Howdy Clem Lane here again with our ABC NEWS evening editorial note.
–The Senate confirmed Tim Geithner late this afternoon on a 60-34 vote. Earlier this evening, Geithner was sworn in as Treasury Secretary at a ceremony at the Treasury Department. Vice President Biden did the honors in front of President Obama and 70 other people. Congratulations Mr. Geithner! Now roll up your sleeves and get to work-you’ve got an economy to fix. An economy that unfortunately continues to shed jobs at a rapid clip.
JOBS-This is NOT how to start the week (or the Chinese New Year for that matter-GUNG HAY FAT CHOI everybody). More than 30 thousand job cuts were announced today by a variety of companies in a variety of fields. These aren’t penny ante companies either-Home Depot (7000 job cuts), Caterpillar (5000 job cuts), Sprint/Nextel (8000 jobs), Texas Instruments (3400 jobs) and Pfizer (8000 jobs). WORLD NEWS did a whip-around with reporters in Atlanta/Chicago and Seattle. The mood out there? G-R-I-M. Steve Osunsami, reporting from Atlanta, corporate hq for Home Depot, says "Home Depot’s success is directly tied to how much extra money Americans have to fix-up their homes and these days, that’s not much" Osunsami adds that with hiring freezes in place at some of the southern region’s largest employers (like Coke and UPS), "for those newly laid off, there are now fewer and fewer places to turn." Barbara Pinto reporting from Chicago says that Peoria, Illinois-based Caterpillar is in for its "worst year since WWII" thanks to the global slowdown in construction. The hurt goes further in the region-"Motorola plans to lay off four thousand workers…GM announcement just today that they are slashing another 2000 jobs.". Neal Karlinsky, reporting from Seattle, looked at the tech sector and found not just Sprint/Nextel layoffs. "Fewer people are now buying computers, which is why-in just the past week-we saw chip maker Intel slash 5000 jobs and Microsoft cut too."
HOUSING FIGURES-Wow-good news to report! December existing home sales exceeded analysts’ expectations (4.74 million actual to 4.4 million predicted). The West Coast seems to be the engine here-its sales were up almost 14% compared to November. But let’s not declare the housing crisis over just yet-Dan Arnall says the huge bump in West Coast numbers may be attributable to "big discounts on homes. Prices in that region are down more than 31% thanks to fire sales of foreclosed homes." That trend is not solely West Coast-based. Arnall says that " Nationwide, the NAR (National Association of Realtors says about 45% of all home sales are distress sales, which accounts for the lower prices and increasing volume." “Housing is not out of the woods and it is not even clear we can see some end to the massive problems,” said economist Joel Naroff. “But an increase in sales is good news no matter how you slice and dice it.”
AUTO EMISSION STANDARDS/STATES TO TAKE CHARGE?-Some tough love for the auto industry today. President Obama directed the Environmental Protection Agency to review whether California and more than a dozen states should be allowed to impose tougher auto emission standards on carmakers to fight greenhouse gas emissions. The Bush administration had blocked the efforts by the states, which account for about half of the nation’s auto sales. The new president also said his administration would issue new fuel-efficiency requirements to cover 2011 model year vehicles. "Let me be clear," President Obama said. "Our goal is not to further burden an already struggling auto industry, it is to help America’s automakers prepare for the future." Reaction was predictable-Jake Tapper, reporting for WORLD NEWS said that "environmental groups called the announcement a "thrilling moment…leaving behind our failed fossil fuel policies." Tapper continues: "Auto industry advocates expressed grave concern" with one representative reminding that "manufacturers would be forced to pass on the cost of meeting these regulations onto consumers." That threat doesn’t seem to deter the Obama Administration. Sunlen Miller attended today’s White House press briefing given by press secretary Robert Gibbs. Miller: "Gibbs was asked a few times about CAFÉ standards and emission vehicle standards – and concerns that this will hurt the ailing auto industry. Gibbs said that the debate over fuel efficiency standards is nothing new – it has been a 30 year old debate – and the action that President Obama took today was to take legislation that Congress approved in December of 2007 and President Bush signed, ‘I don’t think it comes as any surprise to automakers or consumers that a change in our fuel mileage standards was on the horizon.’" George Stephanopoulos, speaking to WORLD NEWS anchor Charles Gibson noted that "there’s a tension there between environmental standards and making sure we get this economy back on track." Which is why other environmental initiatives are likely to be put on a slower track." But make no bones about where the Obama Administration comes down on environmental standards. Tapper notes that "Todd Stern, who served as the chief negotiator for the Kyoto protocol which President Bush withdrew the U.S. from in 2001, today President Obama appointed Stern the chief U.S. envoy for climate control."
STIMULUS PACKAGE-President Obama heads to Capitol Hill tomorrow for meetings with House Republicans (noon ET) and Senate Republicans (1pm ET) to talk about the Economic Stimulus package. As for timing, Dean Norland reports "I am hearing from a Democratic House leadership aide that ‘strong consideration’ is being given to beginning House floor debate on the stimulus bill tomorrow – Tuesday. Under that plan there could still be some general debate on Wednesday, but debate and votes on all amendments and FINAL passage of the bill would not occur until WEDNESDAY."
OCTUPLETS BORN IN CALIFORNIA-A woman has given birth to octuplets in a Bellfower, California hospital. A doctor at the hospital said mom and the babies were doing well. Associated Press says "The children are the world’s second live-born set of octuplets. The last set were born in Texas and turned 10 years old last month." The Kaiser Permanente Hospital in Bellflower is holding a press conference now.
BLAGOJEVICH’S PRESS TOUR-Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich spent the first day of his impeachment trial in New York, touring the talk show circuit – beginning with “Good Morning America” and wrapping up tonight with an appearance on “Larry King Live” – in attempt to defend himself against the charges he tried to sell President Obama’s senate seat. “Wherever he went, the governor portrayed himself as a victim, the trial as a sham. His fate, set,” Chris Bury reported on WORLD NEWS. On every program Gov. Blagojevich claimed he was denied the right to call witnesses in order to defend himself and, Bury reports, Blagojevich is “partially right. This is a political proceeding, not a criminal trial. The governor can only call certain witnesses, not those the federal prosecutor will use in the expected criminal trial. But whatever Blagojevich says now won’t matter much to senators in Illinois. It will take forty of them – a two-thirds vote – to convict the governor.” The Illinois Senate began the trial with neither Blagojevich nor his lawyers present.
One other interesting nugget from Diane Sawyer’s interview with the governor – he confirmed that Oprah Winfrey was among his choices for the senate seat. Oprah said today "I think I could be senator, too. I’m just not interested." (thanks to Marisa Bramwell for this entry)
MIDDLE EAST ENVOY MITCHELL HEADING TO REGION TONIGHT FOR FIRST VIST-Middle East envoy George Mitchell met today with President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton ahead of Mitchell’s first trip to the Mideast. The purpose of his trip? Firstly, to solidify a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas. The list of stops- he will visit Cairo, Jerusalem, Ramallah, Amman, Riyadh, Paris and London-does not mention Gaza although he may meet with Palestinian representatives at another location (or he may have something non-public up his sleeve as well). President Obama joked that "compared to steroids, this is going to be a breeze", a reference to Mitchell’s investigation of Major League Baseball players a couple of years ago. President Obama knows full well the magnitude of the problem. "The charge that Senator Mitchell has," Obama said, "is to engage vigorously and consistently in order for us to achieve genuine progress. And when I say progress, not just photo-ops, but progress that is concretely felt by people on the ground, so that people feel more secure in their lives."
PRESIDENT OBAMA GIVES FIRST INTERVIEW AS PRESIDENT-and the winner is………..Al Arabiya! President Obama taped an interview with the Dubai-based network that airs tonight at 11pm ET. We will be getting a copy of the interview in its entirety later on this evening. The interview is cleared for use for all ABC NEWS platforms-be advised the Al Aribiya bug must not be obscured. Tapper has sent out a transcript provided by the White House if you’d like to read more.
GNARLY WEATHER HEADING FOR TORNADO ALLEY AND PARTS EAST-Those nice folks at Accu-Weather tells us Winter storm and ice storm warnings are widespread from north-central Texas (including Dallas-Ft. Worth), eastern Oklahoma and southeast Kansas eastward into the Ohio Valley and mid-South. The most serious icing overnight, perhaps an inch or more of accretion in a few spots, is forecast to target Oklahoma, northern Arkansas, extreme southeast Missouri and parts of western Kentucky, .Let’s talk Oklahoma-A winter storm warning continues through Tuesday afternoon for much of northeastern Oklahoma while an ice storm warning is in effect for parts of southeastern Oklahoma through 6 a.m. on Tuesday. Light freezing rain and sleet has begun falling across eastern Oklahoma and a thin layer of ice is has already caused dozens of traffic accidents in the Tulsa metro area. The heaviest of the precipitation is expected during the late afternoon and evening hours Monday and early Tuesday morning. That’s when the potential for the rapid formation of ice on trees, power lines and roadways will be at its peak. northeastern Oklahoma should see between a quarter of an inch to three quarters of an inch of ice accumulation through late Tuesday — less than the half an inch to inch and a quarter that was previously forecast. (thanks to Faisal Jamil for help on this entry)
SALMONELLA OUTBREAK-Brian Hartman points out a NY TIMES story that reports the peanut plant at the center of the Salmonella outbreak had a history of health violations and was cited repeatedly in 2006 and 2007 "for having dirty surfaces and walls and grease residue and dirt build-up throughout the plant". Hartman also says that the death toll attributed to the salmonella outbreak has been revised downward from 11 to 8. The state of Ohio now says that 3 of the 4 fatalities may have had salmonella "but their deaths are not attributable to salmonella".
SUPREME COURT DECISIONS-Jan Crawford-Greenburg reports "the Supreme Court released five opinions today, and the justices were unanimous in all five cases. The court sided with a Tennessee woman fired after cooperating in a sexual harassment investigation; said police are entitled to pat down passengers during a traffic stop; and ruled that district attorneys are immune from civil lawsuits for wrongful convictions."
PLAVIX-Brian Hartman reports the FDA has issued an alert to doctors and pharmacists that they are working with the makers of Plavix to try and figure out why the drug doesn’t appear to work in certain people. This is not about complications or bad side effects-this is strictly a question of effectiveness. Plavix is a blood thinner and is used by millions to help reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke. Plavix is also the world’s second best-selling drug (behind the cholesterol drug Lipitor).
GAS PRICES-Gas prices saw their first decrease in over a month. The national average of $1.84 was down a penny from last week. If you’d like to feel better about gasoline prices, note that a year ago the average price of a gallon of gas was $2.98.
TO BOLDLY GO…DEAD OR ALIVE-Celestis Inc, a California-based company, announced that Gene Roddenberry, the creator of "Star Trek", and his wife Majel would be shipped out into space next year. Associated Press reports the couple’s cremated remains will be sealed into specially made capsules designed to withstand the rigors of space travel. A rocket-launched spacecraft will carry the capsules, along with digitized tributes from fans. The Roddenberrys’ remains – and the spacecraft – will travel ever deeper into space and will not return to earth, company spokeswoman Susan Schonfeld said. Roddenberry died all the way back in 1991.