Sunday, March 25, 2012

Published:

Obama issues appeal to N. Korea to "have the courage to pursue peace"

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) -- In a direct challenge to North Korean leaders, President Barack Obama implored them "to have the courage to pursue peace" while warning of the wrath of the world if they don't. Failure, he said, would mean a future without dignity, respect or hope for its people.

Obama stood by his pledge for a globe without nuclear weapons, declaring flatly that the United States has more than it needs and can cut its arsenal without weakening its security or that of its allies. That assessment put him on a collision course with congressional Republicans who say any significant cuts would undermine the U.S. ability to deter aggression.

In unusually personal terms, Obama said he spoke of his wish for further nuclear reductions as the president of the only nation ever to use nuclear weapons, as a commander whose country's nuclear codes are never far from his side, and as a protective father eager to erase the threat of nuclear annihilation.

Obama and other world leaders are in Seoul for a major international nuclear security summit. Obama plans to meet on the sidelines of the summit with several heads of government, including Russian and Chinese leaders.

Obama spoke most directly to North Korea's leaders, saying the internationally isolated country needs to change its ways because continuing down the same path will lead to "more broken dreams" and "more isolation." His blunt remarks came a day after he visited the Demilitarized Zone between North and South Korea and described the experience as akin to witnessing a "time warp" of despair.

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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."

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Across US, preachers and worshippers don hoodies in calling for justice in Trayvon Martin case

EATONVILLE, Fla. (AP) -- Wearing hooded sweatshirts similar to the one that Trayvon Martin wore on the night he was killed, many preachers and worshippers echoed calls for justice Sunday in the shooting death of an unarmed black teenager in Florida last month.

The one-month anniversary of Martin's death is Monday. He was shot while wearing a "hoodie" 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 grown ever louder. He had called police to report the hooded figure as suspicious; the 17-year-old Martin was carrying a bag of Skittles and a can of iced tea, talking to his girlfriend on his cellphone.

In African-American and other religious centers from Florida to Atlanta, New York and Chicago, messages from pulpits couldn't help but touch on a seemingly avoidable tragedy that continues to be rife with more questions than answers. But while the call continued for the arrest of Zimmerman, there were also pleas to use the incident to spark a larger movement.

"How do we turn pain into power?" the Rev. Jesse Jackson asked a standing-room only congregation of hundreds while preaching at Macedonia Missionary Baptist Church in Eatonville, Fla., about 20 miles from the site of the Sanford shooting. "How do we go from a moment to a movement that curries favor?"

Jackson preached a sermon entitled "The Substance of Things Hoped For." He called for Martin's "martyr" death to be used as an opportunity to revive the Civil Rights Commission and draw attention to long-standing issues. Very young children and teens sat in the choir behind him.

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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.

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Director James Cameron returns to the ocean's surface after journey to Earth's deepest point

HONOLULU (AP) -- Hollywood icon James Cameron has completed his journey to Earth's deepest point.

The director of "Titanic," ''Avatar" and other films used a specially designed submarine to dive nearly seven miles. He spent time exploring and filming the Mariana Trench, about 200 miles southwest of the Pacific island of Guam, according to members of the National Geographic expedition.

Cameron returned to the surface of the Pacific Ocean on Monday morning local time, Sunday evening on the U.S. East Coast, according to Stephanie Montgomery of the National Geographic Society.

He spent a little more than three hours under water after reaching a depth of 35,756 feet before he began his return to the surface, according to information provided by the expedition team. He had planned to spend up to six hours on the sea floor.

Cameron's return aboard his 12-ton, lime-green sub called Deepsea Challenger was a "faster-than-expected 70-minute ascent," according to National Geographic.

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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 in a visit that has warmed many Mexicans to a pontiff they often saw as austere.

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.

The pope delivered the message to an estimated 350,000 people against the backdrop of the Christ the King monument, one of the most important symbols of Mexican Christianity. The statue recalls a 1920s Roman Catholic uprising against the anti-clerical laws that forbade public worship services such as the one Benedict celebrated.

"We pray for him to help us, that there be no more violence in the country," said Lorena Diaz, 50, who owns a jeans factory in nearby Leon. "We pray that he gives us peace."

With his first visit to Mexico, the pontiff appeared to lay to rest doubts that he was a distant, cold pope who could never compare to the charisma and personal connection that his predecessor, John Paul II, forged over his five visits to Mexico. Many Mexicans said they were surprised by their depth of feeling for Benedict.

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Powerful quake hits central Chile coast; no immediate reports of deaths or major damage

SANTIAGO, Chile (AP) -- A magnitude-7.1 earthquake struck central Chile Sunday night, the strongest and longest that many people said they had felt since a huge quake devastated the area two years ago. Some people were injured by falling ceiling material, but there were no reports of major damage or deaths due to quake-related accidents.

The quake struck at 7:30 p.m. about 16 miles (27 kilometers) north-northwest of Talca, a city of more than 200,000 people where residents said the shaking lasted about a minute.

Buildings swayed in Chile's capital 136 miles (219 kilometers) to the north, and people living along a 480-mile (770-kilometer) stretch of Chile's central coast were briefly warned to head for higher ground.

Residents were particularly alarmed in Constitucion, where much of the coastal downtown at the mouth of a river was obliterated by the tsunami caused by the 8.8-magnitude quake in 2010.

Panic also struck in Santiago and other cities, with people running out of skyscrapers, and many neighborhoods were left partly or totally without electrical power. Phone service collapsed due to heavy traffic.

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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.

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Thunder take down turnover-prone Heat 103-87 in showdown of NBA title contenders

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- Kevin Durant had 28 points, nine rebounds and tied his season-high with eight assists, Kendrick Perkins added a season-best 16 points and the Oklahoma City Thunder opened a difficult stretch in their schedule by beating the Miami Heat 103-87 on Sunday night.

The two title contenders opened the day tied for the second-best record in the NBA, three games behind the Chicago Bulls in the race for the top overall seed in the playoffs.

Oklahoma City claimed this one, getting a season-high 13 steals and forcing Miami into 21 turnovers that led to 28 Thunder points.

Dwyane Wade led Miami with 22 points but also committed a season-worst six turnovers. LeBron James had 17 points, seven assists and four turnovers.

Oklahoma City took the lead for good in the first 4 minutes of the second quarter, built on it despite losing All-Star point guard Russell Westbrook to three first-half fouls and stayed ahead by at least eight throughout the second half.

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Kentucky sets up matchup with Louisville and Kansas will play Ohio State in Final Four

One game is a grudge match between teams that know each other all too well. The other is a rare rematch between virtual strangers.

The Final Four is set. In one game Saturday, Kentucky will play Louisville in an intrastate rivalry that puts Cardinals coach Rick Pitino against the school he once coached, then later alienated by returning to the Bluegrass to lead its archrival.

In the other semifinal, it will be Ohio State and Kansas, meeting for only the ninth time in their history but for the second time this season. The Jayhawks won the first game 78-67 in Lawrence, Kan., back on Dec. 10. Ohio State's Jared Sullinger sat out of that game with back spasms. It was the first time the teams had met since 1999-2000.

The winners will play for the national title April 2. Kentucky already has seven national titles but none since 1998, the year after Pitino left. Kansas has three championships, Louisville has two and Ohio State, better known as a football power, won its lone title in 1960 and is making its third trip to the Final Four since 1999.

Absent from this year's ultimate hoops weekend, taking place at the Superdome in New Orleans, are the longshots and little guys who have made March Madness so special over the years. Although there are no Butlers, VCUs or George Masons, there are plenty of good stories to tell. That list starts with Pitino vs. his old school.