A few predictions for 2006

Congress stays in Republican control … the politics of scandals escalates … China-Japan tensions worsen … the economy chugs along. Those are some of the things our crystal ball sees ahead for 2006.

Here are our annual predictions:

Scandals rock Washington, as the federal investigation into the lobbying activities of Jack Abramoff and his associates will force the resignations of well-known politicians. But GOP efforts to revitalize the House Ethics Committee to clean up the mess in Congress will be stymied by partisan finger-pointing.

Republicans lose seats in the midterm elections but retain control of both the House and Senate with diminished majorities.

Upsets: Rep. Harold Ford, D-Tenn., beats impossible odds to defeat Republican Bob Corker for the Senate seat. Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., is defeated.

In the House, his colleagues won’t approve efforts by former House Republican leader Tom DeLay of Texas to regain his post as GOP leader.

A more-active-than-usual 2006 hurricane season, but not quite as nasty as it was in 2005.

More gloom in Detroit: Geely, manufacturer of the first Chinese-made sports car, begins selling its models in the United States at bargain-basement sticker prices ranging from $7,000 to $11,000 for a fully loaded model. For the first time, Toyota will exceed General Motors in U.S. car sales.

A withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq begins, with National Guard and Reserve forces heading home and replaced by the professional units drawn from Europe and Korea.

Baghdad’s fractious politics worsen, with bare-knuckle political wrangling over who controls Iraq’s oil revenues, and a worsening insurgency. Abu Mussab al-Zarqawi remains at large.

The U.S. economy looks strong on paper with productivity, corporate profits and growth-gaining. Consumer spending moderates, as Americans feel uneasy with declines in real wage growth for the fifth year, increased health care costs, and cooling housing prices.

Top business growth area: Do-it-for-me services, especially for boomers, who have the bank accounts to hire someone else to do the work, such as retiling the bathroom or paving the driveway.

Another business development: Big shopping malls really feel the impact of lost business to the Internet.

No more Supreme Court retirements this year.

No bird flu pandemic this year. But bird flu continues to be a concern, and sporadic human cases still crop up.

Overseas developments:

  • Syria gets a new leader, and Washington doesn’t like him.
  • Bitter midwinter elections for Canada’s Liberals, who may be forced to make a coalition government with the prairie socialist New Democratic Party.
  • Tony Blair isn’t the British prime minister by year’s end, but a revolt in Labor Party ranks over replacing him with Gordon Brown may materialize
  • Mexicans overseas can vote for the first time in their 2006 presidential elections, but don’t expect many ballots to come from the United States.
  • In Israel, Arial Sharon’s centrist coalition wins re-election, burying the hopes of Binyamin Netanyahu and reaffirming the idea of swapping land with the Palestinians for peace.
  • If Iran doesn’t come to an agreement over stopping its nuclear program, Israel forces it to cease.

Mardi Gras survives in New Orleans, but frivolity is as faux as the gold carnival beads. By year’s end, less than a third of the city’s population will be back.

Gale Norton steps down as Interior Secretary.

On the social front:

  • Brad and Angelina won’t be a couple at year’s end.
  • The Oscar nominees for Best Picture are “History of Violence,” “Jarhead,” “King Kong,” “Memoirs of a Geisha” and “Walk the Line.” In line for best actor is Heath Ledger for “Brokeback Mountain,” while “March of the Penguins” marches off with best documentary. But watch as the Motion Picture Academy swoons for the $200 million, three-hour remake of “King Kong.”
  • Pearl Jam, the Red Hot Chili Peppers and R.E.M. prove they are still red hot with new albums.
  • Watch as Canada emerges as the fertile breeding ground for alternative rock led by Arcade Fire, Wolf Parade, Feist, Broken Social Scene, New Pornographers and Hot Hot Heat.
  • Scandal-plagued divas Janet Jackson, Whitney Houston and Lauryn Hill experience a successful year.
  • TV-enabled cell phones become a plague in schools.
  • Fad is fading on Crocs, the light-weight plastic shoes that were big in high school corridors.

On the sports pages:

  • Southern Cal wins national championship Jan. 4 in Rose Bowl, but doesn’t even qualify for national championship game in 2006 season.
  • World Baseball Classic is a success, even though the U.S. doesn’t win at the inaugural event.
  • Indianapolis wins the Super Bowl for the first time.
  • Michelle Wie wins first women’s tournament.
  • Reality bites; U.S. fails to make out of first round of soccer’s World Cup draw.
  • For sixth year in a row, Yankees don’t win World Series, and manager Joe Torre leaves.
  • U.S. does well at Torino Olympics, but does not match record medal count of 34 achieved at Salt Lake.

So how did we do last year?

We were on spot forecasting two Supreme Court vacancies this year, and predicted a “busier-than-average hurricane season.” We told readers Republican mavericks would derail Social Security reform.

We were way off the mark when we said that Hillary Rodham Clinton would make it clear she’s not running for president in ’08. While we’re still hopeful Lindsay Lohan might become Hollywood’s reigning starlet, it didn’t happen, either. “Million Dollar Baby” (which we didn’t mention) was the Academy Award winner for best picture, not “The Aviator” as we had expected.

Happy New Year.

(Contact Lance Gay at GayL(at)shns.com)