Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Well, it's that time of year again. Here's my annual assessment of the previous year's predictions, and a futile attempt to do better this year:
  • Hillary Clinton will be elected president in November, by a solid margin, in an election with relatively light turnout by recent standards. The Democrats will retain control of both houses of Congress.

Well, she would have, if her staff had been competent enough to pay attention to those caucus states...

  • The US counterinsurgency effort in Iraq will suffer significant setbacks in Iraq this year, but the political reconciliation process there will in fact make progress. Iran's nuclear program will last another year without either a military strike or a successful nuclear test.

The very first part was off, but the rest was on target.

  • The Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan will grind on without resolution, aided by safe havens in Pakistan, where Pervez Musharraf will continue to rule, in one guise or another, replicating his neighbor's stalemate with its Islamists.

Again, on target with the exception of one key detail (Musharraf's fate).

  • Ehud Olmert will survive another year in office. The Winograd report will criticize him harshly for being too recklessly aggressive during the Lebanon war, thus providing him with cover against his more hawkish main rivals. He will also authorize at least one fairly large-scale incursion into the Gaza Strip, which will achieve little but will further shield him against charges of dovish, indecisive softness. Meanwhile, Hezbollah's position as the largest single power in Lebanon will be consolidated and officially enshrined in the country's political power structure.

It was touch and go there for much of the year, and he's of course on his way out, but darned if he isn't hanging on to the bitter end, and charging into Gaza--almost as if to validate my prediction with his last ounce of strength...

  • The US economy will narrowly avoid recession this year, but will experience very sluggish growth. Inflation will stubbornly refuse to fall, preventing the Fed from easing enough to really boost the economy. The stock market will have a down year, and oil prices will fall modestly. The housing market will not recover, but the US dollar will, somewhat, from its recent plunge.

Rather too optimistic about the economy, but I figure I'm in pretty good company on that one, and possibly more on target than most prognosticators. Also, correct on the direction (if not always the magnitude) of the movements of the stock market, oil, housing and the dollar.

  • "Product placement"--advertising embedded into content such as music, films and television shows--will become more widespread and conspicuous, to the point where it becomes a subject of pop-culture irony.

Not this year (that I noticed), but then, I'm always ahead of the curve on these things...

And now for this year's reckless forecasts:

  • Barack Obama's first year in office will go as badly as his mentor's, as the sluggish economy and unresolved conflicts between the moderates and progressives within his own party undermines his popularity, making his cool, detached persona seem weak and indecisive. Republicans will be somewhat rejuvenated by being able to take responsibility-free potshots from the sidelines, although no particularly prominent GOP leader will emerge. More Keynsian "stimulus" spending packages and bailouts will be enacted into law, but other government initiatives popular among Democrats, such as health care reform, will fall victim to the party's internal rifts, with some Republican help.

  • Some time during the year, a reputable source--perhaps an intelligence agency or a defense think tank--will declare that Iran most likely has already produced at least one nuclear weapon, and soon will produce more. Little attention will be paid. Likewise, Iraq will all but disappear from the news, as will Afghanistan and Pakistan, despite continuing unrest there. Domestic issues--particularly economic ones--will dominate public attention, and foreign news will focus on trade and economic matters, such as the fate of China's export industries and the Euro's troubles.

  • Stephen Harper will continue to hobble along with his minority government in Canada. Bibi Netanyahu will become prime minister of Israel, but in a coalition with Kadima and other parties of the center and right.

  • Hamas and Hezbollah will lay low following Netanyahu's election, quietly building up their military strength as they did during most of 2008. They will take advantage of the inconclusive outcome of the current Gaza operation, which will have included a limited ground invasion that damaged Hamas but failed to dislodge its de facto government, and will have ended with a ceasefire agreement that effectively restores the status quo ante. Netanyahu will thus lack a pretext--or support from an exhausted, cynical Israeli public--for a more decisive engagement, even as the long-term threat on both fronts quietly builds.

  • The US economy will remain in recession for most if not all of 2009. However, Japanese-style deflation will not set in, and the CPI will be positive by the end of the year. Oil prices will rebound, but only modestly. The stock market will bounce around its recent low levels and end little changed from the beginning of the year. Likewise, housing prices will stabilize. Interest rates will fall on risky assets and rise on risk-free ones, as depression-panic subsides. Unemployment will continue to rise.

  • Environmentalism will "jump the shark" this year, as the cost of being green in a lousy economy turns off enough otherwise sympathetic folks to make the movement's excesses a target of mainstream ridicule.

As always, past performance is no guarantee of future results, although it's pretty good evidence that this blog's name is no idle boast...

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