12.26.2011 GOOD NEWS!

Excerpt:  If you’re in the mood for an uplifting holiday, take cheer:

The world is getting more peaceful. Though it might not seem so, with the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan grabbing so many headlines, the past decade has seen a remarkable drop in the number of war casualties around the world. According to data compiled by the Peace Research Institute Oslo, 55,000 people a year have been dying in war since the dawn of the new millennium. That’s a little more than half of the rate during the 1990s, a third of the rate during the Cold War and one hundredth the rate during World War II.

The troops are coming home. Whatever one might think of the decision to invade Iraq in 2003, it’s nice to see U.S. servicemembers coming home. At the war’s peak, about 160,000 were posted in Iraq. Though it might be hard to have a rosy outlook on Iraq’s future, given this week’s political turmoil and bombings in Baghdad, a U.S. presence couldn’t go on indefinitely. This year, thousands of troops will celebrate the holidays with their families after fulfilling their missions admirably and honorably. They deserve it.

•The economy is perking up. Some 1.4 million jobs have been created this year, and the unemployment rate has dropped from 9.4% at the end of last year to 8.6% in November, according to the Labor Department. Last month, the jobless rate declined in 43 states. Far too many Americans remain out of work, and the nation is still about 6 million jobs below the peak employment level before the 2008 financial meltdown. But the recent gains are nothing to sneer at, given all the obstacles that were hurled at the economy this year. Just a few months ago, many economists were predicting a double-dip recession. No wonder they call it the dismal science.

America is importing less oil. Net oil imports have dropped from more than 12 million barrels per day in 2005 to 8.8 million today, according the the Energy Department. The trend is driven mainly by more efficient cars and the newfound ability to extract oil from tight rock formations here at home. This makes the United States less dependent on imports from unstable or unfriendly nations. More of the nation’s oil imports are coming from our friends in Canada and Mexico. Who would have thought this would happen? For years, rising oil imports were thought of as a constant, like death and taxes.

Traffic fatalities are falling. The latest number from the Department of Transportation is that 32,788 people died last year in traffic accidents — still too many, but part of a multiyear downward trend. Measured against miles traveled (1.1 deaths per 100 million miles), it is the lowest level ever recorded. No one knows exactly which factors are most important in the drop. But safer cars, with airbags and rollover protections, combined with improved driver awareness about the dangers of driving while intoxicated or without buckling up, are main factors. Just don’t text this news while you’re behind the wheel.

Crime is still dropping.Violent crime fell 6.4% during the first six months of this year, according to the latest FBI report, defying hard economic times and continuing a trend dating to the 1990s. Criminologists aren’t sure how to explain this downward trend. Most theories involve some combination of demographic changes, higher incarceration rates and better police work. In the end, the reasons are less important than the fact that crime continues to fall. These FBI reports have begun to sound like a broken record — while also being music to our ears.

The new year will, of course, bring challenges, scandals and setbacks. But it will also bring more good news, large and small. In 2012, people we don’t even know yet will do amazing things. Science will advance; enterprise will flourish.

Americans can dwell on a never-ending string of woe-is-us stories, or look at the underlying trends that show progress. The United States can be down. But that will be so out.

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