Monday, March 26, 2012

Published:

No delay: Justices signal readiness to tackle keep-or-kill question for health care overhaul

WASHINGTON (AP) -- As demonstrations swirled outside, Supreme Court justices signaled on Monday they are ready to confront without delay the keep-or-kill questions at the heart of challenges to President Barack Obama's historic health care overhaul. Virtually every American will be affected by the outcome, due this summer in the heat of the election campaign.

On the first of three days of arguments -- the longest in decades -- none of the justices appeared to embrace the contention that it was too soon for a decision.

Outside the packed courtroom, marching and singing demonstrators on both sides -- including doctors in white coats, a Republican presidential candidate and even a brass quartet -- voiced their eagerness for the court to either uphold or throw out the largest expansion in the nation's social safety net since Medicare was enacted in 1965.

Tuesday's arguments will focus on the heart of the case, the provision that aims to extend medical insurance to 30 million more Americans by requiring everyone to carry insurance or pay a penalty.

A decision is expected by late June as Obama fights for re-election. All of his Republican challengers oppose the law and promise its repeal if the high court hasn't struck it down in the meantime.

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Trayvon Martin's mother files papers to trademark 2 slogans based on his name

SANFORD, Fla. (AP) -- The mother of slain Florida teenager Trayvon Martin has filed papers seeking to trademark two slogans based on his name.

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office filings by Sybrina Fulton are for the sayings "I Am Trayvon" and "Justice For Trayvon." The applications were filed last week.

The applications say the trademarks could be used for such things as DVDs and CDs. An attorney who filed the papers says Fulton wants to protect intellectual property rights for use in projects to help other families in similar situations.

Neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman has claimed he shot the 17-year-old Martin in self-defense. Martin's family claims racial profiling was behind the killing, which has become a national racial flashpoint. Martin was black. Zimmerman's father is white and mother Hispanic.

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Pope Benedict XVI touches down in Cuba 14 years after John Paul II's historic visit

SANTIAGO, Cuba (AP) -- Pope Benedict XVI arrived in Cuba on Monday in the footsteps of his more famous predecessor, saying he holds great affection for Cubans on both sides of the Florida Straits and heartfelt hopes for reconciliation.

President Raul Castro warmly greeted the pope, who said he was coming as "a pilgrim of charity" as he arrived at the sweltering airport in Santiago, Cuba's second largest city.

The pontiff, who last week said Marxism "no longer responds to reality," gave a more gentle tweak to his hosts by expressing sympathy for all islanders, including prisoners.

"I carry in my heart the just aspirations and legitimate desires of all Cubans, wherever they may be," he said. "Those of the young and the elderly, of adolescents and children, of the sick and workers, of prisoners and their families, and of the poor and those in need."

In his own remarks, the Cuban leader assured Benedict his country favors complete religious freedom and has good relations with all religious institutions.

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Afghan security forces kill 3 NATO troops, reflecting a spike in tensions

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) -- Afghan security forces shot and killed three international troops Monday, one of them an American, in two attacks. They were the latest in a rising number of attacks in which Afghan forces have turned their weapons on their foreign partners.

The killings reflect a spike in tensions between Afghan and international forces that follow an American soldier's alleged massacre of Afghan civilians, the burning of Muslim holy books at a U.S. base, and uncertainty about Afghanistan's fate as foreign troops prepare to pull out.

They also come at a time when international troops have stepped up training and mentoring of Afghan soldiers, police and government workers so that Afghans can take the lead and the foreign forces can go home. The success of that partnership is key to the U.S.-led coalition's strategy to withdraw most foreign combat forces by the end of 2014.

U.S. Marine Gen. John Allen, the top commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, told reporters at the Pentagon that these types of attacks are characteristic of any warfare involving insurgents.

"We experienced these in Iraq. We experienced them in Vietnam," Allen said. "On any occasion where you're dealing with an insurgency and where you're also growing an indigenous force ... the enemy's going to do all that they can to disrupt both the counterinsurgency operations" and the developing nation's security forces.

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Excerpts from Supreme Court justices and lawyers at Monday's arguments over health care law

Excerpts from Monday's Supreme Court arguments over whether legal challenges to President Barack Obama's health care law are premature under the Anti-Injunction Act, which bars lawsuits against a tax until after the tax is paid:

Solicitor General Donald Verrilli: This case presents issues of great moment and the Anti-Injunction Act does not bar the Court's consideration of those issues.

Robert A. Long: Somewhat to my surprise, "tax" is not defined anywhere in the Internal Revenue Code.

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Weight-loss surgery dramatically improves diabetes; remissions can last years, studies find

CHICAGO (AP) -- New research gives clear proof that weight-loss surgery can reverse and possibly cure diabetes, and doctors say the operation should be offered sooner to more people with the disease -- not just as a last resort.

The two studies, released on Monday, are the first to compare stomach-reducing operations to medicines alone for "diabesity" -- Type 2 diabetes brought on by obesity. Millions of Americans have this and can't make enough insulin or use what they do make to process sugar from food.

Both studies found that surgery helped far more patients achieve normal blood-sugar levels than medicines alone did.

The results were dramatic: Some people were able to stop taking insulin as soon as three days after their operations. Cholesterol and other heart risk factors also greatly improved.

Doctors don't like to say "cure" because they can't promise a disease will never come back. But in one study, most surgery patients were able to stop all diabetes drugs and have their disease stay in remission for at least two years. None of those treated with medicines alone could do that.

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Manufacturer of 'pink slime' beef ingredient suspending operations at 3 of 4 plants

LUBBOCK, Texas (AP) -- The maker of "pink slime" suspended operations Monday at all but one plant where the beef ingredient is made, acknowledging recent public uproar over the product has cost the company business.

Craig Letch, director of food quality and assurance for Beef Products Inc., declined to discuss financial details, but said business has taken a "substantial" hit since social media exploded with worry over the ammonia-treated filler and an online petition seeking its ouster from schools drew hundreds of thousands of supporters. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has decided school districts may stop using it and some retail chains have pulled products containing it from their shelves.

Federal regulators say the product, which has been used for years and is known in the industry as "lean, finely textured beef," meets food safety standards. But critics call the product an unappetizing example of industrialized food production.

Beef Products will suspend operations at plants in Amarillo, Texas; Garden City, Kan.; and Waterloo, Iowa, Letch said. About 200 employees at each of the three plants will get full salary and benefits for 60 days during the suspension. The company's plant at its Dakota Dunes, S.D., headquarters will continue operations.

The company, meanwhile, will develop a strategy for rebuilding business and addressing what Letch called misconceptions about the beef the company makes.

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Defense: Philadelphia monsignor 'won't run' from church sex abuse problem, tried to correct it

PHILADELPHIA (AP) -- A high-ranking monsignor on trial in Philadelphia "won't run" from the Catholic Church's sex abuse crisis, his lawyer said Monday when the landmark child endangerment trial opened.

Monsignor William Lynn supervised more than 800 priests as the secretary for clergy in Philadelphia from 1992 to 2004. He's the first U.S. church official ever charged over his handling of abuse complaints.

Prosecutors charge that he kept dangerous priests in parish work around children to protect the church's reputation and avoid scandal.

"There is documentary evidence that the sexual abuse of children happened in the Catholic Church. We're not going to run from that," defense lawyer Thomas Bergstrom said in opening statements. "He, perhaps alone, is the one who tried to correct it."

Bergstrom said his client had prepared a list of 35 accused priests in 1994, based on his review of secret archives kept in a locked room at the archdiocese's headquarters. Lynn gave the list to Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua and other superiors, but Bevilacqua ordered a bishop to shred it, Bergstrom said.

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Stocks rise sharply after Bernanke suggests economy still needs help

NEW YORK (AP) -- Stocks leapt to multi-year highs and recorded one of their biggest gains of the year Monday after Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke suggested that the economy still needs help to produce faster job growth.

The Dow Jones industrial average climbed 160.90 points to 13,241.63, its third-best showing this year. The Standard & Poor's 500 index rose 19.40 points to 1,416.51, its highest close since May 2008.

The Nasdaq composite index, which is closing in on a 20 percent rally for the year, climbed 54.65 points to 3,122.57, its best finish since November 2000.

Health care stocks led the market. The Supreme Court heard the first of three days of arguments on the constitutionality of President Barack Obama's 2010 health care law, which will require Americans to carry insurance or pay a penalty.

Health care stocks gained 1.7 percent as a group. Aetna gained 3.1 percent, WellPoint 2.9 percent and UnitedHealth Group 2.7 percent. The court is expected to decide the case in June.

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GOP hits Obama for telling Russia his reelection will allow more missile defense flexibility

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) -- President Barack Obama told Russia's leader Monday that he would have more flexibility after the November election to deal with the contentious issue of missile defense, a candid assessment of political reality that was picked up by a microphone without either leader apparently knowing.

Obama's Republican opponents pounced on the comment, saying the president has a hidden agenda that could include concessions to the Russians if he is re-elected this fall.

"This is my last election," Obama is heard telling outgoing Russian President Dmitry Medvedev. "After my election, I have more flexibility."

Medvedev replied in English, according to a tape by ABC News: "I understand. I will transmit this information to Vladimir," an apparent reference to incoming President Vladmir Putin.

Obama and Medvedev did not intend for their comments, made during a meeting in Seoul, South Korea, to be made public.