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The Buzz

Need-to-know news

Issue: "2010 The Year Ahead," Jan. 16, 2010

Aggressor nation

Tehran's combativeness toward Israel and the West, and its aggression against its own people on the street, have been well-advertised. Less noted is increasing aggression against its neighbors.

On Dec. 18 Iranian troops crossed the border into Iraq, took control of well Number 4 in the al-Fauqa oilfield near its southern border, and raised an Iranian flag. Iraqi authorities sent troops to within a half mile of Iranian forces. Iraqi Gen. Zaser Nazmi claimed that Iranian forces positioned tanks around the well and dug trenches, but later withdrew after several hours' standoff. A U.S. military spokesman confirmed that the incident took place in what is historically a disputed border area, and he told Agence France-Presse that "there has been no violence related to this incident and we trust this will be resolved through peaceful diplomacy between the governments of Iraq and Iran." Oilfields in the area have an estimated 2.5 billion barrels of reserves, according to Stratfor.

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There have been other incursions. Iran is reportedly supporting Shiite rebels in Yemen by shipping weapons via Eritrea and Hezbollah. Those rebel fighters are staging increasing incursions into Saudi Arabia-so much so that in December the Saudi defense ministry requested, and the U.S. supplied, $177 million in new missiles, armor, night-vision systems, and spare parts. This is in addition to enduring Iranian support for Hezbollah's terror campaign against Lebanon and Israel.

These, taken against the backdrop of brutality in the streets of Tehran, where at least a dozen died on Dec. 27-may appear to be feints rather than headblows. But consider: 2010 marks a sober landmark when experts have long predicted that beginning between now and 2015 Iran will acquire a nuclear weapon. Short of sanctions, which the Obama administration may reluctantly consider, or other intervention, Iran faces only technical hurdles on the way to that goal. And its growing aggressiveness suggests it isn't likely to hesitate to exploit the ultimate weapon to its advantage. - by Mindy Belz

Record movie-going

Director James Cameron has done it again. Following his record-grossing Titanic in 1997, his newest film, Avatar, propelled U.S. box-office sales to their biggest take for a single weekend in Hollywood history. The $400 million sci-fi film, a decade in the making, opened a week before Christmas and garnered $75 million over the holiday weekend, leading sales that totaled a record $278 million. Other new releases contributed to the largest weekend of movie revenue and proved that a blizzard up the Eastern seaboard wasn't enough to keep people at home.

Safer America

National crime rates for the first half of 2009 dropped to the lowest in four decades, according to the FBI. And the national murder rate dropped 10 percent, despite high unemployment and a bad economy. Car thefts have dropped 19 percent, while violent and property crime fell by lower rates. New York City's crime rates dropped to the lowest since record keeping began in 1963, which Mayor Michael Bloomberg attributed to the "broken window" approach where law enforcement is aggressive in addressing minor offenses. According to the FBI, New York is now the safest major city in America. Meanwhile the homicide rate in both Washington, D.C., and Los Angeles fell by about 20 percent.

Out with the old

WORLD asked key culture mappers, "What are you looking for in the new year?"

"Getting more congressmen and senators elected who get it." -Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C.

"Respect for conscience . . . the inner voice that insists we do good and avoid evil, and that, when properly educated, referees which is which. Respect for conscientious objectors to government mandates, whether they concern abortion, same-sex marriage, or something else, is under assault as never before." -Kevin J. "Seamus" Hasson, president of The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty

"There's no more important work we can do here than to show Americans what the Democrat plan for healthcare would mean for them. . . . We need to stop this bill and start over with the kind of step-by-step reforms Americans really want." -Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell

"My prediction is that Christians in Pakistan will experience worsening religious based violence . . . China will continue to resist and even increase its resistance to U.S. influence on religious freedom and human rights issues. If the North Korean dictator, Kim Jong-il, dies, his fourth son who is currently favored to succeed him may be more brutal to keep control in the country." -Ann Buwalda, director of Jubilee Campaign

"2010 will be another key year for marriage, look for political movement in Iowa and especially New Hampshire. . . . Gay marriage advocates believe they have blocked the people of D.C. from using the initiative and referendum process. . . . It will take a court fight to give the people of D.C. the right to vote guaranteed by their charter, but I predict it will happen. Nationally, the big question is: Will President Obama try to deliver on his promise to repeal the federal Defense of Marriage Act?" -Maggie Gallagher, president of the National Organization for Marriage

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