Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Published:

Romney wins Illinois GOP primary, looking to gain a little distance on Santorum in GOP race

SCHAUMBURG, Ill. (AP) -- Front-runner Mitt Romney won the Illinois primary with ease Tuesday night, routing Rick Santorum in yet another industrial state showdown and padding his already-formidable delegate lead in the race for the Republican presidential nomination.

Romney triumphed after benefitting from a crushing advantage in the television advertising wars, and as his chief rival struggled to overcome self-imposed political wounds in the marathon race to pick an opponent to Democratic President Barack Obama.

Returns from 19 percent of the state's precincts showed Romney gaining 56 percent of the vote compared to 27 percent for Santorum, 9 percent for Ron Paul and 7 percent for Newt Gingrich.

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Strong quake shakes south and central Mexico, damaging hundreds of homes and collapsing 60

MEXICO CITY (AP) -- A strong 7.4-magnitude earthquake hit southern Mexico on Tuesday, damaging some 800 homes near the epicenter and swaying tall buildings and spreading fear and panic hundreds of miles away in the capital of Mexico City.

One of the strongest to shake Mexico since the deadly 1985 temblor that killed thousands in Mexico City, Tuesday's earthquake hit hardest in border area of southern Oaxaca and Guerrero states, where Guerrero official confirmed that some 800 homes had been damaged, with another 60 having collapsed.

Hours after the shaking at noon local time (18:06 GMT), there were still no reports of death or serious injury, even after a less powerful, magnitude-5.1 aftershock was felt in the capital and several other aftershocks near the epicenter in a mountainous rural region.

"It was very strong, very substantial," said Campos Benitez, hospital director in Ometepec, about 15 miles (25 kilometers) from the epicenter.

Guerrero Gov. Angel Aguirre, who is from Ometepec, was headed there to survey the damage and ordered emergency crews and civil protection to the area to help with the damage. The state did not say how many were displaced.

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Election-year budget face-off: House GOP plan would cut spending much more deeply than Obama

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Mixing deep cuts to safety-net programs for the poor with politically risky cost curbs for Medicare, Republicans controlling the House unveiled an election-year budget blueprint Tuesday that paints clear campaign differences with President Barack Obama.

The announcement reignited a full-throated budget battle. Republicans cast themselves as stepping up to a federal deficit crisis long ignored by both parties, while Democrats and their allies responded with promises to protect the elderly and the poor from drastic cuts they said would harm the most vulnerable Americans.

The GOP plan doesn't have a chance of becoming law this year -- the Democratic-controlled Senate has no plans to even take it up -- but it provides a sharp election-season contrast to the budget released by Obama last month. His proposal would rely on tax increases on the wealthy to curb trillion-dollar-plus deficits but for the most part would leave alone key benefit programs such as Medicare.

The Republican proposal, released by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, would wrestle the federal spending deficit to a manageable size in short order, but only by cutting Medicaid, food stamps, Pell Grants and a host of other programs that Obama and other Democrats have promised to defend.

The plan calls for steep drops in personal and corporate tax rates in exchange for clearing away hundreds of tax deductions and preferences. It would eliminate oft-criticized corporate tax boondoggles but also tax deductions and credits claimed by the poor and middle class.

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Afghanistan suspect's questionable dealings: shaky operations, fraud case, failed venture

CINCINNATI (AP) -- The U.S. suspect in the slaughter of 16 villagers in Afghanistan has a trail of shaky financial dealings -- from working in penny-stock boiler rooms that drew numerous client complaints, to an unpaid $1.5 million fraud judgment, to a failed investment partnership with a former high school football teammate, records show.

Staff Sgt. Robert Bales joined the Army in 2001 after a Florida investment business failed and after he had worked with a string of securities operations with one company official now barred from trading in Ohio. That broker and Bales were socked in 2003 with a $1.5 million arbitration ruling after an elderly couple charged that their holdings were decimated.

Bales responded to another client complaint by saying the company officer, Michael Patterson, had wrongly blamed Bales for bad trades for an elderly client.

Bales, 38, is being held in Fort Leavenworth, Kan., while a military investigation continues into the nighttime rampage in Afghanistan. His attorney said Tuesday he expects the case to be lengthy.

"Everyone has financial problems," attorney John Henry Browne said Tuesday of Bales' money problems, including a planned sale of his Seattle-area home for $50,000 less than he and his wife paid for it in 2005. "But you don't go around killing innocent women and children over financial problems."

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Syrian forces take eastern city from rebels; right group accuses opposition of abuses

BEIRUT (AP) -- Syrian soldiers backed by tanks seized the eastern city of Deir el-Zour from rebels on Tuesday, the latest opposition stronghold to fall to an offensive by the better equipped Syrian military.

Activist Osama Mansour said government troops and armored cars entered the city about 100 kilometers (60 miles) from the Iraqi border from four sides, sparking short gunbattles with fighters from the Free Syrian Army.

Mansour, reached by telephone in Deir el-Zour, said the rebels quit fighting and took shelter in homes and apartments, fearing that protracted clashes would destroy the city.

Taking back rebel-held cities in the past weeks, government troops have often heavily shelled neighborhoods before sending in troops, killing civilians and damaging buildings.

"They knew they could not hold control of the neighborhoods, so they decided to stop fighting, knowing that the regime would bring in heavy weapons and kill many civilians," Mansour said.

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Congress' tax experts say Buffett rule tax on wealthiest would raise just $47B over 11 years

WASHINGTON (AP) -- A bill designed to enact President Barack Obama's plan for a "Buffett rule" tax on the wealthy would rake in just $47 billion over the next 11 years, according to an estimate by Congress' official tax analysts obtained by The Associated Press.

That figure would be a drop in the bucket of the over $7 trillion in federal budget deficits projected during that period. It is also minuscule compared to the many hundreds of billions it would cost to repeal the alternative minimum tax, which Obama's budget last month said he would replace with the Buffett rule tax.

The alternative minimum tax, originally aimed at ensuring that wealthy Americans pay taxes despite deductions and other breaks, has begun affecting upper middle-class families. Congress acts every year to minimize its impact.

The Buffett rule has become a leading symbol of Obama's and congressional Democrats' election-year efforts to persuade voters that they are the party championing economic fairness. Republicans have mocked it as one aimed at scoring political points that would have little real budgetary impact.

The plan is named for billionaire investor Warren Buffett, who has said taxes on the rich are too low. Obama has proposed requiring that people earning at least $1 million annually pay at least 30 percent of their income in taxes, but has provided few details.

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Researchers say new clue may help uncover fate of Amelia Earhart 75 years after disappearance

WASHINGTON (AP) -- A new clue in one of the 20th century's most enduring mysteries could soon uncover the fate of American aviator Amelia Earhart, who went missing without a trace over the South Pacific 75 years ago, investigators said Tuesday.

Enhanced analysis of a photograph taken just months after Earhart's Lockheed Electra plane vanished shows what experts think may be the landing gear of the aircraft protruding from the waters off the remote island of Nikumaroro, in what is now the Pacific nation of Kiribati, they said.

Armed with that analysis by the State Department, historians, scientists and salvagers from The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery, are returning to the island in July in the hope of finding the wreckage of Earhart's plane and perhaps even the remains of the pilot and her navigator Fred Noonan.

Ric Gillespie, executive director of the group, acknowledged that the evidence was "circumstantial" but "strong" but stopped short of predicting success. The new search is scheduled to last for 10 days in July and will use state-of-the-art underwater robotic submarines and mapping equipment.

"The most important thing is not whether we find the ultimate answer or what we find, it is the way we look," he said. "We see this opportunity to explore ... the last great American mystery of the 20th century as a vehicle for demonstrating how to go about figuring out what is true."

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Lawyer: Fla. teen said he was being followed before neighborhood watch captain shot him

SANFORD, Fla. (AP) -- An unarmed black teenager shot to death by a neighborhood watch captain told his girlfriend moments before he was killed that he was being followed, a lawyer said Tuesday as federal and state prosecutors announced they would investigate.

"'Oh he's right behind me, he's right behind me again,'" 17-year-old Trayvon Martin told his girlfriend on his cellphone, the Martin family's attorney said.

The girl later heard Martin say, "Why are you following me?" Another man asked, "What are you doing around here?'" attorney Benjamin Crump said.

The phone call that recorded Martin's final moments was disclosed as the U.S. Justice Department opened a federal civil rights probe into the Feb. 26 shooting and the local prosecutor convened a grand jury to investigate. A grand jury will meet April 10 to consider evidence in the case, said Seminole County State Attorney Norm Wolfinger.

The neighborhood watch captain, George Zimmerman, has not been charged and said he shot Martin, who was returning to a gated community in Sanford after buying candy at a convenience store, in self-defense after Martin attacked him. Police say Zimmerman is white; his family says he is Hispanic.

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Ruby Garrett, the husband-shooting, tax-evading last madam of Montana mining town, dies at 94

BUTTE, Mont. (AP) -- Ruby Garrett ran the last brothel standing in this mining town's once-lively red-light district with a reputation for kindness toward her girls, but the grandmotherly figure was also a husband-shooting, tax-evading madam who once said that prostitution should be considered a commodity.

The first time Garrett went to prison, it was for shooting her husband five times in the middle of a card game in 1959. She killed him, she said, because he had abused her repeatedly.

She went to prison again in 1982 for failing to report her earnings. While she was investigated, the sheriff padlocked the doors of the Dumas Hotel in late 1981, marking the end of the brothel that had catered to the miners in the Montana boomtown since 1890.

Butte's last madam died Saturday at Crest Nursing Home at the age of 94, the Duggan-Dolan Mortuary confirmed Tuesday. The cause of her death was not immediately known.

Garrett, also known as Lee Arrigoni, told the Montana Standard in 1991 that prostitution should be considered a commodity instead of being morally wrong.

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Elway says Tebow took news of Manning deal with class, understanding

DENVER (AP) -- On the day the Denver Broncos celebrated the arrival of Peyton Manning, all the action photos of Tim Tebow that once graced the hallways at the team facility were gone.

How's that for a subtle hint?

Though executive John Elway and coach John Fox wouldn't exactly come out and say it, the Tebow era in Denver looks to be all but over.

At a news conference Tuesday to introduce Manning, Elway said he's exploring all his options for Tebow, the incredibly popular and polarizing quarterback who led the Broncos back to the playoffs last season for the first time since 2005.

"Tim Tebow is a great kid. If I want someone to marry my daughter, it would be him," Elway said. "But I think with the opportunity to have Peyton Manning's services, we had to take advantage of that. Now that it's happened, we have to go back and address Tim and see what the best situation is for the Denver Broncos as well as him."