New Year's Day

New Years Day. There's a certain inescapable hopeful, if not optimistic, undercurrent to the phrase. Resolutions made in earnest good faith may already be coming under pressure, but still achievable. Whether it was losing some weight, getting more exercise, quitting smoking, following through on some long-term vow to finally make headway on some project or goal, there's still time to make it happen. Hopefully, we didn't bite off more than we can realistically chew.

New Year's Day, and the weeks thereafter, should be a time for optimistically looking forward. So much of what we define as success or failure in life really does in the end, come down to issues of attitude and fortitude. If the goals we may have set for ourselves were easy, then they would have be achieved already. Not that success needs to be measured by goals achieved or benchmarks attained. That may hold true for sports teams, with won-loss records, or businesses, with a quarterly profit and loss statements, but on the personal level, a positive approach may really be its own reward.

We set forth these pollyannaish-sounding thoughts in our first editorial commentary of the year, because there is always much that could be seen as standing in the way of that. Two easy to reckon with metrics might be economics and politics. Not for nothing has the first been often labeled the dismal science, and the latter - well, look no further than last week's shenanigans in Washington D.C. over the "fiscal cliff" to confirm a sense that the glass can never, by definition, be half-full when it comes to the U.S. Congress. At least so it seems in its current version, although anyone who has had the chance to view "Lincoln," the new Steven Spielberg movie, can see that politics has always had its seamy side, co-existing uneasily with its more noble purposes.

It's instructive to see how Lincoln's contemporaries in Congress cut no end of back room deals to get the 13th amendment to the U.S. Constitution passed in early 1865, how the process was extended and stretched to allow several factions, all of whom had serious issues with the language of the proposed amendment, to eventually coalesce and find just enough votes to pass the measure, which effectively abolished slavery in perpetuity in the United States, by the narrowest of margins.

One of the hopes ordinary citizens might wish for in this New Year is the same effort and openness to compromise between strongly held differences of opinion.

Here's a couple of tests we'd like to see Congress, the President, and the people who elect them, chew over and come up with pragmatic solutions this year (before we get mired in the bickering and spinning of the 2014 mid-term elections):

1. Setting the nation's fiscal house in order through a sensible, long term plan that raises taxes slightly on those most able to pay, and restructures some entitlement programs like Medicare and Social Security that, if left unchecked, pose hazards to the fiscal health of the country.

2. Let's find an answer to the plague of assault rifles that have no non-military purpose and get them off the streets. Let's do that to preserve the rights of legitimate hunters and sporting users, and do that to protect the rest of us. Assault rifles weren't meant for shooting at white tailed deer, sorry.

3. While we're working on that, help, in the form of more services (this will cost money) to those who suffer from mental illnesses must be made available. It's also time to take a searching look - and this goes down to the community level - of why as a society we seem willing if not eager to off-load responsibilities once thought the province of families, churches and local social organizations, onto the government. This look also needs to clarify which areas the state or federal governments do have a crucial and indispensable role to play, and where, despite the best of intentions, it may have undermined the once central role of families.

4. Fracking. The fact that the U.S. economy is moving forward at all is due in no small measure to technological breakthroughs that have allowed for the increased exploitation of oil and natural gas deposits that may make the U.S. a net energy exporter in the not too-distant future, a once unthinkable idea. Thousands of jobs have been created as a result. But there are valid issues around whether or not horizontal drilling disrupts underground water tables. We think there's a middle ground that safeguards the environment and allows for the safe extraction of this natural treasure. Here is where the federal government should step in with a set of national regulations that can be agreed to by the oil and gas industry and environmentalists alike, to both side's benefit.

To that you could add moving forward again on global warming countermeasures - cap-and-trade was once a Republican idea - let us recall. Right now that seems like a longshot, but since President Obama has run his last political race, he has the freedom to be bold, as we said a few weeks ago on gun control.

A long, and probably unrealistic wish list for 2013. Headway on one or two would make 2013 an excellent year.

Happy New Year, everyone.


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