Sunni leaders mostly shun Arab League summit, reflecting suspicions on Iraq, fractured region
BAGHDAD (AP) -- Sunni Muslim rulers largely shunned an Arab League summit hosted by Shiite-led Iraq on Thursday, illustrating how powerfully the sectarian split and the rivalry with Iran define Middle Eastern politics in the era of the Arab Spring.
The crisis in Syria is the epicenter of those divisions. The one-day summit closed with a joint call on Syrian President Bashar Assad to stop his bloody crackdown on an uprising seeking his ouster. But the final statement barely papered over the differences among the Arab nations over how to deal with the longest-running regional revolt.
"What disturbs the breeze of our Arab Spring and fills our hearts with sadness is the scenes of slaughter and torture committed by the Syrian regime against our brothers and sisters in Syria," said Mustafa Abdul-Jalil, leader of Libya's National Transitional Council.
In a snub to Iraq, only 10 heads of state from the Arab League's 22 members attended, with the rest sending lower-level officials. Especially notable were the absences of the rulers of Saudi Arabia, Qatar and most other Gulf countries, as well Morocco and Jordan -- all of them headed by Sunni monarchs who deeply distrust the close ties between Baghdad's Shiite-dominated government and their top regional rival, Iran.
The Gulf countries also see Iraq as too soft on Syria. Saudi Arabia and Qatar have talked of arming Syria's opposition, apparently eager to bring the fall of Assad and break the Sunni-majority country out of its alliance with Iran.
Going negative: Romney team's primary ad strategy could offer a preview to general election
NEW YORK (AP) -- Rick Santorum doesn't care about the unemployment rate. Newt Gingrich has "more baggage than the airlines." Both are Washington insiders who have bent their principles for money and influence.
So say Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney and his allies.
That advertising playbook has helped make Romney his party's likely presidential nominee and could offer a preview of what awaits President Barack Obama in this summer's general election campaign.
Voters in early primary states have seen plenty of this ad strategy already: a torrent of attacks on Romney's opponents along with a few positive spots about the GOP front-runner's biography and business experience. The strategy, devised by Romney's campaign and an allied independent group, has been focused and unforgiving, all but eviscerating the former Massachusetts governor's rivals while portraying the candidate as an effective manager and devoted family man.
"The ads have been very effective," says Jonathan Collegio, a spokesman for American Crossroads, a conservative-leaning super political action committee. They've catapulted Romney "into a very strong position in the Republican primary without going so far that he's alienated swaths of independent voters."
Supreme Court justices vote Friday on outcome of health care case; opinion unlikely until June
WASHINGTON (AP) -- While the rest of us have to wait until June, the justices of the Supreme Court will know the likely outcome of the historic health care case by the time they go home this weekend.
After months of anticipation, thousands of pages of briefs and more than six hours of arguments, the justices will vote on the fate of President Barack Obama's health care overhaul in under an hour Friday morning. They will meet in a wood-paneled conference room on the court's main floor. No one else will be present.
In the weeks after this meeting, individual votes can change. Even who wins can change, as the justices read each other's draft opinions and dissents.
But Friday's vote, which each justice probably will record and many will keep for posterity, will be followed soon after by the assignment of a single justice to write a majority opinion, or in a case this complex, perhaps two or more justices to tackle different issues. That's where the hard work begins, with the clock ticking toward the end of the court's work in early summer.
The late William Rehnquist, who was chief justice for nearly 19 years, has written that the court's conference "is not a bull session in which off-the-cuff reactions are traded." Instead, he said, votes are cast, one by one in order of seniority.
Video raises doubts about gunman's story in Trayvon Martin case; defense says it's too grainy
MIAMI (AP) -- Newly released police video of a handcuffed George Zimmerman may be important for what it doesn't show: No obvious cuts, scrapes, blood or bandages. No clearly broken nose. No plainly visible evidence of a life-and-death struggle with Trayvon Martin.
As the furor over race and self-defense raged on in Florida and around the U.S. on Thursday, Martin's family and supporters seized on the footage to dispute Zimmerman's claim that he shot and killed the unarmed black teenager after the young man attacked him.
While cautioning that the video is grainy and far from conclusive, some legal experts agreed it does raise questions about Zimmerman's story. The video was made about a half-hour after the shooting Feb. 26.
"It could be very significant," said Daniel Lurvey, a former Miami-Dade County homicide prosecutor. "If I were the prosecutor, it would certainly be Exhibit A that he did not suffer any major injury as a result of a confrontation with Trayvon Martin."
Zimmerman attorney Craig Sonner said on NBC's "Today" show that the footage appears to support his client's story in some respects.
$540M lottery has states anticipating a jackpot in winner's taxes
PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) -- People queuing up for Mega Millions tickets aren't the only ones salivating over the record $540 million jackpot that could be won Friday -- some state governments struggling through lean times know a hometown winner would bring a tax bonanza.
Taxes on a lump-sum payment option to a single winner could mean tens of millions of dollars of badly needed revenue that could go to restore entire social service programs on the chopping block, pay for hundreds of low-income housing units, forestall new taxes or hire more state troopers.
So many tickets have been sold that the jackpot climbed Thursday to the largest in U.S. lottery history, according to officials in Rhode Island, one of 42 states where Mega Millions is played. If a lone winner took the lump-sum payout on the jackpot's current amount, it would be an estimated $389.8 million.
"I'd love it if a Rhode Islander wins," said Rep. Helio Melo, the chairman of the House's Finance Committee.
In Rhode Island, when the tax man comes calling for his 5.99 percent, that would mean an estimated $23.3 million, forked over in a single payment.
3 govs tour Neb. beef plant to see how 'pink slime' is made, ease consumer concerns
SOUTH SIOUX CITY, Neb. (AP) -- Governors of three states got up close with "pink slime" Thursday, touching and examining treated beef at a plant and eating hamburgers made with it in a bid to persuade grossed-out consumers and grocery stores the product is safe to consume.
The three governors and two lieutenant governors spent about a half hour learning about the process of creating finely-textured lean beef in a tour of the main plant that makes the product, then blasted the media for scaring consumers with a moniker coined by critics.
"If you called it finely textured lean beef, would we be here?" asked Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback. Several other leaders echoed his comments as they tried to smooth over consumer concerns about the product.
Beef Products, the main producer of the cheap lean beef made from fatty bits of meat left over from other cuts, has drawn scrutiny over concerns about the ammonium hydroxide it treats meat with to change the beef's acidity and kill bacteria. The company suspended operations at plants in Texas, Kansas and Iowa this week, affecting 650 jobs, but defends its product as safe.
The politicians who toured the plant -- Texas Gov. Rick Perry, Brownback, Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad, Nebraska Lt. Gov. Rick Sheehy and South Dakota Lt. Gov. Matt Michels-- all agree with the industry view that the beef has been unfairly maligned and mislabeled and issued a joint statement earlier saying the product is safe.
Struggling BlackBerry maker to focus on business customers, unable to lure high-end consumers
TORONTO (AP) -- Struggling BlackBerry maker Research in Motion Ltd. said Thursday that it plans to return its focus to its corporate customers after failing to compete with flashier, consumer-oriented phones such as Apple's iPhone and models that run Google's Android software.
The shift in strategy came with a management shakeup that includes longtime executive Jim Balsillie leaving the board and severing ties with a company he helped build and later see decline.
RIM said it will focus its consumer efforts on targeted offerings that tap the company's strengths. That includes devices that employees will want to buy on their own and bring to the corporate environment. The company was exploring partnerships and other opportunities for consumer products that aren't deemed central. Those products could include software and features that are then incorporated into RIM's own offerings.
"We can't do everything ourselves, but we can do what we're good at," RIM CEO Thorsten Heins said.
RIM has had limited success trying to enter consumer markets in recent years, particularly with high-end devices that sport touch screens popular with consumers.
Heejun Han booted from 'American Idol' leaving 8 singers in competition
LOS ANGELES (AP) -- It wasn't a laughing matter for Heejun Han on "American Idol."
The goofy 22-year-old nonprofit organizer from New York who found his way back into the judges' good graces after weeks of silly on-stage antics was eliminated from the Fox singing contest. After receiving the fewest viewer votes, Han couldn't convince the judges to save him Thursday by reprising his serious take on Leon Russell's "A Song for You."
"Heejun, let the record show you knew this was coming yourself," said "Idol" judge Steven Tyler.
Han was joined in the bottom three by 18-year-old finalists Skylar Laine of Brandon, Miss., and Hollie Cavanaugh of McKinney, Texas. Laine was lauded by the judges during Wednesday's idol-themed performances for her energetic rendition of Miranda Lambert's "Gunpowder and Lead," while Cavanaugh failed to light up Tyler and Randy Jackson with Carrie Underwood's "Jesus, Take the Wheel."
The eight remaining singers will return to the stage to perform 1980s tunes for viewer votes next Wednesday.
Conn. police free sex shop customer accidentally locked into handcuffs he was trying on
ORANGE, Conn. (AP) -- There's a new twist for police in Orange, Conn.: They've had to break a man out of handcuffs.
Assistant Chief Ed Koether tells the Connecticut Post newspaper (http://bit.ly/HoMRcshttp://bit.ly/HoMRcs ) officers were called Thursday afternoon to an adult entertainment store in Orange, a town just west of New Haven. The man had been trying on the cuffs and locked himself in a pair.
Koether says shop employees couldn't get the man free and called the fire department and then police.
The cuffs were similar to the kind police officers carry. But Koether says the officers tried several keys that didn't work. The handcuffs had to be removed with bolt cutters.
Koether says he doesn't know if the man had to pay for the broken handcuffs.
A week before Masters, all-male membership debate returns at Augusta
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) -- The appointment of a new chief executive at IBM has revived the debate over Augusta National's all-male membership just one week before the Masters.
IBM hired Virginia Rometty as its CEO this year, which could mean a break in recent tradition if Augusta sticks to its history of never having a woman as one of its roughly 300 members.
The last four CEOs of IBM all belonged to the club. However, a woman has never worn an Augusta green jacket since it opened in 1933.
"I think they're both in a bind," Martha Burk said Thursday evening from Washington.
It was Burk who led an unsuccessful campaign 10 years ago for Augusta to admit a female member, demanding that four companies drop their television sponsorship because of the discrimination. Hootie Johnson, club chairman at the time, said Augusta would not be pressured to take a female member "at the point of a bayonet."