House GOP budget plan heats up as campaign issue, draws White House scorn and author's defense
WASHINGTON (AP) -- The new debt-slashing budget plan pushed by House Republicans heated up as a presidential campaign issue Sunday as the proposal's architect, Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, sparred with top Democrats over its political fallout and downplayed the possibility he could be tapped as a vice presidential candidate.
Senior White House adviser David Plouffe dismissed the GOP plan Sunday as "a lot of candy, not a lot of vegetables," and charged that it would be "rubber-stamped" as law if leading Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney is elected.
"This is really the Romney-Ryan plan," Plouffe said, adding that its mix of across-the-board tax cuts and stiff budget cuts "showers huge tax cuts on millionaires and billionaires paid for by senior and veterans."
Ryan tried to tamp down speculation that he could be tapped for the No. 2 spot on the GOP ticket, although who will be the nominee is far from settled.
"I would have to consider it, but it's not something I'm even thinking about right now because right -- I think our job in Congress is pretty important," Ryan said. "And what we believe we owe the country is, if we don't like the direction the president is taking us, which we don't, we owe them a specific sharp contrast and a different path that they can select in November. And doing this in Congress is really important."
Afghans: US paid $50K for each villager killed in shooting spree, $11K for each wounded
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (AP) -- The U.S. paid $50,000 in compensation for each villager killed and $11,000 for each person wounded in a shooting rampage allegedly carried out by a rogue American soldier in southern Afghanistan, Afghan officials said Sunday.
The families were told that the money came from President Barack Obama. The unusually large payouts were the latest move by the White House to mend relations with the Afghan people after the killings threatened to shatter already tense relations.
Army Staff Sgt. Robert Bales is accused of sneaking off his base on March 11, then creeping into houses in two nearby villages and opening fire on families as they slept.
The killings came as tensions between the U.S. and Afghanistan were strained following the burning of Qurans at a U.S. base in February. That act -- which U.S. officials have acknowledged was a mistake -- sparked riots and attacks that killed more than 30 people, including six American soldiers.
There have been no violent protests following the March 11 shootings in Kandahar province's Panjwai district, but demands for justice on Afghan terms have been getting louder since Bales was flown out of the country to a U.S. military prison. Many Afghans in Kandahar have continued to argue that there must have been multiple gunmen and accused the U.S. government of using Bales as a scapegoat.
Across the US, black churches amplify the call for justice after death of Trayvon Martin
EATONVILLE, Fla. (AP) -- African-American community churches around the nation are amplifying the cries for justice in the shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin.
Martin was shot while wearing a hooded sweatshirt as he walked home on a rainy night in a gated community. The neighborhood watch volunteer who shot him, 28-year-old George Zimmerman, is the son of a white father and Hispanic mother, and the demands to charge him in Martin's slaying have increased.
In religious centers from Florida to Atlanta, New York and Chicago, many preachers and their congregations wore hooded sweatshirts in Martin's memory. But while the call continued to be for the arrest of shooter George Zimmerman, there were also a large call to use the incident to spark a larger movement.
Santorum says GOP nomination hardly settled, voters still seek someone they can trust
GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) -- Another victory in hand but still badly trailing rival Mitt Romney, Republican presidential hopeful Rick Santorum vowed to continue his campaign despite an increasingly steep climb to the nomination.
Santorum, buoyed by Saturday's win in Louisiana's primary that boosted his spirit but did little to narrow the delegate gap, urged his supporters to stick with him even as much of the GOP establishment has coalesced around Romney's increasingly inevitable coronation. Even in the face of the political headwinds, the former Pennsylvania senator seemed unwilling to acknowledge it would take a dramatic change in momentum to deny Romney his turn as the GOP nominee.
"Even though a lot of folks are saying this race is over, the people in Louisiana said, 'No, it's not.' They still want to see someone who they can trust, someone who's not running an Etch a Sketch campaign, but one who has their principals written on their heart, not on an erasable tablet," Santorum said Sunday on CBS' "Face the Nation". "And I think that's what helped us deliver the win in Louisiana, and I think we're going to do very well up here in Wisconsin, too."
But it's going to be a tough fight, for sure.
Romney remains far ahead with 568 delegates to Santorum's 273, according to an Associated Press tally. Newt Gingrich follows with 135 and Ron Paul has 50.
Obama to issue blunt appeal to China as N. Korean threat looms over summit
SEOUL, South Korea (AP) -- Trying to muscle North Korea toward peace over provocation, President Barack Obama is broadening his squeeze play from the heart of this tensely divided peninsula, pressuring China to show more influence and warning North Korea that it is headed toward a crippling "dead end" of isolation.
From this capital teeming with pride, Obama sought for a second day Monday to contrast the success of the South to the impoverished North, whose nuclear and missile tests have kept its neighbor on edge and itself on the wrong side of the world community. Already, he said, looking into the North from near the border was like witnessing a "time warp" of despair.
In a speech at Hankuk University, one of Seoul's top-ranked schools, Obama will campaign against the spread of nuclear material and weaponry with North Korea's shadow figuring large. The North plans to launch a satellite with a long-range rocket next month against fierce objections from world powers, as the same technology could be used to fire a missile.
Obama will also try to build diplomatic force by turning to China, North Korea's main ally, when he meets with Chinese President Hu Jintao. That conversation is among a flurry of engagements for Obama, including a final meeting with departing Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, on the sidelines of a major Nuclear Security Summit.
In a news conference here Sunday, Obama challenged North Korea's pride and its plans, questioning whether its new, young leader, Kim Jong Un, was even truly in charge. Obama's trip comes as North Koreans mark the end of the 100-day mourning period for longtime leader Kim Jong Il, who died of a heart attack in December.
French gunman's brother hit with preliminary terror and murder charges; denies role
PARIS (AP) -- A Frenchman suspected of helping his brother plot attacks against Jewish schoolchildren and paratroopers was handed preliminary murder and terrorism charges Sunday.
But Abdelkader Merah denied any role in the attacks. Investigators looking into France's worst terror attacks in years believe Merah helped his brother Mohamed prepare the killings, and are investigating whether they were linked to an international network of extremists or worked on their own.
Abdelkader's lawyer said he feels like "a scapegoat."
"No one knew anything" about what Mohamed was plotting, lawyer Anne-Sophie Laguens told reporters in Paris. She dismissed reports that Abdelkader had praised his brother's attacks. "He was never proud of those actions."
Mohamed Merah, 23, claimed responsibility for killing three Jewish schoolchildren, a rabbi and three paratroopers earlier this month. After a 32-hour standoff with police, he died Thursday in a hail of gunfire as he jumped out a window of his apartment in the southern city of Toulouse.
Supreme Court ruling on Obama's health care law: Legal winner may not be political winner
WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Supreme Court's ruling on the constitutionality of President Barack Obama's health care overhaul is likely to shake the presidential election race in early summer. But the winners in the court will not necessarily be the winners in the political arena.
No doubt, a decision to throw out the entire law would be a defeat for Obama. His judgment and leadership, even his reputation as a former constitutional law professor, would be called into question for pushing through a contentious and partisan health insurance overhaul only to see it declared unconstitutional by the court.
But it would not spell certain doom for his re-election. In fact, it would end the GOP argument that a Republican president must be elected to guarantee repeal of the law. It also could re-energize liberals, shift the spotlight onto insurance companies and reignite a debate about how to best provide health care.
If the court upholds the law, Obama would be vindicated legally. Republican constitutional criticisms would be undercut because five of the nine justices were nominated by Republican presidents.
But opposition would intensify in the political world. Without legal recourse, Republicans would gain new energy to argue that the only path to kill the law would be to elect a Republican president and enough GOP candidates to control the House and Senate. They might be wary of promising overnight repeal because a filibuster-proof Senate majority seems beyond their reach in the November election.
Pope urges Mexicans to wield faith against evil at giant Mass in shadow of Christ statue
SILAO, Mexico (AP) -- Pope Benedict XVI urged Mexicans to wield their faith against drug violence, poverty and other ills, celebrating Sunday Mass before a sea of hushed worshippers beneath a blazing sun in the highlight of his Mexican visit.
Many in the crowd said they were gratified by Benedict's recognition of their country's problems and said they felt reinvigorated in what they described as a daily struggle against criminality, corruption and economic hardship.
Benedict delivered the message to an estimated 350,000 people in the shadow of the Christ the King monument, one of the most important symbols of Mexican Christianity, which recalls the 1920s Roman Catholic uprising against the anti-clerical laws that forbade public worship services such as the one Benedict celebrated.
The pope flew over the monument in a Mexican military helicopter en route to the Mass at Bicentennial Park, where he rode in the popemobile through the enthusiastic crowd.
Often seen as austere and reserved, Benedict charmed the cheering crowd by donning a broad-brimmed Mexican sombrero that he wore on his way to the altar at the sun-drenched park.
Film director James Cameron begins dive to deepest spot on Earth, nearly 7 miles below surface
HONOLULU (AP) -- Director James Cameron has begun his solo journey to explore a place only two men have gone before -- to the Earth's deepest point.
The director of "Titanic," ''Avatar" and other films is using a specially designed submarine to descend nearly seven miles to the bottom of the Mariana Trench, an area 200 miles southwest of the Pacific island of Guam.
He began the dive Monday at approximately 5:15 a.m. local time, according Stephanie Montgomery of the National Geographic Society, where Cameron is an explorer-in-residence. That is early Sunday afternoon on the U.S. East Coast.
"RELEASE, RELEASE, RELEASE!" were the last words Cameron uttered before beginning the dive, according to a Twitter post from the expedition.
The scale of the trench is hard to grasp -- it's 120 times larger than the Grand Canyon and more than a mile deeper than Mount Everest is tall. It was expected to take Cameron 90 minutes to reach the bottom aboard his 12-ton, lime-green sub called "Deepsea Challenger." Once there, Cameron planned to spend six hours collecting samples for biologists and geologists to study. The return trip to the surface was forecast to take 70 minutes.
Next stop, Big Easy: Top-seeded Kentucky routs Baylor 82-70, headed back to the Final Four
ATLANTA (AP) -- Kentucky is taking its highlight show back to the Big Easy.
With an NBA-like display from a young team filled with future pros, top-seeded Wildcats advanced to the Final Four for the second year in a row with a 82-70 blitzing of Baylor in the South Regional final on Sunday.
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist scored 19 points, Anthony Davis added 18 points and 11 rebounds, and Terrence Jones dazzled in all the overlooked areas, leading the Wildcats (36-2) to a Bluegrass showdown with rival Louisville in the national semifinals next Saturday at New Orleans.
For all the hoopla sure to surround that game in the basketball-crazed state, Kentucky won't consider the season a success unless it wins two more games -- culminating in a national title.
"This team is playing for you and playing for each other," coach John Calipari told the predominantly blue-clad crowd when it was over. "Let's see if we can keep this thing rolling a bit."