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Associated Press

Obama sets January deadline for gun control proposals; Biden to spearhead effort

WASHINGTON (AP) — Spurred by a horrific elementary school shooting, President Barack Obama vowed to send Congress new policy proposals for reducing gun violence by January.

"This time, the words need to lead to action," Obama said Wednesday. He tasked Vice President Joe Biden with leading an administration-wide effort to create the new recommendations and pledged to push for their implementation without delay.

The president, who exerted little political capital on gun control despite a series of mass shootings in his first term, bristled at suggestions that he had been silent on the issue during his first four years in office. But he acknowledged that Friday's deadly shooting had been "a wake-up call for all of us."

Twenty children and six adults were killed when a man carrying a military-style rifle stormed Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn., Friday morning.

The president also called on Congress Wednesday to reinstate an assault weapons ban that expired in 2004 and to pass legislation that would close the gun show "loophole," which allows people to purchase firearms from private dealers without a background check. Obama also said he wanted Congress to pursue the possibility of limiting high-capacity ammunition clips.

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Shattered Conn. town buries more children, teachers as residents try to make sense of tragedy

NEWTOWN, Conn. (AP) — For a third straight day Wednesday, funeral processions rolled through a grieving Connecticut town trying to make sense of the massacre of 20 first-graders and six adults in an elementary school less than two weeks before Christmas.

A 7-year-old boy who had dreamed of being a firefighter and a heroic first-grade teacher who died while trying to shield students from the carnage were among the victims laid to rest in what has become an unrelenting cycle of sorrow and loss.

"The first few days, all you heard was helicopters. Now at my office all I hear is the rumble of motorcycle escorts and funeral processions going back and forth throughout the day," said Dr. Joseph Young, an optometrist who said he had already been to one funeral and would be going to several more.

Students in Newtown returned to school Tuesday, except those from Sandy Hook Elementary, where a gunman armed with a military-style assault rifle slaughtered the children and six teachers and administrators last Friday. He also killed his mother at her home.

Students at Sandy Hook, which serves kindergarten through fourth grade, will resume classes in a formerly shuttered school in a neighboring community in January.

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Obama says he, Boehner 'pretty close' on terms of a deal; White House threatens veto on Plan B

WASHINGTON (AP) — Optimistic despite a tightening deadline, President Barack Obama said Wednesday he and House Speaker John Boehner are "pretty close" to a grand fiscal deal to avoid a first-of-the-year shock to the economy, but that congressional Republicans "keep on finding ways to say no as opposed to finding ways to say yes."

Obama cast a resolution to the "fiscal cliff" as a matter of political will. He said in the aftermath of the massacre of school children in Connecticut, the nation deserves a compromise by its political leaders.

"If this past week has done anything, it should just give us some perspective," he said. And he urged lawmakers to "peel off the partisan war paint" and strike a deal.

Obama spoke to reporters at the White House after announcing an administration-wide response to Friday's shooting at an elementary school in Newtown that killed 20 first-graders and six adults.

His comments came shortly after the White House threatened to veto Boehner's backup plan for averting the "fiscal cliff." Boehner's measure, a so-called Plan B, would block tax increases from being triggered Jan. 1 on everyone but those whose incomes exceed $1 million.

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US Army to seek death penalty for soldier charged in Afghan massacre; lawyer slams decision

SEATTLE (AP) — The U.S. Army said Wednesday it will seek the death penalty against the soldier accused of killing 16 Afghan villagers in a predawn rampage in March, a decision his lawyer called "totally irresponsible."

The announcement followed a pretrial hearing last month for Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, 39, who faces premeditated murder and other charges in the attack on two villages in southern Afghanistan.

The slayings drew such angry protests that the U.S. temporarily halted combat operations in Afghanistan, and it was three weeks before American investigators could reach the crime scenes.

Prosecutors said Bales left his remote southern Afghanistan base early on March 11, attacked one village and returned to the base, then slipped away again to attack another nearby compound. Of the 16 people killed, nine were children.

No date has been set for Bales' court martial, which will be held at Joint Base Lewis-McChord south of Seattle.

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In wake of Conn. shooting, parents buy armored backpacks for kids and gun enthusiasts stock up

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — The reaction to the Connecticut school shooting can be seen in gun stores and self-defense retailers across the nation: Anxious parents are fueling sales of armored backpacks for children while firearms enthusiasts are stocking up on assault rifles in anticipation of tighter gun control measures.

A spike in gun sales is common after a mass shooting, but the Connecticut tragedy has generated record sales in many states. Colorado set a single-day record for gun background check requests the day after the Connecticut mass shootings, and some online retailers are removing assault rifles from websites in part because of diminishing supplies.

Nevada saw more requests for background checks in the days after the shooting than any other weekend this year. Some gun shop owners are even holding back on sales, anticipating only more interest and value after President Barack Obama on Wednesday tasked his administration with creating concrete proposals to reduce gun violence.

Robert Akers, a Rapid City, S.D., gun seller specializing in assault-style rifles, said he has about 50 of the weapons in stock but he's not actively trying to sell them and has even turned off his phone.

"It's a madhouse," said Akers, owner of Rapid Fire Firearms. "Any time they have one of these shootings or an election, it gets that way. I don't even want to sell them right now because I won't be able to replace them for probably six months. ... The price is only going to go up higher."

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State Department security chief, 2 deputies, resign after damning Benghazi attack report

WASHINGTON (AP) — Three State Department officials resigned under pressure Wednesday, less than a day after a damning report blamed management failures for a lack of security at the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, where militants killed the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans on Sept. 11.

The resignations came as lawmakers expressed anger and frustration over the findings of an independent review panel, and the State Department struggled to find a balance between protecting its diplomats while allowing them to do their jobs connecting with people in high-risk posts.

Obama administration officials said those who had stepped down were Eric Boswell, the assistant secretary of state for diplomatic security, Charlene Lamb, the deputy assistant secretary responsible for embassy security, and Raymond Maxwell, the deputy assistant secretary of state who oversees the Maghreb nations of Libya, Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to discuss personnel matters publicly.

Some of the three may have the option of being reassigned to other duties, the officials said.

The department declined immediate comment on the resignation of the officials whose decisions had been criticized in the unclassified version of the Accountability Review Board's report that was released late Tuesday.

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Robert Bork would have changed Supreme Court; his nomination defeat altered judicial selection

WASHINGTON (AP) — Conservatives wanted Robert H. Bork on the Supreme Court. They wound up with Anthony Kennedy, the key vote in reaffirming a woman's right to an abortion.

The fight over Bork's failed Supreme Court nomination redefined the Senate confirmation process and made him a symbol of the nation's culture wars. The political battle that erupted over Bork has now, years later, expanded to stall nominees for far lesser judicial posts, and nominees themselves have curbed their responses to questioning to avoid his fate.

Had Bork, who died Wednesday at age 85, prevailed and become a justice, his vote would have dramatically changed the court.

President Ronald Reagan's choice of Bork in 1987 to replace Justice Lewis Powell was intended to cement conservative control of the court for decades. And Bork gave both his supporters and opponents every reason to believe, through scholarly writings and judicial decisions, that he would be a consistent conservative vote on a range of key issues. That would include, perhaps most importantly, one day delivering the decisive blow to undo the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that declared a woman's right to an abortion.

He was a staunch critic of the court's Griswold v. Connecticut decision in 1965 that found a right to privacy in the Constitution that trumped a state law prohibiting even married couples from using birth control. The ruling was a precursor to decisions in favor of abortion rights and gay rights, including some authored by Kennedy.

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New Syria rebel chief says he's forging force of 120,000 men in final push against Assad

MAARET MISREEN, Syria (AP) — The new Syrian rebel chief said he's been moving between safe houses since taking up command, even changing quarters twice in one night when he feared regime spies.

Grappling with largely untrained and at times undisciplined fighters, Salim Idris said in an interview that he is trying to turn local militias into a united force of some 120,000 men for a final push against President Bashar Assad.

The challenges keep him awake at night, said Idris, a former general who defected from the Syrian army five months ago and was chosen as rebel chief of staff in a meeting of several hundred field commanders this month in Turkey.

Idris is "very afraid" a cornered Assad might unleash chemical weapons on the fighters. He said old friends of his still in the regime have warned him that the military, which already fired several Scuds, is training more ready-to-fire missiles on rebel strongholds in Syria's northwest.

Logistics also pose a nightmare. The 55-year-old, who studied in Germany and taught electronics at a Syrian military college, communicates by Skype with his officers. With power out most of the time, he's had important conversations cut short by a dying laptop battery, said Idris, who spoke with a professorial demeanor and wore a black suit during a brief break from the war zone.

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Poor but positive: Latin Americans happiest, Singaporeans and Armenians least upbeat

MEXICO CITY (AP) — The world's happiest people aren't in Qatar, the richest country by most measures. They aren't in Japan, the nation with the highest life expectancy. Canada, with its chart-topping percentage of college graduates, doesn't make the top 10.

A poll released Wednesday of nearly 150,000 people around the world says seven of the world's 10 countries with the most upbeat attitudes are in Latin America.

Many of the seven do poorly in traditional measures of well-being, like Guatemala, a country torn by decades of civil war followed by waves of gang-driven criminality that give it one of the highest homicide rates in the world. Guatemala sits just above Iraq on the United Nations' Human Development Index, a composite of life expectancy, education and per capita income. But it ranks seventh in positive emotions.

Gallup Inc. asked about 1,000 people in each of 148 countries last year if they were well-rested, had been treated with respect, smiled or laughed a lot, learned or did something interesting and felt feelings of enjoyment.

The people least likely to report positive emotions lived in Singapore, the wealthy and orderly city-state that ranks among the most developed in the world. Other wealthy countries also sat surprisingly low on the list. Germany and France tied with the poor African state of Somaliland for 47th place.

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Neil Armstrong, Dick Clark, Whitney Houston, Joe Paterno among those who died in 2012

Neil Armstrong would always be taking that first step onto the moon, and Dick Clark was forever "the world's oldest teenager." Some of the notables who died in 2012 created images in our minds that remained unchanged over decades.

Sadly, for others an established image was shattered by a fall from grace. Whitney Houston ruled as a queen of pop music, but years of hard living harmed her voice while erratic behavior and a troubled marriage took a toll on her image. And Joe Paterno, Penn State's longtime coach, won more games than anyone in major college football, but was ultimately fired amid a molestation scandal involving an assistant coach that scarred his reputation.

Some whose deaths we noted weren't known by image or even name but by contributions that changed our lives — like Eugene Polley, inventor of the first wireless TV remote control, and Norman Joseph Woodland, co-inventor of the bar code that labels nearly every product in stores. Other scientists who died in 2012 included Lowell Randall, Martin Fleischmann, F. Sherwood Rowland, George Cowan and Bernard Lovell.

Among the political figures who died were George McGovern, Democrat presidential nominee who lost to Richard Nixon in a historic landslide, and ex-Sen. Arlen Specter, the outspoken Pennsylvania centrist. Others from the world of politics: Bill Janklow, Norodom Sihanouk, Charles "Chuck" Colson, Warren B. Rudman, Andrew Breitbart and Miguel de la Madrid.

The year also saw the deaths of a number of TV stars including Larry Hagman, who played oil baron J.R. Ewing on "Dallas."

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