I’ve never believed in making predictions. Not that some predictions can’t by sheer mathematical probability sometimes be right. As Orwell put it, “All prophesies are wrong, therefore this one will be wrong.” But either the probability that I would get one right or the probability that making an accurate prediction would matter materially to anyone is too remote to make the exercise worth the nitrogen it’s not displacing. Still, a few weeks ago WNZF radio asked that I come in with my top ten predictions for 2010 on David Ayers’ penultimate morning show of the year. Rabbi Merrill Shapiro of Palm Coast’s Temple Beth Shalom would be at the next mic providing his. I’m not about to go skydiving. Playing Nostradamu on talk radio is the next-best thing. So here’s what I see in 2010.
1. Health care reform will pass. It’ll be called health care reform and considered a great victory for Barack Obama and the Democratic Party. It will be a victory for Obama. No one can deny that he’ll have achieved a goal presidents going back to Teddy Roosevelt have been trying to achieve. But the goal will have been redefined so often that the word “reform” is being misapplied. Forcing people to buy coverage isn’t a good idea. Nor is preventing them from participating in a government-backed option, shoddy though that version was in the House bill. Forcing them to buy coverage with subsidies as skimpy as they are in both the House and Senate versions of the bill adds insults to injuries that will still be untreated for millions who’ll simply not be able to afford coverage no matter how you define it. This isn’t universal care. It’s an extension of the broken and fragmented system we have now to a segment of the population that will, rather than benefit itself primarily, benefit insurers and the medical industry by serving as a conduit for billions in new federal dollars.
2. Democrats will lose numbers but preserve their majorities in Congress. The success of health care “reform” will ensure that Democrats can stave off big losses in the mid-term elections of 2010, though the same success will also work against them in some districts. But that’s not the main reason they’ll avoid a meltdown. The prediction of a switch to GOP majorities in either the Senate or the House is overblown. This isn’t 1994, when Republicans hadn’t controlled both chambers since 1955, when they had the appearance of a coherent agenda in the Contract With American (or the contract on America, as it turned out), when they had the charismatic leadership of Newt Gingrich to run with, back when Gingrich’s no-evidence demagoguery had appeal, and the tax increases of 1993, however beneficial they turned out to be, to run against. The GOP today is more ideological without the ideas. It’s a negative, oppositional force, not an agent of change, as it was perceived to be in 1994. There’s also the matter of math. Republicans and Democrats each have 19 contested seats in the Senate, but Democrats aren’t about to lose seats in solidly blue states such as California, Oregon, Washington, New York, Illinois, Michigan and Pennsylvania. Republicans may gain two to four seats, but not more. All House seats are up, but GOP hopes are overblown there as well. Democrats may lose a dozen seats at most but still maintain a solid majority. And Alex Sink, a Democrat, will be the next Governor of Florida, because Bill McCollum is still too radical for an increasingly moderate state. Which is also why Charlie Crist will pull it off against Marco Rubio in the Republican primary for Senate.
3. Job creation will resume in late spring, but probably not for long, and not in Flagler County, where the unemployment rate will remain in double-digits through the year. The $787 billion stimulus was not crafted boldly enough, nor has Obama done much since, to prevent a double-dip recession. That’s unfortunate, because the rest of the world is doing better, especially China, where the recession hardly registered. China is back to double-digit growth. Real estate prices in Florida have been falling precipitously, as they should: they were unaffordable for most and unsustainable for those who were trading in them. But the burst of home-buying we’ve seen in the past few months, driven by the $8,000 federal tax credit, is going to dry up, with nothing comparable in its place. Even at lower prices, homes are overpriced: they’re at 2004-05 levels, when they should be at 2001-2002 levels, roughly where the less deceptive stock market is, to reasonably re-engage a sustainable market.
4. Oil will creep back toward $100 a barrel, its more natural default state for the 2010s. The American economy is still the biggest in the world. But it’s no longer necessarily the dominant factor. So slowing down here doesn’t have the same impact on commodity prices. The Chinese economy, along with the European Union and emerging economies (in Brazil, India, the Far East) will combine to sideswipe American growth with their own, pushing the price of oil back up–but not to its speculatively driven heights of 2008, when it hit $147 a barrel, but high enough to remind American drivers that they’re not in the driver’s seat anymore.
5. There will be another terrorist attack on U.S. soil. I’m not saying this because the Obama administration has done an inadequate job of fighting terrorism. I’m saying it because it has done a more effective, or at least more aggressive, job than the Bush administration did. Bush did not “take the fight to the enemy,” as he so often liked to put it. He essentially withdrew from Afghanistan (which was al-Qaeda’s laird), reducing American forces there to a mere 13,000, and threw his lot in and on Iraq, which had never been an al-Qaeda haven or threat. That enabled Pakistan’s and Afghanistan’s “descent into Chaos,” as Ahmed Rashid put it. The Taliban reconstituted itself and emboldened itself in Pakistan, thus turning Afghanistan into a two-front war–which the Taliban is winning for now. But Obama has stepped up Predator drone attacks, killing several high-level Taliban militants along the way (and hundreds of civilians), and taking the battle to Yemen, where he directly approved an air strike, illegal in my opinion, on a gathering of militants that supposedly included Anwar al-Awlaki, the American cleric of Yemeni descent who had some inspirational dealings with Nidal Malik Hasan, the accused Fort Hood killer. (News of Al-Awalki’s death proved, fortunately for Obama, premature. Obama should not want to be known as the sort of president who acts as judge, jury and executioner all in one, like his predecessor.) But for the first time since 2001, al-Qaeda and the Taliban are being directly and repeatedly attacked on their own turf, in their dens. They’re shell-shocked. They’re responding. Hastily and shoddily, but responding nonetheless. The attack on American soil won’t be nearly as spectacular as those of 2001. It won’t be nuclear. It’ll do more psychological than actual damage. But it’ll get the fearmongering, the demagoguery and the blame game going. Sarah Palin will cheer.
6. Afghanistan will be neither won nor lost, which is to say that it will continue to be a lost cause. The Obama escalation will have dented Taliban operations, but neither Taliban will nor influence in Afghanistan will be significantly diminished. The administration of course will paint its escalation as a rousing success, because in parts of Afghanistan it will have tamped down violence and created the same state of siege that exists in Iraq. But it will have encrusted rather than changed the dysfunctions of Afghanistan. American troops will not begin to return home in 2010, except in body bags, especially in spring and summer.
7. In Palestine-Israel, a new intifada. Yes, Gilad Shalit, the Israeli soldier held prisoner by Hamas since June 2006, will be released in a prisoner exchange, but Israel won’t include Marwan Barghouti, the only Palestinian capable of uniting Hamas and Fatah, a feat not even Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, for all his good will, has been capable of. The refusal to release Barghouti will be a miscalculation on Israel’s part, if not an intentional miscalculation, there being plenty of evidence to suggest that what Israel fears most isn’t Hamas or the PLO, but a unified Palestinian front capable of demanding what is rightfully its own: a state. And Barghouti is the closest thing Palestinians have to a Nelson Mandela. Israelis call him a terrorist and a murderer just as Afrikaners used to call Mandela a terrorist and a murderer (as they held him for 30 years at Robben Island). It only reinforces Barghouti’s stature. That refusal on Israel’s part will ensure for Palestinians what Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has already ensured for Israelis: that there is no breakthrough in the Palestinian-Israeli peace process. That’s too much paralysis for too long. Haaretz reported that “The probability that Israel will fall victim to a wave of Palestinian terrorism in the near future on the scale of an intifada remains low, the head of the Shin Bet security service told lawmakers in Jerusalem” on Dec. 29. Which tells me that, beside the bogus comparison between terrorism and the intifada, the probability of another intifada is very high.
8. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his supreme puppetmaster, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, will lose their grip on Iran as the so-called “Green Revolution” turns from a popular movement to an insurrection. But Khamenei isn’t as dumb as Ahmadinejad, and the Iranian political system was set up with precisely this sort of eventuality in mind. Khamenei will cut his losses by cutting loose Ahmadinejad and working out a face-saving compromise with the movement, which is not seeking the end of the Islamic Republic anyway–just an end to its most corrupt and authoritarian practices. Khamenei will accept, in his remaining years, a figurehead role. Once again Iran will show the rest of the Middle East what popular will and force is about, independent of Western or other influences. The West will make the mistake, as it usually does, of interpreting Iran’s evolution as a chucking off of the Khomeini revolution. It won’t be that. Not yet, anyway. Nor will Iran give up on its nuclear ambitions. To the contrary. The same independence that radiates through the popular demonstrations in Tehran defines (and compels) independence in policy, including nuclear policy.
9. Retirement at the U.S. Supreme Court. Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who will turn 77 in March, and John Paul Stevens, who will turn 90 in April, will get in a tussle in May or June in the chambers of the United States Supreme Court. Antonin Scalia will have to separate them. They will be fighting over who will get to announce his retirement on the last day of the court, since neither wants to impose a double-appointment in the same electoral year on Barack Obama. Ginsburg will argue to Stevens that if he held on one more year, he could break William O. Douglas’ record of 36 years on the court (Stevens was appointed by Gerald Ford to fill the seat Douglas vacated in 1975). Stevens will argue to Ginsburg that he’s only got ten years, twelve at most, of active living, that he’s finally had it with Washington, and that Ginsburg assured the public when she was last in hospital that she would not be retiring any time soon. What clinches it is Steven’s point that by retiring now, Ginsburg would force Obama to make two successive female appointments to the court, something Obama doesn’t want to do, thereby possibly slinking the seat to a man instead. Ginsburg concedes. She stays on the court. Stevens retires. Obama considers, but doesn’t appoint, the court’s first Native American, and goes with yet another immoderately moderate, bland choice.
10. The News-Journal will be sold, it will turn conservative, and it will fire me. But fear not. As Richard Fisher, director of NASA’s Heliophysics Division, said on NPR in October, after NASA scientists discovered a protective ribbon of hydrogen around our solar system, “We thought we knew everything about everything, and it turned out that there were unknown unknowns.” That will be just as true of 2010 as it has always been of space. But some unknowns will be less unknown than others.