Packers QB Aaron Rodgers a minority owner of NBA's Bucks

Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers is now part owner of an NBA team, the Milwaukee Bucks.

The Bucks announced Friday during its playoff game against the Boston Celtics that Rodgers joined the ownership group of the Bucks as a limited partner.

Rodgers was in attendance for Friday’s game and was seated between Bucks owner Wes Edens and professional race driver and girlfriend Danica Patrick.

“I have proudly called Wisconsin my home for the past 13 years, and I am thankful for the friendships and the opportunities I have been given to live and play here,” Rodgers said in a statement released by the Bucks. “I am excited and honored to deepen my connection to the region by joining Wes Edens, Marc Lasry, Jamie Finan, Mike Fascitelli and the ownership group of the Milwaukee Bucks.

“As a huge fan of the NBA and the sport of basketball, this is a dream come true for me, and I look forward to furthering my affinity for Wisconsin sports as a minority owner in a team I love and support.”

Rodgers is the only active NFL player to be a limited partner of an NBA team.

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New South African church celebrates drinking alcohol

Dressed in a red robe and a gold-trimmed bishop’s miter, the clergyman pours whiskey into his cupped hand and anoints the forehead of the man sitting before him.

“You are hereby invested as a minister … This is a double tot,” he says of the remaining whiskey in the chalice. He hands it to the new minister, who downs it.

“Hallelujah!” shout the congregation members who erupt in singing and dancing, swigging from bottles of beer.

Welcome to Gabola Church, which celebrates the drinking of alcohol. The South African church was started eight months ago and has found an enthusiastic following.

“We are a church for those who have been rejected by other churches because they drink alcohol,” Gabola’s founder and self-declared pope, Tsietsi Makiti, told The Associated Press. “Gabola Church is established to redeem the people who are rejected, who are regarded as sinners. We drink for deliverance. We are drinking for the Holy Ghost to come into us.”

Others in South Africa are outraged by Gabola, saying it is not a church at all.

“Gabola has nothing to do with the word of God. Those are not church services,” said Archbishop Modiri Patrick Shole, director of the South African Union Council of Independent Churches. “They are using the Bible to promote taverns and drinking liquor. It is blasphemous. It is heresy and totally against the doctrines.” He said his organization intends to see that authorities close Gabola for breaking municipal regulations that say churches should not be located near bars.

Gabola is not a member of the mainstream South African Council of Churches, which said it has no comment about it. Gabola is not affiliated with any other denominations.

About 80 percent of South Africa’s 56 million people profess to be Christian. In addition to Catholic and Protestant denominations, there are small independent ones with unusual practices like handling snakes. One pastor recently was found guilty of assault for spraying Doom, a popular insecticide, into worshippers’ faces, which was supposed to chase away evil spirits.

The condemnation by other Christian organizations did not bother the 30 worshippers attending a recent Gabola service, held in a bar in the sprawling Orange Farm township 40 kilometers (25 miles) south of Johannesburg.

A pool table served as the altar, adorned with bottles of whiskey and beer. Six ministers at the altar solemnly blessed the chilled jumbo bottles of beer bought by most churchgoers. A few drank whiskey, brandy or other beverages, all of them similarly blessed. The congregation sang hymns praising the positive effects of drinking. Three new Gabola members were baptized with beer which covered their foreheads and dripped down their faces.

Gabola means “drinking” in Tswana, one of South Africa’s official languages.

“Our aim is to convert bars, taverns and shebeens into churches,” Makiti said. “And we convert the tavern-owners into pastors.”

People in other churches “say they are holy but they drink by the back doors, in secret. They think God does not see them,” he said. “But the Lord zooms in on them and can see them. We drink openly at our services. We do so in peace and we love each other.”

Gabola’s leader said he encourages people to drink responsibly and emphasizes that alcohol will only be sold and blessed to people who are 20, two years older than South Africa’s legal drinking age.

The rousing hymns praising the effects of alcohol brought church members to their feet and they enthusiastically stomped and danced in a circle, often around a beer bottle. As the three-hour service progressed they became louder, more animated and sloppier. Some dozed off during the sermon.

“Nothing is as happy in the world as people who drink,” said Nigel Lehasa, who explained scripture during the service and described himself as Gabola’s professor. “There is no fighting, no arguing. We have nothing but love.”

———

Follow Africa news at https://twitter.com/AP—Africa

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North Korea suspends nuclear program ahead of much-anticipated talks

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un declared the country will be suspending its nuclear program ahead of much-anticipated talks between the two Koreas next week, and the U.S. and North Korea sometime next month.

Kim announced his country would “no longer need any nuclear tests, mid and long and ICBM rocket tests,” and therefore is suspending nuclear tests and launches of intercontinental ballistic missiles starting Saturday.

The communist country is also shutting down the Poongye-ri nuclear test site where six underground tests have taken place, because “it has finished its mission.”

The surprise announcements were delivered through the North’s state Korean Central News Agency and later on state TV.

North Korea has “verified the completion of nuclear weapons” and now “the Party and our nation will focus all its efforts towards socialist economic development,” Kim was quoted saying at a meeting of the central committee of the ruling Workers’ Party of Korea convened Friday. The state TV stressed the meeting discussed policy issues related to a “new stage” in an “historic period.”

The two Koreas are set to hold a summit meeting next Friday at the truce border village of Panmunjom, while U.S. President Donald Trump and Kim plan to meet sometime in May or early June at a yet-to-be-announced location.

Trump hailed the news of Korea suspending its nuclear programs as “very good news for North Korea and the World.”

The news came earlier this week that Mike Pompeo, Trump’s as-yet-unconfirmed pick for secretary of state, met with Kim in early April. No details of the talks were released, though Trump said this week the meeting went “very smoothly” and the two got along “really well.”

Denuclearization of North Korea has been a key issue going into the talks between the U.S. and North Korea. The North is suspending, not freezing, its nuclear program for now, but both Trump and South Korean President Moon Jae-in have expressed high hopes that the North is ready to give up its nuclear weapons in exchange for economic assistance.

Policy measures announced by the North’s state TV confirm Kim’s drive to improve quality of living. The long term economic plan of North Korea is to “provide proficient and culturally [advanced] lifestyle to all people,” Kim was quoted as saying.

“North Korea’s announcement signals a stepping stone for phased denuclearization,” said An Chan Il, president of Seoul-based World Institute for North Korean Studies. “They are showing proof to the world that they have begun their efforts to eventually denuclearize, starting with shutting down the Punggye-ri nuclear test site. Punggye-ri test site is known to be the one and only nuclear weapon facility in North Korea at the moment. A significant slowdown in this facility was monitored in March, adding evidence that North’s announcement was not a spontaneous one.”

Experts have cautioned that the wording of Kim’s announcement specifically mentions a “suspension” and not a “freeze.”

“For North Korea to announce a nuclear freeze, they must have mentioned shutdown of the nuclear facility in Yongbyon,” said Kim Yong-hyun, professor of North Korean Studies at Dongguk University in Seoul. “But this announcement said to suspend only the Punggye-ri facility and missile launches according to KCNA’s report. Still, there is a possibility open for discussion regarding Yongbyon facility which produces plutonium.”

“Some say this beginning phase should be called a ‘freeze,'” said Kim Kwang-jin, a former congressman at the National Assembly’s Defense Committee. “But others see a complete abolishment of already-made plutonium, uranium and missiles as a ‘freeze.’ That is why key terms should be clarified before the final negotiation.”

South Korea’s presidential office welcomed North Korea’s announcement as well.

Presidential secretary Yoon Young-chan said in a written statement realeased Saturday, “[The] North’s announcement will brighten prospects for successful talks between Seoul, Pyongyang and Washington.”

The statement referred to the North’s suspending of nuclear tests and missile tests as a meaningful progress toward denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.

“It is not a declaration of nuclear dismantlement because it has not yet reached the consensus of some practical compensations for the abandonment of nuclear weapons,” said Cheong Seong-Chang, director of unification strategic studies program at the Seoul-based Sejong Institute.

“Since the economy has been in a state of containment after several nuclear tests and missile launches, the compromise with the international community was an inevitable choice for Kim Jong Un,” Cheong added.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who visited Trump in Florida this week, was more cautious in his acknowledgment of Kim’s announcement of suspending nuclear tests.

“What is crucial here … is how this development is going to lead to the complete, verifiable and irreversible dismantlement of nuclear arms, weapons of mass destruction and missiles,” he said. “And I will keep a close eye on that.”

ABC News’ Hakyung Kate Lee contributed to this report.

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Earth Day 2018: Everything you need to know

People around the world will come together this weekend to celebrate the planet and to take action to protect it.

Here’s everything you need to know about Earth Day 2018.

First celebrated in 1970, Earth Day takes place worldwide on April 22.

This year’s event falls on a Sunday.

Various events are held annually on Earth Day across the globe to show support for protecting the environment.

U.S. Sen. Gaylord Nelson, a Wisconsin native, is largely credited for organizing the first Earth Day in spring 1970, a time when it was still legal for factories to spew noxious fumes into the air or dump toxic waste into nearby streams. That’s because the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency didn’t exist then, and there were no laws to protect the environment.

Nelson recruited Harvard University professor Denis Hayes to coordinate and promote Earth Day nationally. The event was a success.

Twenty million Americans took to the streets on April 22, 1970, demanding action on environmental pollution. That December, Congress authorized the establishment of a new federal agency, the EPA, to ensure environmental protection. The passage of the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, Endangered Species Act and many other landmark environmental laws followed soon after, according to the EPA.

Earth Day went global 20 years later, mobilizing 200 million people in dozens of countries and putting environmental issues on the world stage.

Now, more than 1 billion people in 192 countries are estimated to participate in Earth Day activities every year, according to Earth Day Network, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit that organizes the event worldwide.

This year’s Earth Day is dedicated to providing the information and inspiration needed to eventually end plastic pollution, according to Earth Day Network.

Many of us use or encounter plastic every single day, even if we don’t realize it. There’s single-use plastics, such as bags, bottles, plates, utensils and straws. But there are also plastics in our electronics, cars, clothes and paint.

So what happens to all this plastic? Some of it gets recycled. But a lot ends up in landfills or is simply littered as plastic pollution, which gets into our waterways.

Plastic is made to last forever — it cannot biodegrade. Disposed plastic materials can remain in the environment for up to 2,000 years and longer, according to a 2009 article published in scientific journal Chemistry & Biology.

Earth Day Network has called the management of plastic waste a “global crisis.”

“Plastic pollution is now an ever-present challenge. We can see plastics floating in our rivers, ocean and lagoons, littering our landscapes and affecting our health and the future of billions of children and youth. We have all contributed to this problem –- mostly unknowingly,” Valeria Merino, vice president of Global Earth Day at Earth Day Network, said in a statement.

An estimated 275 million metric tons of plastic waste were generated in 192 coastal countries in 2010, with 4.8 to 12.7 million metric tons entering the ocean, according to findings in a 2015 study led by Jenna Jambeck, an environmental engineer at the University of Georgia.

Recent research commissioned by Orb Media, a nonprofit journalism organization based in Washington, D.C., found that 94 percent of drinking water in the United States and 93 percent of bottled water sampled from nine countries are spiked with chemically-laced plastic particles, many of which have been linked to major diseases.

In recent years, many countries have taken steps to ban bisphenol A (BPA), phthalates and other chemicals from plastics in some products.

“There is a growing tidal wave of interest in ending plastic pollution and some countries and governments are already in the vanguard. Earth Day Network believes we can turn that tidal wave into a permanent solution to plastics pollution,” Earth Day Network president Kathleen Rogers said in a statement.

This year, Earth Day Network will mobilize its global network of non-governmental organizations and grassroots groups, as well as local elected officials, faith leaders, artists, athletes, students and teachers “to build a world of educated consumers, voters and activists of all ages who understand the environmental, climate and health consequences of using plastic,” according to Rogers.

While recycling is important, Earth Day Network says it’s not nearly enough to bring an end to plastic pollution.

“You may be lulled into thinking it is OK to consume disposable plastic products because you plan to recycle them, but many plastics can’t be efficiently recycled and will end up in the landfill or littering the planet, even in the most remote places,” Merino said. “Also, some localities lack the most basic infrastructure to manage waste and to sort and recycle plastics. For this reason, it is much more important to focus on reducing your own level of plastic consumption.”

Here are some suggestions from the Earth Day Network on how to reduce your plastic footprint:

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Barbara Bush funeral today: Melania Trump, the Obamas and Clintons among attendees

Barbara Bush will be laid to rest in Texas on Saturday as mourners, including dignitaries from across the nation and around the world, gather to remember the former first lady’s life and legacy.

More than 1,500 guests, including former presidents and first ladies, are expected to fill St. Martin’s Episcopal Church in Houston on Saturday morning for the funeral service. Barbara Bush, who died on Tuesday at the age of 92, had requested in her last wishes a modest funeral at the Gothic-style cathedral, where she and her husband, former President George H.W. Bush, were devoted members for decades.

Barbara Bush’s casket arrived Friday at St. Martin’s, the nation’s largest Episcopal church, where she lay in repose as the public was invited to pay respects from noon to midnight, according to the Geo. H. Lewis & Sons Funeral Home in Houston.

The Rev. Russell Levenson Jr. and the Rev. Dr. Peter Cheney will be co-officiants of Saturday’s service, which is set to begin at 11 a.m. local time. Barbara Bush’s son, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, will deliver a eulogy along with her longtime friend, Susan Baker, and historian Jon Meacham, according to a statement from the Bush family.

Four of the five living ex-presidents will attend Saturday’s funeral service, including former President Barack Obama and his wife, former first lady Michelle Obama, as well as former President Bill Clinton and his wife, former Secretary of State and first lady Hillary Clinton. The Clintons’ daughter, Chelsea Clinton, will also be in attendance.

Following the service, a funeral procession will bring Barbara Bush’s casket to the George Bush Presidential Library and Museum near Texas A&M University in College Station for a private service, where she will be buried in a family plot beside her daughter, Robin, who died of leukemia at the age of 3 in 1953. The Texas A&M Corps of Cadets are expected to line Barbara Bush Avenue outside the library to pay tribute to the former first lady.

First lady Melania Trump will attend Saturday’s service “on behalf of the first family,” White House deputy press secretary Lindsay Walters said in a statement. “To avoid disruptions due to added security, and out of respect for the Bush Family and friends attending the service, President Trump will not attend.”

Similarly, in 2016, then-President Obama did not attend the funeral of former first lady Nancy Reagan, while his wife did. Sitting presidents have rarely in recent decades gone to the funerals of former first ladies, according to FactCheck.org, a project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center in Philadelphia.

Barbara Bush served as first lady from 1989 to 1993. She died shortly after deciding to forgo further medical treatments for her failing health.

Former President George H.W. Bush is “broken-hearted to lose his beloved Barbara, his wife of 73 years,” according to Jean Becker, chief of staff at the 93-year-old former president’s office.

“He held her hand all day today and was at her side when she left this good earth,” Becker said in a statement.

Their eldest child, former President George W. Bush, described his mother as a “fabulous first lady and a woman unlike any other who brought levity, love, and literacy to millions.”

“To us, she was so much more,” he said in a statement after her death. “Mom kept us on our toes and kept us laughing until the end. I’m a lucky man that Barbara Bush was my mother. Our family will miss her dearly.”

ABC News’ Bill Hutchinson contributed to this report.

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Denver Broncos trade punter Dixon to New York Giants

The Denver Broncos traded punter Riley Dixon to the New York Giants in exchange for a conditional seventh-round pick in the 2019 NFL Draft, multiple media outlets reported Friday.

Dixon was out of job in Denver when the Broncos signed Marquette King earlier this month, and they found a trading partner who needed punter.

New York was in the market for a punter after releasing Brad Wing last week.

Dixon has averaged 45.7 yards per punt in two NFL seasons in the thin air of the Mile High City. But his net yardage of 41.3 yards was less impressive. He had 51 of his punts downed inside the 20-yard line.

The Giants believe he will be an upgrade over Wing, whose net average of 37.5 yards was the league’s lowest last season. He had 47 punts downed inside the 20 over the past two seasons.

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