Howdy folks. Tonight's note follows……
TSA MANUAL-I don’t think the Obama Administration had this in mind when they talk about “transparency”. The Transportation Security Administration’s own airport security manual…posted for everybody to see on the internet. Big deal? Brian Ross, reporting for WORLD NEWS, says “it is being called the most serious security breach since the creation of the TSA after the 9/11 attacks.” The 93-page document has a wealth of information that bad guys would welcome.Ross: “Most damaging say officials, what size electrical wire can go undetected by airport screening machines, valuable information for a bomb maker.” There’s more-“Also in the documents-a list of VIPs and federal officials who can get specialized or no screening and items that screeners can opt not to check including wheelchairs, footwear of the disabled, prosthetic devices and casts and orthopedic shoes.” The following note on checked bags-“the TSA only inspects 20 percent of checked baggage by hand. The rest is never opened, according to the document.” How the heck did this document end up online? Ross: “As part of a contract bidding procedure, the TSA posted the document on line with the sensitive parts electronically blacked out. But with a few key strokes, bloggers were able to quickly remove the black.” What this means for you, Mr. Frequent Flier, is potentially more headaches. Ross: “the disclosure of so many sensitive details is likely to lead to urgent changes and even longer lines at airport screening locations.” What sayeth the TSA? Ross: “No Homeland Security official would agree to appear on our program tonight. But in a written statement, the TSA said the document is an outdated version of procedures from last year that has since been updated six times.” Not that they are ignoring it-Ross again: “They say they’re taking it seriously and have launched a full investigation. One thing they’ve learned is that if they had blacked out the sensitive parts with a simple black marker, instead of a fancy computer program, none of this would have ever happened.”
JOBS/OBAMA SPEECH AND EXTENDING TARP-The President laid out his jobs initiatives this morning in a speech at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C. Jake Tapper/Yunji de Nies and Sunlen Miller report “President Obama today outlined three areas – infrastructure, clean energy and help for small businesses – as a way to ‘generate the greatest number of jobs while generating the greatest value for our economy,’ and put the nation ‘on a sturdier economic footing.’”
It’s the “help for small businesses” element we’ll focus on- Jake Tapper first talked about it on Monday’s WORLD NEWS-the idea of using some of the $200 billion in TARP savings to help small businesses hire additional personnel. Tonight, Jake Tapper told Charles Gibson on WORLD NEWS “ABC NEWS has learned that the administration tomorrow is going to announce that it will extend that TARP program, the troubled asset relief program that was originally aimed at Wall Street, they are going to extend it. It’s supposed to expire in December, they want to extend it to October 2010. They want that money to go to freeing up credit for small business owners and also for homeowners who are struggling with their mortgages.”
HEALTH CARE VOTE-Senate said no to stiffening abortion restrictions in the health care bill. An amendment by Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE) failed by a vote of 54 to 45 (a yes vote is to reject the tougher restrictions). As for the bill on the whole, Charles Gibson asked Jon Karl if there were any updates…Karl: “Democrats in the Senate are more optimistic on (healthcare reform) than I have seen them in a long time. The reason for the optimism is they now have an emerging compromise on the so-called public option. Instead of creating a new government-run insurance program, this new compromise would expand Medicare” and lower the eligibility to 55. Karl continues: “(the compromise) would also allow ordinary citizens to buy private insurance very similar to that offered to members of congress. these are all ideas that moderates who don’t like the public option, people like Joe Lieberman (I-CT), seem inclined to support. and that means they are potentially much closer to getting a bill passed in the Senate by the end of the year.” As for that failed abortion amendment, the issue is not going away anytime soon, especially since it’s a big part of the House version of the Health Care bill. Karl: “(The more restrictive abortion language) was a big part in getting the bill passed in the house. so, without that, it's unclear, can they pass it in the house? I talked to a top aide to Speaker Pelosi today who says the House is not going to rubber stamp whatever happens here in the senate. There will be more negotiations ahead.”
NEW/SENATE DEMOCRATS WRAP PUBLIC OPTION TALKS-From Zach Wolf: “Democrats have wrapped their secret health reform meetings and called a surprise press conference tonight. At the presser which just finished was Mr. Wolf: “Reid told our hastily arranged live cameras tonight that the ten Democratic negotiators (5 liberals and 5 conservatives) ‘worked through a real problem here’ and ‘have a broad agreement’ on ‘consensus that insures the American people win.’
But he wouldn't say what's in the agreement and he said that reporting on what is in the agreement thus far has not been entirely accurate.
Reid said reports that the public option are gone are ‘not true’ and people ‘will be surprised by what we sent to CBO.’
He added that the ten negotiators won't be telling reporters or their colleagues what's in the agreement until the numbers get back from CBO, perhaps later this week.”
IRAQ VIOLENCE: Screams and sirens echoed through Baghdad earlier in the day as suicide bombers staged the third major coordinated attack on the capital city since August. Casualties were in the hundreds, with at least 127 killed and more than 500 wounded. As Jim Sciutto reports: “In a few harrowing minutes…panic returned to Baghdad. Five bombs…devastating a mosque, a college, and government ministries, including two that had been bombed just weeks before.” Jim explains: “ The attacks are seen as an attempt to undermine the government ahead of national elections now set for March. Police tell ABC News the bombers had to pass through at least five checkpoints…an embarrassment for Iraqi security forces who have taken over the lead as US troops draw down.” As for what these attacks in Iraq could mean for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from the country, Martha Raddatz says: “I don’t think there are real plans to change any kind of withdrawal from Iraq. But the Status of Forces Agreement says all U.S. forces should be out of there by the end of 2011. That can only change if the Iraqis ask the Americans to stay. That might happened after days like today.” Members of the Obama Administration were quick to condemn today’s attack. Vice President Biden spoke to both Iraqi President Jalal Talabani and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to convey his condolences. Biden later said in a statement: “The United States will stand with the Iraqis and their government as a partner and a friend as they build national unity. “ Secretary of State Clinton also released a statement, saying: “The terrorists who murdered innocent civilians today will not succeed in undermining the Iraqi people’s progress toward a more peaceful and democratic future.” (thanks to Ed Bailey for this entry)
MAJOR WINTER STORM: After walloping the west with heavy rain and snow, a fierce winter storm continues to wreck havoc on at least a dozen states as it moves east. The storm stretches from Kansas to Nebraska and east to the Great Lakes, and is forecast to bring heavy winds, several inches of snow and dangerous ice conditions to the region. Portions of major highways in Colorado, Nebraska, Iowa, South Dakota, Missouri, Kansas, Wisconsin and northern Illinois have been closed due to weather-related traffic accidents. “The storm put the deep freeze on air travel too…300 flights cancelled today at Chicago O’Hare,” Barbara Pinto reported on WORLD NEWS. “At least eight states have issued blizzard warnings – including Nebraska, Missouri and Michigan…all expecting about a foot of snow.” Wisconsin governor Jim Doyle has declared a state of emergency in 72 of the state’s counties. Parts of the state could get up to 15 inches of snow by Wednesday, and temperatures are expected to dip near zero degrees. South of the blizzard, Accuweather.com reports there were hurricane-force winds in West Texas and New Mexico, where winds up to 116 mph were recorded in White Sands.
In the southeast, a separate storm moving through Mississippi, Arkansas and Louisiana has triggered tornado warnings scheduled to expire about now (9pm ET). (thanks to Marisa Bramwell for this entry)
TIGER WOODS: The Tiger Woods saga continues…early this morning his mother-in-law Barbro Holmberg was rushed to the hospital after someone from his home – believed to be either Elin or her twin sister — called 911 and reported Holmberg collapsed in the bathroom. She was released this afternoon, but the incident brought additional unwanted attention to Woods, who last week admitted to “transgressions” and pleaded for privacy. But in this internet age of TMZ, Radar, Facebook and Twitter…stories about Tiger, his transgressions and the fallout won’t be going away any time soon. “Tiger Woods’ personal turmoil has taken on a public life of its own…every development traveling at lightning speed,” David Muir reported on WORLD NEWS. “If you go on Twitter, every couple minutes, there are 2 or 3 tweets of people saying I’m sick of this Tiger Woods stuff, followed by 9 or ten tweets on the case,” Nicholas Thompson, Senior Editor of Wired Magazine told Muir. “[People are] tired over it, yet obsessing over it.” Sports analyst Christine Brennan tells ABC NEWS “Tiger can say until he’s blue in the face that this is a private matter, but that’s over. The same thing that catapulted Tiger to the top of his profession, endorsements and money, has now turned on him.”
Gatorade today announced it would no longer make its Tiger Focus drink. The company said the decision to discontinue the drink was made before the recent events in the golfer’s personal life. (thanks to Marisa Bramwell for this entry)
AFGHANISTAN OUTLOOK: General Stanley McChrystal was full of optimism today as he testified before two important congressional committees. As Luis Martinez reports: “The top US commander in Afghanistan told Congress today that he expects to see significant progress to take place in that country over the next 18 months that will lead to a “critical decisive point” in that country.” McChrystal testified: “By next December, when I report back to you in detail, I expect that we'll be able to lay real progress out that will be clear to everyone," McChrystal told House lawmakers. "And by the following summer of July 2011, I think the progress will be unequivocally clear to the Afghan people. And when it's unequivocally clear to them, that will be a critical, decisive point." But Martha Raddatz indicates General McChrystal may have been a little too optimistic: “Projecting certainty in a war effort may always be a good thing. But in his testimony today before Congress, Gen. Stanley McChrystal exhibited confidence to a stunning degree. Again and again McChrystal said the mission would work. He did not hedge many comments with “I believe” or “We expect to…” Instead, he went straight to full-on predictions of success: “We can and will accomplish this mission,” he said. Give that this is war, which by definition means that things rarely go the way you want them to, and war in a country without a great record for victory, perhaps he could have taken a more cautious tone. Remember Iraq. ” Or ‘Mission Accomplished?’ McChrystal also had some choice words for al Qaeda’s leader and the importance of Osama bin Laden, as Luis explains:: “What will it take to defeat Al-Qaeda? Capturing or killing Osama bin Laden would help, said McChrystal, calling him an iconic figure whose “survival emboldens Al-Qaeda as a franchising organization across the world.” “It would not defeat Al-Qaeda to have him captured or killed, but I don't think that we can finally defeat Al-Qaeda until he is captured or killed,” he said.” (thanks to Ed Bailey for this entry)
CLUSTER HEADACHES-Good news for severe headache sufferers. Michelle Schlief: “A study being published in JAMA finds that high-flow oxygen treatment significantly helps patients with cluster headaches. Cluster headaches are also known as ‘suicide headaches’ because of the extreme nature of the pain and the long duration of the attacks, which can occur many times a day and last up to 3 hours each. Bouts or ‘clusters’ of such attacks can go on for weeks or even months.
‘Cluster headache attacks are widely regarded as the most severe form of human pain known,’ affirmed Dr. Robert Shapiro of the University of Vermont. It is estimated that 0.3% of the population suffer from cluster headaches with men much more likely to be affected.
Oxygen therapy has been used by some for several decades to abort the headaches once they occur, but has until now been considered experimental because there have been no clinical trial proving its effectiveness. And no guarantee that insurance will cover the procedure.
In this study, researchers treated 76 adults with 4 episodes of cluster headaches between 2002 to 2007 alternately with high-flow oxygen or a placebo (high-flow normal air). Both were delivered using a face mask for 15 minutes. The study found that 78% of those on oxygen reported immediate relief compared to only 20% receiving the placebo. The headache experts we heard from called this a landmark trial.”
ARMORGROUP LOSES CONTRACT-From Kirit Radia: “The fallout from the revelation of alcohol-fueled sex parties among private contractors guarding the U.S. Embassy in Kabul has now cost the company providing security at the embassy its job. ArmorGroup North America, the company that employed the guards implicated in the scandal, has lost its contract to provide perimeter protection around the embassy compound.
The State Department today said the decision not to renew the contract was a direct result of the behavior of some of the guards, as well as previous concerns about ArmorGroup's ability to adequately staff the contract. Photos and video of the sex parties and reports of hazing of new employees were featured in ABC NEWS reports earlier this year. You can read the full story on The Blotter here: http://www.abcnews.go.com/Blotter/embassy-guards-wild-fired/story?id=9284380
–NEW/NYC GRAND JURY/9-11 EVIDENCE-Rich Esposito confirms that a New York City grand jury has started hearing evidence and testimony in the 9/11 case against Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. (Rich Esposito/Marisa Bramwell)
–PAKISTAN/INTELLIGENCE HQ ATTACKS- At least 12 people have been killed in a bomb blast near an intelligence office in the central Pakistani city of Multan. Militants have now blown up the main intelligence offices in the Northwest (Peshawar), East (Lahore), and Southeast (Multan). The headquarters, in Islamabad, has been targeted before, and has long been turned into a fortress you can’t walk or drive near. (Nick Schifrin)
–2009/5TH HOTTEST ON RECORD- The current decade likely ranks as the hottest since temperature records began in the 1850's, the U.N. World Meteorological Organization announced today. 2009 will likely rank as the fifth-warmest year on record the WMO said, although the final rank won't be available until next year. 1998 holds the rank as the hottest year. (Clayton Sandell)
–BRYANT GUMBEL-Sportscaster and TV Host Bryant Gumbel announced today that he is being treated for lung cancer. The news came as he subbed for Regis Philbin on the LIVE WITH REGIS AND KELLY show. Co-anchor Kelly Ripa asked him to dance, and he declined, noting that he had surgery last month to remove a malignant tumor in his chest. According to Gumbel, part of his lung was removed, and he will be seeing his surgeon next week. (Robin Reese)
–SALAHIS PLAN TO TAKE THE FIFTH-The House Homeland Security Committee meets tomorrow to decide whether to subpoena State Dinner party crashers Tareq and Michaele Salahi. ABC NEWS has received a letter from the Salahis’ attorneys indicating that the couple does not plan to testify if subpoenaed and that they plan to invoke their Fifth Amendment privilege. (Pierre Thomas)
–FBI INTERNAL REVIEW RE:FORT HOOD SHOOTING- FBI Director Robert S. Mueller, III, has asked Judge William H. Webster to conduct an independent review of FBI policies, practices, and actions prior to the tragic events at Fort Hood. Following the November 5, 2009 shootings, Director Mueller ordered an immediate, preliminary review of the FBI’s actions, as well any relevant policies and procedures that may have impacted FBI efforts before the shootings. The preliminary review has been completed, and Judge Webster will now lead an independent, outside effort that will look both at the initial findings and allow for additional review as he and his staff determine. (Pierre Thomas/FBI Press Release)