Clem’s Chronicles/Another crummy day for US Forces in Afghanistan/Swine Flu/NW Pilots

By Clem Lane

Oct 27, 2009 9:41pm

Good evening folks-here's what's cooking tonight……..

AFGHANISTAN/MORE U.S. CASUALTIES-Yesterday’s 14 U.S. deaths in Afghanistan all came from helicopter incidents. Today 8 additional U.S. deaths in two separate incidents, Jim Sciutto told us on WORLD NEWS, “suffered by one unit riding in one kind of armored vehicle.” Sciutto explains: “The two devastating attacks targeted soldiers travelling in Stryker armored vehicles, from the 5-2 Stryker brigade out of Ft. Lewis, WA. The first came late this morning in Kandahar province. A Stryker hit by a massive roadside bomb, followed by an ambush with small-arms fire. 7 Americans soldiers were killed. Three hours later, in neighboring Zabul province, another Stryker was struck by a roadside bomb, killing one more American soldier.” With President Obama soon to decide on a direction for U.S. policy in Afghanistan going forward, today’s incidents  re-affirmed the hawk position that more troops are needed now. Sciutto: “On Capitol Hill today, Senator John McCain, an ardent supporter of sending more troops, said the losses only increase the need.” McCain said in part “Every day that goes by without that decision being made, the more days there are where young Americans are unnecessarily in harm’s way in my view.” But pressure comes not just from the “more troops” crowd-Sciutto notes that “today we learned that foreign service officer and former Marine captain Matthew Hoh became the first US official to resign in protest against the war.” Hoh said “The only reason (anti-US militias) are fighting us is because we are occupying them.”

AFGHANISTAN/ARMORED VEHICLE PROTECTION-Sciutto noted in the close of his WORLD NEWS piece that “the Stryker brigade was scheduled to deploy to Iraq this summer but was diverted to Afghanistan because the Strykers are fast and offer some protection against roadside bomb though clearly not enough.” Bob Woodruff, filing a companion piece on WORLD NEWS, notes that the Pentagon is well aware of the need for a better armored vehicle. Roadside bombs, Woodruff tells us, are the number one cause of death for U.S. forces. Woodruff: “In 2007 IEDs claimed the lives of thirty American troops…the number grew to 83 in 2008 and has nearly doubled so far this year…including twenty-four just this month.” The Pentagon’s solution? Woodruff: “It’s called the M-ATV…a heavily armored off-road combat vehicle designed specifically for the forbidding, often roadless Afghan terrain.” But what about the vehicles designed for dealing with IEDs in Iraq, won’t they work? Those vehicles, called MRAPs, were effective in Iraq, but Woodruff notes  that “Afghanistan’s primitive infrastructure has proven inhospitable to the top-heavy 20-ton MRAPs shipped in from Iraq.” The first of the new M-ATVs were shipped to Afghanistan earlier this month and while no one knows whether the new vehicles would have saved American lives today, Woodruff adds that “the Pentagon insists the M-ATV will offer the best protection possible for troops in Afghanistan.”

SWINE FLU- An official from the Department of Homeland Security told Congress Tuesday that despite some overly optimistic estimates, production of the flu vaccine is getting back on track. More than 22 million doses of swine flu vaccine are available now, and most Americans should soon find it easier to get their dose. Over time, the government expects to have as many as 225 million doses of the new vaccine if needed. The slow supply trickle has frustrated some Americans looking for the vaccine. Barbara Pinto caught up with some of them in Chicago today. In her World News piece she found an assortment of expectant moms, children, and senior citizens. One mom and her teenage daughter camped out all day determined to get their shots.  Meanwhile on Tuesday CDC Director Thomas Frieden said the H1N1 virus is still widespread. However it’s decreasing in some areas, like Atlanta. On Wednesday – New York City’s school-based H1N1 influenza vaccination campaign begins. Mayor Bloomberg will hold a presser at 9:30 amET at an elementary school in Brooklyn.  Rolake Bamgbose will be covering. (thanks to Jason Volack for this entry)
Note: Tonight on NIGHTLINE, Chris Bury takes us to the front lines of the H1N1 pandemic. He reports from the University of California Davis Children’s Hospital which has seen a four-fold increase in H1N1 cases in just three weeks.

NW PILOTS- The Federal Aviation Administration on Tuesday revoked the licenses of the two Northwest Airlines pilots who last week flew past their Minneapolis destination by 150 miles. The pilots – Timothy Cheney, the captain, and Richard Cole, the first officer – told safety investigators they both had their laptops out while the first officer instructed the captain on monthly flight crew scheduling. Lisa Stark points out in her World News piece that pilots are “supposed to be monitoring the aircraft, watching instruments, checking fuel levels, communicating with air traffic control as the flight drones on.” The plane's radio was also still tuned to the frequency used by Denver controllers after the San Diego-to-Minneapolis flight had flown beyond their reach. Lisa also reports that “there are federal rules intended to keep pilots on task – on takeoff and landing and below 10,000 feet pilots are only to talk about the flight.” A rule that Lisa says is often ignored and is the cause of at least one crash. Pilots and aviation safety experts said the episode is likely to cause the NTSB and the FAA to take a hard look at the use of laptops and other personal electronic devices in the cockpit. There are no federal rules that specifically ban pilots' use of laptops or other personal electronic devices as long as the plane is flying above 10,000 feet. Airlines set their own policy at that level.  Delta said in a statement that using laptops or engaging in activity unrelated to the pilots' command of the aircraft during flight is strictly against the airline's flight deck policies. The airline said violations of that policy will result in termination. (thanks to Jason Volack for this entry)

BILL & MELINDA GATES/IMPROVING THE HEALTH OF THE WORLD’S POOREST NATIONS-WORLD NEWS anchor Charles Gibson sat down with Bill & Melinda Gates today in Washington D. C. to talk about their work (and the work of the US government) in improving global health. Two bites from this excellent interview—
Gibson asked what they considered their most important breakthrough..
Bill Gates: “Well the biggest impact has been getting new vaccines to be created and getting those out and distributed. There’s two new ones, one for a type of diarrhea, the rorovirus and another for respiratory, a pneumonia vaccine which between them will save millions of lives.”
Gibson also asked about technology, the next great metamorphosis…
Bill Gates: “Well we’re still mostly using the keyboard and the mouse, and so the ability to have the computer see you, see gestures you’re making, that’s…that’s coming for both the P.C. and the Xbox, voice interaction, where you can talk to your phone, that’s coming more and more.”

SENATE/IS THE PUBLIC OPTION DEAD (AGAIN)?-It looks like Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has lost another piece of the health-care reform puzzle-Connecticut Independent Senator Joe Lieberman came out today to say he opposes the inclusion of a public option. First Olympia Snowe, now Lieberman. Does this signal the death of the public option yet again? Not yet says Jon Karl. Karl: “To get a bill out of the Senate, Harry Reid will need 60 votes TWICE – First, at the beginning of the process, on a ‘motion to proceed’ that will begin debate on the bill; and second, at the end, on “cloture,” which cuts off debate and allows the Senate to go to a vote on the bill.   (He’ll also need 60 when the bill comes back from  conference with the House, but that’s another story.)
Lieberman says he is ‘strongly inclined’ to support the motion to proceed – which, right now, is all that matters. 
If Joe Lieberman wanted to kill the public option, he could do it now by saying he’s voting against the motion to proceed. He’s not doing that. Instead he is threatening to vote against cloture.  That vote is still several weeks away and will happen after dozens of amendments are voted on. 
Lieberman’s threat gives him lots of leverage to change things on the Senate floor.  If he sticks to it during the ups and downs of the coming debate, it could be decisive. But the public option isn’t dead yet.”

UNEMPLOYMENT BENEFITS EXTENSION/SENATE HURDLE CLEARED-From Zach Wolf: “After a weeks-long squabble over procedure, Senators voted 87 to 13 on a cloture motion, officially brining to the Senate floor a bill extend unemployment benefits – by 14 weeks in every state and 20 weeks in the states hardest hit by the poor economy. A final vote in the Senate could come later this week. And whatever passes the Senate would have to be considered in the House.” So what took so long? Wolf says it has nothing to do with the matter at hand, which has broad bi-partisan support. Wolf: “Republicans want votes on several amendments that Democrats don’t want to give them – one that would bar ACORN from taking part in the US Census, another would make a controversial immigration enforcement program – e-verify – permanent. You could blame Republicans for insisting on the amendments that don’t have anything to do with unemployment insurance. Or you could blame Democrats for not giving up.” Wolf also notes another rider could be added-“ Senators could add an extension of a popular home buyers tax credit. Talks are underway on what form the extension should take. The credit, $8,000 to first-time buyers -  is scheduled to run out at the end of November.”

CHICAGO MEN/DANISH TERROR ATTACK FOILED-Brian Ross/Rich Esposito and Jason Ryan filed the following for The Blotter this afternoon: “Two Chicago men have been arrested by the FBI and charged with planning a terror attack on the Danish newspaper that published cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed in 2005. Prosecutors told ABC News.com the men were in direct contact with the leaders of militant groups connected to al Qaeda in Pakistan and last year's attacks on hotels in Mumbai, India. One of the men, David Headley, 49, was arrested on Oct. 3 and has been held without public notice since then, according to prosecutors in Chicago. Headley, a U.S. citizen was described as a "white convert" to Islam, had an initial appearance in court on Oct. 11. A spokesman for U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald's office had denied the arrest when contacted by ABC News on Oct. 3. The second man, Tahawar Rana, was arrested on Oct. 18 and will have his first court appearance tomorrow in Chicago. In a statement, Fitzgerald said his office received permission from a federal court to hold the men in secret, "so as not to compromise further investigative activity."

HIKERS BEING HELD IN IRAN/NEW VIDEO RELEASED BY FAMILIES-The families of three Americans being held in Iran have released video footage that they say proves the three were simply on vacation when they strayed across the border. Shane Bauer, 27-years-old, Sarah Shourd, 31-years-old and Josh Fattal, 27-years-old, have been detained since July 31.

MJ MOVIE-The Michael Jackson documentary “This Is It” opens worldwide tonight. It’s a compilation of rehearsal footage for his London comeback shows that never were. Opening in 99 countries Tuesday and Wednesday, the film expands to 110 territories by this weekend, with distributor Sony putting 15,000 prints of "This Is It" into circulation. It will be limited to a two-week run. Estimates on what the documentary could bring in are all over the map but the $100 million mark has been mentioned frequently for a first-week gross.

OTHER STUFF-
OBAMA DAUGHTERS GET H1N1 VACCINE-Malia and Sasha Obama have gotten their H1N1 flu shot. And before you go shouting “preferential treatment”, Michelle Obama’s Press Secretary has your answer.  Catherine McCormick-Lelyveld posted a note on the White House website which read in part: "Malia and Sasha were both vaccinated for H1N1 last week, after the vaccine became available to Washington, DC schoolchildren. President and Mrs. Obama have not yet been vaccinated for H1N1, and they will wait until the needs of the priority groups identified by the CDC – including young people under the age of 24, pregnant women, and people with underlying conditions – have been met. The girls' H1N1 vaccine was administered by a White House physician, who applied for and received the vaccine from the DC Department of Health using the same process as every other vaccination site in the District." (Sunlen Miller)
ARES I-X- NASA's newest rocket is stuck on the launch pad because of clouds and high wind. Launch controllers tried repeatedly today to get the Ares I-X rocket flying. They got to within two-and-a-half minutes of launching the rocket, but the weather interfered. There were at least seven different launch times unmet today. The next launch window is tomorrow morning at 8am ET and runs for four hours. The experimental flight will last just two minutes. Parachutes will drop the first-stage booster into the Atlantic for recovery. (Gina Sunseri)
SUDAN/SANCTIONS RENEWED & LOBBYIST INDICTED-President Obama sent a letter to Congress formally renewing sanctions against Sudan for a one-year period. Separately, Washington DC Lobbyist Robert Cabelly has been indicted, by a federal grand jury in Washington, for violating sanctions imposed against the government of Sudan and acting as a foreign agent for the Sudanese government. Cabelly, is a former State Department official who runs a consulting firm C/R International. Cabelly allegedly performed work looking for Sudanese oil companies and provided advice to Sudan's government a country currently on the State Department’s State Sponsors of Terrorism list. (Jason Ryan)
ADDRESSING THE CRISIS IN HONDURAS-The State Department says Secretary of State Hillary Clinton decided to step up her own involvement in resolving the crisis after talks broke down on Friday. She called ousted President Zelaya and de facto president Micheletti (for the first time) over the weekend and is deploying the administration’s top Western Hemisphere officials to Honduras this week. Going down are: Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs Tom Shannon, principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Craig Kelly, and White House Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Western Hemisphere Affairs Dan Restrepo. They leave tomorrow and will be there for a few days. (Kirit Radia)

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