Thursday, April 5, 2012

Published:

As Romney pulls away in nomination race, Santorum huddles with conservatives

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Republican presidential hopeful Rick Santorum met privately with conservative leaders on Thursday to craft plans to try to stop Mitt Romney's march to the nomination. Pressuring rival Newt Gingrich to leave the race was part of their overall strategy.

The northern Virginia meeting included a host of fiscal and social conservatives who have long doubted Romney's conservative credentials.

"Like halftime at a football game, you go into the locker room to gauge what has been working and what hasn't," meeting participant Richard A. Viguerie, chairman of ConservativeHQ.com, said in a statement. "The Santorum campaign team recognizes that, because of Mitt Romney's money advantage and his support from the Republican establishment and the mainstream media, Rick has, to some extent, lost control of narrative in the campaign."

Among other topics, according to Viguerie, the participants discussed their perception that "delegate counts being published by the Romney campaign and the media are simply inaccurate."

The group decided to apply more pressure on Gingrich to quit, which they see as allowing divided conservatives to unite behind Santorum, according to an official close to the campaign. The official requested anonymity to discuss private conversations.

___

Syrian attack in Damascus outskirts dims cease-fire hopes; France accuses regime of deception

BEIRUT (AP) -- Syria launched a blistering assault Thursday on the outskirts of its capital, shelling residential areas and deploying snipers on rooftops as international envoy Kofi Annan demanded every fighter lay down arms in time for a U.N.-brokered cease-fire.

The bloodshed undermined already fading hopes that more than a year of violence will end soon, and France accused President Bashar Assad of trying to fool the world by accepting Annan's deadline to pull the army back from population centers by April 10.

According to the plan, rebels are supposed to stop fighting 48 hours later, paving the way for talks to end Assad's violent suppression of the uprising against his rule. The U.N. says more than 9,000 people have died.

"Can we be optimistic? I am not. Because I think Bashar Assad is deceiving us," French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe told reporters in Paris.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said the crisis was getting worse, even though the Syrian government accepted Annan's plan March 27. Activists have accused the regime of stepping up attacks across the country, and they described Thursday's assault in Douma as among the worst around the capital since the uprising began.

___

Obama's challenge to the Supreme Court may herald a campaign issue for the president this fall

WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Barack Obama is laying groundwork to make the majority-conservative Supreme Court a campaign issue this fall, taking a political page from Republicans who have long railed against liberal judges who don't vote their way.

The emerging Democratic strategy to paint the court as extreme was little noted in this week's hubbub over Obama's assertion that overturning his health care law would be "unprecedented."

His statement Monday wasn't completely accurate, and the White House backtracked. But Obama was making a political case, not a legal one, and he appears ready to keep making it if the high court's five-member majority strikes down or cuts the heart out of his signature policy initiative.

The court also is likely to consider several other issues before the November election that could stir Obama's core Democratic supporters and draw crucial independent voters as well. Among those are immigration, voting rights and a revisit of a campaign finance ruling that Obama has already criticized as an outrage.

"We haven't seen the end of this," said longtime Supreme Court practitioner Tom Goldstein, who teaches at Stanford and Harvard universities. "The administration seems to be positioning itself to be able to run against the Supreme Court if it needs to or wants to."

___

US Coast Guard unleashes cannon fire at Japanese ghost ship set adrift by last year's tsunami

OVER THE GULF OF ALASKA (AP) -- The U.S. Coast Guard unleashed cannon fire Thursday at a Japanese vessel set adrift by last year's tsunami, stopping the ship's long, lonely voyage across the Pacific Ocean.

A Coast Guard cutter fired on the abandoned 164-foot Ryou-Un Maru in the waters of the Gulf of Alaska and more than 150 miles from land, spokesman Paul Webb said. He said it could take at least an hour to sink it.

Soon after they started firing, the ship burst into flames, began to take on water and list, Chief Petty Officer Kip Wadlow said. He said the vessel poses a significant hazard and that the Coast Guard has been warning mariners to stay away.

Aviation authorities are also advising pilots to steer clear of the area.

Officials decided to sink the ship, rather than risk the chance of it running aground or endangering other vessels. The ship has no lights or communications system and has a tank that could carry more than 2,000 gallons of diesel fuel.

___

Panetta's commute home to California cost him $17,000 so far, while DOD tab is about $860,000

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has commuted on military aircraft to his home in northern California more than two dozen times since he took over the Pentagon in July, paying about $630 per trip for a roundtrip flight that costs the Pentagon about $32,000.

The totals detailed by defense officials lay out his reimbursements for the first time, showing he paid the Treasury about $17,000 for the 27 personal trips. Based on fuel and other operating expenses for his Air Force plane, those same trips cost the government as much as $860,000.

As Pentagon chief, Panetta is required to travel on military planes because they have the secure communications equipment he needs to stay in contact with the president and other top civilian and military leaders.

His bill for the travel is calculated according to reimbursement formulas dictated by longstanding federal policies using what a full-fare coach trip would cost. And the Pentagon says it costs about $3,200 per flight hour to operate the small plane he usually uses for the 10-hour round trip.

When he took the job, Panetta made it clear that he would continue to return home to his family on the weekends as he had done as CIA director for the previous two years, and as a member of Congress from 1977-1993.

___

New photo shows old man Manson at 77 just days before what could be last parole hearing

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- It is a mug shot for the ages.

Charles Manson, the most notorious mass murderer imprisoned in California and perhaps the nation, stares glumly at a camera, holding his booking number in front of him.

In the latest photo released by the California Department of Corrections, the 77-year-old Manson is gray-haired and gray-bearded, a shadow of the shaggy haired, wild-eyed killer whose visage glared from the covers of magazines in 1969.

He was a cult leader back then, the domineering force behind a rag-tag family of followers who said they killed for him.

Next Wednesday, Manson faces his 12th parole hearing. It could be his last because state law now allows a denial of parole for up to 15 years.

___

Conn. moves to become 5th state in 5 years to end death penalty; 11 would stay on death row

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) -- After executing just one prisoner in more than 50 years, Connecticut moved Thursday to become the fifth state in five years to do away with the death penalty for good.

But the repeal wouldn't be a lifeline for the state's 11 death row inmates, including two men who killed a woman and two children in a horrifying home invasion supporters touted as a key reason to keep the law on the books. The state Senate debated for hours Thursday about whether the law would reverse those sentences before voting 20-16 to repeal the law.

After the state Senate's 20-16 Thursday vote to repeal the law, the heavily Democratic state House of Representatives is expected to follow with approval within weeks. Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, the first Democratic governor elected in two decades, has vowed to sign the same bill vetoed by his Republican predecessor.

The wealthy, liberal state is one of the last in the Northeast to have a death penalty law and would join New Mexico, Illinois, New Jersey and New York as the most recent to outlaw capital punishment. Repeal proposals are also pending in several other states including Kansas and Kentucky, while an initiative to end the death penalty goes before California voters in November.

Like Connecticut, states that have recently decided to abolish capital punishment were among those that in practice rarely executed inmates. New Jersey, for example, hasn't executed anyone in more than 40 years; Connecticut's death row population is more than seven times below the national average.

___

Google aims to meld human and goggle with futuristic Project Glass -- just don't trip

NEW YORK (AP) -- If you think texting while walking is dangerous, just wait until everyone starts wearing Google's futuristic, Internet-connected glasses.

While wearing a pair, you can see directions to your destination appear literally before your eyes. You can talk to friends over video chat, take a photo or even buy a few things online as you walk around.

These glasses can do anything you now need a smartphone or tablet computer to do --and then some.

Google gave a glimpse of "Project Glass" in a video and blog post this week. Still in an early prototype stage, the glasses open up endless possibilities -- as well as challenges to safety, privacy and fashion sensibility.

The prototypes Google displayed have a sleek wrap-around look and appear nothing like clunky 3-D glasses. But if Google isn't careful, they could be dismissed as a kind of Bluetooth earpiece of the future, a fashion faux-pas where bulky looks outweigh marginal utility.

___

Keith Olbermann sues Current TV for more than $50 million; network blames his behavior

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Keith Olbermann is moving his grievances with his former employer Current TV from the airwaves to the courtroom, suing the network for more than $50 million and blasting it for what he claims were shoddy production values.

Olbermann's breach-of-contract lawsuit filed in Los Angeles on Thursday also seeks a judge's ruling that he didn't disparage the network before his firing, and that his former bosses violated his agreement by disclosing how much he was being paid.

The complaint describes a litany of technical issues, including shoddy equipment that wouldn't work if it rained, "terrible sound and filming" of the show, guests who were abruptly dropped from the air, busted teleprompters and an earpiece that repeatedly malfunctioned.

The court case escalated a war of words between Olbermann and the network since the host was fired last week. The lawsuit repeatedly attacks Current co-founder Joel Hyatt and network President David Borman, claiming they were responsible for many of the problems with Olbermann's show.

Current spokesman Christopher Lehane fired back, saying Olbermann was fired for missing work, "sabotaging the network" and disparaging his bosses.

___

Cleveland Indians and Toronto Blue Jays playing longest opening-day game in history

CLEVELAND (AP) -- The Cleveland Indians and Toronto Blue Jays are playing the longest opening-day game in baseball history.

Heading into the 16th inning, the teams have eclipsed the previous longest games set on two occasions. Toronto, however, got a three-run homer from J.P. Arencibia in the top of the 16th to take the lead.

The Indians played in one of the previous marathons, a 15-inning game on April 19, 1960, against Detroit that the Tigers won 4-2.

Also, on April 13, 1926, the Philadelphia Athletics and Washington Senators played 15 innings. Washington won 1-0.

The Blue Jays trailed 4-1 before rallying for three runs in the ninth off Cleveland closer Chris Perez.