Another day of protests in Iran, an FDA warning on a common cold remedy and more debate on health care reform…plus a preview of Obama's financial regulation plan. Here's the evening editorial note from the ABC News Desk (compiled by Marisa Bramwell and Ed Bailey)
IRAN PROTESTS: Another day of demonstrations as thousands took to the streets to show support for their candidate in Friday’s presidential election. As Jim Sciutto reported on World News: “It was a day of dueling demonstrations. Here, a government-approved rally for President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Nearby, supporters of opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi. The difference…the opposition rally was illegal.” And covering the protests got even harder, as Jim explained: “Today, the government banned all foreign journalists from any reporting outside their offices, forcing us to follow most of the day's events from our hotel, though we did manage to film this report on our cell-phones.” But Jim says many of the protestors spread the word themselves, posting videos – shot on their cell phones – on the internet. For its part, Iran's top legislative body, the 12-man Guardian Council, has indicated its willingness to have a partial recount. But right now the opposition won’t settle for anything less than a new election. (Thanks to Ed Bailey for this entry)
HI-TECH AYATOLLAHS: From top to bottom, Iranians are making good use of the latest technology as they face-off following the presidential election. Our Miguel Marquez points out: “It’s not the first time cutting edge technology has played a role in Iranian protests. In 1979, Ayatollah Khomeini used cassette tapes to get his revolutionary message out.” Now, thirty years later, things have certainly changed with people using cell phones to get the word out and to record pictures of the protests. But it’s not just about young Iranians using cell phones, as Miguel explains: “The technological street runs two ways. Sure Iran’s opposition candidate Hossein Mousavi is on Twitter but President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has his own Facebook page. Even the country’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei was tweeting today.” Closer to home, official Washington was doing its part, as we heard from Kirit Radia: “Two State Dept officials confirm reports that the department asked Twitter to delay a scheduled maintenance downtime, scheduled during what would have been daytime in Iran, so that Iranians could continue to use the social networking site to organize… and to sustain what has been one of the US government’s key insights into what is happening in the country. They spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation – the US is walking a fine line trying not to be seen as influencing the events inside Iran. Today, State Dept spox Ian Kelly confirmed that there had been talks with Twitter, but refused to say what they were about.” (Thanks to Ed Bailey for this entry)
IRAN: OVAL OFFICE VIEW: President Obama is keeping a close watch on developments in Iran but is treading carefully. Jake Tapper tells us: “The President expressed concern about the elections and the violence but he doesn’t want to be seen as meddling in Iranian affairs. He’s very concerned that if the west is seen as too closely embracing the protestors it could hurt their credibility and also perhaps to more violence.” Jake says the White House doesn’t think it matters how the election turns out, as far as U.S. policy is concerned: “they are focused on two things. They say it’s the same two things they were focused on before the election. Ending Iran’s nuclear program and stopping their support of terrorism. The President said there is very little policy difference between Ahmadinejad and his leading challenger in terms of those issues. He said no matter who ends up being the president, the U.S. will be dealing with an Iran that is hostile to the United States.” (Thanks to Ed Bailey for this entry)
WHITE HOUSE FINANCE REGULATION PLAN: At 12:50pm ET Wednesday President Obama will unveil his plan for financial regulatory reform. Matt Jaffee and Sunlen Miller report: “In a conference call Tuesday night, a senior administration official outlined what they call the most sweeping financial regulatory reform measures since the Great Depression…’we are in the midst of a severe financial crisis that has caused enormous harm to households and businesses across the country. It has called into question the basic fundamentals of our financial system and I think it has revealed significant gaps and weaknesses across our system of financial regulation,’ the official said.” The proposal consists of five key elements: the creation of a Financial Services Oversight Council, which will supervise financial firms and help identity those that could become a systemic risk; increased regulation for all credit-default swaps and over-the-counter derivatives and increased transparency for securities markets; the formation of an independent Consumer Financial Protection Agency; giving the government resolution authority to help better handle failing institutions and help reduce the economic impact of those failures; and improved financial standards, both domestically and globally. Jaffe/Miller report the administration aims to get the reform underway this year, and that they do not yet have an estimate as to how much the proposal will cost.
HEALTH CARE REFORM DEBATE: The discussion on health care reform continued Tuesday on the Hill as lawmakers responded to Monday’s estimate from the Congressional Budget Office that Senator Ted Kennedy’s proposed health care reform bill would cost $1 trillion over ten years. The White House distanced itself from the bill: "This is not the Administration’s bill," White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said in a statement, "and it's not even the final Senate Committee bill." Jake Tapper reports: “Both statements are true, though it's not clear who, if anyone, had been saying that the legislation drafted by the powerful chairman of the Senate Health Education Labor and Pension Committee constituted President Obama's bill Kennedy is but one of several legislators taking a crack and drafting legislation that will proceed through the legislative meat grinder and result in a bill that President Obama will sign. In reality, there is no actual ‘Administration’ bill. But certainly Kennedy's bill — as well as those being drafted by Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., and by the leaders of the House Ways and Means Committee, the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, and the House Committee on Education and Labor — are important parts of the process in the creation of the ‘Administration's bill.’” On the Senate floor Tuesday morning Senator John McCain (R-AZ) – citing the CBO report – called on the White House and Congressional Democrats to “scrap this unsustainable plan and start again.” Here’s Zach Wolf: “CBO’s $1 trillion estimate for the health committee plan does not include the implementation of a public health insurance option that seems likely to be a part of Democrats’ ultimate healthcare plan. Most of the Republican opposition to the healthcare reform proposed by Democrats has centered around that public plan. On Wednesday at 3pm ET, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, Director of the White House Office of Health Reform Nancy-Ann DeParle and state legislators will hold a news conference to discuss health care reform.
FDA ZICAM ADVISORY: The Food and Drug Administration advised consumers Tuesday not to use three Zicam cold remedy products because of their link to anosmia, the permanent or temporary loss of sense of smell. The Zicam products include Zicam Cold Remedy Nasal Gel and Nasal Swabs (adult and kids size). The FDA said it received 130 reports of consumer injury from use of the product and the manufacturer has received 800. What exactly in Zicam – which has been proven to shorten the life of a cold – causes this to happen? “The FDA today said the products contain a zinc compound, and that zinc is known to damage the sensors in the nose linked to smell,” Lisa Stark reported on WORLD NEWS. The company that produces Zicam, Matrixx Initiatives, said it would reimburse consumers and denied any connection between the cold remedy and loss of smell. It also called the FDA’s advisory “unwarranted.” But, as Stark points out, this is not the first time the company has had this problem with Zicam: “Three years ago the firm paid out $12 million dollars to settle claims from over three hundred people who said Zicam nasal products damaged or destroyed their sense of smell. Even though the firm admitted no responsibility.”
CLIMATE CHANGE: The federal government issued comprehensive report Tuesday on what climate change is doing to the United States. Bill Blakemore on WORLD NEWS reported: “The report breaks down global warming impacts by region, and shows the disruptions are coming fast: on the Gulf coast…sea level rise in 50 to 100 years is expected to put 2,400 miles of major roadways under water. Vital information for planners and people who live there. Sea level is now expected to rise 3 to 4 feet by late this century…In the Northeast, it shows how New Hampshire’s climate will feel like that of the Carolinas – as if the state were to just get up and move south.” The government’s report also shows how climate change will impact the economy, and says that preventative measures can still be taken (i.e. reducing emissions).
NORTH KOREA: President Obama says it’s time to stop rewarding North Korea for its behavior. The President met at the White House today with his South Korean counterpart, Lee Myung-bak. President Obama vowed to break a pattern of provocations used by North Korea to obtain food and energy supplies. The President vowed that “belligerent, provocative behavior” by North Korea will be met by “significant and serious enforcement of sanctions.” New punishments were approved by the United Nations Security Council last week in response to North Korea’s nuclear testing. Today’s White House meeting came only hours after North Korea reminded the world that the country still holds two American journalists, Laura Ling and Euna Lee. The two have been sentenced to hard labor for entering North Korea illegally. Today North Korea’s official news agency reported that it had evidence of the journalists’ crime. The agency said “The accused admitted that what they did were criminal acts, prompted by the political motive to isolate and stifle the socialist system of the DPRK by faking up moving images aimed at falsifying its human rights performance and hurling slanders and calumnies at it.” (Thanks to Ed Bailey for this entry)
HOUSE APPROVES SPENDING BILL: From Dean Norland: “The House voted Tuesday to approve a $105.9-billion supplemental appropriations bill. Much of the money, $79.9-billion, will go to fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan for the rest of the fiscal year. Other things funded by the bill include $7.7-billion to prepare for a flu pandemic, $5-billion to help the IMF secure a line of credit and $1-billion for the “cash-for-clunkers” car trade-in program…The Senate must still vote on the conference report.”
MADOFF/SEC: The SEC has banned financier Bernard Madoff from working in the securities industry. The ban stems from a previous settlement between Madoff and the SEC.
SAY IT AIN’T SOSA: Well, the baseball world probably won’t be shocked to hear this – but the New York Times is reporting on its website that baseball’s Sammy Sosa tested positive for a performance-enhancing drug in 2003. Sosa, according to lawyers familiar with the case, was said to be on a list of 104 players who tested positive at the time. Sosa has not played in the major leagues since 2007 after a career mainly with the Chicago Cubs. The 2003 positive test could create legal troubles for Sosa because he testified under oath before Congress at a public hearing in 2005 that he had “never taken illegal performance-enhancing drugs.” (Thanks to Ed Bailey for this entry)
MORE FREEDOM FOR HINCKLEY: A federal judge has ruled that John Hinckley, the man who tried to assassinate President Ronald Reagan, can apply for a driver’s license, do volunteer work and spend more time away from his psychiatric hospital. Pierre Thomas/Jack Date report: “The expanded release came over the objections of the Justice Department which argues that Hinckley remains mentally ill and continues to have inappropriate, counterproductive relationships with women. The government also expressed concern that Hinckley ‘maintains inappropriate thoughts of violence.’ The government pointed to a CD Hinckley recently recorded that contains a song he wrote prior to the attempted assassination of President Reagan. It is called the ’Ballad of the Outlaw’, which the government said reflects suicide and lawlessness.” U.S. District Judge Paul Friedman says Hinckley's mental health would probably improve with more freedom and that he was not a danger to himself or others.
FORGED BONDS: From Jason Ryan and Matt Jaffe: “The US Secret Service today confirmed to ABC News that they are working with Italian authorities on the case of two Japanese men arrested while attempting to cross over into Switzerland with $134 billion of US bonds that are believed to be fraudulent…The Japanese men were arrested after being stopped at the border town of Chiasso. Their current whereabouts' are unknown but when the men were stopped the bonds were found in a secret compartment in their luggage. According to US officials the area has been prone to smugglers with transit routes of drugs and human trafficking networks coming out of the Balkans. “
WHITE HOUSE HARVEST: Yunji des Nies/Sunlen Miller report: “The fruits of labor paid off in the White House’s organic vegetable garden today: the First Lady, along with the children who first helped her plant the garden harvested 73 pounds of lettuce and 12 pounds of peas. The group then prepared a meal with the harvest in the White House kitchen, and then ate the meal together.”
ENSIGN AFFAIR: Senator John Ensign (R-NV) admitted to having an affair with a married member of his campaign staff last year. In a statement the senator called the affair – which lasted from December 2007 to May 2008 – the “worst thing I have ever done in my life. If there was ever anything in my life that I could take back, this would be it. I take full responsibility for my actions.”
MISSING CRUISE PASSENGER: The US Coast Guard is searching for a woman who fell overboard a Carnival Cruise ship late Monday. Fifty-year-old Michelle Vilborg is the second person in two days to go overboard a Carnival cruise ship. On Monday a man who fell off Carnival’s ship “Inspiration” was found alive near St. Petersburg, Florida.
NYC SWINE FLU DEATHS: New York City officials report at least seven more people have died from swine flu, bringing the city’s total to 23.