Beyond the Cusp

December 5, 2014

How Dark Could Our Future Become; A Possible Alternative

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There have been a number of prognostications telling the writers’ many separate and often distinct predictions. These predictions span from gloom and doom to the thrills once we combine with our technological inventions enhancing our lives in remarkable ways. Then there is the possibility we will face threats due to the singularity from advanced artificial intelligent robots which will have surpassed us and begin to leap so far ahead of our own technological knowledge and abilities that we will become either their pets or a nuisance to be eradicated depending on who you ask. There are predictions on the political level where China becomes the new eight-hundred pound gorilla on the stage and the United States falls into a weak second class state in the shadows or China falls economically and the United States rebounds to Africa becoming the new European style power and Europe degrades into economic ruin even dragging down the last of the economic engines in Europe. The one comfort I take from all these prognostications, even by some very well recognized editorialists and experts of which many will be unfulfilled, is that even if I get everything wrong, all I will have done is join an elite group who are secure enough to be wrong and admit it. The benefit of doing predictions is people will tend to forget those you got completely wrong if you hit a few dead on correct as people want to believe that the future is not as daunting and unpredictable as it actually is and take comfort in those predictions which give them comfort or support, what they had themselves been predicting. So, with the comfort that I will probably not be any more wrong than some who have become wealthy despite being wrong more often than not, here is what I actually fear may be coming down the road over the remaining two years of the final term of President Obama’s Presidency.

 

First we need to see where the world is now and try to find some similarities from history and narrow down those similarities until we find the closest match and then interpolate using that history and see where that leads one. The first and most obvious parallel is the beginning of the fall of Rome and the withdrawal from the world’s scene by the United States with their retreats from Iraq and Afghanistan. This is a false parallel which despite being false it has garnered a serious following. Further consideration leads one to look more at the entirety of the Western world and culture and an initial retreat from the Middle East followed by an infiltration and assault by the powers of Islam and one realizes that the correlation is closer to the slow and unalterable fall of the Eastern Roman Empire which was also known as the Byzantine Empire, of which the greatest defeat was the fall of Constantinople. Using this as a base we would need to try and discern if in this modern period where things can happen at unbelievable and unprecedented speed, the item one needs to do is find where the two main turns of history which eventually served to turn back the thrusts into Europe by the seemingly unstoppable forces of Islam which we can parallel with the Battle of Tours where Charles the Hammer Martel routed the Moorish Muslim troops ending their invasion into western Europe and turning them back depleted and without any reserve supplies which made the restoration of Spain possible, though the method of the Inquisition would be something we should endeavor to avoid at all cost, and the Siege of Vienna where the King of Poland reached an agreement with his closest neighboring nations for their promises to refrain from invading his lands while he took his entire army and marched to Vienna and relieved the siege turning back the Islamic armies and ending their thrust into eastern Europe. These two turning points are impossible to predict without the power of clairvoyance, something I freely admit I lack no matter what some people have claimed in my stead.

 

Islam is unlikely to be attempting any invasions of Europe in the near future as much of the Muslim world is too wrapped-up in their own troubles and conflicts within Islam to be taking on any outside wars. Syria has been wrapped in a destructive civil war with numerous outside forces warring on both sides of this devastating conflict which will leave Syria incapable of any kind of action for decades as they eventually will try to rebuild almost from scratch and build a new Syria. Who will be leading the nation of Syria is still unknown though it does appear that somehow Bashir al-Assad will remain in power though only in charge of a shell of his nation will have survived and most of the Syrian people will have fled the nation and as many as are able will probably choose not to return. Libya has continue its spiral decent into internecine violence composed largely by inter-tribal violence with occasional challenges to the relatively weak central government which has thus far been able to hold on to power. Iraq and Syria are currently sharing a serious threat in the form of an ever-growing force which began as a terrorist entity in the Syrian civil war and has mutated into a wannabe caliphate which has since grown into a formidable force across central parts of Syria and Iraq and has made threats against Iran, Jordan, Israel, Saudi Arabia and other nations which ISIS (still pronounced ‘is is’) believes are not following the Quran and are not ruled by proper Islamic rulers which they swear they will replace as they build the next Caliphate. They also predict that once they have set the world of Islam on the correct path and united all of Islam into their Caliphate they will then complete the task of making Islam the sole religion in the world. Egypt is recovering from their experiment with the rule by the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood and has returned to having elected a military leader as the President of Egypt. It remains to be seen whether President Sisi will remain a limited leader eventually stepping aside or if he will become the next military dictator of Egypt following the same route as his predecessors. Lebanon has been sitting on the sidelines of the Syrian conflict but has an investment in the Syrian war as Hezballah has, on the orders from their Iranian masters, been involved heavily in the fighting in support of Bashir al-Assad which has left Lebanon vulnerable, a vulnerability which may soon prove to be tested by some of the forces fighting against Assad in Syria as they view Lebanon as a fair target due to Hezballah fighting in Syria. Across most of the rest of the Muslim world there are no real nations which have the inclination or power to pose any real threat outside their own borders with a few exceptions. One exception is Pakistan which has a sizeable nuclear weapons stockpile but also has sufficient internal threats which prevent any adventurism and also Pakistan has one main adversary in India and is content to keep any violence between the two nuclear powered nations as quiet as is possible, a view shared by India. So, what might be the exception throughout the Islamic world?

 

Turkey and Iran are exceptions as both have avoided the kind of turmoil which has afflicted much of the rest of the Middle East and North Africa. Turkey under the rule of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has a modern military and enjoys membership in NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) which they served as an important role against the Soviet Union as Turkey controlled the access from the Black Sea into the Mediterranean Sea and from there into the Suez Canal to the Red Sea and on to the Indian Ocean and Persian Gulf or through the Strait of Gibraltar on into the Atlantic Ocean. Turkish roles within NATO had been challenging in recent years as they refused to cooperate with the United States in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and more recently worked against the United States in their efforts against ISIS only recently begrudgingly permitting any use of Turkish resources such as airfields for strikes against ISIS and probably under guarantees that these actions would also serve to remove their nemesis Syrian Dictator Bashir al-Assad. As President Obama has formed a close relationship with President Erdogan, the difficulties which logistically separated the two nations were all the more confusing. Even more confusing was that these difficulties caused little damage to the relations between the two leaders. That leaves Iran which has been playing a cat and mouse game with the P5+1 nations (United States, Britain, France, China, Russia and Germany) in their ongoing and currently extended nuclear negotiations. These negotiations may soon be proven useless and no longer necessary and that has much to do with the potential future of our world.

 

The next items we face are China and Russia. China has hit upon some economic difficulties and is not expected to continue their high rate of financial growth for the ensuing years. A nation even with the governmental assistance given in China can continue to have a growth rate of over seven percent GDP growth forever as each year that level becomes that much more difficult to produce. The main item on China’s wish list is cheaper oil prices and a source of easily refined crude oil. China has a steady source at a decent price in Iraq but that oil is thicker and considered quite difficult to refine and does not have a high production quality. On the other hand, the sweet crude oil available from Saudi Arabia is more expensive. Meanwhile, Russia is completely dependent on their oil and gas sales to prop up their collapsing economy and nation. Russia is suffering from one of the highest rates of population decrease with projections placing their population numbers to be half of their current numbers by mid-century which is astonishing. Russia is thus dependent upon high oil prices, exactly the opposite from China. This is where the interesting predictions begin. The challenge is to find a solution to the problems of the three nations, China, Russia and Iran, which is possible and credible. While it may appear impossible to satisfy both the Chinese requirement for cheap oil and the Russian desire for high oil prices, but that is not entirely true. In order to satisfy both the Russian and Chinese demands one would need to control vast percentages of the supplies of crude oil. Enter the Iranians into the equation. Add the possibility that there has been a mutually beneficial arrangement since the beginning of the nuclear negotiations which have China and Russia on one side with Iran presumably as their adversary while China and Russia were part of the five nations presumably pushing Iran to give up most of their uranium enrichment program. Iran is suspected of having designs on the oil fields of their neighbors, especially those of Saudi Arabia, UAE (United Arab Emirates), Oman, Bahrain, and Kuwait. Iran has all but become the ruling party in Iraq and has access if required of the southern Iraqi oil fields while ISIS has control of some of the northern oil fields from Iraq. The possible scenario would have Iran launch a full scale operation assaulting ISIS once they attack Bagdad under the claim that they were responding to a desperate plea for assistance from the Iraqi government. Then the Iranian military could transport an extremely large military force with full armor and other support towards Bagdad. Then, as their forces have closed and routed ISIS forcing their retreat, then Iran, under air cover, could swing their entirety of forces and reinforcements southward coinciding with a general uprising throughout the Northwestern provinces of Saudi Arabia by the predominantly Shiite population with assistance and weaponry provided by the IRGC (Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps) with Russia and China both demanding the United States stand down. This attack would need to be launched before President Obama leaves office and the possibility that the next President of the United States might be more willing to come to the aid of their stricken ally. With Iran in control of the vast reserves of the oil wealth could then embargo the Western nations or simply the European nations allowing for Russia to be able to set their own price for oil and gas supporting their otherwise weak economy. Further, China could be provided with all the high grade cheap oil they could desire and Iran would be well on their way to establishing their hegemony over the Middle East and be close to ready for their assault to include the Muslim nations of North Africa into their control before then turning their attentions onto Europe and Israel. This is the potential nightmare which has a chance, hopefully smaller than it may seem in our nightmares, it is thoughts such as these which make me simply joyous when time passes and I am proven wrong, may that streak continue as every time I get one right I then spend weeks to years covering some relative disaster.

 

Beyond the Cusp

 

September 10, 2014

President Obama Steps Up Proposing Too Little Too Late

President Obama will be giving the plan that he is proposing to address the situation with ISIS and the threat it poses to the heart of the Middle East. Where I have no actual copy of the speech or even of an early draft of the speech, I feel I might be able to predict much of the plan President Obama will present. He will continue to do anything within his power to continue to avoid using American military force if at all possible. His plan will call for nations in the Middle East to step up and take the responsibility for the dangers threatening them as ISIS gains more followers and additional strength. President Obama will offer to assist any efforts by the nations who step up and take actions by providing them with air power which will continue until the first United States aircraft is shot from the skies and its pilot becomes the next subject of a brutal beheading video. The President will avoid any mention of coordinating with Syrian dictator Bashir al-Assad or with the Iranian leadership or military commanders though he will not deny providing their troops with air support. The initial five to ten minutes of the President’s speech will fill every listener with hope and feel assured that the President is about to promise definitive actions to directly challenge and in turn defeat ISIS both in Iraq and Syria. Unfortunately, the speech will take another twenty or more minutes where President Obama will fill in and flush out the steps and other moves the United States is working to bring to utilize force against IS. The more he describes his plans the more evidence will be forthcoming that there is no actual immediate plan to defeat or even blunt ISIS from continuing gathering strength and possibly gaining even more territories. The President will make clear that he is working with other nations who will gather the forces which will, in time, begin to oppose ISIS and eventually wear them down and reduce their power and ability to afflict people’s lives. The one missing element will be United States boots on the ground directly engaging ISIS and working to defeat the menace they pose.

What may not be included in the President’s speech but I fear will be mentioned as part of the steps that the President sees as potentially helpful in ending the menace of ISIS or Islamist extremists will be the need for a settlement between Israel and the Palestinians and Israel making the necessary sacrifices which will allow for the formation of a Palestinian State standing side by side with Israel in peace and mutual security. This has been the President’s pipe dream which he claims would end all the problems throughout the Middle East and North Africa. President Obama has seldom missed an opportunity to lay the blame on Israel and the lack of progress towards establishing a Palestinian State and this speech will likely be yet another opportunity for President Obama to demand the immediate establishment of a the Palestinian State. There is a distinctive possibility that President Obama will quote his close friend, Turkish President Erdogan, and quote his advice which laid the blame for ISIS and the rest of the troubles in the Middle East on Israel and the overthrow of the government in Egypt of President Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood replacing it with a government with former General and commander of the Egyptian military President SISI. There will be mention of the recent conflict between Hamas and Israel and their current negotiations where again the President will point to the need for compromise and equal and fair treatment which is conducive to peace and respect for both sides calling on Israel to bring an end of the Israeli blockade of Gaza as necessary for a future of calm. The President will call on Saudi Arabia to step forward and claim their reticence and refusal to take military actions as something that is unhelpful and one of the causes of the difficulties which led to IS. The President will call on the European members of NATO to pull together and take the bold steps to fight ISIS and work towards minimizing their effects with an aim to make their threat be made more manageable. The President will claim that it will take years of efforts by all those he has claimed need to address the situation and reduce the effects of ISIS until they are reduced in effects making their threat manageable and no threat to the United States and Europe. That will be the main theme; a reduction in the threats posed by ISIS making them something which has been reduced to a manageable level of threat. Exactly what a manageable threat potential means, but that will be the result that President Obama will be seeking and the solution he will lay out tonight. May Heaven help the world to survive long enough for the next resident of the White House to return some valid and believable foreign policy where the United States takes the lead that has been the stabilizing force in a world which would otherwise turn to insane threats unseen in most of our lifetimes. Sometimes I fear the world will explode before the next White House resident takes office and that thought scares me and should scare any rational person. Another frightful item will be the speech given by President Obama, well, at least the rest of his speech after the promising platitudes he will regale us with for the first five to ten minutes, the part of the speech before he reveals all the steps he is unprepared to make.

Beyond the Cusp

February 21, 2013

Where in the World is Everything Going?

Talk with ten different supposed authorities or futurists about where the world is headed and you will get at a minimum thirty or more scenarios. One of the reasons behind this odd little phenomenon is that many of them will answer claiming the world will be either ‘A’ or possibly ‘B’ while others will simply claim it will be ‘A’ unless such and such otherwise it will be ‘not A’ just to assure that their answers are complete and guaranteed to be more accurate. Unfortunately we will likely not be much different because there are a small number of factors which will decide both the eventual near future and the pace at which an inevitable future will arrive. First off let us discuss the eventual path mankind will take with the sole proviso being that man does not self-destruct in the mean time. One of the principle observations which stand as a driving force behind the predictions from numerous futurists is Moore’s Law which noted that the number of transistors on a chip doubles every two years. There is an obvious limiting factor which will eventually cause reality to conflict with this postulate, namely that molecules and atoms of silicon and germanium, the two elements currently utilized to manufacture the wafers for ICs, have a set size and nothing will ever be made smaller than this size. Thus we know that there eventually will be an end point beyond which progress will depend on some new dimension. This point is still well into the future, so we will continue to have the capability to produce more complex, faster, more energy efficient integrated circuits which will further expand the scope and capabilities of the hardware engineers and programmers will have at their disposal and also the price and size of memory modules and devices will also continue to shrink in size while increasing in capabilities. This allows the limit of the capabilities of our systems, be they robotic, calculative, measuring, artificial intelligence or any other performance oriented components or units to similarly increase in capability limited solely by the development of software to drive them. When one also includes the possible advances in Physics, Chemistry, and to an extent also discoveries in biology, especially bioengineering, then there may even be other hard to imagine, let alone measurable, advances made. One such example would be the introduction of a truly functioning and easily programmable quantum computer. All of this simply provides a backdrop with which to measure the full extent to which progress can expand and develop in order for there to be related advances in our societies and affect our way of life.

 

One way of measuring the advancement of mankind over the ages is to formulate a chart which maps the speed it would take for somebody to go from New York to Paris and then on to Rome. In 1700 one would be talking about close to a whole year to make such a voyage. In 1800 the same voyage would take a matter of many months. By 1900 we would shorten that voyage to around six to ten weeks depending on variables. Go to 1950 and the same trip, trip now and not voyage as even the terminology would have changed, would take merely days and not even a whole week. It would be possible with some planning to complete this trip in less than two full days. Now go on this trip in 2000 and the whole thing would take a matter of hours. And today that trip is not that much quicker than it was twelve years ago but the jet aircraft we would be taking carry more people further and slightly faster on less fuel and the number of choices one has to choose from would make covering this exact trip something that could be done in hours even if one had not made plans and found such a trip required on no notice. And if we were actually measuring the fastest possible available way of covering this trip, if all one must do is cover these distances then the astronauts in the ISS (International Space Station) have been making this trip in a very short, likely under an hour, multiple times every single day for the last few years. The real point of this demonstration is that the same or a similar equation also represents the number of people who can be fed per acre of farmland. Without the advances in crops and animal raising for food such as bioengineered crops and cattle and modern fertilizers, irrigation, and just managing all the individual needs of the farm tailoring everything on an as needed basis as revealed via scans made by UAVs (Unmanned Arial Vehicles) with cameras and other high-tech sensors has increased yields even further as well as allowed herd management and tracking and finding any stray cattle which also helps to minimize losses. Without many of these advances we would have actually had much of the world starving exactly as was predicted to occur in the early seventies where it was supposed to strike us by the late seventies. Obviously, if you have been to a modern supermarket, we have sufficient food to feed the world with the only real problem being distribution and poverty. Hopefully these are problems which will soon be unpleasant memories and not problems still faced anywhere in our future world.

 

The future becoming a place of abundance and free from want is an eventuality which will come to be. Those who are pushing for it to come immediately may have their hearts in the right place, but the immediate problem is more due to politics, people, hatreds, fears, and other items from mankind’s darker side. These are the types of hurdles which will most affect whether or not our societies develop into something more altruistic and benevolent or whether malevolence, hatred and violence will continue to plague much of mankind. One of my barometers as to how the world is coping and advancing beyond its darker and more limiting inclinations is to look to Europe and gauge the level of trust, interdependency, mutual reliance, interscene violence, and general moods. Before World War I the levels of cooperation, unity, interdependence, and peace were virtually nonexistent. The common state was one of aggression, violence, distrust, and lacking in most areas of cooperation. After World War I Europe entered a brief period of relative calm with one troublesome situation which was of their own designs. The imposition of overly harsh punishments placed on Germany was the eventual cause of the nationalistic militarism which came with the rise of Hitler and the Nazis. This led directly to World War II and all the great conflagrations from Europe all the way to the Pacific Ocean. Granted, all of the violence did not directly result from Germany and a large portion was caused by Japan, but the Eurocentric violence was caused fairly directly by Germany. Since World War II and especially after the collapse of the Soviet Union and their satellite governments, Europe has attempted and succeeded until recently in generating large amounts of cooperation between most of the European nations. Due to some nations’ internal political structures and cultures having a more expansive societal security net which allowed for what was a heavily dependent citizenry by comparison with the countries with a stronger work ethic and laws with less generous benefits offered governmental economic stabilities radically differed under pressure. This has led to recent problems as these differences were magnified by the recent worldwide economic problems. This now stands ready to tear at most of the cooperative financial agreements which are the skeletal structure that supports the body of the European Union. If the world economy does not pick up steam and become more vigorous, then it is more likely that these problems between the separate nations of the European Union will only grow worse and eventually destroy the EU. Once that eventuality takes place we can expect Europe to return to the natural tendencies which have plagued Europe for centuries. The then almost unavoidable and inevitable conflagration will begin with strong nationalist themes forming amongst the unemployed and least wealthy who will be unable to afford a decent standard of living and likely find their families hungry and under threats caused by fiscal problems resulting from high inflation making the currencies worthless. This will be the result of these countries being expelled from the EU and no longer allowed to use the Euro as their currency and their former currency will lose value against the Euro until it reaches a stable level of worth. This will isolate each of these countries as their currency will be so devalued against the Euro that they will be unable to afford anything imported and will be completely reliant on domestic goods. The other side of the problem is the domestic goods will garner a higher price if exported rather than sold domestically and the outside world will be able to buy virtually anything and everything produced within the newly EU outcast nations. Eventually such trade will bring these countries’ economies back to health provided that none of them decide that war would be a faster route to recover their lost economic stability. European history has shown that during economic upheavals the populations tend to turn xenophobic and nationalistic while also favoring militarism. This had kept Europe in a near constant state of wars for centuries and the world may see this return. If that occurs, then who knows what will result.

 

The other threat to a promising future of technical genius and great developments will be the less developed nations who are now at the cusp of nuclear abilities.  Almost any nation which wishes to invest in the development of nuclear weaponry will have the technical ability to do so and would only be limited by lack of natural resources. Obviously, lack of natural resources is simply a matter of purchasing power and the wherewithal to open clandestine trading to acquire the uranium or other fissile materials. If North Korea can find the available resources necessary to manufacture a nuclear weapon under the sanctions and embargoes placed on them, then any nation has the capability of gathering the tools, expertise, and other materials to do the same. The development of a sufficient ability in rocket development to design a relatively efficient and able rocket delivery system would also not pose an insurmountable problem. Such a spread of nuclear weapons giving a number of countries possession of deliverable nuclear weapons stores and their not having the relative inhibitions, which almost if not all the current nuclear powers possess against using such weapons, then without such cautions they might be tempted more easily into their use. Such a situation could very easily escalate and eventually cause widespread devastation on a scale never before witnessed. This is another scenario which would at best delay a technical age of plenty and permanent lack of want which could lead to an end of mankind’s violence against his fellow men. That is the race we face, which comes first, all of mankind attaining a level of technical advances and improvements which remove any areas of serious want and mankind entering a new era or mankind falling prey to our evil and darker side and causing an end to any society, not just our advanced society. This race is one where the first nations who cross the line which divides human society from their warlike past into a pacifistic future cannot simply continue on as if everything is just fine waiting for the rest of the world to reach a similar point of development. Upon attaining such advancement they would be best served to do whatever was necessary in order to speed the rest of mankind enabling them to also reach such a point. Unfortunately, changing their societal norms will take far more than simple technological advancement, it will take sociological advancement, something almost as intangible as a wisp of smoke and just as easily brushed aside by the slightest waves of violence. So, which will win? Sorry, you are going to have to tell me as I have my fears and hopes but no knowledge which will triumph in the end.

 

Beyond the Cusp

 

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