In an amazing stroke of luck, Santa left a crystal ball under the tree for me last week. Despite trepidation at foreseeing the future, I felt obligated to take a peek and provide readers with a list of 11 surprises for the coming year.
Osama bin Laden is captured on Oct. 15 by U.S. Green Berets in an Iranian desert cave, outfitted with French kidney dialysis equipment and tended by Russian doctors. The discovery energizes President Bush's already surging campaign for re-election and pushes the Dow Jones Industrial Average above 12,750 for the first time. Democrats cry foul, complaining that the administration had pinned the al Qaeda leader months before and saved his capture for a rainy day. Yet their peacenik candidate loses his key foreign policy rhetorical plank and goes down to a landslide defeat that eclipses past losses by McGovern and Dukakis. U.S. job growth stages a remarkable comeback on the strength of the Iraq rebuilding effort. Employment at Rust Belt steel makers, ore processors, mineral miners, sawmills, machinery makers and oilfield-equipment makers surges as the Bush administration puts tens of billions of taxpayer dollars to work in hammering, nailing and soldering the industrial and social infrastructure of the once-prodigious oil exporter back together. By the middle of the spring, the U.S. economy is adding more than 200,000 new jobs per month, and factory-capacity utilization hits a three-year high. Boosting manufacturing is a little-heralded clause of the 2003 tax cuts that allows accelerated amortization of capital-equipment purchases in this year, and businesses ramp up their purchase of all kinds of machinery, from computers and optical switches to looms and backhoes. Congress makes the 2003 tax cuts permanent, frustrating financial bears who complained that this year's fiscal stimulus was a one-time hit of methamphetamine for the U.S. economy and would not be repeated in the future. The most controversial clause of the 2004 tax bill -- permanent elimination of the estate and dividend taxes -- provides a rallying cry for Democrats that the GOP is only looking out for the rich. The Democratic presidential candidate tries to run on a promise to repeal the tax cuts, only to find polls show voters like paying lower taxes for some reason.