult choice be important to Israel? The defanging of North Korea – irrespective of the human cost in North Korea lives, to save North American lives – would act as an invitation to Iran to abjure nuclear weapons in a (shall we say) heartbeat, whilst there is time for them to avoid a similar pre-emptive strike before they can become similarly threatening to the West – not just Israel.


The year ahead is not going to be easy but that does not mean that we should not continue to plan our WF21CC (World’s First Twenty-First Century City) at Paran, in what we might call “the Deep South”, about a hundred kilometers north of Eilat

HST or Hyperloop

First, an apology. When I tried, in earlier pieces, to sell you the idea of a Shinkansen/TGV/HST 320kph train to whisk people between Tel Aviv and Paran in well under an hour, I ignored Hyperloop technology. I omitted it on the basis that it is so far untested in everyday reality, only the Abu Dhabi-Dubai route (150 kilometres or 90 miles – 12 minutes) was being planned and it would probably be too expensive for Israel. Given that several routes are now being projected around the world, at speeds of 500 mph (800 kph) and up (but the slowest would suffice here), and that Tel Aviv and Paran (168 miles or 270 kilometers apart) could be rendered no more than 20 minutes apart, we should not dismiss it out of hand. Hyperloop appears to be gaining traction (even though it involves frictionless travel through a tube) in many places across the globe, and Israel, as a hi-technology hot-spot, should not ignore it.

Just as people living in Eilat have enjoyed subsidised airfares to the center and the north, so too would the first quarter of a million people who decamped from the confined and polluted Tel Aviv to the space and purity of the desert, where they will have all the appurtenances of the center, enjoy subsidised HST- or Hyperloop – travel.

Accommodation Issues

How to build the homes in the WF21CC at Paran? Those who hail from the UK will remember the derision with which the “prefabs” – prefabricated housing thrown up in post-WWII (and broke) Britain – were regarded. Well, the prefab is now on its way back to meet the UK’s dire housing shortage. This time, they are being built to higher – the highest – standards and will be undetectable cosmetically, thus obviating the old 1950s “shame” factor.

But that is not all. The 3D printing of housing has arrived, a Chinese company having already printed ten houses in a day (see: Israeli 3‑D printing companies are not far behind, and the construction of apartment blocks of may be regarded as achievable within five years.

The first one hundred and twenty thousand families to move from permanent homes in Tel Aviv to Paran, the WF21CC, should be offered a range of six pre-designed, pre-fabricated (possibly 3-D printed) villa homes with back yards (gardens to the Brits), at subsidised prices, plus other tax breaks, too.

Still not attractive enough? Given the absence of fossil fuel, human-driven cars, urban (or suburban) planning that takes roads either over or under pedestrian paths, and clusters of housing with sufficient appurtenances – schools, health centres and shopping centers – grouped around, life should be, by most modern standards, unprecedentedly healthy and safe for children and others.



Work and Play

You will recall the listing of what people asked to move to Paran would expect before they could be tempted away from Tel Aviv:

  • lakes/reservoirs, beaches, amenities • sports stadiums, concert halls and shopping malls • factories and service centers • banks, insurance companies and the civil service • institutions, universities and R&D facilities • concert halls and theaters • hotels, restaurants, coffee shops, bars and nightclubs • conferences, festivals • infrastructure – and jobs.

We have been there before – sort of. What was there in Modi’in (30 kilometres (19 mi) west of Jerusalem) twenty years ago. Very little. And two decades later, Modi’inites, population pushing 100,000, with a commuting time (by road at present) of 20 to 50 minutes to Jerusalem, depending on the traffic, have everything one would expect for a dormitory town. Paran is to be much more than that. It is to be a metropolis in its own right, but the basics that were required for Modi’in need to be built in Paran not over the span of a quarter of a century but together.

There is no question: this will be the largest project that Israel has ever undertaken but the beauty of it is that this is not science-fiction nor does it require much, if anything, from futurists. All the technology is immediately available or will be by the time building starts. When might that be? We shall reach the planning stage next week.

The goal is nothing less than replicating the verve, dynamism and productiveness of Tel Aviv in a non-crowded and non-polluted environment, whilst rendering more space in Tel Aviv, too. Then, should the steady Aliyah we see from Europe (increasingly a hostile place for Jewish life) become a flood – and knowing that they will expect not the tents for the Mizrachim of the 1950s, nor the caravans that greeted those from the Soviet Union (May Its Unloved Soul Rest In Peace – or whatever) in the 1970s, but European-style comfort from Day One – we shall be able to look them in the eye and say: “Welcome to Paran, the WF21CC.”

© January 2017 – Howard Epstein

Howard Epstein is a political commentator and the author of Guns, Traumas and Exceptionalism: America in the Twenty-First Century, published by Amazon and on Kindle. He writes:-

There is no need for me to tell you that the scourge of gun crime is perhaps the most pressing issue in the USA. My book takes a new approach – support failing gun control by viewing gun crime through the prism of gun culture.

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