Friday, December 31, 2010

Crystal Ball Gazing for 2011, Part 2a: The World

Here’s Part 2 of my crystal ball-gazing appraisal of what 2011 has in store for us. In Part 1, I looked at Canadian politics. In Part 2 today, I’ll look at the international situation, but I’ll do it in two parts, just to be confusing!

The reason for this approach is that I want to include a significant caveat in my predictions. While I don’t believe that there will be war in Korea this year, I want to emphasise that, if war does come (and despite my belief that it won’t, I know that I’ve been wrong before), it’s going to be a game changer.

So, in Part 2a, I’ll make predictions based on a no-war scenario. In Part 2b, I’ll focus on what might happen if there is war.

The Economy

Yes, the economy is going to remain the biggest story of 2011. Small gains made in the last year are going to be wiped out due to rising oil prices. We can expect triple-digit oil in the first part of 2011, which will lead first to economic stagnation, and eventually to recession. I don’t think that the recession will be as sharp as what we experienced in ’08 and ’09, but it will stifle economic growth in Europe and North America (and to a lesser extent in Asia).

Rising food prices will also contribute to inflation, which is going to be the watchword for the first half of 2011. As we ease into a new recession, however, prices will start to come down, and we can expect a recovery to occur in mid-2012. It’s going to be a bumpy ride over the next few years, and it’s all because of oil.

Yes, we’ve passed the peak of global oil production. Last year, I predicted that the term “peak oil” was going to be experience a break-out year in terms of use. It did. In 2011, however, it will become top of mind for everyone, busting down the last hurdles erected by a right-wing mainstream media that doesn’t want to tell consumers the truth. However, since even right-wing economists won’t be able to ignore the impacts of oil prices on a past-peak economy, the concept of peak oil will finally be front and centre, and talked about in the past tense (given that the peak actually appears to have occurred in 2005-06).

Globally, the fallout from the U.S.’s decision to use “quantitative easing” to keep artificially deflate the value of the dollar will continue to have international implications. Along with economic stagnation (which will contribute to the expected mild recession), it will lead to political stagnation amongst G20 nations. We heard about how a “currency war” was heating up during the second part of 2010; expect the “war” to continue, although kinder, gentler terms will be applied. China isn’t going to come around with regards to raising the value of the yuan. Therefore, the biggest losers in this currency shell-game will be Europe and Canada.

Here at home, we can expect the value of our dollar to continue to rise, in part as a result of U.S. quantitative easing, but also because of rising oil prices. As increased tar sands production comes on line, the dollar will continue to climb. The mid-summer recession might knock it back a little bit. I’ll predict that the dollar will climb to $1.20 U.S. by the end of July, but will fall back and end the year at $1.10 U.S.

This rise in the strength of the dollar, along with economic stagnation and a mild recession, will throw thousands of Ontarians out of their jobs in 2011, particularly those who hold well-paying manufacturing jobs. The auto sector stands to be hardest hit, as Canadians will stop buying cars as gasoline prices rise. Here in Ontario, we can expect very troubled times ahead relative to the rest of the country. As provincial unemployment increases, voters will be counting the days until it is able to throw Dalton McGuinty out of office in favour of Conservative Tim Hudak, who will promise a war on the public sector expenses. There won’t be any talk of “service cuts” in 2011, but we can expect the inevitable (along with more downloading to municipal governments) to occur in 2012.


In Canada, Afghanistan is going to be quiet, as the Canada’s role shifts from Kandahar to Kabul and from offence to training. The good news is that there will likely be fewer Canadians killed in Afghanistan throughout 2011.

The overall course of the war itself, however, is likely to be a bit of a different story, although I’m predicting that it’s largely going to be more of the same throughout 2011. And that means that we can expect to hear more good stories in the media about what the U.S., Canada and our NATO allies are doing for average Afghanis, interspersed with the odd story about road side bombs or Predeator drones blowing up wedding parties in the mountains.

The strategic situation for allied forces on the ground is likely to continue to get worse, but you’ll only find out about that if you follow non-North American media. Don’t expect any major breakthroughs by the Taliban in 2011, however; they’ll continue to bide their time until a disinterested U.S. decides to call it quits, which could start to happen at the end of 2011 or early in 2012. U.S. support for the corrupt Karzai government will continue to wane, and even the U.S. right-wing media might start to raise some issues about why Americans are supporting one of the most corrupt governments on the planet (if only to make Obama look bad!).

In Canada, the committee tasked with reviewing redacted documents regarding abuse and torture will report back to parliament. The committee will determine that while Canada should have been doing more to ensure that detainees rights were respected, that really there wasn’t much that Canada could have done once the handover occurred. While it will become clear that one or a small handful of Afghan detainees were tortured after being handed over to government forces by Canada, the Conservatives will claim vindication that this was all just a non-story anyway. The Liberals will try to score modest political points by suggesting that the Conservatives should have been less cavalier and more decisive in their actions. The NDP might say that we should have built our own prisons there in the first place to avoid having to hand anyone over (or maybe just that we should have never been involved in the invasion). The Canadian public will largely remain disinterested.


It’s difficult to predict what might happen with Iran this year. There’s been talk of a new security estimate being released by the U.S.’s myriad security agencies, which will point to Iran and claim that it is not a threat to Middle Eastern regional stability, and does not possess weapons of mass destruction. Despite this, though, we can expect that discussions will continue at all levels throughout the year regarding what is to be done with Iran.

I will make a bold prediction: nothing is going to happen in 2011. Look to some form of military involvement in 2012, as President Obama tries to cast himself in a positive light before the 2012 Presidential election. Democratic Party pundits might believe that a successful little bombing campaign (by U.S. or Israeli proxy warplanes) or outright war against Iran might be just the ticket for Obama’s re-election, especially since Americans have been clamouring for action against Iran for years (decades, really) now. We can expect Obama to start upping the anti-Iranian rhetoric during the last part of 2011.


Last year, I predicted that the government of President Zardari would fall by mid-year. I blew that prediction, as Zardari remains in control at the end of 2010. Can he hold on throughout 2011? That’s a big question, and I’m going to speculate that it’s likely Zardari will not be in charge at the end of 2011. Who, then, will be? It’s quite possible that we can expect to see a palace coup occur under the direction of General Ashfaq Kiyani, sponsored by the United States. Replacing the democratically elected Zardari with the popular General Kiyani (who would not be the lap dog the U.S. might want for the region, but who is likely the only one who can hold things together in Pakistan) will be a sensible move, and lead to a calming of tensions with India.

Pakistan is in turmoil at the end of 2010, still reeling from the devastating floods from the end of last summer. Hostilities within its own borders have left Pakistanis simmering over the impotence of the Zardari government, which has been trying to tread a fine line between American and Pakistani expectations (and which, for the most part, has done a decent balancing act). Things will come to a head with more U.S. attacks inside of Pakistan (whether through the use of conventional U.S. forces, CIA controlled drones, or the increasing and alarming use of U.S. sponsored mercenary forces).


Expect more unrest in Europe, as fall-out from the economic crisis continues to spread. Last year, Greece and Ireland required massive bail-outs. Pundits are saying Portugal and Spain are next. The only question: will the bail-outs on the Iberian peninsula trigger the sort of civil unrest we’ve seen going on in Greece, or the relative civility of Ireland? I’m thinking that Portugal risks a Greece-like meltdown, while things will be more staid in Spain.

Watch for unrest throughout Italy in 2010, and not just because of the recent Anarchists bombings in Rome. The governing coalition held together by Prime Minister Silivio Berlusconi is ready to fall apart, and a little violence might be enough to push it over the edge. Berlusconi will do whatever he can to cling to power. And then there’s the Italian economy, also highly at-risk. All in all, 2011 is going to be a bad year for Italy.

In the UK, Prime Minister Cameron will hold things together with his coalition partner Nick Clegg, although the popularity of the lap-dog Liberal Democrats will sink to an all-time low. Labour will continue their rebuilding process, and with an election still a number of years away, the government will enjoy relative peace. Not so for the British, as the UK will be wracked by unrest and protests, due to the imposition of austerity measures.

Expect free trade talks between the European Union and Canada to drag on with no end in site in 2011. And that, as far as I’m concerned, is a good thing.

Climate Change

Although labelled a modest success, the COP-16 climate summit in Cancun revealed what was really no secret: the major governments of the world aren’t ready to make necessary sacrifices to do anything at all to combat against global warming. Next year’s summit will be taking place in Durban, South Africa. It’s the last hope that we have for renewing or replacing the Kyoto Protocol. It’s going to end in failure. Expect the G20 to move into the vacuum left at the UN level as the only legitimate forum for future climate change negotiations. This will, of course, doom humanity to ever-increasing temperatures, as politicians will opt to be seen to be taking action rather than to actually take action.

In Canada, whether there is an election or not, climate change and the environment will take a back seat again. Harper and Ignatieff are largely on the same page when it comes to action on climate change: do as little as possible and wait for the U.S. to make the first move. And if you don’t believe me about Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff, you’re not paying attention to the sorts of things he’s been saying about the Alberta “oil” sands and the economy. Neither the Conservatives or the Liberals want to do anything to get in the way of oil extraction or globalization. Therefore, Canada will continue to be a corporatist team-player against the environment.

Expect public opinion in Canada to continue to marginalize those who are demanding that action be taken to address climate change. The percentage of Canadians who believed in the reality of climate change has continued to decrease over the past couple of years. With the tar sands oil producers launching a warm and fuzzy media campaign to entice Canadians into believing that our future lies on the extraction of dirty oil, we can expect fewer Canadians to want action taken to address climate change in 2011 than there were in 2010. As the need for economic growth continues to occupy centre stage in Canada’s media narrative, those talking about climate change as a political issue will be marginalized.

However, expect a growing awareness regarding climate change as a moral issue, and the synergies between climate change and social justice to continue to emerge throughout 2011. These conversations, however, will largely be predicated on the notion that a changing climate is inevitable, and will leave out the need for urgent actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.


Perimeter Security – we’ll be hearing a lot more about North American integrated border security in the coming year, and unlike with the Security and Prosperity Partnership, this less-ambitious (but still problematic plan, from the point of view of Canadian sovereignty), will actually go somewhere.

Polygamy – expect the government’s case in British Columbia against the Bountiful community to begin to collapse, which will lead to talk amongst politicos for the need to legislate some sort of statement that marriage can only be between two partners.

G20 Fall-Out – although most charges will eventually be dropped by the courts, and class action suits will proceed against the police, and federal and provincial governments, nothing much is going to change (aside from maybe some minor revisions to the Public Works Protection Act). Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair isn’t going to go anywhere – except perhaps on the lecture circuit to discuss unique police tactics employed at the G20. No, I’m not talking about “kettling” here; I’m referring to how the courts have been able to intervene with arrested individuals in such a way that havoc is being played out in social justice and anti-poverty organizations, as key individuals are shut out by bail conditions which prohibit political activism. What a great coup for the Powers that be: arrest all the protesters, impose bail conditions which prevent them from doing anything in the future, draw out hearing dates for as long as possible before dropping the charges. Do you think that there might come a time when this approach to managing dissent is universal in Canada?

The Rich get richer, the Poor get poorer (ok, that’s hardly a difficult prediction to make).

And the Pittsburgh Penguins win the Stanley Cup!

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