June 3, 2002







So what's the next Big Story? As much as the media has learned from September 11, we believe media decision makers haven't internalized the most important lesson of all - prioritizing what really matters to the American public. No better example can be made than the Condit-Levy case. When poor Ms. Levy's body was found in late May, threats of nuclear attack were once again pushed off the front pages and screens of American media for 'live' reports from the scene.

Following are our prognostications of what the next Big Story might be.

China's Economy Implodes

For the last few years, China has undoubtedly been booming with some of the world's fastest economic development and a huge inflow of foreign capital - more than $10 billion in direct and contracted investment in January 2002 alone.

Vatican lets priests marry

Though sexual abuse is a horrific crime, some liberal elements within the church see it as an opportunity for reform.

For instance, attention is now turning to the elimination of celibacy as a requirement for priesthood, with the hopes that it will draw more people into the dwindling echelons of the church.

Since Pope Paul VI upheld celibacy as the church's "brilliant jewel" in a 1967 writing, the number of priests in the United States has dropped from 60,000 to 40,000. With church coffers running low, the Vatican will be forced to reconsider its celibacy policy to prevent its financial demise.

Many states are expected to pass laws allowing suits naming both the Vatican and the pope. Financial settlements that juries awarded to abuse victims coupled with dwindling donations from churchgoers will drive the church into the red.

In addition, California will be the first state to remove the statute of limitations on sexual abuse crimes, opening up the courts for even more litigation.

According to an April 5 New York Times article, lawyers had collected the names of 1,200 priests (from a pool of 46,000) accused of sex crimes against minors. Of the named, only about 120 had been charged with a crime, and fewer than 80 served time in prison.
- Marc Johnson

But all is not well in the Far East. Analysts question whether an economy can really grow quickly under a Marxist dictatorship. Also, much of China's growth depends on exports, which depend on a strong American dollar and economic stability in Asia - two forces that seem almost guaranteed not to last. Finally, much of China's employment and infrastructure are provided by struggling state-owned industries, which have been propped up with government subsidies and - far worse - bad loans by the country's four teetering and corrupt big banks. The banks and state are mired in debts believed to be equivalent to nearly 100 percent of the country's gross domestic product.

The collapse of a state-owned business on a scale as large as Enron would disrupt the fragile prosperity that China has convinced many of the world's largest companies and governments is strong and sustainable. Unlike the United States and other mature western economies, China does not have the infrastructure to prevent business failures from spreading like wildfire across all sectors of the economy. China learned some lessons from the Asian currency crisis of the late 1990s, but a major shock to the economy could very easily put China flat on its back.

Unless current prosperous conditions continue indefinitely, the Chinese economy seems destined to fall. That would be bad news for the rest of Asia, worse news for the Chinese relationship with the United States and the west, and far worse news for hundreds of millions of workers barely subsisting in this Giant Tiger. The collapse of China? A Very Big Story indeed.

- Eric Meyerson

Why ANOTHER 9/11 May Happen

Ever since the Soviet Union dissolved in the 1990s, U.S. and international oil companies have connived to build a gas and oil pipeline from the Caspian Sea to the Indian Ocean. But this new silk road has been marred by chronically volatile Afghanistan. Many ask whether the estimated Caspian oil reserves would really reduce U.S. dependence on Middle Eastern oil, and some in the international press theorize that Afghanistan is simply a reprise of the Gulf War.

But there are multiple motivations why a pipeline should and will go through Afghanistan. The most important reason is that the pipeline could lay the foundation for internal stability in the wartorn country by giving it desperately needed income and infrastructure.

But no matter how prosperous, any big oil deal could promote regional conflict. If the United States tries to isolate Iran from South and Central Asia and Russia doesn't follow suit, the area could erupt. As in the Gulf War, the United States can pursue a foreign policy based solely on energy interests. But how this administration develops the pipeline will affect the South and Central Asian economies as well as America's long-term security and moral authority.

So why is this the next Big Story?

Once the war on terrorism in Afghanistan is completed to the satisfaction of the Bush administration, the United States will initiate quiet discussions with the U.S.-backed Afghanistan (as they did with Saudi Arabia and Kuwait after the Gulf War), about how America would like to be compensated for stabilizing the fledgling government. This discussion could lead to a hasty agreement that serves the interests of large American oil companies - but at the expense of the Afghani people and the environment. The result? America's war on terrorism loses its moral authority, and we create another breeding ground for another September 11.

- Chris Raphael


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