Happy wednesday folks….here's some of what's going on in the world……
VOTE 2009/REPUBLICAN RESURGENCE?-“The Republican renaissance has begun. It has begun in earnest.” So said Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele, one day after voters said yes to Republican governors in both New Jersey and Virginia, two states that were safely in the Obama column during the 2008 election. John Berman, filing for WORLD NEWS, notes that “with elections in just a few states, this might not be a revolution, but it is revealing. In our exit polls, well over 80 percent of voters in New Jersey (89%) and Virginia (85%) said they are worried about the economy. Those most worried voted for the Republicans in huge numbers (77% in Virginia and 61% in New Jersey).” Berman tells us that despite trips by President Obama to campaign for the Democrat in both New Jersey and Virginia, he was unable to rally many of those who put him into office last year. Berman: “Younger voters, President Obama’s strongest bloc, stayed home (with less than 10% voting in either state, half of what turned out last year). And the crucial independents flocked to the Republicans (66% in VA, 60% in NJ).” One positive for Democrats? Berman: “That New York congressional district where they picked up a seat held by Republicans for 100 years. National conservative groups, along with Sarah Palin, drove the moderate Republican from the race.”
Charles Gibson asked Jake Tapper whether there was anything positive that the White House could take away from last night’s vote-Tapper: “They take solace in the fact that the majority of voters in Virginia and New Jersey, according to exit polls, say that President Obama was not a factor in how they voted.” Tapper also noted that the WH has “work to do” with all the voters worried about the economy as well as re-energizing those voters who didn’t turn out. Gibson asked Karl what this meant for congressional Democrats. Karl looked at Virginia, a state where “moderate Democrats already had reason to be nervous for voting for health care reform”, Karl says “you had four Democrats watch the Republican gubernatorial candidate win by big double-digit margins in their districts.” And in New Jersey, Karl notes that the exit polls showed tepid enthusiasm for health-care reform as voter’s “top issue”. Karl: “If you need momentum to get something passed, that’s not a good start.” George Stephanopoulos was asked “what lessons can the two parties come out of this with?” Stephanopoulos, noting that independents outnumber either party, “capturing the center in the election is critically important.” Stephanopoulos adds that “secondly, in hard times the economy is always the number one issue and voters almost always punish the party that’s in (power).” This bodes ill for Democrats in the 2010 elections-Stephanopoulos says “they’ll be defending majorities in the Senate, majorities in the House. If the economy is in tough shape, they’ll have a tough night.”
HUCKABEE WARNS AGAINST 3RD-PARTY DANGERS-The Democratic victory in NY’s 23rd congressional district has certainly gotten the Republican Party’s attention. David Chalian: “As the Republican Party continues to figure out how to harness the anti-incumbent, anti-establishment, anti-spending energy fueling the conservative grassroots movement (and beyond), Former Gov. Mike Huckabee (R-AR) warned against the electoral danger for the GOP if these activists end up supporting independent or third-party candidacies going forward.” Huckabee made the following comments on ABC NEWS NOW’s “TOP LINE” political show-
“I’m not an independent third party guy. You know, when people say let’s start a third party, we’ll show these Democrats and Republicans! I’ll tell you what you’re gonna do, if you’re a conservative and you start an independent party that’s largely conservative what you will do is you will make sure the Democrat always wins. And it’s just a disaster. It’s not going to do anything. If you want to poke people in the eye great, go ahead. But if you want to win elections and change policy and make government more conservative that’s not the best way to go about it,” warned Huckabee.
ITALY/CIA-Nearly two dozen Americans have been convicted by an Italian judge in the kidnapping of an Egyptian terror suspect in a repudiation of the CIA’s extraordinary renditions program. Brian Ross, filing for WORLD NEWS, explains that “the verdict announced in Milan today was the culmination of a five year investigation by the Italian judiciary, aimed squarely at US policy.” Ross tells us what the case centered on: “The case began after a CIA team kidnapped a Muslim cleric off the streets of Milan in broad daylight. US officials suspected Abu Omar had ties to al-Qaeda but he was never charged with a crime and released after what he says was four years of torture in Egypt.” The Americans were tried in absentia but Ross was able to catch up with one of them, former CIA officer Sabrina deSousa, who admitted the kidnapping was wrong. deSousa: “Clearly we broke the law and we are paying for the mistakes right now for whoever authorized and approved it.” Indeed, the trial didn’t put the policy makers on notice, just the field agents. What irks deSousa, Ross tells us is that “they were left unprotected by the US which never asserted diplomatic immunity for them.” deSousa, who faces five years in prison for the conviction, isn’t going to jail. Ross tells us that “there’s no chance the U.S. would send deSousa or the others convicted today to Italy to be put behind bars, but they are all now considered fugitives and have been advised they should never again leave the U.S. for fear that some other country might turn them in to the Italians.”
MISSING WOMEN & PROBLEMS MONITORING SEX OFFENDERS: Police said they have confirmed the discovery of at least 11 victims at the home of convicted sex offender Anthony Sowell, and that they have identified one of the bodies as 53-year-old Tonia Carmichael, who had been missing since last year. Carmichael’s daughter said her mother had a drug problem and often spent time in Sowell’s neighborhood. As investigators prepare to tear down the walls of his house in the search for more victims, the big question plaguing officials is exactly how Sowell was able to get away with his crimes for so long without being caught. “The evidence suggests Anthony Sowell exploited a broken system,” Pierre Thomas reported on WORLD NEWS. “For starters, authorities failed to enlist the community’s help to be on the lookout for signs of trouble. Sowell was a registered sex offender but the law did not require authorities to knock on doors and notify his neighbors.” In California, a failure of the system used to track sex offenders is being blamed in the Jaycee Dugard case; corrections officials failed to properly supervise convicted sex offender Phillip Garrido, missing the opportunity to discover he was holding Dugard captive for 18 years. Authorities say the system is overwhelmed: “In the Cleveland case – the county where Anthony Sowell lived is home to 3,400 other sex offenders. And there are just eight officers to track them. Experts say sex offender lists are not only long…but fail to distinguish between minor offenders and the most dangerous predators,” Thomas says. California’s Inspector General released a report detailing the problems in the Garrido case, from inadequately-trained parole agents to the failure of California’s GPS-monitoring system. “Department failures resulted in several missed opportunities to discover the existence of Garrido’s three victims that he held captive in a concealed compound on his property,” Inspector General David Shaw’s report read. Shaw’s report includes a list of recommended changes, including that police “ensure that all sex offender parolees have been correctly assessed for their risks to re-offend using the department’s revised assessment tool” and the development and implementation of a “comprehensive” GPS-monitoring policy. (thanks to Marisa Bramwell for this entry)
TAMIFLU SHORTAGE/CAT GETS SWINE FLU: The government has released its entire emergency stock of the pediatric version of Tamiflu in response to a shortage – and the surging demand – for the drug. “It’s hard to quantify exactly how much of a shortage there is of the pediatric Tamiflu, but at [one] Maryland pharmacy they are only able to get enough for about one patient a month. So pharmacists are making their own children’s liquid Tamiflu by taking the more powerful adult capsules and diluting them,” Lisa Stark reported on WORLD NEWS. Why is there a shortage of Tamiflu? Apparently “the drug is made by just one company, Roche Pharmaceuticals,” Stark says. “Roche didn’t invent Tamiflu, but it bought the license to manufacture this now critical drug. It’s become a huge money maker – sales quadrupled over the past year.” It’s a monopoly the government isn’t quite ready to split up. Stark tells us that “an Indian company, Cipla, says it could deliver a million doses of generic children’s Tamiflu in a matter of weeks – at a price 20 percent lower than Roche’s,” but “the CDC hasn’t ruled out generics, but says there’s no need yet.”
In other swine flu news, it appears the disease has now spread to…cats? Here’s the latest on that from ABC’s Medical Unit: “The first confirmed case of the H1N1 virus in a feline, a 13-year-old indoor cat in Iowa, was reported today and alongside two previous swine flu cases identified in pet ferrets, is arousing concerns that H1N1 could pass between pets and owners. Rich Besser spoke with CDC’s Dr. Carolyn Bridges, Associate Director of Science in Influenza, who said this is the first known transmission of influenza of any kind from a person to a cat, though there has been transmission of H5N1 from poultry to a cat in the past and a case of H1N1 transmission to a tiger in a zoo. She points out, however, that because testing is so rare, there could have been earlier cases before that went undetected. There is much historical precedence for influenza transferring between humans and other mammals, and more specifically, a herd of pigs in Indiana today was confirmed to have contracted swine flu from sick caretakers. However, too little is known about the jump between household pets and their owners to know how much of an issue flu spread might become among dogs and cats.”
ARMS SHIP LINKED TO IRAN: Israel says one of its naval units boarded a cargo ship about a hundred miles off its coast before sunup and discovered crates loaded with arms destined for Hezbollah militants. The naval commandos boarded the ship, named the Francop, in international waters off Cyprus. The Francop was then towed to Israel’s port of Ashdod where rows and rows of crates, filled with hundreds of tons of arms, were unloaded. As Simon McGregor-Wood reported on World News: “The head of Israel's navy says there are enough weapons here to keep the Islamic radicals of Hezbollah fighting for a month and all of them from Iran. Artillery shells, hand grenades, mortar rounds, Katyusha rockets, all hidden behind this less controversial cargo. The Israelis claim they tracked the ship from Iran, to Egypt and on towards Syria, from where they say, the arms would have been trucked across the Lebanese border to Hezbollah.” Israeli military officials say the ship had a cargo certificate stamped at an Iranian port. The crates, they say, were labeled “I.R. Iranian Shipping Lines Group.” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu drew clear conclusions. "Whoever still needed indisputable proof that Iran continues to send weapons to terror organizations got it today in a clear and unequivocal manner. Iran sends these weapons to terror organizations in order to hit Israeli cities and kill civilians." And Simon adds: “Today's interception won't substantially reduce Hezbollah's military power – but it strengthens Israel's warning to those trying to negotiate with Iran, including the US – It can't be trusted.” (thanks to Ed Bailey for this entry)
UNEMPLOYMENT BENEFITS BILL FINALLY PASSES (ESCAPES?) THE SENATE-Zach Wolf has been telling us for the last week about the snail’s pace progress being made in the Senate over a bill that everybody claimed to want to pass-to quickly recap the bill was held hostage by either Republicans (who wanted to vote on amendments unrelated to the matter at hand) or Democrats (who wouldn’t let the Republicans get their way and relied on the legislative clock to force a vote). If a bill could talk you might have heard the faint cry of “Free at last” echoing from the Senate chamber late this afternoon. Wolf tells us ” Senators 98-0 voted tonight to extend unemployment benefits by 20 weeks in states hardest hit by the economic downturn and by 14 weeks everywhere else. They also extended an $8,000 first-time home buyers tax credit to homes placed under contract by the end of next April. People who have lived in their current house for five years and want to buy a new house will be newly eligible for a $6,500 tax credit. The bill now goes to the House of Representatives, which passed a different version in September. The House is expected to simply vote on the Senate version as soon as tomorrow.”
FED/INTEREST RATES-The Fed kept interest rates unchanged for the seventh meeting in a row. So the rate remains at zero to 0.25 percent. It was widely expected. Dan Arnall tells us it’s what was in the “post-meeting statement” that pleased investors.
Arnall: “The language the Fed used in the previous statement was largely unchanged, with a key phrase still intact.
‘… economic conditions, … are likely to warrant exceptionally low levels of the federal funds rate for an extended period.’ [emphasis added]
That’s just what investors were looking for: a fairly explicit promise that the rates would remain in this historically low range for the near future. Cheap money means plenty of monetary stimulus for profit growth.” The Fed also used the occasion to insist that despite the low rates there was still no fear of inflation.
CHRYSLER UNVEILS FIVE-YEAR PLAN-We heard good news from Ford (3rd quarter profit, October sales gains) and GM (October sales gains) this week. What about that other U.S. car company, Chrysler? Despite posting significant sales declines year to year in October, Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne, who also runs Fiat, began unveiling Chrysler's new five-year business plan today. The plan includes new vehicles for the Chrysler, Jeep, Dodge and Ram brands, most based on Fiat's more efficient transmissions and small engines. It’s a long road back to profitability but Chrysler’s management expressed optimism the goal would be achieved. Chief Financial Officer Richard Palmer said the company aims to pay back government loans by the end of 2014. He also expects Chrysler to break even in 2010 and report an operating profit of $5 billion in 2014.
PRESSLY TRIAL-Opening statements began today in a Little Rock, Arkansas courtroom where the accused murderer of local television anchor Anne Presley stands trial. Curtis Vance, 29, is charged with capital murder, rape and burglary. He has pleaded not guilty. If convicted, he could face execution.
–NHTSA STRONGER STATEMENT ON TOYOTA-Two follow-ups to Brian Ross’ investigation into the Toyota accelerator mystery. The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration issued a statement this afternoon that seemed a stronger repudiation of Toyota-The statement read in part “A press release put out by Toyota earlier this week about their recall of 3.8 million Toyota and Lexus vehicles inaccurately stated NHTSA had reached a conclusion ‘that no defect exists in vehicles in which the driver’s floor mat is compatible with the vehicle and properly secured.’ NHTSA has told Toyota and consumers that removing the recalled floor mats is the most immediate way to address the safety risk and avoid the possibility of the accelerator becoming stuck. But it is simply an interim measure. This remedy does not correct the underlying defect in the vehicles involving the potential for entrapment of the accelerator by floor mats, which is related to accelerator and floor pan design. Safety is the number one priority for NHTSA and this is why officials are working with Toyota to find the right way to fix this very dangerous problem. This matter is not closed until Toyota has effectively addressed the defect by providing a suitable vehicle based solution.” (Matt Hosford)
–TOYOTA RELEASES STATEMENT IN RESPONSE-Toyota released a statement in response to the NHTSA statement which read: “"It was never our intention to mislead or provide inaccurate information. Toyota agrees with NHTSA’s position that the removal of the floor mats is an interim measure and that further vehicle-based action is required. We are in the process of developing vehicle-based remedies to help avoid the potential for an unsecured or incompatible floor mat to trap the accelerator pedal." (Richard Sergay)
–JP MORGAN IN $700 MILLION SETTLEMENT- JP Morgan Chase today agreed to pay over $700 million to settle Securities & Exchange Commission charges that it participated in an unlawful payment scheme to win municipal bond business in Jefferson County, Alabama. The SEC alleged that JP Morgan Securities and two former managing directors – Charles LeCroy and Douglas MacFaddin – raked in over $8 million in undisclosed payments to close friends of various county commissioners. In today’s settlement, JP Morgan Securities, without admitting or denying the charges, agreed to give $50 million to the county, pay a $25 million penalty to the SEC, and forfeit over $647 million in termination fees that it claims the county owes, the agency said. LeCroy and MacFaddin have not agreed on a settlement. (Matt Jaffe)
–US DELEGATION MEETS WITH BURMESE OPPOSITION LEADER- A senior US delegation in Burma for two days of talks met today with opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, the first such high level US delegation to meet with her in years, as well as other ethnic minority opposition groups. Asst Secy of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Kurt Campbell along with one of his deputies Scot Marciel made a meeting with ASSK and the other opposition leaders a prerequisite for their visit… State Dept today urged dialogue between the military junta and the democratic opposition, but said the US was not prepared to mediate. Said US wouldn’t relax sanctions until dialogue has begun. (Kirit Radia)