Martin van Creveld looks at the Islamic State, Iran, & us

Summary:  Today Martin van Creveld looks at the Islamic State. Are they ethnic militia unable to expand from their home zone, or a modern version of the Asiatic hordes? Who will stop them?  (1st of 2 posts today.}

Not how they see the Islamic State

 

The Monster

By Martin van Creveld
From his website, 13 August 2014

Here with his generous permission

The monster — the Sunni militias which, equipped by the Saudis with the active backing of the U.S, have been waging civil war in Syria for over three years — has risen against its benefactors. Unable to make headway against Syrian dictator Basher Assad, they have turned to the much softer target that once constituted Iraq but is now, thanks to George Bush Jr, no more than an awful mess. Doing so, they shed any “secular” and “liberal” character they may once had possessed. Instead they revealed their true colors as murderous bandits who wage war with a ferocity rare even among Arabs.

Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city and home to one of the world’s most important oil fields, has already fallen to them. As resistance seems to be crumbling, the capital, Baghdad, may well be next in line. Should that happen then the way to Basra and the Gulf countries in the south will be open. The outcome could well be another Afghanistan threatening to export terrorism, and perhaps more than just terrorism, both to the Gulf States in the south and to Jordan in the west — not to mention what may happen to the world’s economy should one of its main oil-exporting countries be knocked out.

And the West? Following more than a decade of warfare in Afghanistan and Iraq, its armed forces are exhausted and urgently in need of recuperation. Many of them have also been made the subject of endless cuts. As a result, their strength has been reduced to a fraction of what it used to be even as recently as the early 2000s. For some of them, the American ones in particular, new threats are looming in other parts of the world such as Southeast Asia. Perhaps most important of all, the politicians responsible for the wars in question have been largely discredited. Their successors, with President Barak Obama at their head, may engage in loose talk about the need to use force, as German President Joachim Gauk recently did. However, as President Obama has said, they will not spend any considerable resources to intervene in the ongoing struggle.

Nor, in truth, is there any reason to believe that, if Obama did respond to Iraqi Government pleas and did spend such resources, the outcome would be at all satisfactory.

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Prepare for terror on the 4th of July!

Summary: Another holiday, another rumor of a terrorist attack. Here we examine today’s alarm, show why it’s probably baseless, and discuss the purpose these fear attacks serve.  It’s a fit subject for the 4th of July weekend, a time for us to compare the Founders’ hopes vs. what we’ve become.  {2nd of 2 posts today.}

No Fear

The partnership of al Qaeda and America’s Deep State has reshaped our society in ways we don’t fully understand and cannot clearly see — but has made us more fearful, perhaps cowardly. Since 9/11 we have had these holiday warnings (fortunately they’re getting less frequent, and getting less attention).

Meteorologist Anthony Watts runs Watts up with That, one of the largest climate websites (by audience) in the world. Today he posted “About the Fourth of July and ISIS – from a friend who is a police officer, and a ‘spook’“, opening with this from Jeff Greeson’s Facebook page (I can’t find it):

To everyone that reads my wall, ESPECIALLY in big cities: The freakout over the 4th of July is real. I get intelligence that you don’t get, and the FBI is serious this time. Go out and be an American, but keep a charged cellphone with you, and don’t let fear of being called a racist stop you from calling [in] something in that is suspicious. And for the sake of all that’s holy, if something makes your Spidey sense tingle, GET YOUR FAMILY AWAY FROM IT.

He points to this by pseudonymous “Nate Hale”, allegedly a “retired military intelligence officer” who posted a scary note at In From the Cold

Two days ago, former Deputy CIA Director Michael Morrell said there was “nothing routine” about warnings of possible ISIS attacks in the CONUS during the 4th of July weekend. At the time, we noted it was quite unusual for a former intelligence official to be so blunt in his assessment.  Mr. Morrell (who made the observation on CBS This Morning) went on to say that he “wouldn’t be surprised if we’re sitting her a week from today talking about an ISIS attack in the United States over the [July 4th] weekend.”

Now, we’re beginning to see why Morrell offered such a dire prediction.  Shepard Smith of Fox News reported last night the FBI is establishing special command centers in 56 cities around the country, to prepare for possible terrorist attacks during the holiday period.

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Why Japan can become an economic star of the 21st century

Summary:  Today we look at the future of Japan, and speculate at how well it will cope with the new industrial revolution. Their unique strengths (sometimes wrongly considered weaknesses) suggest that the 21st century might see the sun again rising over Japan. America too will face this challenge; we should watch and learn from Japan.   {1st of 2 posts today. It is a revised version of posts from 2013 and 2014}

Contents

  1. A falling population is a boon for Japan
  2. A new Industrial Revolution
  3. Japan: suited to be a star of the 21st Century
  4. For More Information

 

(1)  A falling population is a boon for Japan

Japan’s government has worried about its overpopulation since the Meiji Restoration when they had about 3 million people (1868). They encouraged emigration to Korea, to no effect. They had 50 million in 1910, 100 million in 1967, and a peak in 2008 at 128 million — all crowded into a narrow urban belt along the coast. At their current level of fertility, by 2100 their population might be half of today’s, back to the level of 1930.  If fertility continues to fall, population might fall to 60 million (1925) or even 50 million (1910).

The effect on Japan’s environment would be wonderful. Japan could become a garden with the cleaner technology of that future era (a common question in grade-school history will be “Teacher, what is ‘pollution’?”).

See this graph showing the coming evolution of the age distribution in Japan (source; see more information from their National Institute of Population and Social Security Research).

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Why is America militarizing, becoming a 21stC Prussia?

Summary: Like fish in water, we cannot easily see the trends shaping our world. Such as the militarization of America, both foreign and domestic. We’re becoming in some ways like Prussia, sad since Prussia/Germany proved that the time for such behavior has passed. It’s not too late for us to take the reins of the nation and change course.  This is a sequel to Why are we militarizing American society?   {2nd of 2 posts today.}

“Know thyself.” — Carved into Apollo’s Oracle of Delphi.

Know Thyself

After so many years of US wars in so many nations — mostly against purely local insurgencies — a question arises that requires an answer. It’s frequently asked by our most perceptive geopolitical analysts.

  1. Is America Addicted to War?” by Stephen M. Walt (Prof International Relations, Harvard), Foreign Policy, 4 April 2011 — “The top 5 reasons why we keep getting into foolish fights.”
  2. Is America Addicted to War?” by Paul Solman (journalist), PBS, 28 November 2011
  3. America: Addicted to War, Afraid of Peace” by Gregory A. Daddis (Colonel, US Army; Professor History at West Point), The National Interest, 11 June 2015 — “After decades of being at war, the United States has come to the point where it can’t live without it.”
  4. “Hi, I’m Uncle Sam and I’m a War-oholic” by William Astore (Lt. Colonel, USAF, retired) at TomDispatch, 15 June 2015.

It’s not just our fighting overseas — more frequent than by anyone else since WWII — or our massive military/intel spending (a multiple of the spending by all our potential enemies combined), but the way America conducts its affairs. Looking at this Franz-Stefan Gady (foreign policy analyst, East West Institute) asks “Is the United States the new Prussia?” at the Small Wars Journal.

In few other democratic countries in the world have more generals found places in administrations or indeed have become heads of states (one notable exception is Israel). Almost every four-star general in the United States sooner or later is presumed to have presidential aspirations. Interestingly, it is the presidents who were former generals who usually display the least confidence in the performance of the armed service, such as George Washington, Grant, and Dwight D. Eisenhower. The military influence can be seen acutely in foreign policy. A report by the Advisory Committee on Transformational Diplomacy states…

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Happy Meals: now made with 20% less people!

Summary:  By now everybody sees that a new industrial revolution has begun, but few clearly see its dynamics. This post looks at one example: the debate about wages. Raise wages or lower them, it makes little difference compared to the new technology that does jobs both cheaper and better.  {1st of 2 posts today.}

Minimum Wage Meme: False

 

Funny but false, showing a deep misunderstanding of how automation works…

 

Mike Konczal demolishes fantasies about a post-work world in his rebuttal to Derek Thompson’s article in The Atlantic (discussed here yesterday): “The Hard Work of Taking Apart Post-Work Fantasy” at the Roosevelt Institute. However, he believes several false elements of consensus thinking, such as this: “If wages are stagnant or even falling, what incentive is there to build the robots to replace those workers?

Economist Gregory Clark gives an example showing why that’s false in A Farewell to Alms: A Brief Economic History of the World (2007)…

There was a type of employee at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution whose job and livelihood largely vanished in the early twentieth century. This was the horse. The population of working horses actually peaked in England long after the Industrial Revolution, in 1901, when 3.25 million were at work. Though they had been replaced by rail for long-distance haulage and by steam engines for driving machinery, they still plowed fields, hauled wagons and carriages short distances, pulled boats on the canals, toiled in the pits, and carried armies into battle.

But the arrival of the internal combustion engine in the late nineteenth century rapidly displaced these workers, so that by 1924 there were fewer than two million. There was always a wage at which all these horses could have remained employed. But that wage was so low that it did not pay for their feed.

Horses then, people now. New technology allows machines to do their jobs cheaper and better. McDonald’s shows how this works as they install kiosks allowing people to enter their own orders. They’re already used at “McDonalds in Switzerland“. In the US they’re being tested where “The McDonald’s of the future lets you customize your burgers“.

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Asteroid Day: reminding us of the threat, pushing us out into space

Summary: Today is asteroid day, an opportunity to see ourselves against the big picture of Earth’s history. As I’ve written before, Apollo was an expensive trip to nowhere, and explained why we have not gone into space, & why we will. Asteroid Day puts in context both this failure (of vision but not boldness) and our future success. It’s one of the worst of the certain to occur shockwave events. All that remains unknown is its timing and the price we pay for our clearer vision. Will we start the long slow process of preparing (reallocating a fraction of what we spend on war), or wait until we’re hit?  {2nd of 2 posts today.}

Impact of comet or asteroid

 

Contents

  1. About Asteroid Day.
  2. It happened before. It will happen again.
  3. For More Information.
  4. Films about asteroid impacts.

 

(1)  Asteroid day: let’s protect Earth from asteroid impacts

From the Asteroid Day website

We are creating a global movement for asteroid awareness. From astronauts to scientists to business leaders to entertainers and artists, the list of signatories for the 100x Asteroid Declaration rapidly grew. In addition, multiple museums eagerly signed on as our first Founding Partners. The leaders of these institutions recognized the public service they could provide for asteroid outreach to the general public.

What is beginning as a scientifically-based declaration about the need for rapid discovery of asteroids to ensure the defense of our planet, will hopefully grow to a global movement of awareness regarding this solvable nature-caused problem. Through the technological capabilities of the scientists on our planet, we will collectively rise to the challenge of obtaining the data about our solar system that will allow us to have the knowledge about our near-Earth objects in order to prevent future destruction to our planet.

Sign the 100x asteroid declaration

(2)  It has happened many times before. It will happen again

From Arthur C. Clarke’s Rendezvous with Rama (1973)

Sooner or later, it was bound to happen. … In those days, there was nothing that men could do to protect themselves against the last random shots in the cosmic bombardment that had once scarred the face of the Moon. The meteorites of 1908 and 1947 had struck uninhabited wilderness; but by the end of the twenty-first century, there was no region left on Earth that could be safely used for celestial target practice.

The human race had spread from pole to pole. And so, inevitably — At 09.46 GMT on the morning of 11 September, in the exceptionally beautiful summer of the year 2077, most of the inhabitants of Europe saw a dazzling fireball appear in the eastern sky. Within seconds it was brighter than the sun, and as it moved across the heavens – at first in utter silence – it left behind it a churning column of dust and smoke.

Somewhere above Austria it began to disintegrate, producing a series of concussions so violent that more than a million people had their hearing permanently damaged. They were the lucky ones.

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Three visions of our future after the robot revolution

Summary: During the past 2 years the robot revolution has come into view, and all but Right-wingers living in fantasy-land have begun to realize it might (like the previous ones) produce large-scale social disruption and suffering. But to prepare for these changes we must first image what kind of world they’ll create. Here we look at three visions about what lies ahead for us.  {1st of 2 posts today.}

“We did not come to fear the future. We came here to shape it.”
— Barack Obama’s speech to Congress, 9 September  2009.

Dark futures

 

Contents

  1. The center-left sees the problem
    ……and offers mild solutions.
  2. Realistic analysis and prescriptions.
  3. Visions of dark futures.
  4. For More Information.

 

(1)  The center-left sees the problem and offers mild solutions

Slowly, people have come to see the coming robot revolution (aka, a new industrial revolution), even economists. The Left has adopted this issue, as they have climate change, as a means to enact long-sought changes in the US economy. Like climate change, their solutions are far too small for the problem described.

(a) A World Without Work” by Derek Thompson in The Atlantic, July/Aug 2015 — “For centuries, experts have predicted that machines would make workers obsolete. That moment may finally be arriving. Could that be a good thing?” Typical of The Atlantic. Long, meandering, confused mish-mash of issues. Never confronts the core issue of how people will earn money to live. Lots of nonsense about people living by selling crafts to each other.

(b) The Future of Work in the Age of the Machine” by Melissa S. Kearney, Brad Hershbein, and David Boddy at the Hamilton Project, February 2015. See the slides and transcript from the seminar they held for academics and businesspeople. Their prescription is aggressive application of conventional methods…

The Project’s economic strategy reflects a judgment that long-term prosperity is best achieved by fostering economic growth and broad participation in that growth, by enhancing individual economic security, and by embracing a role for effective government in making needed public investments.

(c) The future of work in the second machine age is up to us” by Marshall Steinbaum at the Washington Center for Equitable Growth, 23 February 2015 — They show that the robot revolution has not yet appeared in the macroeconomic statistics. But it’s coming. Their conclusions are the standard center-left recipe, like those of the Hamilton Project…

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