Happy New Year

Thursday, Jan. 1, 2009 1:37 AM

As we recover from the 2008 hangover today, there is much to hope for in the New Year. After a tumultuous, but also transitional year, many opportunities exist for correcting mistakes and reversing negative trends nationally. That collective New Year's resolution is perhaps best represented by Barack Obama's election in November. The policies and politics that are likely to emerge when he is inaugurated Jan. 20 will be nothing if not a departure from current trends.

With economic disaster and the correlative budget crunches that affect families, businesses and every level of government from municipalities to the federal treasury, lingering war, job losses, record high gas prices, further drops in numbers of people covered by health insurance and many other unpleasantries, 2008 will for a long time to come leave a sour taste in the nation's - indeed the world's - mouth. The ramifications for these events will be long-lasting and costly in both dollars and national morale, but the painful lessons they have taught also provide opportunity to change some of the practices that led to the year's difficulties. There are many reasons to be hopeful that new leadership and renewed focus on innovation and problem-solving will yield results that reverse the trends that plagued the country last year.

A growing weariness of the war in Iraq and even longer-languishing military action in Afghanistan gave way to big changes in the strategies used in both places. Defense Secretary Robert Gates has been instrumental in that shift, and his continued tenure into the Obama administration promises additional changes, this time at the philosophical level. His interest in and advocacy for non-military solutions to the conflicts - and for avoiding potential future ones - speak volumes for the changes 2009 is likely to bring. It is symbolic of the awareness and game change necessary to break the cycles that made 2008 so challenging here and abroad, and offers a much-needed glimmer of hope.

That same hope is igniting in other troubled areas as well. With the big American car companies on the brink of collapse, industry leaders are finally realizing their short-sightedness in allocating too few resources to developing vehicles that are more fuel efficient or use alternative-energy sources. Now, after a painful and expensive lesson, those companies' hopes of averting complete disaster rely at least in some part on renewed commitment to innovation. It is a shame that executives did not respond to that trend sooner and with greater vigor, but that the "Ah ha!" moment arrived at all is promising.

The leadership that Obama provides in 2009 will set the tone for his entire first term, and "tough love" will be instrumental to his and the nation's success in the New Year. The team he is assembling to draft and implement those policies shows promise, as does his apparent grasp of the issues facing the country and the profound need to address them with the complexity of thought that difficult problems require to solve.

Those problems have trickled down through all levels of government - and into households and businesses across the country - and will present many challenges as well as opportunities for Southwest Colorado in 2009. On Sunday, the Herald will look ahead to the local issues likely to top the New Year agenda. For today, though, enjoy a happy New Year with much to look forward to and hope for in the months to come.