Sunday, May 25, 2008

The Grim Reaper stretches his legs

The news is pretty grim - have you had a look?

China: 69 dams in danger after earthquake
South Africa immigrant violence leaves 25,000 displaced
Tornadoes rake Oklahoma as Midwest tallies damage
Fed warns on inflation as oil prices continue to rise
Bangladesh reports first human case of bird flu
Myanmar still in emergency after cyclone: UN aid
Buffett sees "long, deep" U.S. recession

In an Olympic year, China is scrambling to deal with imminent dam bursts, 80 000 estimated dead in earthquakes with continuing aftershocks, meanwhile the Olympic torch has been shelved. No one is thinking about that now.

South Africa, another country hoping to host 'world games' (the Soccer World Cup in 2010) is facing a lot more crisis than China. The xenophobia/mob violence is perhaps the most troubling. It ought to be obvious by now that if such large scale rioting can erupt with no warning, it can happen in 2010 without warning (that's if it dissipates in the interim), which is an unconscionable threat to the safety of tens of thousands of foreign visitors. Given the inflationary pressures at work, I predict that this violence and criminality will pick up speed towards 2010. South Africa also has many other troubles, including a dodgy electricity network, virtually no public transport and a deep seated corruption in government. The last may not seem to be a problem, except that government will say everything and do nothing, meaning we can't reasonably expect the country's problems to be solved any time soon.

The USA is experiencing crappy weather, and we will have to see whether we have another season of big hitting Hurricanes. While Americans are seeing the worst property market figures in 20 years, they are also facing stagflation - rising prices of goods, but zero growth. And as the world's largest consumer of energy (and largest polluter), at 25% (China consumes 9%), America is being winded by some very hard economic right hooks. The presidency is looking increasingly like a booby prize for whomever is unlucky enough to win it.

H5N1 has been placed on the back burner, but it hasn't disappeared. It's kicking around in Seoul, one of the most densely populated cities in the world. It's also dancing around Bangladesh, Japan and Indonesia.

Finally,if your country hasn't been mentioned above, the bad news still extends to you, because we are now moving fairly rapidly towards a global recession, and then a depression. We can expect oil prices to cruise to about $150 and obviously those commentators yelling 'bubble' will hopefully have their own thought bubbles popped. I had hoped for more sanity in our response to $135 oil. But we remain caught up in a collective sense - a delusion - that everything is just going to carry on humming. Normal is gone.

I don't know about you, but I think there has been a gut feel - among many ordinary people - that we have been heading for trouble for some time. That we just couldn't continue carrying on the way we have been. Reality may take a while still to dawn, and unfortunately when it does, people will have nervous breakdowns, systems will also break down - because even the real world can't stand too much reality. Our world has picked up a terminal disease, and has started dying.

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