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  |   Jan. 10, 2013 at 5:00 PM
Biden: Gun recommendations by next week

WASHINGTON, Jan. 10 (UPI) -- U.S. Vice President Joe Biden said Thursday the gun violence task force he heads will make recommendations next week on how to deal with the issue.

As the task force prepared for meetings in Washington with three more groups of stakeholders -- including the National Rifle Association, entertainment and video game industry executives and sport shooting and wildlife advocates -- Biden told reporters he has reached no conclusions but said he would have recommendations for President Barack Obama by Tuesday.

Biden said he would focus primarily on recommendations "that relate primarily to gun ownership, and the type of weapons we own. And one is there is a surprising -- so far -- a surprising recurrence of suggestions that we have universal background checks, not just close the gun show loophole but totally universal background checks including private sales."

He said participants have urged restricting availability of high capacity ammunition magazines.

"And the last area, which is an area that has come up, has to do with the ability of any agency to do any research on the issue of gun violence," Biden said, noting that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control has been prohibited by federal law since 2004 from collecting information on injuries associated with gunshot wounds.

He said information should be collected on "what kind of weapons are used most to kill people" and "what kind of weapons are trafficked weapons."

"There has got to be some common ground, to not solve every problem but diminish the probability" of future mass shootings, Biden said, one day after suggesting Obama might use executive action if Congress takes no action on gun violence.


Obama nominates Lew for Treasury

WASHINGTON, Jan. 10 (UPI) -- President Obama Thursday named White House Chief of Staff Jacob "Jack" Lew as the next secretary of the U.S. Treasury amid financial turmoil.

If confirmed by the Senate, Lew would succeed outgoing Secretary Timothy Geithner.

Lew has a long history of budget negotiations, serving as White House budget director in the administration of former President Bill Clinton and in the early years of the Obama administration.

At the White House, Obama said he hated to lose Lew as chief of staff, but, "My loss will be the nation's gain."

"Jack has the distinction of having worked -- and succeeded -- in some of the toughest jobs in Washington and the private sector," Obama said. "As a congressional staffer in the 1980s, he helped negotiate the deal between President Reagan and [former House Speaker] Tip O'Neill to save Social Security. Under President Clinton, he presided over three budget surpluses in a row. So for all the talk out there about deficit reduction, making sure our books are balanced, this is the guy who did it -- three times. He helped oversee one of our nation's finest universities and one of our largest investment banks. ...

"One reason Jack has been so effective in this town is because he is a low-key guy who prefers to surround himself with policy experts rather than television cameras," Obama said. "And over the years, he's built a reputation as a master of policy who can work with members of both parties and forge principled compromises."

Obama said Geithner, his earliest nominee, had "hit the ground running" at Treasury.

"Thanks in large part to his steady hand, our economy has been growing again for the past three years, our businesses have created nearly 6 million new jobs," Obama said.

Lew will face massive automatic spending cuts unless Congress acts by March 2 to avert the sequester and should be in the center of administration efforts to raise the U.S. debt ceiling to fund the government.

Lew has been criticized for his illegible signature, which looks like a series of curlicues. Obama said, "Jack assures me that he is going to make at least one letter legible."


Venezuela: Hugo Chavez misses inauguration

CARACAS, Venezuela, Jan. 10 (UPI) -- Red-clad supporters of Hugo Chavez thronged downtown Caracas Thursday for a demonstration on the day the cancer-stricken president was to be sworn in.

Chavez, 58, remains firmly in control of the South American country even though he has not been seen in public since he went to Cuba for surgery a month ago. The Venezuelan government has not disclosed the type of cancer from which Chavez is suffering.

Members of his ruling United Socialist Party carried photographs of the absent president in the streets and many wore T-shirts reading: "I am Chavez," The Wall Street Journal reported.

Wednesday, key opposition leader Henrique Capriles said a Venezuelan Supreme Court ruling letting Chavez begin his new term in absentia was politically motivated.

The court's ruling was intended "to resolve the problem" in the ruling United Socialist Party of a growing power struggle between Vice President Nicolas Maduro and National Assembly President Diosdado Cabello, Capriles said.

The power struggle has "totally paralyzed" the government, he said. Opposition leaders had called for the court to declare Chavez "incapacitated," which would have opened the way for new elections.

Maduro is the man Chavez said he wanted as his party's candidate in case he himself couldn't continue as president. Chavez appealed to voters to vote for Maduro. Cabello is a former vice president with close ties to Venezuela's military but has few ties to the Cuban revolution.

Chavez -- who declared himself fully recovered from his unspecified cancer July 9 -- flew to Cuba Dec. 10 for additional cancer surgery. He later developed a severe pulmonary infection that has resulted in a "respiratory insufficiency," the government said last week.

The last official statement on Chavez's health Monday said he was still fighting a post-surgical lung infection.

Chavez won election to a fourth term Oct. 7.


London police officer guilty of misconduct

LONDON, Jan. 10 (UPI) -- A senior London police officer faces a prison term following her conviction Thursday for offering to sell information to a tabloid newspaper.

A judge postponed sentencing for April Casburn, 53, The Daily Telegraph reported. The judge in Southwark Crown Court, Mr. Justice Adrian Fulford, warned her that she is likely to get some time behind bars.

Casburn, a detective chief inspector with the Metropolitan Police, was assigned to counter-terrorism when she offered to sell the News of the World information on the phone-hacking investigation in 2010. The Sunday tabloid, closed by Rupert Murdoch in the wake of the scandal, was one of the major targets.

During her trial, Casburn said she was angry that detectives from counter-terrorism were being assigned to the investigation. She said many officers wanted the assignment because they hoped to meet celebrities.

The jury decided, however, that her motive was money.

Casburn has three children, including a daughter adopted in 2011. Fulford said he wants to hear from a social worker before deciding on the appropriate sentence.

Casburn could receive a life term for misconduct in public office.


Trapped whales make it to open waters

INUKJUAK, Quebec, Jan. 10 (UPI) -- A dozen killer whales that had been trapped by thick ice for three days in Quebec's Far North made it to open water Thursday, local officials said.

The whales became trapped Monday as ice shifted behind them while they were migrating in the Hudson Bay, The (Montreal) Gazette reported. A hole in the ice about the size of a large pickup truck allowed the marine mammals to keep breathing.

"We had strong wind coming in from the northeast late last night and it cracked a huge section of the ice," Johnny Williams, the city manager in Inukjuak, near where the whales were stuck, said Thursday. "The whales are gone now, and we're pretty happy about that."

Inukjuak Mayor Peter Inukpuk said it was not normal for killer whales to be seen in the area in the winter.

"Plenty of people are headed out there, they're worried and they don't know why we're seeing this kind of thing in the winter," Inukpuk said. "It's not normal."

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