A WORLD ADRIFT

BLOG #43, SERIES #6
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
A WORLD ADRIFT
October 28, 2015

Once, very long ago, we had Pax Romana, which lasted for a very long time. If you include the Eastern Byzantine Roman Empire, it lasted well over a thousand years. Then came Pax Britannica that lasted over a hundred years. It was followed by Pax Americana—it has lasted about a hundred years. But now that America has all but abdicated its role of global peace-keeper, the proverbial Pandora’s Box has been opened with a vengeance.

Up until recently, a system of global alliances, anchored by the authority and credibility of America, has helped keep the world from ripping apart. Not so today: Hardly any nation seriously believes America cares much about anyone other than itself any more. Result: Russia has stormed into Ukraine—and now Syria; America is retreating from Iraq and Afghanistan; and is permitting China to challenge it across the Pacific. The Middle East is in shambles and millions of displaced people are overrunning the nations of Europe. Europeans assumed national boundaries meant something—but when people are starving, nothing short of wholesale slaughter will stop them from their desperate search for a better life.

In history, democracies have rarely lasted longer than two centuries. Now many are wondering whether or not the same will hold true for America.

In economics, if global trust breaks down, nothing will be able to save the global economy.

If we ever needed God before, we certainly need Him now.

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Pandora’s Box, Drones, and Regime Change

BLOG #21, SERIES 6
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
PANDORA’S BOX, DRONES, AND REGIME CHANGE
May 27, 2015

In recent days and weeks, the news from the Middle East just gets bleaker and bleaker—which makes me wonder. Specifically about the increasing use of drones in warfare. The rationale, of course, is that it’s not nearly as “messy” to surgically remove enemy leaders by drone strikes than having to fight them one on one on the ground. But what scares one is the precedent it sets: what is there then to stop them from returning the favor: using their own drones to surgically target our leaders in Washington?

When a President is Commander in Chief of the world’s largest military, there is an almost irresistible temptation to use it for regime-change. We removed Saddam Hussein in Iraq—now we’re seeing daily imagery of the barbaric ISIS exhibiting widespread atrocities across the Middle East. We step into Syria—and it unleashed a veritable hell in which one of the oldest civilizations in the world crumbles before our very eyes.

I remember hearing a pundit saying early on, where Assad of Syria was referenced: “As bad as he may be, has anyone taken into consideration the possibility that if we remove him from power, we may end up with something far worse?”

Well, it’s happened—and the situation grows more dire by the day.

Back to Iraq: We eliminate Iraq’s leader, arm the Iraquis, and when ISIS forces attack—they run. Whose fault is it?

What about the driving out or killing Christians all across the Middle East? Might that possibly be another example of Arabs taking vicarious revenge for our perceived intrusion into their “personal” affairs?

I don’t know the answers. I only know that there can be grave repercussions when one nation opens the Pandora’s Box of the Middle East and there emerges unimaginably vicious demons that heretofore had been kept safely caged.

And let’s look at Ukraine: Just how many countries around the world do we want to be responsible for? Yet, if our President is the acknowledged leader of the so-called “Free World,” how can he not take a stand in such a grave European dilemma?

It is always unpopular for a sitting President to respond to military “opportunities” in anything less than a macho way. But, since I’m in a wondering mood this morning—somehow nothing on this planet seems quite as simple as it appeared a few years ago.

More questions than I have answers.

Once Again – Trying to Make Sense of Egypt

BLOG #27, SERIES 4
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
ONCE AGAIN – TRYING TO MAKE SENSE OF EGYPT
July 10, 2013

Like the rest of the world, we’ve been riveted by the sight of millions of Egyptians demanding that Morsi resign his presidency. At last, freedom for the Egyptian people!

But then the Military, seeing which way the wind is blowing, steps in, in a semi-coup, and arrests Morsi and key Brotherhood leaders. Freedom at last!

Not so quick: not necessarily—for how do you so cavalierly dispose of 30% of the Egyptian people? For this dispossessed minority howls their indignation that their legally elected president has been removed by force, without due-process of law. No matter that Morsi and the Brotherhood had abused their power and done their utmost to stifle all dissent—which had caused the public outcry in the first place.

The whole world watches, waiting for a counterattack from the leaderless Muslim Brotherhood. It doesn’t take long: in a confrontation, the Military fires on a Brotherhood crowd, resulting in significant casualties.

Meanwhile, there is nobody on first except the Military, for the civilians, Coptics, etc., in the middle seem paralyzed by indecision, unable to marshal behind a democratic leadership team. Sadly, reminiscent of an earlier scenario in imperial Russia when Czar Nicholas II’s soldiers fired on a crowd of protesters. By that act of firing on his own people Nicholas II lost his legitimacy. In the bloody aftermath, the leader of the moderates, Kerensky, dithered around long enough for the ruthless well-organized Bolsheviks, led by the steely-eyed Lenin, to triumph by default. And democracy lost out in Russia. Russia briefly regained that freedom after the fall of the Berlin Wall, only to lose it again to a former KGB operative, Putin.

But back to Egypt. Currently there is a standoff between two roughly equal powers: the Military and the Brotherhood, neither of which appears capable of tolerating a democracy to take center stage. The Brotherhood has been discredited by its Morsi dictatorship and the Military has been discredited by firing on its own people.

Meanwhile, the Egyptian people and the world can only watch helplessly while the stalemate continues. Can a miracle still occur, and democracy emerge?

No one knows. We can only wait—and hope.

IOWA CAUCUS – REBIRTH? OR ABERRATION?

WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE

IOWA CAUCUS

REBIRTH?  OR ABERRATION?

 

Dec. 21, 2011

 

As a historian of ideas, I’ve always been fascinated by sudden turning points.  Case in point: During the last year, we’ve seen, one after another, the emergence of democracy all across North Africa and the Middle East.  Even totalitarian Russia now feels the open scorn of its people.

 

In the daily news, we’ve seen Europe reeling from one economic seismic shock after another.  For decades, Europe has been a poster child for a template that appeared to have staying power: one currency for all, fiscal stability, no closed borders between nations, cradle to the grave welfare for all, more than generous retirement benefits, vacations galore (it often seemed that the population of the entire continent could be found on beaches every August), and millions of tourists flooding the continent the icing on the cake.  But no longer: Europe’s template has cracked right down the middle.  And nobody knows how to fix it.

 

In the U.S., things are little better than in Europe.  Only the fact that the spotlight of the world has been fixated on Europe rather than us has enabled us to escape the world’s scrutiny.  But that cannot long last.  Our status quo is unrelentingly grim.

But in Iowa, on the eve of the last debate before the Caucus, something electric happened.  Gingrich may well be right in declaring that we haven’t had anything this substantive in our political arena since the Lincoln-Douglas debates a century and a half ago.  But first, I must admit that, though I’m a registered Republican, I’m a centrist and vote accordingly.  Like most Americans, in recent years I’ve been disillusioned time after time by the G.O.P.  All too often it has seemed as if our Republican leaders were determined to out-dumb each other.  “”Naive’ and “uninformed” way too inadequate to describe their condition, their evident ignorance of current events and national and world history off the charts of probability; their voting out of offices the informed and intelligent moderates who would work together for the good of the country –  instead they elected, all too often, individuals so close-minded they’d stampede the nation off a cliff rather than work together.

However, on Dec. 15, there took place a rational debate between presidential candidates who, for once, did themselves and their party proud.  Same for the moderators.  Such an impact did this make on me that I was unable to sleep afterwards; in fact, at 2:30 a.m. next morning, I got up and wrote until 5:00 a.m.

 

But even now, I find myself incapable of really making sense of all I heard that night.  I’m mightily muddled.  But even so, permit me to muddle through these swirling unconnected thoughts.  Stream-of-consciousness disorganized because I can’t yet make sense of them:

 

It’s like, on the eve of Dec. 15, the proverbial straw broke the camel’s back.  The candidates and the concerned audience fed on each other, together rising to unexpected heights:

 

Rather than merely ramble on unstructured I am bullet-pointing the concerns that generated that eve of Dec. 15:

 

 

  • Government gridlock
  • Out-of-control spending
  • Massive unemployment – worst since the Great Depression of the 1930s, for third year in a row
  • Epidemic of bankruptcies
  • Millions of lives shattered by foreclosures and being evicted from their homes.  Almost half owe more than they could get by selling their homes.
  • The middle class shrinking so dramatically that the gap between rich and poor has yawned so wide we risk revolution from the disenfranchised.
  • The collusion between government and Big Banks
  • The breakdown of our protective agencies
  • The federal out-of-control spending taking a terrible toll on the finances, education, social programs, infrastructure, and public services of individual states, resulting in a devastating implosion
  • The revolving door between government and lobbyists
  • Government office being restricted to self-made millionaires or billionaires or those who sell their souls to special interest groups
  • The decline of a literate electorate.  With elections decided by electronic sound-bytes rather than thoughtful reading of newspapers, magazines, and books
  • The political campaigns degenerating into attack ads and character assassination orchestrated by unknown sources or people
  • Vote fraud
  • The staggering economic toll taken by multiple foreign wars
  • Retirees losing all they’d saved for their retirement years
  • Graduates unable to find well-paying jobs
  • Manufacturing continuing to be sent overseas
  • The perceived failure of so many of our schools and colleges
  • The courts becoming ever more hostile to all public expressions of religion or belief in a higher power
  • Marriage discredited by secular forces; so much so that the nuclear family (man, woman, child) is for the first time ceasing to be the norm.  Out-of-wedlock births are skyrocketing to such an extent that it is said that one-third of all American children are effectively being raised by their grandparents.  Sexuality today trumps lifetime commitment.
  • A media apparently determined to so ridicule religion and those who attempt to live by biblical principles that they will discredit those people into irrelevancy.
  • Widespread attempts to strip religious holidays such as Christmas and Thanksgiving of their spiritual significance
  • The replacement of time-honored concepts of Good and Evil and Right and Wrong with psychiatric terminology divorced from a Higher Power.  Result: lying under oath no longer means much to all those who don’t believe in God (however they may perceive Him).  Neither do cheating or stealing seem wrong.
  • Deconstruction of history strips our erstwhile national heroes of whatever noble qualities were once attributed to them.
  • Thoughtful parents so terrified of societal forces hostile to their children (bullying, hazing, pedophilia, rape, substance abuse, sexuality without commitment, ridicule of their beliefs, etc.) that they are pulling their children out of public schools and homeschooling them

 

 

CONCLUSION

 

All these variables swirled around during the memorable two-hour debate (meaningful because moderators asked searching thoughtful questions of the candidates, zeroing in on issues where candidates were perceived to be on thin ice).  Furthermore, moderators permitted candidates to respond and defend their actions and words.  Unlike so many meaningless public debates of recent years, where no real substantive dialogue took place, this debate was very real—indeed it was so gripping I felt it to be high drama!

 

Significantly, the Dec. 15 growing consensus appeared to be: our template is broken beyond repair; it almost has to be rebuilt from the ground up, starting with cutting politicians’ salaries in half, moving back to citizen governance with half-time government service and half time work in the real world.  Frugality once again.  Pay as we go: don’t spend any money we don’t have.  Create jobs rather than parasitically siphoning off the life blood of those who are working hard to create a newer and better society.  Bring God back—, more to the point: bring us back to God.  Respect right to life.  Bring back a society based on the twin bedrocks of God and country.

 

Frankly, I’m less than optimistic that what I felt in the auditorium on Dec. 15 will blossom into a much needed cultural revolution.  For both parties—not just the G.O.P.

 

However, in the darkest days of history, God has summoned great men and women to selfless service—Moses, Daniel, St. Paul, St. Nicholas, St. Francis, Luther, the Wesleys, Washington, Florence Nightingale, Clara Barton, Lincoln, the Roosevelts, Gandhi, Schweitzer, Churchill, Mother Teresa.

 

Why could not God do it again?

A Trembling World, Part Two

 A TREMBLING WORLD
 Part Two

 WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE

In earlier blogs, I have referred to my own fascination with the turning of zeroes, how every fin de siecle results in a fruit basket-upset of all the values by which society lives.

Well, the last eleven years have proved that my assumption remains valid.  Almost nothing is the same as it was back in the 1990’s.

For one thing, never before has our planet been more interconnected, with national borders meaning less than today.  The world wide web has nailed the lid on that old order.  Thanks to this web, dictatorships are falling like so many dominoes in the Middle East.  But what takes their place is anyone’s guess.

Perhaps the supreme question is this: Is democracy possible in the Muslim World?  Or does the theocratic nature of Islam preclude the establishment of a true democracy.  As I write these words, thoughtful Egyptians are extremely apprehensive about what may follow Mubarak.  No one knows if Tunisia is capable of establishing a free society.  The same is true of Libya.  Turkey has been tilting backwards from a secular free society towards theocratic governance.

What we do know is that all across the Middle East there is a yearning for the freedoms we westerners take for granted.

STAGGERING TOWARDS A NEW TEMPLATE

What is coming at us, no one knows.  All we know is that there are ominously deep cracks in the old one.  According to famed economist, Kenneth Rogoff, “Europe and the U.S. are not experiencing a typical recession or even a double-dip Great Recession. That problem can ultimately be corrected with the right mix of conventional policy tools like quantitative easing and massive bailouts.  Rather, the West is going through something much more profound: a second Great Contraction of growth, the first being the period after the Great Depression.  It is a slow-or no-growth waltz that plays out not over months but over many years. [Quoted by Rana Foroohar, in “The Decline and Fall of Europe (and maybe the West),” Time, August 22, 2011].

In the U.S., as elsewhere in the world, what is desperately needed is not politicians but statesmen: men and women who put the good of their country over mere re-election.  In times like these, weakness at the top will inevitably prove fatal.  Not a temporizing Chamberlain but a Washington, a Lincoln, a TR or FDR—a Winston Churchill.  This is why so many current “leaders” are going to be “weighed in the balances and found wanting.” (See William Broyles “Oval Office Appeaser” (Newsweek, Aug. 22, 29, 2011).

Foroohar is anything but optimistic in her analysis: “The euro is the only viable alternative to the dollar as a global reserve currency.  The British pound is history, and emerging-market currencies are still too small, volatile and controlled.  And while plenty of investors are fleeing into gold, the world gold market isn’t big enough to accommodate serious dollar diversification without massive inflation in gold itself. . . .  It is unclear at this stage whether the euro will even survive the debt crisis that has engulfed Europe, one that is in many ways worse than the one we’re experiencing in the U.S.”

So, will Germany be the white horse that rides to Europe’s rescue” Foroohar is doubtful: “Even in good times, it is never easy to balance the fiscal needs of a high-cost exporter like Germany with those of cheap and cheerful service economies like Greece, Spain, and Portugal.  In bad times, it’s impossible.”

What about the U.S., are we likely to be the white horse again like we were after World Wars I and II?  Foroohar’s assessment of that likelihood is bleak: “both Europe and the U.S. will continue to struggle with the crisis of the old order.  Populations will have to come to terms with no longer being able to afford the public services they want.  Investors will have to cope with a world in which AAA assets aren’t what they used to be.  Businesses will deal with stagnating demand, and workers will face flat wages and high unemployment. . . .  It’s the end of an era in which the West and western ideas of how to create prosperity succeeded.  The crisis in Europe and the challenges yet to come on either side of the Atlantic take us into a whole new era.”

So, with Japan still reeling in the East, does that leave China as the answer?  Not likely.  China’s current growth rate of 8% will inevitably stall, and ominously its people are pouring billions into a housing bubble that may be even worse than those experienced by Japan and the U.S. (See Niall Ferguson’s “Gloating China, Hidden Problems,” Newsweek, August 22, 29, 2011).

So what are our options?

Next Wednesday, we’ll discuss some of them.