RSS
10 things you need to know today: March 20, 2013
The Senate drops a proposed assault-rifle ban, Obama arrives in Israel, and more in our roundup of the stories that are making news and driving opinion
President Obama with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during his arrival in Tel Aviv on March 20. 
President Obama with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during his arrival in Tel Aviv on March 20.  AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais

1. SENATE ABANDONS ASSAULT-RIFLE BAN
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Tuesday that he had stripped a proposed assault-rifle ban from gun-control legislation the Senate will consider next month. The measure, introduced by Sen. Dianne Feinstein after a gunman used a semi-automatic rifle in December's Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre, had been approved by a Senate committee, but Reid said it would have caused Republicans to block the entire package of gun laws, including parts that have bipartisan support. Jim Wiltsie, whose cousin, teacher Victoria Soto, died protecting her students at Sandy Hook, called the death of the assault-rifle ban "heartbreaking." [New York Daily News]
………………………………………………………………………………

2. CYPRUS SEARCHES FOR PLAN B AFTER REJECTING BAILOUT
Cyprus' finance minister pleaded for financial help from Russia on Wednesday, trying to prevent a financial meltdown after the Cypriot parliament rejected the terms of Europe's $13 billion rescue plan. Not one lawmaker backed Europe's terms, which included a one-time tax on bank accounts to raise an additional $7.5 billion. The levy would have taken 10 percent from accounts over $130,000, most of which belong to Russians and other foreigners. The European Central Bank is holding off on pulling the plug on Cypriot banks while the eastern Mediterranean island nation's government works on a Plan B, but Austria's finance minister said the ECB couldn't let the country become a "bottomless pit." [Reuters]
………………………………………………………………………………

3. OBAMA STARTS ISRAEL TRIP
President Obama arrived in Israel on Wednesday for his first visit since his presidency began. Expectations are low for the four-day trip. The White House says Obama has no plans to propose any new peace initiatives, but hopes to use the trip to improve his at-times tense relations with both the Israelis and Palestinians. Later Wednesday, Obama will hold talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whom he hopes to reassure of Washington's determination to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. Obama is scheduled to go to the West Bank on Thursday to meet with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. [Reuters]
………………………………………………………………………………

4. NEVADA TOWN HONORS MARINES KILLED IN TRAINING ACCIDENT
Hundreds of people attended a vigil Tuesday night in Hawthorne, Nev., to honor seven Marines killed the day before when a 60-millimeter mortar shell exploded during a live-fire drill at a nearby base. The dead were stationed at Camp Lejeune, N.C., but had been training at the Hawthorne Army Depot, a sprawling facility with wide open spaces and a terrain similar to Afghanistan's. "We're devastated," said Shirley Schmuck, 72, during the brief service. "Those were our boys." The military has suspended use of 60-millimeter rounds until it determines what went wrong. [Los Angeles Times]
………………………………………………………………………………

5. EX-GOVERNOR MARK SANFORD MAKES S.C. RUNOFF
Disgraced former South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford took the first step on the comeback trail on Tuesday, by earning a spot in a runoff for the Republican nomination in a special election to fill a congressional seat he once held. Sanford, whose political career appeared dead after an extramarital affair in 2009, got far more votes than any of the other 16 GOP candidates. If he wins the second round of voting, on April 2 — against either ex-Charleston County Council member Curtis Bostic or state Sen. Larry Grooms — he'll face Democrat Elizabeth Colbert Busch, a political newcomer and sister of Comedy Central star Stephen Colbert. [USA Today]
………………………………………………………………………………

6. TALIBAN VICTIM RETURNS TO SCHOOL IN U.K.
Malala Yousafzai, the 15-year-old girl shot in the head by Taliban gunmen in Pakistan for advocating girls' education, attended her first day of classes at a British high school on Tuesday. She was brought to Britain for treatment after the October attack, and was released from a hospital just weeks ago after surgery to reconstruct her skull. "I am excited that today I have achieved my dream of going back to school," Yousafzai said in a statement. "I want all girls in the world to have this basic opportunity." [Guardian]
………………………………………………………………………………

7. SAUDI ARABIA ROUNDS UP SUSPECTED SPIES
Authorities in Saudi Arabia have detained 16 Saudi Shiites, along with two others from Lebanon and Iran, in a roundup of an alleged spying network connected to Iran. "They were gathering information about installations and vital areas in the country and providing intelligence agencies of that state with it," said interior ministry spokesman Mansour al-Turki. Iran, ruled by Shiite clerics, and Saudi Arabia, which is overwhelmingly Sunni Muslim, have clashed frequently recently, and Saudi Shiite leaders warned on Wednesday that the spying case could inflame sectarian tensions within Saudi Arabia. [BBC News]
………………………………………………………………………………

8. POPE SUPPORTED GAY CIVIL UNIONS
Back when Argentina was on the verge of approving gay marriage in 2010, then-Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio — now Pope Francis — argued in a meeting of Catholic bishops that the church should support civil unions for gay couples, The New York Times reported on Wednesday. Francis vehemently opposed the gay marriage law and embraces the church's stand against homosexuality, but reportedly he viewed civil unions as the lesser of two evils, a pragmatic approach that contrasted sharply with the unwavering orthodoxy of his predecessor, Benedict XVI, Catholic leaders said. "The melody may be the same, but the sound is completely different," says Alberto Melloni, director of the liberal Catholic John XXIII Foundation for Religious Science in Bologna, Italy. [New York Times]
………………………………………………………………………………

9. NASA CHIEF OFFERS SCARY TIP ON METEORS
NASA administrator Charles Bolden Jr. gave a less-than-encouraging response when asked during a House hearing what the U.S. would do if a meteor like the one that struck Russia last month were spotted headed toward New York City. "Pray," he said. No country, including the U.S., has the ability to spot "small" meteors like the 55-foot-long one that hit Russia, so we'd be lucky if we had three weeks' warning, leaving us with no way to prevent a devastating impact. [CBS News]
………………………………………………………………………………

10. ANTI-GAY TIRADE BY SINGER MICHELLE SHOCKED DISRUPTS TOUR
Folk singer Michelle Shocked's U.S. tour fell apart this week following her anti-gay rant at a concert Sunday night. The venues of 10 out of 11 of her upcoming concerts canceled her performances after the tirade, in which Shocked said: "When they stop Prop 8 and force priests at gunpoint to marry gays, it will be the downfall of civilization, and Jesus will come back.... You can go on Twitter and say, 'Michelle Shocked says God hates [anti-gay slur].'" [Billboard]

Harold Maass is a contributing editor at TheWeek.com. He has been writing for The Week since the 2001 launch of the U.S. print edition. Harold has worked for a variety of news outlets, including The Miami HeraldFox News, and ABC News.

EDITORS' PICKS

THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER

Subscribe to the Week