Yes, the federal government is partially shut down, the stock market has been in a tizzy and the Trump administration is in chaos, but the world continues to chug along and make considerable progress on a number of fronts.
For the past decade, the Editorial Board has used the holiday season to point to some of the often-overlooked positive trends and developments that have been sweeping America and the globe.
While that might seem a bit Pollyanna-ish this year with all of the dysfunction in Washington, the fact remains that the present era has generally been characterized by peace and prosperity, ingenuity, enterprise and scientific advance. Here are a half-dozen bits of good news worth celebrating this Christmas and New Year’s Eve:
►Violent crime drops. In 2017, the most recent year for which the FBI has compiled data, 382.9 violent criminal acts were committed for every 100,000 people. That’s a drop of about 1 percent from the previous year. The figure marks another year when crime was well off its highs of the 1990s, when nearly twice as many violent acts were committed compared with today. It also represents a reversal of a slight upward tick that began in 2015. A vigorous debate continues over the causes of the lower crime rates and how to keep them down. Even so, we are happy to simply report the trend.
►Bipartisanship lives. At a time of intense political polarization, Congress this year finally passed bipartisan criminal justice reform. The new law, signed last week by President Donald Trump, allows judges to exercise more discretion in sentencing decisions. It reverses some of the excessive and inflexible mandatory minimum federal sentences that have filled scarce prison space with aging, nonviolent drug offenders. These laws were the result of the partisan politics of the 1990s, when Republicans and Democrats vied to outdo each other with mandatory sentences. Now they are out to outdo each other with pragmatism.
►Alzheimer’s progress. The search for a safe and effective Alzheimer’s treatment has long been a source of frustration. Researchers found ways to reduce the amyloid deposits thought to cause the brain disease, only to find that the cognitive decline in those receiving the treatment continued largely unaffected. But this year finally brought something encouraging: a large-scale trial of a drug that both reduced the deposits and slowed the patients’ decline. It’s way too early to declare any kind of victory. But the trial of a Japanese drug, currently known as BAN2401, suggests practical treatments might not be as far off as the research community was beginning to fear.
►Touchdown Mars. In November, the InSight seismology rover landed successfully on Mars after the nearly seven-month trip. This might not seem like a big deal. But the red planet has been a graveyard for Russian, European and American missions, including an embarrassing 1999 NASA fail caused when a computer, running on metric numbers, and engineers, dealing in nonmetric numbers, got their signals crossed. InSight follows a string of NASA successes on Mars going back to the Spirit and Opportunity rovers of 2004. It also maintain NASA’s status as the only institution that has completed a successful mission to the red planet.
►Earthquake lessons. On Nov. 30, the nearly 300,000 people in the Anchorage, Alaska, metropolitan area were rocked by a powerful 7.0 earthquake. For a brief moment, this was big national news. But soon it all but disappeared from newspapers and newscasts outside of Alaska because it turned out to be, well, not that big of a deal. The temblor produced zero fatalities and zero injuries of note. Badly damaged roads began reopening within a week of the event. The Anchorage quake serves as a snapshot of the progress that earthquake-prone communities have made with building codes and emergency preparations. Anchorage has more reason to be on guard than some cities — in 1964 the city was leveled by an earthquake — but it can serve as a symbol for what numerous communities have done to harden their defenses.
►The disappearing poor. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, the vast majority of the world’s population lived in what we would now consider extreme poverty. In 1990, the percentage was roughly a third. Today, the figure is only 10 percent, and by some accounts it is even less. The numbers have fallen so far so fast that in 2015, the United Nations set an audacious goal of eliminating all extreme poverty by 2030. The numbers reported this year, a 1 percentage point drop, represent a slowing in the rate of decline. This has some experts worried that an end of extreme poverty might not be attainable by 2030. But 30 years ago, virtually no one would have forecast the progress that has been made.
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