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Office pool, 2001: Make your pick

I got nothing right in last year's office pool except the bursting of Wall Street's high-tech bubble. Had you taken my prognostications as gospel, you would have looked foolish to your political friends but you would have saved a bunch of money.

Once more unto the breach:

1. The senator to emerge at year's end as most likely challenger to Al Gore for the 2004 Democratic nomination will be (a) Tom Daschle; (b) Joe Lieberman; (c) John Edwards; (d) Hillary Rodham.

2. Sovereignty issues will be resolved as (a) the traditionally Mexican Olvera Street enclave in Los Angeles is ceded to Mexico, with a mile-wide corridor to the Rio Grande border; (b) the six-block area around U.N. headquarters in New York City wins "home rule" and is internationalized with its own tax base and police force; (c) Britain is forced by world public opinion to end its unconscionable 300-year occupation of Scotland; (d) Israelis vote to accept the Clinton plan to divide Jerusalem.

3. Bill Clinton will be (a) disbarred; (b) indicted; (c) pardoned; (d) enriched; (e) ubiquitous.

4. Non-fiction sleeper best-seller-to-be: (a) One Scandalous Story, by Marvin Kalb; (b) An Honorable Defeat, by William C. Davis; (c) Seabiscuit, by Laura Hillenbrand; (d) John Adams, by David McCullough; (e) Staying Tuned, by Daniel Schorr.

5. A blue-ribbon Social Security panel will be appointed, headed by Bob Dole and Pat Moynihan, and will recommend that Congress and the president (a) raise taxes; (b) end the automatic cost-of-living adjustment; (c) raise retirement age; (d) permit recipients to invest in stocks.

6. Best Picture Oscar to (a) Steven Soderbergh's Traffic; (b) Erin Brockovich, also by Soderbergh; (c) Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, directed by Ang Lee, the new Soderbergh.

7. First foreign policy crisis to face the new president will be (a) Israel's strike at Syrian positions supporting Hezbollah's attacks from Lebanon; (b) Haitian revolt and refugee exodus; (c) Pakistan swaps its nuclear technology with North Korea for missiles; (d) Russia moves to take over Georgia; (e) anarchy in Indonesia.

8. George W. Bush's first Supreme Court nomination will be (a) Sen. Orrin Hatch; (b) Judge Laurence Silberman; (c) Judge Emilio Garza of San Antonio; (d) a female Asian-American strict constructionist, preferably from Florida, with a whole flock of children; (e) the demonstrably persuasive constitutionalist Ted Olson.

9. First Bush promise to be shot down by Congress will be (a) increased military spending; (b) steep cut in marginal tax rates; (c) a modest prescription drug benefit; (d) deployment of national missile defense.

10. Most useful fundraising target for the opposite party will be (a) moneybags Terry McAuliffe as DNC chairman and the Clinton hidden hand; (b) Attorney General John Ashcroft, to be demonized in confirmation hearings as the new Savonarola; (c) the Republican whip, Tom DeLay, the new Gingrich figure to Democrats; (d) Hillary, the $8-million royaltyist, feared by GOP stalwarts to be a harbinger of the dread Counter-Reformation.

11. The continued southward direction of the economy will properly be called (a) the Bush recession; (b) the Clinton recession; (c) the long soft landing; (d) the crash of '01.

12. Bush will lose support in the political center when he (a) downmouths McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform; (b) lets banks and insurance companies get him to backtrack on consumer privacy protection; (c) oversells his faith-based intermediation thing.

13. Likely to leave the seat of power: (a) China's Jiang Zemin, his Mandate of Heaven revoked by his overreaction to the growth of religious sects, supplanted by ZhuRongji; (b) Britain's third-wayfarer Tony Blair, upset by dispassionate Conservative William Hague; (c) Ehud (you name it, you got it) Barak, replaced by less-hardline-than-expected Ariel Sharon; (d) Fidel Castro, nudged off his Havana throne by Father Time.

My picks: 1 (c), 2 (none), 3 (all), 4 (e), 5 (c), 6 (b), 7 (b), 8 (e), 9 (b), 10 (a), 11 (c), 12 (b), 13 (all) (one of these years, I'll be right about Jiang and Fidel).

William Safire is a New York Times columnist.

New York Times News Service

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