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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Marijuana, beating claims put slain Florida teen's supporters on the defensive

SANFORD, Fla. (AP) -- The family and supporters of slain Florida teenager Trayvon Martin found themselves on the defensive Monday following revelations he had been suspended for marijuana before he was shot to death by a neighborhood watch volunteer. Police also confirmed a report that the watchman claimed Martin was the aggressor, punching him in the nose and smacking his head on a sidewalk.

Martin, 17, was suspended by Miami-Dade County schools because traces of marijuana were found in a plastic baggie in his book bag, family spokesman Ryan Julison said. Martin was serving the suspension when he was shot Feb. 26 by George Zimmerman, who was patrolling the neighborhood that Martin was visiting with his father.

Martin's mother, Sybrina Fulton, and family attorneys blamed police for leaking the information about the marijuana and Zimmerman's claim about the attack to the news media in an effort to demonize the teenager.

"They killed my son and now they're trying to kill his reputation," Fulton told reporters.

The Sanford Police Department insisted there was no authorized release of the new information but acknowledged there may have been a leak. City Manager Norton Bonaparte Jr. said it would be investigated and the person responsible could be fired.

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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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Sidewalks in front of Supreme Court offer a kaleidoscope of views of health care law

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The voices inside the Supreme Court building were not nearly as loud -- or as colorful -- as those along the sidewalks facing its heavy bronze doors.

And how could they be? The court chamber is a model of order and decorum. Outside, a different kind of democracy was in action on Monday.

Demonstrators competed for the attention of national news media, springtime tourists and curious passers-by as the high court heard arguments over the national health care law. Those who chanted, waved signs, played music or even argued with each other enjoyed a bright spring day to sound off.

Tea party activists like Linda Dorr of Laguna Beach, Calif., held aloft signs protesting "Obamacare" and calling it "UnAmerican." On the other side of the debate, Bette Grey of Berwick, Pa., pointed to a sign lampooning House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, a healthcare law opponent.

Pastor Mark Morrow of Williamsburg, Va., read from a Bible, one of those taking a more prayerful approach to registering an opinion. Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum used the camera-ready moment to bring attention to his faltering campaign.

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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, gently pressing the island's longtime communist leaders to push through "legitimate" reforms their people desire, while also criticizing the excesses of capitalism.

In contrast to the raucous welcome Benedict received in Mexico, his arrival in Cuba's second city was relatively subdued: While President Raul Castro greeted him at the airport with a 21-cannon salute and military honor guard, few ordinary Cubans lined Benedict's motorcade route into town and the pope barely waved from his glassed-in popemobile.

Santiago's main plaza, however, came alive when Benedict arrived for his evening Mass, his main public event in Cuba's second city before he heads Tuesday to Havana. While the plaza was not fully packed there was a festive atmosphere, with Cubans dancing to the rhythms of a samba band awaiting Benedict's arrival, waving small Cuban and Vatican flags.

"It is a message of love, this visit," said Jorgelina Guevara, a 59-year-old homemaker as she waited for the Mass to begin. "The Cuban people need it."

The trip comes 14 years after John Paul's historic tour, when the Polish pope who helped bring down communism in his homeland admonished Fidel Castro to free prisoners of conscience, end abortion and let the Roman Catholic Church take its place in society.

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Officials: US and Pakistan spy chiefs bargain over future of CIA drone program

WASHINGTON (AP) -- In a bid to save the CIA's drone campaign against al-Qaida in Pakistan, US officials offered key concessions to Pakistan's spy chief that included advance notice and limits on the types of targets. But the offers were flatly rejected, leaving US-Pakistani relations strained as President Barack Obama prepares to meet Tuesday with Pakistan's prime minister.

CIA Director David Petraeus, who met with Pakistan's then-spy chief, Lt. Gen. Ahmed Shuja Pasha at a meeting in London in January, offered to give Pakistan advance notice of future CIA drone strikes against targets on its territory in a bid to keep Pakistan from blocking the strikes -- arguably one of the most potent U.S. tools against al-Qaida.

The CIA chief also offered to apply new limits on the types of targets hit, said a senior U.S. intelligence official briefed on the meetings. No longer would large groups of armed men rate near-automatic action, as they had in the past -- one of the so-called "signature" strikes, where CIA targeters deemed certain groups and behavior as clearly indicative of militant activity.

Pasha said then what Pakistani officials and its parliament have repeated in recent days: that Pakistan will no longer brook independent U.S. action on its territory by CIA drones, two Pakistani officials said. All the officials spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the sensitive negotiations.

Pasha went further, saying Pakistan's intelligence service would no longer carry out joint raids with U.S. counterterrorist teams inside its country, as it had in the past. Instead, Pakistan would demand that the U.S. hand over the intelligence, so its forces could pursue targets on their own in urban areas, or send the Pakistani army or jets to attack the targets in the tribal areas, explained a senior Pakistani official.

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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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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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R&B singer Bobby Brown arrested on suspicion of drunken driving in Los Angeles

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Officials in Southern California say Bobby Brown has been arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence.

California Highway Patrol Officer Mike Harris says Brown was arrested around 12:20 p.m. Monday in the San Fernando Valley north of Los Angeles. He failed a field sobriety test and was booked on suspicion of DUI.

Harris says the R&B singer was pulled over after an officer saw him talking on his cellphone without a hands-free unit and noticed he appeared to be impaired.

Los Angeles police say Brown was released from jail on his own recognizance shortly before 2 p.m.

The 43-year-old is the ex-husband of Whitney Houston and a founding member of the group New Edition.

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Goodell might let Sean Payton coach Saints during appear, would speed up decision

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell might allow Sean Payton to coach the Saints while he appeals his season-long suspension for his role in the team's bounties program.

"I said in a letter they have to appeal by April 2, I believe," Goodell said Monday at the owners meetings in Palm Beach, Fla. "If he decides to appeal, I probably will allow him to continue and I would expedite the hearing and I would expedite my decision.

"We did meet twice and went through the information. If he has something else for me to consider, I will."

Payton's agent, Donald Yee, said "no decisions have been made about an appeal" by his client.

"Sean fully supports the league's player safety goals," Yee said. "Given this, he probably won't address the entire league" when he arrives at the owners meetings.