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Seeing the unseen in '15

My friend Greg long ago convinced me that instead of resolutions, each new year should come with one aspirational slogan. Like "Find the fix in '06." When I crowd-sourced the question of a slogan for 2015, a wise 10-year-old I know came up with, "See the unseen in '15."

This exhortation is both timeless (expand your horizons) and timely. 2015 — the far-away year Marty McFly visits in the classic 1980s Back to the Future films — is shaping up, ironically, to be a year when the familiar reasserts itself. Such mainstays as the Bush-versus-Clinton dynastic feud, the Star Wars saga, interest rates, U.S. power around the world and the telephone all are poised to make a comeback this year.

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I realize my last suggestion might seem absurd: that the phone, used for dialing and talking, is back. But the hacking of Sony in late 2014 may prove a tipping point forcing people in workplaces to avoid putting certain things in writing. "Call me" may turn out to be among the most emailed words in 2015.

In politics, 2015 looks like a throwback year as Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton explore, and likely announce, their 2016 presidential bids. Will Mr. Bush or Mitt Romney or someone less aligned with the party's business wing (Rand Paul, Ted Cruz?) be ahead in polls as 2015 comes to a close, on the eve of primary season?

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The appeal of the familiar is understandable: The country, buffeted by booms and busts and wars, has had a hard time settling into a semblance of normalcy since the start of this millennium. Now the Federal Reserve is coaxing us back to normal. 2015 is when the Fed plans to put an end to its emergency measure of keeping the important benchmark interest rate it charges financial institutions at essentially zero. Will this be seen as a vote of confidence in the economy or will it spook the markets?

Wherever the stock market goes, the United States will look like a safe haven in this world. We are even becoming one of the world's lowest-cost energy producers. 2014 started with a barrel of oil costing some $20 more than a share of Apple. The year closed with a share of Apple costing almost twice as much as a plummeting barrel of oil ($114 to $60). It should become clearer in the coming year that America has gotten its mojo back. It isn't only our economic prowess. There's also a renewed acceptance of American power in much of the world, courtesy of Vladimir Putin's antics, China's extraterritorial assertiveness, the implosion of the anti-American left in Latin America and the challenges — climate change, pandemics, radical Islamist terrorism — that still require U.S leadership. Today's friendly climate might make possible an ambitious trans-Pacific trade deal. And that would signal to the world that America is no longer stuck in the Middle East.

Meanwhile, 2015 will be the year of the iWatch and other technologies — some wearable, some in your medicine cabinet; others like cheaper, faster blood tests at the nearby drugstore — that will allow us to acquire unprecedented self-knowledge. What does it mean for a society to have some people walking around with sophisticated dashboards measuring their well-being, while many others don't, and remain in the dark?

As bullish as I am on 2015, I should caution readers that I am usually optimistic at the start of every new year. That's why "See the unseen in 2015" is a perfect personal slogan. It's an antidote to my own complacency, an admonition to be on the lookout for the unexpected shocks that can upset rosy scenarios.

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Andrés Martinez is editorial director of Zócalo Public Square, for which he writes the Trade Winds column. He is also a professor of journalism at Arizona State University. His email is andres@zocalopublicsquare.org.

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