IT'S customary at the new year's beginning to express gratitude for what's in the present, predictions and hope for what's coming.

We can all be grateful to have made it to here, living in a peaceful and more prosperous city.

We've got through a tumultuous 2018 - a year in which US President Donald Trump went from threatening North Korea with "fire and fury" to drinking his own Kool-Aid and deciding he had solved the crisis of the Korean nuclear threat in one meeting with Kim Jong-Un.

As to predictions, I take, as a cautionary tale, remarks made in January 2004 by former US Secretary of State Colin Powell on his outlook for that new year.

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The secretary waxed eloquent on the progress being made by the recently established government of Afghanistan. They had just written a new constitution; the Taliban was being defeated; peace was only a short while in coming.

Considering Secretary Powell's embarrassing comments, my own predictions and hopes for 2019 are modest and, hopefully, more realistic.

There's a new day dawning as Democrats take control of the US House of Representatives.

The Democratic majority will be faced with a government shutdown, with 400,000 government employees, furloughed without pay. The shutdown is largely Trump's doing and the political cost is likely his; the financial cost everyone else's.

It went like this: A bipartisan spending bill keeping the government open until February originally passed both houses and Trump was prepared to sign it, even though it contained no funding for a wall.

Suddenly, purveyors of outrage, conservative political commentator and columnist Ann Coulter and talk show host Rush Limbaugh threatened to withdraw support for Trump's 2020 re-election campaign without the border wall which had been a signature 2016 Trump campaign promise.

Scenting defection and defeat, Trump withdrew from the spending bill deal lest his base, which otherwise forms itself as Cult45, disintegrates. And so the shutdown ...

It's been 10 days. A 17-day shut-down in 2013 cost $24 billion.

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It's in the Democrats' interest to end this shutdown in order to get down to the business of their agenda.

So here come some predictions ...

A bipartisan deal will end the shutdown. Trump gets his $5 billion for a wall of some kind (even though it's useless as most illegal immigration is through visa over-stayers - 600,000 in 2017 alone) in return for safeguarding the status of the DACA immigrants (those brought as children), centrepiece of a previous two-day shutdown in January 2018.

The Democratic agenda has two aspects.

The first is investigative - it's the constitutionally mandated duty of the House to oversee the actions of the government. The Republican-controlled House actually functioned as an enabler of Trump.

It's not prediction, it's certainty that Democrats will investigate the administration over its possible ties to Russia, and its likely corrupt practices.

The hope is that they do their work carefully to unearth the facts to let the people judge. I hope that impeachment is not even attempted - for one thing, it's more divisive, and it's unlikely to succeed in a Republican Senate.

The result, if successful, might be worse - a Mike Pence presidency.

The second agenda item is legislative. That's supposed to be the primary business of Congress.

The opportunity exists now for making progress toward a real single-payer medical system, Medicare (the present taxpayer funded system for 65-plus people), for all.

This can be done by dropping the age of eligibility to 55. It's the least disruptive of the market, and the bill most likely to have bipartisan support. Here's hoping it gets passed.

Even if the Senate Republicans and Trump shoot it down, it starts the conversation for 2020.

Mindful of Secretary Powell's 2004 fantasies, I applaud the President for beginning to withdraw from Afghanistan, burial place of empires. All outside forces should have withdrawn after 2011.

Bin Laden's death ended the chief reason for being there. That said, withdrawal of US forces from Syria because "Isis has been defeated" is a betrayal of the trust of America's staunch ally, the Kurds, the only group which have been serious and reliable in the fight against Isis.

Jay Kuten is an American-trained forensic psychiatrist who emigrated to New Zealand for the fly fishing. He spent 40 years comforting the afflicted and intends to spend the rest afflicting the comfortable.