Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Oscars, Thinking Aloud About the Middle East and Future Economics


The Hills are Alive With the Sound of Sickness
The winners of the Academy Award Oscars for best Leading Actor and best Leading Actress were Eddie Redmayne and Julianne Moore.  Redmayne won his for his role in “The Theory of Everything” in which he played scientist Stephen Hawking.  Moore won hers for her role in “Still Alice” in which she played Professor Alice Howland, the principal character in the novel of the same name by Lisa Genova on which the film was based. 

The two awards had one thing in common.  Both of the winners portrayed characters who were afflicted by diseases for which cures are still being sought.  Moore’s character, Alice, was developing Alzheimer’s Disease and Redmayne’s character, Stephen Hawking, was battling Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) sometimes known as Lou Gerhig’s Disease.  Both winners drew attention to these diseases in their acceptance speeches.  It would be wonderful if this results in viewers making donations to the foundations which are working toward finding cures for ALS and Alzheimer’s Disease.

The Best film of the year was “Birdman.”  Without going into the plot too deeply, it would seem that that film as well dealt with a disease, this time of a psychological rather than a physical nature, with the lead character (played by Michael Keaton) combining worlds of fantasy with schizophrenic suicidal actions.

In view of these three major awards, 2014 may go down in cinema history as the year of the “Sickness Oscars,” since all of them would not have existed were it not for ALS, Alzheimer’s Disease and the level of insanity manifested by the title character in "Birdman."   


 Lady GaGa and Julie Andrews at the Academy Awards

Movies used to be cheerful and fun to watch.   A great example would be “The Sound of Music” which was awarded the Oscar as Best film of the year fifty years ago.  In fact, this was celebrated at the Oscar ceremony by the presence of Julie Andrews, star of that film, and of Lady Gaga who reprised many of Andrews’ songs from the score.  What a contrast that was to the “Sickness Oscars” awarded in the same ceremony.  

Jack Lippman


Thinking Aloud About the Middle East
If the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) were a true state with territorial borders and government buildings and all of the infrastructure which real nations have, it would be a simple matter of its opponents going to war against it, and destroying it.  But that is not the case.

The Islamic State is a concept, based on the idea that an Islamic State or Caliphate (something ruled by a Caliph) can be formed to rule the world according to Islamic Law, as practiced by Sunni Muslims, which should replace all other kinds of laws, both religious and secular, including other kinds of Islam.   To do this, its followers take advantage of any targets of opportunity which present themselves, particularly in “failed states” incapable of governing themselves or more significantly, of defending themselves.  Examples would be Iraq, parts of Syria, Somalia, Yemen and Libya. 

Terror attacks, seizure of military hardware, kidnapping, murder, genocide, and ransom are their weapons of choice where and when they do not have the ability to field a army, as they have done in Iraq and Syria.  In areas where they have no physical foothold, such as Europe and North America, they depend on sympathizers who believe in the same concepts to carry out similar attacks on their own.  Their theories are spread via the internet, using blogs and social media such as Twitter.  Recruiting is carried on in the same manner on a world-wide basis.





http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/world/para/images/map-isil-2014-06.jpg
This is what ISIS now controls ... shown in green


A word about religion: The Islamic State purports to be acting in the name of Islam.  That Islam, however, is Sunni Islam (based on the idea that Mohammed’s successors should come from his learned companions, usually imams) as opposed to Shi’a Islam (which is based on the idea that Mohammed’s successors should be chosen from his family via his cousin/son-in-law Ali).  Sunni and Shi’a Muslims have been at each others’ throats over this since the Seventh Century.   Here is the religious line up of the players in this game.
This Islamic State is Sunni Muslim.
Iraq is composed of Sunni Muslims and Shi’a Muslims, with the Army and government basically controlled by Shi’a.
Iran, which borders Iraq on the east is Shi’a and most significantly, is not an Arab nation.  Its Shi’a population is Persian.  It fears any strong Sunni country, such as Turkey or Saudi Arabia.
Saudi Arabia is Sunni, but far more conservative religion-wise than is ISIS.
Egypt is Sunni but shuns Sunni extremism to the extent of outlawing the Muslim Brotherhood, an extremist group.
The Kurds (40,000,000) spread over Iran, Iraq, Syria and Turkey practice many religions but most are Sunni Muslims, and surprisingly tolerant of others.  The remainder are Shi’a or part of other sects which have survived for centuries.
Syria, which has a significant Sunni Muslim and Christian population, is ruled by the Alewite sect, which is close to the Shiites in practice, and to the consternation of its neighbors, is supported by Iran.
Turkey, also not an Arab nation, is Sunni Muslim.

Politically, Sunni ISIS is at war with Iraq (which it considers to be Shi’a), Iran (which is Shi’a), Syria (which is supported by Iran), the liberal Sunni Kurds (who above all want their own independence) and those Arab nations who recognize the threat ISIS poses and are willing to fight them.  These include Jordan, Saudi Arabia, the Gulf States, Egypt and Turkey.  Bear in mind that these states, all Sunni, do not want to find themselves on the same side as Iran and Syria, and while willing to fight against ISIS in eastern Syria and Iraq, may not be happy if their doing so enables the Iranian-supported Syrian government of Bashir al-Assad to survive.

The Islamic State views the West, including Europe and North America, as promoting ideas contrary to Islam and is at war with them as well.  

And the Islamic State is not the only villain in town.  Al Qaeda (Sunni, but not working with ISIS, who considers it too mild) is still a terrorist group to be reckoned with.  Based chiefly in Yemen, where a Shi’a Iranian-supported tribe ousted the Sunni government recently, its bomb makers are still active there.

In Africa, the Sunni al-Shabbab terrorists, based in Somalia, who torched a mall in Nairobi last year, have actually threatened the Western nations where many Somali immigrants have settled.  And Sunni Boko Haram still practices its brand of terror in northern Nigeria.  There is communication between some of these groups, particularly down at the level where social media, blogs and other internet methods serve to bring them and their sympathizers together.  Once they find that they have a common enemy, such as the West, or Israel, their differences are not so meaningful.

A few months ago, I was with those who thought “carpet bombing” would solve this problem, but it is already much more complicated and convoluted for that to work.  Right now, President Obama has suggested countering their Internet methodology with our own, and that might help a bit, but the enormity of the problem requires much more than that.  I wonder how much individual freedom and liberty in the West will have to be sacrificed in order to protect ourselves while a joint army of both Sunni and Shi’a nations battles ISIS in the field.  

That army, and not our troops, must do the job.  Of course, the Iranians would like to do it first, and their army is in existence today, and not something on a planning board.  That it why the United States must learn to work with Iran, albeit very cautiously and keeping Israel from panicking as we get closer to Tehran, in order to defeat ISIS.

And after the Islamic State is no more, what will the peace conference with Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the Gulf States, Jordan, Iran, Turkey, Syria and an independent Kurdistan look like?  And by then, will these nations recognize that Israel will also have to be at that table if a Palestinian state is to be created?  And what influence will the United States, Western Europe and Russia have on what happens there?

I don't know, and I doubt if there is anyone in Washington or London, or Jerusalem who does either.
JL





Future Economic Challenges
Let’s look into the future, when technology, robotics, artificial intelligence and more efficient ways of growing food, creating and distributing energy, and using natural resources have developed to the point where very little human labor will be necessary.

There will always be health care professionals to see to peoples’ health, there will always be lawyers to try to see that their clients are treated with justice and there will always be educators to pass on knowledge, but there will be fewer of these professionals because they will operate far more efficiently than they do today and in environments we cannot at this point even imagine.

Manufacturing and distribution of goods will require very little labor at all.  Technology will produce things even more cheaply than low-paying Third World labor does today.  Look at how many stores have been replaced with “internet” stores which, while having some employees, have fewer than brick and mortar stores do.  Look at the enterprises in your nearest shopping center.  How many are selling services (restaurants, spas, fitness, hair stylists, nail care) rather than manufactured products, whose distribution has migrated to the Internet.  A century and a half ago almost half of all Americans were farmers, raising the food we ate.  Now, agriculture is a scientifically run business with giant corporations producing our food and the small farmer is history.  Engineers will have engineered their way out of jobs.  More and more buildings are being designed by fewer and fewer architects. 

But people will need to have money to purchase the things they need and want, and most will no longer be in a position of expecting that money to come from the compensation they receive from their employer.  Their work week will be very short and one’s working years will be far less than they are today.  Retirement will come very early and even during working years, there will be a lot of leisure time.

Some will point out that these “problems” will in themselves create jobs in the retirement planning field, in health care and in the hospitality industry, which will endeavor to fill that leisure time.  But these areas will not be immune to the efficiencies which will decrease the amount of human labor necessary to do anything that has to be done.  Whatever happened to pin boys in bowling alleys?  One clerk can manage and run a 30 lane bowling alley without any assistance if the automated equipment works right, and if it doesn't, all that is needed is one technician on hand.  Even advances in technology itself will require less and less human labor in its efforts to make everything else more efficient.

Dealing with the decrease in the need for human labor and at the same time providing people with an income sufficient to purchase what they need and want requires a solution within the framework of our free enterprise capitalist system.  That is going to be the great challenge of this century.  If there is no money available to be used for consumption, there will be no need for production, and distribution, and the economy will grind to a haltOur existing system must be flexible enough to come up with answers to such challenges, or else some will look to the government for answers, and they do not have any that will work permanently.  Socialist economies have proven this.

JL



HOW TO BE ALERTED TO FUTURE BLOG POSTINGS.
Many readers of this blog are alerted by Email every time a new posting appears.  If you wish to be added to that Email list, just let me know by clicking on Riart1@aol.com and sending me an Email.  

HOW TO CONTACT ME or CONTRIBUTE MATERIAL TO JACK'S POTPOURRI. 
BY CLICKING ON THAT SAME ADDRESS, Riart1@aol.com   YOU ALSO CAN SEND ME YOUR CONTRIBUTIONS TO BE PUBLISHED IN THIS BLOG AS WELL AS YOUR COMMENTS.  (Comments can also be made by clicking on the "Post a Comment" link at the blog's end.)

MOBILE DEVICE ACCESS.
DID YOU KNOW THAT www.jackspotpourri.com IS ALSO AVAILABLE ON YOUR MOBILE DEVICES IN A MODIFIED, EASY-TO-READ, FORMAT?   

HOW TO VIEW OLDER POSTINGS.                                                
To view older postings on this blog, just click on the appropriate date in the “Blog Archive” midway down the column off to the right, or scroll down until you see the “Older Posts” notation at the very bottom of this posting.  The “Search Box” in the right side of the posting also may be helpful in locating a posting topic for which you are looking.

HOW TO FORWARD POSTINGS.
To send this posting to a friend, or enemy for that matter, whom you think might be interested in it, just click on the envelope with the arrow on the "Comments" line directly below, enabling you to send them an Email providing a link directly to this posting.  You might also want to let me know their Email address so that they may be alerted to future postings.

Jack Lippman 





Sunday, February 15, 2015

The Middle East, a Letter to the Editor and an Article to Make Everyone Happy




                                      


The Middle East:  a Very Complicated Situation
If we don’t want to send American troops to battle the soldiers of the Islamic State, we must look to the Middle Eastern states in the area to do so.  Let's start with one of these states, Turkey. That country is actually a NATO member, but offers minimal support for efforts to degrade and destroy ISIS (or ISIL, to use the President’s words).  Why?

A major reason is that the Kurds, in fighting ISIS, really want an independent state of their own rather than remaining a part of Iraq.  The trouble is that such a Kurdish state, besides being carved out of northern Iraq, would also be tempted to include in it the very significant Kurdish population on the Turkish side of their border with Iraq.  Hence, the Turks are not cooperating with the Kurdish troops (Peshmerga) in their battle with ISIS.  

Another reason is that Turkey is vehemently opposed to Syrian strongman, Bashir al-Assad. Right now, the strongest forces trying to take him down are the troops of the Islamic State, which have occupied a large portion of Syria.   On the other side, al-Assad’s supporters include Iran and its surrogate army in Syria, Hezbollah.  Turkey and Iran oppose each other in attempting to become the dominant power in the region.  So, it would be overly optimistic to look to Turkey in seeking support in battling ISIS, so long as the Islamic State is battling three entities which Turkey also opposes, the Kurds, al-Assad's Syrian government and Iran.  We would be content if its borders with Syria and Iraq, through which ISIS volunteers easily pass, were made less porous.

As for Iraq itself, years of training and equipping its primarily Shi’a army have proven to be worthless endeavors.  They threw away their guns and ran when faced by ISIS’s Sunni troops.  Starting over with them is a waste of time and resources. 

As for Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States, they are far enough away to not want to become heavily involved.  Some question remains as to whether or not they quietly support Sunni ISIS against its non-Sunni foes with financial aid.  But they know that ultimately, ISIS has them on its hit list as well.  While they may participate in air strikes, don’t expect them to contribute armies.  The same may be said of even more distant Egypt, which has its own problems.

Jordan, motivated to bomb ISIS and move its troops to the border by ISIS’ murder of their captured pilot, was ambivalent until then, and even if a good ally, its efforts will not be sufficient on their own to defeat ISIS.  Their army, mostly Bedouins, is not large enough to do the job permanently.

This leaves only Iran with a good reason and the resources to fight ISIS.  Iran wants to maintain Iraq’s present government, basically Shi’a, as are the Iranians, which is threatened by ISIS.  Iran borders the area where the Islamic State has expanded, and they see it as a threat to them.  Iran probably has the best army in the region (excluding Israel) and already has troops on the ground attempting to work with the retraining of the Iraqi army.  Iran also supports al-Assad in Syria who is threatened by ISIS, which gives them another reason to oppose the Islamic State.
 
If we are to become involved in fighting ISIS, which has declared us to be an enemy and murdered some of our civilians, it is clear that we must have some working arrangement with Iran which militarily, is really the only game in town. (We probably already do in an highly classified manner.) They are our logical ally there.  Unless we want to put American troops on the ground in significant numbers, that is what our diplomacy must work toward.


Iran has plenty of  troops available, and just as we are doing, they are attempting to train Iraq's Army.

Establishing such better relations with Iran, however, conflicts with our support of Israel.  Iran has sworn to destroy Israel, and Israel correctly fights any efforts to allow Iran to proceed with further development of their nuclear resources, which can lead to their developing nuclear weapons.  Israel takes this position not because they expect Iran to use such weapons if they develop them; if that occurred Israel would instantly totally destroy Iran with its own nuclear weaponry.  What Israel fears is that negotiations with all Arab and Muslim states would be affected by such a parity between Israel and Iran from a nuclear standpoint, and this would be to Israel’s disadvantage.

Hence, this is the point of tension between American foreign policy regarding Iran and Israel’s policy regarding Iran.   Israel fears that a rapproachment between the United States and Iran with the defeat of the Islamic State as its goal might involve a trade-off which would weaken Western opposition to Iranian nuclear expansion, to the detriment of Israel’s security.

This is why Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu are not the best of friends.  Failure of the ability of Arab states to stand up to the Islamic State forces the United States to look to Iran.  Does this mean that the United States will no longer oppose the murderous al-Assad government in Syria supported by Iran?  If we were to move in that direction, could Iran be convinced to soften its rhetoric regarding the destruction of Israel, including reining in Hezbollah, to the extent that Israel would tolerate very limited and monitored expansion of Iran’s nuclear development?   After all, except for his Hezbollah connections, al-Assad has not been an impossible neighbor for Israel over the years, despite his Iranian backers.  Might not the same modus vivendi extend to Iran?

Benjamin Netanyahu cannot be convinced of any of this and insists that strong sanctions on Iran should remain in place, making their nuclear program’s progress more difficult.  But if he loses control of Israel’s government in the upcoming elections, would Tzipi Livni or Isaac Herzog, either of whom might end up as Prime Minister, approach the question differently?  That remains to be seen.

Meanwhile, if the United States is to see to it that the Islamic State is degraded and defeated, diplomatic efforts to work together with Iran toward that goal should continue, even if they must be combined with the ongoing negotiations concerning Iran's nuclear development program. That is where the bargaining chips lie.  All agree that Iran should not be allowed to develop nuclear weapons, but can they be trusted not to do so?  Therefore, we must walk a tightrope in carrying on such diplomacy, all the while assuring our only real ally in the area, Israel, that in negotiating with Iran, THEIR SECURITY WILL NEVER, EVER, BE COMPROMISED.  

Above all, such diplomacy must not be hamstrung by domestic politics, such as what the Republican Party is engaging in by inviting Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu to speak before our Congress, without first clearing such an infringement into the diplomatic operations of the Executive branch with the President beforehand.   By such a crass move to secure the votes of Jews in the United States, the G.O.P. attempts to paint the President as anti-Israel, if not anti-Semitic, and jeopardizes the diplomatic moves which will be necessary to defeat the Islamic State.  

If the Republicans succeed in preventing our working out such an arrangement with Iran, the alternative would have to be putting tens of thousands of American troops on the ground to fight ISIS. Such deployment would be in far greater numbers than the President proposed and without the time limitations he has asked for.  And with Iranian support continuing for what passes for the existing Shi'a government in Iraq, once the Islamic State is degraded and defeated, and it will be, Iran very well might become our opponent in the Middle East, rather than a potential ally. 

I doubt that we would confront Iran militarily, but if stronger sanctions to frustrate their nuclear ambitions are imposed, this would leave Israel in the position of having to count on those sanctions, rather than negotiations, to guarantee its security. I doubt whether Europe, the rest of the Middle East, China and India would fully respect stronger sanctions, and this would leave Israel in the position of seeking to independently thwart Iran's nuclear program both overtly and covertly.  Actually, this is where things stood before the rise of the Islamic State complicated things by altering the relationships between the United States, Israel and most importantly, Iran.


   
                                                                                   


    
                                                              
Some of the players in this story include House Speaker John Boehner, Secretary of State John Kerry, President Obama, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, the late Saddam Hussein. Syrian President Bashir al-Assad and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.  

Going back even further, the rise of that Islamic State can be traced to the elimination of Saddam Hussein's dictatorship in Iraq a decade ago by the United States in our misguided efforts to blame him for Al Qaeda's 9-11 attack on the United States and his supposed building of weapons of mass destruction.  But that's another story.

Jack Lippman
                                             

A Letter to the Editor
Ticked off by a Letter to the Editor which was published in the Palm Beach Post, I wrote the following letter to that newspaper, which was published  there last week. 


I’m tired of people accusing President Barack Obama of being a socialist (as did the writer of Thursday’s letter, “Reject Obama’s socialist mantra”).  Government regulation, taxation and wealth redistribution do not equal “socialism.” Socialism describes a system where the government owns and operates most of the means of production, such as manufacturing and service providers — a course of action I do not believe the president advocates.


On the contrary, what the Obama administration has done — to enable some automobile manufacturers, banks and other financial institutions to survive — was the antithesis of “socialism.”  Actions taken in these areas were carried out to preserve capitalism, just as the Affordable Care Act avoids the government getting into the health-care business and directs its resources toward private insurers. That is a far cry from the government taking over the operation of a business.



As for taxation, in addition to paying for our government’s overall operation, levying taxes is a fair way of seeing that the fruits of our successful capitalist economy are shared more equitably by members of our society. Indeed, higher taxes on wealthier taxpayers, paired with a strengthened government “safety net” for the “have-nots” among us, amount to a kind of wealth redistribution.



But that is necessary so long as technological advances reduce job availability in this country and American workers, within our capitalist system, have to compete with less-expensive overseas labor. One may object to this kind of “wealth redistribution,” but is it “socialism”? No!

JL



                                                    
An All-Purpose Article
Here is a short article about differing perceptions people may have.  Please read it twice.  On the first reading, ignore any words in red.  On the second reading, ignore any words in blue.  

When you omit the red words, it puts you in the head of a Republican.  When you omit the blue words, it puts you in the head of a Democrat.  You may find that to be a strange new place to visit, but it may give you some understanding of what goes on in the heads of those who think other than the way you usually think.  It might even cause you to think differently.

             http://findingjustice.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/DNC-and-RNC-570x313.jpeg

                                                       *    *    *    *
Some of my (Republican) (Democratic) friends just don’t get it.  While otherwise intelligent, when it comes to politics, they just don’t know what is going on.  Perhaps it’s because they watch (Fox News) (MSNBC) too much and when they pick up a newspaper, it’s usually the (New York Post or the Wall Street Journal) (New York Times or the Palm Beach Post).  Clearly, this results in their being misinformed about almost everything.

Perhaps that’s why they are gullible enough to firmly believe that President Obama’s economic policies (brought us to the brink of socialism) (saved American capitalism) and that his bringing troops back from Iraq and Afghanistan (actually was a good thing for the country) (actually resulted in the rise of the Islamic State).   How wrong they are.

Perhaps that’s why they are naive enough to believe that the President’s positions on issues such as immigration, gun control and the rights of women, gays and lesbians (really reflect what the American people want) (come close to violating the Constitution which he swore to uphold) .  How wrong they are.

And as for (Obamacare) (the Affordable Care Act), despite mounting evidence to the contrary, they are absolutely certain that it has (crippled the health care professions and made coverage unaffordable for many) (provided Americans with better health care than existed before the Act was passed).  How wrong they are.

Clearly, in their screwed-up perception, President Obama will go down in history as one of the (best) (worst) Presidents the country has ever had.  But oh, how wrong they are.
                                        *    *    *    *
Okay, now that you've read it with either the (red words) or the (blue words) omitted, go back and read it again switching the color of the omitted words.                                                                                     



HOW TO BE ALERTED TO FUTURE BLOG POSTINGS.
Many readers of this blog are alerted by Email every time a new posting appears.  If you wish to be added to that Email list, just let me know by clicking on Riart1@aol.com and sending me an Email.  

HOW TO CONTACT ME or CONTRIBUTE MATERIAL TO JACK'S POTPOURRI. 
BY CLICKING ON THAT SAME ADDRESS, Riart1@aol.com   YOU ALSO CAN SEND ME YOUR CONTRIBUTIONS TO BE PUBLISHED IN THIS BLOG AS WELL AS YOUR COMMENTS.  (Comments can also be made by clicking on the "Post a Comment" link at the blog's end.)

MOBILE DEVICE ACCESS.
DID YOU KNOW THAT www.jackspotpourri.com IS ALSO AVAILABLE ON YOUR MOBILE DEVICES IN A MODIFIED, EASY-TO-READ, FORMAT?   

HOW TO VIEW OLDER POSTINGS.                                                
To view older postings on this blog, just click on the appropriate date in the “Blog Archive” midway down the column off to the right, or scroll down until you see the “Older Posts” notation at the very bottom of this posting.  The “Search Box” in the right side of the posting also may be helpful in locating a posting topic for which you are looking.

HOW TO FORWARD POSTINGS.
To send this posting to a friend, or enemy for that matter, whom you think might be interested in it, just click on the envelope with the arrow on the "Comments" line directly below, enabling you to send them an Email providing a link directly to this posting.  You might also want to let me know their Email address so that they may be alerted to future postings.


Jack Lippman 
JL