Progress watch 2012: Smart phones, jobs returning to America, and war crimes trials
The often-slow arc of good news may not make headlines. But 2012 brought its quiet share: from extreme poverty dropping by half since 1990 to a robot with the bulky profile of an NFL player that may have a role in bringing jobs back to the US.
Good news is hard to find. That's partly because, no matter what the topic, there's so much distracting bad news: ongoing violence in Syria, America's allegedly imminent fiscal demise, the National Hockey League lockout. From the front page to the sports page, so little looks good.Skip to next paragraph
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It isn't just the cacophony of naysaying and fear that crowds out good news. It's also the nature of progress itself: Good news happens slowly. The American storytelling ethos loves narratives of overnight success, but real change isn't usually so sudden. Earlier this year, the World Bank announced that the number of people living on less than $1.25 a day – what policy wonks call "extreme poverty" – had dropped by half since 1990. That study might have been the biggest bit of good news to go overlooked this year, but consider this: Global extreme poverty was actually halved in 2010 – it took two years even to see that progress had happened.
Other highlights, too, have been subject to the long arc of incremental change. Nearly 90 percent of people globally have access to clean water, according to the World Health Organization. In Mexico, homicide rates – driven to outrageous levels in the drug wars – are down for the first time in six years.
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In The Hague, two international war criminals were found guilty in landmark rulings: the International Criminal Court convicted Thomas Lubanga, a Congolese rebel, of recruiting child soldiers. The conviction, after a two-year trial, was a first for the ICC, established a decade ago. The verdict "was the culmination of decades of hope that accountability for the most serious crimes would be achieved," says James Goldston, founding director of the Open Society Justice Initiative. "It took 10 years, but this conviction [is] an enormous accomplishment and a major step forward for international justice."
In a long-awaited verdict from a different court, the Special Court for Sierra Leone, former Liberian President Charles Taylor was convicted of war crimes. He is effectively the first former head of state to be convicted of war crimes. (The formal distinction goes to Karl Dönitz, who served as president of Germany for the 23 days between Hitler's suicide and the dissolution of the government after Germany's surrender in World War II.)