Saturday, March 31, 2012


Lottery official: Winning Mega Millions ticket sold in Maryland; unknown if others sold

CHICAGO (AP) -- Maryland lottery officials announced early Saturday that their state sold what could become the world's largest lottery payout of all-time, but it wasn't immediately clear if that ticket holder would get sole possession of the $640 million jackpot or have to split it with other winners.

Carole Everett, director of communications for the Maryland Lottery, said the winning Mega Millions ticket was purchased at a retailer in Baltimore County. She said it's too early to know any other information about the lucky ticket holder or whether others were sold elsewhere in the nation.

The winning numbers were 02-04-23-38-46, and the Mega Ball 23.

National lottery officials were expecting to list early Saturday on their website how many winning tickets were sold and from what states, but Maryland sent out its news release and called media organizations hours before the scheduled announcement. The headline of its news release said the winning sale was "one of several nationwide," but Everett told The Associated Press she couldn't immediately confirm any others.

Everett said the last time a ticket from the state won a major national jackpot was 2008 when a ticket sold for $24 million.


Sock it to ME? Did you hear the 1 about the politician who tried too hard to be funny?

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Mitt Romney hit an off note this week when he told a "humorous" story about his dad shutting down a factory. Robert De Niro managed to get both Newt Gingrich and the Obama campaign riled up when he joked at an Obama fundraiser that America isn't ready for a white first lady. Texas Gov. Rick Perry, still nursing wounds from his failed presidential campaign, did himself a world of good with his self-deprecating jokes at a recent Washington dinner.

Done right, humor can be a huge asset for a politician. But it is easily fumbled in the overheated environment of a political campaign.

That may be why Romney's aides dispatched him to the "The Tonight Show" this week with these instructions: "Don't try and be funny."

The Republican presidential front-runner largely complied, and that worked out just fine for him. But he apparently forgot his advisers' advice the very next day when he attempted to be funny on a conference call with people in next-to-vote Wisconsin.

Romney recounted what he called a "humorous" story about the time his auto executive father shut down a factory in Michigan and moved it to Wisconsin. Later, when his dad was in a parade while running for Michigan governor, the marching band kept playing the University of Wisconsin fight song.


South Korean officials say they will keep working with US to reduce oil imports from Iran

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) -- South Korean officials said Saturday that they will continue working with the U.S. to reduce oil imports from Iran after President Barack Obama greenlighted potential sanctions against countries that continue to buy Iranian oil.

South Korea is one of several major importers of Iranian oil that have not received exemptions from the U.S. sanctions.

Obama announced Friday that he is plowing ahead with the potential sanctions, which could affect U.S. allies in Asia and Europe, as part of a deepening campaign to starve Iran of money for its disputed nuclear program.

The sanctions aim to further isolate Iran's central bank, which processes nearly all of the Iran's oil purchases, from the global economy. Obama's move clears the way for the U.S. to penalize foreign financial institutions that do oil business with Iran by barring them from having a U.S.-based affiliate or doing business here.

Obama's goal is to tighten the pressure on Iran, not allies, and already the administration exempted 10 European Union countries and Japan from the threat of sanctions because they cut their oil purchases from Iran. Other nations have about three months to significantly reduce such imports before sanctions would kick in.


Cruise ship with 1,000 on board drifts after fire in engine room off Philippines; 5 crew hurt

MANILA, Philippines (AP) -- A cruise ship with about 1,000 people on board was drifting in waters south of the Philippines on Saturday after a fire disabled its engines, the Philippine coast guard said. Five crew members were injured.

The fire on the Azamara Quest started late Friday, a day after the ship left Manila for Sandakan, Malaysia, and was immediately put out, said coast guard spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Algier Ricafrente. He said there were no other details about the incident.

The ship was carrying 590 passengers and 411 crew members, he said.

The ship's operator, Azamara Club Cruises, said in a statement that no passengers were injured in the fire, which was in one of the ship's engine rooms and was immediately extinguished. But five crew members suffered smoke inhalation, including one who was seriously injured and needed hospital care.

Azamara Club Cruises is part of Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd., which along with competitor Carnival Corp. has seen bookings drop after high-profile cruise accidents this year. In January, Carnival's Costa Concordia capsized off the coast of Italy, killing 32 people.


After decades of struggle, Myanmar's democratic icon Aung San Suu Kyi poised for public office

WAH THIN KHA, Myanmar (AP) -- Myanmar's former military rulers once despised Aung San Suu Kyi so much they would not speak her name.

They vowed to "annihilate" her pro-democracy movement. They jailed and tortured her supporters. They locked the soft-spoken dissident in her own home for the better part of two decades, declaring her political career over.

But after an era tenaciously spent trying to silence their most prominent critic, Myanmar's army-backed leaders are now on the verge of an extraordinary turnaround -- welcoming her into parliament.

On Sunday, this tiny village of thatched bamboo huts is expected to help vote the frail but intensely stalwart opposition leader into public office for the first time, raising the prospect she could win the presidency itself during the next ballot in 2015.

The by-election, held to fill just 45 vacant legislative seats in a 664-member bicameral assembly, will not change the balance of power in a country still heavily controlled by a deeply feared military. But Suu Kyi's campaign -- made possible by a fragile detente with a government that's embarked on a stunning series of democratic reforms over the last few months -- has galvanized Myanmar's downtrodden masses and resurrected hope.


Syrian official says army will not make 1st move, withdraw troops from flashpoint areas

BEIRUT (AP) -- A Syrian official says Damascus will not pull troops from cities and towns engulfed in the country's unrest before life returns to normal in these areas.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Jihad Makdessi told state TV late Friday the military is in these cities "in a state of self defense and protecting civilians."

He spoke just hours after the U.N.-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan's office appealed on Syria's government to stop military activities first as "the stronger party" and in a "gesture of good faith."

Syria's uprising began a year ago with peaceful protests against President Bashar Assad's regime. In the face of a fierce crackdown, it has become increasingly militarized. The rebels now demand Assad's ouster.

The U.N. estimates more than 9,000 people have been killed in the fighting.


Court documents: Blood found at Josh Powell's Utah home was from his missing wife

TACOMA, Wash. (AP) -- In the quest to figure out what happened to Susan Powell in 2009, Utah authorities compiled a heap of evidence -- finding blood in the family home, an eerie hand-written "will" and a young son who bluntly said that mom was dead.

Despite all of the information, investigators with West Valley City police continued to say Friday that they are treating the case as a missing-persons matter. They have never named a suspect or filed charges in Powell's disappearance, even though her husband was linked with much of the evidence and scrutiny.

Josh Powell killed himself and their two young children in a gas-fueled inferno two months ago.

A prosecutor in Washington state, examining the unsealed files for the first time Friday, said he thought there was enough evidence to charge Josh Powell with murder.

"There is direct evidence. There is circumstantial evidence. There is motive," said Pierce County prosecutor Mark Lindquist. "There is everything but the body."


The penny drops -- Canada to kill its one-cent coin, calling it a costly nuisance

TORONTO (AP) -- They clutter your dresser and cost too much to make. They're a nuisance and have outlived their purpose.

Finance Minister Jim Flaherty was talking about the Canadian penny and why the Royal Canadian Mint will end its production this fall as part of his austerity budget.

"The penny is a currency without any currency in Canada, and it costs us 1.5 cents to produce a penny," Flaherty told reporters.

Responses Friday were mixed, with some Canadians saying it would make life easier, while others worried it would become an opening for sneaky price hikes.

David Berman, a blogger at the Toronto Globe and Mail, took issue with Flaherty calling the penny a nuisance. "For a government that has been warning Canadians against piling on too much debt, it seems like a contradiction to then denigrate the one-cent coin -- hey, it's still money -- as nothing more than a waste of space. It isn't."


Keith Olbermann looking for new job after less than a year as talk show host at Current TV

NEW YORK (AP) -- Keith Olbermann is looking for a new job after less than a year as a talk show host at Current TV.

The left-leaning cable network announced just hours before airtime on Friday that Olbermann's show "Countdown" would be replaced with a new program called "Viewpoint" hosted by former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer, beginning that night.

The sometimes volatile Olbermann came to Current in June as the centerpiece of its new prime-time initiative after a stormy eight-year stint at MSNBC -- his second at that network-- followed by his abrupt departure in January 2011.

Shortly after, Current announced his hiring -- reportedly with a five-year, $50-million contract -- as the start of an effort to transform the network's prime-time slate into progressive talk. His official title was chief news officer, charged with providing editorial guidance for all of the network's political news, commentary and current events programming.

In a statement, Current TV founders Al Gore and Joel Hyatt said the network was "founded on the values of respect, openness, collegiality, and loyalty to our viewers. Unfortunately these values are no longer reflected in our relationship with Keith Olbermann and we have ended it."


Like it or not, pressure is on Kentucky to win first national title since 1998

NEW ORLEANS (AP) -- The pressure is everywhere for Kentucky to win a national title. Except in the locker room.

At least that's what the Wildcats (36-2) keep saying as they head into their national semifinal showdown with Louisville (30-9) on Saturday night in New Orleans.

Though coach John Calipari says that every game other teams play against Kentucky is a "Super Bowl," the Wildcats have carried weighty expectations since the start of the season that they would cut down the nets here.

Then there's the small-town college experience of basketball-crazed Lexington, which senior Darius Miller likens to a fishbowl, and a state that follows the team's every move. Add in that Kentucky hasn't won a title since 1998 and the 'Cats have to go through archrival Louisville to win a title, and the pressure just builds.

"You want to do it for these fans. I've never in my life been in a place that they're so passionate, but yet they've got a soft heart. They're not mean and nasty. They're not 'The Miserables.' They just want this thing to go well," Calipari said this week. "And they worry. They can't sleep at night. I sleep like a baby.