It's almost Friday! Here's what we're working on tonight…….
GOOD NEWS ON THE ECONOMY- The Commerce Department announced today that the gross domestic product rose at an annual rate of 3.5 percent in the third quarter . That’s better than expected and the first quarter of positive growth since the 2008 2nd quarter. President Obama pronounced he was “gratified” with the results. Larry Summers, the Chairman of the National Economic Council was more effusive: “9 months ago the question was whether the recession would become a depression. Today the question is just exactly what date did the recession end?” So is our economic recession/malaise finally kaput? Probably yes but……………Betsy Stark, reporting on WORLD NEWS said today’s numbers “were the clearest sign yet that the recession probably ended over the summer and a fragile tentative recovery, spurred by massive government spending, is now under way.” Organic this recovery isn’t. Stark: “The government’s fingerprints in this rebound are hard to miss. Consumer spending on cars jumped more than 22 percent, led by the wildly popular Cash for Clunkers program….home purchases soared more than 23 percent, fueled by the government’s $8000 first-time home buyer’s credit.” So despite Mr. Summers proclamation, Stark reminds that one man’s recovery may be perceived quite differently on Main Street. Stark: “Even if the numbers say the economy is starting to recover, millions of Americans have yet to feel relief. 82 percent of Americans recently polled by ABC NEWS say from their perspective, the recession is NOT over.” A Main Street mis-perception? It’s hard to argue with the numbers THEY might toss out…millions of people unemployed along with millions more underemployed, rising gas prices, folks working two jobs….Stark asked Summers about continuing government help: “How much longer can you wait when you have 26 million people unemployed/underemployed?” Summers:”One thing’s certain. You don’t see reduction in unemployment until you see increases in the GDP,”
Stark notes the next phase of the recovery has to include weaning off government stimulus programs. Stark: “The next milestone is whether the private sector can pick up where government programs have left off. In other words, consumers and businesses need to start spending without big government incentives. If they do, we should get a lasting recovery. If not, we’re at risk of lapsing back into recession.”
PRESIDENT OBAMA GOES TO DOVER-As President Obama decides what to do in Afghanistan, an unannounced side-trip to Dover AFB just before midnight last night provided yet more proof that the President is not taking this decision lightly. Jake Tapper, reporting for WORLD NEWS, says that Marine-One “land(ed) near the Air-Force C-17 containing the remains of the 18 fallen Americans killed Monday and Tuesday in Afghanistan, the deadliest 2-day stretch of the war for US forces.” Tapper continues: “The President entered the cargo plane where standing before the flag-draped remains of the 19 men he said a prayer….then stood and saluted during the ‘dignified transfer’ of the 18 men.” The President wasn’t finished-Tapper said that “in a chapel on base President Obama met with 14 families…grieving widows…children and parents.” Obama’s trip was unique-Tapper notes that “President Bush visited with hundreds of families of fallen soldiers, but never went to Dover.” Tapper notes the trip was especially meaningful for President Obama: “sources close to President Obama says that while he has met before with the families of fallen soldiers as Commander-in-Chief, never before has he met with families when the emotions were so raw, the deaths so recent and for that reason, this was one of the most profound experiences of his young Presidency.”
TOUGH TALK IN PAKISTAN: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, on the second day of a visit to Pakistan, took off the gloves in an interview with a group of Pakistani newspaper editors in the city of Lahore. As Martha Raddatz put it on World News: “She basically accused the Pakistani government of being complicit in hiding al Qaeda. She said al Qaeda has had safe haven in Pakistan since 2002.” Here it is in Clinton’s own words: "I find it hard to believe that nobody in your government knows where they are and couldn't get them if they really wanted to." Then, backing off a little, added: "Maybe that's the case; maybe they're not gettable. I don't know.'' But still concluding: "As far as we know, they are in Pakistan." Now American officials have been saying for some time that Osama bin laden and his senior leadership have been hiding out along Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan. But this is the U.S. Secretary of State saying this — in Pakistan. Martha says this is nothing short of “blunt and remarkable:” “A lot of people in government believe what she said is true. But for America’s chief diplomat, she’s going to have to do a lot of explaining to the Pakistanis. They are extremely sensitive about criticism in public.” Not only that, but the remarks come at a time when things are going fairly well between the U.S. and Pakistan. Right, Martha? “They have been more cooperative than they have been in the past. So why she made these remarks today, or if she just slipped, we’ll have to see. But she knows that the Pakistanis have gone after militants in the Swat Valley, Waziristan now, and this is going to add pressure on her.” But Secretary of State Clinton seemed to be defending her remarks when she explained: "I don't believe in dancing around difficult issues because I don't think that benefits anybody." (thanks to Ed Bailey for this entry)
HOUSE HEALTH-CARE REFORM-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced a little health-care reform bill today…well I guess a document that runs close to 2000 pages might be considered a big bill. Jon Karl, who provided an advancer on the bill for us last night, reminds us of the contents. Karl: “The bill requires all Americans to buy health insurance or pay a fine. Includes subsidies to help lower-income Americans pay for it and creates a new government-run insurance company or ‘public option’ to compete with private insurance.” What’s the cost of this puppy? Karl: “Though Democrats led us to believe the cost of their bill was under the $900 billion target set by President Obama, the actual cost of over $1 trillion is considerably higher.” (for more on that see entry below) How’s the government going to pay for it Mr. Karl? Karl: “To pay for it, the bill cuts future Medicare spending by more than $400 billion and slaps a new 5.4% tax on individuals making over $500 thousand a year.” Not surprisingly, a grand total of zero Republicans announced their support but Karl suggests Speaker of the House Pelosi has other issues to deal with in her own camp. Karl: “Speaker Pelosi’s bigger problem is fellow Democrats. Moderates in the House object to the large price tag.” And we already know about the issues in the Senate, where potential passage of a bill hit another snag with CT Independent Senator Joe Lieberman vowing to help kill any bill that has a “public option” in it. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves…Mr. Karl can the House pass something? Karl: “Although they don’t have the votes yet to pass it, House Democrats say they confident they will get them in time to pass a bill as soon as next week.”
HOW MUCH DOES THAT HEALTH-CARE REFORM BILL COST?-So how much does this bill cost? Dems are bandying about a $894 billion over ten years” figure. There may be some creative accounting in the mix-Karl tells us “In fact, the bill costs $1.055 trillion. How did they come up with the lower number? They took the $1.05 trillion total cost and subtracted the amount of money that estimated to come in from people and companies who pay fines for not having or providing health insurance (more than $160), giving a new ‘net’ cost of $894 billion. That is a new accounting trick that has not been used in describing the costs of any of the health care bills moving through Congress. By using that accounting, the ‘net’ cost of the bill that passed the Senate Finance Committee is $518 billion over ten years. The actual cost of the Finance bill, as widely reported and cited by Finance Chairman Baucus, was $829 billion.”
H1N1 VIRUS/DEFENDING THE FORT UNTIL THE VACCINE CAVALRY COMES-In a note earlier today, Brian Hartman wrote that “ Federal officials once again are reassuring the public that H1N1 vaccine supply problems are improving and they expect a lot more vaccination clinics this weekend.” Unfortunately that new darn flu bug isn’t waiting for a level playing field. Dr. Richard Besser, reporting for WORLD NEWS, took us to the ER at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. He introduced us to Dr. Nick Zroo, third in command of the ER and one very busy man. Besser tells us that “last night, his shift ended at 3:30am but he’s here first thing in the morning for back-to-back staff meetings.” Anybody need more than one guess to figure out their biggest problem? Besser asks Zroo about this flu season, which Zroo pronounces as “anything but typical”. How so? Zroo: “We each day set a new record as far as volumes (of patients) in the Emergency Department. Our previous record was in the high 300s just one week ago, and then a few days ago we set an all-time record-we broke 400 and then three days later, we broke 500.” Which does not mean that 500 people with the swine flu are being treated in the ER-Besser notes that “the irony is that for all the visits to the hospital, most of the patients are being sent home.” Why the confusion then? Besser says that “reports about serious cases have made parents nervous” so they bring in their kids when it may not be necessary. “The good news” Besser adds, “children like the ones we met are in the majority: they are going home leaving beds for others who need them.”
NW FLIGHT/NORAD-About the only good thing you can say about the wayward NW plane is that it eventually landed safely. Word today that the military may have been an after-thought while the search was on. Lisa Stark, reporting for WORLD NEWS, told us tonight that “as controllers tried to reach the Northwest jet for more than an hour, they turned to the airline and other planes for help. But one key group was not notified early on-the military.” Stark talked with General Gene Renuart, Commander of the North American Aerospace Defense Command. Stark: “The General says NORAD is usually notified within 10 minutes of an unusual incident. In this case, the system failed-so much so that by the time F-16 fighter jets were ready to launch, controllers and the Northwest pilots were back in touch.” Stark tells us that an FAA alert should have gone out “over the Domestic Events Network-monitored by the military, homeland security, FBI and scores of other agencies.” It did, Stark adds “but it may not have been until nearly an hour after radio contact was lost.” Not exactly according to Hoyle. Stark tells us that the FAA is “conducting an internal review” of how the incident was handled.
SWEAT LODGE DEATHS/RAY CANCELS SEMINARS/NIGHTLINE PLUG- From AP: Motivational speaker and author James Arthur Ray is canceling his remaining 2009 seminars in the wake of three deaths that occurred after a sweat lodge ceremony he led in Arizona. Ray announced on his Web site today that he needs to dedicate all his "physical and emotional energies" to bringing closure to the sweat lodge matter. "That means helping the authorities and the families get to the bottom of what happened," he said.
Reminder: NIGHTLINE devotes their entire show to a Dan Harris report on the sweat lodge deaths this evening.
PENNSYLVANIA JUVIES GET RECORDS EXPUNGED-Good news for the wayward youth of Pennsylvania, or at least the ones whose juvenile delinquency cases were heard by Mark Ciavarella. Lauren Pearle has the skinny: “The Pennsylvania Supreme Court late today ruled that almost all juvenile delinquency cases heard by indicted former Luzerne County, PA judge Mark Ciavarella between January 1, 2003 and May 31, 2008 must be thrown out. Today’s decision will impact about 6,500 PA youth “ Pearle continues: “….about 100 PA kids could now be released from juvenile detention and/or taken off of probation, according to lawyers representing the children. Most of the approximately 6,500 affected youth have already served their time, but their records will now be expunged. In PA, juvenile criminal records are NOT automatically expunged when kids turn 18, so today’s ruling gives these thousands of kids a clean slate, their lawyers told ABC NEWS.”
Ciavarella faces criminal charges that he took millions of dollars in kickbacks to place juvenile defendants in private detention centers, often for minor crimes. In one reported case, a college-bound high school girl spent 3 months in juvenile detention for creating a website that made fun of her high school principal.
In today’s ruling, the PA Court said that it ‘cannot have any confidence that Ciavarella decided any Luzerne County juvenile case fairly and impartially while he labored under the specter of his self-interested dealings with the facilities’ and called Ciavarella’s actions a ‘travesty of juvenile justice.’
‘The Court’s far-reaching order is an exceptional response to the most serious judicial scandal in the history of the United States,’ said Marsha Levick from the Juvenile Law Center. “
Note: 20/20 aired a two-part investigation with Jim Avila that aired on March 27th.
GARRIDOS’ COURT APPEARANCE- The Northern California couple charged with kidnapping and raping Jaycee Lee Dugard made a brief appearance in a courtroom today. How brief? Phillip and Nancy Garrido were in El Dorado County Superior Court for two minutes before they were ordered to return for another case update on Dec. 11.
–WATER INTOXICATION DEATH JUDGEMENT- A Sacramento County jury has awarded $16.5 million to the family of a 28-year-old woman who died after participating in a radio station's water-drinking contest. Jennifer Strange, a mother of three, died of acute water intoxication in January 2007 after the challenge to see which contestant could drink the most water without using the restroom. A Nintendo Wii video game was the prize for winning the "Hold Your Wee for a Wii" contest. (AP)
–ALLEGED SPY FOR ISRAEL REFUSED BAIL- A judge says the flight risk of a scientist accused of attempted espionage is too great to allow bail. Prosecutors say 52-year-old Stewart Nozette is accused of seeking $2 million for selling secrets to an undercover FBI agent posing as an Israeli intelligence officer. Jason Ryan tells us that “Prosecutors played FBI undercover videotapes from October 19, 20009 where Nozette discusses his need and desire to get out of the United States to a country that has no extradition treaty with the US. Nozette at the beginning of the tape is seen laughing and joking before asking for assistance from the FBI undercover agent. The discussion quickly turns serious about his desire to leave the country.” Yeah that sounds like a flight risk.
–SEC OF STATE CLINTON/MIDEAST PEACE PROCESS- Clinton will meet separately with Israeli PM Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Abbas this weekend as she continues her overseas trip. Clinton is meeting Arab leaders in Morocco next week to talk about the peace process. (Kirit Radia)