Friday, March 13, 2009

News Tidbits

I try not to incessantly harp on the negatives. Its not good for the soul. But the consumerist/materialist society we lived through for the last decade was not healthy either. I view the downfall of the financial rackets as a net positive. The organic regeneration that will come from it will leave us far better off than if everything just continued on forever.

That's easy for me to say. I haven't been caught up in the negative side effects. I haven't lost my job. And I haven't lost 50% of my net worth. And even though I was screaming from the rooftops trying to warn people before it all happened, I hardly feel any satisfaction in calling it right. But considering the mainstream media does such a piss-poor job of reporting the actual facts, I guess somebody has to do it.

Do try to remember that even though the world looks like it is going to hell, it has looked that way many times before and we've ended up just fine. With that in mind, I give a reminder to 2 of my 12 Themes for 2009:

- Worldwide social unrest or even war as currency collapses, unemployment and falling asset prices shake people's faith in their governments and scapegoats are made of traditional enemies

- Social "witch hunts" for those responsible for the common plight. Multiple scandals uncovered. Persecution and enormous tax increases on the extremely wealthy

We know from studying history that financial collapses, scandals and military conflict are closely correlated. There is a simple explanation for that. When social mood hits a tipping point and people become skeptical and angry, they are more willing to sell stocks and pull their money out of banks whereas before they would think long term and give the benefit of doubt. They tend to seek out people who have done wrong, whereas before they would completely ignore the warning signs. And they are quick to find scapegoats for their problems and "shoot first, ask questions later," whereas before diplomacy was able to solve any problem, no matter how big.

We are undoubtedly on the downslope of social mood. So when I see multiple news stories in a single day about nations at an inflection point making militaristic gestures toward others, I worry more than I would otherwise.

US Warships Head For South China Sea After Standoff

A potential conflict was brewing last night in the South China Sea after President Obama dispatched heavily armed American destroyers to the scene of a naval standoff between the US and China at the weekend.

Mr Obama’s decision to send an armed escort for US surveillance ships in the area follows the aggressive and co-ordinated manoeuvres of five Chinese boats on Sunday. They harassed and nearly collided with an unarmed American vessel.

Washington accused the Chinese ships of moving directly in front of the US Navy surveillance ship Impeccable, forcing its crew to take emergency action, and to deploy a high-pressure water hose to deter the Chinese ships. Formal protests were lodged with Beijing after the incident.

On a day that Mr Obama and his senior officials met the Chinese Foreign Minister, Yang Jiechi, in Washington, Beijing showed no sign of backing down. Its military chiefs accused the unarmed US Navy ship of being on a spying mission.

The US keeps a close eye on China’s arsenal, including its expanding fleet of submarines in the area. Washington says that the confrontation occurred in international waters, but Beijing claims nearly all the South China Sea as its own, putting it in conflict with five other nations that have claims over different parts of the waters.

Half the world's merchant traffic by tonnage passes through it, two-thirds of it crude oil. Whoever controls sea passage through the South China Sea has power over some of the largest and fastest growing economies in the world. And it is this which makes even a water fight a matter not only of local, but of international concern.

Japan Warns It May Shoot Down North Korean Satellite Launcher

Japan today threatened to shoot down a satellite that North Korea plans to launch early next month if it shows any signs of striking its territory.

Tokyo's warning that it would deploy its multibillion-dollar missile defence system raised tensions in the region after North Korea said that it had identified a potential "danger area" near Japanese territory along the rocket's flight path.

The regime told the International Maritime Organisation that the missile would be launched during daylight between 4 and 8 April, and that its boosters would fall into the Sea of Japan – about 75 miles (120km) from Japan's north-west coast – and the Pacific Ocean.

Officials in Tokyo said they reserved the right to destroy any threatening object in mid-flight, despite North Korean warnings that it would consider such a move an act of war.

These kinds of things have been happening for years. And if I didn't know the implications of the socionomic and generational tendencies at different times, I would be inclined to brush it all off as just more posturing. But the two separate measurements of social actions tell me that we are in a period where we are drawn toward escalation, whereas before we were attracted away from it. Like magnets.

My eyes are more fixated on the Japanese situation. Their economy and social mood is in tatters right now. Leadership is like a revolving door. A new one gets elected and after a few months his approval ratings are in the single digits. All it takes is one lunatic to think that they can solve their problems by greasing the war machine against a "weak" target.

I hate having to put such a negative spin on matters. But consider how paranoid everyone had been about a WWIII breaking out ever since the last one ended. Had I been around and following the same two methods of quantifying societal action, I would have been telling everyone not to worry. Fears of cold war escalation were totally inappropriate according to both theories. Today is a different story. It would have to be a complete historical anomaly if we escape this global economic crisis without large-scale military conflict.

On the bright side, there are signs that people are starting to make selfless decisions to accommodate the well-being of their fellow citizens. Consider this story: Beth Israel Workers Agree To Go Without To Save Jobs

Okay, perhaps an article about workers agreeing on a pay-cut doesn't appear to be good news on the surface. But consider that lower wages are a necessary precursor to a recovery in employment. The fact that it is being done voluntarily is a good sign.

And if that wasn't enough to cheer you up...

(photo courtesy of Reuters/Jayanta Shaw)

Just because we're doomed, doesn't mean we can't smile and cover ourselves in paint!

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