Total U.S. Churches No Longer in Decline, Researchers Say

The Christian Post reports that America is not bleeding churches as fast as previously thought. According to Ed Stetzer of LifeWay Research, more churches are now planted in the U.S. than close each year. “[C]hurch planting is on the mind of North American Christians at unprecedented levels,” Stetzer wrote with researcher Warren Bird. Stetzer called church planting the “it” thing right now after decades of church decline. In “Viral Churches: Helping Church Planters Become Movement Makers,” Stetzer and Warren encouraged Christians to move past the “don’t we already have enough churches?” mentality to a “passionate pursuit of the lost.” Other Christian leaders agreed. “The only way to increase the number of Christians in a city is to plant thousands of new churches,” said Tim Keller, founding pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City.

Pro-Life Groups Find Useful Tool in Obamacare

Pro-life proponents are using a provision in the new health reform law to limit abortion coverage by private insurers. An obscure part of the law allows states to restrict abortion coverage by private plans operating in new insurance markets. Capitalizing on that language, abortion foes have succeeded in passing bans that, in some cases, go beyond federal statutes. Since Obama signed the legislation law March 23, Arizona and Tennessee have enacted laws restricting abortion coverage by health plans in new insurance markets, called exchanges. About 30 million people will get their coverage through exchanges, which open in 2014 to serve individuals and small businesses. In Florida, Mississippi and Missouri, lawmakers have passed bans and sent them to their governors. Three other states may act this year – Louisiana, Ohio and Oklahoma. Overall, there are 29 states where lawmakers or public policy groups expressed serious interest in similar legislative bans.

Kagan Unlikely to See GOP Filibuster

Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan is unlikely to face a GOP filibuster but should expect difficult questions from lawmakers who will decide whether she deserves the lifetime appointment despite having no judicial experience, the Senate’s second-ranking Republican said Sunday. “The filibuster should be relegated to the extreme circumstances, and I don’t think Elena Kagan represents that,” said Arizona Sen. Jon Kyl, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee. GOP senators are placing great weight on her testimony in determining the fate of President Barack Obama’s second nominee for the high court. At issue is her lack of a judicial paper trail. Kagan is now solicitor general, the top government lawyer who argues the administration’s cases before the Supreme Court, and was dean of Harvard Law School. But she has never been a judge.

Elena Kagan contributed financially to and was a listed member of an organization whose stated goal is to promote access to abortion services and blocks attempts to limit female “reproductive rights.”  Kagan’s listed herself as a member in the National Partnership for Women and Families, or NPWF in a 1999 questionnaire she filled out as part of judicial nomination hearings that year.

Oil Spill Tube Partially Successful

Engineers Sunday successfully threaded a mile-long tube into a section of the blown pipe that has been spewing thousands of gallons of oil a day into the Gulf of Mexico, marking a major step in corralling the massive spill. The tube is siphoning oil gushing out of the well and sucking it up 5,000 feet to a tanker ship on the surface, said Kent Wells, senior vice president for exploration and production with BP, which owns the underground oil well. BP engineers should know by today or Tuesday how much of the oil is being captured. In the next week to 10 days, engineers plan to pump mud through valves in the blowout preventer, a massive device that sits on top of the well, Wells said. The mud will be used to jam up the oil flow and buy time so that workers can finish drilling a nearby relief well, he said. The relief well, which would alleviate pressure and permanently seal the leaks, is still several months from completion.

The underwater plume of oil billowing from a renegade wellhead in the Gulf of Mexico is headed away from the coast and back out to sea, according to federally-funded scientists studying the spill. In the first on-site measurements of the oil spreading below the surface, researchers found the plume of crude stretches 15 to 20 miles southwest from the site of the damaged wellhead and is about 5 miles wide. The plume is compact, much thicker than the lighter remnants reaching the surface and suspended in about 3,000 feet of ocean. A deepwater current is dragging it out to sea. A researcher told The Associated Press that computer models show the oil may have already seeped into a powerful water stream known as the loop current, which could propel it into the Atlantic Ocean. The underwater oil cloud is not connected to the surface slick — now the size of Delaware and Rhode Island combined.

Mental Care Cases Up in Military

Mental health disorders caused more hospitalizations among U.S. troops in 2009 than any other reason according to medical data released recently by the Pentagon. This historic high reflects the growing toll of nearly nine years of war. Last year was the first in which hospitalizations for mental disorders outpaced those for injuries or pregnancies in the 15 years of tracking by the Pentagon’s Medical Surveillance Monthly report. In 2009, there were 17,538 hospitalizations for mental health issues throughout the military, the study shows. That compares with 17,354 for pregnancy and childbirth reasons, and 11,156 for injuries and battle wounds. Hospitalizations for mental disorders have increased significantly among troops since 2005. Last week, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said in a speech that “health care costs are eating the Defense Department alive.”

R.I. District to Rehire Fired Teachers

A school district that gained the support of President Barack Obama for promoting accountability after it fired all its teachers from a struggling school announced Sunday it reached an agreement with the union to return all the current staffers to their jobs. The two sides said a so-called transformation plan for Central Falls High School for the coming school year would allow the 87 teachers, guidance counselors, librarians and other staffers who were to lose their jobs at the end of this year to return without having to reapply. The agreement also imposes a longer school day, more after-school tutoring and other changes. “Both the school district and the union agree that while this has been a difficult process for everyone involved, the negotiations resulted in a newfound appreciation for shared responsibility, and a solid commitment to bring lasting solutions that will improve teaching and learning at Central Falls High School,” said a joint statement from the union and the district.

  • Accountability is important. Time will tell if those involved have learned the lesson.

Bleak California Budget

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Friday called for eliminating California’s welfare-to-work program, one of the deep cuts he proposed to close a $19 billion budget deficit in the coming fiscal year. Slashing the welfare program would affect 1.4 million people, two-thirds of them children. The state’s 12.6% unemployment rate ranks among the highest in the nation and tax revenue remains low. In April, personal income tax was $3 billion less than projected, which wiped away earlier revenue gains. The deficit accounts for more than 20% of all projected spending.

Economic News

General Motors rode expense cuts from its bankruptcy and strong sales of redesigned models to its first quarterly net income in nearly three years. The $865 million first-quarter profit is a dramatic reversal from the $6 billion loss in the period last year. GM lost $3.4 billion in the fourth quarter of 2009.

The stock bull market that began in March 2009 has lost its mojo amid an onslaught of sobering new risks that have injected fresh fear into Wall Street. While the broad market has not suffered an official correction — a 10% drop — in the 14-month bull, the market has suddenly turned diabolically volatile, causing investors to wonder if a sizable decline is underway. Market jitters are back, despite better economic data in the U.S. and improving corporate profits, due to economic uncertainty in Europe.

Euro Woes

The euro’s fall from grace continued Monday as Europe’s single currency slid to a four-year low against the dollar amid ongoing concerns about the ability of European governments to get a handle on their debts. Early Monday, the euro had fallen to $1.2237 its lowest since April 2006 meaning it had fallen nearly 10 cents in the space of a week. The shared currency has now fallen a staggering 12% over the past week in spite of the massive 750 billion euro “shock and awe” financial rescue package unveiled last weekend from the EU, together with the International Monetary Fund.

Europe is embarking upon a protracted period of austerity. The belt-tightening in several continental nations is needed to curb ballooning government debt loads that have spooked investors. But in trying to resolve their fearsome public debt crisis, European leaders may be risking another equally dangerous malady. The new debt-fighting measures will siphon demand from a eurozone economy that was expected to barely grow 1% this year even before concerns over a potential Greek default roiled world markets. Now, some analysts warn that the fiscal discipline could even tip Europe into outright deflation, a potentially destabilizing episode of self-reinforcing price declines that once begun would be enormously difficult to escape. Already in April, consumer prices fell in Spain for the first time since the government began keeping such records in 1986.

Great Britain

Britain‘s new coalition government will outline spending cuts of some 6 billion pounds ($8.9 billion) this year in an emergency budget next month, Treasury chief George Obsorne said Monday. Osborne said the June 22 budget will help the country come to grips with a record deficit, as he also announced a new independent watchdog to keep an eye on government spending. Britain is grappling with a record 163 billion-pound ($235 billion) budget deficit following a deep 18-month recession during which about 1.3 million people were laid off and tens of thousands of people lost their homes.

Middle East

If Israel and the Palestinians fail to reach an agreement to create a Palestinian state, the Obama administration will look into imposing a solution on the parties, a senior Palestinian Authority negotiator told WorldNetDaily. The negotiator said the PA agreed to resume direct talks with Israel earlier this week only after a U.S. pledge to ensure against any new Jewish construction in eastern Jerusalem and the strategic West Bank. The PA negotiator told WND the Obama administration told the Palestinians if a deal is ultimately not reached with Israel the U.S. will consider imposing a solution “that the Israelis won’t appreciate.” Further, the PA negotiator said recent meetings between the Obama administration and the Palestinians revealed the White House is on board a Palestinian threat to unilaterally ask the United Nations to recognize a Palestinian state outside of negotiations with Israel.

  • Obama the messiah knows what’s best for everyone, including God’s capital

Thailand

A Thai government ultimatum Monday failed to dislodge thousands of Red Shirts from a protest camp in central Bangkok as their leaders made a fresh offer to negotiate on the fifth day of raging street battles that have killed 37 people. A small plane dropped leaflets urging the estimated 5,000 protesters to abandon their fortified camp by 3 p.m. or face criminal charges and up to two years in prison. The demand had little apparent effect, and unrest still flared in various parts of the downtown area, with troops firing live ammunition at protesters who were lighting tires to hide their positions. The thick smoke darkened the sky. Thai troops clashed with protesters for a third day in Bangkok on Saturday as streets in the center of the Asian metropolis became battlegrounds and authorities struggled to contain demonstrators demanding the prime minister’s resignation.

Red Shirt protesters occupy one of the capital’s most upscale areas. The army set up barricades in an attempt to seal off the area, where all shops, hotels and businesses were closed. The spiraling violence has raised concerns that Thailand a longtime tourism magnet that promotes its easygoing culture as the “Land of Smiles” was teetering toward instability.

China

The signs of trouble should have been clear — the man who launched a deadly rampage through a Chinese kindergarten had been depressed and suicidal for weeks — but his behavior raised no red flags in China’s feeble mental health system. The attack by Wu Huanming, who stormed onto the grounds of the private school in northern Shaanxi province and slashed and killed seven preschoolers and two adults, was the latest of five assaults against schoolchildren in the last two months that have left 17 dead and more than 50 wounded. Sociologists say the recent attacks reflect the tragic consequences of ignoring mental illness and rising stress resulting from huge social inequalities in China’s fast-changing society.

At least three of the attackers had prior mental health histories and two committed suicide after the attacks. A study in the British medical journal The Lancet last year showed that about 173 million Chinese people, or 17.5% of the population, have some form of mental disorder, from depression to schizophrenia. The vast majority of those — about 158 million — have never received any kind of professional help.

Pakistan

The military killed 58 suspected militants in northwestern Pakistan on Sunday with a mix of airstrikes and ground combat, the latest violence in a months-long campaign to rout Taliban fighters from a mountainous area near the Afghan border. Persistent artillery and aircraft attacks have killed hundreds of insurgents over the past two months, the military says. Thousands of people have fled the offensive in the area and many have moved in with relatives in nearby districts. Elsewhere in Pakistan’s tribal region Sunday, militants who kidnapped 60 people at gunpoint the day before released 40 of their hostages. Another 10 people told the local government they managed to escape the militants. The kidnappers kept the wealthier men so they could demand ransom from their families.

Afghanistan

Afghan and coalition forces conducted sweeps across Afghanistan that left at least 30 militants dead, while insurgents in the east killed five security guards in an ambush on a convoy, officials said Saturday. Mullah Mohammed Hassan, a “prominent” Taliban commander who was involved in many insurgent attacks in northern Helmand province, was captured in the Sangin village of Pirqadam Kariz during the raid.

Iran

Iran agreed Monday to ship most of its low-enriched uranium to Turkey in a surprise nuclear fuel swap deal that could ease the international standoff over the country’s disputed atomic program and deflate a U.S.-led push for tougher sanctions. The deal, which was reached in talks with Brazil and Turkey, was similar to a U.N.-drafted plan that Washington and its allies have been pressing Tehran for the past six months to accept in order to deprive Iran at least temporarily of enough stocks of enriched uranium to produce a nuclear weapon. Iran, which claims its nuclear program is peaceful, dropped several key demands that had previously blocked agreement. In return for agreeing to ship most of its uranium stockpile abroad, it would receive fuel rods of medium-enriched uranium to use in a Tehran medical research reactor that produces isotopes for cancer treatment

Volcano

London’s two major international airports — Heathrow and Gatwick — reopened to some flights Monday after a no-fly zone was imposed due to dense volcanic ash drifting down from Iceland. Airports in Amsterdam, Scotland and Ireland were still closed. Airports in Northern Ireland, much of Scotland — including Edinburgh and Aberdeen— and parts of Wales were under a no-fly order Monday as winds pushed the ash plume into Europe’s busy airspace.

Weather

The National Weather Service reports the October-through-April period was one of the driest rainy seasons in Hawaii in the past 55 years. It says only three other wet seasons had what it called “comparable rainfall deficits.” The dry weather is being blamed on an El Nino weather pattern. But National Weather Service hydrologist Kevin Kodama says El Nino conditions in the Pacific appear to be tapering off. The leeward Kohala section of the Big Island is listed under the “exceptional drought” category.

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