Iowa, meet Sudan
If recent events in Pakistan, Kenya and the Middle East don't force foreign policy into the candidates' stump speeches, perhaps a basketball star can.
As presidential candidates blitzed diners and town halls in one last push leading up to the Iowa caucuses, former NBA star Manute Bol braved 8-degree temperatures outside the Iowa State Capitol on Jan. 2 to rally for a cause nearly 7,000 miles away.
The 7-foot 7-inch Sudanese-American joined some 100 fellow Sudanese-Americans and activists calling on presidential candidates to draw attention to the ongoing genocide in Sudan. Bol played in the NBA for 10 years, but has become well known for his activism on behalf of his home country.
Standing in the frigid afternoon air, Bol asked presidential candidates: "If you become president of the United States, what can you do for Darfur and southern Sudan?"
As America's fifth year in Iraq drew to a close, U.S. military deaths there topped 3,900. But the troop surge reduced violence by 60 percent. U.S. military casualties-per-month plummeted from 101 in June to 23 in December, with steady interim declines each month since August. According to icasualties.org, U.S. fatalities during the final week of 2007 were at their lowest number since March 2006.
Housing vs. warehousing
Demolition crews are set to roll into the four largest housing projects in New Orleans next month, but protesters vow the demolition won't go smoothly. A nasty outburst erupted in late December when the New Orleans City Council unanimously voted to allow the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to demolish some 4,500 apartments in public housing units ravished by Hurricane Katrina. More than 70 opponents of the demolition plan tried to push past iron gates and police officers after the seating capacity inside the meeting was full. The clash grew violent, and police used pepper spray and Taser guns to subdue the crowds. Opponents of the plan fear the city won't rebuild enough public housing units for some 3,000 displaced residents to return to New Orleans. The plan's supporters say the city will rebuild an equal number of units in mixed-income developments that will break up concentrations of poverty. "We need affordable housing in this city," said councilwoman Shelley Stephenson Midura. "But public housing ought not to be the warehouse for the poor."
Tastes great, less filling
Democrats have kept their promise of going on a pork diet-at least in one sense. Citizens Against Government Waste says that appropriations bills for 2008 included 11,043 earmarks, an increase of 11 percent from 2006 (the last year that saw all of the appropriations bills enacted). But the total spending in those earmarks is down 51 percent from 2006 to $14.1 billion.
Coming and going
New U.S. Census figures show an old trend: Americans like the Sun Belt best. Fastest growing states in the nation over the last seven years are Nevada and Arizona, with Utah coming in third with a surge of both newcomers and newborns. Long-term losers in population are Michigan, Rhode Island, and Louisiana. While it gained 50,000 new residents in the year ending in July, Louisiana is far from returning to its pre-Katrina population level of 4.5 million. And those numbers count, particularly as state legislatures plan for reapportionment, scheduled to begin after the 2010 census.
Georgia prosecutors in 2005 sent Genarlow Wilson to prison for 10 years without the possibility of parole for having consensual oral sex with a girl two years his junior. He was 17; she was 15. Then lawmakers in a handful of states moved to fine-tune laws meant to target sexual predators. In 2007, Connecticut, Florida, Indiana, and Texas drew distinctions between predators and adolescents involved in so-called "Romeo and Juliet" relationships, in which one partner has reached the age of consent and the other has not. Connecticut widened from two to three years the permissible age gap between consenting sexual partners. Florida now allows four years. Indiana decriminalized consensual sex between teens if a court determines they are in a "dating relationship" and are not separated in age by more than four years. Georgia, where Genarlow Wilson served two years in prison before the state Supreme Court freed him in 2007, revised its law, introducing a maximum 12-month punishment for similar offenses.
Epidemiologists believe that an Ebola outbreak in Uganda was caused by a previously unknown fifth strain of the virus. It takes longer to sicken its victims-making it harder to diagnose and isolate-but may be less lethal than the other four. The outbreak, which began in the western village of Bundibugyo, has killed 36 since early December and infected 146, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The dead include Jonah Kule, a physician from Bundibugyo who was the first local to become a physician in 30 years. Sponsored by Philadelphia-based World Harvest Mission, he returned to work in the community, becoming the first doctor to respond to remote cases of the then-mysterious fever last year. He leaves a wife who is seven months pregnant and five children.
In the wake of the epidemic are other casualties, too: Six children died of anemia in the area last week, their families afraid to bring them to the same hospital as Ebola victims for treatment. "The Ebola impact is so much greater than the 36 deaths recorded in the official toll," said World Harvest Mission pediatrician Jennifer Myhre. "The fear that keeps people from coming to the hospital, the fear that keeps staff from working, the isolation that impacts our blood bank supply, these things are more difficult to measure."
Six French Zoe's Ark humanitarian workers, who were sentenced by a Chadian court to eight years of hard labor after attempting to kidnap 103 African children, will have their sentences adjusted in a French court on Jan. 14. The individuals, including Zoe's Ark head Eric Breteau (right), returned to France in December to begin serving their prison terms while prosecutors determined how to convert the hard labor sentences into local terms. The six maintain that they were deceived about the origin of the children they were trying to help.
Anti-Christian violence in India's Orissa state has left at least four Christians dead and many injured. According to All India Christian Council (AICC), Hindu militants burned 65 churches, destroyed 600 Christian homes, and forced hundreds of Christians to flee into forests in clashes that began Christmas Eve.
Tensions between the Hindu majority and tiny Christian minority erupted over conversions to Christianity. One home that rioters set ablaze belonged to Radhakant Nayak, a Christian member of India's parliament, reported Compass Direct.
U.S. and Sudanese officials initially downplayed the shooting death of a U.S. diplomat in Khartoum. John Granville, 33, an officer with the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), was gunned down along with his driver in the early hours of Jan. 1. But the incident recalled the 2002 shooting death of USAID official Laurence Foley in Amman, Jordan. Like Granville, Foley began public service with the Peace Corps. In Foley's assassination, a Jordanian court later convicted in absentia Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, organizer of al-Qaeda in Iraq.
RELEASED: After languishing more than a year in prison for a crime he says he didn't commit, American Eric Volz is free. Volz, 28, was convicted in November 2006 for the murder of his ex-girlfriend, Doris Ivania Jiménez, despite the testimony of 10 witnesses who said he was out of town at the time of the slaying. Two Nicaraguan judges overturned the conviction on Dec. 17, sparking outrage among locals that Volz received special treatment. Nicaragua's Supreme Court is now investigating whether the judges acted inappropriately. Volz, who left Nicaragua on Dec. 21, is now living in hiding due to death threats.
PERSECUTED: The leader of a prominent Chinese house church in Henan Province was forcibly removed from a church service and tortured for several hours by police officials at an undisclosed location before he was released. Pastor Liang Qi Zhen, vice president of the Chinese House Church Alliance, suffered bodily injury during the assault, which was part of a larger Christmas crackdown on house churches across China. In Jiangsu Province, police raided a Christmas service and detained four female members, assaulting one until she was unconscious.
DIVIDED: In a story reminiscent of the Terri Schiavo case, the life of a 16-year-old comatose girl hangs in the balance. Javona Peters is in a vegetative state after undergoing brain surgery at a New York hospital on Oct. 17. Her father, Leonard Peters, wants his daughter to remain on life support, but her mother, Janet Joseph, told the New York Daily News she wants to pull the feeding tube to let her daughter "go in peace." Joseph is also seeking full custody of her daughter in order to sue the hospital for malpractice. A guardianship hearing is scheduled this month.
SERVED: La Chureca ("the scavenger"), a dump on the outskirts of Nicaragua's capital, is home to about 2,000 people. They sleep in trash at night and scour for food during the day; many of the children spend their days sniffing glue and their nights in prostitution. Jesse Roberts of Oregon and his wife Maria, a Nicaraguan native, developed an after-school program and a rehabilitation center where addicted boys and girls get food, counseling, mentoring, education, and vocational training. Their mission "is to rise them up, to help them live a better life"-the inspiration behind the ministry's name, Rise Up.
SUED: High-school sophomore Chad Farnan and his parents are suing a Mission Viejo, Calif., history teacher for allegedly making anti-Christian remarks in the classroom. Farnan, 16, tape-recorded instructor James Corbett making such statements as, "When you put on your Jesus glasses, you can't see the truth," while he taught Advanced Placement European history at Capistrano Valley High School. The lawsuit charges Corbett with violating the Establishment Clause by promoting hostility toward religion. -with reporting by Christopher Stollar