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Help from your Alma Mater; Church Hand Writes Bible; Actor Kal Penn's New Political Role; Red Cross Needs Your Help; Linking the President to Fascism

Aired April 12, 2009 - 08:00   ET


T.J. HOLMES, CNN ANCHOR: And from the CNN Center in Atlanta, Georgia, this is CNN SUNDAY MORNING. It's 8:00 o'clock here on the east coast, 7:00 a.m. in the heartland. I'm T.J. Holmes.

BETTY NGUYEN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everybody. I'm Betty Nguyen. It's Sunday, April 12th. Thanks for being with us on this Easter morning.

Easter services all over the world are being held this morning and we're going to take you to Vatican City in just a moment.

HOLMES: Also, new video this morning of the Maersk Alabama at port in Mombasa, Kenya. The ship arrived yesterday afternoon, the cargo ship that was hijacked, of course, by pirates last week. Still no word on the captain who is being held hostage by the pirates.

NGUYEN: Plus, a woman is recovering this morning after jumping into a polar bear cage during feeding time? Take a look at the rescue and you'll see right here in just a second as they try to hoist her up. She gets bitten once again by the polar bear.

This is taking place at the Berlin zoo. Keepers there had to fight off the bears as they pulled the woman to safety. We're going to have more details on this bizarre -- story straight ahead.

HOLMES: And, of course, Catholics are celebrating Easter Sunday today at the Vatican.

That's Pope Benedict, of course, that we're seeing there. Thousands are gathering at St. Peter's Basilica within the Vatican City to hear the Pope deliver a special Easter mass.


POPE BENEDICT XVI, CATHOLIC CHURCH (through translator): Brothers and sisters, on this most holy day we celebrate with great joy, the resurrection of Jesus Christ, our Lord. The Pascal Light of the Risen Christ brightens our minds and hearts, and renders us more open to receive the gift of grace which Christ himself offers through the Father and his Holy Spirit.


HOLMES: Easter, of course, Sunday marks the end of the holy week. It begins on Palm Sunday. It's the day Christians celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ on the third day after his crucifixion. Easter is celebrated on the Sunday after the first full moon following the first day of spring.

NGUYEN: Well, the American crew of the Maersk Alabama is now safe in Mombasa, Kenya. But we don't know when they'll be able to go home. Officials are keeping them on the ship for now.

Meanwhile, though, pirates are still holding Captain Richard Phillips hostage in a lifeboat. Yesterday, Navy sailors in a small boat tried to get closer, but the pirates fired shots at them. So, they turned around. Well, in Vermont, where the captain is from, lots of prayers and yellow ribbons. Everyone is hoping this standoff situation will end peacefully and soon.

Captain Richard Phillips gave himself up to save his crew and for that, he is being called a hero. But there are lots of stories of true bravery coming from the ship.

CNN's Stan Grant is in Mombasa, Kenya, where the Maersk Alabama is docked right now.

And, I understand you got to speak to some of the crew members?

STAN GRANT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, we did, Betty. The crew has been declared off limits to the media because the ship itself is now a crime scene. The FBI is continuing its investigations, and just this day, have been speaking to the crewmembers about what exactly took place on the ship when the pirates seized it out on the high seas. And also, how did the crew wrest control of the vessel back from the pirates.

Now, I did see close enough when the ship came into dock last night, to actually shout a few questions at some of the crewmen. And slowly we were able to piece together some of the details of the drama of that moment when the pirates boarded. I asked one of the crewmembers what happened; he said the pirates came aboard about 7:00 a.m. He was woken when they came aboard.

He said they were carrying weapons and that he was scared, other members of the crewmembers and other crew moved to more secure areas of the ship. Speaking to another crewmember, he then said that another crewmember was a hero because he managed to jump some of the pirates. There was a tussle in the engine room and one of the pirates was stabbed through the hand.

Now, we know that the crewmembers actually held one of the pirates for some time and then tried to exchange him in return for the release of Captain Phillips, but that didn't eventuate. The pirates reneged on that deal, and Captain Phillips is still being held on that lifeboat. And, of course, the crewmembers here are calling him a hero. The crew is not expected to go home for a couple of days, Betty.

NGUYEN: What do you know about the situation right now with Captain Phillips? Last we heard, he tried to escape, was recaptured, and they have tied him up. What do you know about what's taking place right now as well as the FBI investigation? GRANT: Yes, it's extraordinary, isn't it, Betty, that here is a man who was so desperate and, obviously, wanting to get free that he would dive into the ocean? There were shots fired by the pirates and another pirate dived in as well and dragged Captain Phillips back on board.

We understand that he is safe. He is feeling well, but, obviously, this is a very stressful situation for both himself and his family. He's still drifting on that lifeboat with the pirates.

The pirates are trying to make their way to the Somali coastline, at the same time, being watched by U.S. warships and negotiations continuing to try to get Captain Phillips released.

As far as the FBI investigation is concerned, the FBI had spoken to the crewmembers just this morning. They're trying to piece together the details of what happened. The crewmembers though will remain on board the ship until that investigation is completed -- Betty?

NGUYEN: And as far as those crew members, we said we're not really sure when they are going to be able to go home. I imagine they are going to be questioned and perhaps they can provide some really good information as this investigation continues.

GRANT: Yes, of course, they will. And they are desperate to get home. Just speaking to a couple of them, they are sending their best wishes to their family, saying they desperately want to see their families, and stressing to their family that they are safe. They appear to be in good spirits, in good health.

They're able to joke with some of us as well, but we can't get close enough to ask those really crucial questions. Security is very tight here. We obviously can't get close enough given that this is a crime scene. But a lot more questions still to be answered about this drama -- Betty?

NGUYEN: No doubt. It is an ongoing hostage situation at this moment. Stan Grant, you've been working hard on this story, many, many hours -- we do appreciate the latest information.

HOLMES: Well, the first officer of the Maersk Alabama is Shane Murphy. He was in charge when the ship steamed into Kenya. His father, Joseph, is an instructor at the Massachusetts Maritime Academy. The elder has a message of support for his son's captain.


JOSEPH MURPHY, SON ON MAERSK ALABAMA: We know the difficulties that the Phillips family is going through and we continue to support them. We believe that Captain Phillips will survive the situation. We want him to know that he has the support of all of us, the American people, and people around the world. We appreciate his courage. We know that he will survive because he will never give up.


HOLMES: And Joseph Murphy there, has spoken with his son who told him he regretted having to leave the captain behind.

We turn now to this other story of the morning.


HOLMES: Interesting, scary, but we'll just show you the video herein explain what we're seeing. This happened over in Germany, in the Berlin zoo actually.

And, Betty, you explain to people exactly what they are seeing here. This woman decided to take a swim.

NGUYEN: Well, yes, and we don't really know why she decided to jump in why these polar bears were feeding here at the Berlin zoo. But you can see that rescuers are trying to get here out. Look at that right there. The bear just took a bite out of her rear as they were trying to hoist her up out of that pond right there.

Again, she had to climb over a wall, a fence or something. You see it right there -- a concrete wall to get down into that pond. Still, no word on exactly why she did that, but she was badly injured, in fact, taken to the hospital.

And interesting enough, even after all of this, she got a ticket for trespassing. I know that's probably not her biggest concern at this point, but, seriously, that's why they have those walls up, that's why they have fences at zoos to keep people away from the animals.

HOLMES: And they tried to -- some of the other zoo workers tried to actually distract the bears the best they could so they could get this woman out. Of course, they're going to put in any danger trying to get here.

But just incredible video of the actual rescue. There's another still picture of this that we are just seeing earlier that we're going to show you right now.

NGUYEN: Oh, yes. There it is.

HOLMES: That picture of her actually in that pond. Again, have no idea why she would have jumped in there but she jumped in.

Reynolds, just one that leaves you scratching your head here.


REYNOLDS WOLF, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Absolutely. With both hands, too, like crazy, like this, like ripping your hair out, because it's a crazy thing to see.

NGUYEN: What is she thinking?

WOLF: I believe the bear's name was, again, it's K-N-U-T, which I believe is pronounced Knut, but we're calling it nut (ph). I mean, this ...

NGUYEN: The whole situation is nuts.

WOLF: And, you know, and the name could go for either the bear or, of course, the lady who jumped in. I was reading some reports and she actually, they said she jumped in and she was enthusiastically swimming towards the bear.

NGUYEN: Really?

WOLF: A bear of 1,500 pounds standing 11 feet tall when fully standing up. That's slam dunk a basketball with no problem whatsoever and surely could have made a meal out of her. She's very lucky to be alive.

And, you know, you mentioned that people were trying to distract this bear. How do you distract a hungry, you know, bear from what could be like a buffet? I mean, it's a scary thing but she's very fortunate to be alive, no question.

HOLMES: All right. All right, Reynolds. Well, you got a little weather for us now? We're going to check back in with you here. Are you going to do it now?

WOLF: Yes, we're going to do it right now.


WOLF: We do have a bear of a storm that we've been following right now across parts of Texas. Take a look at this. From Oklahoma City over to Dallas -- I mean, it is just lit up like a Christmas tree. We got some strong storms -- all of these storms are actually driving their way to the east. And as they do, it's really going to hone in on a few locations later on this afternoon.

Those spots we're really going to be concerned about are going to be here along the gulf coast. Namely in parts of, say, New Orleans back over to Baton Rouge. You got all of the elements once again. This area of low pressure, these boundaries providing lift, but all that moisture is just going to be coming in from the Gulf of Mexico.

And as we get to the afternoon hours and into the early evening, I'm thinking around 3:00, 4:00, 5:00, even 6:00 o'clock, you could really have some rough stuff. So, please be careful. Any planes you have along parts of I-10 going to see grandma, you really want to take it easy.

Hey, anyone who has plans tomorrow, those plans may be going to the White House, they have the big Easter egg hunt there, conditions today look pretty good. Tomorrow, though, they may be dealing with a few scattered showers and maybe even a thunderstorm. But again, if you've got a nice big, nicely, brightly colored egg, it might be easy to see you at the White House, especially if it's along that size. (INAUDIBLE).

NGUYEN: Reynolds, you are loving that magic wall.

HOLMES: Yes. WOLF: You have no idea.

NGUYEN: I mean, you're like a kid with a new toy.

WOLF: Oh, yes. This thing is coming home with me.



WOLF: I'm just going to find a way to get it out of the building, past security, although we can't.


HOLMES: Thanks, buddy. We'll see you again here shortly.

Well, the Obamas -- they have a lot of big decisions lately and have another big one on their hands this morning -- where to worship. The first family's church search may soon be coming to an end.

NGUYEN: And, you know, President Obama has been labeled a liberal, even a socialist by his political opponents. Well, now, they have come up with a new name and it's raising quite a few eyebrows.


NGUYEN: Well, the Obama family has been without a church for about 10 months now. And the thing is, it's Easter Sunday. Now would be a pretty good time to pick one. Randi Kaye found out there are quite a few churches on the short list.


REV. DERRICK HARKINS, PASTOR, NINETEENTH STREET BAPTIST CHURCH: You ought to pray! You ought to keep praying!

RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Reverend Derek Harkins in the pulpit at Washington, D.C.'s Nineteenth Street Baptist Church, where he's been every Sunday for the last 11 years. But these days, it's different. The White House is watching and reporting back to the president. All part of a quiet calculated effort to find the right church for the first family.

A source inside the administration close to this process tells me White House staff are vetting D.C. churches, interviewing pastors, studying sermons. The source says this has nothing to do with Mr. Obama's former pastor, Reverend Jeremiah Wright -- whose controversial remarks threatened to bringing down his campaign.

(on camera): Do you know if you've been vetted?

HARKINS: You can use the term vetting, I suppose. It's probably helpful to have some people who can at least bring to them some awareness of those churches and their histories, their ministries. KAYE (voice-over): Reverend Harkins met with the administration's head of faith-based initiatives about his church which is under consideration. The Obamas came here just 48 hours before the inauguration.

(on camera): It was a full house the day the Obama family attended services here. About 1,300 people showed up for church. Mr. Obama sat right here and then his wife Michelle and the girls and the church deacons right up front.

(voice-over): White House staff prefer a family-oriented church that serves the needy, one where the Obamas won't be a distraction. The church has to be able to handle tight security, maybe even metal detectors.

(on camera): The White House wants a church that's close by. The First Baptist Church is only about six blocks or so from the White House. President Harry Truman used to walk over. Another president, Jimmy Carter, was a member here. In fact, he taught Sunday school.

(voice-over): Church deacon Shirley McBath has fond memories of the Carters and all of the excitement they brought.

SHIRLEY MCBATH, DEACON, FIRST ST. BAPTIST CHURCH: Policemen and their rifles, up prancing around on top of the buildings, making sure that the church was secure. And then when you entered the door, sometimes you were met by some the dogs that had just sniffed out the church.

KAYE: While the White House is busy vetting, some churches have begun lobbying. First Baptist is touting its basketball court. It sent this letter inviting the president to visit. The pastor at Calvary Baptist Church used her blog to invite the first lady, and a bishop for Foundry United Methodist Church sent this welcome letter.

(on camera): In all, 14 presidents worship at this church including President Clinton, who chose the Foundry. But what may really pull President Obama in may be the fact that President Lincoln, who he's especially fond of, helped raise money for this church.

(voice-over): Ultimately, the Obamas will decide. But the White House has been flooded with hundreds of church invitations.

Back at Nineteenth Street Baptist ...

(on camera): Have you or are you actively lobbying the first family to join here as others have?

HARKINS: Absolutely not. I made the point of saying from the pulpit that we were not going to write any letters, we were not going to make any phone calls, and we were not going to strategize for the first family, that we were going to trust God's providential hand.

KAYE (voice-over): If it's God's design that the Obamas should worship here, Reverend Derrick Harkins says that will be a blessing.

Randi Kaye, CNN, Washington. (END VIDEOTAPE)

NGUYEN: It is really fascinating how -- yes, they lobby -- they lobby just like a business would lobby, you know, to get someone to come there and join. Wow.

HOLMES: You got lobbyists on every other thing going on in Washington.

NGUYEN: And churches.

HOLMES: Might as well.

NGUYEN: All right. Well, President Obama has got other pressing matters on his mind these days as well, including the pirate standoff, and issue number one, that being the economy, of course.

HOLMES: And we will be talking to our John King about all of that. He's going to be with us live when we get right back.


NGUYEN: Let's get you the latest now in the standoff at sea as Somali pirates hold a U.S. cargo ship's captain hostage.

HOLMES: And Navy warships are keeping a close watch on the situation, the White House is as well -- John King as well. He joins us now to see what's coming up at the top of the hour with "STATE OF THE UNION."

John, it's always good to have you here with us. This pirate situation is getting a bit out of control and it continues to draw out. But the president -- are they making a calculated effort to keep him at least a bit of a distance away from this thing?

JOHN KING, "STATE OF THE UNION" HOST: Well, the president is following it closely, T.J. and Betty. And good morning to you.

It's a challenge for the president, because on the one hand, you would say it's one American held hostage by these pirates, you might call them terrorists. They are certainly outlaws. On the other hand, you know, this is one of these -- it's a yet another reminder, we saw it with the North Korean missile launch last week -- presidents don't get to pick their challenges.

This president, of course, is mostly focus on the economy here at home. But, of course, things like this pop up. It is a test of his leadership. It is a test of how he stands up to people who essentially get in the face and poke a thorn in the side of the United States of America. This problem has been going on for quite some time, but this is the first American held hostage in a situation like this.

So, you know, what can a president do from Washington, D.C.? You mentioned the Navy resources out there. They are keeping a close eye on this. But this is one of those challenges that could -- in terms of how it is handled by the administration -- prove to be a telling moment of how this president deals with a crisis.

NGUYEN: Absolutely, because -- I mean, isn't it just understood that the U.S. does not deal with hostage-takers? I mean, you don't speak with them directly, especially as a president?

KING: Well, there are Americans that are held against their will around the world. There are, for example, in Iran right now, you know, an American journalist that the Iranian say is a spy. That is always a source of tension.

But with another government, even with the Iranian government, with whom we have such poor relations, there are back-channel diplomacy or sometimes direct conversations, this one is more tricky because you're dealing with people who don't have a country as a home. And even if you say Somalia is their home, Somalia doesn't have a stable government at the moment. So, it is a fascinating challenge, it's essentially a president of the United States, the leader of the world's biggest superpower, dealing, trying to figure out a way to deal with a bunch of thugs.

And, Betty, you make a key point. We don't, quote/unquote, "negotiate with terrorists." Now, you can have conversations about trying to secure this man's release, but you will see in this town and elsewhere in the world, people are saying, well, you don't negotiate with terrorists and there should be a tougher military reaction, there should be a blockade around the coast of Somalia, to keep these ships from coming and going. This is a debate that has now rippling up because it is an American held on that lifeboat and it is, again, a major challenge -- not only for the U.S. Navy and for this president of the United States, but also for governments around the world. You've seen France and other governments have to deal with this this past week as well.

HOLMES: All right. John, we got a little less than a minute left. We have a ton of topics we know you're going to be hitting on during your show. But let's talk about two at least, a lot of people are talking about. One, the big mystery in Washington and it's hard to keep a secret in Washington. What church he might be going to today? And, also, another mystery solved, we know about the dog now.

NGUYEN: The first dog.

HOLMES: So, I know this is the hard stuff you're used to, but these are ...

KING: It's important stuff, right?

HOLMES: It's important stuff.

KING: It is important stuff -- again, we're not even at 100-day mark yet, and we're still getting to know this president from how he deals with challenges like we were just discussing, and how he deals with family life at the White House. And for some Americans, that's very important. So, we will watch the president this morning as he and the family go out to Easter services. And we'll bring you pictures of that when we get them. And, of course, we are keeping track of the first dog story. We are now told that it is Bo. That is a Portuguese Water Dog and that the first family will be getting their new dog in the week ahead.

And if you're Sasha and Malia Obama, you're very happy -- because you moved in to a new house. You're in a strange town. You're getting settled in at your new school. And now, you're going to have a dog running the beautiful grounds of the White House.

And, on the one hand, we could say this is silly, it's not newsworthy, but we follow our president as leaders and we also follow our presidents, particularly, a relatively young president with a young family. We want to get to know them better. And -- so, we will watch today as they go off to church and we will certainly want to get to know Bo.

I don't know if maybe we could try to book Bo here on "STATE OF THE UNION," but I'm not sure how that one would go.


NGUYEN: Bo, the new first dog.

Hey, I know you have a lot of really interesting guests coming up on the show today. Tell us a little bit about that.

KING: Well, we are fascinated by our first guest right off the top. We have an exclusive interview with General Ray Odierno. He is the top commander of U.S. forces in Iraq. He was the one who -- more than anyone else -- pushed for the big surge strategy.

Remember, candidate Obama said the surge was a reckless escalation in Iraq. Now, President Obama is crediting the surge with putting in place relative security in Iraq that allows him to bring the troops home, he hopes, by about a year and a half from now.

So, we're going to talk with General Odierno. There has been an uptick in violence recently. There are some indications that some of the interim deadlines up to the 2011 date where all U.S. troops are supposed to come home, there are some indications some of those interim deadlines may be hard to keep. So, we're going to have a conversation with General Odierno.

Remember, President Obama said he'd bring those troops home, but, Betty and T.J., there are still more than 140,000 Americans in Iraq right now. We'll get an update from the man in charge.

NGUYEN: All right. Looking forward to that.

HOLMES: All right. John, we appreciate you as always. Good to see you.

KING: Thank you, guys.

HOLMES: And we will see John, again, of course, at the top of the hour for "STATE OF THE UNION," 9:00 o'clock Eastern Time. Stay here with us.


HOLMES: All right. Final day of the Masters, and the man everybody is watching right now, he might not even play much a role in this final day. Our Larry Smith, though we're watching him, he's in Augusta, Georgia, for us here.

Larry, a lot of people are saying this is kind of have been of a snoozer of a tournament so far -- a few highlights, but still, not a lot of the drama and excitement people hope to see around the Masters.

LARRY SMITH, CNN SPORTS: Well, we had that big first day where a record number of golfers shoot under par, 38, the most ever on a Thursday. And a couple -- could have been quite Friday and Saturday, but then, today, I think you'll see a lot of drama. The name Kenny Perry is the one everyone is watching. He is the co-leader along with Angel Cabrera. Both of them are at 11 under par.

Perry is a great story. He's 48 years old, and last fall, he said that winning the Ryder Cup in his home state of Kentucky was the most ultimate accomplishment of his long career. But he says his dad has always wanted him to win a green jacket. And now, here he is, one round away from doing that, winning the Masters, thrilling his dad and becoming the oldest golfer ever to win a major.


KENNY PERRY, TIED FOR MASTERS LEAD: He always calls me up and critiques every shot and every hole. "What were you thinking about that hole, son? What's going on?" I know you can hit it better than that."


PERRY: I know this probably be the pinnacle of my career, by far, to win -- to win this golf tournament, you know? I can't express enough, I've said it before, how much Valhalla meant to me, for me and my dad, and my family. But I can't really answer that question until if it happens tomorrow night. I'll tell you a lot more then.


SMITH: Again, Perry is your co-leader. What a story for him, T.J. He's missed the cut here, five out of his nine trips to the Masters, and never earned more than $50,000 any time he's been here at the Masters, and, yet, here he is, could be the champion at the end of the day, and take home the $1.3 million prize. Not bad for the 48-year- old Kenny Perry.

Let's go back to you.

HOLMES: All right, my man, I'll take you back here and I'm told I got to let you go. But -- we appreciate you, but have to let people know Tiger is several shots back. NGUYEN: Yes.

HOLMES: Six or seven shots back, he's not really in this thing. He could, of course, make a comeback.

NGUYEN: You never know. It is Tiger.

HOLMES: It's Tiger. It's possible.

NGUYEN: We'll be watching.

Well, a rising TV star is making the move from television show, "House" -- you may have seen that -- to the actual White House.

HOLMES: Yes. You'll recognize the face probably, but he is telling us now why he's sacrificing a big payday to join team Obama.


T.J. HOLMES, CNN ANCHOR: So welcome back everybody to this CNN SUNDAY MORNING. Glad you could be here. I'm T.J. Holmes.

BETTY NGUYEN, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, good morning. I'm Betty Nguyen.

It is Easter Sunday, thanks for starting you're day with us.

Pope Benedict uses his traditional Easter message to push for the end of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Now just a short while ago, the Pope challenged the entire world to rediscover the kind of hope it would take to end wars and poverty and financial turmoil. The Pontiff is set to visit the Holy Land in just a few weeks.

Also, there have been no arrests yet in the killings of three people at a home outside of New Orleans. Two children among the dead, listen to this, a 23-month-old baby among the dead, including a 6-year-old. They were shot and killed in their beds, as well as 19-year-old woman who was found dead in the home.

An 11-year-old girl is in stable condition, but several gunshot wounds. She did survive that and police are looking for two men who broke in and shot all of them. No motive at this point.

HOLMES: The crew of the US-Flagged Maersk Alabama is safe in Mombasa, Kenya. The ship is considered a crime scene now and the crewmen won't be able leave until the FBI investigate that pirate attack. The ship's captain however, Richard Phillips, still being held hostage on a lifeboat by pirates.

NGUYEN: Well, a U.S. Navy boat is trying to reach the Captain Phillips and it was actually forced to turn back; that lifeboat out of fuel now and drifting off the coast line of Somalia. We want to get more from CNN Pentagon Correspondent Barbara Starr.


BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: A U.S. official directly familiar with what is going on off the coast of Somalia tells CNN a small naval party from the USS Bainbridge boarded a small boat and tried to approach the lifeboat in which Captain Phillips is being held.

When that naval party got near the lifeboat, the pirates fired warning shots apparently and the U.S. Navy retreated very quickly, not wanting to do anything to endanger Captain Phillips. The goal of the United States is to get him safely released and take the pirates into custody according to this official.

Since that incident, there has been additional word that Captain Phillips is uninjured and ok, according to this official, but there is a good deal of concern, by all accounts the lifeboat has now moved within miles of the border of Somalia off the coastline of that very troubled country. The U.S. Navy is keeping watch 24/7.

Barbara Starr, CNN, Bahrain.


HOLMES: Well, what do you do when you look at your caller I.D. and it's your university? What do you do Betty? The University of Texas is on your caller I.D., do you take the call?

NGUYEN: I pick it up, yes absolutely.

HOLMES: Do you pick up that phone? Well, the University of Arkansas has been calling and writing letters a lot to me as well...


HOLMES: ... because they see we made something of ourselves.

NGUYEN: And you respond, right?

HOLMES: Yes, sometimes. But what they do, of course, your university tracks you down. They want you to make a contribution ...

NGUYEN: Right.

HOLMES: And you should actually do that. However, a lot of people these days are out of work. Christine Romans now explains maybe it's time for you to call them up and ask what your old school...

NGUYEN: Can do for you.

HOLMES: Can do for you, yes.


CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN HOST, "YOUR $$$$$" (voice over): Are you an out of work tar heel? The University of North Carolina wants to give you a $100 discount on Kaplan Test Prep courses.

The University of Michigan offers grads discounts on health insurance and prescriptions. At the University of Chicago, the law school's free day long career counseling event sold out in just 24 hours.

And at St. Johns University in New York former students down on their luck who've lost jobs within the last six months pay half price for a graduate degree.

KATHLEEN DAVIS, DIR. OF GRAD. ADMISSION, ST. JOHNS UNIV.: St. Johns is built on a contention mission where we wish to assist those and they're focused on assisting those who are in need. At this point in time, our alumni are in need and that is why the program was put into place.

ROMANS: MyWorkster is Web site that helps alums network with others who've also graduated from that university. Registration has jumped 1,500 percent over the past few months.

DOUG BARUCHIN, DIR. OF OPERATIONS, MYWORKSTER: It makes it much easier to talk to somebody that you actually worked with in the past saying, hey, I'm out of a job, I need help. I'm coming back to my university, what can you do for me?

ROMANS: So many people asking Duke University what can you do for me? This recent life after banking event sold out.

ARUNA INALSINGH, PRESIDENT DUKE UNIV. CLUB OF NY: We signed up with a minimum number of people and it ended up being -- wee had huge waiting list and so now we've actually been trying -- you know, we told everybody, ok, sold out and go on standby.

ROMANS: Alums either looking for a job or just brushing up connections.

JORGE GUIGOU, DUKE UNIVERSITY ALUMNUS: You hope that, you know, there will be another day and you can learn from those experiences. And it's always a good opportunity to try to meet more people.

ROMANS (on camera): Call the Alumni Office. There are a lot of different programs out there from free membership to alumni associations to cash assistance or discounted tuition if you go back for an advanced degree, but act soon. Some of these offers are limited.

An important note, college graduates still have a much lower unemployment rate than the nation as a whole; 4.3 percent versus 8.5 percent.

Christine Romans, CNN, New York.


HOLMES: In our "Faces of Faith" segment this morning, we turn to a church in Marietta, Georgia, where the congregation saying they are growing closer together also growing closer to God by writing one verse at a time.


HOLMES: These binders contain a complete handwritten copy of the Bible, compiled in just 40 days of Lent by the members of the Bethany Presbyterian Church in Marietta, Georgia.

REV. BYEONGHO CHOI, REV. THOMAS PRESBYTERIAN: It's not quick reading in the past. It's meditating one by one, word by word. And they are thinking and meditating on what's the meaning of the Bible.

So it's way different feeling, way different experience.

HOLMES: This copy was handwritten in the Korean language by more than 400 members of the Church.

CHOI: And when I write down, there are more than two or three chapters his hand is almost numb. It is not piece of cake. It's really hard.

HOLMES: He compares the experience with that of the ancient scribes. Although no original biblical text exists, this church believes the scribe actually preserves the very words of God.

PASTOR LIM, ENGLISH CONGREGATION: We really believe that the Bible is the fully divine-inspired authoritative word of God.

And we as a church it is our duty.

HOLMES: Bethany's English speaking congregation transcribed the New Testament that's nearly 200,000 words. Even the children contribute. The pastor hopes the members will get to know God better through the process.

LIM: By handwriting it has recreated a connection and intimacy with God so that people can again have that absolute intimate relationship with our Lord, Jesus Christ.

HOLMES: This time of reflection and meditation also brings families closer to together. The Wall family, sits together and write after dinner.

LARRY WALL, FATHER: Couldn't think of a better definition of quality family time.

HOLMES: 15-year-old Ashley Wall chose to handwrite the first eight chapters in the Gospel of Luke, now the family plans to name their unborn son Luke.

ASHLEY WALL, DAUGHTER: We're all getting a lot stronger in my faith, I know I am definitely. And this is bringing us together as a family. It's like, it's so amazing.

HOLMES: On Easter Sunday, all the handwritten copies are brought together and offered to God during the worship service.


HOLMES: And you remember? We had another "Faces of Faith" segment not long ago where there was a bus tour actually...


HOLMES: To celebrate the 30th anniversary of the new and National version. It was driving across the country and having everybody stop and write a few verses of the Bible...

NGUYEN: Right.

HOLMES: ... so a few efforts out there like this.

NGUYEN: Absolutely.

And at the White House unveils though -- let's talk about these Easter celebration -- unveils a new 2009 souvenir Easter egg.

HOLMES: All right, that's interesting.

NGUYEN: I think we have a picture of it. It's green, even with its own seal. First time we've gotten to see the egg before the annual Easter egg roll which is tomorrow by the way. And we understand there might be a few showers in store for that.

Not the best weather but hey, you know what, the kids aren't going to care. They're going to have a good time no matter what.

HOLMES: I think Reynolds said it's going to be a little earlier in the day...

NGUYEN: Right.

HOLMES: ... that it's going to be some bad weather. But the thing goes all day 8 to 5.

NGUYEN: Can you imagine?

HOLMES: I think I was told an all-day Easter egg roll. I hope they find that little thing, that egg.

NGUYEN: The First Lady is going to be busy. 8:00 to 5:00 -- that is a long day.

HOLMES: I wonder if Sasha and Malia will actually participate since they've got the new dog to play with now.

NGUYEN: Oh that's true, I don't think so.

HOLMES: They'll be busy.

NGUYEN: I would think so.

HOLMES: Of course, they have to.

NGUYEN: After all ages love Easters especially with their Easter egg rolls. I never really did that I just only did the Easter egg hunt.

HOLMES: God I didn't do that much either.

NGUYEN: And I never found all of those egg either.

House start speaking after a while especially when the weather is bad and have you to do it inside like some folks might have to today.

HOLMES: They're going to have to around the country.

Well, there's going to be someone else joining the White House and going to be joining the Obama administration.

That guy -- you might recognize him. He's got a few movies out that maybe you've seen, maybe you haven't.

NGUYEN: "White Castle"?

HOLMES: "White Castle"


HOLMES: ... is one and another one has to do with smoking weed and all kinds of stuff. So but he is joining the Obama administration.

NGUYEN: Well, yes he is and now he's hoping that fans will follow him into politics.

Meet the newest member of President Obama's team when we come right back.


HOLMES: "American Boy" there by Estelle.

Well, we have an American university backtracking a bit right now. Arizona State, they said they would not give President Obama an honorary degree when he delivers its commencement address next month.

Now, the university says they'll pay tribute to the President in another way like expanding his most important scholarship program and then naming that program after him. Of course, eyebrows went up a bit when a spokeswoman said ASU would not give the President an honorary degree as is customary at a lot of schools when they have commencement speakers.

But they said they wouldn't give him one, Betty, because apparently he's not accomplished enough. Saying they recognize people for their body of work.

NGUYEN: His work as a Senator and he's now the President?

HOLMES: That is a body of work in itself, I would think. Ok. Let's just move on here. But they said the President's body of work is yet to come; they are waiting to see what he's going to do as President.

The university President said there was no intent to slight...

NGUYEN: Slight.

HOLMES: ... him but of course, people start looking back into the records...

NGUYEN: The history, yes...

HOLMES: ... well, you honored this guy.

NGUYEN: A senator, and that you know what, a few years?

HOLMES: And he's only been for one term I believe...

NGUYEN: One term yes ...

HOLMES: ... and Sandra Day O'Connor that she was there, they gave her honorary degree ...

NGUYEN: Very early on, yes...

HOLMES: ... very early on in her Supreme Court service there.

NGUYEN: All right, it's on the record now.

Well, we want to talk about this too, because it's been a big week for actor Kal Penn. And we're not just talking about what happened to his character on the television show "House."

HOLMES: That's a very popular show there. But he is actually going to be leaving acting behind, for awhile at least, to focus on a new goal.

As Brooke Anderson tells us a pretty big change for a guy best known for getting lost on his way to "White Castle."


BROOKE ANDERSON, CNN ENTERTAINMENT CORRESPONDENT: Kal Penn regularly transforms himself into many things as an actor but his newest role might just be his toughest challenge yet.

Kal Penn the actor is now Kal Penn the political insider. He has just been hired as the Associate Director in the White House office of Public Liaison. And Penn knows it's a long way from playing "Kumar" in the "Harold and Kumar" movie franchise.

KAL PENN, ACTOR, WHITE HOUSE LIASON: I want something we haven't had in a while, something different, something that will really hit the spot.

ANDERSON: And a doctor on the FOX TV drama "House."

PENN: You didn't keep this patient despite the cat; you kept this patient because of the cat. You're starting to (INAUDIBLE) to it.

ANDERSON: Now Penn is putting all acting on hold for now and he admits his new gig pays substantially less than what he earns in tinsel town but that's ok. The 31-year-old says, he'll be doing what he loves and that's bridging the gap between the White House and the Asian Americans in our community.

Penn told us he has wanted to be a part of the administration since he campaigned for President Barack Obama and through subsequent talks with the President post-election.

PENN: Barack ran an incredible campaign based on really small donations for the most part. And so I think that the influences that you'll see and the hope is that those influences of the average person that -- you know the everyday American whose voice probably hasn't been heard in, gosh, I don't know how long, is actually going to come to the forefront. And especially with the economy the way it is and the list is almost endless unfortunately right now.

I'm really looking forward to seeing the types of changes that we have not had the last eight years.

ANDERSON: Penn who is a registered independent just wrapped up his stint on the TV show "House" and is planning to fly to D.C. next week to look for a place to live.


HOLMES: All right. A new role for him.


HOLMES: We're not used to seeing him in anything serious necessarily but except on "House."

NGUYEN: We saw him a lot during the campaign though. He spoke out a lot. So for some folks, this isn't surprising that he would definitely make that transition.

HOLMES: You know, he spent some time with Larry King and featured on...

NGUYEN: Right.

HOLMES: But the other "House" is a controversy but his character on "House" just committed suicide. That was on not long ago. But a new role for him and we'll see how he does in his new political role now.

Well, what happens when the rescuers need to be rescued?

NGUYEN: Yes, straight ahead, we're going to show you how this year's disasters and severe weather have taken a toll on the Red Cross.


NGUYEN: So it is their business to help people in their worst moments. But now, the Red Cross needs one thing that it gives so freely.

Here is Jacqueline Sit from affiliate KWTV. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It is really pretty stunning. We're kind of in the mode of responding to tornadoes and so to see a wildfire create this kind of devastation and to see people suffering so much and for a few days they didn't know if they had a home to go back to.

JACQUELINE SIT, KWTV, NEWS ON 6: With the relentless wildfires that destroyed dozens of homes, the tornadoes that displaced hundreds of families and the ice storm in January, the Red Cross has helped thousands who were displaced in their homes.

One of them is Kenneth Wertz who lost his home in the fire Thursday.

KENNETH WERTZ, FIRE VICTIM: It's hard to explain, isn't it? There's not enough gratitude you can give folks like this. It's really amazing. It really is.

SIT: But the Red Cross financial funds are running on fumes. They had surpassed the number of disasters compared to last year and in dire need of donations to feed their resources.

APRIL WILKERSON, RED CROSS SPOKESPERSON: That money stays locally and will help buy the food that they lost and buy the clothing that they lost and, in many cases, medications that their lives depend on. So to meet those basic immediate needs...

SIT: Necessities to help families like the Wertzs and many more in the face of devastation.

WERTZ: If it wasn't for Red Cross and all the other people that stopped by just out of nowhere, you've just never even seen before, it would be total devastation. I don't think anybody could bee -- it would be hard to make it through something like this without these folks.

SIT: Jacqueline Sit with News on 6.


NGUYEN: And when it comes to politics, the name-calling reaches new heights or lows, depending on your perspective.

HOLMES: It's hard to do in politics to come up with something new out there to insult somebody but we have a new one here and we'll tell you why some people say President Obama is pushing fascist policies.


HOLMES: He is, of course, still very new in office and pretty popular out there as well which may explain why President Obama has been able to duck a lot of that flak so far.

NGUYEN: Yes, but as Carol Costello tells us, critics are trying to a new tactic by linking him to something many Americans fear. CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: T.J. and Betty, President Obama hasn't even wrapped up his first 100 days, but his harshest critics are singing the same tune.

As "The Chronicle" describes it they are dropping the f-bomb as in fascism whenever they can.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This plan will require significant resources from the federal government.

COSTELLO (voice over): That's the sound of big government. You would expect conservatives to compare the president and his economic rescue plan with maybe...


COSTELL: FDR and the "New Deal." But what's up with this?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (singing): Oh hail, Messiah. Obama, Obama.

COSTELLO: Linking the president with the old Communist Soviet National Anthem? And this?

GLENN BECK, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: We're into socialism now. That's not our final destination. Our final destination is happy faced fascism.

COSTELL: That's right -- Fascism. The big f-bomb has been dropped by Beck and others.

Quin Hillyer writing in "The American Spectator" compares Obama's rescue plan to the economic policies of fascist Italy.

QUIN HILLYER, WASHINGTON EXAMINER: It first started with the takeover of the banks. And when you start taking over banks, you've done the very first step that Mussolini did. And, again, every time you centralize power in that way, you start to erode freedom.

COSTELLO: Liberals were quick to poke fun.

JON STEWART, HOST, "THE DAILY SHOW": That's not tyranny, that's democracy. See, now you're in the minority. It's supposed to taste like a [bleep] taco.

COSTELLO: All joking aside, one academic says conservatives are spooked by the intervention of President Obama and even of President Bush seeing it as a threat of the foundation of free market America.

GEORGE LAKOFF, UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA, BERKELEY: What it does is it brings back all the old Reaganesque ideas about government being the problem, government interfering with your life, government taking away your freedom.

COSTELLO: The removal of General Motors' president was particularly upsetting to conservatives.

HILLYER: When you have the President of the United States, in effect, firing the head of a private company, you, all of a sudden are no longer dealing with free enterprise.

COSTELLO: Which raises the question -- how will any of this name calling play on Main Street?

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: To say fascist, autocrat, communist, dictator, those are very extreme terms. Most Americans don't buy that.

COSTELLO: So far, at least, that's backed up by CNN's latest poll; 65 percent of all say the increased government involvement in how businesses are run is just about right or could be increased. But that's not likely to cool the conservative rhetoric.

SCHNEIDER: We have new media, new political media and they encourage the kind of extremist language. They encourage what I call apocalypticism. Everyone you don't like becomes Hitler or Stalin.


COSTELLO: And often that extremist rhetoric generates big ratings on TV and radio and that translates into big money -- another reason to keep the rhetoric heated -- T.J., Betty.

NGUYEN: All right.

You know, ahead, the political risks President Obama faces if he wades into direct dealings with pirates operating off of Somalia.

HOLMES: And also, only days back from a surprise visit to Iraq, the president's bag is packed again for an upcoming trip to Mexico. We'll take a look at that and a whole lot more.

That's coming up, straight ahead with John King and "STATE OF THE UNION." That starts right after we give you a look at some of the day's top stories.

Of course, hear the Pope. Pope Benedict uses his traditional Easter message push for an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. A short while ago, Benedict challenged the entire world to rediscover the kind of hope it will take to end wars, poverty and financial turmoil. The Pontiff set to visit the Holy Land in just a few weeks.

Also, the update here on the crew of that US flagged Maersk Alabama is safely in Mombasa, Kenya. The ship is considered a crime scene now and the crewmen won't be able to leave until FBI investigates the attack. The ship's captain, of course, Richard Phillips is still being held hostage on that lifeboat by those four pirates.

Also, no arrests yet in the killing of three young people at a home outside New Orleans; a fourth victim is in stable condition with several gunshot wounds. Police now are looking for two suspects. Also, in Thailand, massive protests in Bangkok. The government there has declared a state of emergency there. Anti-government demonstrators went on a rampage attacking a car they thought was carrying the country's prime minister.

We do want to hand it over now to "STATE OF THE UNION" with John King.