Saturday, May 29, 2021

The Blowtorch Summer: A Prelude to a Dark Winter II

 

Source: Wallpaper Flare
Evermore people are enthusiastically embracing greater freedom of movement with the arrival of warm weather and nationwide loosening of restrictions in public venues due to increased vaccinations and falling Covid positive rates. For these brief few blissful weeks it might seem like the Old Normal good old days déjà vu even amongst the “rubble” of a plethora of permanently closed businesses and leisure venues.

As the pandemic recedes to the background of mainstream media and inoculated people’s consciousness, the emerging brutal reality is that certain dynamics are converging that will define this New Normal post-pandemic era for the next several years.

Hyper Inflation & Meteorological Madness

The “super cycle” price surge in raw materials and commodities are raging through the system and are already adversely impacting the cost of all consumer items due to a severe supply & demand imbalance.

With respect to food emerging severe droughts globally will continue to super-charge food prices not only for this spring and summer rather through 2022 because droughts are impacting next year’s planting season.

The following comparative charts presented by the US Drought Monitor underscores the severity of the crisis-in-the-making that could lead to a national crisis. The year-on-year chart provides disturbing comparisons of drought conditions in May 2021 (first chart) to May 2020 (second chart) – a mere one year apart.

 



Drought conditions in the US May 19, 2020:


In North America these severe droughts are adversely impacting the bread baskets of the US and Canada. According to US Drought Monitor, drought has adversely impacted 88% of the US West in 2020 compared to 40% in 2020 against limited water irrigation.

The California snowpack is a mere 4% or normal and the big reservoirs are at less than 50% capacity. Furthermore the West, particularly California, is vulnerable to another season of severe firestorms, nature’s scorched earth policy.

The severe drought crisis is global causing agricultural havoc. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN 6 May 2021 reported the 11th consecutive month of food price increases.

One overlooked fact is that climate change has been used as a convenient excuse for water insecurity which has increasingly imperiled California and the US West for decades. Historically this region has experienced dry seasons and droughts. But the region’s dwindling water supplies are due to the explosive economic development through population and industrial growth that ranks California en par with the same population and GDP as Italy.

Hurricane Season

On the opposite end of the meteorological spectrum the Atlantic Meteorological Oceanographic Library, the research laboratory of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration organization, has provided their assessment of projected and intensity of hurricanes this season as depicted in the following chart entitled Unpredictable Danger: Hurricane Seasons Since 1967.

According to their forecast they predict 6-10 hurricanes this year with 3-5 of them to be become major hurricanes rated Category 3 or higher.

Ironically the onset of the hurricane season provides a deluge of rainfall in most areas that don’t suffer from water insecurity - nature’s perverse gross misallocation of resources.


These intense storms will also disrupt the fragile supply chain for goods & services as highways, roads, regional power grids will be compromised.

Starvation in the Bread Basket

The following are dynamics that will exacerbate the explosive increase in food prices with actual food shortages, not just logistical problems.

The continuing labor shortages at food processing plants and truck drivers to haul these food goods to supermarkets present another kink in the supply chain’s critical path. Furthermore some drivers refuse to haul goods because higher gas prices have resulted in loss of revenue for the haul. Exacerbating the risk is the shortage of spare parts.

Many large agribusiness companies such as Kroger are closing food stores in the midst of increased food insecurity for millions of citizens. According to their spokespersons, the closings are due to those supermarkets’ poor financial performance. Interestingly not only are those supermarkets located in poor communities, their elimination will create additional food deserts forcing the community either to spend monies for transportation in search of healthy food or purchase junk food from local businesses.

An alternative source for these poorer communities is food banks. However they are close to the breaking point in meeting demand and will collapse should food sources dry up.

In a potential prescient scene from the dystopic classic film almost a half century ago Soylent Green (1973) we could see riots at these food banks and distribution centers sites when there is an announcement that the food inventory is exhausted.

For the wealthy, well-prepared or the clever, one can still enjoy a natural, healthy meal as depicted in Soylent Green with Charlton Heston and Edward G. Robinson.

New Army of Homeless Families | End of Eviction Protections

On or about 30 June many states are issuing eviction proceedings against residents who have not paid rent. This might create a new army of homeless people and families whose only fault was working in the ‘wrong’ industry and job when the pandemic arrived. The following article entitled Emergency Bans on Evictions and Other Tenant Protections Related to Coronavirus provide a comprehensive explanation and charts by state concerning this matter.

Grid Vulnerability

Most people think of power grids becoming overloaded during extreme meteorological conditions combined with high demand and more recently cyber-attacks. However physical attacks have occurred as far back as 2014.

The Wall Street Journal article dated 5 February 2014 entitled Assault on California Power Station Raises Alarm on Potential for Domestic Terrorism when a San Jose substation was attacked for almost 20 minutes by a group of gunmen. The short embedded video within the article provides a comprehensive overview of the attack and subsequent follow-up investigation that went nowhere.

Officials have revealed that a physical attack on a substation is far more effective in bringing down the grid than a cyber-attack because it involves the destruction of hard to replace specialized equipment.

Chokepoints are Choking Economies

·         In February a freakish arctic storm literally froze Texas operations, a leading energy producer and hub, for several days.

·         In March there was the unprecedented short-term blockage of the Suez Canal by a super-size container ship, a critical global commercial waterway.

·         In May a cyber-criminal group held the US East Coast hostage with a ransomware attack that shut down the Colonial pipeline.

The next major event may not be short-lived or immediately recoverable as the aforementioned ones. For this reason it could result in an urban security crisis, a different type of pandemic that cannot be resolved with a vaccine. It may be a merely question of time that another event could break the proverbial camel’s back.

Violent Crime

The following chart entitled 2020 Saw Unprecedented Murder Spike in Major US Cities provided by New Orleans crime analyst Jeff Asher, compares the percentage change in homicides from 2019 to 2020.

The report added: “The U.S. also experienced its most violent year in decades with an unprecedented rise in homicides. The Gun Violence Archive reported that more than 19,000 people died in shootings or firearm-related incidents in 2020, the highest figure in over two decades.”



Updates for America’s two largest cities by comparing the first quarter of 2020 to 2021, shooting victims rose 43% in Chicago and 78.6% in New York with just the borough of Bronx increasing 165.7%!

The following chart provided by the FBI entitled How Americans Are Murdered (2019) examines the particulars of how Americans are murdered with firearms, not surprisingly, dominating the methods used:



As the economy worsens the most disturbing upward trend on the “street” level will be the following:

·         Mass Shootings: As jobs shrink those who are laid off are at risk of becoming homeless, distraught or mentally unstable (with or without their medications due to lack of health benefits) and violently take out their frustrations in the most heinous ways at their former place of employment and/or residence.

·         Domestic Violence: The cracking of the already fragile family unit will result in greater physical violence, including murder, in the home. Because of the worsening economy women will be unable to afford to leave and move elsewhere unless they can seek sanctuary with family and friends.

·         Random Street Violence: The reduction in public health services will result in evermore citizens unable to secure medications and other social services. Cast adrift on the streets, their mental instability will only worsen as they become desperate and aggressive.

·         Petty Crime/Shoplifting: Although there are jobs available for the unemployed they pay minimum wage or slightly above which doesn’t allow them to rent a cheap apartment. With “food & shelter” unaffordable the homeless population increases exponentially.

Disincentives to Work with Incentives to Riot

This may seem contradictory yet the government’s generous extension of unemployment benefits on top of stimulus monies disincentivizes the working population to seek employment. For this reason businesses are suffering from worker shortages. For certain industries such as warehousing, they are already aggressively installing high-tech automation which not only maintain operations but replaces most workers while maintaining a much lower overhead. Once the unemployment benefits end far more workers will be on the short end of the employment musical chairs game and fuel the upward crime trends.

Summer Blowtorch Weather | Mob Mindset

After the short-lived party, hot and probably hotter than normal weather will push desperate people to do desperate things. The vintage-aged and vulnerable grid could result in blackouts, rolling blackouts and brownouts. Food will become a luxury for many including the dispossessed middle class who’ll join their lower socio-economic brethren and engage in whatever activities necessary for the purposes of survival.

When it comes to survival, even the good citizens will resort to extreme violence if challenged coming between them and whatever they need particularly food. In 1906, Alfred Henry Lewis, an investigative journalist, lawyer and novelist, stated, “There are only nine meals between mankind and anarchy.”

From a demographic perspective the coddled Millennials, Generation X and Y have no real-life experience of the street violence and warped economies of the 1970s and 1980s. Self-absorbed and entitled, psychologically soft vs earlier battle-hardened generations they are disconnected from the advice of their Boomer parents and relatives who are the living memories of that arduous era.

Furthermore even the mainstream and social media will not be immune as journalists fall into that youngish demographic by failing to communicate the daily and long-term challenges to their readership. In other words without a reference of how to harden one’s mindset the psychological stress to cope will be enormous.

Globally local enforcement has been overwhelmed by increasingly violent protests. Domestically they are legally neutered by recently passed laws that make them personally liable for any lawsuits claimed by a civilian. Depending on the country security reinforcement whether the military, National Guard or National Police, greater firepower, more lethality. For example France’s National Police is answerable directly to the Minister of Interior. Finally, protests can be triggered by faraway incidents such as global protests over George Floyd’s death.

Initiating Your Prepper State of Emergency

The government and mainstream media have aggressively pushed forward the narrative that the worst is over and that the New Normal will not be that different from the Old Normal while eschewing economic red flags such as inflation, real estate bubbles, rising violent crime, among others. The simultaneous growth of these trends represent an unstoppable momentum that will not disappear in the short-term.

The surfeit amount of information provided by the long-term, pre-pandemic, online prepper community to the general public has not gone unheeded however far too many people are in denial that chaos is dancing on the precipice and can be triggered by either a domestic or international incident.

From a personal perspective preparedness is key going forward not only through this spring and summer rather well into the winter months. Your personal state of emergency should always proceed the government’s state of emergency because the only person ultimately responsible for you and your family’s safety is you.

  

© Copyright 2021 Cerulean Council LLC

The Cerulean Council is a NYC-based think-tank that provides prescient, beyond-the-horizon, contrarian perspectives and risk assessments on geopolitical dynamics and global urban security.

 


 

 

 

Saturday, May 8, 2021

New Delhi’s Dystopic Dilemma



The dystopic perfect storm is unfolding in India with record-breaking daily new Covid cases and deaths that may continue unabated through the rest of 2021 buffeting the South Asian country of 1.4 billion inhabitants.

A little over a year ago on 17 April 2020 I published an article entitled India Bracing for the Covid-19 Viral Contagion which articulated the multitude of powerful interwoven factors that will compound the pandemic’s spread, depth and duration which are being played out as forecast resulting in untold human suffering.

This present-day article reintroduces those factors with updated supporting charts and documentation to provide a comprehensive overview of this calamity. The factors discussed are as follows:

·         Socio-Economic Demographics

·         Healthcare Primer

·         Pollution

·         Food Insecurity

·         India’s Civil, Political & Press Freedoms

·         Dystopic Socio-Political Fallout

 

Socio-Economic Demographic Primer

According to the 22 February 2020 IMF report, India has the world’s 5th largest economy as measured by nominal GDP. Nonetheless it faces a daunting task in containing Covid-19 virus because of its socio-economic profile, public health infrastructure, shortfall in medical preparedness, polluted environment and government whose policy and decision makers are political loyalists rather than experienced technocrats and specialists.

According to the June 2017 report India’s Smart Cities Missions these are some critical data. Of the total population of 1.4 billion:

·         380 million are urbanized (31%).

·         833 million are rural (69%).

·         632 million live in poverty – 25% of the world’s poor.

·         Almost two-thirds of statutory towns in India have ‘slums’ and a total of 13.75 million households live in them.

·         About 36 per cent of households in these settlements do not have basic facilities of electricity, tap water, and sanitation within their premises.

·         India also records the world’s largest number of homeless persons (at least three million in urban areas according to independent estimates).”

·         Historically there is a large rural to urban migration in search for work.

Water scarcity [especially potable] and urban density by the lower socio-economic classes including many migrant workers, make it difficult to maintain sanitary conditions, good personal hygiene and social distancing.

Health Care Primer

The following are key points discussed which I paraphrase with respect to India’s health care dilemmas from 12 June 2019 article entitled India’s Ailing Health Sector in the publication The Diplomat:

·         Over 50% of health professionals in India — including doctors, nurses, paramedics, and midwives — do not have proper qualifications while 20 percent of adequately qualified doctors are not part of the current workforce. Of the currently working health professionals, around 25 percent do not possess the necessary qualifications as laid down by professional councils.

·         The geographical distribution is a problem with two-thirds of doctors, nurses, and midwives working in urban areas where only 29 percent of Indians live. In many villages, the density of healthcare professionals lags behind many African countries.

·         India’s low spending on healthcare. Despite being the world’s fifth largest economy, public health spending has languished at under 1.5 percent of GDP, one of the lowest rates in the world. For comparison, the United Kingdom shelled out 9.6 percent of its GDP in 2017 on health. The United States’ health expenditure is 18 percent of GDP.

·         The high cost of medicines in which an overwhelming 70 percent of healthcare expenses in India are paid by Indian patients out of their own pockets, one of the highest rates in the world.

Not only has the paucity of testing kits and testing resulted in the grossly under-stated numbers of infected, there are fewer medical doctors per 1,000 inhabitants despite India having the world’s 5th largest GDP and few health equipment & supply resources to grapple with the viral conflagration.

Far more embarrassing is that India is the leading producer of generic vaccines yet is having enormous difficulties in producing enough anti-Covid vaccines for domestic distribution which will unnecessarily prolong the crisis. At present only 3% of the population has been inoculated.

The following 19 March 2019 chart entitled The Countries with the Highest Density of Doctors provided by OECD highlights the dearth of doctors in India per 1,000 inhabitants:



Pollution + Novel Virus = Lethal Combination

India’s high pollution serves as an accelerant for the spread of Covid-19 amongst a wider demographic. According to the IQ Air Report, India has 14 of the top 20 most polluted cities in the world. In the following chart entitled Study: Pollution Kills 8.3 Million People Annually from the Global Alliance On Health and Pollution published 20 December 2019.



The high Covid-19 infection rate for infants and young people should not be a mystery to the medical establishment and researchers because for decades from birth the autoimmune systems of Indian urbanites has been compromised manifesting in underlying health issues such as hypertension and respiratory problems.

Specific to cities the following chart provided by IQAir is entitled India Has The Most Polluted Cities on Earth of which 14 are Indian, 3 are Pakistani and two are Chinese.




The explosive conflagration how Covid-19 is spreading throughout Asia can be viewed in the following chart entitled New Coronavirus Waves Sweep Through Asia provided by John Hopkins University via Our World in Data:



This viral conflagration specific to India vs the world can be contributed to the aforementioned environmental and healthcare shortfalls. The following chart entitled India Emerges as the World’s Covid19 Hotspot, provided by Our World in Data provides a powerful visual image of the present-day trend



Food Insecurity

India’s food supply chain is a double-edged sword. India requires millions of highly labor-intensive work for harvesting and transporting foodstuffs. However the methods in combatting a pandemic through lockdowns and social distancing threatens India’s ability to feed its citizenry. The Wall Street Journal article 8 April 2020 India’s Food Supply Chain Frays as Workers Stay Home, provides a background summary on how India feeds itself:

·         India’s food industry is highly fragmented consisting of millions of small farmers, selling through millions of middlemen who then deliver to millions of tiny shops.

·         Every food industry is labor intensive including the wheat industry, high mechanized in western countries.

·         Already there are fewer farm workers (particularly for the current wheat harvest), fewer trucks arriving to load and deliver foodstuffs to distribution warehouses and fewer warehouse laborers to unload and reload foodstuffs for local delivery.

·         The entire process is labor-intensive because wheat is harvested by hand, sacks of foodstuffs are unloaded and loaded on trucks using lines of men not forklifts, and local deliveries of perishable items are done by bicycle, not refrigerated trucks.

In summary the pandemic has made a robust food industry that provides employment to millions into a fragile one - an industry dependent on millions of people for face-to-face transactions making social distancing impossible to maintain.

With hundreds of thousands infected and additional prolonged lockdowns, it begs the question as to not only how India will feed itself but against a commodity price “super cycle” which has dramatically raised the price of food stuffs.

Suppression of Democratic Freedoms

In the world’s largest democracy by population, Prime Minister Modi’s government is trying to suppress criticism of the government’s handling of the pandemic by using emergency powers laws. They are specifically targeting Twitter because of its extensive use in India for communication. A comprehensive overview of the battle between government and freedom of expression is in the Reuters article dated 26 April 2021 entitled India Asks Twitter To Take Down Some Tweets Critical Of Its Covid-19 Handling.

According to Freedom House, India was classified as only “partly free” with respect to state of freedom for access to political rights and civil liberties. The following chart entitled The State of Freedom in the World provides a global view.



In lockstep with the deteriorating state of freedom is the deteriorating state of press freedoms including social media. The following chart provided by Reporters Without Borders entitled The State of World Press Freedom classified India as a “difficult situation”, a profound fall from grace for India unlike Russia and Brazil which have the same classification but that are far younger democracies still hobbled by long histories of autocracies and dictatorships.


Dystopic Denouement

The most disturbing trend is indicated in those last two charts in which state freedom is classified as “partly free” and press freedoms are classified as “difficult situation” which represent just one step from away from the classification of autocratically ruled China. This means that the democratic protections afforded to the Indian citizenry and the press have been degraded to the point of being a whisper away from de facto autocratic rule.

As the viral surge worsens Modi, the quiet megalomaniac, is already losing popular support. According to Morning Consult, a US data group, Modi’s approval rating has declined precipitously from 74% in late March to 65% as of 4 May. If such a trend continues then Modi’s re-election odds for the 2024 national elections will decrease considerably. For this reason he may impose draconian measures to retain his political power in the form of an indefinite state of emergency or worse.

Already the underlying dystopic elements are in play to trigger a potential violent socio-political fallout – perhaps widespread civil unrest - particularly against the backdrop of the Modi administration’s aggressive pre-pandemic discriminatory policies against non-Hindus and enthusiastically enforced with violence by a de facto militia of true believers.

If India should collapse into the depths of autocracy, along with China’s 1.4 billion population, the two autocracies would represent almost 40% of the global population of 7.4 billion and leave few countries in Asia, notably Japan, Taiwan, Australia and Singapore as strong democracies.


© Copyright 2021 Cerulean Council LLC

The Cerulean Council is a NYC-based think-tank that provides prescient, beyond-the-horizon, contrarian perspectives and risk assessments on geopolitical dynamics and global urban security.