News of the Year

Issue: "News of the Year," Dec. 30, 2006

At 10:36 in the morning local time Oct. 9, North Korea conducted an underground nuclear test in a mountainous area northeast of Pyongyang. The U.S. Geological Survey-along with about 20 seismic stations from South Korea, Japan, China, and as far away as Ukraine, Australia, Nevada, and Wyoming-detected a tremor of 4.2 magnitude and of unnatural origin. On state television the regime announced it "manufactured up-to-date nuclear weapons" and would not rule out more tests in the future.

"And the devil came here yesterday," Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez told dignitaries gathered for the opening of the UN's 61st General Assembly, a reference to President George Bush. "Yesterday the devil came here. Right here." He paused to cross himself. "And it smells of sulfur still today." Such high-level defiance had not been seen in the UN's assembly hall since Nikita Khrushchev beat his shoe on the desk 46 years ago. Mr. Chavez railed that "the hegemonic pretensions of the American empire are placing at risk the very survival of the human species."

Chavez may have played the UN stage, but Iran's Mahmoud Ahmadinejad became expert at playing the process. In January the Iranian president announced Iran would resume its "peaceful nuclear energy program," and a week later broke the seals at three nuclear facilities.

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With punitive action from the International Atomic Energy Administration (IAEA) looming, Iran denied IAEA access to its nuclear facilities and by April Ahmadinejad declared that Iran had successfully enriched uranium. By August the UN Security Council passed a resolution demanding that Iran give up its nuclear program in 30 days, just as Iran cracked the seals on a second facility and doubled its enrichment production.

As deadlines came and went, it became clear that the permanent members of the council would continue to bicker over how to impose sanctions against Iran. Ahmadinejad, on the other hand, was direct: In October he declared Israel "on the verge of death," and in December he told a conference of Holocaust deniers hosted in Tehran that Israel will "soon disappear," as did the Soviet Union.

Spring protests by illegal immigrants drew hundreds of thousands in Los Angeles, Dallas, and New York, as well as thousands in cities far from the Border Belt like Des Moines. But after a year of intense public debate on immigration reform, all Congress has to show for it is a border fence that may never get funding. Serious groundwork may have been laid for immigration reform in 2007 when a Congress more amenable to the president's guest worker program takes over, and immigration reform advocates may look back on 2006 as a year of hot air, not hard work.

A slight dent in France's virtually guaranteed jobs-for-life labor system prompted months of street protests. Students and unions demonstrated by the hundreds of thousands against a law that would allow employers to fire workers under 26 for any reason during their first two years on the job. The generous benefits French companies have to pay mean hiring is expensive, which has led to a 22 percent unemployment rate among young workers. But the protesters won, and the French government scrapped the reform.

As cartoons, they were pretty tame: 12 depictions of the Prophet Muhammad commissioned by a Danish newspaper editor. The edgiest may have been one in which new Muslim "martyrs" arrive in Paradise only to learn it is out of virgins. By February, however, Muslims worldwide were protesting-leading to riots, injuries, deaths, and boycotts of Danish products, and scaring Western nations into retreat. But it was extremists fanning the protests, in efforts to divert attention from Western counterterrorism, particularly a five-man terrorist cell on trial in Denmark.

Militants linked to al-Qaeda took control of Mogadishu, the capital of Somalia, in June, pushing aside a transitional government with nominal control for the past 15 years. With Ethiopia sending troops to support the transitional government, and Eritrea backing the militant group, known as the Union of Islamic Courts, observers said the conflict could lead to regional war on the Horn of Africa and open a new front in the global struggle for Islamist rule.

South Dakota lawmakers voted in February to outlaw all abortions except when they are necessary to save a woman's life, becoming the first state to defy the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision. Gov. Michael Rounds signed the measure, but pro-abortion groups shifted into legal high gear, and on Election Day the law was defeated in a referendum.

American cycling champion Floyd Landis defied those who said a U.S. cyclist would not win the Tour de France on the heels of Lance Armstrong. But how fast can one fall from sports phenomenon to sports scourge? Landis remains the official winner of the 2006 Tour but race officials have said that because Landis failed a doping test, they do not consider him the true champion. In the days after his positive test became public, officials for Landis offered a flurry of excuses that made the cyclist the ridicule of late night television hosts.


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