Thursday, March 28, 2013

Published:

Obama enlists voters to press Congress on gun control; moderate Senate Dems still a tough sell

WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Barack Obama pressed Congress on Thursday not to forget the heartbreak of the Newtown elementary school massacre and "get squishy" on tightened gun laws, though some lawmakers in his own Democratic Party remain a tough sell on an approaching Senate vote to expand purchasers' background checks.

"Shame on us if we've forgotten," Obama said at the White House, standing amid 21 mothers who have lost children to shootings. "I haven't forgotten those kids."

More than three months after 20 first-graders and six staffers were killed in Newtown, Conn., Obama urged the nation to pressure lawmakers to back what he called the best chance in over a decade to tame firearms violence.

At the same time, gun control groups were staging a "Day to Demand Action" with more than 100 rallies and other events planned from Connecticut to California. This was on top of a $12 million TV ad campaign financed by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg that has been pressuring senators in 13 states to tighten background-check rules.

But if political momentum was building after the nightmarish December shootings, it has flagged as the Senate prepares to debate gun restrictions next month. Thanks to widespread Republican resistance and a wariness by moderate Democrats from Southern and Western states -- including six who are facing re-election next year -- a proposed assault weapons ban seems doomed and efforts to broaden background checks and bar high capacity ammunition magazines are in question.

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The S&P 500 recovers its Great Recession losses. What is the index and how did it climb back?

NEW YORK (AP) -- The stock market notched another record.

Three weeks after the Dow Jones industrial average blew past its all-time high, the broader Standard & Poor's 500 index joined it in the history books.

The S&P 500 gained six points on Thursday to close at 1,569.19, topping its previous peak by four points. That previous record stood since Oct. 9, 2007.

The S&P 500 may generate fewer headlines than the Dow, its older stock-index sibling, but it's the market gauge favored by professional investors. That's largely because it covers a wider swath of companies -- 500 as opposed to 30.

Like the Dow, the S&P 500 has now recovered all of its losses from the Great Recession and the financial crisis that followed. Investors who held on and put their dividends back into the market have fared even better. An investment of $10,000 in the S&P 500 on Oct. 9, 2007, would be worth $11,270 today.

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10 Things to Know for Friday

Your daily look at late-breaking news, upcoming events and the stories that will be talked about Friday:

1. WHY WALL STREET ISN'T TURNING CARTWHEELS

The S&P 500 hits a new high, but U.S. economic growth remains anemic and the European debt crisis is far from resolved.

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Sensing a shift even in conservative states, lawmakers rush to catch up on gay marriage

WASHINGTON (AP) -- For years, American opinion on gay marriage has been shifting. Now lawmakers are in a mad dash to catch up.

In less than two weeks, seven senators -- all from moderate or Republican-leaning states -- announced their support, dropping one by one like dominos. Taken together, their proclamations reflected a profound change in the American political calculus: For the first time, elected officials from traditionally conservative states are starting to feel it's safer to back gay marriage than risk being the last to join the cause.

"As far as I can tell, political leaders are falling all over themselves to endorse your side of the case," Chief Justice John Roberts told lawyers urging the Supreme Court on Wednesday to strike down a law barring legally married gay couples from receiving federal benefits or recognition.

It was the second of two landmark gay marriage cases the justices heard this week, the high court's first major examination of gay rights in a decade. But the focus on the court cases -- replete with colorful, camera-ready protests outside the court building -- obscured the sudden emergence of a critical mass across the street in the Capitol as one by one, senators took to Facebook or quietly issued a statement to say that they, too, now support gay marriage.

For some Democrats, like Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill and Montana Sen. Jon Tester, the reversal would have been almost unfathomable just a few months ago as they fought for re-election. The potential risks were even greater for other Democrats like North Carolina Sen. Kay Hagan and Alaska Sen. Mark Begich, already top GOP targets when they face voters next year in states that President Barack Obama lost in November. After all, it was less than a year ago that voters in Hagan's state approved a ban on gay marriage.

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North Korea's Kim orders rockets on standby after US sends B-2s to SKorea for military drills

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) -- North Korea's leader said Friday that his rocket forces are ready "to settle accounts with the U.S.," an escalation of the country's bellicose rhetoric and a direct response to U.S. nuclear-capable B-2 bombers joining military drills with South Korea a day earlier.

Kim Jong Un's comments in an early morning meeting with his senior generals are part of a rising tide of threats meant to highlight anger over the military drills and recent U.N. sanctions over Pyongyang's nuclear test. North Korea sees U.S. nuclear firepower as a direct threat to its existence and claims the annual military drills are a preparation for invasion. Pyongyang also uses the U.S. nuclear arsenal as a justification for its own push for nuclear-tipped missiles that can strike the United States -- a goal that experts believe to be years away, despite a nuclear test last month and a long-range rocket launch in December.

A full-blown North Korean attack is unlikely, though there are fears of a more localized conflict, such as a naval skirmish in disputed Yellow Sea waters. Such naval clashes have happened three times since 1999. North Korea's threats are seen by outside analysts as efforts to provoke South Korea to soften its policies and to win direct talks with Washington that could result in aid. Kim's comments are also seen as ways to build domestic loyalty and strengthen his military credentials.

Kim "convened an urgent operation meeting" early Friday, signed a rocket preparation plan and ordered his forces on standby to strike the U.S. mainland, South Korea, Guam and Hawaii, state media reported. Many analysts say they've seen no evidence that Pyongyang's missiles can hit the U.S. mainland. But it has capable short- and mid-range missiles, and Seoul is only a short drive from the heavily armed border separating the Koreas.

Kim said "the time has come to settle accounts with the U.S. imperialists in view of the prevailing situation," according to a report by the North's official Korean Central News Agency. The stealth bombers' flight indicates that U.S. hostility against North Korea has "entered a reckless phase, going beyond the phase of threat and blackmail."

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With his choice of weapons from home arsenal, Newtown gunman carried out massacre in 5 minutes

NEWTOWN, Conn. (AP) -- When Adam Lanza walked out of his house for the last time, he left behind firearms and knives and more than 1,600 rounds of ammunition -- taking only four guns. They would suffice.

He loaded the weapons into his car, drove to Sandy Hook Elementary School, blasted his way into the building and within five minutes fired off 154 shots with a Bushmaster .223-caliber rifle. Having slaughtered 20 first-graders and six educators, he killed himself with a shot from a Glock handgun. He still had more than 100 rifle bullets at hand.

Warrants released Thursday provide the most insight to date into the world of the 20-year-old gunman, a recluse who played violent video games in a house packed with weaponry that was all too real. The inventory of items found in the spacious, colonial-style home included books on autism, a vast array of weapon paraphernalia and images of what appears to be a dead person covered with plastic and blood.

The weapons used in the shooting had all apparently been purchased by Lanza's mother, Nancy, with whom he lived, said prosecutor Stephen J. Sedensky III, in a statement accompanying the warrants.

She was found dead in her bed; Adam Lanza had shot her the morning of the massacre, Dec. 14. Authorities also found a gun safe in his bedroom and a holiday card from Nancy Lanza containing a check made out to her son for the purchase of yet another firearm.

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Pope washes young women's feet on Holy Thursday, in break with church law

ROME (AP) -- In his most significant break with tradition yet, Pope Francis washed and kissed the feet of two young women at a juvenile detention center -- a surprising departure from church rules that restrict the Holy Thursday ritual to men.

No pope has ever washed the feet of a woman before, and Francis' gesture sparked a debate among some conservatives and liturgical purists, who lamented he had set a "questionable example." Liberals welcomed the move as a sign of greater inclusiveness in the church.

Speaking to the young offenders, including Muslims and Orthodox Christians, Francis said that Jesus washed the feet of his disciples on the eve of his crucifixion in a gesture of love and service.

"This is a symbol, it is a sign. Washing your feet means I am at your service," Francis told the group, aged 14 to 21, at the Casal del Marmo detention facility in Rome.

"Help one another. This is what Jesus teaches us," the pope said. "This is what I do. And I do it with my heart. I do this with my heart because it is my duty. As a priest and bishop, I must be at your service."

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Prosecutors in Colo. theater shooting not ready to agree to guilty plea from Holmes

DENVER (AP) -- Prosecutors in the Colorado theater shooting on Thursday rejected an offer from suspect James Holmes to plead guilty in exchange for avoiding the death penalty and accused defense lawyers of a serious breach of court rules by making the offer public.

In a scathing court document, prosecutors said the defense has repeatedly refused to give them the information they need to evaluate the plea offer, so the offer can't be considered genuine.

No plea agreement exists, prosecutors said, and one "is extremely unlikely based on the present information available to the prosecution."

They also said anyone reading news stories about the offer would inevitably conclude "the defendant knows that he is guilty, the defense attorneys know that he is guilty, and that both of them know that he was not criminally insane."

Neither the defense nor the prosecution immediately returned phone calls Thursday.

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Person who works closely with Barbara Walters: She's retiring next year

NEW YORK (AP) -- Barbara Walters plans to retire next year, ending a television career that began more than a half century ago and made her a trailblazer in news and daytime TV.

Someone who works closely with Walters said the plan is for her to retire in May 2014 after a series of special programs saluting her career. The person was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly and spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity Thursday.

Walters, 83, was hospitalized earlier this year after falling and cutting her head while leaving a party in Washington and remained out of work after developing the chickenpox. Largely retired from ABC News already, her main work is at "The View," the daytime hit she created in 1997.

Her television career began in 1961 when she was hired as a writer for the "Today" show. She graduated quickly to on-air work and became the show's co-host before leaving in 1976 to become co-anchor of ABC's evening news with Harry Reasoner -- the first woman in such a role for a television network.

The pairing ended quickly and Walters settled into a role as ABC News' cajoler-in-chief, competing ferociously to land newsmaking interviews with heads of state and stars of the day. She regularly did interview specials, including an annual show with the most fascinating people of the year, and was co-host of "20/20" for two decades, much of the time with Hugh Downs.

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The big 3: LaQuinton Ross' long 3-pointer with 2 seconds left sends Ohio St past Arizona 73-70

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- LaQuinton Ross hit the tiebreaking 3-pointer with 2 seconds to play, and Ohio State advanced to the brink of its second straight Final Four appearance with a 73-70 victory over Arizona on Thursday night in the West Regional semifinals.

Ross, the Buckeyes' remarkable reserve, scored 14 of his 17 points in the second half for the second-seeded Buckeyes (29-7), who rallied from an early 11-point deficit and weathered the sixth-seeded Wildcats' late charge for their 11th consecutive victory since mid-February.

Deshaun Thomas scored 20 points for Ohio State, and Aaron Craft added 13 before ceding the Buckeyes' final shot to Ross. Craft hit an awfully similar 3-pointer against Iowa State last Sunday to send the Buckeyes forward.

Mark Lyons' acrobatic three-point play for the Wildcats (27-8) had tied it with 21.8 seconds left.

Craft dribbled down the clock and gave it to Ross, who coolly drilled his second 3-pointer and set off a wild celebration in the Ohio State section of the Arizona-dominated crowd.