Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Published:

Health care law in peril: Conservative justices question key provision mandating insurance

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The fate of President Barack Obama's health care overhaul was cast into peril Tuesday as the Supreme Court's conservative justices sharply and repeatedly questioned its core requirement that virtually every American carry insurance. The court will now take up whether any remnant of the historic law can survive if that linchpin fails.

The justices' questions in Tuesday's hearing carried deeply serious implications but were sometimes flavored with fanciful suggestions. If the government can force people to buy health insurance, justices wanted to know, can it require people to by burial insurance? Cellphones? Broccoli?

The law, pushed to passage by Obama and congressional Democrats two years ago, would affect nearly all Americans and extend insurance coverage to 30 million people who now lack it. Republicans are strongly opposed, including the presidential contenders now campaigning for the chance to challenge Obama in November.

Audio for Tuesday's court argument can be found at: http://apne.ws/Hft6z3http://apne.ws/Hft6z3 .

The court focused on whether the mandate for Americans to have insurance "is a step beyond what our cases allow," in the words of Justice Anthony Kennedy.

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Passenger: JetBlue captain yells 'they're going to take us down' during Las Vegas-bound flight

LAS VEGAS (AP) -- A JetBlue captain who ranted about Iraq and Afghanistan and claimed that a bomb was on a Las Vegas-bound flight was locked out of the cockpit, tackled and restrained by passengers Tuesday, passengers said.

The captain of Flight 191 from New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport had a "medical situation," and the co-pilot, who subsequently took command of the aircraft, diverted the plane to land in Amarillo, Texas, around 10 a.m., JetBlue Airways said in a statement.

Josh Redick, a passenger sitting near the middle of the plane, said the pilot "stormed out" of the cockpit.

Tony Antolino, a 40-year-old executive for a security firm, said the captain walked to the back of the plane, that he seemed disoriented and agitated, then began yelling about an unspecified threat linked to Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan.

"They're going to take us down, they're taking us down, they're going to take us down. Say the Lord's prayer, say the Lord's prayer," the captain screamed, according to Antolino.

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Syria accepts UN envoy's peace plan but clashes reported along border with Lebanon

QAA, Lebanon (AP) -- Syria accepted a cease-fire drawn up by U.N. envoy Kofi Annan on Tuesday, but the diplomatic breakthrough was swiftly overshadowed by intense clashes between government soldiers and rebels that sent bullets flying into Lebanon.

Opposition members accuse President Bashar Assad of agreeing to the plan to stall for time as his troops make a renewed push to kill off bastions of dissent. And the conflict just keeps getting deadlier: The U.N. said the death toll has grown to more than 9,000, a sobering assessment of a devastating year-old crackdown on the uprising that shows no sign of ending.

Annan's announcement that Syria had accepted his peace plan was met with deep skepticism.

"We are not sure if it's political maneuvering or a sincere act," said Louay Safi, a member of the opposition Syrian National Council. "We have no trust in the current regime. ... We have to see that they have stopped killing civilians."

Annan's plan calls for an immediate, two-hour halt in fighting every day to allow humanitarian access and medical evacuations. The plan also outlines a complete cease-fire, but that will take more time because Syria must first move troops and equipment out of cities and towns, government forces and the divided opposition must stop fighting, and a U.N.-supervised monitoring mission must be established.

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Bread, burial plots, green veggies? Justices ask where government's power to regulate ends

WASHINGTON (AP) -- It boiled down to a debate over broccoli. And bread. And burial plots. If government can tell people to buy health insurance, Supreme Court justices wanted to know, what else could it make them buy?

Throughout Tuesday's hearing on the health care law, the justices and lawyers argued about the perfect product to illustrate the limits of the federal government's power over interstate markets.

"Everybody has to buy food sooner or later, so you define the market as food, therefore, everybody is in the market; therefore, you can make people buy broccoli," offered Justice Antonin Scalia, obviously resistant to expanding government's reach.

"That's quite different," responded Solicitor General Donald Verrilli, arguing for the health insurance mandate. Unlike grocery shopping, medical care is a market "in which your participation is often unpredictable and often involuntary." And the care of patients who don't pay gets passed on to everyone else as higher taxes and insurance premiums.

Verrilli preferred his own examples: the law is like regulation of telephone rates or price supports for milk.

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Pope prays for more freedom and 'renewal' in Cuba; government rules out political change

HAVANA (AP) -- Pope Benedict XVI prayed for freedom and renewal "for the greater good of all Cubans" before the nation's patron saint Tuesday, but the island's communist leaders quickly rejected the Roman Catholic leader's appeal for political change after five decades of one-party rule.

The exchange came hours before Benedict was to meet President Raul Castro, and possibly his brother and predecessor Fidel, behind closed doors in Havana on the pontiff's second day on the island.

Days after dismissing the Marxist ideology on which the Cuban system is based, Benedict continued to gently press themes highly sensitive to Cuban government in his prayer and short speech at the sanctuary of the Virgin of Charity of Cobre near the eastern city of Santiago.

"I have entrusted to the Mother of God the future of your country, advancing along the ways of renewal and hope, for the greater good of all Cubans," the pope said. "I have also prayed to the Virgin for the needs of those who suffer, of those who are deprived of freedom, those who are separated from their loved ones or who are undergoing times of difficulty."

It wasn't long before a top official back in Havana responded.

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Tighter security imposed for SAT and ACT after cheating scandal; students must submit photos

MINEOLA, N.Y. (AP) -- The millions of students who take the SAT or ACT each year will have to submit photos of themselves when they sign up for the college entrance exams, under a host of new security measures announced Tuesday in the aftermath of a major cheating scandal on Long Island.

The two companies that administer the tests, the College Board and ACT Inc., agreed to the precautions under public pressure brought to bear by Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice, who is overseeing the investigation. The measures take effect in the fall.

"I believe these reforms, and many others which are happening behind the scenes, will prevent the kind of cheating that our investigation uncovered and give high schools and colleges the tools they need to identify those who try to cheat," Rice said.

Rice has charged 20 current or former students from a cluster of well-to-do, high-achieving suburbs on Long Island with participating in a scheme in which teenagers hired other people for as much as $3,500 each to take the exam for them. The five alleged ringers arrested in the case were accused of flashing phony IDs when they showed up for the tests. All 20 have pleaded not guilty.

In one instance, a young man allegedly produced ID and took the test for a teenage girl who had a name that could have been either male or female.

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Memos detail bid by gay marriage foes to pit blacks, Hispanics against gay-rights groups

The leading national organization opposing same-sex marriage has sought to split the Democratic Party base by pitting African-Americans and Hispanics against gay-rights groups, according to confidential strategy memos made public by court officials in Maine.

"The strategic goal of this project is to drive a wedge between gays and blacks -- two key Democratic constituencies," says one of the memos. It also suggests "interrupting" the process of cultural assimilation for Hispanics in hopes of curtailing support for same-sex marriage.

The documents, dating from 2009, were written by the National Organization for Marriage and had been kept from the public until Monday, when they were unsealed by court officials in Maine.

They were part of a two-pronged legal challenge of Maine's financial disclosure laws. Still unresolved is whether the NOM will have to release the names of donors to its successful 2009 campaign to ban same-sex marriage in Maine.

The Human Rights Campaign, a major gay-rights organization, first circulated the documents Monday night, and its president, Joe Solmonese, assailed the strategies that they detailed.

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Va. man injured in gun accident gets new face; doctors say transplant is most extensive ever

BALTIMORE (AP) -- After 15 years of wearing a mask and living as a recluse, a 37-year-old Virginia man disfigured in a gun accident got a new face, nose, teeth and jaw in what University of Maryland physicians say is the most extensive face transplant ever performed.

Richard Lee Norris of Hillsville is recovering well after last week's surgery, beginning to feel his face and already brushing his teeth and shaving, University of Maryland Medical Center officials announced Tuesday. He's also regained his sense of smell, which he had lost after the accident.

Norris, who was selected from among five possible candidates for the surgery, has been living as a recluse, doing his shopping at night. It's hoped the transplant will give him his life back, said Dr. Eduardo Rodriguez, the lead surgeon.

"It's a surreal experience to look at him. It's hard not to stare. Before, people used to stare at Richard because he wore a mask and they wanted to see the deformity," Rodriguez said. "Now, they have another reason to stare at him, and it's really amazing."

Rodriguez showed a 1993 prom photo of Norris, "as we all want to be remembered," beside a pre-transplant photo of Norris' shortened face with a sunken mouth and flattened nose. He then revealed a photo of Norris taken on Monday, where his face appears ordinary, other than stiches along his hairline and neck and scarring around his eyelids. Although he now has the donor's face, he doesn't resemble the donor, Rodriguez said.

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Kate Winslet, James Cameron in London for premiere of 'Titanic,' re-released in 3D.

LONDON (AP) -- Actress Kate Winslet and director James Cameron walked the red carpet in London on Tuesday for the premiere of the 3D version of the hit movie "Titanic."

The 1997 drama -- one of the highest grossing films of all time -- will be available in British cinemas in 3D in April, coinciding with the 100th anniversary of the Titanic's doomed maiden voyage from southern England's Southampton in April 1912.

"The 3D enriches all of Titanic's most thrilling moments and its most emotional moments," Cameron told reporters. "It kicks the whole experience up to another level."

The director came to London fresh from his latest venture, which saw him descending seven miles (11 1/4 kilometers) below the surface of the Pacific to the deepest place on Earth.

"One of the reasons I made Titanic was that I was fascinated by deep sea exploration," he said. "It was an opportunity to dive in a submarine very deep at that time."

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The Guide: Top big men, big-name teams headed to New Orleans for the Final Four

It's going to be big boys only in the Big Easy.

After a couple years of mid-majors breaking into the party and little guys leading their teams to titles, the Final Four will feature power players from power conferences.

The players are as good as it gets when it comes to big men: Kansas' Thomas Robinson, Ohio State's Jared Sullinger and Kentucky's Anthony Davis. They're all first-team All-Americans, and Louisville's Gorgui Dieng isn't bad, either.

The teams, traditionally strong: Kentucky, Kansas, Louisville, Ohio State. Every one of them has won a national title, been to at least 10 or more Final Fours -- all at least once in the past seven years -- and have coaches who have won titles or coached in the title game.

Did we mention Louisville and Kentucky are playing each other?