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Fiscal Snooze

Unfortunately, our elected representatives in Washington, D.C. have displayed a proclivity for avoiding anything that is reasonable like the plague. Hopefully, the election has brought them to their senses, but I'm not holding my breath. At the very least, though, I expect some sort of deal will be reached that avoids "The Fiscal Cliff" -- at least one that pushes off any real decisions to the next arbitrary and toothless deadline.

In the meantime, how about that buying opportunity? When the stock market bottomed during last year's deficit histrionics, the S&P 500 was down around 1,100. We're now above 1,379. Shares of Apple (AAPL) were below $400. They're now trading above $547 -- even after a recent rout. Shares of Google (GOOG) went below $500. They're now trading over $663, and the Internet search giant has also struggled of late.

I'm not saying this performance is going to be repeated during this installment of federal deficit negotiations, although it's certainly possible. I just want to put all this hullabaloo in perspective. There's a tendency for people to feel like the sky is falling during these episodes as tempers flare and markets gyrate. It's important, if you're making investment decisions, to be able to see beyond the headlines.

The basic problem that we're facing as a country is simple: we have a debt problem, but at the same time, we have an economy problem. Fixing one problem through government policy, in the short-term at least, typically requires adding to the other problem. Unfortunately, we waited until a financial crisis mired our economy in an epic slump to start treating our fiscal challenges seriously, so here we are. There are no good options.

Perhaps the most maddening aspect of all this is that the very people leading the charge to add to the deficit before the crisis through tax cuts and spending binges of various flavors have now suddenly morphed into our nation's leading fiscal scolds. Common sense, therefore, dictates that all this is more about political posturing than anything else, and that leaves me feeling particularly ambivalent about "The Fiscal Cliff" and all the hysterics surrounding it.

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