Supreme Court, split by ideology, wrestles over striking down key parts of Obama health law
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Concluding three days of fervent, public disagreement, a Supreme Court seemingly split over ideology will now wrestle in private about whether to strike down key parts or even all of President Barack Obama's historic health care law. The justices' decision, due this June, will affect the way virtually every American receives and pays for care.
The court wrapped up public arguments Wednesday on the overhaul, which is designed to extend health insurance to most of the 50 million Americans now without it. The first and biggest issue the justices must decide is whether the centerpiece of the law, the requirement that nearly all Americans carry insurance or pay a penalty, is constitutional.
Wednesday's argument time was unusual in that it assumed a negative answer to that central question. What should happen to other provisions, the justices and lawyers debated, if the court strikes down the requirement? If the justices are following their normal practice, they had not even met to take a preliminary vote in the case before all argument concluded.
Questions at the court this week days showed a strong ideological division between the liberal justices who seem inclined to uphold the law in its entirety and the conservative justices whose skepticism about Congress' power to force people to buy insurance suggests deep trouble for the insurance requirement, and possibly the entire law.
The divide on the court reflects a similar split in public opinion about the law, which Congress approved two years ago when Democrats controlled both houses. The justices' decision is sure to become a significant part of this year's presidential and congressional election campaigns, in which Republicans have relentlessly attacked the law.
Pope ends Cuba trip urging greater openings for church on communist-led island
HAVANA (AP) -- Pope Benedict XVI demanded more freedom for the Catholic Church in communist-run Cuba and preached against "fanaticism" in an unusually political sermon Wednesday before hundreds of thousands at Revolution Plaza, with President Raul Castro in the front row.
Before the pope's departure, he met with the president's brother, revolutionary leader Fidel Castro. Castro grilled the pontiff on changes in church liturgy and his role as spiritual leader of the world's Catholics, a Vatican spokesman said.
Benedict's homily was a not-so-subtle jab at the island's leadership before a vast crowd of Cubans, both in the sprawling plaza and watching on television. But he also clearly urged an end to Cuba's isolation, a reference to the 50-year U.S. economic embargo and the inability of 11 American presidents and brothers Fidel and Raul Castro to forge peace.
"Cuba and the world need change, but this will occur only if each one is in a position to seek the truth and chooses the way of love, sowing reconciliation and fraternity," Benedict said. The remark built upon the famed call of his predecessor, John Paul II, who said in his groundbreaking 1998 visit that Cuba should "open itself up to the world, and may the world open itself up to Cuba."
With the country's leadership listening from front-row seats, Benedict referred to the biblical account of how youths persecuted by the Babylonian king "preferred to face death by fire rather than betray their conscience and their faith."
After long struggle, Romney edges into mop-up operations in GOP campaign
WASHINGTON (AP) -- After a three-month struggle, Mitt Romney edged into the mop-up phase of the race for the Republican presidential nomination on Wednesday, buoyed by Newt Gingrich's decision to scale back his campaign to the vanishing point and Rick Santorum's statement that he would take the No. 2 spot on the party ticket in the fall.
Romney campaigned by phone for support in next week's Wisconsin primary while he shuttled from California to Texas on a fundraising trip, praising Gov. Scott Walker, for "trying to rein in the excesses that have permeated the public services union." The governor faces a recall election in June after winning passage of state legislation vehemently opposed by organized labor.
Romney aides eagerly spread the word that former President George H.W. Bush would bestow a formal endorsement on Thursday, although they declined to say whether former President George W. Bush has been asked for a public show of support.
Seven months before Election Day, there was ample evidence of a preparation gap with the Democrats.
A spokesman at the Republican National Committee said the party had recently opened campaign offices in three states expected to be battlegrounds this fall and would soon do the same in seven more.
APNewsBreak: US general says new security protects US troops from Afghan 'insider' killings
WASHINGTON (AP) -- U.S. military commanders in Afghanistan have assigned "guardian angels" -- troops that watch over their comrades even as they sleep -- and have ordered a series of other increased security measures to protect troops against possible attacks by rogue Afghans.
The added protections are part of a directive issued in recent weeks by Marine Gen. John Allen, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, to guard against insider threats, according to a senior military official. And they come in the wake of a spike in attacks on U.S. and coalition forces by Afghans, including the point-blank shooting deaths of two U.S. advisers in Afghanistan's Ministry of Interior.
Some of the changes have been subtle, others not so much.
In several Afghan ministries, Americans are now allowed to carry weapons. And they have been instructed to rearrange their office desks there to face the door, so they can see who is coming in, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to describe the internal directive.
While Allen did not detail the new measures in a briefing earlier this week, he acknowledged that changes had been made.
Trayvon Inc: From hoodie sales to trademarks, slain Fla teen's case becomes big business
MIAMI (AP) -- From the T-shirt and hoodie sales to trademarking slogans like "Justice for Trayvon" to the pass-the-hat rallies that bring in thousands, the case of an unarmed black teenager killed by a neighborhood watch volunteer is quickly turning into an Internet-fueled brand.
Websites are hawking key chains bearing Trayvon Martin's likeness. His parents have bought two trademarks, saying they hope to raise money to help other families struck by tragedy. Trayvon clothes, bumper stickers, buttons and posters are up for grabs on eBay.
Vendors selling Martin T-shirts and hoodies have become fixtures at rallies in Sanford, the central Florida town where Martin was shot last month. At one Sanford rally this week, a man had a variety of T-shirts laid out on the ground as marchers went by, yelling out, "I've got every size!"
The Martin shooting by neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman, who says he shot the 17-year-old Miami teen in self-defense, has inflamed racial tensions across the country, brought out thousands for rallies, prompted a civil rights probe and a personal reference to the case by President Barack Obama.
A phenomenon on that scale is bound to be commercialized, said Donna Hoffman, a marketing professor at the University of California-Riverside.
Documents: JetBlue captain grew increasingly erratic, told co-pilot to 'take a leap of faith'
RICHMOND HILL, Ga. (AP) -- JetBlue Airways captain Clayton Osbon showed up unusually late to fly Flight 191 to Las Vegas. The plane was in midair when he eerily told his co-pilot they wouldn't make it there.
Osbon started rambling about religion. He scolded air traffic controllers to quiet down, then turned off the radios altogether, and dimmed the monitors in the cockpit. He said aloud that "things just don't matter" and encouraged his co-pilot that they take a leap of faith.
"We're not going to Vegas," Osbon said.
What unfolded next, according to court documents released Wednesday, was a dramatic chase and struggle in the cabin that ended with passengers tackling Osbon, 49, and holding him down until the co-pilot could make an emergency landing in Amarillo, Texas. He was charged Wednesday with interfering with a flight crew.
A pilot with JetBlue since 2000, Osbon's odd behavior on Tuesday became increasingly erratic after the flight departed New York, worrying his fellow crew members so much that they locked him out after he abruptly left the cockpit, according to an affidavit. Osbon then started yelling about Jesus, al-Qaida and a possible bomb on board, forcing passengers to tie him up with seat belt extenders and zip tie handcuffs for about 20 minutes until the plane landed.
Be careful what you wish for: The do's and don'ts of winning a giant lottery jackpot
With a half-billion-dollar multistate lottery jackpot up for grabs, plenty of folks are fantasizing how to spend the money. But doing it the right way -- protecting your riches, your identity and your sanity -- takes some thought and planning.
Making sure you don't blow the nation's largest-ever lottery jackpot within a few years means some advice is in order before the Mega Millions drawing Friday, especially if you're really, really, really lucky.
Q: What do I do with the ticket?
A: Before anything else, sign the back of the ticket. That will stop anyone else from claiming your riches if you happen drop it while you're jumping up and down. Then make a photocopy and lock it in a safe. At the very least, keep it where you know it's protected. A Rhode Island woman who won a $336 million Powerball jackpot in February hid the ticket in her Bible before going out to breakfast.
Q: What next?
The little dog that could: Beyonce the puppy, born in shelter, fit into spoon at birth
NEW YORK (AP) -- A very tiny puppy is sitting inside a coffee mug, trying without success to escape by scratching its little paws against the slippery surface. In recent days, this famous dog has been placed alongside a variety of small objects -- an iPhone, a business card and a tape measure, among other things -- to demonstrate just how tiny she really is.
This is Beyonce, a female dachshund mix who was born March 8 to a rescue dog that was found abandoned, wandering the streets of San Bernardino, Calif. At birth, she weighed just 1 ounce and could fit into a teaspoon. Her caretakers say she's one of the smallest puppies ever born full-term -- and her story of unlikely survival has captured the attention of people all over the world.
"We had an ultrasound done, and they actually saw that there were five puppies, but one was probably going to be stillborn," says Beth Decaprio, executive director of the Grace Foundation of Northern California, which rehabilitates abused and neglected animals. "It didn't look like a viable baby."
Beyonce wasn't breathing when she was born at the foundation's farm in El Dorado Hills, Calif. A veterinarian tried to revive her by performing chest compressions. Then he passed her over to Decaprio.
"I blew a couple little breaths in her mouth," Decaprio says. "And she started to breathe on her own."
Son: Bluegrass legend, banjo pioneer Earl Scruggs dies in Nashville at age 88; changed music
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) -- Bluegrass legend and banjo pioneer Earl Scruggs, who helped profoundly change country music with Bill Monroe in the 1940s and later with guitarist Lester Flatt, has died. He was 88.
Scruggs' son Gary said his father died of natural causes Wednesday morning at a Nashville, Tenn., hospital.
Earl Scruggs was an innovator who pioneered the modern banjo sound. His use of three fingers rather than the clawhammer style elevated the banjo from a part of the rhythm section -- or a comedian's prop -- to a lead instrument.
His string-bending and lead runs became known worldwide as "the Scruggs picking style" and the versatility it allowed has helped popularize the banjo in almost every genre of music.
The debut of Bill Monroe and The Blue Grass Boys during a post-World War II performance on The Grand Ole Opry is thought of as the "big bang" moment for bluegrass and later 20th century country music. Later, Flatt and Scruggs teamed as a bluegrass act after leaving Monroe from the late 1940s until breaking up in 1969 in a dispute over whether their music should experiment or stick to tradition. Flatt died in 1979.
Dodgers fans say it's a Magic day in LA after hearing Lakers star Johnson is buying their team
LOS ANGELES (AP) -- At the little hole-in-the-wall cafe that has served for half a century as the unofficial pit stop for Los Angeles Dodgers fans heading to baseball games, there was Magic in the air Wednesday.
That's Magic as in Earvin Johnson, the beloved basketball icon who, his city awakened to learn, has been named one of the new co-owners of LA's once equally beloved baseball team.
As for the current owner, the reviled Frank McCourt, the general sentiment was that he shouldn't let the door hit him in the rear end on his way out of town.
But for The Magic Man, as he's affectionately known in these parts, it was an entirely different story.
"Everyone loves Magic," said Dorman Austin as he sat at a table in Philippe's, the 104-year-old corner deli that claims to have invented the French dip sandwich. The place has been a haven for Dodgers fan since the team moved just a mile up the hill when Dodger Stadium opened in 1962.