Howdy folks-here's what we're looking at tonight….
AFGHANISTAN/US POLICY DECISION-Well we don’t exactly know what has been decided but we know when we’ll know. President Obama will address the nation next Tuesday with the details of his decision. Jake Tapper, filing for WORLD NEWS this evening, reports that “White House sources tell ABC NEWS that President Obama has not pulled the trigger on his final decision but officials expect he will request roughly 34 thousand new US troops.” The President spoke about Afghanistan at his joint WH appearance earlier today with the Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh noting “It is my intention to finish the job”. While noting that the President didn’t provide much detail on “the job”, Tapper said that the President “provided a preview of his strategy, suggesting that rooting out al-Qaeda and affiliated terrorists-not nation building-will be the priority.” President Obama’s address next week will be delivered to a nation increasingly critical of his handling of the war in Afghanistan, Tapper notes “with 48% expressing disapproval, 45% expressing approval in the latest ABC NEWS/WASHINGTON POST poll”. The President says he’s confident Americans will be supportive when they “hear a clear rationale for what we are doing there”. Tapper notes that “the last few war council meetings were largely devoted to the President pressing the Pentagon and other agencies for benchmarks for the Afghan government to meet in terms of good governance, anti-corruption efforts, and troop training and what he called off-ramps…ways for the US to exit if those benchmarks are not met.” One wild card-how to pay for the war effort. Tapper says that “Budget Chief Peter Orszag’s presence at the table last night was not a coincidence, with the President and Congress raising concerns about the cost of an influx of troops-estimated at roughly $1 million per troop per year.” Charles Gibson talked with George Stephanopoulos after Tapper’s report suggesting the President has “got a sales job to do on the public and to some extent his own Democrats in Congress.” Stephanopoulos concurred noting “there’s more opposition (with the Dems in Congress) than among Republicans.” As for the public, Stephanopoulos says “what the President has to do in the speech is explain why we’re there right now, how the strategy is going to be different, and how that’s going to get us out. “ As for a battle with Congress, Stephanopoulos notes “It’s all about the money, Charlie. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said today that there’s great unrest in the Democratic caucus over the question-can we afford this war?” As for Congressman David Obey’s call for a new tax to pay for the war, Stephanopoulos doesn’t see it, saying “you have broad majorities about Democrats and Republicans who want no new taxes of any kind right now.”
AFGHANISTAN/TROOP DEPLOYMENT-Whatever the President’s announcement next week entails, there’s no transporter beam to whisk the troops off to Afghanistan immediately.Martha Raddatz, reporting on WORLD NEWS, says “the first brigade of 3-5 thousand soldiers could begin to arrive as early as January.” But unlike Iraq, where 30K US troops were on the ground within five months, Raddatz adds, “in Afghanistan it could take well over a year for all the troops to arrive.” Why so long? Raddatz offers up a laundry list starting with “almost everything has to come in (to Afghanistan) by air.” She continues: “There is also a lack of infrastructure and brutal terrain. And the danger.” Raddatz says the first batch of troops to arrive “would likely head to volatile Helmand and Kandahar province…the heart of Taliban country.” Also critical to the U.S. success is continued training of Afghan security forces-Raddatz reports “10 thousand of the additional troops will likely be given that duty.”
WHITE HOUSE STATE DINNER: The President and First Lady are hosting their first state dinner tonight for more than 320 notables from the world of politics, business, media…just to name a few. “Among them, major Hollywood fundraisers like Steven Speilberg and David Geffen. And prominent Indian-Americans, including Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal, one of the President’s potential Republican rivals,” David Wright reported on WORLD NEWS. Tonight’s guests of honor are Indian Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh and his wife Gursharan Kaur, and the dinner’s theme –from the flowers to the meal – pays homage to Prime Minister’s Singh’s country. Here’s Sunlen Miller: “Deep purple flower arrangements sit in the middle of each table to ‘pay homage to the state bird of India, the Indian Peacock,’ the First lady’s office says…They created a menu that ‘reflects the best of American cuisine, continues this White House’s commitment to serving fresh, sustainable and regional food, and honors the culinary excellence and flavors that are present in Indian cuisine.’” Tonight’s entertainment will feature music from Jennifer Hudson, Kurt Elling and A.R Rahman. (thanks to Marisa Bramwell for this entry)
HOLIDAY TRAVEL-Guess what? You won’t be the only person traveling from point A to point B tomorrow for your Thanksgiving holiday. Last week AAA predicted some 38 million Americans will be traveling further than 50 miles from their home for weekend, an increase of just under 2% on 2008. More than 33 million are expected to do so by car, and while air travel numbers are expected to be lower, that doesn’t mean that air travel will necessarily be easier, with the airlines offering fewer flights that will likely be just as packed as every other holiday season. The great big X factor…Mother Nature and that weather of hers. Biggest problems will be in the Midwest where rain will be turning to snow in Iowa and Minnesota with strong wind gusts in the Plains states likely causing flight delays from Omaha to Des Moines. Heavy rains and thunderstorms are also forecast across Florida tomorrow as well. The West looks the best with possible ayem fog issues the major sticking point. The East Coast should be dry but low cloud cover has already contributed to airport delays in Boston and NY this evening and might continue to pose problems tomorrow from Boston to DC.
AIRLINE FINES/FLIGHT FROM H-E-DOUBLE HOCKEY STICKS!-Three airlines got whacked with fines by the Transportation Department for “excessive tarmac delay”. It’s the first time airlines are being fined for this. Just how excessive is excessive? August 8, 2009–Continental Express Flight 2816 was en route from Houston to Minneapolis carrying 47 passengers when thunderstorms forced it to divert to Rochester, MN where it landed about 12:30 a.m. The airport was closed and Mesaba Airlines employees – the only airline employees at the airport at the time – refused to open the terminal for the stranded passengers. So the lucky passengers aboard spent six hours on the plane with a gate less than fifty yards away! Continental Airlines and its regional airline partner ExpressJet, which operated the flight for Continental, were each fined $50,000. Mesaba has to cough up $75K. As for the passengers, the Department of Transportation noted “Continental also provided a full refund to each passenger and also offered each passenger additional compensation to tangibly acknowledge their time and discomfort.”
HOUSING NUMBERS: It’s a mixed bag for real estate news today. A report released by a real-estate information company shows that one in four homeowners owes more on their mortgages than their homes are worth. On the upside, it looks like free-falling home prices may be coming to an end. Dan Arnall reports “On a day when a new report from Loan Performance showed almost one in four American mortgages are underwater, there was a hint that the solution to that problem might already be on the way. Standard & Poor’s most recent home price index shows that nationally home prices declined by 8.9% during the third quarter – the slowest rate of depreciation since late 2007.” David Muir, reporting for WORLD NEWS, has more: “Nationally, home prices are still down 8.9 percent from this time last year. But the drop is now in the single digits. A welcome change. And when you look at 20 of the biggest cities in the U.S., the numbers get better. Denver home values were down just 1.2 percent, Dallas down 1.2 percent, Boston down 3.3 percent….and first time homeowners are sensing opportunity.” In addition, existing home sales increased ten percent last month. All good news for housing, but experts say the numbers won’t improve if the unemployment rate remains high. Muir again: “Many economists point out the tax credits and rock bottom housing prices drawing first time homeowners into the market will not be enough to sustain a real turn around. [They] say it comes down to jobs and homeowners trying to keep the home they’re in.” (thanks to Marisa Bramwell for this entry)
CHILD PRODUCTS-Guess what? That high chair that your baby is in…that stroller holding your toddler…the crib your infant is sleeping in…it’s quite possible that no safety tests of any kind were required of the manufacturer before they sold you their product. Dan Harris, reporting for WORLD NEWS, says that mandatory safety checks have not been required for years. Que pasa Dan? Harris: “Consumer groups say the Consumer Product Safety Commission was weakened by massive government budget cuts and that manufacturers lobbied against inspection requirements that would have cost them money.” Congress to the rescue…Harris says they “passed a law requiring manufacturers to have their products safety tested by an independent third party.” Problems sorted ? Not exactly. Harris: “While baby products are now starting to be safety tested, critics say those tests are based on old, lax standards. And it may take years for the government to come up with new, tougher standards.”
MISSING SOUTH CAROLINA INFANT- From AP: Federal authorities have joined the search for a one-month-old South Carolina boy taken from a vehicle at a North Charleston post office. Multiple media outlets report that the FBI on Tuesday issued a $20,000 reward for information on who nabbed Angel Miguel Perez. North Charleston police say Angel's mother left him in her idling vehicle as she dropped off mail Monday at about 5 p.m. She says the boy was gone when she returned. A witness told police a woman left with the child in a gray, four-door compact vehicle with a spoiler. The 11-pound boy was wearing a blue shirt, pants and hat. Police are looking for a black woman in her mid-20s, about five-foot-one and 175 pounds, wearing a blue and white striped shirt.
BANKS NOT OUT OF THE WOODS-The economic recovery may be underway but the banking industry still has a long way to go. The FDIC released 3rd quarter stats and stellar they’re not. Matt Jaffe: “The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation said 552 insured institutions are on their ‘Problem List’ as of the end of the third quarter of this year, up from 416 at the end of the second quarter. The 552 institutions have a combined $345 billion in assets. Both the number of banks on the list and their combined assets are now at the highest levels since the end of 1993. During the third quarter, 50 banks collapsed, the highest number of bank failures in a quarter since the fourth quarter of 1992. In all, 124 banks have failed thus far this year.” Which has not helped the FDIC’s insurance fund one iota. Jaffe again: “The rising tide of bank failures has taken a severe toll on the FDIC’s basic insurance fund for deposits. Over the course of the quarter the fund dropped by $18.6 billion to negative $8.2 billion in late September – the first time the fund has gone into the red since 1992. But since the agency has set aside $38.9 billion in contingent loss reserves to cover estimated losses over the coming year, the fund now has a positive balance of $30.7 billion. In another move to bolster the fund, the FDIC earlier this month decided to make banks prepay three years worth of fees in advance, a move that they say will boost the fund by $45 billion.”
FED/JOBS RECOVERY TIME FRAME-With the Obama Administration set to convene a job summit next week, further indications that the jobs problem may be with us for awhile. The Fed released the minutes from their last central bank meeting-held Nov. 3 and 4-and Dan Arnall reports: “During the discussion, Bernanke & Co. heard from their staff economists who predicted a ‘strengthening of the recovery,’ which would be supported by improving financial markets, household wealth and continued improvement in confidence. But the gradual nature of the recovery wouldn’t lead to a quick recovery of the more than 7 million jobs lost during the downturn. Most of the policymakers held that it could take 5-6 years to get the economy and job market back on a track to consistent growth.”
GOVERNOR SANFORD CASE/WHAT’S NEXT?-Embattled South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford has the following to look forward to-from Robin Reese: “There are two different hearings at issue in this case….a House hearing on impeaching Sanford and an ethics panel hearing on ethics violations. The state Attorney General is reviewing the ethics commission report to determine whether criminal charges are warranted. December 1st: House subcommittee resumes its hearing on the impeachment measure. [a vote is expected sometime next week, and if approved, the impeachment measure would go to the Judiciary Committee for a vote before it would go to the full House. ]
Early next year: The State Ethics Commission will hold a hearing on the 37 ethics violations filed against Sanford. No specific date has been set.”
OBAMA ADMINISTRATION CREATES NEW COMMISSION TO STUDY BIOETHICAL ISSUES-From Sunlen Miller: “President Obama today signed an Executive Order creating a new Presidential Commission to study bioethical issues. The commission will ‘advise the President on bioethical issues that may emerge from advances in biomedicine and related areas of science and technology.’ In June of this year the Obama administration disbanded President Bush’s Bioethics Commission that was established in 2001 – members were told that the commission was no longer functioning the way the new White House wanted. A White House aide says Mr. Bush’s commission had been functioning as a ‘philosophically leaning advisory group’ rather than a group that ‘offers practical policy options,’ and they intended to create a whole new commission from scratch. The White House says their new commission will work to identify and promote policies and practices, ‘that ensure scientific research, health care delivery, and technological innovation are conducted in an ethically responsible manner’.”
–PHILADELPHIA WEAPONS PLOT- A grand jury in Philadelphia has indicted four men for an alleged plot to support the Lebanon-based terror group Hezbollah. The indictment filed Tuesday says two suspects sought to provide roughly 1,200 Colt M4 machine guns to Hezbollah, but their efforts were thwarted by an undercover operative. The indictment charges a total of eight others with lesser offenses related to schemes to traffic in stolen or counterfeit goods. Pierre Thomas notes that Hassan Hodroj, the lead defendant, is a publicly acknowledged member of Hezbollah's Political Council in Beirut. (Pierre Thomas/AP)
–SAAB SALE FALLS THROUGH-Bad news for General Motors. GM had been aiming to close a deal by the end of next month to sell Saab to a partnership led by the Swedish luxury car builder Koenigsegg and backed by China's Beijing Automotive Industrial Holding Ltd. Koenigsegg, a tiny Swedish company that hand builds sports cars that sell for $1 million, said it was pulling out of the deal because of the risk of delays in closing five months after reaching a preliminary deal with GM. GM said it will assess the future options for Saab in the coming days. This is the third sale of a GM brand that’s taken a fall (Saturn to Penske Group, Opel to Magna International/Sberbank, and now this). (Dan Arnall/AP)
–TOYOTA RECALL- The government says Toyota will recall 110,000 Tundra trucks from the 2000-2003 model years to address excessive rust on the vehicle's frame. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is alerting owners of the Tundras to remove spare tires mounted underneath the vehicle. Excessive corrosion due to road salt could lead to part of the vehicle's frame failing and the spare tire falling onto the roadway, creating a hazard for other vehicles. The recall involves 2000-2003 model year Tundras registered in 20 "cold weather" states and the District of Columbia. (AP/Dennis Powell/Lisa Stark)
–MULLEN IN GENEVA FOR START TALKS- Word that Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen traveled to Geneva last night for unannounced meetings with his Russian counterpart to discuss the START Treaty follow-on agreement. The treaty expires next week and the goal is to have not only a new agreement to replace it, but to keep the current inspection protocols in place until any new treaty is ratified.