|PREDICTIONS FOR 2003|
|By Eric Gillin||
The coming year will almost certainly be a challenging one for America, with a war against Iraq looming on the horizon, a long overdue economic recovery still not quite underway and governments at every level running massive deficits. In our opinion, 2003 won't be the year that all hell breaks loose, but as with 2002, it will build upon the themes and trends that have emerged since September 11, 2001. But 2003 will not be a mere placeholder -- this is the year where politicians start beating the drum for the elections in 2004.
Here's a look at what we think might happen over the next 12 months.
The war in Iraq lasts six months, much longer than people anticipated, because the military doesn't fold like a tent and Hussein is more elusive than thought. The major sticking point will be Bagdad, where American generals will have to weigh the possibility of massive civilian causalities against the thousands of soldiers that would be killed in an urban assault.
By the end of summer, it's all wrapped up and Hussein is safely tucked away in the Libyan compound he's been building for the past few months. Iraq is handed over to the U.N. and the country is thrown into complete chaos for months as America attempts to regain control over the world's second largest supply of oil reserves.
Palestine ceases to exist in its current form as Arafat's power base erodes and is replaced by pan-Arab terrorists. The fighting continues and Israel gets hit by a major attack during the American offensive against Iraq, but after Hussein is toppled, a new Palestinian leadership emerges that could become a valid peace partner in 2004. As much as the world prays for something different, peace in the Middle East doesn't occur in 2003. Expect at least one major missile attack on a major Israeli city that is launched from Lebanon, the new home of Hizbollah.
The two-faced Saudi regime is destabilized by the end of the year, overrun by Islamic militants who are sick of the way royals pander to American interests. Along these lines, Americans become sick of the way royals pander to Islamic interests. Pleasing no one, Saudi control over Mecca is challenged by a new, more radicalized political movement.
North Korea becomes the problem that won't go away, embroiling China, Russia, U.S. and the U.N. in rounds of talks to figure out what to do about the country. North Korea continually blames the U.S. and makes threatening statements, but eventually, economic sanctions are imposed a/la Iraq. It contains the problem in the short run, but South Korea complains that the sanctions hurt its economy too.
Afghanistan drops off the media radar as a story, but the country makes slow, remarkable strides towards peaceful coexistence. By the end of 2003, Afghanis will have known two years of relative peace, which has given them the courage to finally raise an army that can police the nation.
After three years of falling, the U.S. stock market posts moderate gains, thanks to the successful conclusion of the war against Iraq and the eventual passage of Bush's $670 billion economic stimulus. That said, economic growth remains slight and average Americans really start to feel the pain as employers refuse to raise wages and pass along more medical insurance costs to employees.
The amount of debt each American has continues to soar, but this time, there's nothing left to borrow as banks finally tighten their lending standards after three years of 0% financing and record low mortgage rates. Because people bought so many goods on the notion that they wouldn't have to make any payments until 2004, as 2004 approaches, the wallets snap shut. As with this Christmas season, there is little to boast about in 2003.
Unemployment falls to about 6.5% by the end of the year. The travel industry, which accounts for a sizeable chunk of the economy, undergoes a depression unlike anything anyone has ever seen. Airline employees wonder if they should panic as United Airlines is forced to liquidate by summer, putting 83,000 people out of work.
Also, government spending in areas outside of defense, especially at the state level, will drop off a cliff, costing more people their jobs as deficits ripple through the economy.
THE PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION
The Republican party continues to roll along, aided
by the successful war. Americans don't blame Bush for the economic weakness,
because the Republicans passed a version of his stimulus package. Bush
enters 2004 with a huge lead in the polls. The Democratic party's leadership
changes and John Kerry emerges as the leading candidate for '04 after
elbowing aside Hilary Clinton, who makes yet another gaffe trying to stop
Bush's economic package.
Cable TV becomes the huge story in '03 as ratings begin to regularly trounce broadcast, sending the big three networks into a tailspin. The addition of movies on demand and other services prove incredibly popular as well, giving rise to the birth of modern TV. By next Christmas, plasma sets will be 50% cheaper.