Clem Lane here with another ABC NEWS evening editorial note. Maybe everybody has theatre tickets for tomorrow night or something but it looks like the Hatfields & McCoys have buried the hatchet and delivered us a bill.
STIMULUS BILL COMPROMISE REACHED-Wow-that wasn’t so hard after all. The Senate and House reached a compromise on a $789 billion Economic Stimulus Bill today, surprising pundits who had expected a much more contentious and drawn-out affair. Charles Gibson noted on WORLD NEWS "Getting agreement in the Congress for anything-much less something this large-so quickly is remarkable." Gibson asked George Stephanopoulos on WORLD NEWS how the deal got done so fast: "Congressional Democrats realized that they had no choice but to basically agree to the demands of those three Senate Republicans who voted for the bill over in the Senate." Don’t call it a Congressional cave-in however. Stephanopoulos adds "The White House and Democrats say this bill still meets the President’s original demand to create or save 3.5 million jobs." The package combines tax cuts, federal infrastructure and educational investments and direct aid to states facing budget crises. Gibson tallied and noted the $2-$3 trillion cost so far and Stephanopoulos reminded "we have never seen anything like this before….what this means is that President Obama and Democrats own the economy if these programs work" And if they don’t? Stephanopoulos: "Republicans will be able to say…you can’t blame us. We weren’t for them."
BANK CEOS-Another day, another grilling for American industry on Capitol Hill. Today it was the bankers’ turn. Eight chief executives in the banking industry sat for almost seven hours in front of the House Financial Services Committee. The purpose was to give a public account of how the banks have spent the government money they’ve received so far. Betsy Stark attended the hearing. Filing for WORLD NEWS, she tells us the banking suits were wary: "Given the public outrage over the private jets, luxury junkets, and lavish bonuses that banks have been buying on the taxpayer’s dime, the executives at today’s hearing had reason to expect hostile questioning, and they kept themselves tight-lipped and surrounded by handlers." Tight-lipped maybe but not silent. Stark tells us "these bankers painted a surprisingly sunny picture, considering the crisis the government has described. Several presented evidence they’re making loans. Some said they’re reaching out to troubled homeowners and almost all said they had slashed their salaries and bonuses." Committee members did not embrace the Xanadu-like characterization. Michael Capuano (D-MA), quoted in Betsy Stark’s WORLD NEWS piece, was incredulous: "You come to us today on your bicycles after buying Girl Scout cookies and helping out Mother Teresa." As for public accountability, Stark tells us that "a couple of the bankers pointed out that they had not asked for this bailout money. The government came to them and asked them to take it. Well today committee chairman Barney Frank let them know if they don’t need it, the government is more than happy to take it back."
4TH QUARTER BANK RESULTS-If you’re wondering why Congressman were less than convinced by the bank ceo’s "surprisingly rosy picture", Dan Arnall points you to a Standard & Poor report on the health of the banking industry that certainly didn’t help their cause. Arnall quotes from the report: " Fourth-quarter 2008 saw the worst financial performance by the largest U.S. banks since the Great Depression of 1929,” says the report. “To varying extents, reported financial performance was marred by mounting credit costs, mark-downs related to problematic asset exposures, impairment charges, restructuring charges, and weak revenue generation.” It’s not all bad news in the report. Arnall notes that the report paints a positive picture of the TARP bail-out. The report notes " “This [government] support, and the belief that more will be forthcoming if needed, has prevented more dramatic rating downgrades than would otherwise occur in response to the stressed environment. We view government funding and capital support as vital for now to ensure the stability of the U.S. banking system and prevent additional failures by major institutions.”
KIDNAPPING CAPITAL OF THE U.S.-A quick look at CityTownInfo.com let me know that Phoenix, Arizona has received the National Civic League’s prestigious "All America City" award four times. But as Brian Ross reported on WORLD NEWS, Phoenix has become known for some less-flattering elements as well. Ross: "A crime rarely seen in most cities has become an almost daily event in Phoenix, now the kidnapping capital of America, with 370 kidnappings last year alone." What’s going on? Ross tells us the problem stems from the south " as Mexican drug cartels send their operatives across the border to claim territory or settle scores." Phoenix may be "in the eye of the storm" as Police Chief Andy Anderson told Ross, but it’s not alone. Ross says that "officials in Texas and California are beginning to see the same pattern." Where’s the federal cavalry? Ross: " Local officials say Washington has been too obsessed with Al Qaeda terrorists to deal with the problem coming from Mexico."
SALMONELLA LATEST: Incriminating emails released today showed that the heads of the peanut corporation behind the salmonella outbreak were aware of the bacteria problem, but were more concerned about the company’s bottom line than consumers’ health. In Washington today both Stewart Parnell, the owner of Peanut Corp. of America, and plant manager Sammy Lightsey appeared before Congress but refused to answer questions about the salmonella outbreak that has sickened hundreds of people. “Parnell may not have been talking, but internal company emails released by the committee said plenty,” Lisa Stark reported on WORLD NEWS. “August 2008, samples test positive for Salmonella. After a second test is negative Parnell writes ‘okay let’s turn them loose then.’ That should never had happened if there was even a hint of salmonella. October 2008, another positive. Parnell’s email: ‘we need to discuss this, this is costing us huge dollars’” Stark also reported that “last month, even after the plant is linked to tainted peanut butter, Parnell emails FDA officials, desperate to continue some sales citing (quote) ‘the need to turn the raw peanuts on our floor into money.’” After refusing to answer several questions, the men were dismissed. Family members of salmonella victims told ABC News Parnell was a “coward” and “gutless.” Today health officials in Ohio said an elderly woman’s death earlier this year was linked to the salmonella outbreak, bringing the U.S. death toll to nine. (thanks to Marisa Bramwell for this entry)
OKLAHOMA WINTER TORNADOES: Authorities in the Oklahoma town of Long Grove are sorting through rubble in search of victims from yesterday’s devastating tornado. At least eight people were killed and 14 seriously injured when the half-mile-wide tornado whipped through the town of 4,600 Tuesday evening. Several people are still unaccounted for. In Oklahoma City and Edmonds, several homes and businesses suffered tornado damage, but no injuries were reported. “A trio of tornadoes hit this state yesterday,” Ryan Owens reported on WORLD NEWS. “One hundred miles north of [Long Grove] near Oklahoma City….another tornado demolished a half dozen large brick homes…this area is known as ‘tornado alley’ and this line of storms came with plenty of warning. Still, tornado season is supposed to be at least a month away.” Oklahoma Governor Brad Henry has declared a state of emergency in 17 affected counties. (thanks to Marisa Bramwell for this entry)
SPACE COLLISION-"The big one". That’s how a Johnson Space Center scientist characterized yesterday’s space collision to ABC NEWS’ Gina Sunseri. Gina explains what he’s referring to–" The collision in space yesterday is unprecedented – two large satellites crossing paths at hyper velocity – each going 17.500 miles an hour over Siberia at an altitude of 491 miles. No one knows yet just why the Iridium communications satellite and an old Russian Cosmos satellite ended up on a collision course. Each satellite weighed over a 1000 pounds." As you can imagine, a collision of this magnitude resulted in lots of space debris. Sunseri says there are some "500 pieces of space debris left after the collision and analysts are working to plot the coordinates for each of the debris pieces which will then be posted on the public website www.spacetrack.org " At issue, the health of US spacecraft and satellites. In a piece written for ABCNEWS.COM by Sunseri and Luis Martinez, they note " it wouldn’t take much to seriously damage the space station or the space shuttle. Orbital debris is considered the biggest threat to each shuttle mission, and every orbiter comes back with a number of small dings." You can read more in Sunseri and Martinez’ notes to the Space DL. Their dot com piece will post in the morning.
GUNS ‘N’ CHURCHES-The Lord may work in mysterious ways, but I bet you even he’s scratching his head after the Arkansas House today approved a bill allowing concealed handguns in churches. The bill, which heads to the state Senate, allows churches the right to continue to bar weapons on their premises "if they choose to do so" (when interviewing pastors make sure to ask their gun policy I guess). Churches were one of two private entities where concealed handguns were banned. The sacred cow where concealed handguns are still not permitted? The state’s taverns. (thanks to George Sanchez for flagging this story)