Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Published:

Mich. militia members cleared of charges that accused them of plotting war against government

DETROIT (AP) -- A federal judge on Tuesday gutted the government's case against seven members of a Michigan militia, dismissing the most serious charges in an extraordinary defeat for federal authorities who insisted they had captured homegrown rural extremists poised for war.

U.S. District Judge Victoria Roberts said the members' expressed hatred of law enforcement didn't amount to a conspiracy to rebel against the government. The FBI had secretly planted an informant and an FBI agent inside the Hutaree militia starting in 2008 to collect hours of anti-government audio and video that became the cornerstone of the case.

"The court is aware that protected speech and mere words can be sufficient to show a conspiracy. In this case, however, they do not rise to that level," the judge said on the second anniversary of raids and arrests that broke up the group.

Roberts granted requests for acquittal on the most serious charges: conspiring to commit sedition, or rebellion, against the U.S. and conspiring to use weapons of mass destruction. Other weapons crimes tied to the alleged conspiracies also were dismissed.

"The judge had a lot of guts," defense attorney William Swor said. "It would have been very easy to say, 'The heck with it,' and hand it off to the jury. But the fact is she looked at the evidence, and she looked at it very carefully."

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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 deeper jeopardy 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 buy 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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Passengers tackle JetBlue captain after he screams 'They're going to take us down!' on plane

LAS VEGAS (AP) -- Screaming "They're going to take us down!" a JetBlue pilot stormed through his plane rambling about a bomb and threats from Iraq Tuesday until passengers on the Las Vegas-bound flight tackled him to the ground just outside the cockpit, passengers said.

The captain of JetBlue Airways Flight 191 from New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport was taken to a hospital after suffering a "medical situation" on board that forced the co-pilot to take over the plane and land it in Amarillo, Texas, the airline said.

The unidentified pilot seemed disoriented, jittery and constantly sipped water when he first marched through the cabin, then began to rant about threats linked to Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan after crew members tried to calm him down in the back, passengers said.

"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 passenger Tony Antolino.

Josh Redick, who was sitting near the middle of the plane, said the captain seemed "irate" and was "spouting off about Afghanistan and souls and al-Qaida."

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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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Parents of neighborhood watch shooting victim appear at Capitol Hill forum on racial profiling

WASHINGTON (AP) -- In a packed forum on Capitol Hill on Tuesday, the parents of Trayvon Martin found support among members of Congress who turned the death of their 17-year-old's son into a rallying cry against racial profiling.

Martin's parents spoke briefly before a Democrats-only congressional panel as cameras clicked noisily in front of them. Many in the crowd, which filled the seats and lined the walls, strained to catch a glimpse of the parents whose son was shot and killed Feb. 26 in a Sanford, Fla. gated community.

"Trayvon was our son, but Trayvon is your son," Sybrina Fulton, Martin's mother, told the panel. "A lot of people can relate to our situation and it breaks their heart like it breaks our heart."

Martin's father, Tracy Martin, thanked "everyone who is holding the legacy of Trayvon."

"Trayvon is sadly missed and we will continue to fight for justice for him," said Tracy Martin, who wore a weary look.

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Pope prays for freedom in Cuba, meets with Raul Castro; Cuba leaders say no political reforms

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 ahead of a 55-minute closed-door sit-down with President Raul Castro in which the pontiff proposed that Good Friday, when Catholics commemorate the death of Christ, be made a holiday.

There was no immediate response. The Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said it was natural for the government to take time to consider such a request, which echoed a successful appeal by John Paul II in 1998 for Cuba to make Christmas a holiday.

"It's not that it changes reality in a revolutionary way, but it can be a sign of a positive step -- as was the case of Christmas after John Paul's visit," Lombardi said.

Asked if the pope raised the matter of political prisoners or Alan Gross, a U.S. government subcontractor sentenced to 15 years in prison in Cuba on spy charges, Lombardi said "requests of a humanitarian nature" came up, but he had no information about whether individual cases were discussed.

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Texas man survives 30 hours in water after boat sinks in Gulf of Mexico; best friend dies

HOUSTON (AP) -- For hours after their boat sank, Ken Henderson and Ed Coen treaded water in the Gulf of Mexico, talking about life and death while struggling to survive. For more than 30 hours, it worked.

Then Henderson was forced to make a decision that would save his life, but not his best friend's.

"This is the last-ditch effort, but I'm going to go for help or you're not going to make it," Henderson told Coen, just before cutting the strap that connected them in the deep, cold waters off the Texas coast.

"I understand," Coen responded, giving Henderson a last set of instructions. "Kiss them babies for me."

It was Friday around 4 p.m. when they parted.

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All the single ladies: Democrats, GOP candidates woo unmarried women voters

STERLING, Va. (AP) -- As a married woman, Marisa Hannum had her family's conservatism in mind when she backed Republicans in the 2008 and 2004 presidential elections. Now divorced, she is putting her own interests first as she weighs whether to vote for Democratic President Barack Obama or his Republican challenger this fall.

She's an abortion opponent, worried about her finances and concerned for friends who can't find jobs. She's dumbfounded that anyone is questioning birth control access in 2012. And she has only a glimmer of an idea of how she'll vote in November.

"Now I am a little bit better informed. But I am really on the fence," says Hannum, 30, an assistant restaurant manager, as she stops by the post office in this Washington suburb -- a region filled with single women that Democrats and Republicans alike are targeting.

In an election year heavily focused on social issues and the economy, Democrats are trying to energize unmarried females who overwhelmingly vote for their candidates while Republicans work to peel them away.

Political math tells the story of the so-called marriage gap: exit polls show that women are a majority of voters in presidential election years and about four in 10 female voters don't have a spouse. They lean more heavily Democratic than their married counterparts. But the U.S. census says about 22 percent of them are unregistered, a rich pool of potential new voters for both parties competing for the presidency and the majorities in Congress.

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Police say Taiwanese woman killed herself while chatting with Facebook friends, none helped

TAIPEI, Taiwan (AP) -- A woman in Taiwan killed herself by inhaling poisonous fumes while chatting with friends on Facebook and none of them alerted authorities, police said Tuesday.

Claire Lin killed herself on her 31st birthday, March 18, and family members who reported her suicide were unaware of the Facebook conversations that accompanied it, Taipei police officer Hsieh Ku-ming said.

Lin's last Facebook entries show her chatting with nine friends, alerting them to her gradual asphyxiation. One picture uploaded from her mobile phone depicts a charcoal barbecue burning next to two stuffed animals. Another shows the room filled with fumes.

One friend identified as Chung Hsin, told Lin, "Be calm, open the window, put out the charcoal fire, please, I beg you."

Lin replied: "The fumes are suffocating. They fill my eyes with tears. Don't write me anymore."

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Harry Potter and the Portable E-books: Rowling's website breaks with book industry practice

NEW YORK (AP) -- When the Harry Potter books finally went on sale in electronic form on Tuesday, it was as if Harry himself had cast the "Alohomora" spell on them -- the one that unlocks doors.

In a break with industry practices, the books aren't locked down by encryption, which means consumers can move them between devices and read them anywhere they like.

If "Pottermore," J.K. Rowling's new Web store, proves a success, it could provide a model for other authors and publishers and undermine the clout of Amazon.com Inc., which dominates e-book sales.

"I think it's a very large crack in a dam that's going to collapse in the next nine to twelve months," says Matteo Berlucchi, the CEO of an independent British-based online bookstore, aNobii.

E-books from major publishers are sold in encrypted form today. The text of a book is scrambled so that only authorized devices and software can read it. For instance, a book bought from Amazon can be read only on the company's Kindle e-readers and on its Kindle applications for smartphones, tablets and PCs. It can't be read on Barnes & Noble's Nook e-readers.