January 3, 2006
I would wish you a happy new year, but that wouldn't be like me. You know me... doom and gloom. I am a pessimist, always have been, and it's served me well so far. I know a lot of optimists and I can tell you, being a pessimist is best. The optimists I know seem to be forever trying to figure out what went wrong. Their lives are peppered with disappointments. Whereas, as a perennial pessimist, I am rarely disappointed and often pleasantly surprised. I prefer pleasant surprises to unpleasant disappointment.
So let's cue up the coming year and see what is likely to go wrong.
In 2006 Iraq's Sunnis will become Iraq's Palestinians. The Kurds and Shiites will carve up Iraq like a prime rib divvying up the juicy oil-rich portions for themselves. The Sunnis will be shoved into a million square mile oil free sandbox on the boarder with Sunni-dominated Syria. The hope would be that sooner or later Syria will take in their Sunni brothers. But that is not going to happen any more than Israel's one-time hope that Jordan would absorb West Bank Palestinians.
What we now call the Sunni “insurgency” will morph this year into a Sunni Intifada. Because in the Middle East there's no such thing as a “good loser.”
As that Sunni intifada escalates, the US will declare victory and leave. The security vacuum created by our departure will be quickly filled by radical Shiite Iranian Revolutionary Guard troops.
Up north, in newly declared Kurdistan, the Kurds will ask for security guarantees from NATO, which they will get since both the US and Europeans have had it right up to here with Iran. Also Europe would not want to see Iranian domination of all of the former Iraq. Since the south has already been lost to Iran, Kurdistan will become a tense DMZ (hopefully) blocking radial Islam's westward march.
Meanwhile down south treatment of Iraq's former Sunni rulers will become increasingly brutal. It will begin with undisguised ethnic cleansing as Sunnis living in Kurdish and Shiite areas are harassed into moving into their Sunni sandbox. Those who resist will face increasingly brutal treatment. Reports of genocide will filter to the west, be denied by Shiites and declared “an internal Iraqi problem,” by the West which has lost its appetite for trying to sort out Iraqi tribal feuds.
Ten years from now maps will show three countries where Iraq once was, Kurdistan, Sunnistan, and the Islamic Republic of Iraq, a defacto Provence of Iran. (At which point muffled hysterical laughter will be heard emanating from the tomb of the Ayatollah Khomeini.)
Today's plea agreement between ubber-lobbyist, Jack Abramoff, and federal prosecutors will result in early retirement of some vintage GOP politicians. It's not so much getting caught up to their arms in corruption but the timing. Abramoff will be spilling his beans at the very moment the entire House of Representatives is up for reelection this year.
Memories of an early House-cleaning scandal lurk. There are still fresh blood stains on the marble from the House banking scandal of 1992. The House Bank scandal ensnared more than 350 House Members, 23 of whom were actually convicted of wrongdoing. But it also reversed the balance of power in the House, helping to give the long-suffering GOP minority their first taste of power in decades. (More here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/House_banking_scandal )
This time the handcuffs are on the other hands, GOP hands. If Democrats don't get caught doing something worse between now and November, history could repeat itself. (And, since Democrats rarely do anything, right or wrong, these days, that outcome seems increasingly likely. )
Thanks largely to Abramoff, Tom DeLay will soon get a chance to dust off his pest control expertise advising federal prisons on how best to control roach infestations. As an inmate himself DeLay will still be able to give advice on matters in which he has a vested interest. (If I were a federal prison cockroach I'd be putting in a transfer request to Gitmo.)
The American Consumer
Credit junkie consumers are in for surprise beginning this month. Those benevolent credit card companies that have made it so easy to get in debt, are doubling their minimum payments on card balances. For decades they didn't really want you to pay down your balance because you were so agreeable about being screwed blue by their usurious interest rates.
But now you've gone and gotten yourself so deeply in debt that even those loan sharks are worried. Now they want some of their principle back as well each month. The “never-never” (never have to pay the money back) days are over.
Which, in and of itself, is a good thing. The only trouble is that so many consumers live right there, at the minimum monthly payment line. Knowing which of their two-dozen credit cards still have available credit and that their monthly take-home pay is just enough to cover the minimum payments on the other cards, is what defines “financial planning” for too many Americans these days. Double those minimums and the math no longer works.
Add to that lenders jacking up rates and up monthly payments on adjustable home loans, a slowing real estate market, skyrocketing fuel and utility bills, and what you get is a consumer unable to consume. Since we are now a consumer-driven economy, that's bad news for industries that rely on what I call “trickle UP economics.
I have one piece of real estate investment advice for 2006. If you own beach front property, sell it. If you've always wanted to own beach front property, buy something 20 miles inland and wait a few years.
Some time this year VP Dick Cheney will step aside “for health reasons,” and Bush will appoint Condi Rice to be both America's first woman and first black to hold that office. The politcal calculation is a no-brainer. By 2008 the GOP will be in such disfavor with voters that the party will have to reinvent itself. Sure Rice was part of almost everything that went wrong with Bush's foreign policy, but that won't matter as much as chipping women and minority voters off the Democratic block. To reassure male voters the GOP ticket would be either Rice/McCain, or Rice/Guliani.
Which means, of course, the Dems would have to monkey-do by nominating Hillary and we'll end up with a Hillary/Obama Democrat ticket as the Dems try to thwart the GOPs dastardly plan.
If this comes to pass and we have two women to chose from for President that will be what consumes media attention, not whether either one of them is worthy of the office – which of course, neither woman is.
In the coming year the darling of Internet companies, Google, will begin it's transformation into the Wal-Mart of the virtual world. As Google buys everything in sight trying to put the gobs of money investors are throwing at them to work, they will step on toes, lots of toes.
The Internet is just like the physical world, just faster. While it took Wal-Mart a couple of decades to piss off millions of people, it will take Google just a couple of years of tumor-like growth to do the same. (Just ask Bill Gates.)
Which brings me to the world of personal computing. I predict that 2006 will be year computer users begin deserting Microsoft for good. Why? Because we Windows PC users have had it. Microsoft has simply worn us out picking up after it's sloppy programming and monopolistic, take no prisoners, attitude towards any potential competitor with the balls to suggest they have a better way.
We are sick -- sick, sick, sick -- of never-ending security problems, sick of installing patches over holes that shouldn't have been there in the first place, sick of paying extra for third-party anti-virus software to protect our precious files from programs written by kids with ear rings hanging off all the wrong body parts, and sick of paying through the nose every couple of years to upgrade to Microsoft's latest operating system in the desperate hope this iteration of Windows actually works as advertised, only to discover once more that it doesn't.
That's why I say 2006 is Microsoft's last chance. Come spring Microsoft will finally release it's long delayed Longhorn operating system. Of course they claim they've gotten it right this time, which leaves me feeling like Charlie Brown looking down the field at Lucy holding that football in place, promising that this time she won't pull it away.
So, being a pessimist, I decided not to bite this time. After over two decades of migrating up the Windows operating system gauntlet, I jumped ship and bought a new Apple iMac G5.
It wasn't easy. It was a lot like switching sexual orientations. But I knew I had made the right choice the moment I opened the box and was presented with a pamphlet sized user's manual. Oh sure, Windows has a short “Quick Start” section to their users manual too. But that's followed by a thick “Trouble shooting” section that describes what to try if your Windows computer does any one of a thousand things no computer should ever do anyway.
So far, so good. The Mac turned on, ran and has not crashed – a new experience for this escapee from Microsoft's inner circle of Dante's Inferno.
So, if you're an investor, sell Microsoft short and buy Apple stock as early in 06 as you can.
If you are a Windows XP user nursing that increasingly sluggish PC along until Longhorn is released, my heart goes out to you. I know the fear and loathing you feel at the very thought of deserting Windows for a Mac. Hell, when I left the computer store carrying that big iMac box I could jsut feel the stares of hatred from all those Windows folks in the parking lot. I felt like a traitor, a deserter. There in my arms was proof positive that I had joined the pod people, those granola crunching, superiority complex, too-good-for-this-earth, Birkenstocker-wearing Apple people.
But, I got over it. Pass the granola and soy milk please.
So there you have my thoughts and predictions for the coming year. The bottom line:
Become a pessimist. You won't be disappointed.