Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Published:

Passengers recount scare when JetBlue captain had to be restrained after mid-flight outburst

LAS VEGAS (AP) --

Passengers aboard an early morning flight bound from New York to Las Vegas first noticed something wrong when the plane's top pilot came out of the cockpit, didn't close the door and tried to force his way into an occupied bathroom.

The JetBlue captain's co-workers tried to calm him as he became more jittery, coaxing him to the back of the plane while making sure -- above all -- that he didn't get back near the plane's controls.

Then, he sprinted up the cabin's aisle -- ranting about a bomb, screaming "They're going to take us down!" and urging confused passengers to pray.

"Nobody knew what to do because he is the captain of the plane," said Don Davis, the owner of a Ronkonkoma, N.Y.-based wireless broadband manufacturer who was traveling to Sin City for a security industry conference.

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If the insurance mandate falls: Supreme Court asks whether rest of Obama health law can go on

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The heart of the Obama administration's health care overhaul hanging in the balance, the Supreme Court is turning to whether the rest of the law can survive if the crucial individual insurance requirement is struck down.

The justices also will spend part of Wednesday, the last of three days of arguments over the health law, considering a challenge by 26 states to the expansion of the Medicaid program for low-income Americans, an important feature toward the overall goal of extending health insurance to an additional 30 million people.

The first two days of fast-paced and extended arguments have shown that the conservative justices have serious questions about Congress' authority to require virtually every American to carry insurance or pay a penalty.

The outcome of the case will affect nearly all Americans and the ruling, expected in June, also could play a role in the presidential election campaign. Obama and congressional Democrats pushed for the law's passage two years ago, while Republicans, including all the GOP presidential candidates, are strongly opposed.

But the topic the justices take up Wednesday only comes into play if they first find that the insurance mandate violates the Constitution. If they do, then they will have to decide if the rest of the law stands or falls.

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Analysis: Romney's record undercuts high court's health care role in presidential race

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Supreme Court's much-anticipated ruling on health care, expected in late June, may have one surprising outcome: a modest impact on President Barack Obama's re-election bid, even though he is intimately associated with the challenged law.

That wouldn't be the case if anyone other than Mitt Romney was Obama's likeliest Republican challenger this fall. Romney, however, is singularly ill-positioned to capitalize on the issue because he championed a similar health care law as Massachusetts governor in 2006.

It's a political dilemma that some Republicans -- chiefly Rick Santorum -- have been raising for months. It gained sudden urgency this week, as Romney continues his slow but steady march toward the nomination and the Supreme Court's conservative majority expressed pointed skepticism about the federal health care law's constitutionality on Tuesday.

At least one of the five most conservative justices on the nine-person court must vote to uphold the 2010 Democratic-crafted health law for it to remain in place and continue its phased-in changes to current policies. Some independent analysts were struck Tuesday by the seeming hostility of questions from conservative justices, and several now predict the court will overturn the law this summer.

Such a legal bombshell in the middle of an election year would have hard-to-predict impacts on the liberal and conservative bases of the parties and on House and Senate races. Leaders of both parties, however, say the effect on the presidential race will be muted, at least in part, if Romney secures the GOP nomination, which he is on track to do.

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Pope wraps up Cuba visit with Mass in Revolution Plaza; meeting with Fidel Castro

HAVANA, Cuba (AP) -- Pope Benedict XVI wraps up his visit to Cuba on Wednesday with an open-air Mass in the shrine of the Cuban revolution, hoping to revive the Catholic faith in this communist-run country. His other appointment promises a far more tantalizing climax: a meeting with Fidel Castro.

The former Cuban leader announced late Tuesday that he would happily meet with Benedict, saying he was asking for just a "few minutes of his very busy time" in Havana.

The Vatican had already said Benedict was available, so the confirmation from Castro was all that was needed to seal the appointment and end weeks of speculation as to whether Castro would repeat the meeting he held with Pope John Paul II during his historic 1998 visit.

"I will happily greet His Excellency Pope Benedict XVI as I did John Paul II, a man for whom contact with children and the humble raised feelings of affection," Castro wrote. "That's why I decided to ask for a few minutes of his very busy time when I heard from the mouth of our foreign minister, Bruno Rodriguez, that he would be agreeable."

The audience and Benedict's Mass in Revolution Plaza come 14 years after John Paul preached on the same spot before hundreds of thousands of people, Fidel among them. Then, an image of Jesus Christ was displayed opposite the plaza's iconic image of revolutionary hero Ernesto "Che" Guevara, a remarkable development for a country that had been officially atheist until 1992.

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Best friends in fishing tragedy; only 1 survives 30-hour ordeal in Gulf of Mexico

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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Supporters of Florida neighborhood watch shooter wary of speaking out, fearing public backlash

Trayvon Martin's supporters pack churches, swarm rallies and wear hooded sweat shirts in solidarity while friends and family of George Zimmerman, the neighborhood watch volunteer who shot the unarmed teen to death, remain largely out of sight. The few that have defended Zimmerman did so reluctantly, most fearing public backlash.

Zimmerman, 28, has gone into hiding. His version of what happened on the rainy night of Feb. 26 has only trickled out from police and his attorney. Zimmerman said he was pursuing the 17-year-old Martin because he was acting suspicious. He said he lost sight of the teenager and Martin attacked him as he headed back to his sport utility vehicle.

Zimmerman told police he fired in self-defense and was not charged, touching off widespread public outrage and protests across the country.

Martin's supporters believe race played a role in the shooting. Martin was black; Zimmerman's father is white and his mother is Hispanic.

"The family has had death threats, the father and mother, George has had death threats. Anything related to George is a target," said Miguel Meza, who identified himself as Zimmerman's cousin.

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In last-ditch overhaul, Gingrich lays off staff and refocuses effort to woo delegates

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich is drastically reorganizing his money- and delegate-deprived campaign, scaling back a traditional operation to focus on low-cost social media and an effort to cajole delegates to back him over front-runner Mitt Romney.

One-third of Gingrich's campaign staff has been laid off and his campaign manager has been asked to resign, Gingrich spokesman R.C. Hammond said Tuesday night.

The new strategy hinges on preventing Romney from winning the 1,144 delegates he needs for the nomination, Hammond said. Gingrich plans to spend much less time in primary states and will instead personally call delegates to try to persuade them to back him at the Republican National Convention in August.

"We are not going to cede to Mitt Romney's strategy to take the party down," Hammond said. Ultimately, Gingrich would bring the fight to the convention floor, Hammond said.

Gingrich still promises to support Romney if Romney collects the necessary delegates before the party convenes in Tampa, Fla., Hammond said. In the meantime, Gingrich planned to shift the campaign's focus to digital outreach -- in particular YouTube, Twitter and other social media.

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Officials try to determine if Colorado wildfire was ignited by controlled burn

CONIFER, Colo. (AP) -- Firefighters were hoping to start containing at least part of a mountain wildfire Wednesday that forced hundreds of residents to flee, damaged 28 homes and may have caused the deaths of two people.

Strong gusts and erratic fire behavior forced crews to focus largely on protecting homes overnight instead of attacking the fire that broke out Monday, but more resources have been arriving.

The blaze is among the top in the nation for the priority to get firefighting resources, fire officials said late Tuesday.

Some 450 firefighters from Colorado, Idaho, Nevada and Utah were sent to assist 250 firefighters on the ground. Weather permitting, four aircraft were scheduled to drop retardant Wednesday on the 7-square-mile blaze that resulted in mandatory evacuations of 900 homes south of the commuter town of Conifer, about 25 miles southwest of downtown Denver.

Residents of 6,500 more homes were warned Tuesday to be ready to leave because of the fire's behavior. Many homes are in winding canyons, and authorities wanted to give citizens as much advance warning as possible.

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Prominent Pakistani acid attack victim commits suicide after enduring dozens of surgeries

ISLAMABAD (AP) -- Pakistani acid attack victim Fakhra Younus had endured more than three dozen surgeries over more than a decade to repair her severely damaged face and body when she finally decided life was no longer worth living.

The 33-year-old former dancing girl -- who was allegedly attacked by her then-husband, an ex-parliamentarian and son of a political powerhouse -- jumped from the sixth floor of a building in Rome, where she had been living and receiving treatment.

Her March 17 suicide and the return of her body to Pakistan on Sunday reignited furor over the case, which received significant international attention at the time of the attack. Her death came less than a month after a Pakistani filmmaker won the country's first Oscar for a documentary about acid attack victims.

Younus' story not only drives home the woeful plight of many women in conservative Muslim Pakistan, it is also a reminder of how the country's rich and powerful operate with impunity. Younus' ex-husband, Bilal Khar, was eventually acquitted, but many believe he used his connections to escape the law's grip -- a common occurrence in Pakistan.

More than 8,500 acid attacks, forced marriages and other forms of violence against women were reported in Pakistan in 2011, according to The Aurat Foundation, a women's rights organization. Because the group relied mostly on media reports, the figure is likely an undercount.

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It's Magic: Johnson-Kasten-Walter group agrees to buy Dodgers for record $2 billion

NEW YORK (AP) -- One Los Angeles institution is buying another.

A group that includes former Lakers star Magic Johnson and longtime baseball executive Stan Kasten agreed Tuesday night to buy the Dodgers from Frank McCourt for a record $2 billion.

The price would shatter the mark for a sports franchise. Stephen Ross paid $1.1 billion for the NFL's Miami Dolphins in 2009, and in England, Malcolm Glazer and his family took over the Manchester United soccer club in 2005 in a deal then valued at $1.47 billion.

Mark Walter, chief executive officer of the financial services firm Guggenheim Partners, would become the controlling owner.

The deal, revealed about five hours after Major League Baseball owners approved three finalists for an intended auction, is one of several steps toward a sale of the team by the end of April. It is subject to approval in federal bankruptcy court.