Happy Monday everybody-here's what's going in the wonderful world of news this evening……
HOUSING-Hey let’s start with some good news tonight-and no I’m not talking about the first-place NY Yankees just-concluded 9-1 homestand. New Home Sales for June were up a surprising 11%, the third straight month of increases. Of course it comes at a price-median sales price for a new home was $206K, down 12% from year-ago level of $234K. Chris Bury, filing for WORLD NEWS, notes “the June jump in new home sales is strongest in the Midwest and West. Around Des Moines, Iowa, the glut of new homes shrank a whopping 40% from a year earlier.” That glut obviously depresses prices-Dan Arnall notes that “There is an 8.8 month supply of homes for sale according to today’s report – analysts say we need a 6 month supply to sustain normal price appreciation.” But let’s accentuate the positive-Economist Diane Swonk was quoted in Bury’s piece saying “The good news is the direction is right. We’re finally moving up and we’re moving up more rapidly than some had hoped and it’s good news.” Helping things? Bury notes “builders are also dangling incentives…and Uncle Sam’s new tax credit…$8000K for first-time buyers.” Alright, so what’s the big deal about housing? Bury reports that “just as housing led the way into the recession it could signal the path out.” And now that we’ve seen both new and existing home sales for the month of June, Dan Arnall notes: “The combined sales pace has increased for three months in a row and is just 2.1% below the level from a year ago. This is a marked improvement. Arguably we have reached the bottom of sales.”
GATES/911 CALL RELEASED-Cambridge city officials released the 911 call that preceded the arrest of Henry Louis Gates Jr.. As an official said today “No way we can go forward if there is any lingering doubt of anything being hidden.” The caller is one Lucia Whalen who, Yunji de Nies notes, “was walking by on a lunch break and tells the 911 operator what she sees.” It seems a pretty ordinary call but there is one piece of news gleaned from the release of the tapes. De Nies noted on WORLD NEWS that “contrary to the police report, Whalen does not specify that the men are black.” That fact underscores why Whalen and her attorney are so outraged over reports of Whalen’s “racist call”. Wendy Murphy, Whalen’s attorney, was quoted in de Nies’ WORLD NEWS piece saying in part “when you hear what she said to the 911 operator, that’s anything but the truth. She never described the men as black ever. Never used the word Black ever. Ever.” Cambridge city officials hope that the release of the 911 call will bring closure. But as de Nies noted in her WN close: “there’s still a lot of questions because there are no tapes of what really transpired between Gates and Crowley.”
FRIENDS DON’T LET OTHER FRIENDS TEXT AND DRIVE-A new study out today from the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute on the dangers of texting while driving a truck. Jon Karl, filing for WORLD NEWS, says that the study of truck drivers “finds that when they are texting behind the wheel, they are twenty-three times more likely to crash. The shocking statistic shows texting is far more dangerous than other forms of distracted driving. Studies have shown that drivers talking on cellphones are four times more likely to crash about the same as driving drunk.” Geez, this sounds like a no-brainer. Texting is probably already banned in most places right? Um…wrong. In his close, Jon Karl notes that “in most of the country driving while texting is perfectly legal…only 14 states ban it.”
NORTH CAROLINA/HOMEGROWN TERROR-Joseph Rhee and Jason Ryan report: “Seven North Carolina men have been charged with plotting to wage ‘violent jihad’ by ‘murdering, kidnapping or maiming persons’ overseas. According to a federal indictment unsealed today, the alleged ringleader, Daniel Patrick Boyd, and six co-defendants were accused of conspiring to provide financial and material assistance to terrorists abroad. The indictment does not allege the men planned to attack targets within the U.S. Detention hearings for Boyd and the other six defendants arrested have been scheduled for July 30, 2009.” While there were no U.S. targets sought by the men, Pierre Thomas adds that “(a senior law enforcement official) says (this case) is the latest example of Islamic radicals being able to recruit U.S. citizens to fight jihad and join their ranks. Source said the Long Island man charged last week is another example.”
CDC & OBESITY-America has an obesity epidemic and like any good health hazard, it does not discriminate against any age group. So today the federal government held the first of a three-day meeting on the matter in Washington. Sharyn Alfonsi reported on the meeting for WORLD NEWS and says “put aside the health risks, obesity is expensive.” The figures released today at the meeting bear that out. Alfonsi: “A normal weight person spends about $3400 on medical expenses every year. An obese person nearly $4900. Driving those costs…prescription drugs. A person of normal weight spends about $700 a year. An obese person almost $1300.” The prevalence of obesity is a good indication that trying to convince people to make “healthy choices” has not proven very effective. Alfonsi notes that “the CDC is now lobbying lawmakers to take the lead. Encouraging them to ‘slim their cities’ by doing everything from creating parks to moving schools within walking distance of residential areas.” As you can imagine, there’s a cost involved in “slimming cities”. One solution-make the “Mountain Dew” crowd pay. Alfonsi: “One idea health officials seem to like is a federal tax on soda. The CDC estimates the average American consumes about 250 more daily calories a year than we did 20 years ago. And nearly half of those come from a soda can.” And the monies to be garnered from such a tax? Alfonsi: “adding a tax of three cents to high calorie sodas could generate $24 billion over the next four years.” The meeting continues tomorrow and Wednesday in DC.
MICHAEL JACKSON-We expect the autopsy results in the death of Michael Jackson to be released later this week. Tonight, some indications of what authorities’ ongoing investigation has concluded. Associated Press reports the following: “Michael Jackson's personal doctor administered a powerful anesthetic to help him sleep, and authorities believe the drug is what killed the pop singer, a law enforcement official told The Associated Press on Monday. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation is ongoing, said Jackson regularly received propofol to sleep, a practice far outside the drug's intended purpose. On June 25, the day Jackson died, Dr. Conrad Murray gave him the drug sometime after midnight, the official said. Though toxicology reports are pending, investigators are working under the theory that propofol caused Jackson's heart to stop, the official said.”
THE HOUSE AND THE HEALTH-CARE BILL-From Dean Norland: “Health care reform legislation seemed to drift a little farther away from the House floor Monday when Speaker Nancy Pelosi was asked about getting a vote on the bill before the start of the House’s summer recess, which is supposed to be at end of this week. While Pelosi did not definitely rule out a bill coming to the floor this week, this is what she did say: ‘I have said I wanted a bill to pass before we left for the August recess. In fact, I honor the request of the president to make that commitment But I’ve also said that our members need the time they need, not only to get the bill written, but to have plenty of time to review it. I’ve also said that we need to see the direction that the Senate is going, so that we can do as much work in advance of September, so that when we come back, when we go to conference, we are a good way down the road. So, we’re on schedule to do it now, or do it whenever. But a lot depends on when the Energy and Commerce Committee finishes its work.’ The speaker’s remarks about the bill’s schedule followed a presentation by House Democratic leaders on why passage of heath care reform legislation is important. At this writing, NO resumption of the markup of the bill by the Energy and Commerce Committee has been scheduled.”
US/CHINA GLOBAL ECONOMY SUMMIT-Matt Jaffe/Kirit Radia: “Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner today kicked off two days of senior-level talks in Washington between the US and rising world power China to address economic and foreign policy issues. In remarks this morning at the Ronald Reagan Building at the start of the US-China Strategic & Economic Dialogue, Geithner said the countries’ cooperation in confronting the global recession was ‘a turning point’ in their relationship. One point of emphasis for US officials will be making it clear to the Chinese that they should not count on US consumer spending to help rescue their export-heavy economy from recession. As some $15 trillion in US household wealth has been lost during the 18-month long recession, US consumers have been saving more money and spending far less. In turn, US officials want more Chinese domestic spending as a way to boost economic growth worldwide. Another pressing economic issue is Beijing’s concern about the soaring US budget deficit, which has risen to record-high levels as Washington has spent hundreds of billions of dollars to stop the recession. China, as the largest foreign holder of US government debt, has a lot riding on the health of the US economy. ‘We are committed to taking the necessary measures to bring our fiscal deficit down to a more sustainable level once recovery is firmly established,’ emphasized Geithner today, reiterating a common administration refrain.”
ISRAELI SETTLEMENTS: The Obama administration continues to push Israel to stop settlement construction. Simon McGregor-Wood reported on WORLD NEWS that the Israeli military announced that there are over 300,000 settlers that live on Palestinian land. At this point the growth in the area doesn’t seem to be showing any signs of stopping or even slowing down. Simon said in his stand up, “At this settlement (Har-Homa, Israel) just outside Jerusalem they're building 200 new apartments this year…they want to build 900 next year…” this is likely to postpone any peace talks. President Obama dispatched Special Envoy George Mitchell over the weekend to gauge where they are in the peace process and the over-all consensus is that if Israel doesn’t stop building in the West Bank, there will be no peace talks. (thanks to Faisal Jamil for this entry)
GAS PRICES-Dan Arnall: “For the first time since mid-June, gasoline prices have increased week-over-week. The Energy Department says the average national price for a gallon of regular unleaded is now $2.50, up four cents from the previous week. Even with the increase, drivers are paying 37% less than they were a year ago ($3.96). Analysts says a rebound in oil prices in the past few weeks has started to show through in retail gasoline prices. A barrel of oil has increased in price by $10 this month thanks to better than expected economic reports in the U.S. and China, say analysts. A barrel of oil increased $0.33 in New York trading today to settle at $68.38.
–MICHAEL VICK-NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell conditionally reinstated Vick on Monday after the quarterback served 18 months in prison for running a dogfighting ring. Vick released a statement which said in part: “"I would like to express my sincere gratitude and appreciation to Commissioner Goodell for allowing me to be readmitted to the National Football League. I fully understand that playing football in the NFL is a privilege, not a right, and I am truly thankful for the opportunity I have been given.”
–OBAMA ADMINISTRATION/SPENDING CUTS- Ninety-eight days ago, at President Obama’s first Cabinet meeting on April 20, the president asked his Cabinet to come up with $100 million in spending cuts within 90 days. Today the administration made that list public, with $102 million in cuts that would be realized in FY 2009. (Jake Tapper)
–HATE CRIMES/COLD CASE FUNDING-Members of the Emmett Till Justice Campaign held a brief press availability today outside the Justice Department after a meeting with Attorney General Eric Holder to seek more funds to solve cold cases of hate crimes going back to the Civil Rights era. Alvin Sykes who was influential in getting the Justice Department to reopen the murder into Till, who was killed for whistling at a white woman, said he thought the Attorney General seemed "very determined to solve these cases." Legislation passed by Congress and signed by the President in 2007 outlined a 10-year plan to investigate and prosecute outstanding murders from the Civil Rights Era. Money will now start flowing to community task forces in upcoming appropriations.” Initial funding is $1.6 million. (Jason Ryan)