Saturday, March 31, 2012

Published:

Hope springs not so eternal: Americans bemoan lottery losses as 3 tickets share $640M jackpot

RED BUD, Ill. (AP) -- The Mega Millions winners -- at least three of them -- stayed out of sight. The losers, who could number 100 million, had plenty to say Saturday about losing out on the world's largest-ever lottery jackpot and their dashed dreams of colossal wealth.

Journalists descended on convenience stores in Illinois and Maryland and Kansas lottery officials proudly proclaimed they sold winning tickets in the $640 million world record-breaking Mega Millions jackpot. The winners will earn $213 million before taxes. Three other ticket holders became millionaires.

But on the street, online, and outside the stores where the winners had purchased their tickets, Americans grumbled about hopes that were raised, and then vanished. And they mused about what they would have done with the money.

"What do I do with this useless lottery ticket now?" Laurel Ashton Brooks of Greensboro, N.C., asked on Twitter.

As the jackpot got bigger by the hour on Thursday and Friday, Americans had snapped up tickets while dreaming of quitting jobs, paying off debts, building hospitals, buying an island. On Saturday, they took to Twitter and Facebook to bemoan their lost, razor-thin chance at millions.

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Congratulations, Mega Millions winners! You're part of the 1 percent ... but don't get cocky

ST. LOUIS (AP) -- Congratulations, Mega Millions winners! You've just won the biggest lottery in history! Move over Bill Gates and Warren Buffett!

Not so fast, Richie Rich.

There's no doubt that you're now each a member of the 1 percent. A life of comfort and leisure awaits, and managed wisely, it just might await your friends and family for generations to come.

Let's just not get carried away.

A luxury box at the stadium you can afford, but forget about buying the franchise and becoming the "No. 1 fan" of your favorite NFL or Major League Baseball team. The Los Angeles Dodgers just sold for $2 billion, besting the NFL record price of $1.1 billion for the Miami Dolphins by nine times your take-home winnings.

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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.

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Supreme Court indicates in health care case that it, like public, has little faith in Congress

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Supreme Court left little doubt during last week's marathon arguments over President Barack Obama's health care overhaul that it has scant faith in Congress' ability to get anything done.

The views about Congress underlay questions from justices who appear to be on both sides of the argument over the constitutionality of the law's key provision, the individual insurance requirement, as well as whether the entire law should be thrown out if the mandate is struck down.

The comments were particularly striking from the conservative justices who have called on unelected judges to show deference to the actions of elected officials.

Justice Antonin Scalia, who appeared strongly in favor of striking down the entire law, was the most outspoken in his disdain for the branch of government that several justices can see from their office windows.

"You can't repeal the rest of the act because you're not going to get 60 votes in the Senate to repeal the rest. It's not a matter of enacting a new act. You've got to get 60 votes to repeal it. So the rest of the act is going to be the law," Scalia said, explaining it might be better to throw the whole thing out.

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Syria says army will not be first to lay down arms, rejecting appeal by UN chief

BEIRUT (AP) -- Syria rejected international envoy Kofi Annan's call for the regime to halt violence first just days after the government agreed to a cease-fire plan. A senior official declared victory over the opposition.

It was the government's first response to an appeal by Annan, the U.N.-Arab League envoy, to stop military operations first as "the stronger party" in a "gesture of good faith" to the lightly armed opposition. Annan brokered the agreement aimed at stopping the bloodshed and Assad agreed to it on Monday.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Jihad Makdessi said the government will not pull tanks and troops from towns and cities engulfed by unrest before life returns to normal there.

"The battle to bring down the state in Syria has already ended and the battle of reinforcing stability has started," Makdessi said in an apparent reference to a string of recent regime offensives that drove rebels from key strongholds. He spoke on state TV late Friday.

Activists reported fresh violence Saturday that killed more than two dozen people. The U.N. estimates more than 9,000 people have been killed since the uprising to oust Assad began a year ago.

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World landmarks dimmed for Earth Hour to highlight climate change

LONDON (AP) -- Hundreds of world landmarks from Berlin's Brandenburg Gate to the Great Wall of China went dark Saturday, part of a global effort to highlight climate change.

Earth Hour, held on the last Saturday of March every year, began as a Sydney-only event in 2007. The city's iconic Harbor Bridge and Opera House were dimmed again this year.

Australia is among the first countries to flick off the light switches each year; in New Zealand, Sky Tower in Auckland and the parliament buildings in Wellington switched off two hours earlier; Tokyo Tower was also dimmed and in Hong Kong, buildings along Victoria Harbour also went dark. All the events take place at 8:30 p.m. local time.

The WWF, the global environmental group which organizes the event, said the number of countries and territories participating has grown from 135 last year to 147 this year.

"Global warming is a big issue," said Rudy Ko, of Taiwanese environmental group Society of Wilderness. "Everybody can help reduce the problem by turning the lights off."

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Titanic sinking set the stage for future mega-disasters, such as Challenger, BP oil spill,

Epic disasters -- the anguished cries, the stories of heroism -- are the central narratives of our age, both enthralling and horrifying. And our obsession began a century ago, unfolding in just 160 terrifying minutes, on a supposedly unsinkable ship, as more than 1,500 souls slipped into the icy waters of the North Atlantic. And the band played on.

It was the Titanic. And ever since, we've been hooked on disasters, in general -- but the tale of the great luxury liner, in particular. And the approaching 100th anniversary of the sinking has merely magnified the Titanic's fascination.

There were catastrophes before that fateful Sunday night in April 1912, but nothing quite captivated the newly wireless-connected globe's attention. It was more than news. It was a macabre form of entertainment.

Bigger, deadlier disasters followed, but they all borrowed from the storylines -- morality plays, really -- established by the Titanic's sinking: The high-profile investigations ... wall-to-wall news coverage ... issues of blame, technological hubris, ignored warnings and economic fairness -- all were themes that played out in the BP oil spill, the space shuttle disasters, Hurricane Katrina, the Exxon Valdez and the recent grounding of the Costa Concordia.

"The story is ageless, like all great stories," said James Delgado, director of maritime heritage at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. "The elements in this case of triumph, tragedy, and hubris, of bravery and cowardice, all wrapped up in one brief moment. That speaks to people."

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Ireland in revolt over new property tax as half of households miss deadline, thousands protest

DUBLIN (AP) -- Debt-mired Ireland is facing a revolt over its new property tax.

The government said less than half of the country's 1.6 million households paid the charge by Saturday's deadline to avoid penalties. And about 5,000 marched in protest against the annual conference of Prime Minister Enda Kenny's Fine Gael party.

Emotions ran raw as police backed by officers on horseback stopped demonstrators from entering the Dublin Convention Centre. Many protesters booed and heckled passers-by who were wearing Fine Gael conference passes, some screaming vulgar insults in their faces.

Protesters jostled with police as they tried to block the way of Fine Gael activists using a back entrance. One man mistakenly identified as the government minister responsible for collecting the tax had to be rescued by police from an angry scrum.

Kenny said his government had no choice, but to impose the new charge as part of the nation's efforts to emerge from an international bailout. Ireland already has endured five emergency budgets in four years and expects to face at least four more years of austerity.

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Humor huge asset for candidates when done right, but can be fumbled easily during a campaign

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Mitt Romney hit an off note 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 fumbled easily in the overheated environment of a political campaign.

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

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Stricken cruise ship repaired after 24 hours adrift, heading to Malaysia from Philippines

MANILA, Philippines (AP) -- A cruise ship with 1,000 people on board that had drifted for 24 hours after being disabled by a fire was headed toward Malaysia following repairs, the Philippine coast guard said Saturday.

The Azamara Quest that had embarked on a 17-day Southeast Asian cruise was left drifting in southern Philippine waters after a fire broke out Friday night. The flames engulfed one of the ship's engine rooms but were quickly extinguished, the ship's operator said. Five crew members suffered smoke inhalation, including one who was seriously injured and needed hospital care.

The ship informed the coast guard late Saturday that its power and propulsion had been restored and it was moving slowly toward Sandakan, its next destination after it left Manila Thursday, spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Algier Ricafrente said.

Azamara Club Cruises, the ship's operator, said in a statement Saturday night that the ship was sailing at a top speed of only 6 knots (11 kilometers or 6.9 miles per hour) and was expected to reach Sandakan "within 24 to 48 hours."

It said company president Larry Pimentel will meet personally with the passengers and crew in Sandakan.