WORST CASE The Dow plunges into negative numbers, a phenomenon most economists didn't think was actually possible. Former Wall Street titans are reduced to selling heirloom apples on Upper West Side street corners while their trophy wives, spangled in cubic zirconia, watch starving models — like, literally starving — prowl the runway, showing off the season's latest in barrel couture.
BEST CASE No more IEDs. No more RPGs. No more mortar shells. The Iraqi insurgency is reduced to throwing shoes at our valiant troops. Soon, however, realizing the patent (leather?) ridiculousness of it all, they change course once more — and this whole long slog of an occupation dissipates into a big silly pillow fight. Downy feathers float dreamily through the air over Tikrit and Samarra as Sunni, Shia, Special Forces, and Reserves share big bowls of buttery popcorn and all-night sessions of Truth or Dare. In the morning, they all watch cartoons and then everyone goes home.
WORST CASE We realize to our chagrin that the Saddam Hussein we strung from the gallows two years ago was actually one of his many body doubles. At the signing ceremony celebrating the penultimate stage of US forces' withdrawal from the country, the real McCoy emerges from his hidey hole, clutching the cache of WMDs we were all fooled into thinking didn't exist. The whole thing starts all over again.
THE AUTO INDUSTRY
BEST CASE Ford, GM, and Chrysler put their heads together and dream up a light, affordable, aerodynamic, and energy-efficient vehicle that relegates gas-guzzling SUVs to the trashcan of history and leaves foreign competition sputtering in the dust: personal jetpacks.
WORST CASE "Haircuts" all around! (That, of course, being the cutesy colloquialism for suggesting everyone lose a little off the top, financially.) The Big Three brass take a haircut, shareholders take a haircut, UAW factory workers take a haircut, car dealerships take a haircut, and consumers take a haircut, too. The bad news: nobody likes their haircuts. GM chair Rick Wagoner says they left it too long over the ears. UAW president Ron Gettelfinger has a little sticky-up cowlick thing in back. So everyone goes back to the barber for a trim, but that only makes it worse — and we all have to listen to pols and pundits keep blathering on with the most annoying buzzword of 2008.
BEST CASE Through some sort of sleight-of-invisible-hand, all those impoverished borrowers who've still managed to make their mortgage payments see their homes suddenly quintuple in value. Meanwhile, that Flipping Out creep Jeff Lewis sees the worth of each of his properties plummet, and is forced to rent a doghouse next to the algae-slicked swimming pool of a boarded-up McMansion.
WORST CASE Foreclosures continue apace. Renters who didn't even realize their landlords were in default are thrown onto the street, and many are forced to busk with their Rock Band controllers for a few spare coins from passers-by. By mid-year, most of what's left of the national housing stock has been destroyed by raging wildfires (West Coast), tornadoes (Midwest), floods (South), and massive snowdrifts and tidal surges (Northeast).