Biden vows urgent Obama administration action against gun violence — but NRA opposition looms
WASHINGTON (AP) — Vice President Joe Biden vowed urgent action against gun violence in America Wednesday, pledging steps by the Obama administration that he said could "take thousands of people out of harm's way" and improve the safety of millions more.
But a day ahead of a meeting with the National Rifle Association, which has sunk past gun control efforts and is opposing any new ones, Biden signaled that the administration is mindful of political realities that could imperil sweeping gun control legislation, and is willing to settle for something less. He said the administration is considering its own executive action as well as measures by Congress, but he didn't offer specifics.
"I want to make it clear that we are not going to get caught up in the notion that unless we can do everything, we're going to do nothing," Biden told an array of gun control advocates, crime victims and others at the White House. "It's critically important we act."
Shortly after last month's slaughter of schoolchildren at Newtown, Conn., President Barack Obama tasked Biden with heading a commission to come up with recommendations on gun policy by the end of this month. Obama supports steps including reinstating a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines and closing loopholes that allow many gun buyers to avoid background checks.
The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence says that some 40 percent of gun sales are made without background checks, such as at gun shows and over the Internet.
Obama's new team takes shape: Solis departing, attorney general, HHS, VA secretaries to stay
WASHINGTON (AP) — The composition of President Barack Obama's second term Cabinet became clearer Wednesday, with Labor Secretary Hilda Solis resigning and three other members of the president's team deciding to stay on amid concerns about diversity in Obama's inner circle.
Solis, a former California congresswoman and one of the highest-ranking Hispanics in the Cabinet, said she was departing after leading the department during the economic storms of the first term. She was the nation's first Hispanic labor secretary.
A White House official said three Cabinet members — Attorney General Eric Holder, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki — would stay on as the second term begins. It would ensure diversity among the president's leadership team — Holder is black, Sebelius is a woman and Shinseki is of Japanese-American descent.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss personnel changes, said the three remaining officials were not an exhaustive list of which Cabinet members intended to stay.
Some Democratic women have raised concerns that the "big three" jobs in the Cabinet — State, Defense and Treasury — will be taken by white men. Democratic Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts has been tapped as the next secretary of state; former Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel, a Republican, was picked to run the Pentagon and White House chief of staff Jack Lew is expected to be named treasury secretary later this week.
10 Things to Know for Thursday
Your daily look at late-breaking news, upcoming events and the stories that will be talked about Thursday:
1. HOW OBAMA MIGHT DRIVE GUN CONTROL
Some steps could be taken through executive action — without the approval of Congress.
Researchers cite gun violence as factor contributing to shorter lives and poorer health
WASHINGTON (AP) — The United States suffers far more violent deaths than any other wealthy nation, due in part to the widespread possession of firearms and the practice of storing them at home in a place that is often unlocked, according to a report released Wednesday by two of the nation's leading health research institutions.
Gun violence is just one of many factors contributing to lower U.S. life expectancy, but the finding took on urgency because the report comes less than a month after the shooting deaths of 26 people at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn.
The United States has about six violent deaths per 100,000 residents. None of the 16 other countries included in the review came anywhere close to that ratio. Finland was closest to the U.S. ranking with slightly more than two violent deaths per 100,000 residents.
For many years, Americans have been dying at younger ages that people in almost all other wealthy countries. In addition to the impact of gun violence, Americans consume the most calories among peer countries and get involved in more accidents that involve alcohol. The U.S. also suffers higher rates of drug-related deaths, infant mortality and AIDS.
The result is that the life expectancy for men in the United States ranked the lowest among the 17 countries reviewed, at 75.6 years, while the life expectancy for U.S. women ranked second lowest at 80.7 years. The countries reviewed included Canada, Japan, Australia and much of Western Europe.
6 billion hours working on taxes: National taxpayer advocate says they're just too complicated
WASHINGTON (AP) — Too intimidated to fill out your tax return without help? Join the club.
At nearly 4 million words, the U.S. tax law is so thick and complicated that businesses and individuals spend more than 6 billion hours a year complying with filing requirements, according to a report Wednesday by an independent government watchdog.
That's the equivalent of 3 million people working full-time, year-round.
"If tax compliance were an industry, it would be one of the largest in the United States," says the report by Nina E. Olson, the National Taxpayer Advocate.
The days of most taxpayers sitting down with a pencil and a calculator to figure out their taxes are long gone, Olson said. Since 2001, Congress has made almost 5,000 changes to U.S. tax law. That's an average of more than one a day.
After Newtown school tragedy, Connecticut moves cautiously on guns; home to major gun makers
HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — A month after the Newtown school tragedy, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy is moving cautiously on gun control in Connecticut, a relatively liberal Northeastern state that nevertheless has a strong gun culture and is home to some of the nation's best-known firearm makers.
Gun control advocates and their allies in the state General Assembly want to pass new restrictions on weapons while passions are still high over the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting rampage Dec. 14 that left 20 children and six women dead. But they are bracing for strong opposition.
Gun owners have packed statehouse hearings in recent years to oppose measures that would tighten the state's gun laws. And gun manufacturers such as Colt Manufacturing Co., which traces its history to a Hartford factory that Samuel Colt opened in 1855, have threatened in the past to leave Connecticut, taking hundreds of jobs with them, if certain requirements became law.
Malloy, a Democrat, became choked up when he mentioned Newtown in his State of the State Address on Wednesday, saying: "Let us do everything in our power to ensure that Connecticut never again suffers such a loss, that we take real steps to make our kids and our communities safer."
He offered no specific proposals, instead noting that an advisory panel he set up last week will issue recommendations in March on gun control, mental health treatment and other issues arising from the Newtown massacre.
Iranians held by Syrian rebels freed in 1st major prisoner swap of civil war
DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) — Rebels freed 48 Iranians on Wednesday in exchange for more than 2,000 prisoners, including women and children, held by Syrian authorities — a deal struck after rare negotiations involving regional powers Turkey, Qatar and Iran.
It was the first major prisoner swap since the uprising began against President Bashar Assad nearly 22 months ago.
Iran is one of Assad's main allies, and the Iranians, who were seized outside Damascus in August, were a major bargaining chip for factions trying to bring down his regime in the civil war that has killed more than 60,000 people.
The exchange also highlighted the plight of tens of thousands of detainees languishing in Syrian prisons, many of whom were picked up at street protests and have not been heard of since.
The group of 48 Iranians arrived Wednesday at the Sheraton hotel in several vans escorted by Syrian security forces. Looking disheveled but healthy, they were greeted by Iran's ambassador in Damascus, Mohammad Riza Shibani, and several Iranian clerics who distributed a white flower to each of the men, some of whom broke down in tears.
APNewsBreak: Deal in Boston lawsuit claiming mom's pregnancy drug caused 4 daughters' cancer
BOSTON (AP) — Four sisters who claimed their breast cancer was caused by a drug their mother took during pregnancy in the 1950s reached a settlement Wednesday with Eli Lilly and Co. in the first of scores of similar claims around the country to go to trial.
Neither Eli Lilly nor lawyers for the women would disclose the financial terms of the settlement, which was announced on the second day of testimony during a federal trial in Boston.
Eli Lilly said it continues to believe its medication "did not cause the conditions alleged in this lawsuit" but the settlement was in its "best interest."
"Settling this trial helps us get back to what we want to focus on as a company; developing important new medications through research and partnerships with doctors and patients," it said in a statement.
A total of 51 women, including the Melnick sisters, filed lawsuits in Boston against more than a dozen companies that made or marketed a synthetic estrogen known as DES.
'Smart' potty to extra-loud headphones — wacky gadgets solve problems you didn't know existed
LAS VEGAS (AP) — From the iPotty for toddlers to the 1,600-pound mechanical spider and the host of glitch-ridden "smart" TVs, the International CES show is a forum for gadget makers to take big — and bizarre — chances.
Many of the prototypes introduced at the annual gadget show over the years have failed in the marketplace. But the innovators who shop their wares here are fearless when it comes to pitching new gizmos, many of which are designed to solve problems you didn't know you had.
A search for this year's strangest (and perhaps least useful) electronic devices yielded an extra-loud pair of headphones from a metal band, an eye-sensing TV that didn't work as intended and more. Take a look:
Steroids fallout: No Hall of Fame for Clemens, Bonds, Sosa and everyone else
NEW YORK (AP) — No one was elected to the Hall of Fame this year. When voters closed the doors to Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Sammy Sosa, they also shut out everybody else.
For only the second time in four decades, baseball writers failed to give any player the 75 percent required for induction to Cooperstown, sending a powerful signal that stars of the Steroids Era will be held to a different standard.
All the awards and accomplishments collected over long careers by Bonds, Clemens and Sosa could not offset suspicions those feats were boosted by performance-enhancing drugs.
Voters also denied entry Wednesday to fellow newcomers Craig Biggio, Mike Piazza and Curt Schilling, along with holdovers Jack Morris, Jeff Bagwell and Lee Smith.
Among the most honored players of their generation, these standouts won't find their images among the 300 bronze plaques on the oak walls in Cooperstown, where — at least for now — the doors appear to be bolted shut on anyone tainted by PEDs.