Saturday, March 31, 2012

The Associated Press: Kan., Ill., Md. tickets share lottery jackpot

Kan., Ill., Md. tickets share lottery jackpot

By JEFFREY McMURRAY, Associated Press – 24 minutes ago 

CHICAGO (AP) — Lottery ticket-holders in Kansas, Illinois and Maryland each selected the winning numbers and will split a $640 million jackpot that was believed to be the world's largest such prize, a lottery official said Saturday.

Mike Lang, spokesman for the Illinois Lottery, said his state's winning ticket was sold in the small town of Red Bud, near St. Louis. The winner used a quick pick to select the numbers, he said.

The Maryland Lottery announced earlier Saturday that it had sold a winning ticket at a retail store in Baltimore County. No details were immediately available about the Kansas ticket.

Lang said each winning ticket was expected to be worth more than $213 million before taxes.

The winning numbers in Friday night's drawing were 02-04-23-38-46, and the Mega Ball 23.

Carole Everett, director of communications for the Maryland Lottery, said the last time a ticket from the state won a major national jackpot was 2008 when a ticket sold for $24 million.

"We're thrilled," she said. "We're due and excited."

The estimated jackpot dwarfs the previous $390 million record, which was split in 2007 by two winners who bought tickets in Georgia and New Jersey.

Americans spent nearly $1.5 billion for a chance to hit the jackpot, which amounts to a $462 million lump sum and around $347 million after federal tax withholding. With the jackpot odds at 1 in 176 million, it would cost $176 million to buy up every combination. Under that scenario, the strategy would win $171 million less if your state also withholds taxes.

From coast to coast, people stood in line at retail stores Friday for one last chance at striking it rich.

Maribeth Ptak, 31, of Milwaukee, only buys Mega Millions when the jackpot is really big and she bought one on Friday at a Milwaukee grocery store. She said she'd use the money to pay off bills, including school loans, and then she'd donate a good portion to charity.

"I know the odds are really not in my favor, but why not," she said.

Sawnya Castro, 31, of Dallas, bought $50 worth of tickets at a 7-Eleven. She figured she'd use the money to create a rescue society for Great Danes, fix up her grandmother's house, and perhaps even buy a bigger one for herself.

"Not too big — I don't want that. Too much house to keep with," she said.

Willie Richards, who works for the U.S. Marshals Service at a federal courthouse in Atlanta, figured if there ever was a time to confront astronomical odds, it was when $640 million was at stake. He bought five tickets.

"When it gets as big as it is now, you'd be nuts not to play," he said. "You have to take a chance on Lady Luck."

Associated Press Writers Carrie Antlfinger in Milwaukee, Jamie Stengle in Dallas and Kate Brumback in Atlanta contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

Friday, March 30, 2012

The Associated Press: Mega-long odds for winning record jackpot

Mega-long odds for winning record jackpot

By MARGERY A. BECK, Associated Press – 26 minutes ago 

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — A world-record $540 million Mega Millions jackpot has lottery players lining up for tickets early Friday and many wondering if there's any way to guarantee becoming an overnight multimillionaire.

The answer: Not unless you already are one and own a magic wand.

The jackpot is so large, someone with enough money could theoretically buy up every possible number combination, thereby guaranteeing a winning ticket — but only if you suspended the laws of physics.

A $540 million jackpot, if taken as a $390 million lump sum and after federal tax withholding, works out to about $293 million. With the jackpot odds at 1 in 176 million, it would cost $176 million to buy up every combination. Under that scenario, the strategy would win $117 million — less if your state also withholds taxes.

But there are too many limitations. First, if it takes five seconds to fill out each card, you'd need almost 28 years just to mark the bubbles on the game tickets. You'd also use up the national supply of special lottery paper and lottery-machine printing ink well before all your tickets could be printed out.

With a jackpot this large, experts say, there also is a greater chance of multiple winners. If you have to share the jackpot with even one other winner, you've lost $30 million.

Mike Catalano, chairman of the mathematics department at Dakota Wesleyan University in Mitchell, S.D., concedes the math is clear: The more tickets you buy, the better your chances of winning.

So, if you buy 10 tickets filled out 10 different ways, your odds of winning the jackpot 10 in 176 million.

"You are about 50 times as likely to get struck by lightning as to win the lottery, based on the 90 people a year getting struck by lightning," Catalano said. "Of course, if you buy 50 tickets, you've equalized your chances of winning the jackpot with getting struck by lightning."

Based on other U.S. averages, you're about 8,000 times more likely to be murdered than to win the lottery, and about 20,000 times more likely to die in a car crash than hit the lucky numbers, Catalano said.

"You might get some psychological enjoyment from playing the lottery, but from a financial standpoint ... you'd be much better off going to Las Vegas and playing blackjack or the slot machines," he said.

Long odds have been little deterrence to players converging on convenience stores in 42 states and Washington, D.C., where Mega Millions tickets are sold.

Many in Indiana were further encouraged by a free shot at instantaneous, enormous wealth, as Hoosier Lottery officials gave away one free Mega Millions ticket to each of the first 540 players at several outlets around the state Friday. About 150 already had been claimed by 6:30 a.m. at one store outside Indianapolis where person costumed as a bright yellow lottery ball had begun handing out the tickets only a half-hour earlier.

For David Kramer, a lawyer in Lincoln, Neb., buying his Mega Millions ticket Thursday wasn't about "the realistic opportunity to win."

"It's the fact that for three days, the daydreaming time about what I would do if I won is great entertainment and, frankly, a very nice release from a normal day," he said.

Chris Stites, of Fishers, Ind., stopped by a market in downtown Indianapolis on Thursday to spend $20 he and his co-workers pooled for Mega Millions tickets. He said he hopes buying in a group improves their odds.

"I've got as good a shot as anyone," Stites said. "It may be slim, but it's the same as it is for other people."

Even those seemingly well aware of the odds are at least taking a shot this week, including Dymond Fields, of St. Paul, Minn., a retail store cashier who bought just one ticket.

"I see people paying $30, $40, $50, and that's just painful," he said.

In line to buy tickets with Fields was 80-year-old Everett Eahmer, also of St. Paul, who said he's been playing the lottery "since the beginning."

"If I win, the first thing I'm going to do is buy a (Tim) Tebow football shirt, and I'm going to do the Tebow pose," said Eahmer, who bought five tickets. "I'm with him in honoring a higher power."

Lottery officials are happy to have Friday's record Mega Millions jackpot fueling ticket sales, but even they caution against spending large amounts of money per person in the hopes of striking it rich.

"When people ask me, I just tell them that the odds of a lottery game make it a game of fate," said Chuck Strutt, executive director of the Urbandale, Iowa-based Multi-State Lottery Association that oversees the Mega Millions, Powerball and other lotteries. "Just buy a ticket, sit back and see if fate points a finger at you for that day."

Associated Press writers Dinesh Ramde in Milwaukee, Carrie Schedler in Indianapolis, and Alexandra Tempus in St. Paul, Minn., contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Magic Johnson Wins Auction for Los Angeles Dodgers

Supreme Court to Hear Final Arguments on Health-Care Law -

The Supreme Court on Wednesday prepared to enter the last of its three days of arguments over the Obama health-care law, with justices set to weigh what happens to the rest of the overhaul if the court strikes down the requirement that individuals carry health insurance.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Killer of Florida teen told police he was attacked first | Reuters

(Reuters) - The man who shot and killed an unarmed Florida teenager in a case that has sparked widespread public outrage told police the victim had punched him, knocked him down and slammed his head into the pavement repeatedly before he fired the fatal gunshot.

The account of neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman, was published for the first time on Monday in the online edition of the Orlando Sentinel.

Trayvon Martin: George Zimmerman's account to police of the Trayvon Martin shooting. - Orlando Sentinel

With a single punch, Trayvon Martin decked the Neighborhood Watch volunteer who eventually shot and killed the unarmed 17-year-old, then Trayvon climbed on top of George Zimmerman and slammed his head into the sidewalk, leaving him bloody and battered, law-enforcement authorities told the Orlando Sentinel.

That is the account Zimmerman gave police, and much of it has been corroborated by witnesses, authorities say. There have been no reports that a witness saw the initial punch Zimmerman told police about.

Court's health ruling could shake fall elections -

WASHINGTON—The Supreme Court's ruling on the constitutionality of President Barack Obama's health care overhaul is likely to shake the presidential election race in early summer. But the winners in the court will not necessarily be the winners in the political arena.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Dick Cheney undergoes heart transplant surgery


WRAPUP 2-Homs pounded, Syrian tanks enter northern town | Reuters

BEIRUT, March 24 (Reuters) - Syrian forces pounded the already battered city of Homs with tank and mortar fire and troops raided a rebellious northern town on Saturday, leaving 10 civilians and four soldiers dead, opposition activists said.

With the year-long bloodshed showing no signs of abating, the U.N.-Arab League peace envoy for Syria, Kofi Annan, flew to Moscow in an effort to secure strong Russian support for his efforts to bring about a ceasefire and open political dialogue.

While Western and Arab states are calling for President Bashar al-Assad to stand down first, Russia is putting the onus on the armed rebels and their foreign supporters to halt their year-long uprising, saying its long-time ally Syria was ready for talks.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Rev. Al Sharpton holds justice rally for slain teen Trayvon Martin -

If Sanford city officials thought the police chief's departure would calm tempers arising from the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, Thursday night's rally in the teenager's honor proved them wrong.

As speaker after speaker took the stage at a downtown park, they made one thing clear: They want George Zimmerman, the man who said he shot the 17-year-old, arrested, and they won't settle for anything less.

"I pledge I will not let my son die in vain!" Martin's father, Tracy Martin, told a cheering crowd of several thousand after being introduced by the Rev. Al Sharpton.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

NFL hammers Saints, suspending Payton for full year, docking team draft picks | New Orleans


Court Sides With Property Owners Over EPA - US Business News - CNBC

The Supreme Court has sided with an Idaho couple in a property rights case, ruling they can go to court to challenge an Environmental Protection Agency order that blocked construction of their new home and threatened fines of more than $30,000 a day.

Romney's Ill. win enhances inevitability claim - CBS News

Monday, March 19, 2012

Jimmy Carter publishes study Bible, discusses faith-filled life – CNN Belief Blog - Blogs

Romney and Santorum face Illinois showdown


Instant View: Apple to pay dividend, buy back stock | Reuters

BBC News - Shootings in Toulouse and Montauban: What we know


Apple to Reveal Plan for Cash Hoard | Fox Business

Apple Inc, the world's most valuable company, will discuss on Monday what it plans to do with its $98 billion cash hoard, raising expectations it may meet demands to pay a dividend for the first time since 1995.

Just days after its stock touched $600 per share, Apple issued a short press advisory saying it would hold a conference call on Monday to discuss the outcome of discussions about its cash balances.

The maker of the iPhone, iPad and iPod has $98 billion in cash and securities, equal to about $104 a share according to ISI Group analyst Brian Marshall.

Wall Street has increasingly bet that Apple will this year return cash to shareholders, taking a cue from Chief Executive Tim Cook's comments about "active discussions" at the top levels about the matter.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Census documenting Great Depression to be released

Associated Press

NEW YORK — It was a decade when tens of millions of people in the U.S. experienced mass unemployment and social upheaval as the nation clawed its way out of the Great Depression and rumblings of global war were heard from abroad.

Now, intimate details of 132 million people who lived through the 1930s will be disclosed as the U.S. government releases the 1940 census on April 2 to the public for the first time after 72 years of being kept confidential.

Access to the records will be free and open to anyone on the Internet — but they will not be immediately name searchable.

For genealogists and family historians, the 1940 census release is the most important disclosure of ancestral secrets in a decade and could shake the branches of many family trees. Scholars expect the records to help draw a more pointillistic portrait of a transformative decade in American life.

Researchers might be able to follow the movement of refugees from war-torn Europe in the latter half of the 1930s; sketch out in more detail where 100,000 Japanese Americans interned during World War II were living before they were removed; and more fully trace the decades-long migration of blacks from the rural South to cities.

Henry Louis Gates Jr., a Harvard University professor and scholar of black history who has promoted the tracing of family ancestry through popular television shows, said the release of the records will be a "great contribution to American society."

Gates, whose new PBS series "Finding Your Roots" begins March 25, said the "goldmine" of 1940 records would add important layers of detail to an existing collection of opened census records dating to 1790.

"It's such a rare gift," he said of the public's access to census records, "especially for people who believe that establishing their family trees is important for understanding their relationship to American democracy, the history of our country, and to a larger sense of themselves."

Margo Anderson, a census historian, said the release of the records could help answer questions about Japanese-Americans interned in camps after the outbreak of WWII.

"What we'll be able to do now, which we really couldn't do, is to take a look at what the Japanese-American community looked like on the eve of evacuation," said Anderson, a professor of history and urban studies at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

More than 120,000 enumerators surveyed 132 million people for the Sixteenth Decennial Census — 21 million of whom are alive today in the U.S. and Puerto Rico, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

The survey contained 34 questions directed at all households, plus 16 supplemental questions asked of 5 percent of the population. New questions reflected the government's intent on documenting the turbulent decade, by generating data on homelessness, migration, widespread unemployment, irregular salaries and fertility decline.

Some of the most contentious questions focused on personal income and were deemed so sensitive they were placed at the end of the survey. Less than 300,000 people opted to have their income responses sealed.

In part because of the need to overcome a growing reluctance by the American public to answer questionnaires and fears about some new questions, the bureau launched its biggest outreach and promotional campaign up to that time, according to records obtained at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum in Hyde Park, N.Y.

It opened its first Division of Public Affairs to blanket the country with its message, reaching out to over 10,000 publications and recruiting public officials, clergy and business owners to promote it.

Movie studios were enlisted to encourage their film stars to participate, including Cesar Romero, who later played the Joker in the Batman television series. A photograph of President Franklin D. Roosevelt taking the census also was used for the campaign.

The bureau also hired the managing editor of "Opportunity: A Journal of Negro Life" to galvanize support in the black community. However, studies in the 1940s revealed undercounts, including 13 percent of draft-age black men.

In a first for the National Archives and Records Administration, the nation's recordkeeper plans to post the entire census on the Internet — its biggest digitization effort to date.

That might be unsurprising given that increasingly popular online ancestry services make vast amounts of genealogical data available. But for previous decennial census releases, researchers had to trek to NARA branches to crank through microfilm machines.

Still, finding a name in the 3.8 million digitized images won't be as easy as a Google search: It could be at least six months after the release before a nationwide name index is created.

In the meantime, researchers will need an address to determine a census enumeration district — a way to carve up the map for surveying — to identify where someone lived and then browse the records.

Some experts said enthusiasm for the release could be dampened by the lack of a name index, especially for novices.

"It may very well frustrate the newcomers," said Thomas Macentee, an industry analyst helping recruit volunteers for a name indexing effort sponsored in part by the Mormon-run "It's like showing up on Black Friday. If you really want that TV set, if you really want that census record, you are going to be ready to go and you are going to keep at it no matter what."

Publicly-traded, which has over 1.7 million customers, is also working to make the census records searchable by indexing almost all fields and providing proprietary tools to mine the data.

Josh Hanna, a senior adviser for the company, said the 1940 census will be the biggest database of its kind. "It'll be the deepest level of indexing we've ever done," he said. Access to the index and tools will be available for free through the end of 2013.

Other individuals and organizations across the country are also working to ease the use of the records, including the New York Public Library, which is digitizing the full set of New York City's 1940 telephone books to help people locate addresses.

Genealogy societies and libraries also have been holding packed workshops to educate their members.

In January, about three dozen people gathered in Manhattan for a meeting of the MetroNY Genealogy & Computers Special Interest Group to discuss the census. They included Michelle Novak, who has spent six years searching for information about her paternal grandfather, but has no street address to help locate him.

Novak, 43, said family members recalled him as a heavy drinker who worked long hours for the Pennsylvania Railroad and abandoned his family in the early 1930s.

But the few records she has been able to find include a signature in a railroad pension book. She believes the 1940 census might hold additional answers.

"If I can find one record, anything, it may help," she said in an email after the meeting. "Even if I find him in jail or deceased, at least I will have an answer."




Follow Cristian Salazar at and Randy Herschaft at

—Copyright 2012 Associated Press

For a century, underground railroad ran south

Jim Conrad's Naturalist Newsletter

Visitors often photograph the Hacienda's Black Iguanas basking atop stone walls, in trees and lumbering across the ground. The other day I came upon two in the parking lot clinched together fighting, shown at

They were young ones, only about 2-½ feet long (75cm), but clearly old enough to fight. Note that both bear bloody spots on their backs behind their heads. When male iguanas do battle the main tactic seems to be to clamp down on the other's nape.

We've collected a great deal of information about Black Iguanas, including a 2006 account of two large males who really bloodied one another. The fight is described on our Black Iguana page under the subtitle "Two Male Black Iguanas Battle it Out" down the page at

AAA report: Gas prices up for 9th straight day - Mar. 18, 2012

OWS Anniversary Ends with Police Sweep - TIME

NEW YORK (AP) — An Occupy Wall Street anniversary observance has ended with some arrests as police swept through an excited and agitated crowd at the Manhattan park where the movement began six months ago.

Police announced Zuccotti Park closed for the evening Saturday after protesters spent the day celebrating a six-month anniversary, chanting, cheering and marching down Wall Street before returning to the park.

Egyptians Mourn Coptic Pope Shenouda ‎III | News | English

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Afghan Shooting Suspect Identified as Army Staff Sgt. Robert Bales

 The release of Sergeant Bales’s name, first reported by Fox News, ended an extraordinary six-day blackout of public information about him from the Pentagon, which said it withheld his identity for so long because of concerns about his and his family’s security.

An official said on Friday that Sergeant Bales had been transferred from Kuwait to Fort Leavenworth, Kan., where he had a cell to himself in the medium-security prison there. His wife and children were moved from their home in Lake Tapps, Wash., east of Tacoma, onto Joint Base Lewis-McChord, his home base, earlier this week.

Military officials say Sergeant Bales, who has yet to be formally charged, left his small combat outpost in the volatile Panjwai district of Kandahar Province early in the morning last Sunday, walked into two nearby villages and there shot or stabbed 16 people, 9 of them children.

Little more than the outlines of Sergeant Bales’s life are publicly known. His family lived in Lake Tapps, a community about 20 miles northeast of his Army post. NBC News reported that he was from Ohio, and he may have lived there until he joined the Army at 27. Sergeant Bales’s Seattle-based lawyer, John Henry Browne, said several members of the sergeant’s family moved to Washington after he was assigned to Joint Base Lewis-McChord.

Mr. Browne said the sergeant joined the Army right after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and then spent almost all of his career at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, where he was part of the Third Stryker Brigade in the Second Infantry Division, named after the armored Stryker vehicles.

The killings have severely undermined longstanding NATO efforts to win support from villages in Kandahar, the birthplace of the Taliban, and have shaken relations with the government of President Hamid Karzai, who this week told Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta, who was on a visit to Afghanistan, that he wanted American forces out of villages by next year.

Pentagon officials, who have been scouring the sergeant’s military and health records for clues, have said little about what they think motivated the killings. But one senior government official said Thursday that Sergeant Bales had been drinking alcohol before the killings and that he might have had marital problems.

“When it all comes out, it will be a combination of stress, alcohol and domestic issues — he just snapped,” said the official, who had been briefed on the investigation and spoke on the condition of anonymity because the sergeant had not yet been charged.

Mr. Browne has disputed those assertions, telling reporters on Thursday that the sergeant’s marriage was sound and questioning reports about drinking. On the day before the shootings, he said, the sergeant had seen a fellow soldier lose his leg from a buried mine.

Mr. Browne, who said he had had a short conversation with Sergeant Bales because he was worried that their phone call was being monitored, added that the sergeant had thought he could avoid this deployment and was upset when he could not.

“The family was counting on him not being redeployed,” Mr. Browne said. “He and the family were told that his tours in the Middle East were over.”

He added, “I think that it would be fair to say that he and the family were not happy that he was going back.”

The Bales family lived in a two-story, wood-frame house beneath tall fir and cedar evergreens in Lake Tapps, an unincorporated section of Pierce County, Wash. Kassie Holland, a neighbor, said that as far as she could tell, they were a happy family and the sergeant was a devoted father to his young children, a daughter, Quincy, and a son, Bobby. “There were no signs,” Ms. Holland said when asked whether Mr. Bales seemed troubled.

Reporting was contributed by William Yardley and Serge Kovaleski from Lake Tapps, Wash., Isolde Raftery from Seattle and Eric Schmitt from Washington.

Friday, March 16, 2012

The Associated Press: Higher gas prices threaten economy if they persist

Higher gas prices threaten economy if they persist

By CHRISTOPHER S. RUGABER, AP Economics Writer – 13 minutes ago 

WASHINGTON (AP) — Inflation remains tame throughout the U.S. economy, with one big exception: gas prices.

Those higher prices haven't derailed a steadily improving economy. But if they surpass $4 or $5 a gallon, experts fear Americans could pull back on spending, and job growth could stall, posing a potentially serious threat to the recovery.

And the longer prices remain high, the more they could imperil President Barack Obama's re-election hopes.

A few weeks ago, economists generally agreed that the economy was in little danger from higher gas prices as long as job growth remained strong. But fears are now mounting that gas prices could begin to weaken consumer confidence.

The average pump price nationwide is $3.83 a gallon. Energy analysts say it's bound to climb higher in the weeks ahead.

"It's a thorn in the side of the consumer and businesses," said Chris Christopher, an economist at IHS Global Insight. The economy this year "would have been better and stronger if we didn't have to deal with this."

So far, higher prices aren't undermining the economic recovery, which is getting a lift from strong job creation. It would take a big jump — to around $5 a gallon — before most economists would worry that growth would halt and the economy would slide into another recession.

That's because an improving economy is somewhat insulated from any threat posed by higher prices at the pump.

The risk is that gas prices could eventually slow growth by causing some people to cut spending on other goods, from appliances and furniture to electronics and vacations. Gasoline purchases provide less benefit for the U.S. economy because about half of the revenue flows to oil-exporting nations, though U.S. oil companies and gasoline retailers also benefit.

Many American businesses suffer, too. They must pay more for fuel and shipping and for materials affected by high oil prices, such as petroleum-based plastics. Profit margins get squeezed.

Even if prices ease after the summer driving season, don't expect gasoline to fall below $3 a gallon. The government estimates that this year's average will be $3.79, followed by $3.72 in 2013.

Most economists accept a rough guideline that a 25-cent rise in gas prices knocks about 0.2 percentage point off economic growth.

Gas prices also have an outsize impact on consumer confidence, Christopher noted. It's a high-frequency purchase. Consumers notice the price whether they're filling up or driving past a gas station.

Along with the unemployment rate and stock market levels, gasoline prices heavily determine how Americans see their financial health.

That effect was evident Friday when a decline was reported in the Thomson Reuters/University of Michigan index of consumer sentiment. The result surprised some economists who had assumed that higher stock prices and lower unemployment would lift consumer sentiment.

The Michigan report showed that "gasoline worries ... are outweighing stock market gains and job growth" when it comes to influencing consumer attitudes, said Michael Hanson, an economist at Bank of America Merrill Lynch.

The price of gasoline has climbed 17 percent since the year began — to a national average of $3.83 a gallon. That's the highest ever for this time of year. A month ago, it was $3.52.

Gasoline prices have followed oil prices up. Oil is rising, in part, because of tensions surrounding Iran's nuclear program. Iranian leaders have threatened to close a shipping route into the Persian Gulf. Experts say the standoff could lead to tighter global oil supplies later this year.

Contributing to higher gas prices is stronger demand from China and other developing economies.

Most economists expect gas prices to top $4 a gallon by May. That would drag on consumer spending and the economy.

"It's like a tax," Hanson said.

Economists note that gas prices tend to hit consumer confidence especially hard once they surpass round numbers, such as $4 a gallon or $5 a gallon. Consumer confidence levels provide a rough guide to what Americans will actually do when at the mall or their favorite store.

A Gallup poll last week found that nearly half of Americans would make "significant" spending cuts in other areas if gas topped $5 a gallon. On average, Americans said gas prices of $5.30 to $5.35 are a "tipping point" that would cause them to make those cutbacks.

Motorists have responded to rising pump prices by driving fewer miles in more efficient vehicles. They've conserved so much fuel this year that they've effectively reduced gasoline spending even though a gallon is an average of 32 cents higher than it was a year ago, said Tom Kloza, chief oil analyst at the Oil Price Information Service.

"Gas prices really choked the consumer in 2008," Kloza said. "This year I'm not so sure."

Retailers have begun to worry that higher gas prices will eventually force many consumers to cut back.

"If gas prices do start (going) upward again and creeping back up to $4 and $5, I think that is going to be a problem for our customer," Charles Holley, Wal-Mart's chief financial officer, said this month.

Some trends in the economy should cushion the impact of higher gas prices. Americans saved more last year. That gives them some leeway to pay for costlier gas out of savings rather than cutting spending in other areas.

Easing the impact further, other energy prices have fallen even as gas costs have soared. The price of natural gas to residential consumers has dropped an average of 8 percent a year since 2009.

Consumers saved more money in January from lower natural gas and electricity prices than they paid in higher gas costs, Christopher said.

The price of gasoline will likely follow developments in Iran. Continued sparring between Iran and the West means prices will keep going up. But if Iran adopts a more conciliatory tone, oil and gasoline prices could tumble.

The outcome will help determine the U.S. elections in November. Obama has been under pressure to do something to ease prices even as the economy is producing its best job growth since the recession ended.

A Washington Post-ABC News poll conducted last week found that 59 percent of voters disapproved of the way Obama has handled the economy. A month ago, the same poll found that 53 percent disapproved.

Obama's Republican opponents have criticized him for blocking efforts to expand drilling in restricted areas of the Gulf of Mexico and in the Alaskan National Wildlife Refuge. In a TV interview this week, front-runner Mitt Romney said Obama should "absolutely" be held responsible for the higher prices because "he has not pursued policies that convince the world that America is going to become energy secure, energy independent."

The Obama administration argues that oil and gas prices are set by global demand and that those who promise a quick fix are lying to voters.

Associated Press Business Writers Anne D'Innocenzio and Chris Kahn in New York and Tom Krisher in Detroit contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

Oil rebounds over $123 as Iran supports | Reuters

Rowan Williams resigns as archbishop of Canterbury | UK news | The Guardian

U.S. News - More than 110 homes damaged as tornado touches down near Ann Arbor, Michigan

A series of tornadoes tore through southeastern Michigan Thursday, damaging more than 100 homes and sending people racing for cover. The Weather Channel's Mike Seidel reports.

By staff, and news services

Updated at 7:58 a.m. ET: A tornado ripped through a rural Michigan community Thursday, damaging or demolishing many homes, downing trees and power lines, sparking fires and flooding roads.

A dispatcher with the Washtenaw County Sheriff's Department told Reuters that "there are homes leveled" in Dexter, which is located northwest of Ann Arbor. The Detroit Free Press linked to a YouTube video of a twister.

Sheriff's spokesman Derrick Jackson told The Associated Press that 105 homes were significantly damaged in Dexter and the surrounding area, and 13 were destroyed

Officials said around 200 people were displaced and a temporary shelter was opened at a nearby middle school. Police and fire crews were going door to door to check for any victims.

Thunderstorm watches and warnings were in effect for several counties in southeast Michigan, said ClickOnDetroit, the website for NBC station WDIV. 

There were multiple reports of funnel clouds and two reports of touchdowns in Monroe County, Emergency Management Director Mark Hammond said. There, a funnel cloud moved across the expressway and badly damaged one home and turned over several vehicles.

In Washtenaw County, where Dexter is located, the tornado started as a thunderstorm watch, which turned into a thunderstorm warning, then a tornado warning – a series of warnings that extended for an hour and a half.

Aerial footage shows at least a dozen homes were heavily damaged when a tornado touched down in Dexter, Mich.

Marc Breckenridge, director of Emergency Management for Washtenaw County, told that there were no initial reports of injuries. "We've got public safety crews out right now being very thorough to make sure that everyone is accounted for," he added. 

Emergency management officials told NBC News that the county is a "storm-ready community" that has invested in an outdoor weather alarm and that takes storm preparation seriously.

Softball-sized hail
Thunderstorms also produced softball-sized hail near Flint, Michigan, reported. "We've had several large hail reports," meteorologist Amos Dodson added.

Forecasters also issued a severe storm watch on Thursday afternoon for parts of Indiana, Kentucky and Tennessee, warning of possible large hail, wind gusts of up to 70 miles an hour and dangerous lightning in a region raked by deadly tornadoes less than two weeks ago.

In Chicago, the official temperature at O'Hare International Airport on Thursday afternoon was 79 degrees, 5 degrees above the previous record for the day, and Indianapolis topped out at 80 degrees, 3 degrees above the old record.

In Washington, D.C., temperatures reached an all-time high, and in less than a week more than 900 new record highs have been tied or broken. NBC's Brian Williams reports.

Dave Samuhel, a meteorologist at said the warm air covering much of the country's midsection was helping fuel the storms the Weather Service warned about on Thursday.

"It's just so warm that we're seeing thunderstorms pop up like popcorn the way you see it in the summertime," he said.

'Warming up mighty early' across parts of US said the unseasonably warm weather west of the Plains would continue into next week and spread further east into places like New York City, where residents were experiencing a more typical spring day on Thursday as winds out of the northeast kept daytime highs in the 40s., staff, Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

More content from and NBC News

Follow US News on on Twitter and Facebook

Thursday, March 15, 2012

New York Rep. Ackerman Won't Seek Re-Election

Worries over Iranian Jews if Israel attacks - TIME

(JERUSALEM) — All but lost amid the heated talk about a possible Israeli attack on Iran's suspect nuclear program are the thousands of Jews who live in the Islamic Republic and could be caught in the middle.

Although Iran has a history of treating its Jewish minority fairly well, some Iranian Jews who have emigrated to Israel worry that an Israeli attack could expose family and friends still in Iran to retaliation. (MORE: Diplomacy With Iran: Hey, What�s the Hurry?)

Iran's government is "unstable and unpredictable. If there is a war, you can't tell what the response to the community will be," said Kamal Penhasi, who runs Israel's only Persian newspaper, Shahyad, and its companion website.

Dell Inspiron 1545 Laptop/Notebook (Excellent Condition) (884116037262) | eBay

Karzai: NATO should scale back, hasten handover - CBS News

Monday, March 12, 2012

Fed Unveils Doomsday Scenario for Banks - US Business News - CNBC


Poll: More GOP voters expect Romney nomination - Political Hotsheet - CBS News

Crystal Cathedral's senior pastor says she's leaving to start a new church

GARDEN GROVE, Calif. -- The Crystal Cathedral's senior pastor announced Sunday that she was leaving to start a new church, a move that appears likely to split the congregation.

"This is the last Sunday we will be worshiping in this building," Pastor Sheila Schuller Coleman told congregants during an emotional 11 a.m. service in the 10,000-pane glass cathedral, designed by architect Phillip Johnson.

Schuller Coleman's announcement came one day after her parents, church founder Robert H. Schuller and his wife, Arvella Schuller, resigned from the Crystal Cathedral's board of directors, which oversees the ministry's trademark "Hour of Power" broadcast. The future of the show and the bankrupt Crystal Cathedral Ministries is unclear.

Schuller Coleman said she was leaving because of her family's "adversarial" relationship with the board. She pointed to the recent firings of her sister and brother-in-law, Jim Penner, who served as the executive producer of "Hour of Power" since 1999.

"My entire family has been experiencing a hostile work environment," said Schuller Coleman, who was temporarily removed as chief executive officer of the ministry last month.

After the pastor's surprise announcement, the Rev. Bill Bennett assured congregants that Crystal Cathedral Ministries would hold services next Sunday.

"The congregation can basically stay where they wish to stay," Bennett said later.

He said the Garden Grove church would revert to what he called a more "traditional" style of service, with hymns and music. It is unknown who will take over as senior pastor. The church was sold to the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange in February for $57.5 million, and the ministry has three years to find a new home.

He said Crystal Cathedral Ministries has nothing to do with Schuller Coleman's plans for the Hope Center of Christ. In a video posted on the new church's website, Schuller Coleman, sitting next to Penner, said a location for her church would be announced within the next two weeks.

Sunday's announcement immediately created a divide among congregants.

Mike Abbott, a 47-year-old mechanical engineer from Highland, said he would move with Schuller Coleman.

"It's a shame to see a church split like this," he said. "I think this is the birth of a new ministry."

But Shirley Zink, of Yorba Linda, said she was excited to see Schuller Coleman out of the pulpit.

"We need to make everyone aware that Crystal Cathedral Ministries is continuing right here," said Zink, 67. "I'm looking forward to a traditional church service with a choir, musicians and a great message."

Although Schuller Coleman said during the service that her decision was made with the "complete support of my mother and father," the two will not be officially involved with the new ministry, said Carol Schuller Milner, who serves as the family spokeswoman.

The elder Schullers commended their daughter for her decision in a statement released Sunday afternoon.

"We will bless her faith pursuits as we have blessed all our children, but we will not be moving with her to the new location nor are we willing, at this time, to commit to participating in worship at the Crystal Cathedral," according to the statement. "How we will express ourselves in worship remains up in the air."

The couple are facing their own conflicts with Crystal Cathedral Ministries, resigning from the board after a breakdown in negotiations over financial claims against the church. The elder Schullers, along with Schuller Milner and her husband, Timothy, allege that the church owes them money for copyright infringement, intellectual property violations and unpaid contracts.

The creditors committee has opposed the claims, which have delayed $12.5 million in payments to some church creditors.

James Kirkland, a longtime congregant who organized an online blog about the Crystal Cathedral, said he is pleased with Schuller Coleman's decision to leave.

"This is the first step toward restoring the Crystal Cathedral and the 'Hour of Power' to its traditional roots," he said.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Gingrich makes his last stand ahead of Mississippi and Alabama primaries | World news |

Greece Deal Triggers $3B in Default Swaps: ISDA - Bloomberg

Ken Ard Pleads Guilty to 7 Ethics Charges


Gingrich atop poll of Republican voters in Mississippi - Political Hotsheet - CBS News

Oil Rises a Third Day on Fuel-Demand Outlook Amid Greek Swap, U.S. Jobs - Bloomberg

Oil gained for a third day in New York on speculation that rising U.S. payroll numbers and an easing European debt crisis will spur demand for crude.

Futures climbed as much as 0.7 percent after Greece reached its target in the biggest sovereign debt restructuring in history. The U.S. probably added 210,000 jobs in February, according to a Bloomberg survey before a report today. Oil has increased this year on concern sanctions against Iran will lead to military conflict in the Middle East, where more than half the world’s crude reserves are located.

“We have a wait-and-see for payrolls; that really is going to be the decider into the weekend,” said Ole Hansen, a senior manager of trading advisory at Saxo Bank A/S in Copenhagen. “With Greece out of the way, the tension will turn toward Portugal and Spain in the next few weeks.”

New iPad to hit stores March 16 - The Washington Post

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Fire breaks out at swank Place Vendome | Herald Sun

A FIERCE fire broke out overnight in an underground parking garage at the Place Vendome, one of Paris' swankiest areas, sending a large plume of black smoke billowing into the air over the entire square.

According to Le Parisien, the fire began in a car parked in the second basement of the garage. There were no immediate reports of injuries, although one of the 90 firemen at the scene was said to have suffered smoke inhalation.

Vendome On Fire: Paris' Famous Ritz Hotel Ablaze

Solar storm: More to come

Oil tops $125 on Greek debt hopes, Iran eyed | Reuters

The Associated Press: Family of Calif. twins who died together found

Family of Calif. twins who died together found

By CRISTINA SILVA, Associated Press – 33 minutes ago 

It took 11 days and the help of dozens of strangers, but police have located the family of reclusive twin sisters who were found dead in their California home last month.

Patricia and Joan Miller lived for nearly 40 years in South Lake Tahoe but often shunned their neighbors. Their shared life ended in a mysterious double death. Police found one sister in a bedroom and the other in a hallway during a routine welfare check on Feb. 26. They were 73.

Police usually do not release the names of the dead without first informing their relatives, but the sisters' shrouded lives made that impossible, said detective Matt Harwood with the El Dorado County sheriff's office. With little information about the twins' personal lives to work from, investigators issued a public plea this week asking for help in notifying the sisters' next of kin.

The response was overwhelming. Emails and phone calls poured in and with the help of amateur genealogists who read media accounts of the sisters' deaths, investigators tracked down a first cousin and two second cousins late Wednesday.

The cousins hadn't heard from the sisters in years.

"They confirmed pretty much what everyone else told me," Harwood said. "They were pretty reclusive and no one really knows why."

Harwood said the cousins told him they had lost touch with the sisters through the years as other family members passed away.

"They were just sort of the twins that no one had heard from in a long time," he said.

The cousins don't share the Miller sisters' last name, which might be why police had such a hard time finding them. They were tracked down by at-home sleuths, who passed on the family members' contact information to police. In one case, someone called one of the cousins to confirm their blood line before giving the name to Harwood.

Harwood said the sisters deserved to have their family know about their death, and he was pleased to complete that mission with help from "people from across the country, just your Average Joe wanting to try their hand on genealogy," he said.

"There's no way we could have done it without you guys in the press and literally hundreds of people just calling to help put the pieces together," Harwood said.

One of the second cousins lives in the San Francisco Bay area, and the two other cousins live in Portland, Ore., where the twins grew up.

Harwood said he has yet to find a will but plans to give some of the twins' personal items, including their mother's furniture and family photo albums, to the cousins.

The discovery of next of kin provides some answers to the twins' mysterious end, but their puzzle is far from solved.

Medical investigators have not been able to determine how or when the women died, but their decomposed bodies suggest they had been dead for at least several weeks when they were found, Harwood said. Toxicology reports likely won't be available for at least two more months.

There was no blood or signs of struggle. The sisters' longtime home was not unkempt, a likely sign of mental or physical illness, and they didn't have a history of severe health problems, Harwood said.

"My perception is one died and the other couldn't handle it," he said this week. "It appears purely natural, but we are still trying to piece it all together."

Investigators hope to soon narrow down when the sisters died. It's unlikely their killer was carbon monoxide poisoning, a common danger in the winter, because a window had been left open and the house was well ventilated.

A neighbor spotted an ambulance at their house about a year ago and assumed the sisters had fallen ill. Someone asked police to check regularly on the house. When officers arrived Feb. 25 for a routine check, no one answered the door. The next day, police forced their way in and found the bodies.

The twins were the daughters of Fay Lang and Elmon Gordon Miller, who went by the name "Bud" and was born in 1895 in Bremen, Ky., Harwood said. Their father was a dairy salesman in Oakland, Calif., at one point, Harwood said.

The sisters were never married and didn't have children or pets. They seemed to prefer only each other's company. They purchased their four-bedroom home together in 1976 and may have been each other's only close friend.

Joan Miller was a senior accounting clerk in the payroll department at the Lake Tahoe Unified School District from 1979 to 1984. Patricia Miller, who drove a white convertible with red upholstery, worked in the El Dorado County's social services office during that same time.

When people called, the sisters came up with excuses to get off the phone. Without explanation, they stopped sending birthday cards to a childhood friend about a year ago. And on the rare occasion when they left their home, the two women didn't chat up the neighbors.

As news of the deaths spread, former South Lake Tahoe residents called police to report that they had lived near the sisters for decades, in some cases, and had hardly seen them. One sent in a postcard that claimed the sisters were the only remaining members of their family after their mother's death and their brother died at war.

Their secluded lives in their final years stand in contrast to a youth full of glamour and entertainment.

When the twins did talk to outsiders, they often spoke of the singing career they had shared in their younger years. The women briefly appeared on a 1950s television show called the "The Hoffman Hayride" and posed for a picture with Bing Crosby as children. The twins also entertained troops at military bases, a childhood friend told Harwood.

They appear young, beautiful and elegant in matching off-the-shoulder gowns in a picture released by police.

But the twins never seemed interested in dating or expanding their social spheres. They listed each other as their next of kin, Harwood said.

Copyright © 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

Gingrich goes all-in with Southern strategy - CBS News

Sun fires off 2 huge solar flares, could impact weather on Earth | Fox News