Report: White House Reconsiders North Korea Strategy

The Wall Street Journal reports the White House is reconsidering its recent aggressive stance toward North Korea out of fear that it could inadvertently trigger an even deeper crisis. The Journal reports the United States is putting a pause on what several officials described as a step-by-step plan the Obama administration approved earlier this year, dubbed "the playbook," that laid out the sequence and publicity plans for U.S. shows of force during annual war games with South Korea.

North Korea Authorizes Nuclear Attack, U.S. Speeds Guam Missile Deployment

Tensions continued Wednesday when North Korea announced it had authorized the use of nuclear weapons against U.S. targets. The White House continued to bolster its military posture toward North Korea, meanwhile, by announcing plans to deploy an advanced missile defense system to Guam, two years ahead of schedule. In Washington, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said North Korea marks a "real and clear danger."

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel: "They have nuclear capacity now. They have missile delivery capacity now. And so, as they have ratcheted up their bellicose, dangerous rhetoric and some of the actions they’ve taken over the last few weeks present a real and clear danger and threat to the interests, certainly of our allies, starting with South Korea and Japan, and also the threats that the North Koreans have leveled directly at the United States."

Connecticut Approves Gun-Control Bill; Maryland Bill Advances

Connecticut lawmakers have given final approval to what is being described as one of the strictest gun-control laws in the country. The measure requires universal background checks for all gun sales, increases gun registration, expands the state’s ban on assault weapons, and bans any new sales of magazines with more than 10 bullets. Gov. Dannel Malloy is expected to sign the measure into law today. Maryland, meanwhile, has moved a step closer to enacting one of the nation’s toughest gun laws. On Wednesday, the Maryland House of Delegates approved a bill that includes the fingerprinting of gun buyers and banning assault weapons and magazines with more than 10 bullets. The bill now returns to the state Senate, which passed a similar version last month.

Obama Pushes Bipartisan Gun Reform in Colorado Speech

President Obama traveled to Colorado on Wednesday to continue his push for a gun-control bill in Washington. Citing Colorado’s recent gun-control legislation, Obama said a bipartisan agreement is possible.

President Obama: "I believe there doesn’t have to be a conflict in reconciling these realities. There doesn’t have to be a conflict between protecting our citizens and protecting our Second Amendment rights. Aurora is very much a purple city. It’s got a majority Republican city council; a majority of its state legislators are Democrat. But they came together understanding that out of this tragedy there had to be something that made sense. And so we’ve seen enacted tougher background checks that won’t infringe on the rights of responsible gun owners, but will help keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people."

Report Ties Lax Laws to Higher Rates of Gun Violence

A new report says that states with the nation’s most lax gun laws also suffer the nation’s worst rates of gun violence. The Center for American Progress says eight of the states with the most gun violence were among the 25 with the weakest gun laws. Indicators included gun homicides and suicides, gun deaths of children, and fatal shootings of law enforcement.

54 Killed in Taliban Attack on Afghan Court

At least 54 people have died in a Taliban attack on a courtroom in western Afghanistan. Taliban suicide bombers disguised as soldiers had stormed the court in a bid to free a group of militants standing trial. It was the deadliest single incident of violence in Afghanistan since December 2011.

Israeli Troops Kill 2 Palestinians as Prison Protests Spread

Israeli forces have shot dead two Palestinian youths in growing protests in the occupied West Bank. The victims were killed on the third day of demonstrations against the death of a terminally ill Palestinian prisoner in an Israeli jail. Palestinians say Israel ignored pleas for Maysara Abu Hamdeya’s treatment and release after his cancer was diagnosed. He had been serving a life term for the failed bombing of an Israeli café in 2002. Abu Hamdeya was the second Palestinian prisoner to die in Israeli prison this year. The youths were reportedly killed when Israeli troops opened fire after a group of teenagers threw firebombs at a military checkpoint. Thousands of Palestinians turned out for their funeral earlier today. Tensions are also mounting in Gaza, where Israel has carried out its first airstrike since the truce that ended its U.S.-backed assault in November.

Hagel on Pentagon Cuts: "Everything is On the Table"

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is vowing a thorough review of Pentagon spending, with more cuts on top of those mandated by sequestration. In his first major address since taking over at the Pentagon, Hagel said "everything is on the table."

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel: "In order for this effort to succeed, we need to be steely eyed and clear-headed in our analysis, and explore the full range of options for implementing our national security strategy. We need to challenge all past assumptions, and we need to put everything on the table."

Hagel’s two immediate predecessors, Leon Panetta and Robert Gates, had also promised major cuts, but failed to achieve much success.

Clinic of Slain Abortion Provider George Tiller Reopens in Kansas

The Wichita, Kansas, abortion clinic of the slain doctor and women’s health advocate George Tiller has reopened its doors. Tiller was shot dead by an anti-abortion extremist as he attended church services in 2009. His clinic had remained closed until Wednesday, when it was reopened under the new name of the South Wind Women’s Center. The new clinic will operate under stricter regulations, performing abortions through 14 weeks of pregnancy. The clinic is run by Tiller’s longtime colleague, Julie Burkhart.

Tennessee Measure Would Cut Welfare for Children’s Low Grades

Tennessee Republicans have advanced a measure that would cut the welfare benefits of parents whose children receive low grades. The measure calls for a 30-percent cut to Temporary Assistance for Needy Families benefits for parents whose children fail to pass state tests or are held back a grade level. The measure’s co-sponsor, State Senator Stacey Campfield, said: "We have done little to hold [parents] accountable for their child’s performance." The measure is now headed for a vote in the state Senate after clearing committees in both chambers.

Ex-SEC Head Joins D.C. Consulting Firm

The former head of the Securities and Exchange Commission has joined a Wall Street-tied consulting firm just months after stepping down. Mary Schapiro headed the SEC for four years before resigning in December. She is now joining the Washington-based Promontory Financial Group, which helps major financial firms navigate government regulations.

Retail Giants Use Database on Workers Accused of Theft

The New York Times is reporting retail companies across the country are amassing huge databases of records on workers who have been accused of stealing, then using that info to block them from getting another job. Information about employees is routinely shared even when there is no criminal charge against the worker. Lawyers for the employees say they are often coerced into confessing, even when they are innocent, and without knowing that their statements will be stored. The Federal Trade Commission is currently considering whether the databases violate federal law.

Rutgers Fires Men’s Basketball Coach over Abuse, Slurs Against Players

New Jersey’s Rutgers University has fired the coach of its men’s basketball team over video showing him physically assaulting his players and berating them with homophobic slurs. The footage of Mike Rice had actually surfaced last year, but only came to light publicly when it aired this week on the network ESPN. Critics are also calling for the firing of Rutgers Athletic Director Tim Pernetti and Rutgers President Robert Barchi for failing to dismiss Rice when they first learned of his behavior. Instead, Rice had been suspended for three games, fined and ordered to undergo counseling.

Fast Food Workers Stage Strike in NYC

Fast food workers in New York City are walking off the job this morning, potentially shutting down restaurants in what could be the largest strike ever to hit the industry. Hundreds of workers from more than 50 stores, including those run by McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Burger King and KFC, are taking part. They’re calling for $15-an-hour wages and the right to unionize without intimidation. Today’s action is part of a campaign called Fast Food Forward and follows an earlier strike in New York City at the end of November.

Activists Launch Month of Protests Against Drones

A coalition of peace and justice groups have launched the campaign "April Days of Action" to oppose drone surveillance and warfare. In New York City, dozens of protesters rallied in front of Rockefeller Plaza. Nick Mottern of the website "Know Drones" spoke out about the connection between weaponized drones overseas and surveillance drones within the United States.

Nick Mottern: "There is no law in the United States against these drones carrying weapons. They can be fitted with a variety of weapons immediately and at any time. So, in effect, there is no distinction in the practical sense of spying and threat between the drones operating overseas and in this country. This technology is not entrenched at this point. It’s a struggle right now about whether it will be. And people need to understand that this is a moment when they can preserve their rights. If they lose this moment, it may be that we will never get these rights back."

45th Anniversary of MLK’s Assassination in Memphis

Today marks the 45th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The civil rights leader and peace activist was gunned down April 4, 1968, at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee. Dr. King was in Memphis to march with sanitation workers demanding a better wage. He was 39.

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