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.
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
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.
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
Out of a 1984 UN population conference in Mexico City grew a U.S. policy limiting the work of abortion advocates that receive federal funds. That policy ended with the start of the Obama administration, but a new "Mexico City policy" may be taking its place. One year after Mexico's Supreme Court upheld a Mexico City law allowing abortion during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy-a decision abortion advocates expected to bring greater access to abortion across Mexico-the opposite has happened. In 17 states, pro-life groups have won changes to local constitutions declaring that life begins at conception and explicitly granting legal rights to the unborn. When Veracruz last month became the most recent state to do so, it also called on the Mexican Congress to consider a similar amendment to the national constitution.
'Twas the morning before Christmas, at 7 a.m., when U.S. senators began their 25th day of debate on healthcare overhaul. In the first Christmas Eve vote in nearly 115 years, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid accidentally voted against the very bill he'd been driving through the Senate. Reid quickly changed his "nay" to "aye." Other confused Democrats headed home for the holidays with their stockings sufficiently stuffed in exchange for their votes: Senators from 11 states got billion-dollar goodies for also voting "aye." The Senate and the House next meet to iron out significant differences in their two versions. The government-run insurance option (House-approved, Senate-rejected) is likely on its way out. But the abortion issue remains unsettled: Pro-life House Democrats succeeded in inserting tough abortion restrictions while pro-abortion Senate Democrats engineered a compromise that, despite support from Catholic hospitals, still leaves the door open for taxpayer-funded abortions and fails to protect medical professionals who refuse to perform certain procedures on moral grounds.
Korean-American Robert Park's disappearance in North Korea on Christmas Day is just the first part of a new campaign aimed at drawing attention to conditions in the closed communist nation, according to activist leader Norbert Vollertsen. "Flooding North Korea with more human right activists coming from China, crossing the DMZ at the inner Korean border, hunger strikes in front of every NK mission worldwide" are some of the follow-up efforts Vollertsen mentioned in a Dec. 29 email. Park, 28 and a Tucson resident, crossed a poorly guarded stretch of the frozen Tumen River that separates the North from China around 5 a.m. on Dec. 25, according to a member of the Seoul-based group Pax Koreana. "I am an American citizen. I brought God's love. God loves you and God bless you," Park reportedly said in Korean as he crossed over the border near the northeastern city of Hoeryong, according to onlookers who watched his crossing and filmed it. "We Refuse to Allow the North Korean Holocaust to Continue Any Longer," he wrote to North Korean leader Kim Jong-il and other world leaders in a letter distributed to media outlets (including WORLD) prior to his disappearance. No information emerged in the days following the crossing. North Korea's state-run media was silent, and the U.S. State Department said it was aware of the incident but had no details.
Changing sides isn't easy
Just before Christmas, Blue Dog Democrat Parker Griffith announced he was switching parties to join U.S. House Republicans. The pro-life congressman said he wanted to be in a party that is "more in tune with my beliefs and convictions." Sen. John McCain won 61 percent of votes in the Alabama district in the 2008 presidential campaign, so Griffith should have a good chance of reelection as a Republican. But as 2009 came to a close, contenders from his new party began lining up and lobbing tomatoes. Republican challenger Les Phillips released mailers attacking Griffith's donations to Howard Dean and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. Another Republican, Mo Brooks, plans to challenge Griffith as well. While Republicans try not to cannibalize each other, Democrats are still casting about for a strong candidate after the state agriculture commissioner Ron Sparks, who is running for governor, declined to enter the race.
Sudan's two main political parties averted a crisis on Christmas Eve, saying that parliament would review a hastily passed law that favored the North and drew international criticism. Officials in the country's Northern-based National Congress Party in mid-December passed a referendum on the South's 2011 vote on independence. The problem: Southern officials had just walked out of the meeting in protest of the referendum's provisions.
After harsh criticism from U.S. officials, Sudanese officials announced the parliament would revisit the law, with both parties present. But the country's peace remains fragile three months ahead of nationwide elections that could affect the stability of the entire region (see "Countries to watch," Jan. 16, 2009).
Follow that star
They call its star GJ 1214. Astronomers who say they discovered the planet last month call it the closest planet to Earth ever discovered-outside our solar system. "This probably is not habitable, but it didn't miss the habitable zone by that much," said David Charbonneau of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, who led the team that discovered the new planet and reported its findings in the journal Nature.
Approximately three times the size of Earth and 6.6 times as massive, the new planet takes 38 hours to circle a dim red star, GJ 1214, in the constellation Ophiuchus-about 40 light years from Earth.
In the 15 years since the first extrasolar planet was found, more than 400 have been detected. Planet-hunting instruments like NASA's Kepler satellite are making the search more productive, with another batch of planet discoveries expected later this month.
Play it again
Last year's Hope Award for Effective Compassion contest was such a big hit that we plan to do it again, with readers again nominating worthy organizations.
The goal is the same: To learn about and honor remarkable expressions of Christian compassion in the U.S. Among last year's finalists were groups that minister to prisoners, to orphans, to parents of disabled children, to women leaving the sex trade, to the ill who don't have health insurance, and more.
The procedure is the same: Email the name of the organization you wish to nominate (one per person) to WORLD executive assistant June McGraw (firstname.lastname@example.org) or write to her at WORLD, P.O. Box 20002, Asheville, NC 28802-9998. Please include the director's name and the organization's phone number, address, and web address. Deadline: Jan. 31.
Organizations nominated should be explicitly Christian, with ample use of volunteers and a track record of creating bonds between helpers and helped. What they're doing in one place should be doable by others elsewhere. Our staff will take your recommendations and investigate further.
Here's a change from last year: We will have one winner and two other finalists in each of four regions-Northeast, Midwest, South, and West. The American Bible Society, co-sponsor of this contest, will give $5,000 to each regional winner and $5,000 more to a national winner, but we also plan to publish feature stories on all finalists. Such coverage spotlights their work and suggests to others the opportunity to go and do likewise.
We plan to run stories about regional winners and finalists in April, May, June, and July. In August we plan to take a look at compassion abroad, and then report our national winner in September. Those who nominate winners will receive a one-year WORLD subscription or extension. - by Marvin Olasky