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Looking for the bright spot in the new year Commentary Bob Ray Sanders

IT WAS a year when the saying “waiting for the other shoe to drop” took on a whole new meaning after that footwear-throwing incident in Baghdad.

That peculiar episode, coming as President George W. Bush was winding up his farewell trip to Iraq, was symbolic of just how bizarre a year 2008 turned out to be.

During the last 12 months we witnessed a barrage of storms of all kinds: political, economic and natural.

It was a year of contradictions, filled with triumph and tragedy, conflict and concurrence, hope and despair.

Hard-fought political primaries produced two presidential candidates whose party tickets promised “firsts” should either get elected.

An authentic war hero went against a man who was opposed to the war in Iraq. In the end, the country overwhelmingly chose the anti-war man of “change” who became the first black to win the U.S. presidency.

Ironically, by the time voters went to the polls in November, the sad state of the U.S. economy had overtaken the war as the major issue in the campaign.

And the president-elect, while vowing to end the war in Iraq, began talking about sending another 30,000 troops to Afghanistan. While that might be the proper move to suppress the persistent insurgents in that country, in some ways it reminds me of another young president who took office in 1961 and began an escalation of another war that ultimately claimed the lives of 58,000 Americans.

Nature once again proved merciless with a cyclone in Myanmar, killing 84,000 people; an earthquake in China claiming the lives of 70,000 with many thousands more homeless; record flooding in the upper Mississippi Valley; and two hurricanes, Gustav and Ike, that wreaked havoc along the Gulf Coast.

Galveston Island and other Texas coastal communities were devastated, and once again the federal government’s response was slow and inadequate at best.

Fidel Castro became gravely ill, but while some Americans danced in the streets in anticipation of his death, the Cuban leader once again showed his stamina. Although he is still alive, the old revolutionary did resign as head of state, turning over the presidency to his brother, Raul, and bringing a little more hope of change for the long-suffering Cuban people.

Speaking of hope, it seems every time there is a ray of that elusive beam in the Middle East, horrific events occur to remind us that the strife there might be with us forever.

On Christmas Day tourists flocked to Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus, for the first time in years. The local residents and merchants saw it as a time of renewal as Israeli and Palestinian authorities worked together to make sure the town was peaceful.

But as people of various faiths were having a joyous time in Bethlehem, Hamas once again fired rockets from Gaza into Israel. It did not take Israel long to retaliate with a force of destruction not seen in many years. More than 370 Palestinians in the Gaza Strip have been killed by the massive bombings.

As we enter the New Year, the Holy Land doesn’t seem so holy.

A complacent international community has done very little to stop the continued genocide in Darfur, and it has done little more than pontificate in addressing the growing humanitarian needs in Zimbabwe where an oppressive dictator continues to rule as thousands suffer from hunger and a growing cholera epidemic.

In many ways it was good to say goodbye to 2008, but unfortunately we won’t be able to leave all the misery behind with it.

Many of the conflicts around the globe will continue, and the worldwide economic situation doesn’t look any brighter for 2009.

In this country, we shall continue to see falling home values and more foreclosures, more troubled financial institutions and bankruptcies, which means more lost jobs and more individuals finding it harder to pay for basic needs such as food and clothing.

The new president promises more employment through government-financed programs and lower taxes for the middle class. That might be good, but it also might be too little too late.

There is a least one merchant in the world who has had a tremendous spike in business.

Within a week after the Baghdad shoe-throwing incident, the Turkish owner of the factory where the hurled shoes were made had received more than 300,000 orders, requiring him to hire 100 more people to meet the demand.

While that may be a bright spot somewhere, many Americans are waiting for the next economic shoe to drop.

In many ways it was good to say goodbye to 2008, but

unfortunately we won’t be able to leave all the misery behind with it.

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