Marisa’s Musings: Mideast Talks/Climate Change/Terror Alert/Southern Flooding

By Marisa Bramwell

Sep 22, 2009 10:07pm

In the news today, President Obama sat down with the leaders of Israel and Palestine, new terror attack warnings issued for New York City and Denver, and the southeast spent another day under water.  I'm Marisa Bramwell and here's the latest from the ABC News Assignment Desk: 

MIDEAST TALK:  President Obama has finally managed to get the leaders of Israel and the Palestinians to sit down together. Even got them to shake hands.  But then there was a stern talking to, as we heard from Jake Tapper: “In a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and Palestinian President Abbas, Mr. Obama expressed impatience with the Palestinians for not doing enough to stop inciting violence…and with Israelis for not taking enough steps to halt the construction of settlements on Palestinian territory.”  President Obama added that the time to begin negotiations is long overdue: “It is time to move forward.  It is time to show the flexibility and common sense and sense of compromise that’s necessary to achieve our goals.” Charles Gibson had a one-on-one interview with Prime Minister Netanyahu, who said this about one of the big sticking points:  “I think the issue of settlements is something that belongs to the final negotiations.  It can’t prejudge the negotiations.  It can’t be resolved before we begin to talk about it. The issue of the settlements has to be resolved.  It should be at the end o negotiations, not before.”  The Palestinians say construction of Israeli settlements should stop as a precondition for peace talks. (thanks to Ed Bailey for this entry)

CLIMATE CHANGE:  U.N. Secretary General Ban Ky-moon opened a summit of world leaders on climate change with a strong rebuke:  "The climate negotiations are proceeding at glacial speed. The world's glaciers are now melting faster than human progress to protect them – and us."  Failure to reach a new international pact on climate change "would be morally inexcusable, economically shortsighted and politically unwise," Ban warned. "The science demands it. The world economy needs it."  A key speaker at the conference was China’s President Hu Jintao, whose country up until now has largely ignored world efforts to deal with climate change.  But this time Hu promised that his country would take steps to boost its nuclear energy, improve energy efficiency and reduce the growth rate of its carbon pollution. As for the U.S., President Obama said he was committed to the United States making the largest-ever investment in renewable energy, setting new standards for reducing pollution from vehicles and making clean energy profitable, among other things.  China and the U.S. are the world's biggest greenhouse-gas polluting nations accounting for forty percent of emissions. (thanks to Ed Bailey for this entry)

NYC/DENVER TERROR WARNINGS:  The FBI and Homeland Security Department issued new terror warnings today for hotels, stadiums and other public gathering places in New York City and Denver.  Brian Ross and Rich Esposito report:  “Law enforcement officials say the alleged terror plot against New York City may be ‘still alive’ despite the arrest of its alleged ringleader, 24-year-old Najibullah Zazi of Denver, Colorado…authorities tell that more than 24 men in New York have been under watch at various times since Zazi’s trip to the city on September 11.  One official said local and federal surveillance teams are ‘stretched thin’ as authorities seek to track a group of young men allegedly recruited by Zazi following his return from an al Qaeda training camp in Pakistan in January.”  Police presence in public areas was heavily increased today as authorities continue their investigation into the alleged terror ring and its intentions.

SOUTHERN FLOODING:  The rain in the southeast has mostly subsided but much of the region remains under a flood watch.  Parts of Alabama, Mississippi and Georgia got 20 inches of rain in less than a week, resulting in major flooding of homes and business, and the deaths of at least 9 people.  “All across Georgia today, schools were closed, which was good because a number of them were under water,” Steve Osunsami, reporting from Atlanta, told us on WORLD NEWS.  “Authorities today were forced to shut down parts of interstates 20 and 285, they too were submerged…and it wasn’t just Atlanta.  Most of north Georgia saw areas with major flooding.  There were flood watches through Alabama and Mississippi too.”  A state of emergency has been declared in 17 of Georgia’s counties, and today Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue asked President Barack Obama to declare a state of emergency for his state.  Georgia’s state insurance commissioner told the Atlanta Journal Constitution early damage estimates totaled $250 million. Scattered showers are forecast for tomorrow.

H1N1 TRIAGE/LIMITED HOSPITAL VISITS:  Hospitals around the country are taking steps to prevent the spread of the H1N1 virus among patients.  In Iowa, two major hospital chains – Iowa Health Des Moines and Mercy Medical Cetner – are banning children under the age of 14 and grandparents due to concerns they may carry the swine flu virus.  In Austin, Texas Dell Children’s Medical Center has set up two tents to triage flu patients.  The hospital opened the triage centers after seeing more than 200 patients with swine flu in a 24-hour period.  To be admitted to the tents, patients would have to be sick with flu-like symptoms for 48 hours. Dell Children’s treated four patients in the tents today.  For the latest news on the H1N1 tents and swine flu in general, please see Grace Huang’s editorial note.

JOBLESS RATES:   The House passed a bill extending unemployment benefits for 13 weeks in states with unemployment rates that are higher than 8.5 percent. 

NTSB ISSUES SENSOR WARNING:  Matt Hosford reports: “The National Transportation Safety Board has issued an update in the ongoing investigation into what caused a DC Metro train to collide with another Metro train stopped on the tracks.   The board has determined that there was a signal failure on the track which resulted in the stopped train not being detected by the system in the June accident…the NTSB is recommending that other transit systems that use a similar circuit should examine their equipment.   In an email release, NTSB Chairman Deborah Hersman says, ‘…our findings so far indicate a pressing need to issue these recommendations to immediately address  safety glitches we have found that could lead to another tragic accident on WMATA or another transit or rail system.’”

GADDAFI TENT: After much legal wrangling, it appears Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi has found a place to pitch his tent during his visit for the UN General Assembly.  Sources tell ABC News the disliked leader has set up his Bedouin tent in the wealthy town of Bedford, NY – on property owned by business mogul Donald Trump.  The Libyans initially sought permission for Gadaffi to camp in Central Park and Englewood, NJ, but were denied.  Apparently Trump was unaware Gaddafi was using his property; his organization released a statement to ABC News saying “We have business partners and associates all over the world.  The property was leased on a short-term basis to Middle Eastern partners who may or may not have a relationship to Mr. Gaddafi. We are looking into the matter now.”
It’s Gaddafi’s first trip to the U.S. since taking power in 1969.

HEALTH CARE MAILINGS:  Late Monday the Department of Health and Human Services issued a gag order to insurance companies who sent Medicare enrollees mailings warning about the proposed health care reform bill.   Jon Karl reports: “The extraordinary order came in response to a mailing the Humana insurance company sent customers in the Medicare Advantage program, which provides supplemental insurance to Medicare recipients.  The Humana mailing warned seniors that because of Medicare cuts in health care bills now before congress, ‘millions of seniors and disabled individuals could lose many of the important benefits and services.’  Even some Democratic Senators are concerned that the bill now before the Senate Finance Committee reduces spending on Medicare advantage by $123 billion.”  But today Republicans lambasted the order: “Shut up, the government says,” said Senator Mitch McConnell, “Don’t communicate with your customers.  Be quiet and get in line.” Some legal experts have called the gag order unconstitutional.  The Health and Human Services Department says the gag order will remain while it investigates whether Humana’s mailings “illegally give the impression they are giving official information on Medicare,” Karl says.

BYRD HOSPITALIZED:  Senator Robert Byrd was hospitalized today after falling at his Virginia home this morning.  Jonathan Karl reports the 91-year-old Senator will “remain in the hospital ‘for a few days’ according to his Senate office.  In addition to his fall this morning, the Senator has an elevated white cell count, a possible sign of an infection.  Byrd spent more than a month in the hospital over the summer because of a staph infection.”

KENNEDY REPLACEMENT:  The Massachusetts Senate has approved a bill allowing Governor Deval Patrick to name an interim replacement for Ted Kennedy’s Senate seat. 

CALIFORNIA WILDFIRES:  Scattered wildfires erupted across Southern California today.  North of Los Angeles, Santa Ana winds have spread a fire in Ventura County to 6,000 acres.  Fire officials say the wildfire was caused by…the spontaneous combustion of manure from a local ranch.  The fire is zero percent contained and 400 homes near the fire are under mandatory evacuation. 

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