Steve Inskeep

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

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And I'm Steve Inskeep. Here's another reminder that a fast-moving news story can completely change. Prosecutors have dropped the charges against Paul Kevin Curtis. He's the Elvis impersonator first arrested in the case of ricin being sent to U.S. officials, as we reported last week.

Earlier this week in Caracas, we were about to go to an interview when it had to be rescheduled. The man we were going to speak with was unavoidably detained — kidnapped, to be precise.

It took awhile after that for Laureano Marquez to free up his schedule and meet us in a coffee shop.

"I'm so sorry," he said when he finally arrived, as if it was his fault for being thrown into a car and driven off to the far reaches of town.

In the days before elevators, there was no such thing as a penthouse on the top floor. The highest floors of a building had cheaper rents because the stairs were hard to climb.

Caracas, Venezuela, is organized roughly the same way, with many poor neighborhoods climbing up the sides of a mountain valley. Some of the poorest homes are among the most remote, accessible not by any road but by alleyways and long flights of stairs.

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And I'm Steve Inskeep in Caracas, Venezuela. This country is about to hold a presidential election. Voters are replacing the late Hugo Chavez, who shouldered this oil-rich republic onto the world stage. He often denounced the United States as an oppressive empire - even as he sold Americans oil - and imported gasoline from U.S. refineries. The election of his successor this weekend gives us a chance to listen to a changing Latin America.

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And I'm Steve Inskeep. President Obama is making his first visit to Israel since he's been in the White House. His past relations with Israel's government have not always gone well. Though the two nations insist they're reached new levels of security cooperation, they have publicly debated issues ranging from Iran to the Mideast peace process.

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(SOUNDBITE OF BELLS RINGING)

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When President Obama recently called for stricter gun control laws, he started out by saying this.

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INSKEEP: The land of the free, he said. But he added this.

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Thousands of Venezuelans have been filling the streets this week, listening to music and lining up to see the coffin of their leader, Hugo Chavez, who died on Tuesday. Leaders from around the world have also come to the capital city, Caracas, for a funeral which formally takes place today. And in keeping with his often larger-than-life persona, the Venezuelan government plans to embalm Chavez and keep his body on display under glass, in perpetuity. NPR's Juan Forero is in Caracas, following events there. Hi, Juan.

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It's been a tense 24 hours in Southern California. The former Los Angeles police officer wanted in connection with three murders is still at large this morning, despite a manhunt that has spanned hundreds of miles.

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We have a clearer picture this morning of just what an immigration overhaul might look like.

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OK, the Pentagon says the U.S. commander in Afghanistan is cleared. Gen. John Allen was caught in a scandal last fall. You may recall, he'd been corresponding by email with a Florida socialite; and the question for the Pentagon was whether Gen. Allen's emails were inappropriate. NPR Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman followed the story back then. He's with us now. Tom, good morning.

TOM BOWMAN, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.

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On Monday, Morning Edition explored crime rates in Chicago and how the murder rate went up in 2012. That was against national trends and even against Chicago's long-range decline in crime. We discussed police focus on "hot spots," and the dissolution of gangs. But listeners asked: What about gun bans?

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And I'm Steve Inskeep.

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And I'm Steve Inskeep. Happy New Year.

Let's start with the upside. Congress has yet to rattle the financial markets so far in 2013.

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It is raining in Newtown, Connecticut, where people observed a moment of silence seven days to the minute after a gunman opened fire at Sandy Hook Elementary School. NPR's Kirk Siegler is in Newtown; he's on the line. And Kirk, what do you see this morning?

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