Leaders: fiscal cliff | New Year resolutions

BRINKMANSHIP has been turned into a new art form by American politicians.

The House of Representatives is still to vote on the budgetary deal approved by the US Senate yesterday, and it is hard to decide whether the Republican congressmen voicing their disapproval are like animated characters who run over the edge of a cliff but still keep frantically treading thin air before plunging to disaster, or like those who run into a line that stretches to breaking point before pinging them backwards to perdition.

What is certain is that the rest of the world regards this way of policy-making with astonishment and would be laughing
like three-year-olds watching a cartoon were it not so serious.

US legislators cannot be so self-absorbed as to be unaware of this, and yet they persist in flirting with causing a recession that would not only severely damage America, but also drag much of the rest of the world down too.

We earnestly hope that there is enough sanity amidst this absurdity for a compromise to be reached that will forestall the big spending cuts and tax rises that will automatically kick in if congressmen reject the deal agreed between President Barack Obama and the Senate.

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Falling over this fiscal cliff will cause enough consumers to cut back on spending, and businesses to put investment on hold, to
reverse the present US economic recovery on which the British and European economies partly depend to get out of the present stagnation on this side of the 
Atlantic.

It is also clear that the political problem causing this impasse – the failure of people on both sides of the divide, but more on the Republican than the Democrat side, to understand that the art of politics is the business of compromise – is now structural rather than temporary.

Those Republicans who have signed pledges never to vote for any tax increase had that mindset forged in the good times. 
Unfortunately, this particular pledge seems to have become a religion that too many are unwilling to set aside, even though it may lead to disaster for many of the people they represent.

Principles are fine things, but when they become unimplementable in adverse conditions, they are about as useful as a raft of straws to mariners facing shipwreck in a hurricane.

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Even if this deal does pass, politicians will have given themselves another millstone by creating yet another fiscal cliff in two months’ time by postponing some of the steep spending cuts for that 
duration.

This is just kicking the can down the road, rather than picking it up now and dealing with it.

Today, the US financial markets will reopen and give their verdict. In a political culture where the free operation of markets is an article of faith across the political spectrum, politicians should not be surprised if the markets are less than enthusiastic about this political soap opera.

Self-reflection can be resolute success

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AFTER the celebratory

bacchanalia of the night before comes the reality check of the first day of the new year. And how many, while consuming hangover cures, have resolved never again, or to learn a new skill, or to be pleasant at all times to all people, or made any of the myriad resolutions customary at this time of year, only to forget them when they

become inconvenient.

Nearly everyone, is the answer. Research has shown that only one in 11 people keep their resolutions for as long as six months. But secretly, you knew that, didn’t you? Indeed, you are probably surprised that some people’s promises to themselves last as long as six months.

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This, surely, confirms what many have thought, that New Year resolutions are a waste of time. Not necessarily.

The virtue of the custom is that it makes people stop for a moment and consider what lifestyle changes, from a healthier diet to wiser spending patterns, would improve general wellbeing.

Even if the benefit is fleeting, that is better than no gain at all.

So don’t be dismissive when you are asked to reveal your

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resolutions. You are simply being asked to think hard about what’s wrong in your life and how you propose to fix it.

Having to think about how your life could be better cannot be a bad thing.

And the Dry January campaign has come up with a new twist on resolutions – they could be time-limited. If, after running out of hangover medications, you have decided to stay off alcohol, you could make the resolution less

intimidating by pledging a month’s abstinence only.

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Good idea. Let’s drink to that one. Oh dear.