Happy Friday folks-here's what's going on in our world……..
PRESIDENT OBAMA IN GHANA-President Obama has arrived in Accra, Ghana. He landed in Ghana soon after 9 p.m. local time (5pm ET) and met a group of dignitaries, led by President John Atta Mills. Obama will make a speech to lawmakers there and tour an oceanfront fort once used to ship slaves to the Americas. Earlier today, before leaving Italy for Ghana, President Obama met with a group of African leaders. Jake Tapper tells us “(President Obama) discussed his personal connection to the continent, urging them to work to create institutions that help their people and combat corruption.” President Obama also met today with the Pope. Details below.
PRESIDENT OBAMA AND POPE BENEDICT-President Obama and family met with Pope Benedict at the Vatican today. Jake Tapper is traveling with the President. Tapper: “Though the Pope strenuously opposes the President’s views on abortion, both leaders talked about common ground on social issues. The Pope gave the Obamas a small booklet from the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith about bioethical questions…the two talked about poverty and the President pledged to try to reduce the number of abortions in the US.”
LADIES AND GENTLEMEN…THE NEW GM-GM executives held a presser this morning to introduce the “new” GM. It took just 40 days to emerge from bankruptcy protection. This “new” GM is radically different from the debt-laden behemoth it replaces.Chris Bury, filing for WORLD NEWS, explains: “The government-now majority owner-gets a new GM stripped of costly old obligations. Instead of 8 core brands, four: Chevrolet, Cadillac, Buick, and GMC to be built in fewer factories by a smaller work force. Sold in far fewer dealerships. Its balance sheet, cleared of crushing debt, including billions owed for retiree health care.” Another big difference going forward-labor costs. Bury tells us “For the first time, GM’s hourly labor costs will roughly match those of foreign competitors.” And the new GM is looking at some more modern methods to move cars-Bury: “GM announced a deal with E-bay to test on-line sales. Executives engaged customers on Twitter at this dealership in Chicago.” Of course none of this can overcome lousy cars-GM’s future depends on people wanting to buy their product. Bill Weir, who is anchoring an hour-long 20/20 special tonight on General Motors, filed for WORLD NEWS as well. Weir introduced us to “Studio X”. Weir: “Studio X is where the ‘DaVinci’s of Detroit’ came up with classics like the Corvette and it was shuttered during GM’s decline…when accountants were calling the shots. But the artists are back, searching for distinct, irresistible shapes.” All good but reliability issues have hounded GM cars and Weir notes that “whatever they build, there is a tarnished image to polish.” And time may not be on their side-Weir adds that “it look Hyundai about 15 years to go from laughing stock to respected brand. Does GM have that much time?”
CEMETERY DESECRATION-More people came today to a Chicago graveyard anxious to find out where the remains of their loved ones are.Barbara Pinto, filing for WORLD NEWS, says that “for the past four years, Authorities allege that a handful of cemetery workers here orchestrated an unspeakable scam-digging up an estimated 300 gravesites, dumping the bodies in an unused part of the property, then re-selling the plots for cash.” Pinto goes on to tell us more about the graveyard itself, the Burr Oak Cemetery. Pinto: “Burr Oak was Chicago’s first African-American cemetery-it’s the final resting place for Emmitt Till, whose death helped spark the civil rights movement. Investigators found his glass-topped casket rusting in a shed…investigators exhumed his body years ago. His new burial site was untouched. Sadly…that is not the case here for so many families.”
CALIFORNIA BUDGET WOES-California residents found many state offices closed today, the result of a crushing state deficit that stands over $26 billion and continues to grow. Laura Marquez, filing for WORLD NEWS, reports “California is running out of cash and paying bills with IOUs-some $354 million worth and counting. After today most major banks will stop accepting them. Those who do business with the state will have to wait until October to redeem the IOUs.” What of the state office closures? Marquez tells us of “the hundreds of state offices closed three Fridays every month as California tries to save money wherever it can. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger may add a fourth furlough day…resulting in a paycut of almost 20 percent for state workers.” Add in the impact of the recession and a political stalemate in the California State Legislature and it appears California, home of the 8th largest economy in the world, is not going to be able to solve its’ problems any time soon.
FLORIDA COUPLE KILLED-Horrific story out of western Florida. Investigators searched Friday for three men wanted for questioning about the Thursday night home-invasion deaths of the mother and father of 16 children. Byrd and Melanie Billings were found shot to death in their home in Beulah, Florida, just west of Pensacola. The Billings owned several businesses and were known for their generosity in adopting children with disabilities and from troubled backgrounds. Of their 16 children-12 were adopted. Authorities say the eight children living in the home were found safe. They say deputies had to wake some of the children who ranged from 8 to 14 years old.
CHINA UNREST: Some Muslim Uighurs didn’t take kindly to the Chinese government’s order to keep their mosques closed on Friday. Clarissa Ward was outside one mosque in Urumqi: “Several mosques defied a government ban today…opening their doors to the Uighur faithful on the Muslim Holy Day. There were no fiery sermons…the prayers were quick…and quiet. But outside the mosque emotions began to rise.” As the mosque emptied out, a crowd gathered outside. Many of them were obviously angry and frustrated. Clarissa watched as they began to move down the street: "So there was a group of Uighurs who were marching down the street and they were chanting but suddenly a huge flood of troops poured in and they started shouting at us. They're demanding that we turn off our cameras now, they're getting very angry." Several of the demonstrators were taken away by police. Clarissa reports one officer kicked and punched one man who was led away. In the meantime, we finally got some sense of the ethnic breakdown of those killed in this week’s rioting. The report stated that the total death toll rose to 184, with 137 of the victims belonging to the Han Chinese group. Another 46 of those killed were Muslim Uighurs, according to the official government news agency, Xinhua. But there’s still no word on the 1400 or so Uighurs rounded up by police since the violence broke out last Sunday. (thanks to Ed Bailey for this entry)
BUSH WIRELESS SURVEILLANCE- The Bush administration authorized secret surveillance activities that still have not been made public, according to a new government report that questions the legal basis for the unprecedented anti-terrorism program.
Pierre Thomas weighs in: “This afternoon Congress released a report from five government inspector generals about Bush’s wireless surveillance program which targeted any communications in which it could be “reasonably” expected that an al Qaeda operative was a participant. A lot this report goes over old ground, but a number of things struck me.
1)The report states President Bush authorized the use of this NSA program before DOJ officials did ANY legal review.
2)The President and the White House then decided that they only wanted a handful of government officials to even know it existed. The Attorney General (John Ashcroft) only had a general read-in on the program and this report suggests that he may not have fully understood its breadth and implementation.
3)For at least two years it appears that only one Justice Dept. official was aware of the details of the program. That was John Yoo—(who some officials nicknamed ’ John Yes ‘because of his close ties to the white house and propensity to develop legal analysis the white house liked). Today’s report said after Bush approved the program —Yoo THEN wrote flawed memorandums declaring it legal. He had initially, according to the report, virtually no supervision or support by his Justice Department colleagues.
4)Ashcroft , the report suggested, may not have even been fully aware of what advice Yoo was giving the white house. Ashcroft declined to be interviewed by the DOJ inspector general.
TOUR DE FRANCE/LANCE ARMSTRONG- Lance Armstrong finished 15th in today's seventh-stage of the Tour de France to fall back one spot to third overall. The seven-time winner of the race began the day a split second off the lead but now trails by eight seconds. Today was the first of several mountain stages. No easy climb says ABC’s Miguel Marquez, who filed tonight for WORLD NEWS. Marquez: “If you have any doubt just how steep and narrow this last section is of stage 7 to get us up to the finish line organizers put us on a ski lift.” Italy's Rinaldo Nocentini is the new overall leader after finishing fourth in the mountain race stage.
SHUTTLE LAUNCH WEEKEND WEATHER-Gina Sunseri: “STS 127 Endeavour launch on Saturday is still 60 percent no go because of weather. Weather improves slightly on Sunday and is a little better on Monday. The percentages really mean very little, because they have launched on a 90 percent NO GO day before – The launch window is four days – July 11th through the 14th. NASA will only attempt to launch three of those four days – then stand down until July 27th because of a conflict with the Russian supply ship launch.”
–MJ CUSTODY HEARING-Monday’s custody hearing for Michael Jackson’s children has been postponed one week. It will now be held Monday July 20 at 8:30am. All prior orders remain in force with Katherine Jackson as temporary guardian of the children.
–HONDURAN TALKS- The two sides in Honduras' political crisis have agreed to continue their talks in search of a solution "in the shortest period possible", Costa Rican President Oscar Arias said on Friday. Arias made the announcement after mediating a first round
of talks between delegations representing ousted Honduran President Manuel Zelaya and the man put in his place by last month's coup, Roberto Micheletti. Arias was unsuccessful yesterday in getting Zelaya and Micheletti to meet face-to-face.
–BANK FAILURE- Regulators have shuttered Bank of Wyoming, marking the 53rd failure this year of a federally insured bank. The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. on Friday was appointed receiver of the failed bank, based in Thermopolis, Wyo. It had $70 million in assets and $67 million in deposits as of June 30. The FDIC says Central Bank & Trust of Lander, Wyo., will assume all deposits and purchase about $55 million in assets. The FDIC will retain the remaining assets to sell at a later date. (Faisal Jamil)
SUNDAY NEWS SHOWS-Other nets’ skeds courtesy Associated Press
ABC's "This Week" – Sens. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., and Jon Kyl, R-Ariz.
CBS' "Face the Nation" – Sens. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and Jeff Sessions, R-Ala.
NBC's "Meet the Press" – Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.
CNN's "State of the Union" – Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius; Sens. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., Judd Gregg, R-N.H., Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and Kent Conrad, D-N.D.; Rep. Patrick Murphy, D-Pa.
"Fox News Sunday" – Sens. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and John Cornyn, R-Texas; Rep. Eric Cantor, R-Va.