howdy folks-Clem Lane here. Plenty of news tonight-let's get right to it…….
HEALTH CARE-Senate Democrats (and the two independents that caucus with them) went to the White House this afternoon to talk health care reform with the President. The President’s message was pretty simple, as Jon Karl noted on WORLD NEWS: “get your act together and pass this bill”. “This bill” is a far different animal than the one trumpeted by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid just last week. Karl: “Gone is one of the central tenets the compromise reached last week-the expansion of Medicare, stripped out because of the objections of Joe Lieberman. But Democratic leaders say the bill is still worth passing.” Senator Durbin (D-IL) put it this way: “The progressive wing of our caucus has made a number of concessions but here’s the bottom line: At the end of the day, 31 million Americans will have health insurance who don’t have it today.” Karl notes that the bill “still includes many of Obama’s priorities” such as “requiring most Americans to buy health insurance. Subsidies to help lower-income Americans pay for it and new limits on insurance companies, including a ban on denying coverage because of pre-existing conditions.” Not enough say some liberals-former Democratic party chairman Howard Dean told NPR today “this is essentially the collapse of health care reform in the US Senate. Honestly, the best thing to do right now is kill the Senate bill.” Not the kind of message the President wants to hear, especially with Republican leader Mitch McConnell announcing today that he had “40 unified Republicans” against the bill, and the public’s opinion of the matter. George Stephanopoulos noted on WORLD NEWS that a majority of Americans disapproved of how the President was handling health-care reform. So how does the White House handle this? Full speed ahead! Stephanopoulos: “The White House firmly believes that the punishment for failure is far worse than passing an unpopular bill. They believe they can sell it down the road. But if they fail, they will send a message that Washington doesn't work.” And failure is still in the cards-Karl notes that “even after (the President’s) forceful message today, Democrats still don’t have the 60 votes they need to pass the bill.”
ABC NEWS POLL/OBAMA RATINGS AND THE COUNTRY’S #1 ISSUE-George Stephanopoulos also noted tonight on WORLD NEWS that getting health-care reform finished will allow the White House to focus on an even bigger issue to Americans-their economic well-being. Stephanopoulos: “The most important factor in success or failure for the president right now is to create jobs in this economy. Outweighs everything.” Data from our new poll support that- “Fifty percent of Americans in this ABC News/Washington Post poll approve of the president's work overall, down 6 points in the last month; nearly as many, 46 percent, now disapprove. On the economy, 52 percent disapprove, a majority for the first time. On the deficit, his worst score, 56 percent disapprove.” The White House looks to history for the positive spin on President Obama’s 50 percent approval rating, Stephanopoulos notes, because “That's about where Ronald Reagan was at this point in his (first) term and things turned out okay for him. Here's why-The economy turned around.” Yet more evidence that the economy remains the country’s most pressing issue.
HOUSING GITMO PRISONERS IN NORTHWEST ILLINOIS-It’s been rumored for awhile-today the White House made it official. The federal government will be acquiring the Thomson Correctional Center in Thomson, Illinois with the intention of housing as many as 100 terror detainees from the Guantanamo Bay facility as well as other federal inmates. Residents of the town, perhaps surprisingly, seem to like the idea. Jake Tapper, filing for WORLD NEWS, explains why that might be: “Tucked in the northwest corner of Illinois, Thomson is economically distressed. State budget woes have meant the local maximum-security prison that opened in 2001 has never been fully utilized.” What might the prison mean economically? Tapper: “A White House economic study says the new plan would generate nearly 4000 jobs and $1 billion in wages.” But plenty of opposition to the move abounds-including those who cite security concerns of having so many dangerous al-Qaeda-associated individuals on American soil. Tapper asked a former US attorney involved in trying terrorism cases “are those fears legitimate?” David Kelly, pointing to some of the prisoners housed at a supermax prison facility in Colorado such as Zacharias Moussaoui and shoe bomber Richard Reid, says no, that “has not been the experience at Admax in Colorado.” Tapper says “all told federal prisons on American soil currently house 359 inmates with a connection to or history of terrorism.” And of course there’s the Obama pledge to shutter Gitmo to consider as well. Tapper: “White House officials say that by closing Guantanamo, they are removing a recruiting tool that senior al-Qaeda leadership have used in no less than 32 recruiting videos since 9/11. They say this move makes the U.S. safer but opponents obviously do not see it this way”
BLIND RECALL: More than 50 million Roman-style shades and blinds have been recalled because of a risk that children may be strangled by the cords. “Today’s recall was brought on by three strangulation hazards for children: roman shades with looped bead chains. The strings on the back sides of roman shades, and the lifting loop on roller blinds, which can slide off,” Elisabeth Leamy reported on WORLD NEWS. Eight children have died after being strangulated by the cords since 2001; the Consumer Product Safety Commission said five deaths and 16 near-strangulations have occurred since 2006. “The government is now looking at creating mandatory safety standards that would prevent other parents from suffering this fear in the future,” Leamy says. In the meantime, the recommendation is cordless window treatments for homes where children live or visit. (thanks to Marisa Bramwell for this entry)
ORAL ROBERTS DIES: Televangelist Oral Roberts died today in Newport Beach, Calif. of complications from pneumonia. He was 91. Roberts’ “evangelical work began with small tent revivals in the late 40s and 50s…he fought tuberculosis at 16…and said it was during a trip to a faith healer when God told him he’s be cured…and would be given healing powers of his own. By the 60’s and 70’s he was among the first televangelists, spreading his message to millions,” David Muir reported on WORLD NEWS. Roberts founded Tulsa’s Oral Roberts University in 1963, hosted a television program with his son, “Miracles Now,” and wrote several books. “Oral Roberts was not only my earthly father; he was also my spiritual father and mentor. He was the greatest man of God I’ve ever known,” Roberts’ son Richard said in a statement posted on his website. “He had a passion to bring healing to the sick. He came along when many in Christendom did not believe in God’s power and goodness, yet his name became synonymous with miracles.” (thanks to Marisa Bramwell for this entry)
NEARSIGHTEDNESS ON THE RISE-From Michelle Schlief: “A study released in the Archives of Ophthalmology on Monday found that Americans are becoming more nearsighted. In fact, when the researchers compared rates of myopia using national health data, they found that in the early 2000s nearly 42% of people age 12 to 54 years old were nearsighted, compared to 25% of people in the same age range in the early 1970s. This isn’t simply a matter of changes in the rates of screening, because each person in the nationally representative study was tested. Some media accounts have played up a possible connection between this increasing nearsightedness and changes in the amount of time people now spend staring at computers and portable electronics, or possibly the amount of homework that kids get today.” Schlief goes on to say that the eye specialists we talked to were cautious, saying more testing is needed before any conclusions could be drawn.
ESPN/STALKER PLEADS GUILTY-Michael David Barrett has pleaded guilty to stalking and shooting nude videos of ESPN reporter Erin Andrews. He entered his plea Tuesday during a hearing attended by Andrews and her attorney in a Los Angeles federal courtroom.
According to a plea deal filed last week, prosecutors and Barrett agreed to a 27-month prison sentence. But a judge will decide how long he serves and how much restitution he will have pay Andrews. Andrews spoke at today’s hearing. From Laura Coverson: “Her voice sometimes quaking with emotion, Andrews told US Dist Court Judge Manuel Real,that Barrett was a ‘sexual predator’ whose actions ‘have had a devastating impact on me, my family and my career.’ She told the court she is now routinely subjected to crude remarks by stadium crowds when she is on the job. ‘I hope he never sees the light of day again so no one has to deal with what I have had to deal with.’ Barrett is scheduled to appear for sentencing Feb 22, 2010. He could face up to 5 years in prison.”
MT. HOOD CLIMBERS-From Eric Horng: “Because of high avalanche risk, no further ground search ‘for foreseeable future’, according to the search coordinator. Says there would need to be four or five days of clear, cool weather in order to change this assessment. More heavy snow on the mountain is expected at least until Thursday. Dr. Terri Schmidt, a survivability expert who has briefed the family of the two missing climbers, says there's a less than one-percent chance of surviving past the initial 48 hours of a search effort, based on statistics. She's been studying such cases for two decades.
Searchers hypothesize there was some sort of accident or incident which prompted the deceased climber, Luke Gullberg, to attempt to climb down for help. He ultimately succumbed to hypothermia after suffering a fall. They base this hypothesis on where Gullberg's body was found and certain gear items found nearby.
Searchers are still looking for breaks in the weather that would allow further aerial search but said personnel would not be lowered from aircraft onto the mountain unless there was a compelling reason."
KIDS SWINE FLU RECALLED-The CDC announced the recall of 800 thousand doses of swine flu vaccine. The recall was instigated by the manufacturer who discovered that the potency of the vaccine waned over time. The doses were in the form of pre-filled syringes intended for children aged six months to three years. No re-vaccination required-as Joanna Schaffhausen notes “both the CDC and FDA agree that the difference in potency likely makes no difference.”
HOPENHAGEN?-As you know, President Obama heads to Copenhagen later this week to attend the Climate Summit. Will there be a climate deal in place for the President when he gets there? At today’s on-camera White House briefing, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs discussed the matter. Sunlen Miller reports: “Gibbs would not say whether the United States is approaching Copenhagen with a coordinated strategy with Britain, Germany, and France but emphasized the president’s commitment to make progress at the climate summit. ‘I think the president has been clear in — in setting forth a robust goal for the United States to meet by 2020. We have voiced our support for financing through 2012. And we have worked with China and India to bring them along in this process to the point where they have now released specific goals for decreasing their carbon intensity between now and 2020.’ Gibbs added that there are issues that exist. He pointed to the president’s priority of working toward increased transparency in the final agreement.”
FDIC BOOSTS SELF TO DEAL WITH BANK CLOSURE VOLUME-This is not the kind of job creation we need but….Matt Jaffe: “The FDIC today approved a 55 percent budget boost to $4 billion and a staff increase of over 1,500 employees as the agency wrestles with the highest number of bank failures since the early 1990s. Nearly 1,650 new staffers – almost all on a temporary basis – will be brought on board primarily to assist with bank closings. The additional staffers will bring the agency’s workforce to 8,653 next year, up from 7,010 this year. As part of the $4 billion budget, the agency has also set aside $2.5 billion specifically for bank failures, nearly double the $1.3 billion in this year’s $2.6 billion budget. 133 banks have failed already this year. In the agency’s third-quarter report released last month, the FDIC said 552 insured institutions – with a combined $345 billion in assets – are on their “Problem List”, the highest number of at-risk banks since the end of 1993.”
ZA PLANE ZA PLANE/THE DREAMLINER’S MAIDEN VOYAGE-It went well even if it didn’t last as long as hoped. Deteriorating weather has forced an early end to the maiden flight of Boeing's new 787 jetliner over Washington state. A spokeswoman says the two-member crew was able to perform a number of basic system checks during the three-hour flight. Boeing will use six 787s in a nine-month flight test program leading to FAA certification. (AP)
FOOD MARKETING TO KIDS/VOLUNTARY GOVERNMENT STANDARDS PROPOSED- From Lisa Stark: “The federal government today proposed its first ever nutritional standards for foods marketed to children. Bottom line: they are a leap forward but when enacted will be VOLUNTARY guidelines – not mandatory for the industry to follow. One key component of the new standards says the foods marketed to children must provide a meaningful contribution to a healthful diet – and there are specifics about what that means. The voluntary guidelines would cover food marketing to kids up to those aged 17 (most industry guidelines go up to children age 11 or 12) – so that’s a big change. They were drawn up by the a working group from the FTC, CDC , FDA and USDA, under orders from Congress to do so.. The nutrition standards will be published in the federal register in January, and open for comment. They will be finalized in a report to Congress next summer. There is always the threat of regulation if the industry fails to follow voluntary guidelines.”
HEDGE FUND BILLIONAIRE INDICTED-From Richard Esposito: “A federal grand jury has returned an indictment against New York hedge-fund billionaire Raj Rajaratnam, the principal in the $21 million Galleon Group hedge-fund insider trading case — the biggest such case ever brought, and the first to use court-authorized wire taps. As ABC News reported exclusively, Rajaratnam has also provided extensive financial support to a charity linked to the Tamil Tigers terror group.
The 36-page, 17-count indictment closely tracks the criminal complaint on which Rajaratnam was arrested in October. Rajaratnam is charged with conspiracy and securities fraud, accused of operating an elaborate insider trading operation in tech and other stocks through his hedge fund. Galleon Group had made Rajaratnam one of the wealthiest men in America, with an estimated net worth of $1.3 billion.” You can read the full story on the Blotter http://abcnews.go.com/Blotter/raj-rajaratnam-indicted-insider-trading/story?id=9346142
–LETTERMAN CASE-Prosecutors filed this afternoon their response to Joe Halderman’s November 10 motion to dismiss charges that he tried to extort $2 million from David Letterman. No significant revelations in the response, but it is an entertaining read, with ample quotes from the taped conversations between Halderman and Letterman’s lawyer and compelling evidence that Halderman was trying to extract a payoff from Letterman rather than, as he claims, just cut a business deal. (Reynolds Holding)
–SECRET CIA PRISON LEADS TO LITHUANIAN OFFICIAL RESIGNING- The head of Lithuanian intelligence resigned Monday in the wake of ABC News' exclusive report that the CIA operated a secret prison for al-Qaeda detainees in 2004 and 2005.
Povilas Malakauskas, head of Lithuania's State Security department, left without prior public notice after two years in the position. Lithuanian media quoted Arydas Anusauskas, head of a parliamentary committee investigating the prison, as saying that the intelligence chief stepped down "in part" because of the government's effort to investigate the details surrounding the CIA facility. (Matthew Cole/Mark Schone)
–GM/GOVERNMENT PAYBACK TIMETABLE- In a meeting with wire reporters this morning, GM Chairman and CEO Ed Whitacre said the auto maker plans to repay the entire $6.7 billion in government loans by the end of June. In a statement the company said: “GM is scheduled to fully repay the UST and EDC loans by June 2010, assuming no adverse economic or business conditions. As previously announced, the first installment of $1.2 billion ($1.0 billion to the UST and $192 million to the EDC) will be paid this month.” This is the loan the company received from the government when it emerged from bankruptcy in July. The $50 billion that was previously provided to GM was converted into stock – giving taxpayers a 60% ownership of the company – and will be paid back once the company issues shares and becomes a public entity. That is TBD, but the company hopes sometime next year. (Charles Herman)