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The Buzz

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Issue: "The plots thicken," Jan. 12, 2008

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.

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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?"

Body count

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.

Under-age sex

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.

Ebola continues

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).

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