Howdy folks-here's the news tonight………
MADOFF SENTENCED-Disgraced financier Bernard Madoff was sentenced today for his billion dollar Ponzi scheme. No amount of jail time can replenish the coffers of those Madoff cheated, but there had to be some satisfaction in hearing Madoff’s fate: 150 years, the maximum.Brian Ross, who attended the hearing today and filed for WORLD NEWS, noted that “even the hardest of criminals usually have someone who tries to defend them before a sentencing judge. Not Bernard Madoff. The judge today said he had not received a single letter on Madoff’s behalf from family or friends. Even his own lawyer called him a deeply flawed individual.” And no wonder-after listening to nine of Madoff’s former investors recount their tales of financial Armageddon in the courtroom, you’d be hard-pressed to come up with anything positive in their tales. An apology from Mr. Madoff to his victims was brief-“I’m sorry, I know that doesn’t help”-and left listeners unconvinced of his sincerity. Ross notes that “Judge Denny Chin was also unimpressed. He said Madoff’s crimes were ‘extraordinarily evil’ and required a symbol of retribution”. Today’s sentencing does not end the investigation into who else was involved. Ross tells us that federal agents continue to look at Madoff family members and several employees as potential accomplices.
SCOTUS/NEW HAVEN FIREFIGHTERS- The Supreme Court has ruled in favor of white and Hispanic firefighters in a reverse discrimination case, saying they were unfairly denied promotions because of their race. The case involved a decision by officials in New Haven, Conn., to scrap a promotion exam given to nearly 120 candidates because no African-Americans did well enough to expect advancement.The vote was 5-4. Jan Crawford-Greenburg, reporting for WORLD NEWS, noted “Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg took the unusual step of reading her dissent aloud from the bench. She said the Court had done ‘untold’ damage to the civil rights laws.” Civil right leaders agreed with Justice Ginsburg’s take, Crawford-Greenburg says “especially in cases that challenge tests or rules that seem to come down harder on minorities or women.” The case has received a great deal of press for another reason-Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor’s involvement. Crawford-Greenburg: “As an appeals court judge, (Sotomayor) ruled against the white and Hispanic firefighters. Today, teeing up an ideological battle, she was reversed by the five conservative members of the court.”
MICHAEL JACKSON DEVELOPMENTS-Several developments in the Michael Jackson story today. Let’s start with Mr. Jackson’s three kids. An L.A. court awarded grandmother Katherine Jackson temporary guardianship of his three children. They've been staying with her at the family compound in the San Fernando Valley and a hearing on permanent guardianship is scheduled for early August. Mrs. Jackson, in a court filing, also asked a Superior Court judge to name her administrator of her late son's estate. Jim Avila, filing for WORLD NEWS, adds that “the documents say Katherine Jackson wants the assets…for the exclusive use of the…3 children.” All well and good but Avila notes this “has the makings of a huge custody battle. Because under California law, the surviving parent, even if divorced and with limited contact with the children normally has the strongest case for custody. That would be Debbie Rowe, the birth mother who was paid by Michael Jackson to drop out of the children’s lives. By court order she has been notified of Katherine Jackson’s custody attempt.” Lauren Perle: “LA County Probate Court Judge Mitchell Beckloff has just designated Michael’s mother, Katherine Jackson, to be the special administrator of certain tangible personal property (this does not include real estate and probably does not include music rights) pending a July 6th hearing. Most likely this is intended to prevent people from taking property held in Jackson’s homes before the estate issues are resolved, legal experts told ABC News. “
The investigation into Mr. Jackson’s death also continues. Officials from the LA Coroner’s Office returned to Michael Jackson’s rented mansion on Monday and removed some medications from the house. Assistant Chief Coroner Ed Winter says the team came to retrieve medications because of information developed by a police investigation along with questions the coroner's office had. Winter won't say what type of medications were retrieved or the quantity, but did say the investigation will continue for 4 to 5 weeks. John Berman, filing for WORLD NEWS, looked at some of the prescription drugs that some speculate may have led to the singer’s death. Prescription drugs that may have been purchased legally doesn’t make them inherently safe-Berman notes that from 2001 to 2005, more than 32 thousand people died of prescription drug overdoses, the rate doubling during that time. More people now die from prescription drug overdoses than cocaine and heroin combined.” Lots more to read in our Michael Jackson editorial note-the most recent edition is an 8pm update that Bradley Blackburn sent to the Domestic News DL. Please email me if you’d like to see it.
HONDURAS-Police and soldiers clashed with thousands of protesters outside Honduras' national palace Monday, leaving at least 15 people injured. This after the former president Manuel Zelaya was forced to leave the country Sunday when the military attacked the presidential palace. In DC today, President Obama condemned the action saying “We believe the coup was not legal and that President Zelaya remains the president of Honduras, the democratically-elected President there.” Jon Karl, filing for WORLD NEWS, notes that “the crisis has put President Obama on the same side as the arch U.S. nemesis in the region, Venezuala’s Hugo Chavez.” Chavez called for Hondurans to rise up against those who toppled his ally Zelaya. Leftist leaders pulled their ambassadors from Honduras and Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega said El Salvador, Nicaragua and Guatemala would cut trade with neighboring Honduras for at least 48 hours. Karl adds that while the “U.S. had to condemn the overthrow of a democratically-elected leader, the Administration is also wary of Zelaya, who was maneuvering to change the Honduran constitution so he could stay in power….Complicating matters, there are 600 U.S. troops stationed in Honduras, there for anti-drug and military training operations. The U.S. also gives tens of millions of dollars in development aid to Honduras every year.”
Zelaya has been talking about his ordeal. Viviana Hurtado: “Honduran President Manuel Zelaya describes the moments when the military stormed his residence and apprehended him. (20:30ish) He describes how soldiers where pointing their rifles at his chest, ordering him to put down his cell phone. He says the soldiers were trembling with fear as they gave order to their commanders in chief, and that they, in turn, were following orders from the forces behind the “coup”. Zelaya says his wife was terrified. Zelaya is at an urgent meeting in Nicaragua with other Latin American leaders such as Felipe Calderon, Rafael Correa, Raul Castro, and Hugo Chavez. It’s being televised live right now by Telesur, the Chavez-supported Venezuela channel.”
Tomorrow, Zelaya will be in NY to address the UN General Assembly in an 11am ET speech.
IRAQIS TAKE OVER SECURITY FROM U.S. FORCES- Iraqi forces have assumed formal control of security in Baghdad and other cities after U.S. combat troops withdrew from urban areas. A countdown clock broadcast on Iraqi TV ticked to zero as the midnight deadline passed for combat troops to pull back. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has declared a public holiday and proclaimed June 30 as "National Sovereignty Day." A senior adviser to al-Maliki says "the withdrawal of American troops is completed now from all cities after everything they sacrificed for the sake of security." Which is not to say that hostilities have ceased. Martha Raddatz, filing for WORLD NEWS, told us about Lt. Colonel Tim Karcher, who handed over command of Sadr City to the Iraqis just ten days ago. Raddatz had a chance to spend a number of days with him over the course of his three deployments to Iraq. Karcher seemed impressed with Iraqi forces-“they have really stepped up and really taken the lead in so many areas” but today Raddatz noted “I learned of a firefight west of Sadr City and the enormous bomb which shattered Karcher’s vehicle. He lost both legs and is fighting for his life. A devastated senior officer in Baghdad who knows Karcher well told me today to remember ‘This war continues.”
GAS PRICES-As we head into the Fourth of July weekend, inquiring minds want to know how gas prices are doing. Dan Arnall with the skinny: “For the first time in nine weeks, the retail price of gasoline has actually dropped. According to the Energy Department the average gallon of regular unleaded is selling for $2.64, five cents less than last week. This is the first drop in prices since the end of April. While prices have spiked 29% since the beginning of May, consumers are certainly not shouldering the summer driving burden that was making headlines last year. When compared to the price a year ago ($4.10), drivers are paying 35% less. Every region, state and city tracked by the EIA recorded a drop in prices last week. During the past two weeks, oil prices have stabilized in the $70 a barrel range, helping temper the retail gasoline price increases. Economists say the weak economy will likely be a factor in keeping crude demand and gas prices at or near their current price for the rest of the summer driving season. But that is no guarantee – oil prices saw a pronounced increase in New York trading (up $2.33 to $71.49) because China announced that it is going to increase its national petroleum reserves and a Nigerian oil platform was taken offline by rebel groups.”
BIDEN/IRAQ-From Karen Travers: “In the last few weeks, President Obama quietly has added a new issue to Vice President Biden’s portfolio – Iraq. Biden will serve as a ‘high point of contact’ in the West Wing on Iraq, a senior administration official said, taking a more active role in reaching out to Iraqi officials and serving as a go-between for American officials on the ground and the White House.
The new assignment was timed to the pullout of U.S. combat forces from Iraqi cities this week but the vice president’s specific duties are still developing and the role is open-ended.
White House officials were careful to define Biden’s role – he is not an envoy and this is not a full-time position. U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Christopher Hill and Gen. Ray Odierno do not report to the vice president, but because of Biden’s foreign policy background, the president wanted him to take a more active role on Iraq policy.
A senior administration official described this active role as more of a weekly check-in than day-to-day engagement. The Iraq assignment is in addition to Biden’s work heading up the Middle Class Task Force and leading the oversight efforts on the Recovery Act.
While the assignment is timed to the U.S. troop withdrawal from Iraqi cities, a senior administration official said it was not a direct result of the recent uptick in violence there.”
–NORTH KOREAN SHIP- US officials say the North Korean freighter Kang Nam shifted course northward this weekend away from Singapore or or ultimately Burma which was its presumed final destination. The freighter’s still in the South China Sea east of Vietnam, but it is now headed north. There’s speculation that the ship might be returning to North Korea, but one of the officials cautioned that it’s still too early to tell where it might be headed and that there’s a wide range of speculation about where it might be headed. The Navy has the destroyer USS Lasson close enough to monitor it, sometimes by sight, and also has aircraft that have been following its movements. (Luis Martinez)