The latest reports from Iraq tell us things that we haven't been hearing in the past year: successful rebuilding is going on in many parts of the country, the economy (including a stock market) is growing, the country's information network (television and radio stations, wireless cell phones, a myriad of newspapers) has mushroomed. Most importantly, there have been great strides in the buildup of Iraqi security forces, offering hope that there will be some U.S. troop withdrawals next year.
THE U.S. ECONOMY: Has any sector of America been more besieged by doubt, fear and pessimism? Thankfully, those fears were not shared by the homebuyers, consumers and enterprising entrepreneurs.
Corporate profits, productivity, job creation and overall economic growth were all up. GDP at 4.3 percent. Unemployment a tad over 5 percent.
The core inflation rate modest, interest rates were low by historical standards, gas prices fell and U.S. manufacturing was making a comeback. The stock market, too, defied the skeptics and by last week had resumed its year-end rally, with the Dow once again nearing 11,000.
Compare this reality to the oft-repeated fears throughout the year that the housing bubble would burst (it only slowed from its overheated pace), corporate profits would fall, the economy would slow and things would generally get worse. It did not happened.
GLOBALLY: While the Iraqis were following in our footsteps by voting for a constitution and a new government, the Israelis and Palestinians had taken major strides on the U.S.-led roadmap to peace, the Saudis seemed to be experimenting more with local democratic elections, while Pakistan was cementing its alliance with the U.S. in the war on terrorism.
In Asia, Communist North Korea and South Korea have taken steps to continue their dialogue with one another, China's free market economy continues to explode, much of it in U.S. and other foreign investment, while the protest movement is escalating its demands for more political freedom.
India's economy, in the midst of the largest war on poverty, after China, is growing by more than 7 percent a year, bursting with enterprises that are changing the face of a country once known only for its poverty and famines.
Vast problems of hunger, disease and war remain across the continent of Africa and most of Central and South America. Still, no one can look at the past 12 months and not agree that things are better in many places in the world, especially here at home, as we prepare to tackle the work that remains to be done in the year head.
A reason for confidence in this season of renewal, promise and light.