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The Buzz

Need-to-know news

Issue: "Save our cities," April 19, 2008

Grad time-or not?

Education secretary Margaret Spellings on March 31 announced her plan to direct all 50 states and 14,000 U.S. high schools to use the same formula to calculate graduation and dropout rates. The move is designed to plug a hole in the federal No Child Left Behind law. The law requires states to report school completion rates but allows states to set their own formulas-an allowance that has often resulted in inflated graduation rates and understated dropout rates.

For example, New Mexico has until now tabulated its grad rate using only the percentage of current 12th graders receiving diplomas while ignoring all students who drop out before their senior year. In 2005, all state governors agreed to use a single formula to calculate school-completion totals. But since the agreement didn't carry the force of law, few states actually complied. According to a report released April 1 by America's Promise Alliance, a nonprofit headed by former Secretary of State Colin Powell, 1.2 million U.S. teenagers drop out every year, with some school jurisdictions achieving graduation rates as low as 30 percent.

A better way

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"The physical body of Martin Luther King Jr. was forever gone, leaving a few small material remains behind," writes Life magazine photographer Steve Schapiro in a new book. "The half-drunk coffee cup gave me a moment of pause. He had left his room planning to return," Schapiro recalls of coming into the Lorraine Motel room hours after King was assassinated on the balcony just outside on April 4, 1968.

Members of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which represented the poor sanitation workers King came to Memphis to support, marched in a steady rain 40 years later to remember his life and death. "Dr. King was like Moses," Leslie Moore, 61, a sanitation worker in 1968 who is still on the job, told the Associated Press. "God gave Moses the assignment to lead the children of Israel across the Red Sea. He sent Dr. King here to lead us to a better way."

Episcopal ruling

A circuit court judge in Fairfax County, Va., has ruled in favor of a group of 11 churches, all members of the Anglican District of Virginia (ADV), who want to keep their properties after severing ties last year with the Episcopal Church over the issues of gay clergy and orthodoxy. They now have joined the Convocation of Anglicans in North America (CANA), the Nigerian branch of the Anglican Communion established in the United States.

Judge Randy I. Bellows cited a Virginia Division Statute in the ruling that churches could keep their property. "We are pleased with this initial victory today. We have maintained all along that the Episcopal Church and Diocese of Virginia had no legal right to our property because the Virginia Division Statute says that the majority of the church is entitled to its property when there is a division within the denomination. Our churches' own trustees hold title for the benefit of the congregations," said Jim Oakes, vice-chairman of ADV. The Episcopal Church is expected to challenge the court's decision.


An unusual coalition delivered an unusual appeal to Sudan's Islamic government ahead of the Arab League summit that began March 29 in Damascus. "The Arab League must act on Darfur," declared a group of over 20 Muslim human-rights organizations, aid agencies, and national associations from Britain, Pakistan, Germany, Malaysia, Canada, Iran, and Turkey. Darfur's humanitarian crisis "has cost the lives of at least 200,000 Muslims yet has not yet captured the attention of the Muslim world in the way that it should," they said in an open letter to Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa.

"This is a coalition of Muslim groups speaking out on Darfur for the first time," said one commentator, "including condemning the government of Sudan for blocking UN deployment."

Turn out the lights

The second annual Earth Hour, an Australian-born initiative encouraging individuals and organizations worldwide to shut off lights for 60 minutes, delivered underwhelming results March 29. In Australia, the amount of electricity saved decreased 17 percent from last year's total. Across Europe, France, Germany, Spain, and European Union institutions left the candles in the cupboard, and just 14 London businesses went dark. Stateside participation likewise proved meager, the nation's most noticeable contribution stemming from search engine giant Google's decision to color its homepage black.

Growing doubt about the value of reducing carbon emissions may help explain such difficulty in rallying the forces of green. Economic and environmental realists increasingly recognize that campaigns to lower greenhouse gases offer no hope of halting the earth's warming trend. Most European nations are failing to meet their Kyoto requirements or killing their economies trying. China and India refuse to sabotage their respective industrial revolutions with carbon restrictions. And even proponents of an emissions cap in the United States admit that any significant impact on climate change would require reductions to the tune of 80 percent, an abject impossibility.


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