Friday, April 11, 2014

Published:

At Al Sharpton summit, Obama warns right to vote in US faces biggest threat in half a century

NEW YORK (AP) -- In an unsparing critique of Republicans, President Barack Obama on Friday accused the GOP of using voting restrictions to keep voters from the polls and of jeopardizing 50 years of expanded ballot box access for millions of black Americans and other minorities.

"The stark, simple truth is this: The right to vote is threatened today in a way that it has not been since the Voting Rights Act became law nearly five decades ago," Obama said in a fiery speech at civil rights activist and television talk host Al Sharpton's National Action Network conference.

Obama waded into the acrid debate over voting access in an election year where control of the Senate, now in the hands of Democrats, is at stake, as is Obama's already limited ability to push his agenda through Congress.

Republicans say the voting measures guard against voter fraud, but Democrats say they erode the landmark 1965 law that helped pave Obama's path in politics.

"Across the country, Republicans have led efforts to pass laws making it harder, not easier, for people to vote," he said, relating anecdotes of voters turned away because they didn't have the right identification or because they needed a passport or birth certificate to register.

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In rare rebuke, Obama administration blocks Iran's choice as UN envoy from entering the US

WASHINGTON (AP) -- In a rare diplomatic rebuke, the United States has blocked Iran's controversial pick for envoy to the United Nations, a move that could stir fresh animosity at a time when Washington and Tehran have been seeking a thaw in relations.

The Obama administration said Friday that the U.S. had informed Iran it would not grant a visa to Hamid Aboutalebi, a member of the group responsible for the 1979 takeover of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran. While U.S. officials had been trying to persuade Iran to simply withdraw Aboutalebi's name, the announcement amounted to an acknowledgement that those efforts had not been successful.

"We've communicated with the Iranians at a number of levels and made clear our position on this -- and that includes our position that the selection was not viable," White House spokesman Jay Carney said. "Our position is that we will not be issuing him a visa."

Aboutalebi is alleged to have participated in a Muslim student group that held 52 Americans hostage for 444 days during the embassy takeover. He has insisted his involvement in the group Muslim Students Following the Imam's Line was limited to translation and negotiation.

Hamid Babaei, a spokesman for the Iranian U.N. Mission, said the decision was not only regrettable but "in contravention of international law, the obligation of the host country and the inherent right of sovereign member-states to designate their representatives to the United Nations."

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Dreams of low-income students dashed in college tour bus crash that killed 10, injured dozens

ORLAND, Calif. (AP) -- It was a busload of opportunity: young, low-income, motivated students, destined to become the first in their families to go to college, journeying from the concrete sprawl of Los Angeles to a remote redwood campus 650 miles north.

Those dreams shattered for some Thursday in an explosive freeway collision that left 10 dead -- students, chaperones and both drivers -- and dozens hospitalized.

Desperate families awaited word about loved ones Friday, while investigators tried to figure out why a southbound FedEx big rig swerved across the grassy divide of California's key artery before sideswiping a car and slamming into the tour bus, which burst into a furious blaze.

The Serrato family, whose identical twin 17-year-old daughters set off on the adventure on separate buses Thursday, had a panicked, sleepless night. Marisol made it to their destination, Humboldt State University, but there was no word from Marisa, who had been aboard the now-gutted bus.

Friday morning when a sheriff's deputy asked for Marisa's dental records, a grim request made to several families, 23-year-old brother Miguel Serrato said his family was "getting a little bit scared." His mother booked a flight north.

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A new face for 'Obamacare' -- but same problems persist of making it work, dealing with GOP

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Abruptly on the spot as the new face of "Obamacare," Sylvia Mathews Burwell faces steep challenges, both logistical and political.

Burwell, until now White House budget director, was named by President Barack Obama on Friday to replace Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, who oversaw the messy rollout of the health care overhaul. Now the new secretary must keep the complex program running smoothly and somehow help restore a cooperative dialogue with Republicans who are hoping to use the law's problems to regain control of the Senate in November.

At an upbeat Rose Garden event, Obama showered praise on Sebelius, a hero for his party's liberal base, whose impending retirement had been a tightly guarded secret.

The president ignored calls for Sebelius to resign last fall, after the website for consumers to enroll in new coverage experienced weeks of crippling technical problems. Last month, as it started to look like sign-ups would beat expectations, Sebelius approached the White House about stepping aside, officials said.

"Under Kathleen's leadership, her team at HHS turned the corner, got it fixed, got the job done," Obama said. "And the final score speaks for itself." About 7.5 million people have signed up for subsidized private health insurance through the new law, exceeding an original target of 7 million widely thought to be unattainable because of the website problems.

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Steep drop in high-flying technology stocks stirs debate about stock market's direction

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -- The stock market's laws of gravity are ravaging its highest fliers.

Just look at the list of technology trailblazers whose values have plummeted from record highs during the past few weeks. Investors have re-focused on safer sectors such as utilities, health care and consumer staples instead of companies that promise potential growth from online services that are building huge audiences.

Stung by the abrupt change in sentiment, the stocks of recent stars such as Netflix, Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn are 20 percent to 45 percent below their recent peaks. The steep downfall is raising questions about whether this is just a fleeting fit of fickleness or the foreshadowing of another market bubble about to burst.

Stocks across all sectors dropped Friday. The tech-driven Nasdaq composite index fell 54.37 points, or 1.3 percent to 3,999.73 to punctuate a punishing week, and is down 8 percent since early March, when it hit a 14-year closing high of 4,358. Last year, the Nasdaq soared 38 percent.

The Standard & Poor's 500 index fell 17.39 points, or 0.95 percent, to 1,815.69 Friday. The S&P 500 is 4 percent off its recent high on April 2.

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Images of forced cattle roundup on Nevada range prompting protests, land use questions

LAS VEGAS (AP) -- Images of a forced cattle roundup on a rural Nevada range sent ripples through the West on Friday, prompting elected officials in several states to weigh in, militia members to mobilize and federal land managers to reshape elements of the operation.

Bureau of Land Management officials dismantled designated protest areas Thursday and Nevada's governor urged calm as the fight over rancher Cliven Bundy's cattle widened into a debate about states' rights and federal land-use policy.

The dispute that triggered the roundup dates to 1993, when the BLM cited concern for the federally protected tortoise. The agency later revoked Bundy's grazing rights.

Bundy claims ancestral rights to graze his cattle on lands his Mormon family settled in the 19th century. He stopped paying grazing fees and disregarded several court orders to remove his animals.

BLM officials say Bundy now owes more than $1.1 million in unpaid grazing fees.

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Searchers race to find jet's dying black boxes with no new underwater signals detected

PERTH, Australia (AP) -- With no new underwater signals detected, the search for the missing Malaysian passenger jet resumed Saturday in a race against time to find its dying black boxes five weeks after families first learned their loved ones never arrived at their destination.

The ocean search area has been condensed, as ships and planes hunted for any clue that could help find Flight 370, which disappeared en route from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia to Beijing with 239 people on board, mostly Chinese.

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott told Chinese President Xi Jinping that he was confident signals heard by an Australian ship towing a U.S. Navy device that detects flight recorder pings are coming from the Boeing 777. Officials believe the plane flew off course for an unknown reason and went down in the southern Indian Ocean off the west coast of Australia.

"We're getting into the stage where the signal from what we are very confident is the black box is starting to fade," Abbott told reporters Friday in Shanghai, referring to the plane's flight data and cockpit recorders. "We are hoping to get as much information as we can before the signal finally expires."

Search crews are running out of time because the batteries powering the recorders' locator beacons last only about a month, and that window has already passed. Finding the devices after the batteries fail will be extremely difficult because the water in the area is 4,500 meters (15,000 feet) deep.

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President Obama attends 'A Raisin in the Sun' on Broadway starring Denzel Washington

NEW YORK (AP) -- Tickets to watch Denzel Washington on Broadway in "A Raisin in the Sun" are hard to come by, but one man managed it -- President Barack Obama.

The president and the first lady caught the American masterpiece Friday night at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre, where it first opened more than 50 years ago. They took their seats to huge applause.

There was a 20-minute delay in the beginning of the show when an alarm flooded the theater with a piercing sound. A huge ovation greeted its end.

Lorraine Hansberry's play, set in 1950s Chicago, centers on a struggling working-class black family anxiously awaiting a $10,000 insurance check and the ensuing squabbles over how to spend it.

Besides Washington, the cast includes LaTanya Richardson Jackson, Sophie Okonedo, Anika Noni Rose, Sean Patrick Thomas and David Cromer. The director is Kenny Leon.

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New Jersey's Borgata claims big-time gambler won $9.6M by cheating at cards

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. (AP) -- An Atlantic City casino is suing a big-time gambler, claiming he won $9.6 million in a card-cheating scheme in baccarat.

The Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa filed a federal lawsuit Tuesday against Phillip Ivey Jr., considered one of the best poker players in the world.

The lawsuit alleges Ivey and an associate exploited a defect in cards made by a Kansas City manufacturer that enabled them to sort and arrange good cards in baccarat. The technique gave him an unfair advantage on four occasions between April and October 2012, the casino asserted in its lawsuit.

The casino claims the technique, called edge sorting, violates New Jersey casino gambling regulations. Its senior vice president, Joe Lupo, declined to comment on the lawsuit.

Ivey's lawyer declined to comment on Friday.

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Going for greens: Bubba Watson goes on birdie spree, 3 strokes ahead midway through Masters

AUGUSTA, Ga. (AP) -- Bubba Watson won the Masters two years ago with his brand of "Bubba golf," producing shots of raw skill and wild imagination. His strategy now is to keep it simple, and he is halfway to another green jacket.

Watson took over Augusta National on Friday with 75 minutes of brilliance and power. On another demanding day of crispy greens and swirling wind, he ran off five straight birdies on the back nine and wound up with a 4-under 68 for a three-shot lead over John Senden.

There's nothing fancy about his golf, except for his outrageous length. He has made only two bogeys in 36 holes. He has missed only eight greens.

"It's not science here," Watson said. "It's try to hit the greens. And if you're hitting the greens, that means you're obviously hitting your tee shots well. So that's all I'm trying to do is just hit the greens ... maybe throw in a birdie here or there. That's what I've done the last two days and it's worked out so far."

Watson made bogey on the 18th hole with a shot that bounced left of the green and into the gallery. He finished at 7-under 137, giving him the largest 36-hole lead at the Masters since Chad Campbell in 2006.