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Welcome, New Year

By Staff
Leada DeVaney, Hartselle Enquirer
Each year, a group of faculty experts at The University of Alabama sit down and predict what they think will occur in the new year. And, if you look back at last year's prognostications, you will see their crystal ball usually is right on target.
Last year, the group predicted the war in Iraq would force a downturn in the stock market; television news channels would see an upswing in viewership; and Gov. Bob Riley's tax package would never make it past voters.
Each of those predictions proved to be correct. But how will they fair this year?
This year, experts are predicting a return to a strong economy; an upswing in disease epidemics but advances in other healthcare fields; and continued turmoil in state politics.
And what about the 2004 presidential election?
That one is difficult for the experts. One is saying expect Bush to be triumphant while another says Bush will lose.
Here's a look at that – and other – predictions from the UA group of experts.
Presidential politics
President George W. Bush will easily defeat his Democratic opponent and win a second term in the White House.
Or maybe he won't.
Those are the differing views of two UA experts, Dr. David Lanoue and Dr. Donald Snow.
Lanoue, chair of UA's political science department, said lingering problems with the economy and uncertainty in Iraq won't be enough to help the Democrats.
"I expect that President Bush will defeat his Democratic opponent by a fairly sizable margin in the Electoral College, but by only a narrow margin in the popular vote," Lanoue said. "If there is any surprise on the Republican side, it may be Vice President Cheney stepping down in favor of someone new on the ticket."
Bush's success will have a trickle down effect on the 2004 Congressional races as well.
"They will almost certainly pick up seats in the Senate, probably between two and four, and they will likely win seats in the House as well. This will virtually assure the GOP of control of Congress for the remainder of the decade," he said.
Not so fast, according to Snow, a professor of political science who has held visiting professorships at the U.S Air Command and Staff College, U.S. Naval War College, U.S. Army War College, and the U.S. Air War College.
Snow said the situation in Iraq will continue to worsen and will ultimately doom Bush to the same fate as his one-term presidential father.
"I still predict he's (Bush) toast unless two things happen," Snow said. "One, the economy has to improve so dramatically that we forget about the war and, two, the Democrats are going to have to hand the election to him. This administration is going to rise or fall based on the situation in Iraq next fall. The gamble in all of this is whether the situation deteriorates before or deteriorates after the election."
Around Alabama
While the national scene may be clear-cut, the Alabama political landscape continues to be rocky.
One thing is clear, however. Don't be looking for Alabama's governor or legislature to present a new tax plan to the public in the coming year.
UA political expert Dr. William Stewart said anyone with that idea should look back at last year's overwhelming rejection of Gov. Bob Riley's tax plan.
"Governor Riley will not take the lead on any new tax packages in 2004 after being burned so badly by the voters' overwhelming rejection of his September 2003 tax and accountability plan. Instead, the legislature will propose some 'band-aid'-type measures to bring in a modest amount of revenue," Stewart said.
This temporary fix will make it hard for real progress in the state, Stewart said.
" Alabamians will continue to favor 'economical' government despite the fact that the attempt to starve government will only ensure that the state will continue to rank at or near the bottom in terms of most quality of life indicators," Stewart said.
The GOP will continue to enjoy its stronghold on Alabama, Stewart said. Alabamians will throw their support behind President Bush and Republicans will continue to do well on a state level, too.
"At the state level Republicans will continue to do well, especially in judicial elections. As a result of November 2004 balloting the Alabama Supreme Court will have nine Republicans and not a single Democrat," Stewart said.
Sen. Richard Shelby, a Republican, will easily win reelection and will not face opposition from former Chief Justice Roy Moore, who was forced off the state's high court this year for his refusal to remove a 10 commandments monument from the state capitol.
While Moore won't run for the Senate, he will not fade away. Moore will continue his fight to be reinstated and will push for a constitutional amendment to protect public officials right to praise God.
UA law professor Bryan Fair said Moore will likely loose his state appeal to be reinstated but will pursue the case into federal court.
"This saga will play out for several more years," Fair said.
Moore will try to raise his profile and will look to sign book and film deals, Fair said.
"Moore will travel from state to state drumming up support for a constitutional amendment that would support the right to display the Ten Commandments on public property; however, amending the U.S. Constitution is a long process and two-thirds of the states would have to endorse the amendment," Fair said. "Such an amendment may be introduced, but it will ultimately fail."
As the world population continues to grow, we will see an increase in large-scale disease outbreaks.
"Population density always has been a factor for spreading disease," said Dr. John Higginbotham, epidemiologist and associate professor of community and rural medicine in the College of Community Health Sciences . "The more contact you have, the more likely you are that it's going to happen. In today's world you can be in California in the morning and on the East Coast in the evening and spread anything you've encountered."
The news isn't all bleak, however. Higginbotham says a great deal of progress has been made in the ability to sequence and identify viruses and other disease-causing organisms since HIV was identified in the 1980s.
"New disease-causing organisms come along all the time," he said. "But knowledge is power, even with epidemics. We may not know everything about a virus or bacteria, but we can still have preventive measures out, and that's good news for the future."
There will also be advances in drug therapies for a variety of diseases, including Alzheimer's disease.
Drs. Lou Burgio and Lucinda Roff, co-directors of The University of Alabama's Center for Mental Health and Aging, said the Alzheimer's treatment is similar to the drug combinations currently being used to treat HIV.
"With the availability in January 2004 of Namenda, a new cognitive enhancer that protects a different part of the brain than currently available enhancers such as Aricept, research suggests that combining these two types of drugs might be better in improving or at least slowing the decline in memory," Burgio said.
"A number of other drugs are in the research pipeline that protect other parts of the brain. As these drugs are added to the 'cocktail,' it is predicted that cognitive decline can be slowed even further," he said.
There could even be a vaccine for the disease.
"There is research being done with a vaccine that prevents Alzheimer's disease by providing antibodies to A-beta, a substance that clogs patients' brains," said Roff.
You can expect even higher gas prices in the coming year.
The higher gasoline prices will likely come during the summer travel season, according to says Dr. Peter Clark, associate professor of chemical engineering at The University of Alabama. The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) will say a decrease in crude oil supply prompted the increase.
"OPEC's rationale is that the drop in the value of the dollar is lowering their revenue, so they need to increase the price of oil to make up the difference," Clark said.
America will continue to be at OPEC's mercy, however.
"We don't have many other options, so we must pay the price if we want the gasoline products," Clark said.
To make matters worse, Clark said officials in the state are considering levying a gas tax.
"If implemented a gas tax has the potential to make the price of gasoline higher than it ever has been in Alabama," Clark said.
The high petroleum prices will drive more people to look at hybrid electric vehicles over gas-guzzling SUVs.
Dr. K. Clark Midkiff, associate professor of mechanical engineering, and Dr. John M. Wiest, associate professor of chemical engineering, said some hybrid electric vehicles are already on the market and hybrid SUVs could be in the near future.
"As the hybrid cars are introduced by more companies, people will start to see how much more efficient they are compared to traditional SUVs' low gas mileage," Midkiff said.
What will be on the catwalk next year? Probably something last seen in the 1980s, according to a UA professor of clothing and design.
"The preppy dress code has reemerged: pleated skirts, shirts slipped under sweaters, and Bermuda shorts with updates that include short slickers in patent leather, a touch of sparkle on the skirts, and bolts of bright color," Dr. Marcy Koontz said.
Dresses will be popular in the spring, with an emphasis on soft, floaty fabrics.
"The perfect summer uniform will be a tiny little top (now made in lightweight cashmere or ombr/ chiffon) and slouchy, low-slung cropped pants worn with high, strappy sandals," she said.
For men, fashion will have a strong Americana feel. Henley shirts, Western-style shirts, muscle T-shirts, football jerseys, hooded sweatshirts and cable-knit sweaters will be popular in early 2004.Koontz said other trends will include khaki pants, jeans and cargo pants; seersucker suits; and aviator jackets and pea coats.
There will be a slight slowdown in the active housing market we've enjoyed in recent years, according to Dr. Leonard Zumpano, professor finance and director of the Alabama Real Estate Research and Education Center at The University of Alabama.
That could be good news for the southeast United States, including Alabama.
"In locations where home price appreciation has far outpaced the growth in household income, we expect to see the markets soften somewhat, especially if mortgage rates increase. Families who have been the beneficiaries of double and triple digit price appreciation might consider cashing in their chips, taking their profits and moving South or to the Midwest," Zumpano said.
The slowdown in the housing market will be the dark side of an overall improving economy.
Zumpano said the growing federal deficit and the economic upswing would drive up interest rates. In 2003, the interest rate stayed around 5-6 percent. They will rise next year, Zumpano said, but shouldn't increase to more than 7 percent.
Technology and e-commerce
Last year, internet sales accounted for about $55 billion in business, some 1.5 percent of all retail sales in the U.S. But 2004 will be a difficult year for internet retailers, according to Dr. Robert Robicheaux, Bruno Professor of Retailing at The University of Alabama's Culverhouse College of Commerce.
Robicheaux said 2004 would be "the year of the internet wars" on two fronts: one initiated by the U.S. Congress and another by international terrorists.
"On the congressional front," Robicheaux said, "the brick and mortar retailers, the old fashioned retailers who sell merchandise out of real stores, have had just about enough of the significant competitive advantage afforded to the upstart e-commerce industry – no sales tax."
These retailers will begin pressuring Congress to impose a national sales tax on all internet retail sales.
If that's not bad enough, Robicheaux said the internet could take a bigger hit if it becomes the target of technology-savvy terrorists.
"Crazed, international terrorists remain hell-bent on attacking anything 'western' that brings satisfaction. E-commerce looms as a beautiful target," he said.
Robicheaux said these computer attacks will come from the Middle East, India or Pakistan and will be designed to disrupt the financial and logistics flow of the internet. This could be done by using computer programmers with the knowledge needed to launch programs that would place millions of bogus orders with e-commerce businesses.
"By spreading their orders across many sellers from millions of artificial identities, weeks will pass before the financial institutions and the logistics field personnel realize what is happening. The end result will be chaos. Billions of dollars will be lost. Hundreds of Internet retailers will fail – unable to sustain the shocking losses given their already shaky financial conditions," Robicheaux said.
So will 2004 be the end of the internet? Hardly, Robicheaux said.
"The industry will be scarred but it will survive and grow stronger," he said.