Floods, mass shootings, and right-wing nationalism are all things we can look forward to in the next 12 months.
This article originally appeared on VICE US
I hate spoilers, but I'll make an exception for spoilers that spoil a really shitty part of a movie, which I believe actually improve a moviegoing experience by lowering expectations. In a similar vein, at the start of every new year, I like to know as much as possible about the inevitable horrors to come in the next 12 months. That way, while everyone else is talking about "fresh starts" and "resolutions," I already know exactly how the new year is going to disappoint me.
So when the geopolitical forecasting firm Stratfor announced last month that they would brief members of the media on their forecast for 2016, I jumped at the opportunity to find out how conflict and economic strife were going to shape the year ahead. That briefing informed much of my research below.
Strap in everybody, because 2016 is probably going to suck just as much as the last year did:
Flooding and Mudslides in Los Angeles
To paraphrase Travis Bickle, someday a real rain will come to Los Angeles and wash all the scum off the streets. And with El Niño rains on their way, that day looks like it's going to be Tuesday, January 5. And the deluge isn't expected to let up until March.
Los Angeles has been in an agonising drought for four years. In October when I last wrote about El Niño, it was still 90 degrees in LA, and the idea of the skies opening up and unleashing a biblical-type flood on us sounded just fine. Now it's cold (relatively speaking), and the thought of dealing with floods and mudslides –which seem pretty much guaranteed at this point – sounds awful. We're Californians – most of us don't even own jackets or boots.
Let's not forget, however, that El Niño also causes droughts, and those could starve millions in other parts of the world, and exacerbate unstable conditions in places like Syria, South Sudan, and Yemen. Experts predict that the ongoing famine in Malawi alone – which has been exacerbated by El Niño – will have affected 2.8 million people by March of this year.
Yet Another Attempt by Congress to Gut Obamacare
On January 6, the GOP-controlled Congress will return from its holiday recess, and get the good old machine of American democracy grinding again. A big part of the Republican agenda for the new year will be the Restoring Americans' Healthcare Freedom Reconciliation Act of 2015, a bill aimed at amending the Affordable Care Act that would remove most of the parts that mandate individuals and employers get insurance, and repeal a tax on medical devices.
Regardless of how you feel about Obamacare, politically speaking, in all likelihood the bill will amount to one more failed attempt to undermine the healthcare reform law that passed all the way back in 2010. Republicans on Capital Hill are no longer going after a full repeal – something they've tried no less than 56 times – but the fact that this fight won't go away is pretty embarrassing for all us.
A European Union Strained by More Nationalism
With Syrian refugees continuing to flee their country's prolonged and horrifying civil war, the inevitable influx of migrants into the relatively safer and more politically stable environs of Europe has come with a side effect: the rise of potent right wing political sentiment. Already a geopolitical factor in 2015, the rise of right-wing nationalism will continue to rattle the stability of the European Union in the coming year.
According to Mark Flemming Williams, a European analyst at Stratfor, "the European Union is an attempt to subdue nationalism," and this new nationalism will "create divides" in the coming year.
In most cases, the power of nationalist parties remains limited – often members hold office only in small regional councils – the movements are expected to flex their muscles over the next year. In Denmark, France, and Sweden, for example, nationalist parties once regarded as relics of Europe's dark past have gone mainstream, sweeping into seats in national legislatures.
In Germany, the refugee crisis is tugging Chancellor Angela Merkel to the right; a centrist, Merkel has shied away from condemning violent immigrant-bashing, a move that has displeased the left. And in France, the country's foremost nationalist politician, Marine Le Pen, is expected to seek the presidency in 2017 despite a recent defeat in a regional election. Which means that over course of 2016, she'll undoubtedly increase her international profile, bringing her notorious lack of tact to bear on geopolitics.
A Messier Syrian Conflict Thanks to Turkey's Escalated Involvement
As for the five-year civil war in Syria, Reva Bhalla, Stratfor's vice president of analysis, predicts that "this is the year that everyone is going to be talking about Turkey." Turkey is facing a possible military and political crisis this year, now thatKurdish forces in Syria, who are allied with the United States, have moved further west than the Euphrates River. For complicated reasons, that move really pissed off Turkey, and in response, "Turkey will likely make a military move into northern Syria," Balla said.
Otherwise, the Syrian crisis is mostly going to be more of the same, said Omar Lamrani, a Middle East analyst for Stratfor. Russia has met its goal of stabilising the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and seems ready to stay in the region for the long haul, or at least long enough to set up a sort of weird, war-tourism industry there.
And a stabilised Assad regime doesn't mean a peace agreement. "We will certainly see one of the biggest concerted efforts at reaching a peace deal," Lamrani predicted. But unfortunately, he said, a few ceasefires are probably the best we can hope for, adding that "we do not see a comprehensive resolution this year."
More Unrest than Usual in Latin America
When you think of Latin America, you probably think of drug wars, and Latin America will have some drug wars in 2016 to be sure. "Cartel related violence will remain high," according to Diego Solas, Stratfor's Latin America analyst. But Stratfor also thinks the main driver of headlines will be Venezuela, where declining oil prices are sending the country's oil-based economy into a tailspin.
Balla added that the firm expects to see "significant social unrest," in Venezuela, and that the country would "likely default" – a disastrous outcome that has been a long time in coming.
It's part of a larger trend in Brazil, Argentina, and Venezuela – a trio of countries that make up the stronghold of Latin American leftism. That historic leftism seems to be on its way out, though, in what's being called the turning of the "Pink Tide," as the region's oil economies decline, and citizens get tired of corrupt governments. And some civil unrest generally follows such political tumult.
Stratfor also predicts that Colombia will be likely to reach a peace agreement in the war between its military and the FARC rebels that has dragged on for about five decades. While the agreement won't mean instant harmony in Colombia, it would likely make the country one of the region's few nominal success stories in 2016.
More Mass Shootings, and More Black People Shot by Police
Police in the United States killed no fewer than 1,134 people in 2015 according to The Guardian,and the American public has become increasingly aware of – and angered by – the racial bias involved in police violence. According to that same report, 15 percent of those killed were black men aged 15 and 34, a demographic that makes up just 2 percent of the US population.
At the same time, mass shootings have become a fact of life in America. According to numbers gleaned by The Independent from Mass Shooting Tracker's count (which is currently offline), there were 373 mass shootings in 2015, which adds up to more than one incident per day – an exhaustingly high number that illustrates how pervasive these shootings have become.
It would be crazy to expect anything other than more police shootings and active shooter scenarios in 2016. In the US, these two topics produced more grim headlines, and sad head-shakes than any others in 2015, and without a doubt, there's more misery to come.
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