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Fingers crossed, but optimistic about next year

As this is my last column of 2010, let us reflect on the year.

The American economy over the past year was a bit like General Motors -- fragile at the start of the year but slowly gaining strength. the end of the year we were all pleased at the signs of recovery, but couldn't quite be sure it was for real. I feel the same about 2011. Keep your fingers crossed for GM and Uncle Sam.

The dark cloud on the horizon is the deficit. Let us hope the recent good work of the president's Bipartisan Deficit Commission will lead to Washington making necessary and painful choices to bring the deficit under control.

Perhaps we should not hold our breath. Let's check in again next year on this one.

The midterm elections of 2010 have brought a lot more red to the electoral map. It is hard to remember that it was only two years ago that many of us thought we were ushering in a new era of political collaboration with the election of Barack Obama. Obama appealed to us with his "yes we can" approach. What happened?

Lots happened, of course, the worst recession in 30 years chief among them.

In defense of President Obama, he has done many good things: championing a stimulus policy that saved the economy (and was validated by none other than Warren Buffett), extending health care to most Americans, addressing financial reform, and standing conventional wisdom in K-12 education on its head.

One would have to go back to FDR to find anything as bold. Unfortunately each of these massive initiatives has sufficient flaws to make moderates uneasy and conservatives crazy.

Republicans have been able to portray the president and the Democrats as overreaching -- part of a massive federal power grab that is stifling the lifeblood of America's entrepreneurial spirit. While such rhetoric is overblown, Obama did overreach. More power sharing in Washington may not be a bad thing.

In Maine we have, for the first time since the 1960s, a Republican governor and Republican majorities in both the Senate and House of Representatives. The business community is absolutely giddy about this shift and the prospect that business people might actually be welcomed to Augusta.

This is indeed a good thing. The time is overdue to act on policies that will encourage job creation and help restructure the Maine economy.

Gov.-elect Paul LePage is fortunate that there are several good sources that suggest what needs to be done: Envision Maine's "Reinventing Maine Government" and "Making Maine Work" from the State Chamber and the Maine Development Foundation are two recent reports with sound policy recommendations.

But the best reference, in my mind, is the Report of the Joint Select Committee on Future Maine Prosperity from 2007.

This committee took the best of the earlier Brookings Report on the Maine economy and added several more good ideas, including a complete overhaul of regulatory policy -- and regulatory policy change seems to be the number one priority of the incoming administration.

But 2010 was not all politics. It was the year of the World Cup, wonderfully staged in South Africa. We all learned the distinctive and sometimes grating sound of the vuvuzela and the beauty of Africa's most attractive country.

Fittingly, the cup was won by Spain, the team of the deft pass and brilliant short game.

It was also the year of the Winter Olympics in Vancouver, where Maine's own Seth Wescott won his second gold medal in snowboard cross with an extraordinary final run that took him from last place to first.

On a more somber note, 2010 brought a devastating earthquake to Haiti. Several Maine-based organizations were significantly involved in the Haiti relief effort, none more so than Konbit Sante, a Portland nonprofit that provides health services in Haiti.

The biggest news of the season is, of course, the Red Sox signing of Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford. The Sox needed an injection of power, speed and excitement. They have gotten it. Now that Cliff Lee has opted for the Phils and not the Yanks, this could be (again) the year of the Sox.

May your holiday season be full of good company, good cheer and much love.