Obama urges North Korea to 'have the courage to pursue peace;' wants further cuts in US arsenal
SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — President Barack Obama is warning North Korea and Iran that their options are few and their friends fewer as those nations refuse to back down from actions the world sees as menacing.
"By now it should be clear," Obama said, addressing North Korea from the South Korean capital only about 30 miles away. "Your provocations and pursuit of nuclear weapons have not achieved the security you seek, they have undermined it. Instead of the dignity you desire, you are more isolated."
Obama also met separately with leaders of the two nations — Russia and China — that have thwarted US diplomatic efforts on Syria, and to a lesser extent Iran. But the looming threat posed by nearby nuclear-equipped North Korea was the main event.
Seoul warned Monday that it might shoot down parts of a North Korean rocket if they violate South Korean territory, as worries about what Washington calls a long-range missile test overshadowed an international nuclear security summit. The summit of more than 50 nations opens with a dinner Monday.
In a direct challenge to North Korean leaders, Obama implored them "to have the courage to pursue peace."
Supreme Court begins review of far-reaching Obama health law amid political campaigns
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama's health care overhaul is front and center at the Supreme Court for three days of hearings to determine the fate of a law aimed at extending health insurance to more than 30 million Americans.
The justices will hear arguments beginning Monday in a highly partisan legal fight between the Obama administration and the 26 states that are leading a challenge to the largest expansion in the nation's social safety net in more than four decades.
A decision is expected by late June, in the midst of a presidential election campaign in which all of Obama's Republican challengers oppose the law and promise its repeal, if the high court doesn't strike it down first.
People hoping for a glimpse of the action have waited in line all weekend for the relatively few seats open to the public. The justices allotted the case six hours of argument time, the most since the mid-1960s.
The court will release audio recordings of the arguments on the same day they take place. The first time that happened was when the court heard argument in the Bush v. Gore case that settled the 2000 presidential election. The last occasion was the argument in the Citizens United case that wound up freeing businesses from longstanding limits on political spending.
Supreme Court ruling on Obama's health care law: Legal winner may not be political winner
WASHINGTON (AP) — 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.
No doubt, a decision to throw out the entire law would be a defeat for Obama. His judgment and leadership, even his reputation as a former constitutional law professor, would be called into question for pushing through a contentious and partisan health insurance overhaul only to see it declared unconstitutional by the court.
But it would not spell certain doom for his re-election. In fact, it would end the GOP argument that a Republican president must be elected to guarantee repeal of the law. It also could re-energize liberals, shift the spotlight onto insurance companies and reignite a debate about how to best provide health care.
If the court upholds the law, Obama would be vindicated legally. Republican constitutional criticisms would be undercut because five of the nine justices were nominated by Republican presidents.
But opposition would intensify in the political world. Without legal recourse, Republicans would gain new energy to argue that the only path to kill the law would be to elect a Republican president and enough GOP candidates to control the House and Senate. They might be wary of promising overnight repeal because a filibuster-proof Senate majority seems beyond their reach in the November election.
SANTIAGO, Cuba (AP) — This sun-scorched city is accustomed to playing second fiddle to Havana at the other end of Cuba. On Monday, Santiago de Cuba gets a real day in the sun because Pope Benedict XVI is beginning his Cuba trip here.
Authorities have built huge steel arches in the shape of a papal miter above a blue-and-white temporary altar where Benedict will celebrate Mass on Monday and urge residents of this communist-run country to seek salvation in faith.
Roman Catholic youth held a prayer vigil Sunday night to celebrate the pontiff's arrival, and workers buzzed about Revolution Square putting final touches on the stage, testing power cables and setting out chairs under the direction of priests. Some people hung welcome posters in their windows.
The pope's decision to make this city on the eastern end of Cuba his first stop on the island has ensured the world's spotlight will be fixed on this coastal city of a half million inhabitants that is often overlooked by outsiders.
"As a Santiagan, I am very proud to be able to receive him with joy," said 35-year-old Luzmilka Barza. Although she described herself as only "a little bit Catholic," she said that "it will be something that moves us all for a person such as him to visit."
HONOLULU (AP) —"Titanic"director James Cameron dove to the Earth's deepest point in a specially designed submarine, the National Geographic Society said, making him the first man to travel alone to the near 7-mile depth of the Marianas Trench.
The Hollywood icon, also the director of"Avatar"and other films, touched down in the western Pacific Ocean's low point shortly before 8 a.m. Guam time Monday (Sunday evening in the U.S. East Coast), the Geographic said.
He reached a depth of 35,756 feet and stayed on the bottom for about three hours before he began his return to the surface, according to information provided by the expedition team. He had planned to spend up to six hours on the sea floor.
"Cameron collected samples for research in marine biology, microbiology, astrobiology, marine geology and geophysics," the Geographic said.
He also spent time filming the Marianas Trench, about 200 miles southwest of the Pacific island of Guam.
Obama 'super' PAC donors have ear of president, top White House advisers
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama is using privileged access to one of America's greatest landmarks to reward his most generous financial supporters in ways that Republicans Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum can't match: More than 60 of Obama's biggest campaign donors have visited the White House more than once for meetings with top advisers, holiday parties or state dinners, a review by The Associated Press has found.
The invitations to visit 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, which are a legal and established practice from incumbent presidents, came despite Obama's past criticisms of Washington's pay-for-access privileges and mark a reversal from early in the president's term when donors complained that Obama was keeping them at arm's length.
Once, when Obama was a candidate running against Hillary Rodham Clinton, his presidential campaign sharply noted that Clinton and her husband, President Bill Clinton, had invited David Geffen — whom Obama's campaign said had raised $18 million for the Clintons — to sleep in the Lincoln bedroom. The AP found no evidence of Obama's own donors sleeping overnight in the White House, but timestamps showing arrivals and departures on the government's logs are incomplete for more than 1.7 million records.
The AP's review compared more than 470 of Obama's most important financial supporters against logs of 2 million visitors to the White House since mid-2009. It found that at least 250 of Obama's major fundraisers and donors visited the White House at least once, being cleared for events like dinners or one-on-one meetings with senior advisers.
Earlier this month, the White House extended invitations to more than 30 of the president's top fundraisers to an elaborate state dinner, where they mingled with celebrities and dined with foreign leaders on the South Lawn of the White House.
Beagle at Kennedy Airport sniffs out contraband food hidden in international luggage
NEW YORK (AP) — On a recent busy afternoon at Kennedy Airport, a beagle with plaintive-looking eyes was lying on the floor of Terminal 4, oblivious to the chaos of rolling luggage and human activity teeming all around her.
There was no prying this dog off the ground — despite the best attempts of Officer Meghan Caffery, her closest companion and partner.
"Izzy," Caffery said, a note of exasperation in her voice. "You've only been here an hour."
The 6-year-old beagle, who works for U.S. Customs and Border Protection, can't be faulted for taking a break. She spends most of her time trotting briskly around the baggage carousels with Caffery in tow, searching for illegal food stowed in luggage arriving from international flights. Thousands of bags stream through this terminal every hour, and Izzy is the first line of defense against food or plants that could wreak havoc on American agriculture.
"Some flights are, you know, just apples or sandwiches that people had from the plane they forgot in their bags," said Caffery, an agriculture specialist canine handler. "Some flights are notorious for bringing in sausages or fresh fruits."
Japan shuts down another nuclear reactor; all could be off line by May
TOKYO (AP) — Another Japanese nuclear reactor was taken off line for maintenance on Monday, leaving the country with only one of its 54 reactors operational following last year's devastating earthquake and tsunami.
The last reactor is expected to be shut down by early May, raising the possibility of power shortages across the nation as demand increases in the hot summer months.
The No. 6 reactor at the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa complex was taken off line early Monday by the Tokyo Electric Power Co.The utility also runs the plant in Fukushima, northeast of Tokyo, that suffered meltdowns, explosions and radiation leaks after the March 11 quake and tsunami.
Japanese reactors are taken off line every 13 months for regular checks. With concerns over nuclear safety high following the Fukushima crisis, none of the reactors that have been shut down for checks, and none that were already off line at the time of the disaster, have been allowed to restart.
The last reactor, on the northern island of Hokkaido, will be shut down in May. The timing for when any reactors will be restarted remains unclear.