‘Tis the season for all observers of the global and national scene to gather up shreds of information and stitch them together in a way to reinforce their biases. Here goes.  Rather than rank from “most likely” to “least likely”, let’s work from “most important” to “least important”.

1. North Korea. Trump has moved the Chinese and the United Nations to the point of real sanctions, with no apparent impact on Kim Jong Un.  The nuclear missile program is progressing to the point of reaching anywhere in the United States. (At his point of poor targeting accuracy, the strategy is “anti city” for deterrence, rather than “anti-force” to take out our attack capability.) Evidence is accumulating for North Korean  biological warfare planning and responsibility for cyberwarfare attacks. The world’s peaceful options in 2018 include reliance on missile defense systems, or settling into a Cold War – type Mutual Assured Destruction stand-off. Generals now run the Defense Department and the White House national security structure, while the State Department budget is down 30%. Look for an assasination or a preemptive take out of Kim’s offensive capabilities.

2. The November elections.

Senate. The Democrats defend 26 seats to the Republicans’ 8. Ten Democrats are in states which Trump won; one Republican is in a state carried by Clinton. Look for a small Republican net gain, but not enough for the 60 vote margin needed to pass most legislation without Democrat defections.

– House. Good political minds (Charlie Cook; Stu Rothenberg) project that the Democrats will pick up a fews House seats, but less than the 24 needed to hand the gavel back to Nancy Pelosi. The quixotic theme for the rabid Democratic base will be that a majority will allow impeachment by the House, if not conviction by the Senate. But …the average American enjoys having an extra $1000 in their paycheck; forget it. Paul Ryan will hold on. Pelosi will not retire.

– California. The race to succeed Jerry Brown as governor is between liberal former San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom and more pragmatic former Los Angeles mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. There are 850,000 people in San Francisco, and 4,000,000 in Los Angeles, but state-wide 61% of likely voters are white, 18% Hispanic. Newsom, who is calling for free universal healthcare, will likely win, placing a premium on Republicans holding one third of the Assembly or Senate to provide some brake on spending. Calamity is likely.  Of the 14 California Republican House members, only five represent wealthy coastal districts which are affected by the tax reform – expect two or three losses with immense funding of the Pelosi-led effort to flip up to 7 districts.

3. The economy. The Democrats got on the wrong political side of “it’s the economy, stupid” with uniform opposition to tax reform. With global economies improving, the reduction of corporate tax rates, and the repatriation of $400 billion in corporate assets held overseas, prosperity will last at least another year, and the Republicans can claim credit, even though the recovery began 7 years ago.  (By 2020 there is a risk of inflation and an adverse impact of central banks returning interest rates to normal levels; but not this year.)

4. The Trump administration.

– Court appointments. 2017 saw Senate approval of Neil Gorsuch, 12 appeals court judges, and a handful of district judges. Anthony Kennedy (82), Ruth Bader Ginsberg (85), or Steven Breyer (80) could provide a second Supreme Court appointment – but not in 2018 year if they can help it. Even with the 51 to 49 majority, Trump and McConnell will get to install a record numbers of judges to fill the 15 appeals court and 128 lower court openings.

– Immigration. Can Trump match up the Democrats’ desire to legalize Obama’s overreach in providing amnesty for young immigrants with the conservative requirement that there not be an amnesty without fixing the porous nature of our southern border? This is as easy as bipartisan things get in Washington. Done by February – perhaps with a few other contentious “must do” subjects (like extending the Children’s Health Insurance Program – CHIP) tagging along.

– Healthcare. No Donald, eliminatioin of the Individual Mandate does not doom ObamaCare. We will muddle through another year with increasing premiums and shrinking services. Maybe some day both sides will agree that the stalemate doesn’t work, but no Democrat dare take even a small step from President Obama’s greatest accomplishment as long as Nancy Pelosi is the Democratic leader in the House.

– Fiscal Responsibility. Look for fiscal conservatives, who sucked it up for the $1.5 trillion cost of tax reform, to regain their footing. There will not be another $81 billion for hurricane and fire relief in Texas, Louisiana, Florida, and California, much less Puerto Rico (which will be an issue in the November elections.) Mitch McConnell has told Paul Ryan to forget about reforming Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. Trump wants a huge infrastructure bill, but nobody has any idea how to fund it.  Look for gridlock on anything financial between House Republicans (who believe in balanced budgets) and Senate Republicans (who live in the world of the politically possible.)

5. Mueller.

– There was no collusion. Obstruction of justice would be laughable on the basis of Comey’s note to self about Trump hoping that Flynn would not be prosecuted. (For a definition of the crime of Obstruction of Justice, think of Loretta Lynch meeting on the tarmac with Bill Clinton.)  With some fanfare there will be prosecutions of Manafort, Gates, Flynn, and Papadopoulos, but nobody named Trump.

– As long as Mueller is still going, Republicans will not let go of the real conspiracy by Hillary, the Democratic National Committee, the FBI, and Obama”s
White House to throw the election against Trump. (See Pat Buchanan’s simple thesis.)  If Mueller leaves Trump alone, he will leave the corrupt FBI alone.

6. The Philadelphia Eagles; the Golden State Warriors; and the New York Yankees. No Kaepernick. Take that to the bank.

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