The art of making predictions, Voltaire wrote, was born when the first rascal met an imbecile, which suggests that prophets predate the oldest profession—or are at least its first unaborted issue. Journalists being society’s preeminent whores, I’m reluctantly doffing good sense and picking up where my last 10 left off. Last year I was four for ten (by the most generous reading), down from seven for ten the year before. So this year’s predictions, I predict, will most likely have the kind of batting average Alex Rodriguez will post yet again in his dismal decline.
Recapping last year’s 10: On the biggest call, I was wrong on Jon Netts losing the Palm Coast mayorship, though two factors played in his favor: he drew little opposition, and on his big vulnerabilities—his embrace of a new city hall and letting City Manager Jim Landon play Rasputin to the council—he did the equivalent of 180s. The city is better for it. Holsey Moorman, who stuck to his comfort zones, did not do so well. I was wrong on “several” state and local governments collapsing and on another Arab-Israeli war breaking out (that one is always a matter of time), and I thought the Supreme Court would rule on the health care law, but it didn’t take up the case until this year. And my prediction on the 2011 Nobel Prize for literature (Israel’s David Grossman) was demolished by another one of those great obscure choices by the Swedish Academy, a Scandinavian poet whose name escaped me the moment I was done deciphering it.
I predicted that Barack Obama would get back above 50 percent approval. He did so for a couple of months in the middle of the year, compliments of Osama bin Laden’s Navy Sealed and delivered carcass, but his remarkable gift for pretending that centrism is still a virtue in a nation of reactionaries earned him chilly 40s again the second half of the year. His more recent anger has him back up near 50. I only get half credit for that one. Pakistan has, in fact, lurched back into a military dictatorship in all but name. The 9/11 commemorations were only somewhat embarrassing and generally free of the gaudy chest-thumping of the Bush years. I predicted a deceptive economic recovery and record poverty. So it’s been on both counts, particularly in Florida. And it’s always easy locally to predict economic development follies: on that score, Flagler County’s politicians outdid themselves, and still do.
Now the predictions.
1. Obama is reelected. He doesn’t deserve it. But we don’t deserve the alternatives, whose idea of governance is a blend of Darwinian laissez-faire to the tune of reactionary social policy underwritten by evangelical superstitions. The irony is that while Obama has been the butt of endless slanders about his alleged Islamism, it’s his opponents who would most honor Sharia-type governance. It’ll be an ugly campaign, mostly because the flood of corrupting campaign contributors and so-called Super PACs—political action committees usually established and run by the candidates’ allies or ex-aides but supposedly without a direct connection to the candidates. It’s the sort of official lie sanctioned by the 2010 Supreme Court decision prohibiting spending limits on campaigns by corporations, unions and “independent” groups, the court’s worst decision, for democracy anyway, since Bush v. Gore. Obama’s second term should be more interesting than his first, especially if he gets rid of Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton and Tim Geithner. Substantive? Probably not.
2. Iran provokes the United States into a confrontation, or vice versa. I admit that this one is really inspired by my colleague Tom Brown’s predictions (see below), but also by history. Wars are an election-year necessity in the United States, cooking up that fake brew of patriotism and national purpose that translate into free advertising for the sitting president. Killing bin Laden is already old news for Obama, and killing bin Laden won’t win him South Florida’s Jewish vote—crucial to win the state’s 27 electoral votes—the way a confrontation with Iran might. Besides, with U.S. military engagements over in Iraq and Libya, and possibly winding down in Afghanistan, the Obama administration will have to do something to justify the Pentagon’s delusion that it is the policeman of the Middle East. Occupying Saudi Arabia’s oil fields would do the trick, but only when Saudi Arabia’s monarchy falls. That’s not in this year’s plans: the price of oil is too high and the monarchy’s ability to buy off its people still too cheap. In time, yet more American blood will irrigate Arab soil to slake our oil addiction.
3. Obama will kill the Keystone pipeline: Speaking of oil addictions, Obama has a few weeks left to decide whether to approve or reject the so-called Keystone XL pipeline from Canada’s tar sands. He’ll say no. The $7 billion pipeline itself isn’t as horrific as its environmental opponents claim. It can (and should) be rerouted, if built, to avoid Nebraska’s magnificent sand hills, among other jewels along the way. But building the 1,700-mile thing isn’t necessary. It won’t produce nearly as many jobs as its proponents claim. TransCanada, the pipeline company itself, projects no more than 6,500 construction jobs for a couple of years, at best—not the 20,000 jobs House Speaker John Boehner is inventing, let alone the 100,000 jobs John Huntsman, the putative presidential candidate, spoke off, though he did so during those GOP primary debates where, in all fairness, fiction and its pulp derivatives were prized more than fact. Anyway, the pipeline isn’t the bigger problem. The kind of oil it carries is. Extracting oil from tar sands is an environmental cataclysm worse than strip-mining or “fracking” (the reckless water-pressure-based extraction of natural gas). It consumes three to four barrels of water for every barrel of oil extracted, it contaminates rivers, demolishes habitats, vastly increases air pollution, and in Canada, it will by 2020 produce more greenhouse gas emissions than all other sources in the country combined. Brazilian oil will be cheaper and less damaging in the short run. Investment in alternative energy, rather than continued dependence on fossil fuels—which aren’t called fossils for no reason—is wiser in the long run.
4. The Supreme Court will ratify the health care law. That’s a reversal for me. Last year I thought that the Roberts court would rule 5-4 against individual mandates. It might have, absent recent appeals court opinions by Judge Laurence Silberman of the D.C. circuit and Judge Jeffrey Sutton of the 6th Circuit in Cincinnati—two very conservative and respected judges, one appointed by Reagan the other by the second Bush. It might even be a 6-3 split, with only Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito in dissent. Thomas’s wife, who has been speaking in Sara Palin clichés about the evils of élites and the left long before Palin thawed into the Lower 48s, has been a mercenary on the issue for the Heritage Foundation (the GOP’s leading madrassa), a job—and an income—her husband thought nothing of hiding from his Supreme Court financial disclosure forms for years.
5. The euro survives. Europe’s experiment with a single currency marked its 10-year anniversary without marking it a few days ago, because no one is excited by Europe’s Monopoly money. But for all of the continent’s economic nightmares, and a big European recession in 2012 that will ripple over the American economy like the wavelets of a distant tsunami, the euro is still stronger against the dollar than when it was first introduced. It will survive, as will the European Union. For now, anyway. That won’t stop riots, store-smashing and tire-burning from becoming Europe’s most visible climate change this year as governments impose the sort of austerity measures still foreign to Americans, to whom borrowing and spending is still a matter of national pride.
6. Tim Tebow’s prayers will not be answered. The Pittsburgh Steelers will thankfully retire the Bronco-Gator quarterback and his knee-jerk evangelism by the end of the first quarter in Sunday’s one-sided playoff game. Tebow’s public displays of prayer have not been nearly as vulgar and embarrassing as the suggestion that god, assuming she exists, would somehow have a hand in ensuring that the Bears, the Vikings or the Chargers should lose, or that Tebow’s presumptions rate divine intervention on gridiron irrelevance.
7. Gore Vidal, Fidel Castro, Pope Benedict XVI and a Supreme Court justice to be named later will die: It’s an annual habit of prognosticators: They predict Castro’s death, and Castro proves them wrong. But there’s eventual certainty in predicting Castro’s death, just as a broken clock is right twice a day. Maybe this is the year he stops ticking. I won’t say that Joseph Ratzinger’s death is overdue, but the end of his tenure is—has been since April 19, 2005, when it began. Maybe the college of cardinals will finally wizen up and elect a non-European next, for the church’s relevance’s sake (since it’s too much to ask for an Arab Spring-like insurgency inside the Catholic Church, the single-most regressive, undemocratic global institution extant). As for Gore Vidal, he stopped writing, which did not seem possible as long as he breathed. It’s death to any writer. His physical check-out time can’t be far behind. The Supreme Court Justice? I’m not specifying whether it’s a sitting or former one. I need the odds.
8. Jim Landon and Sharon Atack will look for other jobs: Only one of these two should be a surprise, and it’s not the one about Jim Landon, the Palm Coast city manager, whose days may be numbered not only because of the less subservient council he’s dealing with, but particularly if the News-Journal finally publishes its investigation of the city’s public works department. The paper was tipped off by former public works employee Terry Geigert (among others), a self-described whistle-blower who’s making a series of disturbing claims about the department, the way it’s run as a “hostile work environment” and the contractors it’s doing business with. The News-Journal is sitting on the story for now. County Judge Sharon Atack’s decision not to run again will be a big surprise, and a loss to the county, opening a local judgeship for the second time in two years. You know what that means: a fresh new circus of lawyers behaving badly and spending too much for the kind of seat that should never be up for electoral grab. (Jan. 4 update: 16 hours after this piece posted, the 7th Judicial Circuit announced Atack’s retirement. The story here.)
9. The world will not end. I’m going out on a limb with this one, but I’m pretty sure the Maya calendar has it wrong. The end is scheduled for Oct. 24, 2016. I have James Ussher’s email, somewhere in my spam folder, to prove it.
10. The Daytona Beach News-Journal will buy a low-performing national funeral home or cemetery chain. That’s to follow up on its acquisition of the 16 New York Times Regional Group papers last month for the equivalent of play money. It’s called horizontal integration.
For variety’s sake, here are my colleague Tom Brown’s predictions for the coming year. Feel free to add your own in the comments.
1. The U.S. election will be close but the Republican candidate will prevail. There will be allegations of serious voter fraud in at least 3 states.
2. The Occupy movement will incur casualties – serious injuries and 2 or more deaths in at least 1 or 2 locations.
3. A major bank will suffer arson or a bombing, as foreclosures continue to increase.
4. A run on Europeans banks will have spillover impact on the U.S. A bank holiday will be imposed for at least 3-5 days somewhere within Europe.
5. The U.S. inflation rate will near 6 percent and unemployment will stay above 8 percent.
6. A record number of incumbent congressmen and senators will be defeated in November.
7. Hillary Clinton will resign as secretary of state before Obama’s term is up.
8. A 3rd party candidate will garner at least 5 percent of the popular vote and will swing the election either right or left in at least 3 swing states.
9. War will break out in Iran – either an Israeli attack or a CIA-aided coup attempt.
10. An oil embargo will force gas prices above $5 a gallon.