10 things you need to know today: October 22, 2014

Bradlee being awarded a Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2013.
Bradlee being awarded a Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2013. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

The Week

Legendary editor Ben Bradlee dies, North Korea frees one of three captive Americans, and more

1. Former Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee dies at 93
Legendary Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee, who presided over the Watergate reporting that brought down Richard Nixon’s presidency, died on Tuesday. He was 93. Bradlee took over leadership of the Post in 1965, and helped make the newspaper one of the world’s great dailies. Bradlee was widely praised for making tough calls, including publishing the Pentagon Papers, a secret Pentagon history of the Vietnam war. “For Benjamin Bradlee, journalism was more than a profession — it was a public good vital to our democracy,” President Obama said. [The New York Times, The Washington Post]


2. North Korea frees American Jeffrey Fowle
North Korea unexpectedly released Jeffrey Fowle, one of three Americans held by North Korea, on Tuesday, six months after he was arrested for leaving a Bible in a club in the reclusive communist country. Fowle, 56, was first flown on a U.S. military plane from Pyongyang to Guam, then to his home state, Ohio, where he landed early Wednesday. State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf declined to say how Fowle, a municipal worker who had traveled on a tourist visa, was freed, to avoid complicating efforts to get the other two captive Americans released. [Los Angeles Times]


3. U.S. tightens Ebola safeguards on travelers from West Africa
The federal government tightened its precautions against Ebola on Tuesday by requiring travelers from the three hardest hit West African countries to enter the U.S. through one of five major airports performing enhanced screening for the virus. People flying into the U.S. from Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea will be limited to New York’s John F. Kennedy, Washington Dulles, Newark, Atlanta, or Chicago O’Hare international airports, starting Wednesday. [Reuters]


4. Hong Kong activists debate government officials on democracy
Hong Kong pro-democracy activists debated city officials on Tuesday in an event intended to jumpstart talks on ending three weeks of demonstrations demanding free elections and the resignation of the Chinese-controlled former British colony’s leader, Leung Chun-ying. Protest leaders said they didn’t believe the debate, beamed live on big screens around the city, would lead to change, but that it would show viewers “the difference between right and wrong.” City leaders said there was room for negotiation. [Sydney Morning Herald]


5. Ebola vaccine trials could start in January
The World Health Organization said Tuesday it hopes to begin testing two experimental Ebola vaccines as early as next January. The vaccines will be given to more than 20,000 health-care workers in West Africa’s hardest hit areas. Even if a vaccine works, it would not be expected to be enough to stop the outbreak, partly because there won’t be enough to immunize everyone. An effective vaccine would, however, provide crucial protection to doctors and nurses fighting the disease. So far, more than 200 of them have died. [The Associated Press]


6. Colorado teens suspected of trying to join ISIS
The FBI is investigating whether three Colorado teenage girls detained in Germany were trying to reach Syria to join the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, also known as ISIS. The teenagers — all of whom are under 18 — were persuaded by a contact in Germany to leave home “to fulfill what they believe is some vision that has been put out on a slick media campaign,” a law enforcement official said. The families of the girls — two of Somali descent, the other of Sudanese descent — reported them missing last week. [Fox News]


7. Wyoming becomes 32nd state to legalize gay marriage
Wyoming filed a legal notice on Tuesday declaring that it would not defend its recently overturned gay-marriage ban, making the state the 32nd in the nation to legalize same-sex marriage. The decision means that county clerks can immediately begin issuing marriage licenses to gay couples, and state officials will have to recognize same-sex couples married in other states. Wyoming became a focal point in the gay-rights debate after Matthew Shepard, a gay college student, was killed in a 1998 hate crime there. [MSNBC]


8. Michael Sam cut from the Dallas Cowboys’ practice squad
The Dallas Cowboys cut rookie Michael Sam, the first openly gay player drafted by an NFL team, from the team’s practice squad on Tuesday. Dallas had given Sam, a linebacker, a shot after he was waived in August by the St. Louis Rams, who drafted him out of Missouri in the seventh round. Sam said he would not give up. “While this is disappointing, I will take the lessons I learned here in Dallas and continue to fight for an opportunity to prove that I can play every Sunday,” Sam tweeted. [USA Today]


9. NBC cameraman declared Ebola-free
Freelance NBC News cameraman Ashoka Mukpo — the fifth Ebola patient flown to the U.S. for treatment — was told he could leave a Nebraska hospital on Wednesday after a blood test showed he was free of any sign of Ebola. Mukpo, 33, contracted the virus while working for NBC in Liberia covering West Africa’s Ebola outbreak, which has killed more than 4,500 people. “Recovering from Ebola is a truly humbling feeling,” Mukpo said, according to the hospital. “Too many are not as fortunate and lucky as I’ve been.” [NBC News]


10. Giants beat Royals in World Series opener
The San Francisco Giants trounced the Kansas City Royals, 7-1, on Tuesday in Game 1 of the World Series. Giants pitcher Madison Bumgarner held the Royals to just three hits in seven innings, helping lead the Giants to their seventh straight victory in World Series games. The Royals won a spot in their first World Series in 29 years with a surprising sweep of the Baltimore Orioles. “We didn’t come in here and expect to sweep the San Francisco Giants,” Royals manager Ned Yost said. [USA Today]

America’s next great president: Why Obama’s departure paves the way for the next FDR

America’s next great president: Why Obama’s departure paves the way for the next FDR
Russ Feingold, Sherrod Brown, Elizabeth Warren (Credit: Reuters/Larry Downing/AP/Tony Dejak/Joshua Roberts)

I like the ideas set forth in this piece…


Why can’t Barack Obama be more like Lyndon Johnson? The fiftieth anniversary of the Civil Rights Act, commemorated by living presidents at the LBJ School of Public Affairs in Austin, Texas, last week, has renewed interest in comparisons between the two presidents. Critics of Obama complain that he might have been a more effective president had he been less aloof and more willing to bewitch, bully and bribe members of Congress as Johnson did. Defenders of Obama compare the Affordable Care Act to Johnson’s Medicare and Medicaid, and point out that Obama after 2010 had to face a divided Congress, unlike Johnson, with his Democratic supermajorities.

The discussion is superficial, reflecting a focus on personalities and short-term electoral considerations. It’s worth viewing the differences between Johnson and Obama in a broader historical context.

In the 1930s, as a young member of Congress from Texas, Lyndon Johnson became a favorite protégé of President Franklin Roosevelt. On becoming president after the assassination of John F. Kennedy, Johnson saw his task in domestic politics as completing the New Deal (even as, in foreign policy, he sought, with disastrous results in Vietnam, to carry out the liberal Cold War containment policy inherited from Harry Truman). From the perspective of 2014, we can view Roosevelt’s New Deal and Johnson’s Great Society as a single era of reform, interrupted by the “conservative coalition” of right-wing Southern Democrats and northern Republicans that dominated Congress in the 1950s. From civil rights to universal health care, most of the programs that Johnson managed to get enacted in the 1960s had been proposed in the 1930s or 1940s, if not earlier. For the sake of simplicity, I will refer to the New Deal-Great Society combination as “the New Deal.”

The New Deal was the American version of the social reforms that transformed other advanced industrial democracies in the twentieth century. All of the other English-speaking countries as well as the democracies of Western Europe at some point adopted worker-protective legislation, social safety nets and — following World War II and the horrors of Nazi racism — the outlawing of white supremacy. In this wave of twentieth-century reform, the U.S. was mostly a laggard, not a leader. In the late nineteenth century, Imperial Germany pioneered workers’ compensation and Social Security, and before World War I Britain adopted many reforms that were delayed in the U.S. until the 1930s.

Continue reading below the fold…

“If by a ‘Liberal’ they mean…”

“If by a “Liberal” they mean someone who looks ahead and not behind, someone who welcomes new ideas without rigid reactions, someone who cares about the welfare of the people-their health, their housing, their schools, their jobs, their civil rights and their civil liberties-someone who believes we can break through the stalemate and suspicions that grip us in our policies abroad, if that is what they mean by a “Liberal”, then I’m proud to say I’m a “Liberal.”

― John F. KennedyProfiles in Courage

I, too am a proud Liberal.  (KS)


JFK’s America

President John F. Kennedy speaking at a conference on March 29, 1962. (© Bettmann/CORBIS)

Fact Tank – News in Numbers

As America marks the 50th anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s death, his life, family, strengths and weakness have been pored over in recent weeks, but little has been said about how the public viewed the country during the Kennedy years.  The Gallup polls of that period illustrate how different a time this was. The mood of America then had few parallels with modern era.

First, as 1963 began, Americans were pretty upbeat in any number of ways:

  • Having survived the Cuban Missile Crisis, they were confident about their country – 82% thought America’s power would increase in 1963! And most (63%) thought it possible that the West could achieve a peaceful relationship with Russia.
  • Americans were remarkably internationalist. Gallup1 found 82% of the public thinking it would be better if US worked with other nations. Just 10% said keeping independent was the right course. No fewer than 87% favored the common market. They even liked foreign aid – 58% said they were for it. Can you imagine?
  • Americans were optimistic about the economy – 64% said that local business conditions would be good that year.  And that attitude prevailed throughout the year. Two thirds (68%) said they were satisfied with their income. Many credited the president. By a margin of 50% to 37%, the public thought Kennedy kept his promise to stimulate economic growth.
  • Indeed, JFK was enormously popular in early 1963. In February, he enjoyed a 70% approval.  His ratings for handling foreign policy and handling domestic problems were equally high (64%) and most (56%) were satisfied with the way he was handling the situation in Cuba, where he had stumbled badly in 1961. And unlike modern presidents, Kennedy was a cultural phenomenon. In 1963, Gallup estimated that 85 million Americans had seen or heard a Kennedy imitator.

In March 1963, 74% expected him to be reelected – He held a whopping 67% /27% lead over Goldwater in Gallup test election. The country was heavily Democratic (54% compared with 25% Republican) as it had been that way since the 1930s and would remain until the Reagan years. The Democrats were seen as more likely to keep the country prosperous than the Republicans (49% to 20%), but they were not as dominant as the party that would keep the country out of a war (32% to 23%)….  And very unlike the modern era, as many people said they were liberals (49%) as conservatives (46%).

But liberalism had its limits when it came to integration and civil rights. Over the course of 1963, particularly following JFK’s call for civil rights legislation in mid-June, a growing number came to the view that the president was pushing racial integration too fast. A third of the public held that view in June (36%) but that number inched up to 41% in July, and soared to 50% in a Gallup survey following the March on Washington.

Indeed, the March on Washington was poorly regarded by the American public.  In August, 69% had heard of the planned March on D.C. – and 63% of those aware of the march had an unfavorable opinion of it. Even though most Americans outside of the South (55%) favored equal rights legislation that would give “Negroes” the right to be served in hotels, restaurants and theaters, a large majority thought mass demonstrations by African Americans would hurt their own cause.

There is little doubt that race had become the issue at the end of the Kennedy administration.  In September, 52% told Gallup that racial tensions were the most important problem facing the nation. Just 25% of Gallup’s respondents cited international problems, which had been the dominant issue of 1962.

And race took a toll on President Kennedy’s popularity rating. His approval score slipped from 70% in February to 59% in October. Most of the decline occurred after the JFK’s June civil rights speech and most of it occurred in the South. Between March and September that year, his ratings fell from 60% to 44%. There was less slippage outside of the South over this period- 76% to 69%.

Clearly, as the Kennedy years came to a close, a public that had begun the year in an upbeat mood turned about and the country was squarely confronting a new challenge. While the Cold War tensions had abated, internal divisions on the mega problem of race were front and center.

The public rallied to President Lyndon Johnson upon taking office, with a 79% approval rating.  And all of Gallup’s test election questions showed him way ahead of his likely Republican rivals. But much of the public remained Kennedy loyalists. Robert F Kennedy was their top choice by far to be LBJ’s running mate in 1964.

President Obama awards Medal of Freedom to Clinton, Oprah, others

USA Today

President Obama paid tribute Wednesday to Democratic predecessor Bill Clinton, and both of them honored a presidential icon: John F. Kennedy.

Obama awarded Clinton and 15 other Americans the Presidential Medal of Freedom, created 50 years ago by Kennedy. Other recipients included television legend Oprah Winfrey, country music artist Loretta Lynn, women’s rights leader Gloria Steinem, baseball great Ernie Banks and pioneering astronaut Sally Ride.

“These are men and women who in their extraordinary lives remind us all of the beauty of the human spirit,” Obama said during a ceremony at the White House.

MORE: The Obama and Clinton relationship over the years

Obama and Clinton later traveled to Arlington National Cemetery for a solemn ceremony at the eternal flame that marks Kennedy’s grave. Friday is the 50th anniversary of the assassination that transformed American politics and culture.

The delegation to the graveside included members of the Kennedy family, as well as a former official who may soon seek the presidency herself: former first lady and secretary of state Hillary Rodham Clinton.

On a sunny but chilly day, Obama, the Clintons, and first lady Michelle Obama placed a wreath before the twin graves of President Kennedy and wife Jacqueline. The Obamas and the Clintons held their hands over their hearts as a military bugler played Taps.

Obama also pays tribute to JFK at a dinner tonight for current and past Medal of Freedom recipients.

Like their presidential predecessors, Obama and Clinton have often paid homage to the memory of the charismatic Kennedy.

The Kennedy family gave Obama crucial support during his 2008 presidential campaign. The endorsement of Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., the late president’s brother, helped Obama win that year’s Democratic primary race — over Hillary Clinton.

Continue here…


Maher and Guests Battle Over Whether Obama Governs ‘Out of Fear of Assassination’


During the “Overtime” online edition of HBO’s Real Time, host Bill Maher posited that PresidentObama moderates his political positions out of fear of being assassinated, leading to a panel-wide battle over whether Americans are “subconsciously racist” against the president.

While lamenting with Oliver Stone about the short political career of John F. Kennedy, Maher suggested that bold leaders like JFK “always seem to, at the end of the day, get cut out of the picture, violently or otherwise. And maybe that is why Barack Obama is more of a centrist than we want him to be?”

“You think that?” Chris Matthews interrupted with a baffled expression. “Just curious that you really think that.”

The president knows, explained Maher, that if he strays “too far to the left,” he would stoke enough anger to be assassinated.

“That’s an extraordinary statement,” Matthews replied. “I’m amazed, I’m impressed you think that his policies are driven by fear of assassination.”

Maher initially denied having said it “in those words,” but ultimately agreed: “I’m sure it’s something he probably thinks about at night.” He added: “I don’t think it’s an insult to say that he might modulate his policies because he’s afraid of all the hate.”

That last remark started the panel down the road of discussing whether Obama is the “great mediator of the country,” and whether Americans have a latent racism towards the president despite his policies mirroring previous white liberal presidents.

Watch here, via HBO



The New Yorker – 

As it happens, I’ve been doing some reading about John Kennedy, and what I find startling, and even surprising, is how absolutely consistent and unchanged the ideology of the extreme American right has been over the past fifty years, from father to son and now, presumably, on to son from father again. The real analogue to today’s unhinged right wing in America is yesterday’s unhinged right wing in America. This really is your grandfather’s right, if not, to be sure, your grandfather’s Republican Party. Half a century ago, the type was much more evenly distributed between the die-hard, neo-Confederate wing of the Democratic Party and the Goldwater wing of the Republicans, an equitable division of loonies that would begin to end after J.F.K.’s death. (A year later, the Civil Rights Act passed, Goldwater ran, Reagan emerged, and we began the permanent sorting out of our factions into what would be called, anywhere but here, a party of the center right and a party of the extreme right.)

Reading through the literature on the hysterias of 1963, the continuity of beliefs is plain: Now, as then, there is said to be a conspiracy in the highest places to end American Constitutional rule and replace it with a Marxist dictatorship, evidenced by a plan in which your family doctor will be replaced by a federal bureaucrat—mostly for unnamable purposes, but somehow involving the gleeful killing off of the aged. There is also the conviction, in both eras, that only a handful of Congressmen and polemicists (then mostly in newspapers; now on TV) stand between honest Americans and the apocalypse, and that the man presiding over that plan is not just a dupe but personally depraved, an active collaborator with our enemies, a secret something or other, and any necessary means to bring about the end of his reign are justified and appropriate. And fifty years ago, as today, groups with these beliefs, far from being banished to the fringe of political life, were closely entangled and intertwined with Senators and Congressmen and right-wing multi-millionaires.

In their new book, “Dallas 1963,” Bill Minutaglio and Steven L. Davis demonstrate in luxuriant detail just how clotted Dallas was with right-wing types in the period before Kennedy’s fatal visit. The John Birch Society, the paranoid, well-heeled, anti-Communist group, was the engine of the movement then, as the Tea Party is now—and though, to their great credit, the saner conservatives worked hard to keep it out of the official center, the society remained hyper-present. Powerful men, like Ted Dealey, the publisher of the Dallas Morning News, sympathized with the Birchers’ ideology, and engaged with General Edwin A. Walker, an extreme right-wing military man (and racist) who had left the Army in protest at Kennedy’s civil-rights and foreign policies—and who had the ear of Senators Strom Thurmond and John Tower. It was Walker who said of the President, “He is worse than a traitor. Kennedy has essentially exiled Americans to doom.” (It should be said that even William F. Buckley’s principled excommunication of the Birchers was unhappily specific: there was nothing wrong with claiming that the international Communist conspiracy had come to be more and more powerful under Eisenhower and Kennedy, he said; the mistake was in thinking that either man really wanted it that way, rather than that they were just feckless dupes of the encirclement.)

Medicare then, as Obamacare now, was the key evil. An editorial in the Morning Newsannounced that “JFK’s support of Medicare sounds suspiciously similar to a pro-Medicare editorial that appeared in the Worker—the official publication of the U.S. Communist Party.” At the same time, Minutaglio and Davis write, “on the radio, H.L. Hunt (the Dallas millionaire) filled the airwaves with dozens of attacks on Medicare, claiming that it would create government death panels: The plan provides a near little package of sweeping dictatorial power over medicine and the healing arts—a package which would literally make the President of the United States a medical czar with potential life or death power over every man woman and child in the country.” Stanley Marcus, the owner of the department store Neiman Marcus, heard from angry customers who were cancelling their Neiman Marcus charge cards because of his public support for the United Nations.

The whole thing came to a climax with the famous black-bordered flyer that appeared on the day of J.F.K.’s visit to Dallas, which showed him in front face and profile, as in a “Wanted” poster, with the headline “WANTED FOR TREASON.” The style of that treason is familiar mix of deliberate subversion and personal depravity. “He has been wrong on innumerable issues affecting the security of the United States”; “He has been caught in fantastic lies to the American people, including personal ones like his previous marriage and divorce.” Birth certificate, please?

The really weird thing—the American exception in it all—then as much as now, is how tiny all the offenses are. French right-wingers really did have a powerful, Soviet-affiliated Communist Party to deal with, as their British counterparts really had honest-to-god Socialists around, socializing stuff. But the Bircher-centered loonies and the Tea Partiers created a world of fantasy, willing mild-mannered, conflict-adverse centrists like J.F.K. and Obama into socialist Supermen.

Continue reading here…

September 11, 2001 – A Personal Retrospective

The following retrospective is a repost from September 11, 2010:

Whenever I would fly into my hometown of New York City, the one thing that I would look for to let me know that I was “really home” were the Twin Towers, glistening in the sun as if to say, “you’re home”.

I also loved walking on the Brooklyn Heights Promenade in Clinton Hills, where my oldest son and his family live.  One could see the New York City Skyline of lower Manhattan which is a spectacular site to see.  The Twin Towers always dominated the beautiful skyline and added a stylish elegance to the already stunning light-speckled silhouettes.

The weather in Atlanta on the morning of  September 11th, 2001 was absolutely gorgeous.  The infamous “Hotlanta” heat had started to subside for about a week and I had decided to go walking.  I turned the television on at about 8:55 am, having no knowledge of what I was about to witness, I stood staring at the tv, stunned and confused.  The reports from CNN indicated that a small plane had hit the World Trade Center.  My phone started ringing off the hook.  My children were all checking in with me to let me know they were ok.  That is, all but one, who I had not heard from at all.

To make things worse, My son, Marc’s wife called to tell me that Marc had an appointment at the WTC that morning at 9:00 am.  As I spoke to her, we both watch the second plane going into the south tower.  I was trying to console my daughter-in-law and at the same time my heart was racing, wondering if my son was in one of those buildings.

I asked my kids to find out what they could and get back to me.  I told my son’s wife that I was certain he was ok and that I would call her back shortly.  My heart was in my throat, thinking about Marc and the thousands of people in those buildings.

By this time the news reports indicated that we were being attacked.  I couldn’t believe I was witnessing what was tantamount to my mother’s recollection of the events that followed the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941.

I sat on my sofa, mesmerized by the unfolding events.  Eyewitnesses telling their stories, correspondents and reporters trying to piece together what happened.  I felt helpless because I lived in Atlanta now and I kept wishing I were there, to comfort my family, to help or volunteer my services somewhere.  All I could do was stare at the television screen in total shock and disbelief.

My son Marc called me at about 10:00am telling me his bus was stuck in the Lincoln tunnel and he was unable to use his cell phone to tell us he was ok.  I was so relieved and grateful that he was alive and well.  Conversely, I was  very sad to see the many people who were searching for their loved ones, some of whom would be found and so many many more who wouldn’t.

What I take away most, from the events of that day was not the hostility of who or why, I wasn’t “there” yet.  I remember the entire world, rallying around us in gestures of good will.  I remember the people of New York City coming together and helping to do what they could to make things easier for the first responders, especially after the south tower crumbled to the ground.

I remember thinking how New Yorkers always come together in a crisis and this was no exception.  I also remember thinking how the NYPD and the NYFD rocked!  They were the finest and the bravest, working together regardless of risk and without hesitation.

The politics of that day came days later for me.  As things began to unravel and reports surfaced that the Bush Administration may have been negligent in foreseeing the ensuing the disaster.

On September 11, 2001, I was in the moment.  The human triumphs and tragedies.  The tears and laughter.  The horrific loss of life, including a group of firemen who’s communication equipment failed them (thanks, then Mayor Guiliani.)  In fact, I was in the “moment” for at least first three days of  broadcasts and repeats of important events.

September 11, 2001 is one of those days  when people ask: “Where were you when….?”  In my lifetime, I’ve witnessed the  assassination of our 35th President, John F. Kennedy,  the March on Washington, the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., the assassinations of Robert F. Kennedy and Malcom X.

Yet, the events of 9/11/2001 hit harder because of the global implications and the sheer numbers of people killed at all three sites.  I’ll always remember where I was on that date.

Gabrielle Giffords Honored With John F. Kennedy Profile In Courage Award

Finally, some  good news.

Not only does Gabrielle Giffords deserve the award for her fight against irresponsible gun laws but also because she fought her way back from a horrific battle for her life after being one of several victims shot at an outdoor town hall she was about to conduct.  Honorable mention goes to Gabby’s devoted husband, retired astronaut Mark Kelly who has stood by her side and encouraged her all the way back from what appeared to be a very long rehabilitation.

The Huffington Post

Former Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords received the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award on Sunday, asking the U.S. Congress to act more courageously on the issue of gun control.

“We all have courage inside,” Giffords, who herself survived being shot in 2011, said at the Kennedy Library in Boston. “I wish there was more courage in Congress. Sometimes it’s hard to express it.”

The remarks come just a few weeks after the U.S. Senate voted down a measure to expand background checks for gun buyers, a step favored by U.S. President Barack Obama and most Americans.

An online Reuters/Ipsos poll released in January showed that 86 percent of those surveyed favored expanded background checks of all gun buyers.

Giffords, a Democrat, was shot in the head when a gunman opened fire on a congressional outreach event in Tucson in January 2011, killing six people and wounding a dozen others. She resigned from Congress a year after the shooting to focus on her recovery.

Following the attack in Newtown, Connecticut, that killed 26 people at an elementary school in December, Giffords and her husband, former astronaut Mark Kelly, founded a lobby group aimed at curbing gun violence and challenging the political clout of the well-funded gun lobby.

Before the awards ceremony on Sunday, Giffords and Kelly visited victims of the April 15 Boston Marathon bombing who are recovering at the Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital.

The award, named for President Kennedy’s 1957 Pulitzer Prize-winning book “Profiles in Courage,” was presented to Giffords by foundation president Caroline Kennedy. (Reporting by Aaron Pressman; Editing by Chris Reese)

10 things you need to know today: April 2, 2013

A boy pays his respects to the victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary shootings during a December candlelight vigil in Tirana, Albania.

The Week

Connecticut lawmakers agree on strict gun laws, North Korea restarts its nuclear plant, and more in our roundup of the stories that are making news and driving opinion

Connecticut lawmakers agreed on what they called the nation’s toughest gun laws on Monday, just over three months after their state was shaken by the deadly shooting rampage at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown. The package, which is expected to be passed on Wednesday, requires eligibility certificates for the purchase of any rifle, shotgun or ammunition, requires people convicted of weapons offenses to register with the state, imposes universal background checks for gun buyers, and expands a state ban on assault weapons. It also bans the sale of high-capacity magazines with more than 10 bullets, although lawmakers declined to completely ban the clips despite pleas from relatives of 11 Sandy Hook victims. [New York Times]

A Colorado prosecutor announced Monday that he would seek the death penalty against James Holmes, who is accused of killing 12 people and wounding 70 others in a shooting rampage inside a movie theater last July. Defense lawyers had offered to have Holmes, a graduate school dropout with a history of psychiatric problems, plead guilty in exchange for a promise that he would not be executed, but District Attorney George Brauchler rejected the deal after speaking with 60 people who lost loved ones in the Aurora, Colo., massacre. “In this case, for James Egan Holmes, justice is death,” Brauchler said. [USA Today]

North Korea announced Tuesday that it would restart a nuclear reactor and uranium-enrichment facilities shut down under an aid-for-disarmament deal five years ago. The declaration demonstrated the commitment of the isolated regime’s leader, Kim Jong Un, to expanding its nuclear arsenal, and heightened tensions raised by weeks of war threats against the U.S. and South Korea. “It’s yet another escalation in this ongoing crisis,” said Ramesh Thakur, director of the Center for Nuclear Nonproliferation and Disarmament at Australian National University in Canberra. [CNN]

Caroline Kennedy is reportedly in line to become President Obama’s next ambassador to Japan. Kennedy, the daughter of slain President John F. Kennedy, is a lawyer and author, and provided Obama with an early endorsement in 2008 that helped him beat out Hillary Clinton for the Democratic presidential nomination. The appointment has been rumored to be in the works for weeks. If it goes through, it will thrust Kennedy into one of the world’s most visible diplomatic posts as China’s rise and North Korea’s belligerence are raising the stakes in the region. [Boston Globe]

Former South Carolina governor Mark Sanford takes the next step on the comeback trail on Tuesday, when he faces a lone rival in a GOP congressional primary runoff four years after an extramarital affair derailed his political career. Polls indicate that Sanford, who once held the seat in the Charleston-area district, is favored to beat personal-injury lawyer and former city councilman Curtis Bostic for the Republican nomination. Bostic is trying to catch up by enlisting help from evangelical preachers angered by Sanford’s affair. The winner will face Democrat Elizabeth Colbert Busch, a business development official and an older sister of political satirist Stephen Colbert, in May. [Bloomberg]

Unemployment in the eurozone rose to a record 12 percent in the first two months of 2013, the European Union’s statistical agency, Eurostat, reported on Tuesday. That means that 1.8 more people are unemployed in the 17 nations using the common currency than at the same time last year. The loss of jobs has been part of the social cost of three years of government spending cuts and other austerity measures, and the latest data will raise pressure on the European Central Bank to keep interest rates at their current record low, or cut them further, at a Thursday meeting. [New York Times]

A fire killed 13 boys in a dormitory at a Muslim school in Myanmar on Tuesday. Fire officials said the flames erupted and spread quickly after a transformer overheated under a staircase, filling the building with smoke and suffocating some of the 70 boys sleeping on the top floor. Some Muslims, however, were skeptical about the official version, as the tragedy came after a wave of anti-Muslim violence in the predominantly Buddhist nation. [Reuters]

An appeals court on Monday ruled that start-up Aereo can continue live-streaming local TV online and through its app, marking a potentially significant setback for TV broadcasters. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in New York backed up a lower court that ruled Aereo isn’t violating broadcasters’ copyrights. Each of Aereo’s subscribers, all in the New York City area for now, leases an antenna in the company’s warehouse, and gets feeds to their computers and other devices. Consumer groups praised the decision, saying it would give viewers flexibility without hefty cable bills, but a dissenting judge called Aereo’s system “a Rube Goldberg-like contrivance” designed to sidestep the law. [USA Today]

MTV has suspended filming of the second season of Buckwild, a reality TV show about a rowdy group of friends in West Virginia, after the death of cast member Shain Gandee. The popular 21-year-old, his uncle, and another man were found dead in a red-and-white 1984 Ford Bronco that was partially submerged in a deep mud pit. The men were last seen at 3 a.m. Sunday at a bar, where they told people they were going driving off-road. Authorities are still investigating the cause of death. If the muffler was submerged while the engine ran, the vehicle could have filled with deadly carbon monoxide from the exhaust. [Associated Press]

For the first time, a non-human mammal has shown it can follow a musical beat. Scientists at the University of California, Santa Cruz, taught a sea lion named Ronan to “bob her head in time with rhythmic sounds,” starting with a simple beat and moving on to the Backstreet Boys’ “Everybody” and Earth, Wind & Fire’s “Boogie Wonderland,” her favorite song. The success of the experiment challenges the conventional wisdom that only humans and some birds capable of vocal mimicry can keep time with a musical beat. [Mashable]