As usual the million or so in Times Square rang in the New Year with much fanfare as well as endless rock groups and the usual funny hats - this time highlighting 'Planet Fitness' . When the big ball hit bottom - Time T zero - the crowd erupted in jubilation and the faces betrayed an expectation that this year would truly be happy, as opposed to yet another downer.
It's always an expectation worth having, but seldom realized on the global level (though it may well be for the favored few on the individual level). What I want to do here is to look ahead and see what might be coming our way in the realms of the economy, climate, global policy and national politics. In general I foresee many more upheavals, especially as climate change continues to accelerate and ISIS seeks to make a 'last stand' with its "caliphate" nonsense.
Most Americans are already aware the Federal Reserve finally raised interest rates by a quarter of a point last month, after nearly eight years of near zero rates. As the rates increase by four times or more in the coming year the markets will be rattled as stocks will no longer have the virtual "free money" from the Fed's bond buyback program (quantitative easing) to rely on. Coupled with the higher interest rates investors will have to contend with dropping oil prices as the glut continues, as well as volatilities in the commodities markets. Stocks, as the WSJ noted two days ago are already priced sky high so there may be few places to put money if people want more yield.
I don't foresee a recession or anything but people ought to be aware of the underlying sources of volatility and perhaps be prepared for a market correction later in the year, likely October. Smart citizens will use whatever bounty they get -from more $$$ saved on gas, or raises - to salt savings away, pay off debts and not take on new debts.
The freakish weather with skewed jet stream and effect of El Nino last month ought to have alerted people to what lies ahead, especially this spring. Alas, the flooding, F4 etc. tornadoes in December 2015 will be just a prelude to events this spring. Also, expect a summer like no other before with extended heat waves lasting up to two weeks or more. People will be pining for the "balmy" days of December - at least those in the eastern U.S.
Sea level rise and its threat to small island nations, e.g. Vanuatu, will continue especially as the rate of glacier melting is increasing. According to a paper published in Nature last month by Kristian K. Kjeldsen in concert with 15 other authors, the Greenland ice sheet has lost an astounding 9,103 gigatons since 1900. Most importantly, the rate of loss has been increasing with a doubling of annual loss between 2003 and 2010.
The complex work entailed using a merger of multiple information sources, including: distinct marks let by retreating glaciers, extensive aerial photography, and satellite observations to infer the total mass loss of the ice sheet. The paper indicates the glacier retreat and ice loss was incepted around 1900 at the end of a cooling period as human -caused global warming kicked in, e.g. with the advent of the automobile and much more fossil fuel burning, especially from coal.
Global policy will focus mainly on the terror bogey posed by ISIS. The recent victory by Iraqi troops in driving these bugs from Ramadi will be used as a pivot point to further oust these rats from their burrows, as it should. At the same time, nations will ramp up security, and right wing groups in Europe - including Marine Le Pen's National Front - will continue to howl as a million new refugees from the Middle East pour in. At some point the EU may realize that its Schengen accord simply can't work since it allows terrorists to easily pass through borders (And has also allowed gun running, mainly from Slovakia, into Western Europe).
Iran will also be a focus as the Obama administration is already putting out new sanctions for perceived infractions in the recent nuclear deal. (Iran has protested that any such imposition of sanctions is a violation by the U.S. of the agreement).
Meanwhile, at home there will be pressure to increase NSA mass surveillance and have tech firms cooperate by allowing "back door" entry of the security state into much used devices and apps like 'What's App'. But this will be strongly resisted. Also, as WSJ columnist William Galston noted in a recent column:
"We remain the land of the free, but are we still the 'home of the brave'?"
Well, maybe not so much if we allow ourselves to continue to be gamed by the terror card, failing to appreciate the risk is far greater that we will be felled by cancer than by a terrorist's bullets or bombs. As Galston also points out:
"During the past decade seven times more Americans died from lightning strikes in the U.S. than at the hands of Islamic terrorists".
And as I wrote in a post last month, more than 200,000 Americans have been killed by their fellow citizens using easily purchased weapons (such as the AR-15) compared to only 48 killed by terrorists. Based on these figures, it's time we got our perceptions in order - meaning in accord with reality.
This will likely be as big a source of upheaval as the climate events facing us. The Republican Party itself faces internal upheaval fomented by the rise of populist Donald Trump - who, if not brought back to Earth in the caucuses and primaries - could spawn a contentious convention in Cleveland this summer.
Trump is an enigma as well as an aberration to Republicans, which has caused a certain segment to develop the conspiracy theory that he is really a "Hillary Trojan horse" - to blow up the GOP nomination. This is based on the records showing his having voted for Obama in 2008, and also photos showing the Clintons at his wedding. Hence, the GOP conspiracy theorists distrust that Trump is truly one of their own and not a Clinton "plant".
All of this may be much ado over nothing. Trump, despite his rise in the polls, still has to translate all that populist energy and his poll numbers into actual primary and caucus wins. But can he? Many Trump supporters interviewed in recent days say they are not sure whether they will caucus in Iowa. That is where the bear sit with the buckwheat, so to speak. Caucusing is not like just pulling a lever in a voting booth, it entails going out on a likely frigid night in February and meeting with other supporters of different candidates to talk and jaw about good points and bad of the respective candidates then coming to an agreement. It can last for hours, and while Trumpies may love yelling at his rallies it remains to be seen if they will actually caucus.
In addition, recent reports (in the WSJ, and TIME) disclose that it is actually Ted Cruz who has the ground organization in Iowa and NH. It is his team that is going door to door to make sure people will actually show up to caucus, or cast ballots. Trump, despite his bluster and polls, has no similar ground game so rational observers see him having a hard time winning.
In terms of the Democrats, Bernie Sanders needs to win in Iowa and New Hampshire to engender any kind of momentum and "upheaval". Right now the signs aren't good, and the ridiculous low profile debates sponsored by the DNC haven't helped him gain as much name recognition as he'd like. It appears quite evident that DNC Hillary supporters like Debbie Wasserman-Schulz realized for "Hill" to prevail they needed to keep the Dem debates to a minimum and also at nonsensical times, like Saturday night (for the last one) and on a Sunday with NFL Playoff games for the next.
But we will see. Despite the efforts to keep Bernie at bay, none of it may work if he can catch fire especially with more African Americans.
On that note, Happy New Year! At least let's hope it's happier than the last!