Since this is my last column of the year, I will use this space to give you my trusty predictions for 2005. While none of these are guaranteed and any predictions are always fraught with risks, I’m reasonably sure the majority of them will prove to be quite accurate. They are based on my analysis of the personalities involved and the outcomes of similar situations from the past.
(1) The Iraqi elections will go on as scheduled. This is the one I’m the most sure of. Barring some kind of cataclysmic event, Iraqis will go to the polls on January 30. Because of terrorist activity, which will only intensify as that date draws closer, it is anyone’s guess as to how many Iraqis will actually go to the polls. However, President Bush is bound and determined that these elections will take place on schedule, come hell or high water. I doubt if anyone, other than God Himself, would be capable of changing the President’s mind on this issue.
(2) Michael Jackson will be acquitted. Despite how bad Jackson might look, there’s just not enough evidence linking him to the crime he’s be accused of. Most of the stuff that makes him look so bad has nothing to do with this case. If he is acquitted, he should then do the "moonwalk" on the courtroom steps to rub Jane Velez-Mitchell’s nose in it.
(3) Gas prices will continue to drop. This is simply a matter of supply and demand. Oil and gas prices were way too high for way too long. This caused oil producing nations to cheat on their quotas and export more crude. Refiners increased their output as well to take advantage of the higher prices. As a result, there’s now an oil glut, despite OPEC’s announced cut in production. This will continue to put heavy downward pressure on oil prices. I expect the average price of a gallon of regular gasoline in the U.S. to dip to $1.30 sometime in 2005 before recovering a little.
(4) Al Gore will re-emerge onto the political scene. He will start making more high visibility speeches as well as more appearances on the TV talk show circuit, in preparation for his run for the presidency in 2008. Gore will once again become a formidable candidate for the highest office in the land.
(5) Progress will be made in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza will go on as planned. The new Palestinian Authority leader not be anywhere near the hard-liner that Arafat was. In response, Ariel Sharon will take less of a hard line toward the Palestinians. I’m not saying that 2005 will bring peace between Israel and the PLO, but a step in the right direction will be taken. However, given their history, any progress could be just temporary.
(6) Bush will tackle tax reform, but chicken out on Social Security reform. Social Security reform, at least for 2005, will prove to be too much of a hot potato for the President and for Congress. Tax reform, although difficult itself, is the path of least resistance. I don’t foresee a major overhaul, though. Look for some kind of simplification of the current tax code, along with some version of the Lifetime Savings Account. The Roth 401(k) might finally become a reality as well.
(7) VoIP will start to take off. Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) technology allows consumers to make phone calls over their broadband internet connections. It is much cheaper and less restrictive that standard phone service. Most people are still not familiar with it but the major phone companies, along with some smaller companies which specialize in that technology, will start to change that in 2005. They are already heavily advertising it on the internet. I expect a major TV, radio, and newspaper ad blitz to begin in early 2005.
(8) The Florida Marlins will stay put, but the Oakland A’s and Minnesota Twins will start looking elsewhere. The Marlins will finalize their deal with the city of Miami for a new baseball stadium. They will then change their name to the Miami Marlins. However, the A’s and the Twins won’t be so fortunate. The A’s will start serious negotiations with San Jose. The Twins will start looking at Las Vegas, Portland, Norfolk, or Monterrey, Mexico as a possible new venue. The Expos’ relocation to Washington was Major League Baseball’s first relocation in 33 years. Now that the genie is out of the bottle, there could be several more in the next five years.
(9) The NHL season will be partially saved. There is no way the NHL wants to become the first major North American sports league to lose an entire season due to a labor dispute. Commissioner Gary Bettman and the owners will temporarily drop their demands for a salary cap and accept a modified version of the players’ latest offer. This will allow the last 35-40% of the season, along with the playoffs, to proceed as scheduled. However, this will just be a short-term deal that will only take the league through the end of the 2005-06 season. Then they’ll be right back to the drawing board.
(10) Next season’s flu shot supply will be plentiful by October. I expect that everyone has learned their lesson from this year’s fiasco. There will be at least one company, possibly two, producing the vaccine in the United States. Congress will pass legislation to ensure that the production and distribution of the vaccine will be less risky for American companies. Also, the FDA will probably do a better job of monitoring worldwide supplies. Enough will be available for anyone in the U.S who wants one.