11 “good news” stories you may have missed in 2015


In Syria, Kurdish women fight for democracy and feminism. Photo credit: Kurdishstruggle


Bad news usually tops the headlines, while good news gets overlooked. This holiday season, share some good news and give the gift of hope. Here are eleven positive stories from 2015 you may not have heard about.

1. Scientists are on the verge of curing cancer.

This past summer, former president Jimmy Carter announced that he had been diagnosed with metastatic melanoma, a cancer with a 16% survival rate. But earlier this month he announced he was cancer free. The miracle was achieved through immunotherapy, a new treatment that turns the body’s own immune system against cancer cells. Presently the treatment is working in about 30% of patients, and scientists expect that number to increase as the drugs improve. Immunotherapy lacks the debilitating side-effects of chemotherapy and can also help guard against cancer recurrence. Scientists are talking seriously about these therapies as the long-awaited “cure.”

Researchers this year also made a promising advance toward treating Alzheimer’s Disease when they discovered that focused ultrasound and gas microbubbles can break up amyloid plaques in the brain. This non-invasive technique restores memory function in mice and appears to be safe in monkeys. We’re a long way from human trials, but keep your fingers crossed!

2. Women in Saudi Arabia voted and ran for office for the first time. 

Just a few days ago, Saudi Arabia’s women voted and ran for office in municipal elections for the very first time in the Kingdom’s history. 979 female candidates competed with 6,000 men for 2,100 offices. The women campaigned at a severe disadvantage, because Saudi modesty standards did not allow to speak directly to male voters. But at least 19 women won the seats they ran for, a historic first for the nation that invented Islamic fundamentalism. Voting rights for women could help them achieve other basic freedoms, like the right to drive a car or to go places without a chaperone.

3. The American economy is the strongest it’s been in years.

Despite a stock market scare earlier this year, the American economy had a very strong year. Thanks to a boost in Saudi oil production, gas prices fell to their lowest levels since 2004. The unemployment rate fell from 5.7% to 5.0%, its lowest level since 2008. The budget deficit fell from $483 billion to $445 billion, again the lowest level since 2008.

4. US high school dropout rates have plummeted.

A report published last month showed that the number of students who drop out of high school has plummeted from about 1 million in 2002 to about 750,000 in 2012. During the same period we cut in half the number of “dropout factories”—schools graduating less than 60% of their students. Education reform is difficult and often frustrating, but at least on this one indicator we’re kicking ignorance’s… uh, butt.

5. A fledgling feminist democracy is beating back ISIS in Syria.

Ever heard of Rojava? The Kurds founded this breakaway state in November 2013 amidst the chaos of the Syrian civil war. It’s the size of the US state of Connecticut, and it’s founded on the principles of direct democracy, gender equality, and environmental sustainability. All recruits to Rojava’s police force “receive their weapons only after ‘two weeks of feminist instruction,'” according to the New York Times. One police unit consists entirely of women. Women also serve in Rojava’s YPG militia, which by all accounts is successfully holding its ground and even capturing territory from ISIS.

6. Pakistan showed new commitment to the war on terror.

For years analysts have raised concerns about US support for a Pakistani government that has paid lip service to the war on terror while secretly aiding and abetting Taliban militants. That changed this year, according to a report in Foreign Policy. The Pakistani military has recently cracked down on the Taliban and its splinter groups, killing or capturing hundreds of militant leaders. The government has also arrested thousands of clerics for preaching extremism and seized large amounts of  money and weapons intended for extremist groups.

7. Venezuela peacefully voted out the ruling socialists.

This may seem like a small thing, but a peaceful transition is a big deal for Venezuela’s fledgling democracy. Socialist president Hugo Chavez and his successor Nicholas Maduro have ruled as popular dictators since 1998, but earlier this month an opposition party won a landslide election victory. Many had feared the ruling party would rig the results, but that didn’t happen. More frighteningly, President Maduro had threatened to “take the fight to the streets” if the socialists lost. To everyone’s relief, he later backtracked: “In Venezuela, peace and democracy must reign. I’ve said we’ll take the fight to the streets, but maybe I was wrong.”

8. The Western Hemisphere’s longest-running civil war appears to have ended.

FARC rebels have been at war with Colombia’s government since the 1920s, making this the Western Hemisphere’ longest-running civil war. But the 100-year war seems to be coming to an end, thanks to peace talks that gained momentum after the rebels declared a cease-fire earlier this year.

9. Iraq’s top cleric is pushing religious pluralism.

Iraq’s Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani made headlines last year with a call for jihad against ISIS that mobilized tens of thousands of Iraqi fighters to roll back the fundamentalists’ conquests. This year Sistani continued to impress with his interfaith outreach to Christians, Yezidis, and Jews. He has allowed non-Muslims to enter the holiest Shi’ite shrine, he has shared a meal with a delegation of Christian women, and he has helped set up an academy for interreligious studies in the city of Najaf. Shi’ite cleric Jawad al-Khoei, who’s heading up the new academy, says “We want Yezidis to teach the Yezidi faith, Sabaeans to teach about Sabaeans, and Christians to teach Christianity.” Elsewhere in the same city, Kufa University is already running an interfaith program. Faculty Dean Walid Farajallah al-Asali says, “All Iraqi students know about Judaism is the conflict with Israel. We have to explain the beliefs of Judaism.”

10. China’s leaders sought to mend ties with neighbors.

Chinese leaders made several promising diplomatic overtures this year. At the end of October China’s premier met with the leaders of Japan and South Korea and agreed to restart talks on contentious issues ranging from Pacific oil and gas rights to denuclearization of North Korea. More surprisingly, Chinese president Xi Jinping met with Taiwanese president Ma Ying-jeou, the first-ever meeting between the two nations’ top leaders. Both governments claim to be the true government of China, so in the past they’ve hesitated to legitimize each other. Many US policy experts fear Taiwan is a potential flashpoint between the US and China, so we’re thrilled to see Taiwan and China talking to each other.

But perhaps the most important overture China made this year was its commitment to cooperate with the international community in addressing the threat of global climate change. Whereas in the past China has resisted emissions targets, it emerged as a leader at the Paris climate talks earlier this month.

11. Iran signed a nuclear agreement and began complying with its requirements.

Earlier this year Iran signed a deal with the United States to dismantle 13,000 nuclear centrifuges, limit uranium enrichment, cap its stockpile of nuclear materials, and submit to the strongest nuclear inspection regime ever devised. These measures lengthen Iran’s time to “nuclear breakout,” so that the international community will have more time to detect and respond if the Iranians decide to try to build a bomb. The deal is opposed by hardliners in both Iran and the United States, and it still could fail. But so far Iran is complying, albeit grudgingly. They’ve dismantled over 4,500 centrifuges and should meet the deal’s other major requirements by mid-January.

In so many ways the world is getting better. Amidst all the bad news, never lose sight of the good!

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