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Columnist makes predictions for 2016 here and worldwide

PREDICTION: New Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin, seen in Frankfort Tuesday, will “transform” Kynect. (KPA Photo by Teresa Revlett)

PREDICTION: New Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin, seen in Frankfort Tuesday, will “transform” Kynect. (KPA Photo by Teresa Revlett)

Making predictions for a new year is always problematic because the world is in constant chaos. This is especially true of politics, war, the economy and the coming Presidential election. I figure I have at least a 50-50 chance of being correct in my look at 2016. How do your predictions compare to mine?

Military Grey Zones: These are areas in the world where the power of the U.S. will experience greater challenges. This includes Russia, China and Iran. Michael Martone, U.S. Army War College, recently published a paper in which he identified the power gaps that these countries will continue to exploit.

Russia: Ukraine and NATO: Russia, for years, protested the encroachment of NATO to its border since it felt it needed at least a one state barrier between it and the expansionist minded NATO countries. From Putin’s perspective, this was equivalent to aiming a gun at Russia’s head, and since he wanted back into the international power game, what better way to gain respect than to raise the specter of military adventurism in the Ukraine and fortifying the Russian border against a possible NATO threat through an expanding military. I would expect continual saber rattling from Putin in 2016. To counter this Saber rattling, expect the next US administration to deploy more troops to NATO border countries to act as a trip wire and to settle the nerves of those countries on the Russian border. Unfortunately, Russia, along with Europe, will be plagued by homegrown Jihadists. The Russian Jihadist will primarily be Chechen who return from the Middle East under the ISIS banner to pursue Chechen independence.

China: The South China Sea: China will continue to extend its influence into the South China Sea. China will continue to challenge the US for supremacy in the Pacific because of the need for resources. China, like Japan prior to WW2, needs resources and those resources are located in the South China Sea in territories claimed by other countries. In order to circumvent that issue, China will continue to expand its maritime power by, first, building another aircraft carrier to accompany the one it purchased from Ukraine. Secondly, it will continue to create artificial islands to act as static aircraft carriers to protect its interest in that area. The US will continue to transit this area to assure freedom of the seas. I would not expect a conflict to arise through this transiting: however, some accidents are bound to occur. Vietnam, the Philippines, and the other countries threatened by China will draw closer to the US for protection from an expansionist China. The only wild card here is Vietnam for they will not be pushed around and China knows it. They fought a small war in the 1979, so I would fully expect China and Vietnam to engage in some small naval battles in the coming year as China tests the limits of its expansion.

Iran: The Middle East and the Straits of Hormuz. Iran is another wildcard since its people are, first, Persian, who, as Churchill said, are the “Huns of the Middle East” and want to once more build an empire in the Middle East. Secondly, Iran is a schizophrenic nation as the “Bridgers” and the “Saboteurs” fight for control of both foreign and internal policy. The Saboteurs are led by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards who want to maintain their theocratic government while the Bridgers are led by the Iranian internationalists who want to open Iran to the west. The Saboteurs are smaller yet wield massive influence, therefore, I would expect them to continue to fund Hezbollah in their fight against Israel, continue to increase their influence in Iraq amongst the Shei, and, perhaps most importantly, they want to control the Straits of Hormuz through which approximately 70% of the world’s oil supply transits. I would expect a small dustup in 2016 with shots fired as the Revolutionary Guards test the limits of their control over the Straits and the US insists on the right to transit the area. A final note: Because of the critical importance of this area a miscalculation on the part of the Guards could result in a major battle and the temporary closure of the Straits.

Kentucky: Governor Matt Bevins: To be truthful the new governor has started to surprise me. I initially thought he was a Tea Party acolyte who was accidentally elected by a low voter turnout. He came across during the election cycle as a Tea Party ideologue more interested in becoming a “lemming with a suicide vest” than properly governing the state. So far he surprised me on two things. First, he tinkered at the edge by changing the marriage license certificate to not contain the name of the County Court Clerk. He obviously did this to satisfy his evangelical and Tea Party base, so I would expect him to continue to tinker at the edges as he pledges to do with “transforming” rather than eliminating Obamacare’s expansion of Medicaid. Bevin’s is both a Tea Party acolyte and a politician and there are over 400,000 Kentucky voters affected by Medicaid. I fully expect him, in 2016, to “transform” rather than eliminate Kynect, the Kentucky front end of Obamacare.

Kentucky: Coal: In 2016 there will be some residual low level mining but nothing like what it was when my father mined coal in the 20s, 30s and 40s. At that time there were more than 50,000 miners in Kentucky, mostly in the mountains. Now there are about 13,000 remaining miners, mostly in western Kentucky. This is a result of three converging factors to which I assign a weight of about 33% each. First, the remaining coal is simply too expensive to mine. All the easily mined coal has been mined over the last one hundred years. Second, an increasing reliance on power supplied by nonfossil fuels such as solar, geothermal, and wind power. Third, is the increasing regulation related to air quality. We know these regulations related to air quality through the Republican slogan, “Obama’s War on Coal.” Well, the Republicans have always been good at sloganeering but seem to provide little assistance to eastern Kentucky. For all practical purposes, major coal mining is finished in eastern Kentucky: therefore, I fully expect the coal production to continue its downward spiral through 2016. Coal is gone in eastern Kentucky and neither the Republicans nor the Democrats are going to help us. We must help ourselves.

Middle East: The Middle East, Syria, etc., will continue to remain in turmoil throughout 2016. Obama was elected on the promise to withdraw the US from the Middle East entangle- ments and, unfortunately, he has chosen to premature disengage our forces which has left a power vacuum gladly filled by ISIS. Fortunately, Obama has slowly recognized this and has slowly begun to ramp up the Special Operations personnel and air support to assist in battling ISIS. I expect the next president, whether Democratic or Republican, to dramatically increase Special Operations personnel and air support in this area. I would not expect to see any “boots” (infantry troops) on the ground. I suspect that is a bridge too far for any Democratic or Republican politician. ISIS will not be defeated in 2016 and the battle is expected to continue for several more years with a recommitment of US effort and forces. Unfortunately, the battle against ISIS will be hindered by the ongoing conflict between the Sunni states led by Saudi Arabia and the Shia states led by Iran.

The Economy : The economy is anemic but will continue its slow recovery throughout 2016. Unemployment will continue to hover at about 5% and that figure, for all practical purposes, will be considered full employment as the economy gains about 200,000 new employees each month. Our national deficit will continue to hover at around 2.5% of the Gross National Product (GNP). The inflation rate will continue at about 1.5%. All in all, the economy is doing very well and should continue along a steady but unspectacular climb in 2016.

Well, you ask, if that is the case then why are Americans feeling bad about their status. I suspect that are several reasons for this: First, Americans are being told by their political representatives that the economy is doing poorly (which it isn’t). Second, there is a rising inequality as the middle class is hollowed out. Third, Americans lack confidence in their government. For example, in a recent Gallup poll only 16 % of those polled expressed a “great deal of confidence” in the Executive Branch, only 4% in the Legislative Branch and only 14% in the Judicial Branch. The US government, from any perspective, does appear to be dysfunctional

Middle Class: Economic Inequality, Hollowed Out. It seems to be conventional wisdom among Americans that the top 1 percent of the richest has skimmed most income gains for itself producing greater inequality of wealth in our population. In essence, Wall Street has turned Main Street into a street for the homeless and helpless. To a certain extent there is an element of truth in that perception; however, the big picture turns out to be a little more complex as put forth in a recent PEW Research Report. According to this report it does turn out that (1) that economic inequality is increasing, (2) the middle class is being hollowed out, and (3) that the extremes in the upper and lower incomes are growing.

For example, middle-income households (defined as three-person households with incomes from $41,869 to $125,608 in today’s dollars) was 61% of the population in 1971. By 2014, the middle class had been reduced to 50 percent. During that same period, low-income households (defined as three person households with incomes of $41,868 or less) had grown from 25 percent to 29 percent, while upper-income households (incomes above $125,608) had increased from 14 percent to 21 percent. The good news is that the living standards of most Americans, according to the same report, has not stagnated during the same period since most “Households typically experienced double-digit gains in each of the three decades from 1970 to 2000.” For most Americans it certainly does not feel that way because the Great Recession of 2007-2009 erased much of these gains because unemployment rose, overtime pay declined, and many of the unemployed had to accept lower wages to get new jobs.

In 2016 I would expect to see greater inequality, greater population fragmentation, and rising tension between the classes. I would expect this rising inequality to continue as long as Trickle Down economics (Bush Sr. proclaimed it “Voodoo” economics) continue to be a bedrock belief of the Republican Party.

Presidential Elections: No look at 2016 would be complete without a look at the presidential election, so here is my analysis of the most viable candidates and a forecast. But first a disclaimer, I am a Republican/ Democrat (read that moderate) who has no difficulty voting either Republican or Democrat depending upon the candidate and issues.

Donald Trump: I expect Trump to finish second in Iowa and win New Hampshire. Trump, if anything, will be angrier after losing Iowa and his message will become even more strident and extreme. I would expect him to fade after South Carolina but remain in the election. From my perspective, he is a proto-Fascist whose support will remain at about 30% among angry white Republicans. That is simply not enough for him to win the General Election.

Ted Cruz: I expect Ted Cruz to win Iowa, place fourth in New Hampshire and to run well in South Carolina. Cruz, in comparison to Trump, is now viewed as a more acceptable GOP candidate. In addition, Cruz has the money, evangelical and Tea Party support. He is well situated to be the GOP candidate in the General Election. From my perspective, he is a Tea Party Ideologue whose insurgency against the GOP establishment has simply left too many bitter enemies (Senator John Mc- Cain (R) equated him to a “Whaco Bird.”) to be elected president.

Marco Rubio: I expect Rubio to come in third in Iowa, place third in New Hampshire and first in South Carolina. He is the GOP establishment favorite and stands a good chance, based on a brokered convention, of becoming the GOP candidate. From my perspective, he has a broad appeal and stands the best chance of beating the Democrat candidate in the General Election.

Chris Christie: I expect Christie to come in fourth in Iowa, second in New Hampshire and run well in South Carolina. Christie is the most talented campaigner but will be unable to weather the other GOP candidates’ attack on his handling of the George Washington Bridge lane closure. He stands no chance of advancing to the General Election.

Jeb Bush: Bush has the funding and he will spend millions going after his opponents in both the Iowa and New Hampshire elections. Money is simply not enough to get him through the Primary and into the General election. From my perspective, he has no spirit, is not a good candidate and should have taken his mother’s advice not to run. Voters simply don’t like what another Bush can offer.

John Kasich: Kasich has simply disappeared as a candidate and New Hampshire will be his swan song. The southern states will be too much for him and his decidedly moderate message. To be truthful, l like Kasich and would have no trouble voting for him as President since he has proven himself a good executive. Unfortunately, he will not make it into the General Election.

Hillary Clinton. Hillary is a lovely, intelligent, dynamic, well-educated woman who I believe is the smartest and most thoughtful in this crowded field. She is the kind of woman I would like to meet at a coffee house for discussions. Hillary is a seasoned fighter, the best debater (by far) and the most experienced of both Democratic and Republican candidates. Unfortunately, she has Bill Clinton as an albatross around her neck. If Bill stays in the background, which he seems inclined to do, then Hillary will triumph over Marco Rubio in the General Election and become our first woman president.

J.T. Oney lives at Mayking.

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