USA

In his address to the nation Thursday night, President Bush was expected to pledge the largest reconstruction effort in US history to rebuild shattered sections of New Orleans and return stability to the lives of people displaced by hurricane Katrina. Such an effort was being projected in political circles to cost the federal government more than $200 billion. Congress already had spent $62.3 billion on storm-related relief when the Senate voted Wednesday to provide $3.5 billion more in temporary rental assistance to its victims.

Hurricane Ophelia finally blew ashore over North Carolina, eroding beaches and soaking coastal areas with up to a foot and a half of rain. But its sustained winds, which meteorologists said had weakened to about 80 m.p.h., spared the area from much other damage.

A new furor was erupting across the US over Wednesday's ruling by a federal judge that requiring public school students to speak the words "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance is unconstitutional. The decision was announced in Sacramento, Calif., by District Judge Lawrence Karlton, a Carter appointee, in an appeal filed by atheist Michael Newdow. Last year, Newdow lost a Supreme Court ruling on the issue, but on the narrow grounds that he lacked the legal standing to sue. Karlton's decision, which directly affects only Sacramento-area schools, nonetheless drew immediate fire from conservative groups, which vowed to appeal.

Except for gasoline, consumer prices barely changed last month, the Labor Department reported. But due to hurricane Katrina, motorists paid 8.3 percent more per gallon for fuel than in July, the biggest jump in 2-1/2 years. On balance, prices for food did not change in August, but economists predicted that the effects of Katrina would send them higher next month.

Another labor union, the 440,000-member Unite Here, announced it has quit the AFL-CIO, joining three others that withdrew earlier this summer. Unite Here, which represents hotel, restaurant, and garment workers, complained that the federation hasn't halted the ongoing drop in the numbers of people represented by unions. Its pullout leaves the federation with about 9 million members.

The Massachusetts legislature overwhelmingly rejected a proposed amendment to the state's Constitution that would have banned same-sex marriage. Supporters cheered the move, which confirmed a court order that has allowed thousands of same-sex couples to marry there since May 2004. But it also was welcomed by opponents, who are pushing for a more restrictive amendment that also would forbid civil unions.

The Supreme Court turned down two 11th-hour appeals Wednesday to spare Frances Newton, who became the first black woman to be executed in Texas since the Civil War. Newton was convicted of killing her husband and two children in 1987 to collect a $50,000 insurance settlement.

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