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Jan. 25, 2013 at 11:10 PM
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Biden: U.S. 'obligation to act' on guns

RICHMOND, Va., Jan. 25 (UPI) -- U.S. Vice President Joe Biden said Friday "we have an obligation to act, not wait," as he opened a campaign in support of proposals to reduce gun violence.

After meeting privately in Richmond, Va., with officials from Virginia Tech University -- the scene of a 2007 massacre in which 32 people were shot and killed -- Biden urged congressional passage of legislation requiring universal background checks for all gun sales, the Los Angeles Times reported.

"We cannot remain silent as a country," he said, noting that 1,200 people have been shot and killed in the United States since Dec. 14, when 20 children and six adult staff members were shot and killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.

"We have an obligation to act, not wait," Biden said.

"We're going to be doing a lot more of this," he said. "And with the help of our colleagues in the House and Senate, we're going to get something done that is going to improve the prospects of reducing gun violence."

Biden didn't mention an administration proposal to restrict military-style assault weapons, The Washington Post reported.

U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., who was governor of Virginia at the time of the Virginia Tech massacre, attended the meeting with Biden Friday.

Biden said Kaine's response to the 2007 tragedy, a stronger background-check system for the state that included scrutiny of the mentally ill, should serve as a national model.

State electoral changes could favor GOP

WASHINGTON, Jan. 25 (UPI) -- Several states with Republican-dominated legislatures may alter the way they allocate electoral votes to try to shift power toward the GOP, officials say.

Rather than the winner-take-all process used in most states, the proposed changes would apportion electoral votes by congressional district, as Nebraska and Maine currently do.

Republicans in Virginia, Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania came up with the proposals after voters in their states voted for Democrat Barack Obama in the last two presidential elections.

The Virginia state Senate may vote next week on a proposal by Republican state Sen. Charles Carrico to adopt the system currently in place in Nebraska and Maine, where the overall winner gets two extra electoral votes, one for each of the state's U.S. Senate seats.

Virginia state Sen. Donald M. McEachin, a Democrat, called the proposals "sore-loser bills."

Court throws out Obama recess appointments

WASHINGTON, Jan. 25 (UPI) -- President Obama violated the U.S. Constitution with three recess appointments, a federal appeals court said Friday.

The court said the president made the appointments to the National Labor Relations Board in January 2012 when the Senate was not in recess. The court said a new session began Jan. 3 while the appointments were made Jan. 4, Politico reported.

White House spokesman Jay Carney discounted the impact of the ruling, saying it applies only to a case "brought by a specific company and the decision applies to that case. It does not apply more broadly than that."

"An interpretation of 'the recess' that permits the president to decide when the Senate is in recess would demolish the checks and balances inherent in the advice-and-consent requirement, giving the President free rein to appoint his desired nominees at any time he pleases, whether that time be a weekend, lunch or even when the Senate is in session and he is merely displeased with its inaction. This cannot be the law," said Chief Judge David Sentelle of the District of Columbia circuit.

Sentelle and the two judges who concurred in his opinion were appointed by Republican presidents, the Los Angeles Times said.

The administration is expected to appeal the ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court. If the ruling stands, it would give more power to the Republican minority in the Senate to block presidential appointments.

A similar challenge is before the courts on Richard Cordray, who was named head of the Consumer Financial Protection Agency at the same time. Obama reappointed Cordray this month using his recess authority.

Obama made the recess appointments after Republicans in the Senate blocked efforts to approve his nominations, leaving the NLRB without enough members to make decisions.

NTSB: Ferry propeller 'fouled with debris'

NEW YORK, Jan. 25 (UPI) -- Investigators said Friday a propeller on the ferry that crashed Jan. 9 in New York was "fouled with debris."

In a preliminary report on the crash of the Seastreak Wall Street, in which 83 passengers and one crewmember were injured, the National Transportation Safety Board offered little new information about the ferry's collision with a slip at Pier 11 in Manhattan, reiterating much of what the pilot and crew told investigators immediately after the incident.

Investigators initially said the captain of the ferry reported the vessel's thrust controls didn't respond "as anticipated."

The preliminary report issued Friday said the vessel's master "reduced the speed from 30 knots to 12 knots and prepared for docking the vessel starboard side to," and then moved to the starboard side to get a better look at the dock and his crew's operation.

"He told investigators that he then walked over to the starboard console and attempted to take control there but that the thrust controls did not respond," the NTSB said. "He returned to the center console with the belief that the transfer had been unsuccessful but at that point the center console thrust controls did not respond either."

Further attempts to gain control failed and the "vessel's starboard-side hull struck the dock."

"One interior window at the bottom of a staircase was broken and so were two windows on doors leading from the upper passenger accommodation area to the aft deck," the NTSB said. "In addition, the vessel's portside propeller was fouled with debris. Damage assessments are pending."

Report urges changes in India's rape laws

NEW DELHI, Jan. 25 (UPI) -- An Indian report urging sweeping changes to the country's rape laws is a "tribute" to a woman who died after a gang rape, a U.N. official says.

Navi Pillay, the United Nations high commissioner for human rights, said Indian officials should move quickly to implement the recommendations of the Verma Committee, named after Chief Justice Jagdish Sharan Verma, a U.N. release said.

The report said India should punish marital, domestic and same-sex rape and lesser sexual offenses like stalking, and require police officers to register all reported rapes. The panel also recommended more sensitive treatment for victims, including changes in the system for physical examinations, and said village committees that issue edicts against women should be abolished.

"This report and its far-reaching recommendations are not only a tribute to the brave young woman who was raped and murdered five weeks ago, but to all victims of sexual violence and assault in India," Pillay said. "It is also a testament to the power of the young women and men of India, and the broader civil society, who have joined hands across the nation to say enough is enough."

The gang rape of a 23-year-old medical student who was attacked in December in New Delhi as she returned from a movie with a male companion, sparked demonstrations and a reconsideration of Indian sexual attitudes. The woman died later after being transferred to a hospital in Singapore.

Chambliss to retire from U.S. Senate

WASHINGTON, Jan. 25 (UPI) -- U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., said Friday he will not run for re-election in 2014, citing frustration over "legislative gridlock and partisan posturing."

Chambliss -- who defeated incumbent Democratic Sen. Max Cleland in 2002 -- said in a statement announcing his decision he is "proud of my conservative voting record" and was not bowing out of a 2014 race out of concern he might have to face a primary challenge, saying he has "no doubt that had I decided to be a candidate, I would have won re-election."

"Instead, this is about frustration, both at a lack of leadership from the White House and at the dearth of meaningful action from Congress, especially on issues that are the foundation of our nation's economic health," Chambliss said. "The debt-ceiling debacle of 2011 and the recent fiscal-cliff vote showed Congress at its worst and, sadly, I don't see the legislative gridlock and partisan posturing improving anytime soon."

Conservatives have criticized Chambliss, 69, for his role in the so-called Gang of Six -- a bipartisan group of senators who pushed for including higher taxes in addressing the growing federal debt -- Fox News said.

In his 2002 campaign, Chambliss ran a TV ad criticizing Cleland's votes on homeland security measures, while prominently featuring images of al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden and Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

Supporters of Cleland -- a triple amputee as a result of a hand grenade explosion during his deployment with the Army in Vietnam -- accused Chambliss of impugning Cleland's patriotism. Chambliss said he "never questioned the patriotism of my opponent," only his voting record.

Rivals in the contest to succeed Chambliss may include Rep. Jack Kingston, R-Ga., an 11-term House veteran, who told Fox he is considering entering the race.

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