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New Year, New Opportunity: 15 Intriguing Questions for 2015

Image: New Year's Eve "15" numerals stand lit on the sidewalk after they were unloaded from a truck in Times Square in New York

The New Year's Eve "15" numerals stand lit on the sidewalk after they were unloaded from a truck in Times Square in New York, December 16, 2014. MIKE SEGAR / Reuters

The ball has dropped. The confetti has been cleared. The Ice Bucket Challenge and "All About That Bass" are officially so last year.

It’s 2015 — the beginning of a whole new year in the news.

What's in store? Three hundred sixty-five days from now, we'll have answers. For now, here are some of the most intriguing questions in the world.

1. Will Obama go to Cuba?

It was a diplomatic stunner: President Barack Obama announced in December that the United States would restore relations with Cuba, chilled since the Kennedy administration, and one day open an embassy in Havana.

A presidential visit would be politically dicey. Some Republicans, most notably Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, were infuriated by the announcement. On the other hand, Obama could bring home Cohibas. For personal use only, of course.

Image: A anti-Castro Cuban exile reacts after the announcement of restoring diplomatic ties between Cuba and U.S., at 'Little Havana' in downtown Miami
A anti-Castro Cuban exile reacts after the announcement of restoring diplomatic ties between Cuba and the U.S. in the Miami neighborhood known as 'Little Havana' on Dec. 17. CARLOS BARRIA / Reuters

2. Who will emerge for the Republicans?

The Iowa caucus is little more than a year away. And the GOP field is the most wide-open in memory. Former Gov. Jeb Bush, Gov. Chris Christie, Gov. Scott Walker, Gov. Rick Perry, Sen. Rand Paul, Sen. Ted Cruz and Rubio could all be contenders.

We’ll get some clues at a debate at the Ronald Reagan Library in California on Sept. 15, with others still to be scheduled. They could be battling for the right to take on Hillary Rodham Clinton. Speaking of which …

3. Will she or won’t she? (And if not her, who?)

The former secretary of state has said she’ll make a decision about another White House bid "after the first of the year." One of the most intriguing questions of 2015 will be which Democrats try to stop her — or rush to fill the void if she says no.

Former Sen. Jim Webb of Virginia and former Gov. Martin O’Malley of Maryland are considering running. So is Sen. Bernard Sanders of Vermont. Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts has flatly said she won’t run, despite a "Draft Warren" movement.

4. Will they ever find Flight 370?

Investigators are mapping and searching about 23,000 miles of the Indian Ocean floor in hopes of solving the greatest mystery in modern aviation — what happened to the Boeing 777 that vanished March 8 on a flight from Malaysia to China.

Australia, which is leading the investigation, says the underwater hunt may be complete by May. The search is concentrated in what is known as the Seventh Arc, a swath of seafloor defined by satellite and aircraft data.

Image:
A woman pushes her baby cart in front of a messages board for passengers aboard a missing Malaysia Airlines plane at Kuala Lumpur International Airport in Sepang, Malaysia, on March 19. Vincent Thian / AP file

5. Will Bowe Bergdahl be court-martialed?

It’s up to a four-star Army general. Just before the year ended, the military completed its investigation into the circumstances of Bergdahl’s disappearance from his post in Afghanistan in June 2009.

Bergdahl was captured by the Taliban and held five years before the United States arranged for his freedom in exchange for five Taliban fighters imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Fellow soldiers have accused Bergdahl of desertion.

6. Will the Dow hit 20,000?

It’s already one of the longest bull markets in history, and if it keeps going, the Dow Jones industrial average could surpass a milestone that would have seemed unthinkable during the Great Recession. In March 2009, the Dow bottomed out at 6,547.

Good economic news is part of what’s pushing stocks ever higher. Employers have added jobs for 50 months in a row, which has never happened before, and the economy grew in the third quarter of 2014 at a sizzling rate of 5 percent.

Image: Dow Jones average closes over 18,000 at New York Stock Exchange
A trader works while wearing a 'Dow 18,000' hat on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange at the end of the trading day Dec. 23. JUSTIN LANE / EPA

7. Will the feds charge Darren Wilson?

A grand jury’s decision not to indict the officer in the shooting death of Michael Brown last August in Ferguson, Missouri, touched off protests around the country and a national debate about policing.

The Justice Department is conducting its own investigation and could prosecute Wilson on a civil rights charge. Legal experts say it’s unlikely, but Attorney General Eric Holder has stressed that the federal probe will be independent from the local one.

8. Will Ray Rice play in the NFL?

The man at the center of the furor over domestic violence and the NFL says he wants a second chance. And a former federal judge cleared the way by overturning the league’s indefinite suspension.

The question now: Will any team take on the explosive public-relations risk of signing him?

9. Will gay marriage come to all 50 states?

Supporters and opponents agree on this much: The Supreme Court will have the final word on the matter, and maybe as early as June. Gay marriage is legal in 35 states and the District of Columbia.

The justices took a pass on the issue last October. But a federal appeals court's decision to uphold bans on gay marriage in Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee made it much more likely that the Supreme Court will decide it this term.

Image: Same Sex Couples Receive Marriage Licenses Day After Judge Strikes Down State's Ban On Gay Marriages
Walt Crisdale, left, and Mark Rabchun are married at the Oakland County Courthouse on March 22, 2014, in Pontiac, Mich. Bill Pugliano / Getty Images file

10. Will Vladimir Putin survive?

He had quite the year in 2014: Russia invaded and then annexed the Crimean peninsula, and pro-Russian agitators were blamed for violence in east Ukraine, including shooting down Malaysia Airlines Flight 17.

But his fortunes took a big turn as Western sanctions took hold, the price of oil plunged and the value of the ruble collapsed. Russia now appears headed for a severe recession, and Kremlin-watchers say Putin may not even serve out the last four years of his term.

11. Does anybody want the Olympics?

This is the year we find out who will host the 2022 Winter Games, and it’s down to just two cities — Beijing and Almaty, Kazakhstan.

Oslo, Norway, was in the running, but it pulled out, citing cost concerns. So did Munich, Stockholm, two Swiss cities and Krakow, Poland. Russia spent an estimated $51 billion to stage the 2014 Olympics in Sochi.

12. What will ISIS control a year from now?

The United States and its allies unleash airstrikes almost every day against the militants in Syria and Iraq. But the Defense Department has stressed that it will take time to "degrade and ultimately destroy" ISIS, to use Obama’s words.

That is perhaps best illustrated in the Syrian town of Kobani, on the border with Turkey, where Kurds have been fighting for more than three months to drive back the militants.

Image: An ISIS militant stands as an airstrike hits an ISIS position on Tilsehir hill near the Syrian-Turkish border on October 23, 2014.
An ISIS militant stands as an airstrike hits an ISIS position on Tilsehir hill near the Syrian-Turkish border on Oct. 23, 2014. BULENT KILIC / AFP - Getty Images

13. Will Dzhokhar Tsarnaev get the death penalty?

The surviving suspect in the Boston Marathon bombing, which killed three people and injured more than 260, is set to go on trial Jan. 5.

His lawyers want to delay the trial until September. They say they are overwhelmed with material from prosecutors and worry that a January start could put the case in the jury’s hands in April, around the emotionally charged second anniversary of the blasts.

14. Will the Secret Service get its act together?

Julia Pierson, who ran the agency charged with protecting the president, lost her job in October after a string of security lapses and embarrassments, including a breach of the White House by an intruder who was carrying a knife.

The new acting director is asking for patience, and a recently released independent review offers him some options to look over, including raising the 7½-foot fence around the executive mansion.

15. What will be the hot new weather trend?

If you’ve paid attention to the forecast over the past few years, you’ve been introduced to the haboob, a massive dust storm; the derecho, a particularly fierce kind of windstorm; and the turbocharging effect known as bombogenesis.

Few people had heard of the polar vortex until it pushed south from the Arctic last year with temperatures low enough to freeze the bitter curses coming off the tongues of people from Chicago to the Gulf Coast. What’ll it be this year?