Happy thursday folks-here's what we're working on….
TOYOTA RECALL-Well maybe it’s not just the floor mats. Toyota last year recalled some 4.2 million floor mats from its’ cars after complaints from customers that the gas pedal would stick leading to “runaway” cars. Brian Ross has been reporting on this story from the beginning and notes that Toyota believed the floor mat recall “would fix the problem of its runaway cars.” Today, the company ordered another massive recall.Ross explains: “Tonight’s action involves what (Toyota) says is a rare case of sticking gas pedals in some 2.3 million cars, including the Camry and the Corolla.” At issue, Ross notes is that “since the much-publicized recall of the floor mats there have been reports of almost 60 new cases.” Which has safety experts wondering…Sean Kane noted “Are some of the problems caused by floor mats? Sure, yes they are. But we continue to find evidence from a variety of consumers who come to us with incidents that cannot be explained by a floor mat.” Like Kevin Haggerty of Pittstown, New Jersey who says his Toyota Avalon shot up to 65 miles an hour “without me pushing the accelerator at all.” Ross continues: “Haggerty has seen ABC NEWS reports on what to do if it happened…shift to neutral…and he was able to get the car under control and make it to the local Toyota dealer with his brakes smoking…the engine racing.” What did the Toyota dealer do? Ross: “Haggerty says the dealer’s service manager saw the problem and on directions from Toyota, replaced the electronic sensors on his gas pedal and throttle.” Remember that Toyota’s reason for this new recall was “sticking gas pedals”…but Haggerty told Ross “his gas pedal was never stuck and safety experts say even this latest recall still falls short.” A claim Toyota doesn’t dispute-Ross: “They continue to look for other possible causes for these runaways cars, including actively investigating other incidents….including those reported by ABC NEWS.”
CALIFORNIA WEATHER- Late today, acting Governor Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency for five California counties- Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Francisco and Siskiyou. Residents in those and other California counties are dealing with their fourth (and hopefully final) large storm of the week. Like the previous three, the storm has brought copious amounts of rain, strong winds, flooding, mudslides and a major threat to homes in areas denuded by wildfires the past two years. Take the hills northeast of Los Angeles. Sam Champion reports “In La Canada-Flintridge, nearly 500 residents have evacuated their homes due to the threat of mudslides. The hills have no vegetation to hold the mud, after a summer of historic wildfires. Many of the catch basins that protect these communities from storm run-off are at capacity…filled with mud, rain and debris.” Sounds ominous doesn’t it? Not to some residents though. Champion:”Despite the great risks, many residents refused to leave. Police distributed pink ribbons to their homes so they could easily be found in case of a major slide.” These hillside residents aren’t the only ones affected by the week-long deluge. Champion says in Los Angeles “cars inching through waterlogged roads and rain pounding the street at nearly an inch an hour have become common sights.” Snow is an issue as well…Champion notes “on a section of the I-5 known as the Grapevine, the highway was closed under white-out conditions” Air travel has been affected as well. Southwest Airlines says it has suspended all takeoffs and landings Thursday in Burbank, Ontario and San Diego in California and at Phoenix and Tucson in Arizona. Most Southwest flights are canceled in Orange County, and some are canceled at Los Angeles International Airport…over 400 flights in all. The rain should be gone in most places by tomorrow.
OBAMA BANK PLAN/WALL STREET REACTION-President Obama came out today calling for tougher regulations on banks. The timing of the announcement has “nothing to do with that special election in Massachusetts and voter anger there”, Jake Tapper reports “although they do acknowledge that these new rules could appeal to some of those voters”. Tapper, reporting on WORLD NEWS, explains: “The President’s new rules would impose limits on how big a financial institute can grow and most controversially keep commercial banks from running high-risk hedge and private-equity funds.” Tapper notes “the collapse of those funds partly led to the financial meltdown and the big bailouts”…a point underscored by the President today who said “We cannot accept a system in which shareholders make money on these operations if the bank wins, but taxpayers foot the bill if the bank loses.”. Reaction from the financial sector was less than positive. Tapper: “critics of the proposal argue that this move would cut into bank profits, which might lead them to pass costs onto consumers, and might make them even less likely to increase lending.” Cue the market swoon-Tapper reports “the Dow dropped 200 points after the announcement, led by bank stocks.” Problems with the President’s plan apparently exist within the Obama Administration as well. Tapper notes in his close that “sources close to (Treasury Secretary Tim) Geithner tell ABC NEWS that Mr. Geithner has some concerns about these new rules. They say he is concerned about how they will affect competitiveness of U.S. banks compared to international rivals.”
SUPREME COURT RULES ON CAMPAIGN FINANCE: A landmark ruling from the Supreme Court today. In a 5-4 decision, the court decided that corporations may spend whatever they want to support or oppose candidates for president and Congress. Our Terry Moran has some background: “It all started with an obscure documentary film: "Hillary: The Movie…" …a relentless attack on then-Senator Hillary Clinton, made in 2008 when she was running for president by a group called Citizens United, which was funded in part by corporate money. Congress had prohibited corporations and unions from advertising during campaigns–part of the 2002 McCain-Feingold law–so Citizens United was banned from airing its movie on video-on-demand. That–the Court ruled today–is censorship, plain and simple.” Put another way, Terry says: “The sharply divided justices declared that the law violates the First Amendment's guarantee of free speech for all–even corporations.” But there was strong opposition, as Terry explains: “Justice John Paul Stevens, in an impassioned dissent, said the Court was turning its back on decades of efforts to protect elections from the corrupting effects of big money.” While the full consequences of the decision are hard to measure, politicians made clear whom they believed benefited. Democrats, led by President Barack Obama, condemned the ruling while Republicans cheered it. Since this is an election year, I’m sure you’ll soon be seeing even more than the usual blizzard of ads on a TV screen near you. (thanks to Ed Bailey for this entry)
JOHN EDWARDS- Former presidential candidate John Edwards today admitted what so many had suspected-he is the father of a girl born to a campaign staffer he had an affair with. From our ABC NEWS DOT COM report from Lee Ferran/Brian Ross and Chris Francescani: "I am Quinn's father," Edwards said in the bombshell statement this morning. "I will do everything in my power to provide her with the love and support she deserves. The former senator and presidential hopeful had an affair with campaign cinematographer, Rielle Hunter, 42, and she later give birth to Frances Quinn. "I have been able to spend time with her during the past year and trust that future efforts to show her the love and affection she deserves can be done privately and in peace," Edwards statement said, referring to the little girl. "It was wrong for me ever to deny she was my daughter and hopefully one day, when she understands, she will forgive me," the statement said.” If you’re wondering about the timing…Ferran et al continue:”The admission comes a week before the man who had claimed to be the baby's father, former aide Andrew Young, was scheduled to appear on ABC News' "20/20" in an exclusive interview. Young recently penned a book called "The Politician" about the situation and there is widespread anticipation about what it could reveal about the former presidential candidate.” Dan Harris, reporting for WORLD NEWS, picks up the story: “We went back to Young today in light of Edwards’ statement. (Young’s reaction?) I think those were words, empty words. If this is what he wanted to say (to his child) he should have said it two years ago.” Elizabeth Edwards also had reaction today saying “I think John feels relieved that this is behind him I’m pretty sure and I think our whole family feels relieved you know.” Edward’s admission does not put the story ”behind him”-Harris reminds that Edwards “has to deal with a grand jury investigation into whether he misused campaign funds to buy Rielle Hunter’s silence…and he has to heal two families.”
HAITI RELIEF: There’s a waiting list of more 1,400 planes trying to get into Haiti with more aid for earthquake victims. That’s the word from General Douglas Fraser, head of the U.S. Southern Command, who spoke earlier today during a Pentagon videoconference from Haiti. Fraser also said another alternative airport has been opened at Barahona, just over the border in the Dominican Republic, to accommodate more landings. David Muir took to the air today as Haitians by the thousands moved away from the big, damaged cities, to find whatever aid they could: “As the sun came up over Port au Prince, we were invited by the Air Force, onboard these helicopters. We head for the hills, just as tens of thousands of Haitians do the same thing. Trucks bursting at the seams, people carrying suitcases…all they have left. Today, even getting on small boats to escape the capital. Aware of the exodus, the Air Force is now flying over the vast sugar cane fields well north of the capital. They're preparing to drop food here. And as we get closer, the first glimpse of people… lining the edges of a field. You can hear the people applauding.” By now, David is back on the ground, watching an approaching plane: “Hundreds are told to stay back, because of the approaching C-17 — about to come out of nowhere… Dropping nearly 70-thousand pounds of food and water. Look at the parachutes. The people are told they have to wait.. the food will be brought into town.” It took a while, but by nightfall the food was delivered. In the meantime, more help is on the way, as Luis Martinez reports from the Pentagon: “The latest DOD estimate is that the number of personnel aboard ships and on the ground will reach 20,500 by Sunday. “ (thanks to Ed Bailey for this entry)
NO MORE JESUS RIFLES-Monday night, Brian Ross did a report for NIGHTLINE on a company that embedded biblical messages in its rifle scopes that were used by the U.S. Military. Today a re-think of that practice-Luis Martinez/Joseph Rhee/Mark Schone reported on the Blotter:“Trijicon, the gunsight maker that has imprinted Bible verse numbers on its scopes, has announced that it will no longer imprint the verses on the sides of scopes intended for the U.S. military, and will also provide clients with the kits to remove the Bible verse numbers from existing scopes. An ABC News report earlier this week revealed that the Michigan-based company, which has a contract to provide up to 800,000 scopes to the U.S. military, prints references to New Testament chapters and verses in code next to the model numbers of its scopes. The scopes are used by the U.S. Marine Corps and Army in Iraq and Afghanistan, and by U.S. allies in those countries, and for the training of Afghan and Iraqi troops. Earlier today, Gen. David Petraeus, who commands CentCom, which oversees U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, told a D.C. thinktank that the company's practice was ‘disturbing …and a serious concern for me’ and field commanders. He said there had been considerable discussions within the Department of Defense about how to deal with Trijicon's practice.” Luis Martinez sent the company’s press release to the Breaking News DL. You can read the full story at http://abcnews.go.com/Blotter/jesus-rifles/story?id=9618791
AIR AMERICA NO MORE-Well…so much for “progressive” radio. Air America Radio, a liberal network that attempted to offer an alternative to conservative talk radio, is shutting down. The company was founded in April 2004-its’ on-air alumni include Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) and MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow. In a statement it said it would cease operations this afternoon and will soon file to be liquidated under Chapter 7 bankruptcy. Steve Jones sent a statement from Air America’s website explaining the move to the Business News DL.
–CONAN OUT, LENO IN AT 11:35PM FOR TONIGHT SHOW HOUR-Well it’s finally, really, truly official…Conan O’Brien is out…even though he wasn’t mentioned in the company’s press release. NBC announced today that “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno” will return to the network on March 1st, broadcasting from 11:35pm-12:35am ET. “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon” remains on the schedule beginning at 12:35am ET.
–KANSAS ABORTION TRIAL-Prospective jurors in the murder trial of the man charged with killing a Kansas abortion doctor are being questioned in open court for the first time. The initial phase of jury selection for the trial of Scott Roeder had taken place behind closed doors for nearly six days. Roeder is accused of fatally shooting Dr. George Tiller last May 31 at a Wichita church. Opening statements are expected to begin tomorrow. There is a camera in the courtroom.
–HEALTH CARE/EVEN PELOSI FACES FACTS-One day after Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid pressed the “pause” button on health-care reform, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi does the same. At a news conference today, Pelosi announced that “she did not see the votes for (passing the Senate version of the health care bill) at this time” adding “We’re not in a big rush. Pause, reflect upon what our possibilities are. See what the support is in the caucus.”
–REPUBLICAN MCDONNELL TO DELIVER STATE OF THE UNION RESPONSE- It won’t be Scott Brown delivering the response to the State of the Union, but it will be a newly elected “Change” Republican, Governor Bob McDonnell of Virginia. McDonnell’s predecessor, Tim Kaine, now chair of the DNC, gave the Democratic response to President Bush in 2006. (Zach Wolf)
–CABLEVISION, SCRIPPS REACH AGREEMENT-For Cablevision subscribers who are foodies…your long nightmare has ended. Cablevision Systems Corp. and Scripps Networks Interactive Inc. said today they reached an agreement allowing for the return of The Food Network and HGTV to Cablevision's customers in the area. No terms were announced. Cablevision had dropped the channels for its 3.1 million subscribers on Jan. 1 in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut in a fee dispute with Scripps.