And it's on to 2012

And so the troubled old year passes away, the days begin to lengthen, a new year dawns.

Some things can be safely predicted -- and not just that the sun will rise here at 6:52 a.m. tomorrow.

The 2012 political campaigns will go on till most Americans are thoroughly sick of them, though outcomes will be largely determined by economic developments set in motion years ago -- which means blaming the incumbents for what they did or didn't do may not be so unfair, after all.

Every election year wants to be called "watershed." But in truth a series of crises that once appeared far off on the horizon now loom close enough for Americans that the direction chosen at the polls next Nov. 6 (when the sun will rise at 6:09 a.m. here, by the way, the clocks having been turned back two days before) can't help but have a major impact on the next generation -- especially if the course chosen is "more of the same."

The fiscal straits of Greece, Italy, Ireland and Iberia point the way. News nuggets with cryptic references to "austerity" seem almost designed to obscure what's really going on. For decades, these countries have funded vast bureaucracies and accompanying welfare states which seemed to promise ever more benefits for ever less work, while stifling innovation, the creative destruction of the free market.

The code word "austerity" doesn't mean these small states are shutting down their welfare programs, slashing their government payrolls, and repealing regulations that block innovation. It doesn't mean "austerity" for the governing class. It means back-breaking tax hikes on any taxpayer who's got anything left.

Those who predict that a financial cataclysm in Europe will be good for us are whistling past the graveyard. Not only has our domestic pattern been the same, but our banks are linked to theirs.

In the categories of debt, deficit, entitlements, crippling of the productive sector with excessive "environmental" and other regulations, America stands on the precipice. A highly politicized Washington cadre now looks at everything through the lens of "helping us stay in power next year."

Yes, many a small businessman -- God bless them -- hangs on, encouraged by each small sign of a strengthening local economy. The American can-do spirit is hard to suppress.

Ask them, though, what the looming edicts of ObamaCare mean to their future personnel costs. The answer is they don't know. So who considers the lack of new job creation a mystery? Do we really believe the solution is to fund a new HOV lane and some sidewalk repair with borrowed largesse from Washington -- while blocking new oil wells, refineries, pipelines, and clean coal power plants which would lower energy costs while creating thousands of real private-sector jobs, allowing the private sector to bootstrap us back to prosperity?

Much will be decided this year. Don't be distracted by sideshows. Keep your eye on the ball.