But this is still... the time of New Year cheer, so let me leave you with a more whimsical thought: All New Year's predictions inevitably fail.
Happy New Year, everyone. Welcome to the first newsletter of 2016. This is the time when I usually make light-hearted note of how those "predictions for the year ahead" articles are always laughably wrong, and then shrug my shoulders and join in on the crystal ball gazing fun. But I'm afraid this year things are a bit different.
You may have picked up on it yourself. For as long as I've been doing this, perhaps as long as my adult memory stretches back, there has always been the sense of encroaching tyranny and impending collapse. From the PATRIOT ACT and the Iraq war lies to the global financial crisis and the Hope and Change lies to the Libyan war and the NDAA and the Syrian war and on and on.
In one sense, this year begins no differently:
The world is a mess economically, with increasingly desperate central banks turning to negative interest rates to try to prolong the inevitable aftermath of the global QE heroin party. The great commodity deflation shows no signs of abating as global trade slows and the manufacturing sector in China (and, needless to say, much of the rest of the world) continues to contract. The TPP is about to be ratified and implemented and other regional trade pacts are right along behind it as the corporatocracy consolidates their control around the globe. And in a move that surprises none but the least imaginative the international tax grid noose that we were told was for those darn tax-evading corporations is cinched around our neck instead.
The world is a mess geopolitically, with Libya still in shambles, Ukraine still smoldering, Syria and Iraq torn to shreds and Iran back on the chopping block. The phoney-baloney media-hyped "New Cold War" with Russia continues to edge the world closer to engineered conflict and China continues to stretch its legs in the South China Sea, much to the stage-managed don't-throw-us-in-the-briar-patch "helplessness" of the US Navy and allies. And now North Korea is back with a bang (or a fizzle), selling lies about H-bombs that everyone is happy to buy because the North Korean Nuclear Waltz is good business for the military contractors.
The world is a mess politically, with the tyrants in power continuing to be tyrants and bigger tyrants waiting in the wings to out-tyrant them. Canada's new hereditary ruler seems hell-bent on repeating Obama's disaster note for note, right down to the art of breaking promises mere weeks after making them. Britain stumbles along through the porcine-porking nightmare of Cameron's reign while Europe's feckless cast of cretins begin to lose the plot completely. Japan keeps Abe in power because they can't think of anyone else to vote for and Malaysia devolves into a soap opera as Myanmar anoints the CIA's favorite dissident and Turkey edges closer to coup with Iran bracing for a messy election. And while an increasingly polarized American public wants to Trump Sanders or Bern Trump, their Diebold masters ensure they're Cruz'n for a Clinton...or a Rubio (who can tell the difference?).
But despite the similarities, something is different this time.
In previous years, the bad news always felt like a clumsy 1984 rewrite, or, to put it in more modern parlance, a gritty Star Wars reboot. The big bad Evil Empire with the fearsome Storm Troopers threatening the valiant Rebels of the old Republic with their latest cartoon villainy. "We'll lock you up for dissenting! Drone bomb you for resisting! Spying on everyone all the time? Sure, we'll do that, too!"
But there has always been some quantum of solace in the feeling that all of these oppressions were top-down. It felt more like an "us" against "them" where the "them" were easy to spot. At least we could all see the problem, and the solution was relatively easy: the opposite of whatever "they" want to do.
This year, though, the "us" against "them" seems more like an us against us. Yes, the Evil Empire is still there, but gradually the Rebels are starting to turn on each other. We've all watched for years as the battle lines have been drawn: men against women; black against white; rich against poor; gay against straight. Rage-inducing stories about rapes on campuses counter rage-inducing stories about false accusations of rape on campus. Rage-inducing stories about cops shooting blacks counter rage-inducing stories about "knockout games" against whites. Milquetoast comics like Jay Leno and Jerry Seinfeld are baffled by racism jibes and white western feminists flee from the Cologne assault story as out-of-state ranchers swoop in to claim land from the federal government that the federal government stole in the first place.
Suddenly it's not us against the Evil Empire. It's us against our neighbors. And this right as things come to a head. Right at the end of the 7 year QE bull run and inevitable economic downturn. Right as America (and the rest of the world) prepares for an end-of-Obama bubble pop just like the end-of-Bush bubble pop (and the end-of-Clinton bubble pop). Right as Europe makes a hard turn to the right and paradoxically finds its "European" identity where only fractious in-fighting nations existed before.
Peel all the layers of the onion away and there's one big, neon-colored flashing siren of a question staring us straight in the face. It has been there all along, but we've managed to ignore it. It's now being shoved in our face from every direction, even the Swiss Army chief's warning of coming unrest in Europe and admonition for everyone to arm themselves. It's a simple question: when the doo-doo hits the fan, who's got your six? Do you know your neighbors? Talk to them? Are you part of a community? Could you act as a group and get along if things really fell apart?
If you're like the vast majority of the modern, smartphone-addicted, social-media-savvy and socially inept navel-gazing neighbor-fearing atomized city dwellers who make up the bulk of the developed world, the answer is likely "no." And what does this mean for our future? It means that there will be no resistance to organize an X-wing strike on the Death Star's exhaust port even if we found the plans.
Now is the time. If ever there was a time (and there was). The time to build communities. To join community organizations. To find a local currency and support your local businesses. To plant the seeds of revolution both literally and figuratively. To put aside petty differences and realize that it really is us (the 99.9999999%) against them (the 0.00000001%) unless we fall for their divide-and-conquer shenanigans.
But maybe this is all for naught. Maybe we've passed the point of no return and the next wave of authoritarianism is here. Maybe by the end of the year (or the decade) everyone you know will be begging for a big strong political hero to come save them. Maybe the Emperor will take over the Council, Darth Vader will become President of the Galaxy, and everything you thought you knew will die to the sound of thunderous applause.
Or maybe I'm just being pessimistic and things aren't as bad as all that, after all. I'd love if someone could convince me of that.
But this is still (for the moment) the time of New Year cheer, so let me leave you with a more whimsical thought: All New Year's predictions inevitably fail. So let me make a specific prediction just so we can all be assured that it won't come true. Trump will be forced out of the GOP and run third-party, thus splitting the Republican vote and assuring 8 more years with a Clinton in the White House.
There, now that it has been predicted it certainly won't come to pass. You can thank me in November.