Clem’s Chronicles: NW Pilot Mystery/Deadly Day For U.S. Forces in Afghanistan/Public Health Option lives in Senate

By Clem Lane

Oct 26, 2009 9:14pm

Happy Monday folks-here's some of what we're working on this evening….

NW PILOTS/ON THEIR LAPTOPS?-So what were those NW pilots doing anyway? Lisa Stark, reporting for WORLD NEWS, tells us that “the NTSB says First Officer Richard Cole and Captain Timothy Cheney were on their personal laptops, going over a new crew scheduling system put in place after last year’s Delta-Northwest merger.” The NTSB said the use of laptop computers in the cockpit is prohibited but that seems to be the least of the pilots’ problems.Stark tells us that during some 5 hours of NTSB questioning, “the pilots admitted to investigators that they failed to monitor the airplane, failed to monitor air traffic control, did not notice as many as 8 text messages sent by the company and…acknowledged they lost track of time.” These were not rookie pilots-Stark says “the captain (has) 24 years (experience), the first officer 12 years, both with clean records.” Which will likely not help them at all. Stark: “ABC NEWS has learned that the FAA as early as tomorrow is expected to revoke or suspend the pilots’ licenses for both of these pilots. And late today, Delta Airlines issued a statement saying pilots who violate company policy by using laptops in the cockpit will be fired.”  

AFGHANISTAN/DEADLY DAY FOR U.S.-Bad day for U.S. forces in Afghanistan, in fact, Jim Sciutto told us on WORLD NEWS, “the deadliest day for U.S. forces in more than four years” thanks to three helicopter incidents that took place before sunrise. Sciutto explains: “The first crash came at 1:30am. Two U.S. Marine helicopters-a UH-1 with a four man crew and a Cobra with two on board-were flying together in the dead of night in southern Afghanistan when they collided mid-air. 4 crew members were killed and two injured.” The next incident came after a fierce firefight with opium traffickers. The firefight itself was successful-14 insurgents killed but its’ aftermath was anything but. Sciutto: “At 4am, as coalition forces were being ferried away, their MH-47 helicopter carrying more than 30 people came down. 7 American servicemen and three American DEA agents were killed, the DEA’s first deaths since it began operations here in 2005.” Sciutto tells us the anti-drug mission “was part of a new US strategy to fight Afghanistan’s flourishing opium trade…but the strategy is controversial in part because it puts law enforcement agents into a war-zone.” Authorities are still trying to determine the causes of the accidents.  

AFGHANISTAN TROOP DECISION-President Obama spoke earlier today at the Naval Air Station in Jacksonville, FL. While not disclosing what he’s decided to do with our Afghanistan policy, the President did assure those assembled that he wasn’t taking the matter lightly: “"And while I will never hesitate to use force to protect the American people or our vital interests, I also promise you this—and this is very important as we consider our next steps in Afghanistan: I will never rush the solemn decision of sending you into harm’s way.  I won’t risk your lives unless it is absolutely necessary.  And if it is necessary, we will back you up to the hilt.”
So when might the White House decision on Afghanistan be announced? Jake Tapper:“Sources tell ABC News that as of now President Obama will likely announce his decision about a new strategy in Afghanistan at some point between the Afghan run-off election, November 7, and the president’s departure for Tokyo, Japan, on Wednesday, November 11. There is a chance the announcement may be delayed until the president’s return from the Asia trip on Friday, November 20, but as of now the plan is to have the announcement in that window.”
As for what the decision itself might be, Tapper adds “Sources emphasize that no decision has yet been made, but as of now it looks as though the president is leaning towards sending more troops to Afghanistan, though not as many as Gen. Stanley McChrystal requested, 40,000.” You can read more in Tapper’s note to the Political and Foreign News DLs.

AFGHANISTAN PROGRAM NOTE/NIGHTLINE-NIGHTLINE anchor Cynthia McFadden has a look at an U.S. Army medivac unit in Afghanistan. Digital reporter Karen Russo spent time with the unit documenting their work and tonight you can see the fruits of her endeavors.

IRAQI BLOODBATH-It was supposed to be one of Baghdad (and Iraq’s)  safest areas-tell that to the family and friends of the 155 dead who were killed yesterday after twin suicide bombings. Miguel Marquez, reporting from Baghdad for WORLD NEWS this evening described the aftermath of the scene: “The devastation is almost unimaginable, buildings shredded as far as the eye can see, Glass, blood-splattered clothing and burned rubber. “ The area housed three major government buildings and Marquez notes that “6 months ago, this street was off limits to traffic but with the security improving, the barriers were lifted.” Lots of questions tonight and few answers-Marquez notes “an investigation is now underway into how two vehicles carrying 1500 pounds of explosives each, including military grade C-4, got through multiple Iraqi military checkpoints before reaching their targets.” The tragedies came at a difficult time for the Iraqi government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Malaki. Marquez reports that Malaki “faces re-election in January (and) has campaigned on his ability to make Iraq safer.” Don’t expect these incidents to prompt the U.S. to resume its’ primary security in the country. Marquez: “The U.S. military says it is assisting the investigation but there are no plans to increase US patrols here nor to slow the rate of pulling US forces out of Iraq. 

HEALTH CARE/SENATE PUBLIC OPTION- Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid announced at a Capitol Hill press conference this afternoon that he has decided to include a government-run public health insurance option in a final health reform bill to be considered next month on the Senate floor. Zach Wolf notes that “Jon Karl was the first to report Reid’s decision last week.” WORLD NEWS anchor Charles Gibson asked George Stephanopoulos about the possibilities of passage in the Senate. Stephanopoulos: “(Reid) still may not have the votes to get this to the Senate floor, but what the Senate leader saw is that he would have a lot more trouble with the majority Democrats if he didn’t include the public option in the bill than if he did.” Stephanopoulos adds that “there are still at least three Democrats who are holding out who won’t commit to supporting this bill-Sens. Lincoln(AR), Landrieu(LA) and Ben Nelson(NE).” And so much for any Republican support-Stephanopoulos notes that “Sen. Snowe(R-ME) said today that she’s deeply disappointed in this move by Senator Reid. She signaled she would not be supporting this.”

SWINE FLU CONFUSION:  With all the government warnings about swine flu prevention (“cover that cough!”) and promotion for the vaccine, one would think getting information about where and when to get vaccinated would be easy, right?  Wrong. For WORLD NEWS, ABC News correspondents across the country found the search for H1N1 vaccine information was confusing and frustrating. Here’s Clayton Sandell: “In Colorado, we called everyone from state and local health departments to clinics and doctors.  After more than an hour, I’m still no closer to locating the vaccine.”  Barbara Pinto, reporting from the Midwest, found a similar situation: “It’s very frustrating.  For Missouri, we clicked through a maze of six websites, link after link and still never found what we were looking for.”  An exception was the state of Florida, where Steve Osunsami “found that while most places did not have the shots…county health departments were helpful, guiding him to places that did,” John McKenzie reported.  McKenzie continues: “Checking state websites we found huge disparities…some including New Jersey, Kansas and Georgia…have direct links to ‘flu shot locators’ and clinic dates.  Others, including Mississippi and Alabama offer little more than a suggestion to ‘call your health care provider’…Even members of Congress, hearing from so many frustrated Americans, today called on the Centers of Disease Control to do a better job communicating where and when people can find this elusive vaccine.”
Tomorrow there will be a House subcommittee hearing on the “Real-Time Assessment of the Federal Response to the Pandemic Influenza” (2pm ET – Brian Hartman covers).  The CDC will also have a briefing at noon ET. (thanks to Marisa Bramwell for this entry)

PICOWER DEATH:  Authorities ruled that Bernie Madoff associate Jeffry Picower died after having a massive heart attack and then drowning in his swimming pool.  Picower’s body was pulled from the bottom of the pool at his Palm Beach mansion Sunday afternoon by his wife and maid.  He was pronounced dead later that afternoon at a local hospital.  An attorney for Picower’s family said the billionaire’s health was “poor” and that he suffered from Parkinson’s disease and had “heart-related issues.”  Picower allegedly made $7 billion off of Madoff’s Ponzi scheme, and Anna Schecter reports that “investigators told ABC News that Picower would also have likely faced criminal charges. Some investigators considered Picower to have been the actual mastermind of Madoff’s massive con, or at least an equal ‘partner in crime.’” (thanks to Marisa Bramwell for this entry)

ARES 1X LAUNCH-NASA’s new rocket is on the launch pad-the Ares 1X is the centerpiece of the space agency’s “return to the Moon” program. The unmanned rocket has a launch window from 8am to 12noon ET tomorrow and there may be complications. Gina Sunseri reports “A weather system moving into the western Gulf of Mexico will pull stormy weather across Florida.   That will set up cloud conditions which would are not allowed by the launch rules for Ares.   It could violate the new ‘tribo electrification rule’ by creating precipitation static  which could disrupt the transmission of flight data from the vehicle and present a critical destruct command by the 45th  Space Wing if something goes wrong. Ares 1X can't launch if winds exceed 20 knots,  temperatures are above 95 degrees, or below 36  (not very likely right now) wind shear conditions exceed at upper altitudes, or within ten nautical miles at the edge of a thunderstorm that is producing lightning strikes. Ares is wearing a stocking cap to protect it from rain – this must be removed  at least an hour and a half before launch – if they take it off and it rains inside the top of the rocket that water would freeze and be a problem.   So it will be a delicate balancing act tomorrow.” 
 
GAS PRICES- Dan Arnall: “The Energy Department’s weekly measure of retail gasoline prices shows a significant jump in gas prices in the past seven days. The latest survey shows the average retail price of a gallon of gasoline is now $2.67, up ten cents from the previous week. During the past month retail gasoline prices have gone up 18 cents or 7% as oil prices have shot up. One interesting note – for the first time in more than a year, the average price is actually higher than the level from a year ago. While we’re just talking two cents higher than a year ago ($2.66) it is interesting to see the final ripples from the summer ’08 gas spike disappear from the surface of the economy.”  

PROGRAM NOTE/CHARLES GIBSON TO INTERVIEW BILL & MELINDA GATES-WORLD NEWS anchor Charles Gibson will be in Washington tomorrow to interview Bill & Melinda Gates. Gibson returns tomorrow afternoon to anchor WORLD NEWS from New York.    

OTHER STUFF-   –HATE CRIMES BILL- On Wednesday President Obama will sign the hate crimes bill in an afternoon signing ceremony at the White House, WH officials confirm.  The hate crimes provision, the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Bill, is part of the larger fiscal year 2010 defense authorization bill. Some of Matthew Shepard's family will be in attendance. Afterward there will be a reception with gay rights groups as well as civil rights leader to commemorate the occasion, 11 years after Shepard’s death. (Sunlen Miller)

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