WASHINGTON - It's that time of year again, when Scripps Howard News Service (a subsidiary of the company that owns this website) tosses caution to the wind and predicts some of the big news stories of the coming year. Who at the end of 2011 anticipated businessman Herman Cain briefly leading the GOP presidential pack, a tropical storm walloping New Jersey or the CIA director resigning in a sex scandal?
Into this sea of uncertainty, we intrepidly wade forth with a few modest proposals for what will make headlines in the year ahead.
- In response to the shootings in Newtown, Conn., President Barack Obama will propose a ban on assault weapons and Congress will overwhelmingly approve it early in the new year.
- Many will pay close attention to the newest heir to the British throne when Prince William and Princess Kate have their first baby. That will be particularly true since the rules have been changed so that, if they have a girl, she will be in line for the crown -- behind her dad and grandfather, Prince Charles. Will she be Elizabeth III or Diana? Will there be a George VII or Henry IX?
- Meanwhile, American Anglophiles will be glued to the third season of the British period television drama "Downton Abbey."
- Supreme Court Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who turns 80 in March and has had serious health problems, will resign, allowing Obama to make his third appointment to the high court in five years, but retaining its ideological 5-4 split.
- Colorado State University hurricane prognosticators will predict a record 29 named storms and 16 hurricanes between June 1 and Nov. 30. One storm will do serious damage, probably to Florida's Panhandle region or the Alabama Gulf Coast.
- Scientists at the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will make a major breakthrough in the treatment of tuberculosis, but remain concerned about antibiotic-resistant strains. Bird flu out of China will create another scare.
- In the Palestinian territories, the Fatah and Hamas parties will agree to unite and negotiate a two-state solution with Israel. Benjamin Netanyahu's coalition will collapse and a Kadima-Hatnuah-fronted government forms.
- After American Airlines pilots ratified a new labor contract and Delta took a big piece of Virgin Atlantic this month, look for continued talk of an American-U.S. Airways merger and possibly other mergers involving ailing legacy airlines.
- The Supreme Court will rule in a June unanimous decision that the Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional. More states will ratify same-sex-marriage amendments.
- Also at the ballot box, more states will consider marijuana-legalization laws and Michigan voters will push back and try to repeal the legislature-enacted "right-to-work" law.
- 2013 is the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington that ended with the Rev. Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech and the 150th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address. Expect commemorations of each milestone.
- Depending on whether the "fiscal cliff" of higher taxes and slashed federal spending is averted by the end of 2012, home prices and new home construction will continue their slow ascent fueled by continued low interest rates.
- Water will be increasingly a flashpoint as weather becomes more volatile. We can expect rising tides flooding coastal areas, forest fires limiting where homes are built and droughts affecting navigation on inland rivers, as has happened this year with the Mississippi River.
- However the economy does, some cities, counties and even states may act to reduce critical services, or abdicate responsibilities for those services, as the city of Camden, N.J., began doing this year.
- After Washington averts -- or at least sidesteps -- the fiscal cliff, the U.S. will enjoy a moderate growth in jobs and economic expansion. The Dow 30 and S&P 500 indices will flirt with all-time highs in 2013, with the Dow pushing 14,200. The domestic economy will grow modestly.