Churches Making Mainstream Films to Attract & Save Souls

Praise the Lord and pass the popcorn. Moviemaking churches are venturing into the cineplex to attract souls who might never set foot in a megachurch. Like Hollywood films, they take on real-life issues in dramatic packages: A resentful white cop and his black partner struggle with race and fatherhood before taking a lesson in reconciliation from Oscar winner Lou Gossett Jr. in a cameo role. That’s The Grace Card, underwritten by an optometrist for his small church in Tennessee. An aimless 20-year-old, adventuring with his buddies in India, discovers the global horror of sex slavery and makes it his life-changing cause. That’s Not Today, backed by a California Quaker church. Cops facing rough times on the streets realize their real failures are at home — as fathers who don’t know, or don’t care, how to truly love their kids. That’s Courageous, the fourth film from Sherwood Baptist Church, which is so successful in its moviemaking ministry that it now coaches others. “Movies are the stained-glass windows of the 21st century, the place to tell the Gospel story to people who may not read a Bible,” says Michael Catt, senior pastor of Sherwood in Albany, Ga. “We have people who are still in our church because they saw a movie through us that hit home.”

Prayer Sushed on Supreme Court Seps

After a group of students praying on the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court building was confronted by police and told what they were doing was illegal, the Alliance Defense Fund (ADF) recently sent a letter to officials of the high court. Wickenburg Christian Academy teacher Maureen Rigo of Arizona had taken a group of students to tour the complex, and ADF attorney Nate Kellum tells OneNewsNow they had just completed a visit to the Supreme Court and were on the steps outside. According to an ADF press release, the prayer was stopped base on a statute that bars parades and processions on Supreme Court grounds — even though Rigo was speaking in a conversational tone as she prayed and did not draw a crowd. ADF attorney Nate Kellum contends the officer’s actions were patently unconstitutional and argues that “Christians should not be silenced for exercising their beliefs through quiet prayer on public property.” “The last place you’d expect this kind of obvious disregard for the First Amendment would be on the grounds of the U.S. Supreme Court itself, but that’s exactly what happened,” the ADF attorney adds.

Immigrant Deaths in Arizona Desert Soar in July

The number of deaths among illegal immigrants crossing the Arizona desert from Mexico is soaring so high this month that the medical examiner’s office that handles the bodies is using a refrigerated truck to store some of them, the chief examiner said Friday. The bodies of 40 illegal immigrants have been brought to the office of Pima County Medical Examiner Dr. Bruce Parks since July 1. At that rate, Parks said the deaths could top the single-month record of 68 in July 2005 since his office began tracking them in 2000. Parks said his office, which handles immigrant bodies from three counties, is currently storing roughly 250 bodies and had to start using a refrigerated truck because of the increase in immigrant deaths this month. He said many of the bodies seem to be coming from the desert southwest of Tucson, where it tends to be hotter than eastern parts of the border or the Tucson metro area. Authorities believe the high number of deaths are likely due to above-average and unrelenting heat in southern Arizona this month and ongoing tighter border security that pushes immigrants to more remote, rugged and dangerous terrain.

Hidden Cameras Reveal Huge Gaps in Border Security

Hidden cameras have captured a startling stream of illegal immigrants and drug runners traveling freely from Mexico into the United States through federal forest and game preserves in southern Arizona. The stealth footage is featured in a new video, titled “Hidden Cameras on the Arizona Border 2: Drugs, Guns, and 850 Illegal Aliens,” that the Center for Immigration Studies released Thursday. Southern Arizona “has become almost a playground for smugglers,” said Janice Kephart, the center’s national security policy director. “Federal lands should be the starting point — not the last point — for border security.” The video features dramatic footage of lines of individuals moving resolutely northward in such areas as the Coronado National Forest and the Casa Grande Sector, just miles north of the Arizona-Mexico border. Collected from hidden cameras in February and March, the footage documents at least 850 illegal immigrants and nine drug couriers. It also reveals ongoing damage to the protected wilderness areas through trash and other destruction.

Federal Prosecution of Immigrants Soared in Spring

Federal prosecutions of immigrants soared to new levels this spring, as the Obama administration continued an aggressive enforcement strategy began under President George W. Bush, according to a new study released Thursday. The 4,145 cases referred to federal prosecutors in March and April was the largest number for any two-month stretch since the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency was created five years ago. The government’s heavy focus on immigration investigations already is creating a heavy burden for the swamped courts along the U.S.-Mexico border, whose judges handle hundreds more cases than most of their counterparts in the rest of the country. Federal authorities claim that workload would grow if Arizona’s controversial new immigration law, which would allow every illegal immigrant to be caught and deported, were implemented. Department of Homeland Security figures show that the number of illegal immigrants in the country has fallen in recent years. As of January 2009, an estimated 10.8 million people were in the country illegally, 1 million less than the 2007 peak. At the same time, deportations have been increasing, climbing from 185,944 in 2007 to 387,790 last year.

The National Guard troops assigned to the Arizona border will begin to arrive Aug. 1, and the federal government is sending other reinforcements to stem the flow of illegal immigrants and narcotics entering the state, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said. She said Immigration and Customs Enforcement will open a new office in Ajo. And the Department of Homeland Security is sending a new team to Douglas. “We are also reassigning major technology assets, including mobile surveillance systems, thermal-imaging binocular units, and trucks equipped with detection scopes, as well as observation and utility aircraft,” Napolitano says in a guest column in Monday’s Arizona Republic.

Oil Spill Cap Holds

The federal government’s point man for the Gulf of Mexico oil spill says he’s authorized BP to keep the cap on its busted well for another 24 hours after the company pledged to closely monitor the seafloor for signs of a new leak. Allen had written BP the day before to say a seep had been detected a distance from the well and demanded BP step up monitoring of the seabed. With the cap in place, attention is turning to the oil that already has seeped into the sea, estimated by federal scientists at more than 90 million gallons. The bulk of the job falls to skimmers, vessels equipped to collect oil out of the sea. A total of 704 skimmers are fighting the spill, up from 100 in early June. Coast Guard officials hope to have 1,000 skimmers working by the end of July. To date, skimmers have siphoned 34 million gallons of oil-water mixture, he says. About 15% of that — or 5 million gallons — was actually oil, Allen says. An additional 11 million gallons of the crude was burned off.

Report: U.S. Intelligence Community Inefficient, Unmanageable

The September 11, 2001, attacks have led to an intelligence community so large and unwieldy that it’s unmanageable and inefficient — and no one knows how much it costs, according to a two-year investigation by the Washington Post. The Post article that appeared in Monday’s edition says its investigation uncovered “a Top Secret America hidden from public view and lacking in thorough oversight. After nine years of unprecedented spending and growth, the result is that the system put in place to keep the United States safe is so massive that its effectiveness is impossible to determine.” The Post investigation found that “33 building complexes for top-secret intelligence work are under construction or have been built since September 2001,” or the equivalent of nearly three Pentagons. “Some 1,271 government organizations and 1,931 private companies work on programs related to counterterrorism, homeland security and intelligence in about 10,000 locations across the United States,” according to the Post.

  • The feds always feel that more is better, whereas history tells us otherwise

Doctors Arrested in $251M Medicare Scams

Federal authorities said Friday they are conducting the largest Medicare fraud bust ever in five different states and arrested dozens of suspects accused in scams totaling $251 million. Several doctors and nurses were among those arrested in Miami, New York City, Detroit, Houston and Baton Rouge, La., accused of billing Medicare for unnecessary equipment, physical therapy and HIV treatments that patients typically never received. Ninety-four suspects were indicted, and authorities said 36 people had been arrested as of Friday morning. More than 360 agents participated in Friday’s raids announced by Attorney General Eric Holder and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius at a health care fraud prevention summit in Miami. Officials said they chose Miami because it is ground zero for Medicare fraud.

Surge in Prescription Drug Abuse

A new government study finds a 400% increase in the number of people admitted to treatment for abusing prescription pain medication. The increase in substance abuse among people ages 12 and older was recorded during the 10-year-period from 1998 to 2008. It spans every gender, race, ethnicity, education and employment level, and all regions of the country. Prescription drug abuse is now the second-most prevalent form of illicit drug use in the country, and the nation’s fastest-growing drug problem.

New Law Will Lead to Greener but Higher-Priced Furniture

A new law signed this month by President Obama limiting the amount of formaldehyde in wood is expected to lead to higher furniture and cabinet prices, but healthier — and greener — homes. It’s also likely to increase consumer awareness of a little known chemical and its effects. Formaldehyde, which is used in many building materials, is linked to cancer and has long been known to cause respiratory problems. The government-provided trailers for victims of Hurricane Katrina were banned because of breathing problems caused by formaldehyde in the walls, ceilings and cabinets. The trailers reignited controversy this month when it was revealed some were being used to house BP oil spill cleanup workers. Particle board, which is created using sawdust, wax and formaldehyde-based glue, is often used in inexpensive furniture and cabinets and can contain high formaldehyde levels. It will be virtually impossible for manufacturers and retailers of these low-priced products to avoid raising prices, experts say, because their products use so much particle board. But it could be at least three years before all furniture sold must meet the new limits.

Banks Eye Higher Fees to Boost Declining Revenue

Big banks facing big drops in revenue are looking to Main Street to make up the difference. Checking accounts, bank statements, even popping into your local bank branch could carry a hefty cost as the nation’s mega-banks scramble to offset expected damage from the sweeping financial overhaul. The uncertain future has overshadowed otherwise strong second-quarter earnings at JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup and Bank of America. All three companies beat expectations this week with profitable results. Yet their stocks tumbled, helping send the wider market sharply lower Friday. The reason: Investors are worried about banks’ future earning power after Thursday’s passage of the most dramatic rewriting of banking rules since the Great Depression. All told, the bill’s passage will reduce the value of Bank of America’s lucrative credit card business by a staggering $7 billion to $10 billion. Banks are already moving to recoup any losses. One approach: making traditionally free services premium offerings. A Bank of America pilot program in Georgia, for instance, charges customers $8.95 a month to get paper statements or use bank tellers.

Economic News

A survey by the National Association for Business Economics released Monday found that 31% of businesses added workers between April and June, the highest level in three years, according to the National Association for Business Economics. 39% of those surveyed say they expect to hire more workers over the next six months — the most since January 2008.

Regulators on Friday shut down three banks in Florida, two in South Carolina and one in Michigan, bringing to 96 the number of U.S. banks to succumb this year to the recession and mounting loan defaults. By this time last year, regulators had closed 57 banks. Twenty-five banks failed in 2008, the year the financial crisis struck with force, and only three succumbed in 2007. As losses have mounted on loans made for commercial property and development, the growing bank failures have sapped billions of dollars out of the deposit insurance fund. It fell into the red last year, and its deficit stood at $20.7 billion as of March 31. Stocks slumped Friday after banks’ second-quarter earnings fell short of expectations and a new survey found that consumers are becoming more pessimistic.

The Dow Jones industrial average lost 261 points, and all the major market indexes dropped more than 2.5%. Stocks fell after a twice-monthly survey from the University of Michigan and Reuters found that consumers’ gloom is increasing. An index of consumer sentiment compiled from the survey fell to 66.5 in early July from 76. The unexpectedly low reading on consumer confidence reinforces fears that the economy is slowing too much too fast.

American International Group (AIG) and some of its directors and officers have agreed to a $725 million settlement to resolve allegations of wide-ranging fraud laid out in a class action suit led by three Ohio pension funds. Ohio Attorney General Richard Cordray said Friday the latest figure will combine with previous AIG settlements reached with secondary defendants to pay about $1 billion to shareholders, including pensions representing firefighters, police, teachers, librarians and others. He characterized it as the 10th largest securities litigation settlement in U.S. history. The lawsuit alleged anti-competitive market division, accounting violations, and stock price manipulation by AIG between October 1999 and April 2005.

A California judge has temporarily blocked Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s plan to pay 200,000 state workers the federal minimum wage until a budget is approved. Further court hearings are scheduled for later this month and August.

Army Reports Record Number of Suicides for June

Soldiers killed themselves at the rate of one per day in June making it the worst month on record for Army suicides. There were 32 confirmed or suspected suicides among soldiers in June, including 21 among active-duty troops and 11 among National Guard or Reserve forces, according to Army statistics. Seven soldiers killed themselves while in combat in Iraq or Afghanistan in June, according to the statistics. Of the total suicides, 22 soldiers had been in combat, including 10 who had deployed two to four times. Last year was the Army’s worst for suicides with 244 confirmed or suspected cases. “The hypothesis is the same that many have heard me say before: continued stress on the force, said Army Col. Christopher Philbrick, director of the Army Suicide Prevention Task Force. He pointed out that the Army has been fighting for nine years in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Afghanistan

A suicide bombing near a market in the Afghan capital of Kabul killed three civilians and wounded dozens Sunday, two days before an international conference hosting representatives from about 60 nations. Eleven other people were killed in insurgent attacks elsewhere across the nation, according to reports Sunday, as the Taliban meet the arrival of thousands more American troops this year with a rising tide of violence. “The insurgents have chosen to use violence to gain media attention, once again at the expense of innocent Afghan civilians,” said Col. William Maxwell, director of the Combined Joint Operations Center for the NATO-led force. Five NATO troops died in roadside bombs in Afghanistan, the alliance said Saturday.

Vice President Biden said Sunday that progress in Afghanistan has been “a tough slog,” but he said U.S. troops will begin leaving in July 2011. “It could be as few as a couple thousand troops. It could be more. But there will be a transition,” Biden said in an interview broadcast Sunday. Speaking on ABC’s This Week, Biden said U.S. and NATO forces will be able to turn over some of the 34 military districts in Afghanistan to locally trained forces as planned, but he acknowledged the training of Afghan troops hasn’t gone smoothly.

Pakistan

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton started a South Asia tour on Sunday aimed at refining the goals of the nearly 9-year-old war in Afghanistan and pushing neighboring nations to work together in the fight against al-Qaeda and Taliban extremists. Clinton landed in Islamabad where she will underscore the need for Afghan-Pakistani cooperation in winning the war but also announce plans to beef up U.S. development assistance to Pakistan, which is rife with anti-American sentiment. In talks with Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani on Sunday and military and civilian officials on Monday, Clinton is seeking to convince Pakistanis the U.S. is committed to the country’s long-term development needs and not just short-term security gains. This, officials hope, will lead to greater Pakistani cooperation on key U.S. policy goals, particularly combating Pakistan-based militants accused of conspiring to attack the United States, including the failed Times Square bombing, and stepping up action against extremists along the Afghan border.

Militants armed with assault rifles ambushed a convoy of civilian vehicles killing 16 people Saturday in northwestern Pakistan, the scene of extensive military operations targeting Islamist insurgents. Several people were also wounded in Saturday’s attack in Char Khel village in the troubled tribal region of Kurram. The travelers were heading to the main northwestern city of Peshawar in vehicles when they were ambushed. Kurram has witnessed scores of such attacks, robberies and kidnappings for ransom in the past three years. The army has moved primarily against the Pakistani Taliban network, which is distinct from the Afghan Taliban factions, though it shares many of the same Islamist and anti-Western goals.

Iraq

Twin suicide bombings killed 48 people on Sunday, including dozens from a government-backed, anti-al-Qaeda militia who were lined up to get their paychecks near a military base southwest of Baghdad. The bombings were the deadliest in a series of attacks across Iraq Sunday that were aimed at the Sons of Iraq, a Sunni group also known as Sahwa that works with government forces to fight al-Qaeda in Iraq. The attacks highlighted the stiff challenges the country faces as the U.S. scales back its forces in Iraq, leaving their Iraqi counterparts in charge of security.

Mexico

For the first time, Mexican drug gangs have used a car bomb to attack police and civilians, the Army says. Yesterday in downtown Ciudad Juarez, across the border from El Paso, Texas, a car packed with 22 pounds of C4 explosives and detonated by mobile phone killed two police officers and a paramedic, and wounded at least 16 other civilians or officers. Police called the attack retaliation for the arrest of Jesus Acosta Guerrero, a leader of the La Linea drug gang, which is affiliated with the Juarez cartel. Mayor Jose Reyes told the Associated Press the attackers set a trap for federal police before detonating the explosive inside a parked car after police and paramedics responded to a report of an injured officer. Meanwhile, gunmen stormed a party in northern Mexico on Sunday and massacred 17 people in another suspected drug-related incident.

China

An oil pipeline at a busy Chinese port exploded, causing a massive fire that burned for 15 hours before being put out Saturday. Officials said no one was killed. State-run media said the pipeline blew up Friday evening, and more than 2,000 firefighters worked overnight to control 100-foot high flames and further blasts on a second pipeline. A vast stretch of polluted sea remains the next challenge. About 20 boats were trying to clean up a dark brown slick of oil and pollution at least 50 square kilometers (19 square miles) in size off Dalian’s Xingang Harbor, Xinhua said Saturday night.

Earthquakes

Two strong earthquakes struck off the South Pacific island nation of Papua New Guinea late Sunday, a U.S. monitor said. There were no immediate reports of casualty or damage. The first quake, a magnitude 6.9, struck around 11 p.m. local time 325 miles northeast of the capital, Port Morseby. It struck 35 miles beneath the ocean floor. The second, a magnitude 7.3, struck a half-hour later in the same area, at a depth of 31 miles. Indonesia issued a tsunami warning but lifted it soon after.

A powerful earthquake shook a remote Aleutian Island region of Alaska late Saturday, but there were no reports of damage or injury and no threat of a tsunami, officials said. The 6.7-magnitude temblor struck at 9:56 p.m. and was centered in the Bering Sea about 155 miles southwest of Dutch Harbor, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. The quake hit about 21 miles beneath the seabed. The quake was felt in both Dutch Harbor and nearby Unalaska, the nearest communities of any size to the epicenter.

The U.S. Geological Survey reports a light, magnitude-4.3 earthquake struck northwest Haiti. The tremor shook the sea-floor 15 miles west of the coastal city of Gonaives around 2:01 a.m. Saturday. No damage or injuries have been reported.

Wildfires

Winds eased around midnight, bulldozers about 2 a.m. Monday were able to push a line in front of a wildfire that has burned about 15 square miles or 10,000 acres near Yakima, in central Washington. The fire is not secure and still burning in pockets, including some stacks of apple bins at orchards. About 100 firefighters from across the state are on their way to help about 200 mostly volunteer and local firefighters who responded after the fire started Sunday in grass and brush about 10 miles west of Yakima. The fast-moving fire destroyed an engine. Three firefighters had minor injures. Three homes and a number of sheds and other outbuildings have burned. Meanwhile, another wildfire in Washington, about six miles north of Wenatchee, has burned almost 20,000 acres in a remote area of the state.

Weather

A powerful band of storms blew over a shelter at Iowa State University, fatally injuring one horse and leaving several others hurt. The storm also toppled a 45-foot tree nearby. School officials say a mare injured by the shelter had to be put down. But Iowa State faculty members pulled a trapped yearling out of the fallen shelter. Several other horses also required attention, mostly for minor cuts and scrapes.

A waterspout slammed into a stadium in Puerto Rico where thousands of people were expected to gather for the inauguration of the Central American and Caribbean Games on Saturday, injuring at least five people and forcing officials to delay the opening ceremony. The storm ripped down scaffolding workers were using to add final touches to the Jose Figueroa Olympic Stadium, toppling the metal onto cars below. Injuries were not serious, but officials evacuated people who had already arrived at the stadium. Felipe Perez, president of the games organizing committee, said, “The wind was like something out of a movie.”

Mission News Network reports that Haiti’s rainy season hit earthquake-stricken areas with a vengence last week. The American Refugee Committee reports that flash floods and rain knocked over almost 100 tents in one camp. Ron Sparks with Baptist Haiti Mission says, “The tent cities in the Port-au-Prince area received a lot of damage by wind, and so when the rain comes, obviously they’re not prepared to withstand the wetness.” Six months after a 7.0 magnitude earthquake rocked the capital of Port-au-Prince, many dwelling still lie in ruins. Sparks explains that “we’ve built over a dozen permanent homes for individual families, and we’ve helped to build or repair well over an additional 50 homes. All the schools are back up and running, and the churches are meeting regularly,” which is key to their outreach.

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