Churches that Staged Pulpit Protest Still Await IRS Response

Nearly seven months after defying a prohibition on endorsing candidates from the pulpit, 33 churches across the country are still waiting to learn whether the Internal Revenue Service will take action against them. The goal of “Pulpit Freedom Sunday” was to trigger a legal fight and ultimately overturn regulations that prevent places of worship from supporting or opposing candidates for office. But a conservative legal group that organized the effort says the IRS has yet to notify the churches of any investigation. Legal experts suggest a number of possibilities: The IRS has nothing to gain from a costly and mainly symbolic battle; it has limited resources; or it could still be deciding how to respond.

Southern Baptist Baptisms at Lowest Level since ’87

Southern Baptist churches baptized fewer people in 2008 for the fourth year in a row to reach the lowest level since 1987, and membership in America’s largest Protestant denomination fell slightly as well. Baptisms dropped just over one percent to 342,198 last year. Total membership of U.S. Southern Baptist churches was 16,228,438 last year, down nearly 38,400 from 2007. The continued decline in the number of followers reflects a trend in other mainline Protestant churches. Non-denominational churches are gaining and the ranks of those unaffiliated with a church are growing.

Promise Keepers to Include Women

The evangelical men’s organization Promise Keepers waived conference admission fees and brought in standup comics trying to recapture its mid-1990s influence. The unprecedented move it’s trying now: opening an event to women. After 20 years of men-only events, Denver-based Promise Keepers is urging men to bring “the women in their lives” to a July 31-Aug. 1 conference marking the group’s anniversary. “It’s time for Promise Keepers men to step up and honor women,” Raleigh Washington, the group’s president, said Monday. “We’re going to heal the gender divide that exists in America. “What better way to challenge a man than nose to nose with his wife, his mother, his sister?” he said. Promise Keepers filled football stadiums and boasted a $117 million budget in the mid-1990s, but has struggled to find an identity since. Revenues declined for several years to about $10.9 million in 2007, according to its tax forms. This year’s budget is $7.5 million, Washington said.

Swine Flu Spreading

Mexican authorities said 81 people have died from a swine flu virus in Mexico, and world health officials worry it could unleash a global flu epidemic. Mexico City has closed museums, libraries, and state-run theaters as well as schools on Friday in hopes of containing the outbreak that has sickened more than 900. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says tests show some of the Mexico victims died from the same new strain of swine flu that sickened eight people in Texas and California. It’s a frightening new strain that combines genetic material from pigs, birds and humans. The swine flu outbreak continued to spread Saturday, with new cases reported in Kansas and New York City. In New Zealand, 22 students and three teachers who traveled to Mexico may have been infected.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg says that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed that students at a New York high school were infected with swine flu. New York health officials said more than 100 students at the St. Francis Preparatory School, in Queens, recently began suffering a fever, sore throat and aches and pains. Some of their relatives also have been ill. Some students recently went to Cancun on a spring break two weeks ago and probably brought the flu back with them.

Drug-Cartel Kidnapping Hurting Phoenix Reputation

Outside Arizona, the Valley of the Sun is losing its shine. Phoenix’s bright image as a Mecca for golfers, conventioneers and snowbirds is being clouded over by dark tales of brutal Mexican drug cartels snatching rival smugglers from Valley homes and holding them for ransom. The result is anxious travelers faced with frightening headlines and worried politicians and tourism officials trying to cope with what they call exaggerated tales of violence. Almost every congressional hearing that mentions Phoenix invokes the city’s unwelcome new moniker as “the kidnapping capital of America,” a title repeated in newspaper headlines from Los Angeles to London. Although the 725 kidnappings-for-ransom reported in Phoenix during the past two years have been mostly bad guys abducting other bad guys from drophouses full of smuggled immigrants and drugs, congressional leaders are publicly warning that that could change. “Innocent victims are at risk of being caught in the crossfire,” said Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., during a recent meeting of the Senate Homeland Security Committee.

Obama Coronated Messiah

On his 100th day in office, President Obama will be “crowned” in messianic imagery at New York City’s Union Square. Artist Michael D’Antuono’s painting “The Truth” – featuring Obama with his arms outstretched and wearing a crown of thorns upon his head – will be unveiled on April 29 at the Square’s South Plaza. Even the title of the piece, “The Truth,” suggests a play on biblical themes, as Jesus said in John 14:6, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.”

  • This is the kind of over-the-top “worship” that we will see for the anti-Christ

Republicans Push Nuclear Energy

The U.S. should build 100 more nuclear plants rather than spend “billions in subsidies” for renewable energy if it is truly committed to lowering electric bills and having clean air, the Republicans say. In the party’s weekly radio and Internet address, Sen. Lamar Alexander said the United States should follow the example of France, which promoted nuclear power decades ago. Today, nuclear plants provide 80% of France’s electricity, and the country has one of the lowest electric rates and carbon emissions in Europe, he said.

  • We should do both nuclear and renewable energy

Obama Asks for Ideas on Curbing Federal Spending

Think you can do better than your federal boss? President Obama wants to know how. Obama on Saturday announced a plan for federal workers to propose ways to improve their agencies’ and departments’ budgets. The president said employees’ ideas would be key as his Cabinet officials cut millions from the federal budget and trim the deficit. “After all, Americans across the country know that the best ideas often come from workers, not just management,” Obama said in his weekly radio and Internet address.

  • This is a good idea, but it will be interesting to see if any such ideas are actually implemented.

GM Gets another $2B in Taxpayer Loans

General Motors got another $2 billion emergency loan, the U.S. Treasury department said Friday, and is expected to announce soon it will kill its slow-selling Pontiac brand as it scrambles to slice underperforming units. Treasury said it made the loan Wednesday, bringing taxpayers’ investment in GM to $15.4 billion. GM has until June 1 to complete restructuring plans that satisfy the government’s auto task force. The first quarter, Pontiac sold just 40,887 cars and trucks, according to industry tracker Autodata. Only GM’s Saturn, Hummer and Saab brands did worse, and they’ve been up for sale for months.

Economic News

World finance officials are bickering over the best way to get the International Monetary Fund more money for its revitalized role in helping shore up capital-starved countries. About 100 protesters clashed with police outside. On the agenda at the IMF meeting is how to supply a portion of the $1.1 trillion increase in resources for international lending institutions. That was a goal that President Barack Obama and other leaders set at the Group of 20 nations summit in London on April 2.

Regulators have shut down American Southern Bank in Georgia, boosting the number of failures this year to 26 — more bank closures than in all of last year. The Federal Reserve says the government is prepared to rescue any of the banks that underwent “stress tests” and were deemed vulnerable if the recession worsens sharply. The Fed says the 19 companies that hold one-half the loans in the U.S. banking system won’t be allowed to fail.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar says $500 million in federal stimulus money will go to American Indian tribes across the United States for schools, housing, infrastructure improvements and job programs on reservations.

Italian Cruise Ship Fends Off Somali pirates

An Italian cruise ship with 1,500 people on board fended off a pirate attack far off the coast of Somalia when its Israeli private security forces exchanged fire with the bandits and drove them away, the commander said Sunday. None of the roughly 1,000 passengers and 500 crewmembers were hurt. Domenico Pellegrino, head of the Italian cruise line, said Msc hired the Israelis because they were the best trained security agents.

A German-owned ship, however, has been hijacked in the pirate-infested waters between Somalia and Yemen. Pirates seized the cargo ship early Saturday in the Gulf of Aden.

Pakistan Persecution

Taliban Islamic radicals have attacked a community of Christians, executing two of them following a rally that protested Muslim graffiti in their neighborhood that ordered them to accept Islam or die, according to an international Christian organization. The Christians protesting the Islamic slogans say: “We were protesting peacefully and all of sudden, a few militants carrying the latest weapons rushed in. Some of the attackers entered homes and pillaged money and jewelry and abused the women and burned their properties. The elderly were injured and one child fell to the ground and died in my friend’s arms.”

North Korea

North Korea has restarted its nuclear facilities to harvest weapons-grade plutonium, an official said Saturday, just hours after the U.N. imposed new sanctions on the communist state for its recent rocket launch. The move is a key step away from a 2007 disarmament deal — signed after a 2006 nuclear test — that called for North Korea to disable its nuclear facilities in exchange for much-needed energy aid and other concessions. Harvesting weapons-grade plutonium “will contribute to bolstering the nuclear deterrence for self-defense in every way to cope with the increasing military threats from the hostile forces,” the North Korean Foreign Ministry spokesman said.

Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka‘s rebels declared a unilateral cease-fire on Sunday as a top U.N. official pressed Sri Lankan leaders to let aid into the northeastern war zone where tens of thousands of civilians are trapped. Sri Lanka’s Defense Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa rejected the call, saying the rebels were “running” from government forces, who have pushed deep into the Tamil Tigers’ strongholds in the north in recent months, surrounding the beleaguered rebels and vowing to end the quarter-century war. The United Nations and others have been pushing for a negotiated truce to allow civilians to escape, as reports have grown of starvation and casualties among those trapped by the fighting.

Weather

Severe thunderstorms raked parts of the Midwest on Saturday, killing a motorcyclist, spawning tornadoes that damaged several homes and sent NASCAR race fans fleeing, snarling air traffic and knocking out power. Tornadoes touched down in southern Leavenworth County, Mo., northwest of Linwood, and in Butler County, Kan. Storms packing hail and lightning led the Kansas Speedway to suspend the NASCAR truck race 52 laps into the race.

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