Clem’s Chronicles: AIR FRANCE/GM/OBAMA TRAVELS OVERSEAS

By Clem Lane

Jun 2, 2009 9:31pm

Clem Lane here with tonight's evening editorial note.

AIR FRANCE PLANE-Brazilian authorities say they found debris today from missing Air France flight #447.  The correct term is probably “spotted”, since nothing’s been recovered yet. And no wonder-Lisa Stark tells us the sighting of the debris was some “600 miles off the coast of Brazil”. She adds that “it’s a debris field that stretches some three miles across the ocean surface.” The resources being deployed in the search effort are strong-Stark tells us “at least 14 planes from Brazil, France and the U.S. are coming that area. Also, four merchant ships looking for more debris and any clues about what happened to flight 447.” Charles Gibson asked ABC NEWS aviation analyst John Nance whether the narrow debris field told him anything. Nance: “Yes it does…the fact that it is contained  to three miles even after 24 hours of drifting and winds and so on, pretty much indicates that if nothing else is found out there, the airplane entered the water pretty much intact….and at a high rate of speed.” The area of the debris field is incredibly challenging-Stark notes that “the ocean in this area is believed to be 13 thousand feet deep and filled with ridges.” The recovery effort may be tough,  Professor John Hansman at MIT says in Stark’s WORLD NEWS piece but “it’s going to be really important. We really can’t have this remain a mystery going on forever.” Gibson asked Nance why this mystery has to be solved-Nance notes that “it’s critical because we have a whole family of jetliners…that have certain levels of electronics in them and we have to know if any of that had anything to do with what happened out there.” So the goal here, Stark mentioned in her close, “what investigators really want to find are the plane’s black boxes, the voice recorder, the data recorder. It will be a race against time to locate them underwater. Those boxes will emit a signal for just 30 days.”

GENERAL MOTORS, THE DAY AFTER: Now that the U.S. government owns a 60 percent stake in General Motors, the automaker wasted no time airing new television advertisements touting the “rebirth of the American car” and that Monday’s bankruptcy filing “is not about going out of business; this is about getting down to business.”  While President Obama has stated the government was a “reluctant shareholder” and that he has “no interest running GM,” David Muir notes that “reluctant or not, taxpayers now have a vested interest in GM becoming profitable again…if they’re ever going to get their money back.  [And] economists say this notion of a chief shareholder remaining hands-off is nearly impossible…the government must now balance the need to keep jobs in American factories—while knowing other avenues might be more profitable for GM.”  GM confirmed today that it was in advanced talks to sell its Hummer unit to Tengzhong, a Chinese industrial machinery firm.  Tengzhong “will acquire the rights to the premium off-road Hummer brand, along with a senior management and operational team. It will also assume existing dealer agreements relating to Hummer's dealership network. It is contemplated that Tengzhong will, as part of the transaction, enter into a long-term contract assembly and key component and material supply agreement with GM,” the automaker said in a statement. (thanks to Marisa Bramwell for this entry)

TRAVELING WHITE HOUSE:  President Obama tonight is aboard Air Force One en route Saudi Arabia, first stop on an overseas trip that will also take him to Egypt, Germany and France before the week is over. In Riyadh, the President is scheduled to meet with Saudi King Abdullah and one topic of discussion is certain to be the Arab-Israeli conflict.  Saudi Arabia wants Obama to get tough with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is at odds with the U.S over Palestinian statehood and the rebuilding of Israeli settlements. In Egypt, the President plans to deliver a much-anticipated speech to the Muslim world at Cairo University. Martha Raddatz tells us what we can expect: “President Obama wants to repair the relationship with the Muslim world and in order to do that he has to address the Israeli-Palestinian situation.”  Martha says one recent interview with President Obama was especially revealing:  “The president said to Israel part of being a good friend is being honest and I think there have been times where we are not as honest as we should be about the fact that the current direction, the current trajectory in the region, is profoundly negative, not only for Israeli interests, but also U.S. interests.  And he said that’s the kind of dialogue he wants. And you may hear part of that in his speech.” After Egypt, President Obama heads for Germany, where he will tour the Buchenwald concentration camp and visit with U.S. troops at the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center.  In France, he’ll attend events in Normandy to mark the 65th anniversary of D-Day.  (thanks to Ed Bailey for this entry)  

CALIFORNIA PREPARES FOR MAJOR CUTS-California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, the former body builder, seems to be using all his strength to keep the 5th largest economy afloat. California faces massive cuts thanks to a projected $25 billion deficit. Speaking to a joint session of the State Legislature, the Governor said “California's day of reckoning is here. // Our wallet is empty, our bank is closed, our credit is dried up." Laura Marquez reported on WORLD NEWS, “His proposed cuts would be extremely painful…five billion dollars stripped from education,  one million low income children dropped from public health care, half a million families thrown off welfare…and hundreds of state parks closed.”  Education and social service cuts continue for one simple reason-In California, it is a lot easier to make cuts than to raise taxes. To raise taxes, you need a 2/3’s majority in the State Legislature, so we can expect the belt-tightening to continue.  (thanks to Faisal Jamil for this entry)

SOTOMAYOR TO THE HILL:  Supreme Court Justice nominee Sonia Sotomayor began meeting privately with Republican and Democratic lawmakers today, including Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid – who called her “the whole package” – and Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy.  During her meeting with Sen. Dick Durbin, Sotomayor responded to Republican charges she is racist:  “What Judge Sotomayor said was this is part of what I am, this is who I am…but in the end it is the law that will be deciding,” Durbin told reporters after their meeting.  Overall, Sotomayor won praise from the lawmakers she met with today. Jonathan Karl reports: “Jeff Sessions, the ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee, was effusive in his praise.  ‘Judge Sotomayor is engaging and has a wonderful history,’ Sessions said.  ‘She was a private practitioner, a prosecutor, a trial judge and an appellate judge.  That's good background for something like the Supreme Court, and gives a good, broad-based experienced level’…Republican whip Jon Kyl, who Sotomayor is meeting this afternoon, was less effusive.  He attacked President Obama’s judicial philosophy as ‘wrong’ and said, essentially, that he wants assurances that Sotomayor disagrees with Obama.”  Sotomayor also met with Senator Diane Feinstein, who said she asked the nominee on her views on reproductive rights.  Feinstein said she believes that Sotomayor is “well-steeped in the law and well-steeped in precedent and she has a respect for precedent and I believe she wasn’t just saying that,” in regards to abortion rights, and that she plans to revisit the issue again during the confirmation hearing.
On Wednesday, Sotomayor will meet with Senators Cardin, Graham, Gregg, Kohl, Mikulski, Murray, Schumer, Snowe, Whitehouse and Wyden on Capitol Hill.  Jan Crawford Greenburg also reports Sotomayor’s completed questionnaire could be completed as soon as Wednesday or Thursday.  Senators Leahy and Sessions will meet privately Wednesday to discuss when the Judiciary Committee will schedule the confirmation hearings. (thanks to Marisa Bramwell for this entry) 

MAY AUTO SALES-Headline-better than last month but worse than last year. Dan Arnall: “May flowered for auto sales in the United States, as consumers took a slightly renewed sense of economic optimism and went out to the nation’s car lots. Numbers released by car companies today show that May saw Americans buying new vehicles at a seasonally adjusted annual rate (SAAR) of 9.91 million units. That’s the fastest sales pace for new cars and trucks for this calendar year and a 6.4% increase from April’s figure.
Even with the increase in sales, we’re still in a dismal period for auto sales – last year at this time people were buying up vehicles from car lots at a 14.26 million unit annual rate, 30% faster than today.
One surprising bit of news – domestic brands lost ground at a slower pace than their Asian rivals. Ford sales dropped 24% year-over-year and GM saw sales drop by 29%. Toyota and Honda saw sales erode at more than 40% from the same month a year ago.
Chrysler dealers saw an increase in sales at the end of the month according to analysts, as dealers facing shutdown made deals to clear their lots. But the first American auto brand to enter bankruptcy fall by almost half from a year ago as consumers were spooked by the prospect of a failure and what it might mean for their purchases. The company was also affected by an almost complete collapse of its “fleet” sales during the month which shaved a significant number of sales off its monthly report.
Ford – the only one of the Detroit 3 to not file a Ch. 11 reorganization in the past month – leveraged their solvent status into additional market share. Ford branded vehicles accounted for more than 17% of the overall market last month, the highest level since 2006.
Overall, the May sales period saw real unit sales drop by more than 33% when compared to the same period in 2008.”

APRIL PENDING HOME SALES-Dan Arnall: The National Association of Home Builders released data this morning showing that buyers are coming back into the housing market. The April Pending Home Sales report –which is a leading indicator for the housing market based on homes where a contract is signed but the transaction not yet closed –shows a 6.7% increase in activity during that month. This marks the third straight month of increasing contract activity and has the index above its level from a year ago (+3.2%). The realtor group says that relatively low mortgage rates and the $8,000 first-time home buyer credit are helping get buyers to sign on the dotted line.”
 
NEW ZAWAHARI MESSAGE- From Rehab El-Buri and Megan Chuchmach: “Osama bin Laden's top deputy in al Qaeda, Ayman al-Zawahiri, said in an audio statement released today that President Obama is ‘not welcome in Egypt’ and will be greeted by ‘Egypt's thieves, occupiers, and criminals.’
The message, entitled ‘The Torturers of Egypt and the Agents of America Welcome Obama,’ was released by al Qaeda's media arm as-Sahab on extreme Islamic web forums. The nearly 12 minute video was released in Arabic with no subtitles.
‘The White House has said Obama is going to Egypt to send a message to the Muslim world,’ Zawahiri says, ‘but they forgot that their message was already received by the Muslim world when he visited the wailing wall, and put on a yarmulke, and prayed their [Jewish] prayer, while claiming he is a Christian.” You can read the full story here:  http://abcnews.go.com/Blotter/story?id=7739132&page=1

NEW JERSEY MAN TO BRING SON HOME FROM BRAZIL AS EARLY AS TOMORROW- David Goldman of Tinton Falls, N.J., traveled to Brazil last night to retrieve his 9-year-old son, Sean, after a Brazilian federal court ruled this week he can regain custody of the boy. New Jersey lawmakers who have been supporting Goldman's case say the boy is scheduled to be handed over to his father Wednesday afternoon (1pm ET) at the U.S. Consulate in Rio de Janeiro. The boy's mother, Bruna, took him for a two-week vacation to her native Brazil in 2004 and never returned. She divorced David Goldman in Brazil and married Rio de Janeiro lawyer Joao Paulo Lins e Silva. She died last year of complications from the birth of another child.

OTHER STUFF-
ABORTION SHOOTING SUSPECT CHARGED-Scott Roeder, the man accused of killing late-term abortion doctor George Tiller, was charged today with first-degree murder. Roeder made a court appearance today in Wichita by a video link from the county jail. He responded, "OK," when the judge read the charges. The judge ordered Roeder to be held without bond, and said he's not allowed to communicate with the family of the slain doctor, George Tiller. Roeder asked the judge when he would see his court-appointed lawyer. The judge said that would happen within two days. A preliminary hearing is set for June 16.
–DHS HALTS DELTA FLIGHTS TO KENYA- Increased fighting in Somalia and recent threat information indicating possible attacks against US interests in East Africa have prompted the Department of Homeland Security to deny Delta Airlines their first direct flights to and from Nairobi, Kenya which were to begin today from the United States.  The flights were to embark from Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson airport and arrive in Nairobi with a welcoming ceremony with Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga. Late on Monday night DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano decided to cancel the flight following recommendations from the Transportation Security Administration. According to one official Napolitano called Delta's CEO to inform Delta of the decision. While Delta began the process to seek permission to fly to Nigeria, Liberia and Kenya last year the Transportation Security Administration did not clear the flights into Liberia and Kenya for security reasons. Delta currently has scheduled flights into Lagos, Nigeria.  (Jason Ryan/Kirit Radia)
MINNESOTA GOVERNOR TIM PAWLENTY announced today that he will not seek a third term as governor of Minnesota.  Although he says he doesn’t know what his plans are or what the future holds for him, none of us should be too surprised if we see him touching down in Iowa, New Hampshire, or South Carolina before too long. Pawlenty has 19 months left on the job. (David Chalian)
NY SYNAGOGUE PLOT SUSPECTS INDICTED- The four men stung by the FBI last week in New York for allegedly attempting to bomb Synagogues and Jewish community centers as well as to purchase Stinger missiles and use them to shoot down National Guard planes were indicted today by a federal grand jury on charges of conspiring to use weapons of mass destruction and related allegations. The eight count indictment was handed down in White Plains, New York and the arraignment will take place there at 10:00 a.m. Wednesday.  (Rich Esposito)

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