Car bombs kill 13 in southern Thailand


A series of car bombs killed 13 people and injured more than 500 in the deadliest attacks to hit the insurgency-torn far south of Thailand in recent years, according to officials.
In an apparent escalation of their tactics, suspected militants Saturday attacked a hotel in Hat Yai, the largest city in southern Thailand and a popular destination for tourists from neighbouring Malaysia and Singapore.
A car bomb in the basement triggered a fire which spread to a shopping mall within the Lee Gardens Plaza Hotel and killed three people, including a Malaysian tourist, according to the police.
Songkhla provincial governor Grisada Boorach said 416 people were injured, mostly suffering from smoke inhalation, and 140 were still in hospital Sunday.

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




Lottery ticket-holders in Illinois, Kansas and Maryland each selected the winning numbers for the world record-breaking $640 million Mega Millions jackpot, lottery officials said early Saturday.
Illinois' winning ticket was sold in the small town of Red Bud, near St. Louis, and the winner used a quick pick to select the numbers, Illinois Lottery spokesman Mike Lang said. The Maryland Lottery said it sold a winning ticket at a retail store in Baltimore County.
A winning ticket also was purchased in northeast Kansas, according to the Kansas Lottery website. A spokeswoman didn't immediately return a message Saturday morning.
Each winning ticket was expected to be worth more than $213 million before taxes, Lang said. The winning numbers in Friday night's drawing were 02-04-23-38-46, and the Mega Ball 23.
Maryland Lottery spokeswoman Carole Everett said the last time a ticket from the state won a major national jackpot was in 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, said she only buys Mega Millions tickets when the jackpot is really big and she bought one 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."

7 people to blame for the Trayvon Martin hysteria



With the killing of the unarmed black teen in legal limbo, and the actual shooter never in doubt, people are pointing fingers in both odd and predictable directions

Everyone seems to agree on at least the basic details of the Feb. 26 shooting death of Trayvon Martin: A neighborhood watchman, George Zimmerman, killed the unarmed black 17-year-old after a scuffle of some kind in an Orlando-area gated community. Zimmerman said it was self-defense, and has not been arrested. Just about everything else is being hashed out, increasingly loudly, in the public sphere. Who's to blame for this headline-grabbing controversy and the death that prompted it? Here, seven groups or people at the receiving end of accusatory fingers:

1. The media
After weeks of "round-the-clock media coverage," any suspicious death can mushroom into a national mania, says Doug Mataconis at Outside the Beltway. But throw in "a highly charged racial subtext" and new "facts" surfacing daily from "a media more interested in sensationalism than honest reporting," and you're virtually guaranteed mass hysteria.

SEE MORE: George Zimmerman: What we know about Trayvon Martin's killer

2. The police
This wouldn't even be much of a local news story if the Sanford, Fla., police had done their job and arrested Zimmerman in the first place, says Martin Longman at Booman Tribune. Instead, the more we learn about the night of Feb. 26, the more it looks like "the police covered up this incident and filed false police reports" to get Zimmerman off the hook. On top of that, Sanford authorities are investigating whether local cops leaked details meant to boost Zimmerman's case and discredit Martin. "They killed my son and now they’re trying to kill his reputation," says Martin's mother, Sybrina Fulton.

3. President Obama
Sarah Palin and Newt Gingrich are among many high-profile critics who have blasted Obama for weighing in on Martin's death. On March 23, Obama empathized with Martin's parents, saying "it is absolutely imperative that we investigate every aspect" of the case, and called for some national "soul searching." The president also made things personal, saying: "If I had a son, he'd look like Trayvon." And so once again, says Lauri B. Regan at American Thinker, Obama made race an issue while inserting himself into "the latest controversy stirred up by the mainstream media and infamous race-baiting rabble-rousers."

SEE MORE: The Trayvon Martin case: A timeline

4. Other black leaders
On March 28, Zimmerman's father, Robert, accused Obama and other black leaders of fanning the flames of hate. "I never foresaw so much hate coming from the president, the Congressional Black Caucus, the NAACP," and others "trying to get notoriety or profit from this in some way," he told an Orlando Fox TV affiliate. Some conservatives specifically point fingers at Rev. Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson, who have been speaking at rallies for Zimmerman's arrest, accusing them of playing the "race card" to stir up tensions and, potentially, violence.

5. Jeb Bush
A major point of contention in the case is Florida's "Stand Your Ground" gun law, which allows permitted gun owners to shoot anybody they reasonably think could cause them serious harm. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R) signed the law in 2005, and Zimmerman has used the law to avoid arrest. That means "Jeb Bush helped pave the way for this senseless tragedy," said Ed Schultz on MSNBC.

SEE MORE: The Trayvon Martin uproar: Should a congressman be silenced for wearing a hoodie?

6. The gun lobby
A host of civil rights, labor, and good-government groups blame the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a conservative think tank that produces draft legislation for state legislatures, for Florida's gun law. "We've come to pull back the curtain so that the world can meet the team of ghost-writers who have written these 'kill-at-will' laws and spread this poison around the nation," National Urban League president Marc Moral said Thursday. A week earlier, journalist Karen Finney filled out the list on MSNBC, pointing to "the Koch Brothers, the NRA," and other ALEC funders.

7. Geraldo Rivera... and hoodies
What would a national brouhaha be without Geraldo Rivera? In this case, the Fox News host sparked outrage by making Martin's hooded sweatshirt a suspect in the case, saying, "I think the hoodie is as much responsible for Trayvon Martin's death as George Zimmerman was." Of course, Martin's death had "little to do with attire, per se," says Mario T. GarcĂ­a in the National Catholic Reporter. It was more "the combination of Martin's hoodie plus his blackness." Right or wrong, hoodies on young black and Latino men are seen as "gang attire." And while white "intellectuals may celebrate certain clothing as a form of oppositional culture, I don't think they would be as enthusiastic if one of their sons were killed because he was mistaken for a gangster."

SEE MORE: The Trayvon Martin killing: Is Obama soothing tensions or stirring up trouble?

View this article on TheWeek.com Get 4 Free Issues of The Week

Official: Winning lottery ticket sold in Maryland



Maryland lottery officials announced early Saturday that their state sold what could become the world's largest lottery payout of all-time, but it wasn't immediately clear if that ticket holder would get sole possession of the $640 million jackpot or have to split it with other winners.
Carole Everett, director of communications for the Maryland Lottery, said the winning Mega Millions ticket was purchased at a retailer in Baltimore County. She said it's too early to know any other information about the lucky ticket holder or whether others were sold elsewhere in the nation.
The winning numbers were 02-04-23-38-46, and the Mega Ball 23.
National lottery officials were expecting to list early Saturday on their website how many winning tickets were sold and from what states, but Maryland sent out its news release and called media organizations hours before the scheduled announcement. The headline of its news release said the winning sale was "one of several nationwide," but Everett told The Associated Press she couldn't immediately confirm any others.
Everett 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 sun 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.

$25,000 donated to child in wheelchair who was robbed of fundraising cash



Twelve-year-old Nolan Turner was robbed last week while selling water bottles as part of a fundraising for a basketball camp that caters to children and adults in wheelchairs. Turner, who had raised about $250 at the time, has spina bifida. But what started out as a potentially heartbreaking story has turned into a tale of inspiration. After the Charlotte Observer first reported about Nolan's situation, thousands of individuals began donating to his fundraising effort.
And now, Nolan—who has helped in previous fundraising efforts and said his fundraising goal this time was $1,000—has raised nearly $25,000.
"As I have told many people so far, we are simply overwhelmed with the positive response that we have gotten from everybody," wrote Nolan's father, Ken Turner, on the GoFundMe account he has set up for his son. "Nolan is so excited about the positive responses that he has been getting."

Nolan is raising the funds to support a wheelchair basketball event— organized by the nonprofit organization Bridge II Sports—at his elementary school.
"It's crazy how that mean act has turned into something positive that has allowed us to do so much more,'' Bridge II Sports founder Ashley Thomas told the "Today" show. "The response has been huge.''
With all of the extra fundraising success, Bridge II Sports says they will now expand the basketball game to a full-day event at Nolan's school, with the additional funds going to help support the one-week Camp Carefree summer camp for children with disabilities and other health issues.
"I'm happy that there are so many good people in the world and that they are helping my team,'' Turner told the "Today" show.  "Junior Thunder is my favorite thing in my life. Playing wheelchair basketball lets me feel like a regular kid.''
The Observer reports that the donations have come in, in amounts ranging from $5 to $500. One parent posting on Nolan's GoFundMe page said her children had volunteered to donate their allowance to the effort. Police are still searching for the man who robbed Nolan and disappeared into the nearby woods.

Amanda Knox May 'Appear' in Italian Court


Amanda Knox may appear in an Italian courtroom again.
But this time, Italians and the press will only get to see her on a screen, via video conference from Seattle, if she testifies in the defamation case against her parents.
Knox is the only witness expected to defend her parents, Curt Knox and Edda Mellas, who are charged with defaming five police officers with the Perugia crime squad.
"Amanda will probably not come back to Italy,'' said Carlo Dalla Vedova, her attorney. "If she has to testify, she will probably do so via video conference, which is allowed."
In October, Knox, along with her former Italian boyfriend, Raffaele Sollecito, was acquitted of the 2007 murder of Knox's British roommate, Meredith Kercher.
Upon acquittal, Knox was immediately freed, after four years in prison, and flown back to her home in Seattle.
Knox's parents face defamation charges after repeating Knox's version of events to a British newspaper in June 2008, including the details of Knox's interrogation as she had explained them.
"Amanda told her parents that she was physically and verbally abused by the police officers," Dalla Vedova told ABC News. "She said she was never given food or water, or an interpreter. She also said she was threatened that 'things would get worse' if she asked for a lawyer to be present."
It was those details that the police officers say offended their reputation and integrity.
"[These types of charges] are common in Italy as an attempt to protect the reputation of public officials," Dalla Vedova explained.
Dalla Vedova is confident Knox's parents will not be convicted. "They will be acquitted because what they said is true," he said.
He adds that there was no professional interpreter present, and that the woman translating for Knox during her nearly 50-hour interrogation over several days, was a police officer.
In a visit with Mellas in Nov. 2007, days after her arrest, Knox is heard on a recording of the meeting telling her mother that she was threatened when she asked for a lawyer.
During closing arguments in the 2011 appeal trial, prosecutor Giuliano Mignini conceded that 'it is possible Knox was hit in the head by mistake' during her interrogation.
A hearing was scheduled for today, in which the police officers were expected to testify, but it was postponed after some witnesses were not present.
The hearing is now scheduled for January 24, 2013.
Knox, who was initially convicted in 2009 and faced 26 years in prison, is now enjoying her freedom. She resumed classes at the University of Washington this year, and she is often spotted with her new boyfriend, long-time friend James Terrano.
Her main focus is writing a book, expected to be released early next year. Knox signed a nearly $4 million dollar deal with Harper Collins.

Student Loans Could Be the Next Housing Bubble



Student Loans Could the next bubble to burst be student loans?
The burden is big: U.S. college students borrowed $117 billion in federal student loans last year, and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau reported earlier this year that debt from student loans exceeds $1 trillion, surpassing credit card debt for the first time.
Tuition and fees at both public and private universities have been steadily increasing and some higher education institutions are cutting financial aid, reducing class offerings or even freezing enrollment at campuses because of state and federal funding shortfalls. California State University, for example, announced in March that it was not accepting new students at 15 of its 23 campuses for the spring 2013 semester and will wait-list all applicants the following Fall after a $750 million funding cut.
President Obama wants to overhaul the college education system and proposed a new financial aid program during his State of the Union address in January, saying higher education isn't a luxury. Rather, Obama says "It's an economic imperative that every family in America should be able to afford." In a recent speech at the University of Michigan, he told students that colleges were being put on notice. At the heart of the problem: "If you can't stop tuition from going up, then the funding you get from taxpayers each year will go down," he says.
According to an analysis by Moody's Analytics, student loans have grown "persistently at double digit-rates throughout the last decade" and "college costs have outpaced overall inflation by a significant margin." A new report by PNC Bank finds that students hold an average of $45,000 in student loan debt.
Robert Reich, a public policy professor at University of California Berkeley and the labor secretary in the Clinton administration, says a four-degree would mean a 70 percent to 100 percent increase in salary compared to someone with just a high school diploma. Students would leave college with thousands of dollars in student loans, but the higher salary would make up for the monthly payments. However, now college students are "facing very dim employment prospects" and "people will be struggling with college costs" for a long time, Reich says in an interview with The Daily Ticker.
The plight of college grads has been well documented in the media. There are the Harvard-educated 22-year-olds who are working as Starbucks baristas. Or the liberal-arts grad taking a second unpaid internship. The Phi Beta Kappa member working in retail sales. There are similar stories like these around the country. Even for students lucky enough to find a full-time job after graduating, many are low paying and more often than not exclude previous guaranteed perks like health insurance or a 401k plan. The cost of student education has shifted to the federal government as students and families seek out additional scholarship aid to help pay more soaring college costs. Some families would take out second mortgages on their homes to pay for college tuition, but many families can no longer do that in the face of high unemployment, a weak housing market, tighter credit and an overall uncertain economic climate.
Pell Grants and Stafford loans, scholarship money awarded by the federal government to lower-income students, have not kept pace with the cost of tuition despite the Obama administration advocating for increases in the maximum Pell Grant award. Republicans, who have made unprecedented cuts to education in their budget proposals, have targeted federal education assistance for years. Federal education aid has "become a kind of political football," Reich says.
Online education, a growing trend that an increasing number of private and public institutions have embraced, could be one way to lower the burden of college costs for students. Technical schools are another point of interest: in Germany, students with a technical degree are making as much as students who have completed four years of higher education, Reich says.

Mind-boggling sculptures bring perspective to Park Avenue

Most illusionists are content to restrict their eye-dazzling tricks to paper, paintings, or webpages.  Miami sculptor Rafael Barrios has something a bit more ambitious in mind.
Between now and June 30, nine stainless-steel sculptures designed by Barrios — each weighing about a ton — are being publicly displayed along a stretch of New York City's Park Avenue, between 51st and 67th streets.  Chosen by the Fund for Park Avenue, the sculptures are typified by the one seen in this video

Essentially a massive, three-dimensional perspective illusion, the sculpture seems from one angle to be far thicker than it actually is. As described in the press release for the sculptures, Barrios's technique — which he has been perfecting since the 1970s — is called "Virtualism." Barrios describes it as "the creation of visually [participatory] pieces by dislocating events in our perception. Volume is virtually modeled and modified in form—depending on distance—shifting with the position of the observer and the changes in light throughout the day."
Special thanks to Heth and Jed Weinstein, who shot the video. Their YouTube channel can be found here.

Internet Cable TV: Ditching Cable Made Easy


Cable TV's $50-plus monthly cost may be unavoidable for sports fans and news junkies -- but if you just want a good selection of TV and movies, try a combo of these online services.
Netflix
Who it's for: The movie buff
Typical fare: "True Grit," "The African Queen," "Downton Abbey"
Thumbs up: Get instant access to newish movies, sturdy classics, and past seasons of TV series.
Thumbs down: New movies may not be available as quickly as on DVD. Many titles in Netflix's DVD library, which costs extra to use, aren't offered at all. $8/month (streaming video only); netflix.com

[Related: New Book Reveals How Apple Really Works]
Hulu Plus
Who it's for: The TV junkie
Typical fare: "The Daily Show," 37 years of "Saturday Night Live," "Smiles of a Summer Night"
Thumbs up: Catch the full current season of popular network and cable shows, along with archives of past episodes and a smattering of art-house flicks.
Thumbs down: Just as with free TV, periodic advertisements may interrupt your show. $8/month; hulu.com
Amazon
Who it's for: The impatient grazer
Typical fare: "Mrs. Doubtfire," "Glee" (Season 2), "Moneyball" ($4)
Thumbs up: Enjoy a little-known perk for paying $80 a year for Amazon Prime two-day shipping: Have instant access to shows and movies at no extra cost. Separately, get new films on pay-per-view.
Thumbs down: Selection is smaller than Netflix's. $80/year (Prime), $2-$4 (PPV); amazon.com
The hardware made easy
The simplest way to enjoy these services, once you've signed up, is to sit at your computer and stare. But you can do better.
To watch on a tablet: Just download the relevant app and sign up. Netflix and Hulu Plus work on iPads and Android tablets, while Amazon is built into a Kindle Fire.
To watch on your TV: Connect your PC by wire to your set. Buy a Roku settop box (starts at $50), which lets you send video wirelessly over a home network to your set. Or use a networked Blu-ray or videogame player, which probably has the necessary software built in.
Smart shopping
Connect on the cheap: When you're making a PC-to-TV connection, don't get roped into spending more than you need to.
To get a video signal from most new computers (and other video gadgets) to most new TVs, you'll need what's known as an HDMI cable. You can spend anywhere from $25 to $100 for a brand-name beauty -- or get the same quality link from a generic HDMI that costs $5 on Amazon.com.

Occupy protest anniversary ends with police sweep


Occupy protest anniversary Dozens of police officers cleared the park where the Occupy movement was born six months ago and made several arrests after hundreds of protesters returned in an anniversary observance and defiantly resisted calls to clear out.
Some demonstrators locked arms and sat down in the middle of Zuccotti Park near Wall Street after police announced on a bullhorn at around 11:30 p.m. Saturday that the park was closed. Officers then poured into the park, forcing most of the crowd out and surrounding a small group that stayed behind. Police formed a human ring around the park to keep protesters out.
Several people were arrested, police said. An unused public transit bus was brought in to cart away about a dozen demonstrators in plastic handcuffs. One female under arrest had difficulty breathing and was taken away in an ambulance to be treated.
For hours, the demonstrators had been chanting and holding impromptu meetings in the park to celebrate the anniversary of the movement that has brought attention to economic inequality, as police mainly kept their distance.
But New York Police Det. Brian Sessa said the tipping point came when the protesters started breaking the park rules.
"They set up tents. They had sleeping bags," he said. Electrical boxes also were tampered with and there was evidence of graffiti.
Sessa said Brookfield Properties, the park owner, sent in security to advise the protesters to stop pitching tents and to leave the park. The protesters, in turn, became agitated with them. The company then asked the police to help them clear out the park, the detective said.
"Most of the people, they left the park," Sessa said. "People who refused to leave and were staying were arrested."
Many protesters shouted and officers took out their batons after a demonstrator threw a glass bottle at the bus that police were using to detain protesters.
Sandra Nurse, a member of Occupy's direct action working group, said police treated demonstrators roughly and made arbitrary arrests. She disputed the police assertion that demonstrators had broken park rules by putting up tents or getting out sleeping bags.
"I didn't see any sleeping bags," she said. "There was a banner hung between two trees and a tarp thrown over it ... It wasn't a tent. It was an erect thing, if that's what you want to call it."
She said they had reports of about 25 demonstrators arrested in the police sweep.
Earlier in the day, with the city's attention focused on the huge St. Patrick's Day parade many blocks uptown, the Occupy rally at Zuccotti drew hundreds of people.
Documentary filmmaker Michael Moore, who had given a speech at a nearby university, also made an appearance at the park, milling around with protesters.
With the barricades that once blocked them from Wall Street now removed, the protesters streamed down the sidewalk and covered the steps of the Federal Hall National Memorial. There, steps from the New York Stock Exchange and standing at the feet of a statue of George Washington, they danced and chanted, "We are unstoppable."
Police say arrests were made, but they didn't have a full count yet.
As always, the protesters focused on a variety of concerns, but for Tom Hagan, his sights were on the giants of finance.
"Wall Street did some terrible things, especially Goldman Sachs, but all of them. Everyone from the banks to the rating agencies, they all knew they were doing wrong. ... But they did it anyway. Because the money was too big," he said.
Dressed in an outfit that might have been more appropriate for the St. Patrick's Day parade, the 61-year-old salesman wore a green shamrock cap and carried a sign asking for saintly intervention: "St. Patrick: Drive the snakes out of Wall Street."
Stacy Hessler held up a cardboard sign that read, "Spring is coming," a reference, she said, both to the Arab Spring and to the warm weather that is returning to New York City. She said she believes the nicer weather will bring the crowds back to Occupy protests, where numbers have dwindled in recent months since the group's encampment was ousted from Zuccotti Park by authorities in November.
But now, "more and more people are coming out," said the 39-year-old, who left her home in Florida in October to join the Manhattan protesters and stayed through much of the winter. "The next couple of months, things are going to start to grow, like the flowers."
Some have questioned whether the group can regain its momentum. This month, the finance accounting group in New York City reported that just about $119,000 remained in Occupy's bank account — the equivalent of about two weeks' worth of expenses.
But Hessler said the group has remained strong, and she pronounced herself satisfied with what the Occupy protesters have accomplished over the last half year.
"It's changed the language," she said. "It's brought out a lot of issues that people are talking about. ... And that's the start of change."

Soldier suspected in Afghanistan massacre to meet with lawyers


A lawyer representing the U.S. soldier implicated in the massacre of 16 villagers in Afghanistansaid on Saturday he and other members of the defense team would spend several days with him in the week ahead.

is in solitary confinement at a military detention center at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, where he arrived late on Friday.

Bales, 38 and a four-tour combat veteran, is suspected of walking off his base in southern Afghanistan on Sunday and gunning down the 16 civilians, including nine children and three women, in a massacre that sent American-Afghan relations into a tailspin.

Bales, whose military unit is based south of Tacoma, Washington, had been held in Kuwait after he was flown out of Afghanistan on Wednesday. He has not yet been charged.

Bales' civilian attorney, John Henry Browne, said in a statement he was being joined in the defense effort by Emma Scanlan, also a civilian, and a military defense counsel, Major Thomas Hurley.

"Public reports that Sergeant Bales' supervisors, family and friends describe him as a level-headed, experienced soldier are consistent with information gathered by the defense team," Browne's statement said.

"It is too early to determine what factors may have played into this incident and the defense team looks forward to reviewing the evidence, examining all of Sergeant Bale's medical and personnel records and interviewing witnesses."

An unnamed U.S. official had told The New York Times the killings were a result of "a combination of stress, alcohol and domestic issues - he just snapped."

But Browne has refuted that, saying on CNN that marital problems were "totally bogus." He said his client had a "very strong marriage and, frankly, we're all taking offense at that."

FAMILY MOVED TO BASE

"Sergeant Bales' family is stunned in the face of this tragedy, but they stand behind the man they know as a devoted husband, father and dedicated member of the armed services," Browne's statement on Saturday said.

Bales' wife, Karilyn, and two young children have been moved into military lodging at Joint Base Lewis-McChord outside of Tacoma, Browne said earlier in the week.

Karilyn Bales works for a local business communications firm, a firm employee confirmed on Saturday.

Jill Heron, director of marketing and client relations for the firm, known as AMAXRA Inc., told Reuters Karilyn Bales is "a valued employee who works remotely" and remained employed by the company in Redmond, Washington.

Heron, visibly upset and nervous at her home in rural Carnation, outside Seattle, said she couldn't comment further.

Robert Bales, who completed a two-year associate college degree in 1992, joined the Army in 2001, the Army said in a statement late on Friday when it formally identified him for the first time since Sunday's incident.

His home of record was listed as Jensen Beach, Florida, although Browne has said Bales grew up in the Midwest.

His military training included education in sniper skills, military leadership and a course called "combat life savers."

The Army statement said Bales had spent a total of 37 months in three deployments in Iraq between 2003 and 2010.

BALES' HISTORY BEGINS TAKING SHAPE

Bales has had at least one previous minor run-in with the law, records show. In 2002, he was charged with criminal assault, according to Pierce County, Washington, records.

The court deferred the charge for six-months after Bales completed 20 hours of anger management, had no other law violations for six months and paid a $300 fine, the Tacoma News-Tribune said, citing court records.

The court dismissed the charge in February 2003. Reuters could not verify the disposition of the charge.

The News-Tribune also reported Bales was cited for a misdemeanor hit-and-run incident in October 2008 in Sumner.

He received a deferred 12-month sentence, and paid a fine of $250, which led to a dismissal of the charges. Reuters could not verify the report.

Records show the Bales' own two properties, both of which are underwater, meaning the mortgage balances are greater than the value of the properties.

Their main home near Lake Tapps, a white house with four bedrooms about 45 minutes east of Tacoma, was recently listed for sale at $229,000, according to the online real estate service Zillow.com. But Zillow, citing public transaction records, shows they paid for $280,000 for it in 2005.

Another realty website, for John L. Scott Real Estate, promotes the property as a "short sale," which occurs when a bank is willing to allow a homeowner to sell at a price below what is owed on the mortgage, accepting the loss on the remaining balance.

A smaller second property in the city of Auburn, about 10 miles to the north of their Lake Tapps home, was purchased by Karilyn Bales, then Karilyn Primeau, in 1999 for $99,500. While the property is assessed at $148,000, property records show it was remortgaged for the amount of $178,500 in 2006.

That property is in poor condition and has a "Do not occupy" notice from city authorities, posted in November 2010 due to "lack of sanitary facilities, lack of water to building."

Three sets of neighbors said on Saturday it has been vacant for a couple of years.

Edith Bouvette, 52, a massage therapist, recalled the couple living there before they had children, describing Robert Bales as helpful and Karilyn Bales as "happy, bubbly."

"What I really remember is him in his uniform, his pants tucked inside of his boots," Bouvette said of Robert Bales. "He was crisp, clean, military and very polite military. When you talked to him it was 'Yes, Ma'am - just a really, really nice guy, and it's just a terrible shame."

"I blame part of this on the military," Bouvette said. "They never should have sent him back for that fourth tour."

Taliban talks off; Karzai tells NATO to pull back


The American campaign in Afghanistan has suffered a double blow: The Taliban broke off talks with the U.S., and President Hamid Karzai said NATO should pull out of rural areas and speed up the transfer of security responsibilities to Afghan forces nationwide in the wake of the killing of 16 civilians.
Thursday's moves represent new setbacks to America's strategy for ending the 10-year-old war at a time when support for the conflict is plummeting. Part of the U.S. exit strategy is to transfer authority gradually to Afghan forces. Another tack is to pull the Taliban into political discussions with the Afghan government, though it's unclear that there has been any progress since January.
Although Karzai has previously said that he wanted international troops to transition out of rural areas, the apparent call for an immediate exit is new. Karzai also said he now wants Afghan forces to take the lead for countrywide security in 2013, in what appeared to be a move to push the U.S. toward an earlier drawdown.
A statement released by Karzai's office said that during his meeting with visiting U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, the president "requested that the international forces come out of Afghan villages and stay in their bases."
Karzai also said that the "Afghan security forces have the ability to provide security in the villages of our country," the statement said.
But a senior U.S. official said Karzai did not make any demands to have U.S. troops leave villages immediately. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to disclose details of a private meeting, said it's unclear that the U.S. would be able to pull all of its troops out of the villages even by 2013. He noted that the U.S. plans to continue counterterrorism operations and advising the Afghan forces around the country.
A rapid pullout from rural areas would have a devastating effect on U.S. ability to challenge the Taliban on the battlefield.
Unlike the Iraq war, where most combat was in towns and cities, the Afghan conflict is a struggle to secure rural hamlets and remote mountain valleys used by the militants to move in and out of sanctuaries in neighboring Pakistan.
It would essentially mean the end of the strategy of trying to win hearts and minds by working with and protecting the local populations.
Karzai is known for making dramatic demands and then backing off under U.S. pressure. The call for a pullback — even if aimed at his domestic audience — will likely become another issue of contention between the Afghans and their international allies at a time of growing war weariness in the United States and other countries of the international coalition.
Karzai spoke as Afghan lawmakers were expressing outrage that the U.S. flew the soldier suspected of gunning down 16 civilians early Sunday in two Afghan villages to Kuwait on Wednesday night. They were demanding that the suspect, a U.S. Army staff sergeant, be tried in the country.
A Seattle, Washington, lawyer said Thursday that he has been hired to represent the soldier, a 38-year-old father of two young children. The lawyer, John Henry Browne, said soldiers in the suspect's camp had been very upset that somebody in their unit had been "gravely injured" a day before the rampage.
The soldier is from Seattle area, but Browne and the Army have refused to give his name.
"Everybody is worried about the safety of his family, and I am honoring that," Browne said.
Browne said his client is highly decorated, had twice been injured during tours in Iraq and was reluctant to leave on his fourth deployment. He denied reports suggesting that the soldier had alcohol or marital problems.
Browne said the soldier asked that he represent him. He once represented serial killer Ted Bundy, and more recently helped negotiate plea deals for Colton Harris-Moore, a youthful thief known as the "Barefoot Bandit" who gained international attention as he stole airplanes, boats and cars during a two-year run from the law.
Browne said he will travel to wherever the soldier is being held. He also will have at least one military lawyer.
Asked if Karzai's request was a response to the shooting spree, Foreign Ministry spokesman Janan Mosazai said that Karzai had long asked that military operations cease in rural areas because that's not where terrorism is rooted. But he added: "The shootings were an unforgivable act of murder in Kandahar. It's just one other argument for why Afghan soldiers should increasingly lead when it comes to Afghan people in the villages."
Afghan security forces know "a thousand times better than any foreign troops the culturally sensitive ways of dealing with their own people," the spokesman said.
A NATO soldier died Thursday in a roadside bomb attack in eastern Afghanistan, said the coalition. The statement released Friday did not provided further details, nor the nationality of the casualty.
The American accused of killing the civilians was stationed on just such a rural base, where a small group of soldiers worked with villagers to try to set up local defense forces and strengthen government. The accused soldier, who has not been named, is suspected of going on a shooting rampage in villages near his base in southern Afghanistan, killing nine children and seven other civilians and then burning some of their bodies.
Karzai told Panetta that everything must be done to prevent any such incidents in the future, including speeding up timelines for NATO pullbacks.
The meeting took place a day after President Barack Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron said in Washington that they and their NATO allies were committed to shifting to a support role in Afghanistan in 2013 — a year earlier than scheduled.
Obama gave his fullest endorsement yet for the mission shift, but he said the overall plan to gradually withdraw forces and hand over security in Afghanistan will stand.
Despite the Taliban statement that it was suspending talks with the U.S., White House press secretary Jay Carney said Thursday that the U.S. continues to support an Afghan-led process toward reconciliation. He said U.S. terms for participation in that process by the Taliban have not changed.
In the statement, Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid accused the U.S. of failing to follow through on its promises, making new demands and falsely claiming that the militant group had entered into multilateral negotiations.
Mujahid said they had agreed to discuss two issues with the Americans: the establishment of the militant group's political office in Qatar and a prisoner exchange. The Taliban are seeking the release of five top Taliban leaders from the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay.
The Taliban said the Americans initially agreed to take practical steps on these issues, but then "turned their backs on their promises" and came up with new conditions for the talks.
"So the Islamic Emirate has decided to suspend all talks with Americans taking place in Qatar from today onwards until the Americans clarify their stance on the issues concerned and until they show willingness in carrying out their promises instead of wasting time," Mujahid said. The Taliban refers to itself as the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.
Karzai said last month that the U.S., the Afghan government and the Taliban held three-way talks aimed at moving toward a political settlement of the war.
The Taliban denied this and said talking with the Afghan government was "pointless."
Michael Semple, a fellow at the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at Harvard's Kennedy School who has been following the discussions, said the Taliban's decision was driven by a U.S. failure to follow through on the prisoner transfer from Guantanamo and Washington's insistence that the militant group engage with Karzai.
___
Associated Press writers Heidi Vogt and Sebastian Abbot in Kabul, Lolita C. Baldor in Abu Dhabi and Adam Schreck in Kuwait City contributed to this report.

GPS Tracking Disaster: Japanese Tourists Drive Straight into the Pacific


Three Japanese tourists in Australia, misled by their GPS device. Fairfax Media/Getty Images
Three Japanese tourists in Australia found themselves in an embarrassing situation after their GPS navigation system lured them down the wrong path.
The three, who are students from Tokyo, set out to drive to North Stradbroke Island on the Australian coast Thursday morning, and mapped out their path on their GPS system.
The road looked clear, at low tide - but the map forgot to show the 9 miles of water and mud between the island and the mainland.
As the three drove their rented Hyundai Getz into Moreton Bay, they found the GPS device guiding them from a gravel road into thick mud.  They tried to get back to solid ground, but as the tide rose they were forced to abandon their car.  Passengers on passing ferries watched in amazement.
"It told us we could drive down there," Yuzu Noda, 21, told the local Bayside Bulletin. "It kept saying it would navigate us to a road. We got stuck . . . there's lots of mud."
Noda and her friends made it about 50 yards offshore before they realized they were stranded. A tow truck driver eventually gave them a lift back to the mainland. The students decided not to have the car repaired because of the damage. The car was insured, though Noda will still have to pay about $1,500 that was not covered.
The students will fly back home to Tokyo this weekend, but they said they plan to try a trip to the island again some time in the future.
"We want to come back to Australia again," Noda told the Times. "Everyone is very nice, even today."

How to get younger skin at any age

Growing old gracefully isn't a lost art―it's just a forgotten one. For all those women who think the scalpel or the syringe is the only way to stay "young," here's a news flash: "About 80 percent of aging is caused by environmental factors, things you have control over," says Leslie Baumann, a dermatologist and the director of the University of Miami Cosmetic Center, in Florida.
Real Simple went to eight female dermatologists to find out their own at-home anti-aging routines. They all offer a sensible approach: Protect your skin, use the right skin-care ingredients, and get on with your life.

Twelve Ways to Delay Aging

To help minimize damage and wrinkles, stay out of the sun and follow these tips:
Aubrey Organics SPF 30 Sunscreen
• Wear sunscreen every day. 
You've heard it before: Sun exposure is the number one cause of premature aging. Ultraviolet light from the sun―or a tanning bed―breaks down collagen and elastin, the substances that keep skin smooth and firm.
 Apply sunscreen liberally. A too-thin layer of SPF (sun protection factor) 15 is equal to only about SPF 7. Use a shot glass-size amount to cover your body and a teaspoonful to cover your face.
 Don't forget your legs. "We find more cases of malignant melanomas on women's legs than on their faces," says Heidi Waldorf, director of laser and cosmetic dermatology at Mount Sinai Medical Center, in New York City.
 Don't rely on SPF-enhanced makeup. Chances are you don't wear enough of it to defend your skin.
Ray Ban Sunglasses
 Choose sunglasses with UV protection. Good sunglasses help prevent cataracts, and they also keep you from squinting, which can, over time, break down the collagen around your eyes and cause crow's-feet.
 Avoid smoky situations. If you smoke, quit. And nonsmokers should be aware that chronic exposure to secondhand smoke can damage skin. According to Karyn Grossman, a Santa Monica-based dermatologist, smoke, like the sun, bombards you with free radicals that make skin sallow, break down its collagen, and slow its ability to heal. To fend off damage, Grossman suggests products containing antioxidants, which neutralize free radicals. Her favorite antioxidants are vitamin C, vitamin E, and green tea. "The studies back up their efficacy the most," she says.
 Be conscious of repetitive movements. Between smiling, frowning, and talking, your face makes thousands of movements a day. Over time, these repetitive motions lead to deeper lines. It would be unrealistic (not to mention Stepford-like) to stop showing your emotions, but some habits can be curbed. "We're not saying, 'Don't live; don't move,'" says Debra Jaliman, a New York City dermatologist. "But if you're constantly drinking through a straw, chewing gum, or smoking, you're breaking down the collagen around your mouth. And the wrinkles will come earlier."
M.D. Forte Skin Rejuvenation Lotion II, Alpha Hydroxy Acid
 Stop picking! It's hard to resist the urge to do a little at-home surgery on a pimple, but the mark it might leave is the most persuasive reason not to. "As you age, acne scars often end up looking more like wrinkles," says Grossman. "If you have a pimple on your cheek near where a wrinkle forms, it will make the wrinkle deeper."
 Cleanse with alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs). They help remove the top layer of dead skin cells to reveal a fresh layer underneath. "Alpha hydroxy acids (such as glycolic acid) unclog pores and help your skin look smoother," says Alyson C. Penstein, a dermatologist in New York City. Note: If you have oily or acne-prone skin, try a cleanser with a beta hydroxy acid (BHA).
RoC Retinol Correxion Deep Wrinkle Night Cream
 Use an anti-aging cream at night. New anti-aging creams arrive on cosmetics counters all the time―with bigger claims and heftier price tags. But good old retinoids, which contain a vitamin A derivative, are still the gold standard. "Many studies support retinoids, and they have withstood the test of time," says Marianne O'Donoghue, an associate professor of dermatology at the Rush University Medical Center, in Chicago. Retinoids encourage the skin to renew itself, smoothing fine lines and helping to repair sun damage. They are found in prescription creams, such as Renova and Retin-A, and in lower concentrations in over-the-counter retinol creams. Note: Retinoids can be irritating at first, so apply sparingly. They also leave skin vulnerable to sunburn. If your skin is extra-sensitive, try a milder cream containing kinetin, an ingredient found in plants that has been shown to smooth lines.
 Try a weekly exfoliation treatment. Most professional antiaging treatments―including chemical peels and microdermabrasion―shed skin to clear up uneven pigmentation and encourage collagen growth. Now there are effective treatments that are gentle enough to use at home. Robin Ashinoff, director of cosmetic dermatology at the Hackensack University Medical Center, in New Jersey, suggests using a chemical exfoliator. There are also polishing creams that aim to achieve results similar to those of professional microdermabrasion, which manually sloughs off skin with superfine particles. Over time, your skin should respond by thickening slightly. "Thickening is good," explains Mary Ellen Brademas, a New York City dermatologist. "Thicker skin shows fewer wrinkles."
 Remember the rest of your body. "Everything you do for your face, you should also do for your neck, chest, and hands," says Baumann. "Those are the primary spots that show aging." At the very least, moisturize: Hydrated skin looks plumper and smoother.

Iran sanctions seen spurring more Saudi oil sales to U.S.


Saudi Arabia is preparing to extend this year's unexpected jump in oil sales to the United States, adding to speculation about the response of the world's top oil exporter to sanctions against Iran and a rally in prices.
The kingdom's shipments to the United States have quietly risen 25 percent to the highest level since mid-2008, according to preliminary U.S. government data, a sizeable leap that appears at least partly related to the imminent completion of a major expansion at its joint-venture Motiva refinery in Texas.
But some say the scale of the increase, plus other U.S. data showingGulf Coast inventories are still subdued, suggest the potential for a political dimension as well, evoking comparisons to 2008 when the OPEC kingpin was driving up production to knock oil prices off record highs near $150 a barrel.
The surge appears set to continue. Vela, Saudi Arabia's state oil tanker company, has booked at least nine very large crude carriers (VLCCs) capable of carrying 2 million barrels of crude each from the Middle East Gulf to the U.S. Gulf since the start of March, the biggest such wave of fixtures in years, analysts say.
The pivot to the U.S. market, which bore the brunt of Saudi output curbs after 2008, is a surprise for two reasons.
For one, many analysts had believed that the kingdom's modest output increase in recent months was bound for fast-growing Asian markets, particularly given the pressure on refiners there to reduce their imports from Iran.
Plus, it comes after a year in which U.S. crude oil imports shrank to their lowest since 1999 thanks to a dramatic boom in shale oil production and tepid demand from consumers who are making every effort to cut back as gasoline prices rise.
The White House has been scrambling for options to bring down gasoline prices -- at a seasonal record high -- during an election year, after concerns over an Iranian supply disruption launched benchmark Brent crude to lofty peaks over $120 a barrel not seen since the record price run of 2008.
Washington has urged ally Saudi Arabia to cover potential shortages when new U.S. and European Union sanctions are expected to reduce Iranian oil exports from July. The Obama administration has considered releasing strategic oil inventories, potentially as part of a bilateral deal with Britain.
The kingdom has stepped up efforts this week to assure edgy markets that it will make up for any oil supply disruptions at a time when Iran's standoff with the West has begun to intensify.
"Beyond the expansion at Motiva, there has been a major public shift by the Saudis since the Iran tensions started to raise the price of oil," said Amy Jaffe, an energy policy expert at Rice University's Baker Institute in Houston.
"Saudi Arabia and the United States are trying to show the Iranians they (the Iranians) will have little flexibility, and they shouldn't count on the world needing all the oil that Iran produces."
Saudi output in February was up 450,000 barrels per day (bpd) from October at its highest since August.
RISE IS SURPRISE
The build appears related, at least in part, to a massive expansion project at Saudi Arabia's 285,000-bpd Motiva Port Arthur, Texas joint-venture refinery with Shell Oil, the U.S. unit of Royal Dutch Shell.
All expansion units are expected to be in production by the end of the second quarter of this year, with the expanded refinery reaching, by the end of the year, a maximum capacity of 660,000 bpd. Motiva Enterprises began circulating feedstocks through some of the expansion units in January
Motiva declined to comment. The expansion project, budgeted at $5 billion, began in 2007, and when complete will make the refinery the largest in the United States.
"I suspect there is some seasonality to it, U.S. refiners build inventories in the first quarter and U.S. refiners start up Gulf Coast plants out of maintenance," said Jan Stuart, head of energy research at Credit Suisse in New York City.
"In addition, this year you have the Motiva expansion, which will buy a lot of crude," he said, adding the building up of 20 days worth of inventory could account for part of the increased Saudi shipments.
That would be equivalent to building up inventories of 7.5 million barrels, by a Reuters calculation, implying a need to build 100,000 bpd of stock over the first 10 weeks of the year.
INVENTORY BUILD
Still, crude inventories in the Gulf Coast region have not grown as much as they traditionally do during the first quarter when refiners build up stocks.
Gulf Coast stocks have risen by only 10.3 million barrels -- or roughly 140,000 bpd -- over the 10 week period, compared with 14.2 million barrels on average for the past five years, according to EIA data. The weekly data is preliminary, and more comprehensive monthly data for January is not yet available.
While the rise in Saudi output has been well charted, the fact that the lion's share of it appears destined for U.S. refiners will come as a surprise to many. Overall U.S. demand for foreign crude has ebbed this year as a boom in domestic and Canadian production reduces the need for imports.
The reversal of the key Seaway pipeline -- which will begin running from Oklahoma to Texas by July -- was expected further to temper demand for imports by helping bring more cheap crude from the Midwest to the U.S. Gulf Coast refining hub.
"We were all expecting to see U.S. imports fall for Vela, so it's a jump at a time when we are preparing for a reversal given the Seaway pipeline," one shipping source said. "It raises the question why would they need more imports?"
Omar Nokta, managing director with investment bank Dahlman Rose & Co, said in a note on Friday that it was the first time in "several years" for Vela to book so many tankers in such a short time.
RISE BEGAN IN JANUARY
Provisional weekly data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration shows that the rise in supplies began several months ago, and outpaced gains to other consumers such as China.
U.S. imports of Saudi oil hit 1.5 million bpd in the first 10 weeks of 2012, up 300,000 bpd from the fourth quarter of 2011 and marking the largest rise in shipments since the second quarter of 2003. Saudi shipments to China in January rose only 14 percent from the year before.
Total U.S. crude imports are up only 165,000 bpd in the first 10 weeks of the year versus the fourth quarter. The EIA was not immediately able to respond to requests for an explanation of the data.
The shift also could simply be the result of restoring supplies to U.S. customers whose shipments had been cut much more deeply after prices crashed four years ago.
"Up to 2008, there was definitely a much larger rise in shipments to Asia, that's where the demand was growing. The cuts that followed that were not proportionate," said a senior executive at a major Saudi oil customer.
"Now there's a degree of rebalancing."
The rise in bookings to the U.S. Gulf has also tightened tanker availabilities, helping push the average earnings for VLCCs on the benchmark Middle Gulf to Japan route -- the major market barometer -- to their highest level in over a year to $33,205 a day, Baltic Exchange data showed.
Data shows that the Saudi crude has been priced advantageously for U.S. buyers. Official selling prices (OSPs) for U.S. buyers, which are set by the state oil firm Saudi Aramco, have fallen to a deep discount versus Asian and European refiners, according to Reuters data.
The bargain rates may have encouraged a bit more crude to move West, although industry sources say the kingdom's largest customers with global refining systems have less flexibility to shift supplies between different regions than they have in the past.
Edward Morse, global head of commodities research at Citigroup, said that while the higher U.S. volumes could be due to Motiva, it may come as part of efforts to build up global inventories.
"I think that if you look over a longer term, the Saudis are increasing their exports to the whole world right now and not just the U.S.," Morse said.
"The Saudis are getting oil onto the market to encourage inventory building, and to show their customers they can deliver whatever is needed."
(Additional reporting by Jonathan Leff and Joshua Schneyer in New York; Editing by Dale Hudson and Marguerita Choy)