Afghanistan massacre: What we've learned in the past week
March 29th, 2012
10:57 PM ET

Afghanistan massacre: What we've learned in the past week

Allegations that a U.S. soldier suspected of killing 17 Afghan civilians briefly returned to his base in the midst of the attacks are among the developments that have surfaced in the case in recent days.

U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, 38, is accused of walking into two villages near an Army outpost in Kandahar province’s Panjwai district and killing men, women and children on March 11. U.S. authorities have said Bales acted alone, leaving at night and eventually surrendering at his base.

The U.S. military has charged Bales with 17 counts of murder with premeditation, for which he could face the death penalty. He also faces six counts of attempted murder and two counts of assault and is being held at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, after being flown from Afghanistan a few days after the killings.

Here are some of the new developments in the case this week:

U.S. official: Bales left base twice, alleged to have talked of killings

Two senior U.S. officials told CNN that Bales sneaked off his remote outpost twice during his alleged rampage, entering one village during each trip.

One U.S. official with knowledge of the investigation said an Afghan guard allegedly spotted Bales leaving his outpost around 1 a.m. It is not clear why Bales' superiors weren’t alerted, and the official said Bales was not noticed when he allegedly returned to the compound an hour later.

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Overheard on CNN.com: Space, science invoke some of life's thorniest questions
An artist's rendering of sunset on Gliese 667 Cc, a previously-discovered super-Earth.
March 29th, 2012
07:18 PM ET

Overheard on CNN.com: Space, science invoke some of life's thorniest questions

Editor's note: This post is part of the Overheard on CNN.com series, a regular feature that examines interesting comments and thought-provoking conversations posted by the community.

CNN's Light Years blog always seems to be addressing some of life's biggest, most perplexing and indeed thorniest questions. Our readers often go there to debate grand themes and ponder the meaning of the universe.

1. Are we alone?

Astronomers have estimated that in our galaxy, there are tens of billions of rocky planets not so much bigger than Earth that could be candidates for harboring life.

Astronomers: Billions of 'super-Earths' in habitable zone of red dwarf stars

It follows that many would ask whether there is life on other planets. Readers have varied views on this.

Etheras: "Life as-we-know-it is unlikely to be plentiful. ... If you keep adding-on all the vital elements to the evolution of life as-we-know-it (the only life we can say for sure exists) it becomes increasingly plausible that life (at least 'complex life') in the universe is very rare. Its just a numbers game. So why do scientists constantly talk about life on other planets? Money. They want headlines because headlines means publicity which means grants. They're telling people what those people want to hear, because if they didn't people wouldn't give them money. Now ... I'm not saying life doesn't exist on other planets. I am saying that, its more likely than not, humankind will never find another intelligent civilization, even if we could colonize half the galaxy. Sorry chums, we're alone."

Brandon T: "As an astronomer studying exoplanets, there are still too many unknowns to even consider evaluating the possibility of life on other planets. Viewed statistically, however, it is EXTREMELY unlikely that the only planet known to harbor life would ultimately involve life intelligent enough to ask this question. Therefore, it's likely that there are many planets out there with non-intelligent life, at the very least."

2. Can religion and science coexist?

Stories about research into human origins often give rise to debates over evolution, creation, science and religion. FULL POST

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Filed under: Overheard on CNN.com • Religion • Science • Space
Overheard on CNN.com: Lottery inspires $540 million wishes, charitable dreams
Readers shared their ideas for what to do with hundreds of millions of dollars. We heard all sorts of fantasies.
March 29th, 2012
05:23 PM ET

Overheard on CNN.com: Lottery inspires $540 million wishes, charitable dreams

Editor's note: This post is part of the Overheard on CNN.com series, a regular feature that examines interesting comments and thought-provoking conversations posted by the community.

Video iReporter Matt Sky received hundreds of comments in response to a question he posed to fellow readers: What would you do with what is now a $540 million Mega Millions jackpot? The responses got quite creative.

What would you do with all that money?

Here are some of the kinds of fantasies that our readers shared.

Medical

jana21: "I would find the best medical facility in the world and have stem cell work done for my son in hopes that he would then be able to learn how to talk and maybe even walk! I would make sure that no matter how long he lived, he would have the best quality of life possible to fit his needs. I would put away for my daughters' education and set up trusts for both. I would also build more playgrounds for the disabled all across our country. Once all that is taken care of, pay off my student loans and all other debt then take classes that interested me and use my free time to volunteer."

Vehicular

RVT1K:
"1) Buy a huge piece of land in the desert Southwest.
2) Build a nice home on it.
3) Build a VAST garage and complete workshop.
4) Build my own private racetrack on the land.
5) Collect a vast array of sports cars and motorcycles.
6) Spend the rest of my days trying to improve my lap times."

Creative

bgarrett4: I'd start my own TV show where people would compete for my money. A million-a-year for a prize? I could set up a long-running show called 'What Would you Do for $' lol" FULL POST

House passes GOP budget plan
House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan introduces the GOP leadership's 2013 budget plan at the Capitol.
March 29th, 2012
03:48 PM ET

House passes GOP budget plan

The Republican-controlled House of Representatives on Thursday passed the GOP leadership's 2013 budget plan a measure that has no chance of passing the Democratic-controlled Senate but creates a clear contrast between the two parties on a number of critical tax and spending issues ahead of the general election.

The resolution passed in a strongly polarized 228-191 vote. No Democrats backed the measure; only 10 Republicans opposed it.

House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan's $3.53 trillion blueprint includes an overhaul of the nation's tax code and major changes to popular entitlements such as Medicare expensive programs that in the past have been considered politically untouchable.

Republicans say the plan is necessary to slow the growth of exploding federal deficits and put the federal government on the road to fiscal stability.

"We have one of the most predictable economic crises in this country coming. It's a debt-driven crisis. And so we have an obligation not just a legal obligation but a moral obligation to do something about it," Ryan, a Wisconsin Republican, said Thursday morning. GOP leaders "think the key components are to get spending under control, reform our entitlement programs" and help stimulate economic growth.

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Filed under: Politics
Affiliate roundup: Students told to delete Facebook accounts
A Jewish girls' school in Brooklyn has students sign contracts forbidding them from having a Facebook account, WCBS says.
March 29th, 2012
12:51 PM ET

Affiliate roundup: Students told to delete Facebook accounts

A sampling of Thursday's headlines from some CNN affiliates nationwide:

WCBS: School says some students violating policy against Facebook

Students at a Jewish girls’ high school in New York have been ordered to delete their Facebook accounts in accordance with school policy, CNN affiliate WCBS-TV reported.

Juniors at the school who were found to have Facebook accounts were taken out of class and told to stop their accounts or face expulsion, according to WCBS. Students at the school sign contracts promising not to have the accounts; the school principal says having such an account violates religious expectations of modesty.

FULL POST


Filed under: Alabama • California • Florida • New York
March 29th, 2012
12:17 PM ET

Mega Millions jackpot now at $640 million

[Update on Friday] The estimated jackpot for Friday's Mega Millions drawing has risen to $640 million, lottery officials said Friday.

[Posted at 1:57 p.m. ET Thursday] The estimated jackpot for Friday night's Mega Millions drawing rose Thursday to $540 million, extending what Mega Millions officials say already was going to be a world record for lottery jackpots.

Friday's jackpot initially was estimated at $476 million, and then $500 million, but stronger-than-anticipated sales nationwide have helped push up the figure, lottery officials said.

The previous world record for a single jackpot, according to Mega Millions officials, was that game's $390 million prize in a March 6, 2007, drawing. That jackpot was split by winners in Georgia and New Jersey.

The growing jackpot has drawn plenty of interest from would-be millionaires.

In Texas, one of the 42 states where Mega Millions is played, 482,763 standard $1 tickets that is, tickets without the extra $1 Megaplier option were sold from 11 a.m. to noon on Thursday, said Kelly Cripe, spokeswoman for the Texas Lottery Commission. In the same hour a day earlier, 143,605 tickets were told in Texas, Cripe said.

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Filed under: Lotto
March 29th, 2012
04:18 AM ET

Firefighters continue to battle Colorado wildfire

Firefighters were hoping to make more progress Thursday on a deadly wildfire that torched more than 4,000 acres in a mountainous area near Denver.

After feverish battles by more than 500 firefighters, authorities said the blaze was about 15% contained Wednesday.

The Colorado Forest Service apologized for the wildfire after it was revealed that it was caused by a "controlled" burn that got out of control, killing at least two people.

"This is heartbreaking and we're sorry," State Forester Joe Duda told reporters Wednesday about the Lower North Fork Fire, which has scorched 4,140 acres in Jefferson County, destroying or damaging 27 houses and leaving a woman missing in addition to the two fatalities.

The revelation pushed Gov. John Hickenlooper to suspend such burns. A team is being formed to investigate how last Thursday's controlled burn re-erupted on Monday as a wildfire.

FULL STORY

Filed under: U.S.
March 29th, 2012
03:20 AM ET

Relatives visit detained Chinese lawyer for first time, group says

Relatives of Gao Zhisheng, an imprisoned Chinese human rights lawyer, have been able to see him for the first time since the authorities took him away nearly two years ago, a nonprofit group said Wednesday.

Gao's brother and father-in-law visited him for half an hour at Shaya prison in a remote area of the far western Chinese province of Xinjiang, Texas-based nonprofit ChinaAid said in a statement, citing Gao's wife, Geng He, who now lives in the United States.

Gao made a name for himself representing disadvantaged Chinese citizens, like people who had lost land to big construction projects, protesting factory workers and followers of prohibited religious movements. But his activism attracted the attention of the authorities.

He was convicted of inciting subversion in 2006 and was put on probation for five years.

FULL STORY

Filed under: World
March 29th, 2012
02:18 AM ET

Zimmerman's father says Trayvon Martin threatened to kill his son

The father of George Zimmerman, the man accused of shooting and killing and unarmed black teen, says the teen threatened to kill Zimmerman and then beat him so badly that it forced Zimmerman to shoot the teen.

"Trayvon Martin said something to the effect of you're going to die now or you're going to die tonight, something to that effect," Robert Zimmerman told Orlando TV station WOFL. "He continued to beat George. At some point, George pulled his pistol. Did what he did."

In the interview Robert Zimmerman, his face obscured because he says he fears for his safety, vehemently defended the shooting that has caused outrage throughout the nation, moved President Barack Obama to call it a tragedy and prompted a federal investigation.

Robert Zimmerman told the news station that Martin confronted his son first and pummeled his son continually.

"He was punched in the nose. His nose was broken," Robert Zimmerman said. "He was knocked to the concrete. Trayvon Martin got on top of him and just started beating him. In the face. In his nose, hitting his head on the concrete."

Robert Zimmerman was not there the night of the shooting and did not say during the interview how he knew the details of the altercation.

FULL STORY

Filed under: Crime • U.S.
March 29th, 2012
02:16 AM ET

Lindsay Lohan legal nightmares may be near end

Lindsay Lohan's probation hearing Thursday could be the last time in court for the actress, ending nearly five years of legal troubles that began with a drunken driving arrest.

Lohan's probation officer sent another good progress report to the judge, confirming that the actress has completed the 480 hours of community service and the four-times-a-month psychological counseling sessions ordered, a source familiar with the case said.

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Stephanie Sautner told Lohan in November that her formal probation would end March 29 if she met the probation requirements.

She would remain on informal probation for two more years on a misdemeanor shoplifting conviction, but her felony probation from two drunken driving convictions is set to end Thursday.

FULL STORY

Filed under: Crime • U.S.