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On this Christmas Eve we find messages of peace, evil, hope and thanksgiving in the news.

Our message of peace comes from President Barack Obama who, with help from Pope Francis, opened the door to diplomatic relations with Cuba after 50 years of an embargo strategy that failed to change the government there. I always wondered why our government would not establish diplomatic relations with Cuba because of its dictatorial form of government while having diplomatic relations with China, Russia and dozens of other dictatorial governments. In fact, U.S. policy toward Cuba has always been about Cuban votes in Florida. Obama's move says more about the changing nature of politics in Florida than the changing nature of foreign policy in Washington.

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A second story reminds us of the ever presence of evil in the world as dozens of children at a school in Pakistan were killed by the Taliban. You know you stepped over a line when your behavior is criticized by fellow Taliban in neighboring Afghanistan. This tragedy could, however, be a turning point for the people and government of Pakistan who have tried to live in peace and work with "good" Taliban groups where they could find them. The killing of children in school, however, looks to be Pakistan's 9/11, and will likely unify their resolve to end the Taliban's influence there. Sometimes, even terrorists go too far.

A third story brings us some hope as the release of the torture report by the Senate Intelligence Committee forces us to face our past and hope for a return to our core values. At first, members of President George W. Bush's administration wanted to place all the blame on the CIA by telling the public that they were kept in the dark and did not know about the most brutal acts by the CIA. But Bush, to his credit, told his team that he would not throw the CIA under the bus and would defend the actions of the CIA and his administration after 9/11. The saddest part of the report was the acknowledgement that U.S. agents not only broke domestic and international laws and treaties, but tortured two dozen innocent men who were not terrorists after all. Also, I'm tired of listening to people discuss the effectiveness of torture, as if effectiveness is the issue — it is not.

As Duncan Black of USA Today wrote, while the Senate's torture report showed that perhaps American is not "the shining city on a hill," at least it is a worthy goal. Black is hopeful as he writes that, "While the extreme flaws of our past, most notably the institution of slavery as originally enshrined in the Constitution, are given some attention, there is, in our history lessons, an overall narrative of aspiration. We were not, and we are not, perfect, but our ideals are noble. Deviations from these ideals are just that, deviations, mere blips on our path to a more civilized civilization."

The fact that such a report is published in America is evidence of our efforts to be, as President Obama states, "a more perfect union." Hope, however, comes not from those who embrace the continued use of torture in the future, but from those who look at this stain in our history and vow to prevent such "deviations" again.

Last, we give thanks to those in the medical field who bravely, and at significant risk to their own lives, fought and continue to fight Ebola around the world. As stated by Time magazine, "The rest of the world can sleep at night because a group of men and women are willing to stand and fight. For tireless acts of courage and mercy, for buying the world time to boost its defenses, for risking, for persisting, for sacrificing and saving, the Ebola fighters are Time's 2014 Person of the Year."

To my Jewish family and friends, I wish you a happy Hanukkah. To my Christian family and friends, I wish you a merry Christmas. And to all our readers, I wish you peace.

Tom Zirpoli writes from Westminster. His column appears Wednesdays. Email him at tzirpoli@mcdaniel.edu.

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