Predicting the future in 2012 is a cinch. All we're going to be talking about next year is politics and the economy. And even when we're not obsessing about politics — when we're cheering at a hockey game, say, or taking a walk on the pier — we'll still be focused on the ultimate power couple: power and money. Here are five other pairings to get you thinking about a convention, an election, new construction, European obstruction and too many concussions. Times Staff
The President and the Candidate
It will be weeks, maybe even months before we know who Republicans will nominate to run for president. Oddly enough, it may take just as long before we know which Barack Obama runs in 2012.
Clearly it won't be the same fresh-faced outsider we met in 2008. "Change you can believe in," was the slogan of a campaign all about hope — hope that Obama was the man to usher out the tired, petty, and partisan politics of Washington for something bigger and broader. Today, Washington is more dysfunctional than ever and in this economy anxiety and frustration easily trump hope.
Nor will it be the great liberal hope many Democratic activists projected on Obama '08. Count on the base to stay with him even if the passion ebbed as they watched the extension of Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans, Wall Street insiders guide White House economic policy, or the president's tepid approach to partisan combat in Congress.
Truth is, Obama neither campaigned as a liberal fighter, nor won thanks to support on the left. He won states like Florida mainly by winning over moderate independents. Over and over again his TV ads promised tax cuts, not big government programs.
Those independents weren't embracing sweeping and divisive health care reform, huge deficits and certainly not a persistent economic crisis. At this point, independent voters heavily favor a Republican alternative, and Obama needs to win them back.
That will require an Obama who looks like the adult in the field, a centrist leader consumed with getting the economy back on track and undistracted by ideologues on the left or right.
Change you can believe in? The uplifting newcomer we met in 2008 may well be merely the lesser of two evils in 2012. Unless the economy convincingly rebounds in the coming months, victory probably requires persuading enough people that for all the disappointment in the first term, the alternative is worse.
The Obama we meet this year may prove that fear is even more potent than hope.
Adam Smith, Political Editor
The Mayor and the Mob
It isn't hard to foreshadow ominous similarities between Tampa's Republican National Convention eight months away and Chicago's Democratic convention of 1968 that infamously degraded into a bloody spectacle on national television.
Restive populist movements — antiwar then, anti-Wall Street now — were well established in the months running up to the conventions. Ten thousand protesters converged on Chicago that August; an estimated 15,000 are predicted to mob Tampa next summer. The mayors of each city staked out a zero-tolerance policy for mayhem.
"We will be brutally efficient in exercising our responsibilities to make sure that those visitors and conventioneers and everybody else is safe," Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn told a Tiger Bay meeting in September. "Politics, we encourage that discourse. . . . But those who choose to come to Tampa to cause mayhem . . . who loot and burn our downtown, no, not on my watch."
Stern words, indeed, though far from Mayor Richard Daley's incendiary "shoot to kill order." Still, Buckhorn's vow of brutal efficiency envisions the very real possibility that among those thousands of protesters — the Occupiers and the Tea Partiers, the environmentalists and the fundamentalists, the trade union boosters and the free trade backers — will be a group of agenda-less opportunists bent on havoc.
For Buckhorn, the ability to distinguish between lawlessness and the loud and often messy demonstrations of real anger — and to deal with both fairly — will define Tampa's image and his legacy. With advice from the ACLU, he has already begun the process of rewriting ordinances to afford the maximum leeway for the inevitable assemblies, something Mayor Daley certainly never contemplated. But what happens when the first rock shatters the window of a downtown business?
"The world is watching," shouted the protesters in Chicago as they endured ferocious beatings and tear-gassing 43 years ago. The world will be watching next summer, too.
Bill Duryea, Times Staff Writer
The Commissioner and the Star
Penguins superstar Sidney Crosby wants the National Hockey League to ban all hits to the head.
Commissioner Gary Bettman can't change the rules. That's the job of the general managers and the Board of Governors.
Crosby and Bettman, though, can push forward a discussion on how to reduce the number and severity of head injuries, an issue that might affect the future of the NHL and other pro sports leagues confronting similar concerns.
Some of the game's best players have been caught up in the carnage this season, including Crosby, perhaps the world's greatest player, out with concussion symptoms after missing half of last season with the same problem.
The league already has changed rules to outlaw hits that target the head, stiffened penalties and softened shoulder and elbow pads to make them less like battering rams.
There are calls to ban fighting, and for rule changes to slow the speed of a game played by big men in a confined space. That physicality, though, to some, is the game's greatest selling point.
Bettman, because of his profile, can keep the debate on the front burner while calling for reasoned discussion.
He can push for more of the science that he says is not yet there to definitively link chronic traumatic encephalopathy (related to Alzheimer's disease and believed caused by repeated blows to the head) to the deaths of four former NHL players, including enforcer Derek Boogaard last summer.
He can call for conferences in which players tell their stories so owners and GMs are as informed as possible when deciding a course of action.
And if Crosby really believes a total ban on head shots is proper, he should say it more often.
People may not agree, but they will listen.
Damian Cristodero, Times Staff Writer
The Pier and the Priorities
We express who we are through what we build. St. Petersburg announced itself as a tourist mecca when it opened the Million Dollar Pier in 1926, reiterating the claim in 1973 with the inverted pyramid design.
As a nation, we touted freedom and mobility as core values by building a vast network of roads and bridges that connected us all to each other.
Now it's time — past time? — to rebuild one of our most visible local structures and our national infrastructure.
In St. Petersburg, a five-person jury is deliberating over three concepts for the new pier. Should we be the Wave, a glassy loop-de-loop? The Lens, with its low, sweeping walkways that integrate the city and the water? Or the Eye, like a pristine white shell sitting in the sand? The question isn't just what we'll get for our $50 million. It's also how the new structure will reflect on St. Petersburg and the wider region.
The deterioration of the national infrastructure has similar implications. The average bridge in the United States is 43 years old and has a useful life of about 50 years, the Federal Highway Administration says. Bridges rarely collapse, but some are in danger of failure, and many more are headed that way. America has more deficient bridges (18,329) than McDonald's restaurants (14,000), according to a 2011 report by Transportation for America, a coalition of groups advocating for transportation reform.
The trade magazine Transport Topics says fixing all those bridges would cost three times what the government collects in taxes each year for transportation projects. So yes, money is an issue. But so is our identity. Do we still believe in the things that made all those bridges necessary?
These questions will preoccupy us in 2012 whether big structures are going up — or coming down.
Mike Wilson, Times Staff Writer
Prime Minister No and Chancellor Yes
The fate of the Eurozone economy — the world's largest — may well come down to a contest of wills between a German parson's daughter who understands chemistry better than she exudes it and a brash British conservative who rarely misses a chance to belittle an opponent.
Drastic measures are being proposed to stabilize the debt crisis that enshrouds Europe. By default the leader of that rescue operation is Germany's Angela Merkel, the second-term chancellor of the continent's strongest economy. Derided for her frumpiness and less-than-electric personality, the steady and capable Merkel is committed to rewriting the treaty that binds the 27 nations of the European Union so they are even more financially accountable to each other.
David Cameron, with less than two years as prime minister of the United Kingdom, has vowed he wouldn't attend "any wife-swapping parties," his riposte to a French columnist's criticism that the United Kingdom, which never adopted the common currency of the euro, wants the benefits of trading with the EU, but doesn't want to put any skin in the game.
Anger at Britain is palpable on the continent — and even among some of Cameron's constituents who fear that by pandering to the perennial euroskeptics in his party the U.K. has committed financial suicide.
Of course, there's no guarantee that Merkel's long-term solution — to lash everyone together more tightly — will make the eurozone more buoyant or simply guarantee that everyone drowns at the same time.
Understanding the complexities of interlocking monetary policies can daunt even veteran economists. But much of the debate can be reduced to a contrast between Merkel's belief in the power of molecules, and Cameron's preference for free radicals.
Bill Duryea, Times Staff Writer