2012: The Year of Reckoning

If there is a year where judgement day will take place, where our actions of the past will determine our fate in the future and where justice will be served once and for all, this year is it and for a good reason. Many sources on both sides of the Atlantic have already touted 2011 as the worst year to date, as scandals hit the airwaves, many politicians were exposed for their wrongdoing, many countries faced default as they spent more than they could save, and most of the public was led to a false sense of security, resulting in protests against Wall Street in the US and other financial institutions in Europe and elsewhere, and the Arab Spring, which is already in its second year.  While 2011 exposed all forms of lies and deception, 2012 will definitely be the year of the truth- where people responsible for the scandals and corruption will be brought to justice, old institutions will collapse and a new world order will be created, and the public will finally start getting what they deserved (and what they have been longing for since 2000), which goes beyond the color of money and other forms of financial security.

Many have gone by the Mayan assumption that 2012 will be the year Earth ceases to exist and that we will all perish on 21 December, 2012. Speaking from our past experience with Y2K and Nostradamus and its connection with 11 September 2001, this theory will never happen in practice. It will be business as usual and we will all celebrate Christmas and ring in 2013, so you can rest easily. Yet we will see fundamental changes in our way of life as many institutions will cave into the pressure by the majority who have perceived them to be corrupt and dysfunctional. What has already occurred in the Middle East and North Africa will make its way to Europe and the Americas, both legally (through the election process) and illegally (through the coup d’ etat).  It may not be like the hot summer of 1968, but it could be even hotter both literally as well as in the context.  Here are some examples of changes that we may see in this year:

The End of the Euro and the Return of the Deutsche Mark:  This week marks the 10-year anniversary of the Euro, yet there is nothing to celebrate about given the events that occurred in the last year. Countries like Greece, Spain, Portugal, Ireland and now Italy have more debt than what their Gross Domestic Product can handle. France might follow and Germany is stretched at the breaking point after dishing out its share of money to help Greece. And now the UK wants to protect its British Pound and its own interest. It is hard to believe that the Maastricht and Lisbon Treaties, which were supposed to bind the 27 countries together (17 of which have the Euro currency), are becoming null and void, but given the problems the European countries are having to keep their fiscal policies in order, it is a sad reality. Despite attempts by Germany, France and now Denmark (which leads the European Parliament for the first six months of this year) to stabilize the Euro, elections in France and possibly elsewhere will make every attempt very difficult, if not impossible. Prediction: The Euro will fall and the national currencies, like the German Mark and the French Franc will return, but European policies will remain intact albeit as a loose-leaf political federation.

The End of the Dream Coalition: The sound defeat of the Free Liberals, combined with the scandals involving many members of the Christian Democrats and the lack of satisfaction among the Germans because of the Euro Crisis may spell the end of Angela Merkel’s regime as Chancellor of Germany. Already before the end of 2011 another scandal emerged with an ugly face involving the German President Christian Wulff as he was accused of obtaining a loan from a private bank, which has gotten the Opposition furious and the media happy to defame the former minister of Lower Saxony. Should he step down as president, it could create implications for possible early elections, which would not be a first in modern history. The last early elections of 2005 brought down Chancellor Gerhardt Schroeder and perhaps a beleaguered Merkel could face that possibility that her coalition may not last to the scheduled federal elections in 2013.

 

The End to Washington politics: Perhaps the most pivotal event taking shape in 2012 is not the Olympic Games in London, even though the city will be touted as the first one to host the Games five times since the inception in 1896. It will be the Presidential elections in November that will remake Capitol Hill and break the deadlock that has given President Barack Obama headaches in the past two years. Health care, the debt ceiling, spending cuts, reinforcing the nation’s infrastructure, and finding ways to reduce the unemployment has caused the Republicans and Democrats to harden their stances and the public to lose respect for Washington altogether. Even the President’s performance is considered appalling in the eyes of many Americans. Yet the challengers from the Republican side of the spectrum have not been able to come up with a clear cut plan as to tackle the problems the country has been facing since the Recession started in 2008. Unless the deference of responsibility ends and there is a unified plan to handle the problems that have been left behind from the era of President George W. Bush, we could see a very hot summer over the US which could change the landscape of the US once and for all. There are three ways that could happen: a Revolution like in 1968 marked by protests and violence, a Revolution of 1848 that includes overtaking Washington and New York, or a Revolution of 1936 in Spain, which marked the beginning of the three year civil war. None of these options are desirable. Prediction: Change will come to America but only through a President with a plan and the ability to relate to the needs of the Public and a Congress that will support every policy the President has to tackle the problems that are keeping the country from becoming the best.

 

The End of Big Oil and its influence: This theory may be far-fetched but is possible in practice. After facing lawsuits because of oil disaster after oil disaster (including the 2010 Disaster off the Gulf of Mexico and the most recent disaster in northern Spain), the increasing interest in renewable energy and electric automobiles and people becoming fed up with the monopoly, increasing oil prices and its cozy relationship with politicians, the influence of the big oil companies will diminish due to regulations and the need to keep their influence in check, something that people have been asking for since 2001 but have not had their wishes respected until now.

 

The End of Ignorance to the most pressing environmental problems:  If the world ever was to come to an end on 21 December 2012, it will be because of the natural disaster of apocalyptic proportions, similar to what was seen in The Day After Tomorrow. While 2011 was touted as the wildest weather in recent memory with unprecedented snowfall and blizzards, combined with flooding and extremely hot temperatures, this year will most certainly be considered hotter and wilder. Already, both the northern half of the US and all of Europe (minus the Alps) set the record for the warmest December in recent memory with a green and brown Christmas, and 2012 started off with spring weather in Germany and all places to the north. If one follows the trend, a warm December means a January full of hurricanes and an extremely hot summer with high humidity and storms. This was certainly the case in Winter 2006/07 in Germany, where a warm December was followed by hurricane Kyrill, which devastated northern Europe, brought travel to a total standstill, and coined the word kyrillize. If people do not realize the gravity of the situation with global warming and take action, no one will and the consequences will be unthinkable.

 

And finally….

The End of Rush Limbaugh and Biased Media: In the past 10 years, we have seen the media veer away from becoming a neutral medium where people receive their regular dose of 60 minutes of news on the local, national and international levels and divulge into far left and far right media, influenced by  celebs like Rachel Madow and Keith Obermann (left) and Glen Beck and Rush Limbaugh (right). With this divisive influence comes the split in family structure and value where members have been taking sides on certain issues and the ignorance of the most pressing issues that have been mentioned above.  Fortunately, thanks to the likes of CNN and the BBC, German public TV, like N24 and ARD, social networks like Twitter and Facebook, and lastly online blogs and columns, like this one, we are starting to see the influence from the extremes diminish. This is good as many people are really tired of the likes of Rush Limbaugh, who has harassed one celebrity too many too much. Earning six years worth $400 million to host his own talk show, he has influenced the public with his own version of the news to a point where many have believed his propaganda and have tried to encourage others to refer to him for guidance. Whoever says that Michael J. Fox is faking his Parkinson’s Disease and that oil is a renewable resource must be way too insane to write a column or speak on the radio. Once the elections of 2012 are finish, we will also see the downfall of many people like him and the return to reality and real news with neutral information, something that will definitely help us become more informed and indeed smarter.

 

But before seeing what 2012 will really bring us, there are some memos worth noting that will help determine whether or not the theories brought forth will come true.

 

FLENSBURG FILES NEWS FLYER:

Operation Wulff:  The background to the credit scandal involving German President Christian Wulff is as follows: During his time in office, he obtained a home loan from a private bank with low interest rate to purchase a house, which is considered illegal according to German law. He tried to avert the scandal by not mentioning it in his Christmas speech or in any of his interviews and apparently threatening the yellow press and other newspapers, which is also considered illegal. Support for Mr. Wulff is waning and it may be a matter of time before Chancellor Merkel will be forced to elect a new president- another torpedo hit to a Dream Coalition that has been battered with scandals since 2009.

Link: http://www.dw-world.de/dw/article/0,,15642945,00.html

Farewell to Arms?:    2011 was also a record year of deaths of famous people world wide, including those who passed on either shortly before or during the holidays. Among them include Vaclav Havel, the former president of the Czech Republic who led the revolution of Czechoslovakia (a.k.a. Velvet Revolution) in 1989 and granted a Velvet Divorce from Slovakia in 1993. He was president of Czechoslovakia from 1989 to 1992 at the time of the Velvet Divorce and the Czech Republic from 1993 to 2003. He died on 18 December at the age of 75.  Dutch actor Johannes Heesters, a popular figure in the German film industry famous for Die Fledermaus (the Bat), Bel-Ami, and the Otto series passed away peacefully on Christmas Eve at the age of 108. And Kim Jong Il of North Korea died on 17 December after a long illness at the age of 70. He is succeeded by his son Kim Jong un as leader of the country and hope is still there for the country to lay down its arms and hostility and embrace peace, although it still remains many kilometers apart. All three figures were controversial in one way or another because of political spats that were considered inappropriate in the public’s eyes, yet deep down realized that peace was important and to a certain degree have set the precident for the next one to enusre that peace and prosperity dominate the global playing field for the next generation.

Links: http://www.dw-world.de/dw/article/0,,6683647,00.html (Havel)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Johannes_Heesters (Heesters)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kim_Jong-il

 

The Drive to End Nationalism in Germany: In response to the recent terrorist attacks by the right wing extremists in central and eastern Germany, the drive to consider the prohibition of the NPD in Germany is gaining steam, even though critics consider this futile and will fail at the German Supreme Court in Karlsruhe. It is unclear if and when this will happen, but in order to successfully ban the party, one might want to consider rewriting the constitution, written while Konrad Adenauer was in power in the 1950s, and state that all parties that stress the importance of xenophobism, nationalism or nazisim are forbidden, and that law enforcement should be reinforced to ensure that the law is kept. A discussion on this can be found here:

Link: http://www.dw-world.de/dw/article/0,,15597828,00.html

 

Lowest Unemployment in 20 Years in Germany: Despite the Euro-Crisis, Germany had a record year as far as employment is concerned. During all of 2011, an average of 2.7 million Germans were unemployed, an average percentage of 8%.  Of which, 10.5% came from the eastern half of the country and 5.6% from the western half. This is the lowest since 1991, the first year of a reunited Germany.  Despite a slight increase of 67,000 people in December, the total number for the last month was 2,78 million. In addition, the Gross Domestic Product rose by 3% for the whole year, making it one of the most productive countries in the world. Unfortunately, despite the rosy numbers, dangers lurk for 2012 as the crisis in Europe may eventually drag Germany down thanks to cuts in programs and the country’s budget and companies’ planning on laying off employees, which could result in an increase in the number of unemployed. This was already announced by Chancellor Merkel during her Christmas Eve address, televised on German TV. It is unclear whether she will be right on her predictions or if Germany will buck the trend.

Links: http://www.dw-world.de/dw/article/0,,15642176,00.html

http://www.mdr.de/nachrichten/alos100.html

 

Double Storm to pummelt Europe: For those wanting to celebrate Epiphany this weekend and take down the Christmas tree, one will have to calculate Ulli and Andrea crashing the party and leaving a mess for Europeans to clean up. On Tuesday, Ulli produced winds as high as 150 kmph (75 mph) in places along the North Sea coast and the Harz Mountain region in northern Thuringia and parts of Lower Saxony and Saxony-Anhalt, uprooting trees, tearing roofs off houses and creating traffic chaos. Thursday and Friday, the storm’s sister will wreak havoc on the region with much higher wind gusts, combined with hail and snow in many areas, making it one of the strongest storms since Kyrill invaded Europe in 2007. More information will come soon.

Link: http://www.ndr.de/regional/wetter327.html

 

 

Thanks for telling us how to drive, (….)!

It is a site that none of us wanted to see after 2008, the year of the economic collapse. At about this time last year, we were dealing with $4 a gallon gas in a time span between Easter and Labor Day, with some cities dealing with prices at or over $5/gallon, like Chicago, New York, and Dallas. It was a site where everyone was fighting the windmills in cutting costs, just so we could keep the cars in the garages as often and as long as possible. We took whatever forms of public transportation needed if we didn’t have a bicycle. We focused on vacations that were more local and did not even bother with a trip to places far and away. And last but not least, since the oil prices went as far as $147 a barrel, resulting in prices of other commodities spiking as well, we had to go on a diet in terms of our shopping habits, as everything was way too expensive- food included.

While prices did go back down to $2.50/gallon by the middle of last year, guess what?  Have a look at the picture below:

Photo taken by Kari Lucin of the Worthington Daily Globe

 

 

Yep, gas prices are back on the rise again, and this time, there seems to be no stopping the trend. We’ve seen gas prices increase by an average of 70 cents a gallon since this Christmas and it would not be surprising if the entire US faces $4/gallon gas by the time Memorial Day comes around. Already, six states have broken the mark with many more yet to follow, including Minnesota (where the photo was taken). By the time July comes around, travellers will be dealing with prices never seen before- $4.50 to even $5.50/gallon gas!  There is no doubt in the minds of many that many highways will be at half-full capacity at the most when this happens.

If you look at the European shores now, a lot of Americans would feel a lot of sympathy if they saw how much we usually pay on average- that is if the situation is normal and not what it is right now. It is usual to pay 1.30 Euro/Liter unleaded gasoline in Germany, and at a time back in 2006, diesel was less than that. Converting the figures into the English measurements, that would mean about $7 a gallon. However, as you can see in the picture below, we’re also feeling your pain. While travelers normally pay more for gasoline than in the US, gas prices are skyrocketing to levels never seen before in modern history, even though the country invests more in other forms of infrastructure, like passenger rail and busses.

 

Typical gas prices in Germany- TODAY! Photo taken by the author.

 

 

So who do we have to blame for all this? Many people would blame Moamar Gaddafi in Libya for torturing his  people through a civil war, something that the allied troops are trying to put an end to by toppling his regime. That would be a first reaction given the fact that the country has been supplying 20% of the world’s supply of oil. But other countries in northern Africa and the Middle East have been trying to keep up with the growing demand for oil plus Big Oil has been working on finding new supplies. We can blame Big Oil for dictating the gas prices and for quashing other forms of alternative energy, like hydrogen cells, wind, geothermal, and even solar energy. Highly conclusive argument since it has been destroying the environments around the world with reckless oil drilling, and despite regulations passed by the Obama administration and other governments to restrict deep water drilling, in light of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the companies are finding ways to circumvent the laws through perverted measures, like cozying up with the politicians.

But what about us?  Perhaps we as a society should rethink the way we have been using energy resources and not pay attention to the external influences that have been governing our way of life for at least three decades. In the past three decades, we have been consumed by all kinds of stuff that we have been told what to do or what to buy and not think about the long-term consequences of our actions. Whenever there is an SUV that is big enough to fit eight people and eight cupholders, we buy it without knowing the consequences of using it (namely paying more for gas and maintenance). Instead of borrowing a cup of brown sugar to make a sweet potato casserole, we commute 30 km to the nearest supermarket to purchase a package.  If a highway is too narrow and a bridge too light for traffic, we replace it with a six lane freeway and a bridge that is bland but serves as its only function: to be 100% “free of maintenance,” not knowing that it would encourage more driving, more wear and tear, and in the end more money for maintenance. Yet we still continue this process as if there is no tomorrow, and it is not surprising that we are all in a fix that may no longer possible to break out of.

End result? We are cutting back on what we enjoy the most, like photography tours, long distance travelling to various exotic places, and running separate errands individually, embracing our neighbors like we knew them for many years (even though we don’t know them at all) taking advantage of whatever public transportation is available and doing some things differently in order to cut costs wherever needed. In one case, an American student living in Germany recently decided to fly from Copenhagen to Minnesota instead of flying out of Frankfurt as flight costs are much cheaper in the Danish capital, a city that is worth seeing and accessible by train. While the last part may be a bit crazy, these measures show the willingness to people all over the world that there are alternatives to using the car which costs a lot of money. It’s more of a question of how to do it without hurting their own interests, and this is exceptionally hard, given the current circumstances.

While we may have seen gas prices fall in light of the economic crash in 2008, it is highly unlikely that this will repeat itself again. And like the Europeans who have done this already, we need to rethink the way we travel, and politicians need to rethink the concept of expanding public transportation, instead of cutting funding for many projects, as more people are demanding alternatives to the car. It may be expensive at first, but in the long term, it will save households much money by reducing the costs for travelling by car, and families will benefit from these alternatives in many different ways.

It is highly unlikely that the debate over high gas prices will be the focus of the next elections in 2012 (US) and 2013 (Germany), but it will hang around the chambers of the two houses of parliament, to a point where politicians will be so annoyed by it that they will investigate this and ask the public about htis topic. Nine times out of ten, they will be due for a shock…..

 

Note: Thanks to Kari Lucin for providing the photo of the gas prices in the US at present.