Hoping against another hurricane landing, President Bush made his 13th post-Katrina visit to New Orleans to mark the third anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. The president, who visited sites where recovery efforts are ongoing, called the city's resurgence "impressive" but noted, "there is still a lot of work to do." Kevin Brown couldn't agree more. The executive director of Trinity Christian Community has been knee-deep in Big Easy recovery efforts, particularly in the neighborhood of Carrollton. While over 90 percent of Carrollton residents have returned to rebuilt homes-Brown said government officials "still haven't figured out how to connect with the grassroots people who are actually getting the work done." The city hasn't rebuilt public schools in Carrollton, but has rebuilt them in the lower Ninth Ward, where only 11 percent of residents have returned. But even that has a silver lining: Community and national groups have launched a chain of charters in the neighborhood, setting them up wherever they can find space. "Carrollton now has more charter schools than any place in the country," Brown said. The downside: Some kids have to travel to get to school. The upside: "I think the education is improving as a result."
Conference on covering Islam
The annual conference of the Religion Newswriters Association, an organization that promotes the importance of religion reporting, this year features covering Islam, thanks to grants from the Henry Luce Foundation and the Carnegie Corporation of New York. Speakers for the Islam-focused portion of the event on Sept. 17 will give presentations on the rise of Muslim women in leadership roles and the increased participation of all American Muslims in civic and interfaith life. Later, during the main portion of the conference, which runs Sept. 18-21 at the Hamilton Crowne Plaza in Washington D.C., a panel will discuss credible Islamic sources for journalists to quote. RNA associate director Tiffany A. McCallen says the goal of the event is "to train the nation's religion reporters to write about religion with balance, accuracy, and insight." One Nation, a nonpartisan group representing American Muslims, is chief sponsor of the conference's Islam program.
(Note: The above article has been corrected to reflect that the name of the organization holding the conference is the Religion Newswriters Association and that One Nation is a nonpartisan organization.)
A dog clung to a fence to escape rising water in Charlotte, N.C., Aug. 27, as the remnants of Tropical Storm Fay swept through the southeast. The dog was not injured, but storm watchers prepared for a Gulf Coast landing of Hurricane Gustav, which killed 23 people in the Caribbean.
A moral evil
On the Aug. 24 episode of NBC's Meet the Press, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Catholic Democrat, claimed that a precise definition about when life begins has been "an issue of controversy" throughout the history of the church. She said "doctors of the church" have been unable to definitively settle the matter. Au contraire, say Washington Archbishop Donald Wuerl and Denver Archbishop Charles Chaput, both of whom issued official refutations of Pelosi's misrepresentation. In a statement posted to the archdiocesan website, Chaput wrote, "Nancy Pelosi is a gifted public servant of strong convictions and many professional skills. Regrettably, knowledge of Catholic history and teaching does not seem to be one of them." The statement went on to denounce as "gravely evil" both abortion and "the evasions employed to justify it." Wuerl's public statement called every abortion "a moral evil" and asserted an unchanging historical precedent for that position dating back to the first-century church.
The first of 18 survivors of the worst plane crash in over a year, 6-year-old Roberto Alvarez Carretero, left a hospital in Madrid Aug. 25, five days after a Spanair jet bound for the Canary Islands crashed during takeoff, killing 154 people. A catastrophic week for Madrid-based Spanair continued, however, as that same day yet another MD-82 operated by the airline was forced to turn back due to a technical problem. A Spanair jet also flying to the Canary Islands was diverted Aug. 24 because of a problem with a backup generator. In April, the Federal Aviation Administration inspected American Airlines MD-80s and found wiring bundles had been improperly wrapped and attached inside wheel wells, forcing the airline to cancel over 3,000 flights. Plane manufacturer Boeing and aviation officials continue to investigate the cause of the Madrid crash.
Driving for autism
Thanks to 17-year-old Girl Scout Natalie Pope of Crestwood, Ky., motorists in the Bluegrass State are commuting with a license plate decorated with blue, yellow, and red puzzle pieces and the words "Autism Awareness." Natalie appears to be the first her age to both create a specialty plate and organize the effort to issue it-a task usually attempted only by organizations, since it requires 900 prepaid plates at $28 each before transportation officials will manufacture and sell them.
Natalie told WORLD she got the idea to make a license plate while brainstorming for a Girl Scout project and seeing another plate that promoted breast cancer awareness. Selling 900 plates was daunting: "I tried not to think about it." Using mass emailings, a website (www.kyautismawareness.com), speaking engagements, and help from Girl Scouts of Kentuckiana, Natalie spent 14 months promoting the project and kept track of donations using sticky notes. She presented the final checks to the transportation cabinet on April 2, 2008-World Autism Awareness Day. In August Kentucky Lt. Gov. Dan Mongiardo pulled back a black cloth and presented the teenage Scout with commendations and plate 0001. But Natalie doesn't need a license plate to know about the disorder affecting 1 in 1,000 Americans. Her younger brother Austin was diagnosed with autism when Natalie was only 3: "It's been part of my life."
Suicide bomb attacks by women and girls are increasingly common in Iraq, but one Iraqi girl bucked the trend by turning herself in Aug. 24. But elsewhere in Diyala another suicide bomber blew himself up in a crowd of Iraqi police recruits Aug. 26, killing 28 people and wounding 45. It was the largest attack in Iraq in more than a month, where violence has been at its lowest level in four years.
Hopefully cutting supply lines to suicide bombers, U.S. forces announced the capture of two prominent al-Qaeda leaders, Ali Rash Nasir Jiyad al-Shammari, known as Abu Tiba, and Salim Abdallah Ashur al-Shujayri, known as Abu Uthman. Abu Tiba was in charge of al-Qaeda during its most active period in early 2007, and Abu Uthman is believed to be the planner of the kidnapping of U.S. journalist Jill Carroll, a reporter for The Christian Science Monitor who was held for nearly three months after being abducted in 2006.
Union anger over factories that hire illegal immigrants may have been behind a tip that led to the largest workplace immigration raid in U.S. history. On Aug. 25 federal officials arrested nearly 600 illegal immigrants at Howard Industries, a transformer plant in Laurel, Miss. Gov. Haley Barbour recently signed a law imposing new restrictions on employers to prevent them from hiring illegals, and making it a felony for an illegal immigrant to accept a job in Mississippi. As many of the traumatized and mostly Latin workers were led away from the plant, dozens of other workers lined up to clap and cheer.
A pair of hijackers who commandeered a jetliner from Sudan's Darfur region and diverted it to a remote desert airstrip in southern Libya surrendered Aug. 27 after a 22-hour standoff. The Sun Air Boeing 707 took off for Khartoum from Niyala, a sleek airport in South Darfur recently reconstructed by the Islamic government in Khartoum, with 95 passengers but was then diverted. Sudan's government accused Darfur rebels of directing the hijacking but the identities and motives of the hijackers, who demanded maps and fuel to fly to Paris, has been unclear. The incident is likely to refuel the Sudanese government's attacks on the Darfur region. Sudanese forces broke into a refugee camp in South Darfur Aug. 25, killing dozens of displaced Darfur residents on the pretense of retrieving a stockpile of weapons.
Clashes in the oil-rich Abyei region of South Sudan and in the Nuba Mountains also threaten to turn wider reaches of Sudan into a broader, rekindled civil war.
A wave of militant killings and violence followed the Aug. 18 resignation of Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf. On Aug. 26 the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff secretly convened an unusual meeting of senior U.S. and Pakistani commanders aboard an aircraft carrier in the Indian Ocean to discuss ways to combat the growing violence along the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan. Two suicide bombs killed at least 64 people in Islamabad in the week following Musharraf's resignation, and threats from the Taliban have forced thousands from their homes in the northern region. In the northern city of Peshawar gunmen fired on the chief U.S. diplomat, Lynne Tracy, but she escaped unharmed.
A group of more than 100 college presidents, including those from high-profile institutions like Dartmouth and Ohio State, are backing a proposal to lower the legal drinking age from 21 to 18. They argue that the higher age promotes a culture of dangerous binge drinking among underage college students. Group leader John McCardell, the former president of Middlebury College, points to Europe as evidence that a lower legal age can remove the taboo around alcohol and encourage more responsible consumption. "Prohibition doesn't work," he says.
Indeed, in countries where parents typically introduce their teens to alcohol, drunkenness occurs about five times less often than in the United States, where many youth hide their first experiences with alcohol from adult supervision. Nevertheless, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, the organization largely responsible for Congress raising the national drinking age in 1984, defends the current law and claims it has prevented upwards of 21,000 deaths from drunk-driving accidents.
Red state calling
New study shows military personnel aren't disadvantaged: When it comes to the demographics of the U.S. military, conventional wisdom alleges the armed forces are a magnet for poorly educated and disadvantaged minorities who enter the service because they lack better options. However, a new Heritage Foundation report debunks those assumptions. According to the study's findings, 95 percent of military officers earned at least a bachelor's degree and more than 98 percent of enlisted members have obtained a high-school degree-numbers far greater than their civilian peers. The report also found that minorities are not overrepresented in the military, with officers and enlisted troops more likely to come from high-income neighborhoods than from disadvantaged backgrounds.
In addition, the data revealed that states with a high recruit-to-population ratio tend to be more conservative politically than states with a low recruit-to-population ratio. Among so-called red states are 23 states with a high military concentration ratio, while only six blue states have a high ratio. - Kristin Chapman
In Brooklyn's dusty outskirts, two men rap the gospel in a church parking lot while families from nearby housing developments queue for popcorn, cotton candy, hot dogs, and free school supplies. It's the Christian Cultural Center's Back to School Bash, and church members try to fulfill their mission of "modeling Christ in culture" by helping their community. Theresa O'Neal, CCC spokesman, said, "In this economy, every parent needs a leg up to go back to school."
CCC held its first Back to School Bash in 2006. The first two Back to School events took place in the nearby Breukelen housing development. This year the church moved the event to its parking lot and expanded it to include the neighboring Starrett City housing development.
Each year CCC gives out about 1,500 backpacks. The drawstring nylon bags contain about $10-$15 worth of supplies like calculators, notebooks, pencils, pens, glue sticks, and highlighters. Younger students get bright neon bags, and older students' bags come in more staid colors.
O'Neal said the supplies alone cost over $10,000 last year, about half of the event's total cost. The church foots the bill for the school supplies from its own coffers. Other donors provide food, party supplies, and gift certificates.
The event is limited to kids in the two housing communities-a diverse group of African-Americans, Russians, Latinos, and Caribbeans. CCC partners with the tenant association offices to register families for the event, and the offices contribute their staff to the church's 200-person volunteer force.
CCC is also working with Common Ground, a nonprofit housing developer, to build a transitional housing development. The church runs a supermarket-style food pantry, where families can choose food based on their needs and particular tastes. O'Neal said the church considered moving the pantry closer to its building, but the city asked them to stay where they are to meet the neighborhood's needs. "The motif of CCC is transformation," said Onorio Chaparro, director of CCC's men's ministry, and the Back to School Bash is part of the church's effort to transform its relationship with the community. Chaparro said attendees say they've never seen so many men involved in a church-directing traffic, registering participants, and distributing bags. Chaparro says it changes their idea of church: "The church, just like our faith, is about giving." -Alisa Harris