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Saturday, 24 December 2011

Christmas 2011: Reflections and ponderings on the year that has been and the year that will be.

Tomorrow, it is Christmas 2011; my first Christmas as a blogger and hopefully not my last. The year 2011 brought to me the beginning of a second career, next to my official one. And it made me realize that I liked blogging very much. I hope that you come back next year and that you will continue sharing your comments and additions. They helped me very much.

Thanks everybody for the mostly positive and honest comments. And thank you for clicking on my page; maybe once or maybe every day.

And what a year 2011 has been. We had:
  • The Arabian spring that started very promising, but turned sour in the end.
  • The devastating earthquake and tsunami that hit the shores of Tohoku in North-East Japan AND the nuclear disaster in Fukushima 1 that had been triggered by the same tsunami.
  • The well-deserved and inglorious death of the greatest terrorist of all times AND the premature and honorable death of one of the greatest entrepreneurs of all times.
  • The worldwide Occupy movement
  • The second leg of the greatest crisis since 1929
  • A continuous soap of endless summits in Europe in order to save the Euro AND a continuous soap in the United States with as working title: ‘Dancing on the Debt Ceiling’.

In the following pages I will go through these topics, knowing that I’m forgetting some important other topics, but I hope that you don’t mind that I’m not a normal newspaper.

Arab Spring

The start of the Arab spring send a shockwave of optimism and expectancy through the whole Arabian world. Some of the most ruthless dictators in the world were suddenly forced to run for their life by a group of people that decided: ‘No more’. One ruthless dictator even didn’t survive it, when he was captured and subsequently lynched by an outrageous lynch mob. Although I despise all kinds of violence, it is certain that no innocent blood was spilt in that lynching that day.

Alas, the Arabian spring turned sour: the rulers of Bahrain, Saudi-Arabia and Syria and the real rulers of Egypt were clinging to power with both hands and were ready to brutally use extreme violence against the people in their country. Until the end of this year these rulers could stay in power, unfortunately.

But in Moscow, Beijing and perhaps even Washington, there has probably been a sigh of relief after they discovered that the old dictators in Bahrain, Saudi-Arabia and Syria were much stronger than the protestors. Because it is easier to deal with the devil that you know than the devil that you don’t know. And Moscow and Beijing have their own worries, as China and Russia fear a Tiananmen Square and a Red Square full of protestors, demanding the current leaders to resign. But I don’t think that the leaders of both countries can relax yet. As a matter of fact, the streets in Moscow and St-Petersburg have been filled with protestors today. And many more will come probably.

And the Arabs? I hope that they can remove the old, blood-thirsty dictators. And on the other hand that they can prevent their countries from turning into Islamic theocracies, like Iran or Saudi-Arabia. But whatever happens: it should be their own decision, as it is their own country.

The Japanese earthquake

Just 16 years after the devastating earthquake in Kobe (January 17, 1995), Japan was hit by another earthquake that was even more devastating, on March 11, 2011. The enormous damage and massive loss of life were caused by the gigantic tsunami, following on the earthquake, that crushed the Japanese shores and everything that lay in its path. The whole world sympathized with the Japanese people in those days and a lot of countries sent help. And the brave Japanese, used as they are to dealing with the consequences of earthquakes and tsunamis, quickly started to rebuild their country, their houses and their factories. And the rest of the world can only look in admiration.

In the aftermath of the tsunami, the whole world was confronted with the dark side of nuclear energy, due to the nuclear disaster in the Fukushima 1 reactor complex. A disaster of which the true impact is still unknown and will probably be unknown for years to come. In Germany, this event led to abolishing nuclear energy.

However, in other countries the nuclear lobby will maintain a low profile for the time being, until this nuclear thunderstorm is over again and the world is again longing for cheap and non-polluting (i.e. no greenhouse gasses) energy.

Famous deaths

The two most famous persons to pass away in 2012 were without a doubt: Osama bin Laden and Steve Jobs. Although both came (partially) from an Arab family (Steve Jobs had a Syrian father), the difference between both men could not be bigger. Steve Jobs dedicated his life to designing beautiful, ergonomic and innovative products that were different from all predeceasing products in the world; astonishing products that made people proud and happy.

Osama bin Laden dedicated his life to unscrupulously fighting a fundamentalist, religiously inspired and hateful ´holy´ war against ´the crusaders in the West´. Nobody understood what he really wanted and why he sacrificed so many people in his personal vendetta against the West, also Muslim people. But the fact is that he is dead and that the world is probably a better place for it. Because there has been too much hatred and useless bloodshed in the world over the last ten years. I truly hope that his death brings the end of terrorism closer.

Summarizing, both were men that changed the world a lot: one for the better and the other for the worse.

The Occupy Movement

Next to the protests in the Arab world and the protests in Russia, there have been the Occupy movements all over the Western world. And while some people laugh at their actions or simply don´t understand what the heck these guys are doing, you must respect the fact that they are there. The Occupy movements point their fingers at conspicuous consumption, the unscrupulousness of the financial markets and at the huge differences between the lowest and highest incomes (the 99% vs. the 1%).

Even if you don’t agree with them, it is good to not ignore them. When the elites in France and in Russia ignored the protesters in the late 18th and early 20th century, it led to the French and Russian revolutions; events that have had consequences until today. Let that be a warning.

The second leg of the crisis

Today, I read an Op-Ed of Pieter Couwenbergh in the Dutch financial news paper ‘Het Financieele Dagblad’ ( on the purifying blessings of the credit crisis. (link in Dutch

I would consider this article a must-read  for everybody that masters Dutch, although I don’t agree with everything mentioned in it. In one statement the author totally misses the point.

This is the paragraph in which he stated: ’The belief in economic models and free-market ideologies got serious dents, now the ‘laissez-faire’ (i.e. let it go) led to an previously unknown bubble of credit’.

I agree with this sentence where Pieter Couwenbergh points at the total lack of serious supervision on all kinds of (financial) and economic markets (like the derivative and housing market), with devastating consequences where it concerns the various (imploding) bubbles.

Where the author is dead-wrong, however, is that the authorities let the financial markets go to begin with. They didn’t do so, namely!

In 2001-2002, after the attacks on New York and at the end of the dot-com bubble, there should have been a mild recession. The dot-com bubble had imploded after a time of excess and sometimes brainless investments in internet and telecom companies. These investments were made by people that often shouldn’t have invested in the first place: the ‘pink glasses-people’ that believed in eternally growing exchange rates. When the recession would have come in 2002, the world could have returned to growth in 2004-2005.

But people like FED-chairman Allan Greenspan and his European counterparts didn’t want ‘to let it go’ and didn’t want to wait until the recession would have ended. These people started to manipulate the interest rates in order to ‘kickstart the economy’. Well, did they kickstart it!

The interest rates became so low that money became an almost free commodity in the US and Europe, that was used for buying bigger houses, bigger cars and bigger anything. Even poor, homeless people in the US got owner of a house with a jumbo mortgage on it. And also in Europe (a.o. the UK, Spain, The Netherland and Belgium) housing prices went through the roof. Until the credit crisis came…

And just at the time when most people thought that the credit crisis was over in 2011, the second leg of it came. And when my instincts don’t deceive me, it will be much uglier than the first leg, at least in Europe.

Expect: shrinking economies in the whole Euro-zone and abroad, more unemployment, more debt destruction, more poverty, more societal acrimony and unfortunately more hostility against foreign people; especially from jobless people in low-wage industries against foreigners that do have a job in these industries.

So fasten your seatbelts and grab your steering wheel, as the ‘times they are achanging’.

But to finish with a message of hope: I strongly believe that when this crisis is over, another long period of prosperity will come to us.

Europe vs. Europe and Democrats vs Republicans

I wrote a lot on the first subject and a line or two on the second. Mostly, I don´t want to write on American politics as I know too little from it.

But I have been very disappointed in both European and US politics, as they did nothing decisively to solve the current credit and credibility crisis that is growing tougher and tougher on people.All they did is spending billions of money in order to maintain the current status quo.

One thing is certain: whatever will be the outcome of the credit crisis, we can easily conclude that our current leaders are probably not the leaders that will solve it.

The current ‘leaders’ all had the chance to do so and to do it quickly, but decided that the harsh and uneasy decisions that had to be taken were too tough on themselves or on their voters. They decided that the interests of their grass roots where more important than the interests of the many European and US citizens that needed thoroughness and braveness.

Instead of people having constructive talks and doing sacrifices in order to solve the crisis, the European and US politics turned into a cacophony of useless opinions, expediency and sheer stupidity.

We had summit after summit in Europe that promised a big solution and yielded a big disappointment. And we had Republicans and Democrats fighting like cats and dogs while ´dancing on the debt ceiling´. And at the end of this year the situation is much worse than in the beginning.

But for me there is still hope. I hope that the future leaders do stand up in 2012. And I hope that they will make the tough, but fair decisions that will end this crisis in 2013 or 2014. And I hope for some personal braveness and leadership; as we saw so much of it in the past and so little in the present.

And finally I hope that you, my dear readers, will all have a very merry Christmas and that you are blessed with the good and truly important things in life. As it is life itself that is very dear to me, in spite of the harder times that we are going through at the moment.

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