WASHINGTON -- I almost hate to say it, but I feel relatively optimistic about the New Year. Am I mad? Quite possibly. I am quite aware that we still face going over the fiscal cliff, 20 innocents were massacred by a crazy young man in Connecticut and fellow Americans have lost homes, jobs and respectability.
But it seems to me that we may have turned a corner. The reactions to the Newtown killings, with a 20-year-old boy killing his own mother as she lay in bed, are different this time. People are enraged. There is no falling down before the great NRA or whimpering, "We can't do it. It just can't be done."
This time, everyone seems deadly serious, which is only appropriate. At least everyone but Republicans in Congress seems to realize that we need to make major changes in our lifestyles if we are to survive as a great nation, or even as a people with pride in themselves.
The problems in America today are not over what we need to do, but where we can find the will to do it. How to define what issues are primary and then put our minds and hearts and spirits into solving them is the stage upon which we find ourselves standing. While, I might add, the entire world is watching.
In the world we face in 2013, the challenges will first seem insurmountable. More than four hundred murders in Chicago alone in 2012, and if we go over the fiscal cliff, there will be even more young men without work, eager to try a life of crime. Middle-class businesses will get even less help than before. The American military, already alienated from the American public through the volunteer Army, will almost surely face a crisis in Afghanistan as it prepares to leave. And it is increasingly looking as though President Obama will be sending troops to Syria, not to speak of the East Asian/Pacific area. We now have no fewer than 800 bases around the world.
But the major thing that Barack Obama should get credit for in his first term -- and one has hopes, in his second -- is that he has changed the conversation. He has updated it. Before, who spoke of "green" answers to the environment, who talked of "Chinese-style" fast trains in America, who in our top political echelons had the common sense to dream in the way America used to dream? It's a nice feeling, and it may even work.
Even the idea of the inevitability of American decline is being recrafted for a new era in an important major study, one by the quadrennial report "Global Trends 2030: Alternative Worlds," issued by the National Intelligence Council.
The report puts a wholly different blush on where America is going. It foresees that the U.S. will not be a uniquely dominant global power, but that it will remain pre-eminent because of its legacy strengths, its ability to form coalitions and the reluctance of China to assume a global role. China is expected to surpass America economically, but not in these political and military spheres.
At the same time, however, The Washington Post reports, "the overall risk of conflict is rising because the most sophisticated weapons of war -- including precision-strike capabilities and biological weaponry -- are spreading to more and more governments and even non-state actors."
Finally, the report underscores what serious thinkers across the world are more often saying, that food shortages will scar the future, and water management may be the major, horrifying problem of this world already upon us.
The good thing is that we basically know how to fix ALL of these problems. So 2013 may well be a gravely important year for the health of the world we live in and for our own health.
When I started as a foreign correspondent in 1964, the mass of the world was poor, hungry and miserable. Now, as this new intelligence report points out, the world is becoming largely a middle-class world run by middle-class people. What a change. But it is still our world -- to build, to destroy, or to let fade away.
If you read this, you will know that the Mayan dateline of death has passed and we are still alive. (Or, as the old Jewish comedian said, "You call this living?") In 2013, let's give new meaning to that living!