10. Natural Disasters
Ok, this may sound like a given. After all, what year doesn’t come with a slew of natural disasters? From earthquakes to erupting volcanoes, we can certainly expect Mother Nature to rear her head in 2012. The question, really, is how bad of a disaster season will the world experience? If 2011 was an indication, we can expect some serious carnage.
While one shouldn’t expect apocalyptic level disasters, we still better brace ourselves. Major earthquakes (those that register 6.0 or higher on the Richter scale) are on the rise. There were 205 major quakes last year- up from 2010 and 2009 that registered 173 and 161 quakes, respectively. It’s not improbable that a major quake will be seaborne, which in turn, could trigger another massive tsunami like the one that devastated the coast of Japan last year. Remember the volcanic eruption in Iceland last year that shut down air traffic on both sides of the Atlantic? Well dear readers, there are a number of simmering hot spots around the world that are primed to blow. Hurricanes, tornadoes, forest fires, sink holes, mud slides, and the like are all on tap for 2012.
Scientists pretty much agree that the earth is warming up, though they can’t come to a consensus on why. What has been evidenced, however, are definite changes in weather patterns around the world. 2012, unfortunately, is primed to bear the brunt of these changes. So batten down the hatches, make sure your insurance is paid up, and good luck.
9. Middle East Conflict: Target – Iran
The Middle East will continue to be a hotbed of international attention and intrigue. In particular, the confrontation with Iran will come to a head. Expect to see military action of some kind carried out against the Iranian regime. The pressure is already being amped up. Several world leaders have already publicly proclaimed that Iran cannot acquire a nuclear weapon, with the implication that if they do, military action will be imminent.
In this, increasingly heavy economic sanctions have been levied against Iran. To further exacerbate the growing tensions, a top Iranian nuclear scientist was apparently killed recently under questionable circumstances. Iran is crying foul play and pointing fingers at the various nations that are lining up against them. With stronger economic sanctions in the pipeline, Iran is also threatening to close down the strategic Strait of Hormuz (where 20% of the world’s oil transits through). The US, for its part, has stated that it will not allow this to happen, and has moved more military assets into the area as a response.
While America is making an effort to withdraw itself from military conflicts around the world, it will find itself drawn into another one. In fact, with the tension between Iran and Israel being equally as tense, an independent action by Israeli forces could also be the trip wire that ignites a conflict involving US military forces. One thing is for certain, with the constant threat of nuclear proliferation and oil flow disruption, Iran is a major problem that is not only not going to go away peacefully, but one that will have to be dealt with in 2012.
8. Sports, Sports and More Sports
Professional sports are a $70 trillion+ industry worldwide. That’s a lot of money folks. It’s also a sure indicator of the passion and love that we all share for our sport of choice. We feel good when our teams march, run, and jump to victory and we feel the weight of despair when they come up short. We follow the every move of every player – on and off the field of play. So it’s no surprise that we are interested in what can be expected (and hoped for) in the world of sports in 2012. Obviously, we can’t cover the entire spectrum of sporting events – but we can touch on a couple that a lot of us follow.
First up is our main man and golfer supreme Tiger Woods. Yeah, ol’ Tiger has had a bad stretch the last couple of years. But the drama of his extra-marital flings and subsequent divorce are finally behind him. We’ve seen a reemergence of sorts at the close of 2011 when Tiger finally was able to place himself back in the win column with a victory at the Chevron Invitational. Expect Tiger’s mojo to remain intact in 2012 and for him to launch a major challenge at breaking the Jack Nicholas record for number of wins at a major. Tiger only needs 4 wins to tie and he will get 2 of them in 2012. Look for Tiger to make a victorious showing in the Masters and the U.S. Open. Without a doubt the world will be watching.
Speaking of the world watching, there’s the UEFA Champions League championship game. Drawing a record audience of 178 million in 2011, this number is expected to be just as large when the final pairing is decided in 2012. Soccer (or football for the international crowd) is, without doubt, the most popular sport in the world, and the European professional leagues feature some of the world’s best players. The UEFA Champions League, which features at least 4 of the best clubs from each of the top European football leagues, pits the best against the best. With a fervor that is difficult to quantify, fans follow the pitch of their teams with a passion that is akin to reverence. 2012 is no different, with national prestige hanging in the balance. Expect perennial favorite Manchester United to make another run at the gold, along with Spanish powerhouse Real Madrid. While it’s easy to go with the depth and talent of Man U you can expect the English to be upset (again) by the Spaniards. Real Madrid has a bit to prove after rival Spanish club Barcelona’s magical run last year and will take home the coveted cup in 2012.
7. The Occupy Wall Street Will Fade To a Footnote In History
The Occupy Wall Street movement didn’t start out as such (which, I suppose, is usually the case for such things). It began as a protest, and a fairly simple one at that. The idea was to show support against the perceived corruption of multinational corporations and major banks that were seen as the cause of the economic problems challenging America. Apparently the idea struck a chord. What began as a demonstration in Liberty Square, located in Manhattan’s financial district, spawned into a grass roots movement that no one saw coming.
Six months in, the calls for economic reform and the occupy Wall Street protest were encamped in over 100 major American cities. Even more telling, a number of countries globally (at least 80, according to reports) took up the cause as well. The problem, however, is that any movement- regardless of the validity of the cause- needs leadership and structure to survive and prosper. This doesn’t seem to be the case with the Occupiers. There is a very real desire for economic reform, but without a plan, the only thing they have is a bunch of kids standing outside in the rain with signs.
As cities get tired of dealing with them, as the protesters realize that they have to eventually go to work in order to eat, and the economy improves…well, the air will finally run out of this particular movement. This is too bad. America needs to rethink the manner in which business is conducted. There is a very real disparity between the rich and the poor that is endangering the very ideal of the American Dream. These folks were on the right track; unfortunately good intentions alone will not sustain a reform of the status quo.
6. Scientific Breakthroughs
The thing about scientific breakthroughs is that outside of scientific community, they don’t seem very noteworthy. However, these breakthroughs, inventions and discoveries are the basis for every gadget and toy that we enjoy using today. No one thought much about the development and then introduction of the Internet as a free source application (as opposed to a proprietary one) – and now we probably couldn’t imagine life without the Web.
2012, for its part, will have its share of medical breakthroughs that on the surface may not seem like much at first, but will nevertheless play a pivotal part in what is to come in the near future. One of the most interesting things that the New Year will bring will be the beginning of a venture called the Human Connectome Project. This bold endeavor seeks to map the ‘wiring’ or connections of the human brain. This project holds the promise of not just learning more about the most advanced computer on the planet, but perhaps keys to unlock the remedy to various maladies like Alzheimer’s disease.
Also expected in 2012 are the results from experiments to prove or disprove the existence of the Higgs Particle (also referred to as the God Particle). For the uninitiated, the Higgs Particle theory attempts to explain why particles (like photons for example) have mass. The theory surmises that there is an otherwise undetectable field that occupies all space that causes particles that move through it to experience drag and therefore induces mass. If you’re like me, you might say, “so what?” Yeah, I don’t really know either. But it’s a REALLY big deal for scientists (so much so, that this stuff has been featured on CNN and other media outlets). The basic point is that the results – either yea or nay – will have an impact on the manner in which physics is understood and approached.
One last breakthrough in 2012 that is a little easier to wrap our brains around is pretty cool. If you watch sci-fi flicks, you probably have seen characters use flexible screen computers, newspapers and the like. Imagine, for example, of being able to take your iPad or other tablet and roll it up like a magazine and stick it in your pocket. Well, we’re not quite there yet, but this year Samsung and Nokia plan on rolling out the first mobile phones with flexible displays. In 2012, the future is now!
5. The Arab Spring Continues and Spreads
Like most movements, it began “simply” enough. Namely, a guy by the name of Mohammed Bouazizi set himself on fire in a public square in Tunisia in response to the social injustices taking place there. Henceforth referred to as the “burning man”, this one moment of self-immolation sparked a cry for freedom and action that spread across the region. Protests erupted, folks planned and organized, and governments fell.
This was and is the real thing. Look at the results so far: Tunisian president Ben Ali was ousted as a result and the government overthrown. Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and his government suffered the same as their Tunisian counterparts. Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi was eventually killed after the people rose up. The spark of freedom that exists in the hearts of everyone only needed to be kindled. Now a blaze, a wave of revolution is spreading across the Middle East, carried on a current of discontent borne of suffering and oppression.
But the job is far from done. Syria, the next likely scene of revolution, is awash in civil unrest. The Syrian regime is holding, but just barely. With the eyes of the world witnessing every atrocity committed by government forces and with the Syrian people continuing to press for an end to the manacles of injustice they have been shackled with, it’s only a matter of time before justice prevails.
Even more telling is that oppressive regimes in other parts of the world are beginning to get a little nervous. The thought that what is happening across the Middle East could happen at home has a many a dictator a little apprehensive, and with good reason. In China, the government has seen fit to attempt to limit the amount of information regarding the Arab Spring reaches its people by censoring as much as it can. In Russia, protests are popping up against the Putin regime and questionable election practices/results.
While it remains to be seen how successful the revolutionary spark will be outside the Middle East, the dye has nevertheless been cast. The People realize that they in fact have a voice and a means of self-determination that has been dormant too long. They are now being heard, loud and clear. Expect Syria president, Bashar al-Assad, to be ousted in 2012 and significant policy changes in the majority of nations in the region (especially with the rights of women).
4. U.S. Economy improves
Depending on the source one chooses to delve into, the US economy is either improving, stable, or getting worse. The American populace, for its part, is becoming very restless and discontent with any news other than the economy is getting better. Who can blame them? The recent recession has hit folks hard. Add in the various financial scandals and disasters, and the confidence of the American consumer is at an all-time low.
The good news is that all the signs are pointing toward a modest (meaning slow) recovery in 2012. Stocks are rallying, the longest surge in fact, since July of 2011 -a good sign for business in general and public confidence in investing specifically. The housing market is seeing signs of recovery as well. Home sales are expected to be up 2-5% in 2012 based on the facts that interest rates on home loans are ridiculously low. As a result, applications for home loans have seen an increase in recent months and 80% of surveyed consumers believe that now is the best time to purchase a home. And more people have jobs to pay a mortgage as unemployment is down to 8.5% nationally (after flirting with 10% in 2011), with 200,000 jobs added to the private sector in December. And folks were spending their cash in healthy numbers during the past holiday season, infusing businesses with much needed revenue.
All told, if the trends continue (and we believe they will), the U.S. will see noticeable improvement with the economy in 2012. Economist forecast that the US needs at least 2.5% real GDP growth in order to add enough jobs to the economy to stabilize unemployment. The current numbers indicate a real GDP growth in the neighborhood of 3% (or higher). While a lot of things could obviously go wrong and derail everything mentioned here, there are a lot of government forces in place working to make this prediction a very real reality. Expect the best with this one, folks!
3. The European Economy will Stabilize and NOT screw up America’s Recovery
If you have been paying attention to the news from abroad, they you are aware that the financial situation in Europe is not very pretty. In fact, it’s very scary. There has been talk about the dismantling of the European Union, devaluing the Euro and other draconian measures – all of which would result in a very nasty economic disaster that would be felt across the globe. In many ways, the European problem is similar to the American one in that its origins can be traced to a sluggish global economy, a real estate speculation that burst, risky (and outright bad) lending and borrowing practices, and (of course) banking industry bailouts.
This resulted in a sovereign debt crisis with a number of EU members (namely Greece, Ireland and Portugal- with Italy now on the brink as well). Essentially, these countries are in a position where they are unable to refinance their national debt and thereby, subject to bankruptcy. And because the EU is…well a union of countries, significant financial trouble by a small number of nations can bring the whole system down. So, that’s the bad news.
The good news is that the EU is moving swiftly and decisively to shore up the problem. The financial ministers of the member nations have just announced a $171 billion aid package to assist ailing national economies (as well as allowing Greece to write off 50% of its outstanding debt). Equally, throughout this mess, the Euro has actually remained stable (dismissing fears of the currency going into a tailspin) and GDP for most of the EU has either remained stable or experienced growth.
Really, the EU has taken a page from their American counterparts in terms of dealing with this latest financial crisis. Time will tell, but there is every reason to believe that the solutions being put forth should work. Recovery is a ways off, but the EU should stave off disaster, with the stronger economies within the Union offsetting the weaker ones (in terms of the overall effect to the global economy).
2. The Olympics
One supposes that this entry could have been included under Sports at our #8 spot. But in actuality, the Olympics are much more than a sporting event- it’s an Event (with a capital E). And for two weeks from July 27 until August 12, the eyes of the world will be tuned into the 1,000+ Olympiad. The city of London has the honor of hosting the 2012 Games and the city (and the entire United Kingdom) is pulling out all the stops to make it a memorable spectacle. They have their hands full and a hard act to follow after China’s amazing job of hosting the games in 2008. While everyone expects London to put on a great show – one would be hard pressed to imagine that it will come anywhere close to the opening ceremonies in Beijing.
Nevertheless, the games in London will be significant in its own right. London will host athletes (a little over 10,500 in number) from 204 countries who will be competing in 302 events. And if you don’t happen to have tickets and reservations to see the Games in person, don’t worry. The Games will be televised from opening ceremony to closing, with virtually every event in between. If you have the time (and the money), you can pay to see any event you want (a happy occurrence for the less popular sports like archery and badminton). Also, the Olympics are trying out an X-sport this year with BMX racing, as well as golf.
Of course, national pride will be on the line as each contingent of athletes seeks to add to each countries medal count. Usually, the host country does better than normal, so expect the English to fair very well in these games. Of course, you can expect a real challenge from the Americans, and new athletic powerhouse China as well. Regardless of whom one is rooting for, the Olympics offer a brand of athletic competition that is not found in any other forum. It’s a joy to behold and the 2012 Olympic Games promises to deliver the goods.
1. U.S. Presidential Election
The U.S. President is quite often referred to as the “leader of the free world”. While this title can no doubt be argued, it is nevertheless certain that the U.S. Presidency is a very powerful and influential position indeed – one that has both national and international ramifications. As such, this year’s race is being watched with bated breath.
At stake is the direction that America will undertake for the next four years. For American’s the issues revolve around the economy. For the world, it’s all about America’s foreign policy agenda. The contenders are pretty much in line for the final push to the November 6th vote. In one corner, we have the incumbent president- a democrat- Mr. Barack Obama. In the other corner we have…
NOT Mitt Romney! Rather we expect a bit of an upset in the Republican primary, with former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich winning the nomination. For any number of reasons, the conservatives of the Republican Party are not very excited about a Romney nomination and will thrust hopes (and votes) behind Newt. So expect a Newt vs. Barack race for the White House.
But who will win the 57th quadrennial presidential election? Well, consider that the framework against which the election cycle is being structured around in the economy. It’s a perspective of the rich getting richer and the poorer becoming poorer. Add in a sluggish economy, high unemployment, and you have a very discontent electorate. Normally, a sitting president has a marked advantage over his challenger- unless the economy sucks, which is one quick way to find yourself kicked out of the Whitehouse early. So the key is the economy. If, as we predict, the American economy is showing signs of a healthy recovery, the odds fall on Barack Obama to be reelected. If the economy, on the other hand, continues a steep decline – expect the American population to be looking for new ideas to right the sinking ship.
For our part, taking all of this into account as the stark contrast between the two expected contenders on social issues (such as immigration, gay rights, etc. with significant voting blocs representing them), we see Mr. Obama winning reelection handily. But expect quite a bit of mudslinging and dirty politics (and a god-awful lot of money spent doing it) to be the story of the day until the final votes are cast.