Wednesday March 13, 2013

Judge enters not guilty plea on behalf of Holmes in Colorado theater shooting

CENTENNIAL, Colo. (AP) -- The judge in the deadly Colorado movie theater shooting case entered a not guilty plea on behalf of James Holmes on Tuesday after the former graduate student’s defense team said he was not ready to enter one.

If Holmes is convicted, he could be executed or spend the rest of his life in prison. Judge William Sylvester said Holmes, 25, can change his plea to not guilty by reason of insanity later, if he chooses.

Such a change could be the only way Holmes could avoid life in prison or execution.

Prosecutors, for their part, have not said yet whether they will pursue the death penalty, announcing Tuesday that they will make their decision known on April 1.

The judge set Aug. 5 for the start of the trial. Prosecutors and defense attorneys declined comment.

Will nation’s uninsured get lost in long application for Obama health care plan?

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Applying for benefits under President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul could be as daunting as doing your taxes.

The government’s draft application runs 15 pages for a three-person family. An outline of the online version has 21 steps, some with additional questions.

Seven months before the Oct.


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1 start of enrollment season for millions of uninsured Americans, the idea that getting health insurance could be as easy as shopping online at Amazon or Travelocity is starting to look like wishful thinking.

At least three major federal agencies, including the IRS, will scrutinize your application. Checking your identity, income and citizenship is supposed to happen in real time, if you apply online.

That’s just the first part of the process, which lets you know if you qualify for financial help. The government asks to see what you’re making because Obama’s Affordable Care Act is means-tested, with lower-income people getting the most generous help to pay premiums.

House GOP budget takes aim at Obamacare, Medicaid, would lead to balance in 10 years

WASHINGTON (AP) -- House Republicans unveiled their latest budget outline on Tuesday, sticking to their plans to try to repeal so-called Obamacare, cut domestic programs ranging from Medicaid to college grants and require future Medicare patients to bear more of the program’s cost.

The GOP plan came as President Barack Obama traveled to Capitol Hill to meet with Senate Democrats on the budget and a broad range of other proposals that are part of his second-term agenda. The president has launched a new outreach to rank-and-file Republicans, and his Hill visit is one of several planned with lawmakers of both parties this week.

The fiscal blueprint released Tuesday by Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., will be dead on arrival with the White House and Democrats controlling the Senate. But the point is to prove it’s possible to balance the budget within 10 years by simply cutting spending and avoiding further tax hikes.

The latest Ryan plan generally resembles prior ones, relying on higher tax revenues enacted in January and improved Medicare cost estimates -- along with somewhat sharper spending cuts -- to promise balance.

Senate Democrats plan to offer a counterproposal on Wednesday with higher spending on domestic programs and additional tax hikes on top of the higher rates imposed on top-bracket earners in January. That plan will, in turn, arrive as a dead letter in the GOP-controlled House.

Curiosity rover tests rock, shows ancient Mars had ingredients to support microbes

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- The Curiosity rover has answered a key question about Mars: The red planet in the past had some of the right ingredients needed to support primitive life.

The evidence comes from a chemical analysis by Curiosity, which last month flexed its robotic arm to drill into a fine-grained, veiny rock and then test the powder.

Curiosity is the first spacecraft sent to Mars that could collect a sample from deep inside a rock, and scientist said Tuesday that they hit pay dirt with that first rock.

"We have found a habitable environment that is so benign and supportive of life that probably if this water was around and you had been on the planet, you would have been able to drink it," said chief scientist John Grotzinger of the California Institute of Technology.

The rover made a dramatic "seven-minutes-of-terror" landing last August near the planet’s equator. A key task: Find out if ancient Mars ever had conditions favorable for microscopic organisms.

Cop convicted in plot to kidnap, eat women; defense decries ‘thought prosecution’

NEW YORK (AP) -- Police Officer Gilberto Valle’s lawyers said he was just spinning sick and twisted fantasies for his own pleasure when he chatted online about abducting, roasting and eating women. A jury, though, decided he was deadly serious.

Valle, 28, was convicted Tuesday of conspiracy in a macabre case that opened a window on a shocking Internet world of cannibalism fetishists. He could get life in prison at sentencing June 19 but is likely to face much less.

His lawyers branded the outcome a "thought prosecution" that sets a dangerous precedent, while federal prosecutors said the verdict proved that Valle crossed the line from fantasy to reality and was genuinely bent on committing "grotesque crimes."

Valle slumped in his chair, dropped his head and wept when the verdict in what the tabloids dubbed the "Cannibal Cop" trial was announced after more than two days of deliberations: guilty of conspiracy to commit kidnapping and guilty of illegally using a police database.

Israel’s ultra-Orthodox parties find themselves on unfamiliar ground -- outside government

JERUSALEM (AP) -- As Israel’s new government takes shape, the country’s powerful ultra-Orthodox Jewish political parties seem poised to find themselves in unfamiliar territory -- the parliamentary opposition -- instead of their traditional seats around the Cabinet table.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s two new potential partners pledge to end a system in which the ultra-Orthodox have used political clout to win generous government subsidies, evade compulsory military service and attempt to impose their conservative social mores.

Nothing is certain yet. Netanyahu is still negotiating, and he has not yet signed coalition agreements with the two main parties -- the centrist Yesh Atid and hawkish Jewish Home.

If his new government excludes the ultra-Orthodox parties, it could reshape the face of Israel, which has experienced growing strife in recent years between the fast-growing ultra-Orthodox community and the general public.

Ultra-Orthodox party leaders are vowing to put up a fight.

Scientists exhume bodies of 2 alleged activists in killings linked to Mandela ex-wife

JOHANNESBURG (AP) -- Forensic scientists on Tuesday exhumed two bodies believed to belong to young activists last seen 24 years ago at the home of Winnie Madikizela-Mandela as police said they have opened a new murder investigation.

The case reopens a dark chapter in the life of the then-wife of Nelson Mandela. Many South Africans still revere the 76-year-old as "the mother of the nation," but others have feared as a vengeful and heartless operator. She had "the blood of African children on her hands," her former friend Xoliswa Falati told South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

In the late 1990s, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission found that Madikizela-Mandela was responsible for the disappearances in November 1988 of 21-year-old Lolo Sono and his friend Sibuniso Tshabalala, 19. But nothing was done to pursue allegations she was directly involved in their killings, even though her chief bodyguard Jerry Richardson told the commission he and a colleague stabbed the young men to death on Madikizela-Mandela’s orders.

Mortuary records indicate the two bodies that were unearthed on Tuesday had multiple stab wounds

In front of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Madikizela-Mandela denied all knowledge of the two and said allegations she was involved in six other killings were rubbish. Madikizela-Mandela could not be reached for comment.

Bob Dylan voted into elite arts academy, becoming first rock star to join

If he lived in England, he’d surely be Sir Bob Dylan.

The most influential songwriter of his time has become the first rock star voted into the elite, century-old American Academy of Arts and Letters, where artists range from Philip Roth to Jasper Johns and categories include music, literature and visual arts. According to executive director Virginia Dajani, officials couldn’t decide whether he belonged for his words or for his music, so they settled on making him an honorary member, joining such previous choices as Meryl Streep, Woody Allen and a filmmaker who has made a documentary about Dylan, Martin Scorsese.

"The board of directors considered the diversity of his work and acknowledged his iconic place in the American culture," Dajani said recently. "Bob Dylan is a multi-talented artist whose work so thoroughly crosses several disciplines that it defies categorization."

Dylan’s manager, Jeff Rosen, had no immediate comment on Dylan’s reaction -- Dylan did accept membership, a condition for the vote to go through -- or whether he would attend the academy’s April dinner or May induction ceremony. Dylan usually tours in the spring and is already booked for much of April for shows in the East and Midwest, none of them in the New York City area.

"I would guess it’s unlikely," Dajani said of whether Dylan would show up for either occasion.