Clem’s Chronicles: Sawyer in Afghanistan/Firefight on the Front Lines/Harry Reid/Mark McGwire

By Clem Lane

Jan 11, 2010 9:22pm

Diane Sawyer traveled to Afghanistan after Friday night's WORLD NEWS broadcast. She'll continue her reports from there tomorrow night. Here's tonight's news….

DIANE SAWYER IN AFGHANISTAN-With tens of thousands of American troops heading to Afghanistan for the “surge” that US officials hope will turn the tide in the battle with insurgents, Diane Sawyer reported today from the Afghan capital of Kabul. She talked with General Stanley McChrystal, the man in charge of making the “surge” work and to reverse the scenario that has seen “almost 4000 Afghans killed or wounded, more than 942 American deaths”. Sawyer asks the General “Have you done it? Have you turned the tide?”. McChrystal: “I believe we are doing that now. I believe that we have changed the way we operate in Afghanistan, we changed some of our structures, and I believe we are on the way to convincing the Afghan people the we are here to protect them.” While General McChrystal would not predict casualty figures (Gen. McCaffrey has said he foresees 300-500 casualties a month in the next few months), he tells Sawyer that “I think Americans and all our coalition partners need to understand that this will be difficult….that there will be a difficulty with the insurgency in the months ahead.” As for the “change” that McChrystal talks about, Sawyer visited a training camp for Afghan fighters. Sawyer: “This training camp for Afghan soldiers had three thousand recruits a year ago. Today 20 thousand.” While literacy is an issue (less than one percent can read), U.S. trainers are instructed to “do everything without words”. Sawyer talked with General William Caldwell, in charge of the Afghan soldier training who notes the recruits “are born fighters. What they’re not used to doing is working in a collective group. And so that’s what we’re teaching them to do.” Sawyer also reports on another pillar of change, the “new ground level effort at conversations with the Afghan people. In one day out, (General McChrystal) tackles congestion, corruption, convenience at the Khyber Pass between Afghanistan and Pakistan. Tea with the border police. Tea with the Khyber rifle unit. Non-stop questions, famously not a minute of rest.” It seems to be working-in a just released ABC NEWS/BBC/ARD poll Sawyer tells us that “70% of the people in this beleaguered nation say Afghanistan is heading in the right direction and believe that their lives, and those of their children will improve in the near future.” But let’s get back to McChrystal, whose day is not over. When McChrystal returns to base, still more work to do…writing personal letters to the families of men and women killed in battle. It’s a task McChrystal doesn’t blanch at-“I dread the losses. I don’t dread the letters because that’s my way to try to express to the family how much this nation and I appreciate what their son or father or husband did but I think that I also can reassure them that what we are doing is both right and it is being done well, so that those sacrifices are not in vain.” A task not likely to end soon for McChrystal-today Sawyer notes “3 more Americans died tonight.” 3 more letters of thanks to be written from a grateful nation.

NORTHEAST AFGHANISTAN FIREFIGHT-The Afghan front lines. Bill Weir has been spending time with the men of 2-12 Charlie Company, who are based at Forward-operating Base (FOB) Blessing in the Pech Valley in central Kunar province. The “day” often starts at night-time-Weir reports on another moonlight mission: “They’ll fly into the hills above their outpost and hike down at dawn, hunting hidden weapons and enemy fighters.” The word “hike” doesn’t do it justice-Weir notes that “Dawn…and then a sweat….breaks, as they drop into the draw working across boulders, thorns and streams searching the dozens of naturally fortified hiding spots. They use spray paint to mark Taliban fighting positions, to help guide bombs in future fights.” A difficult day no doubt but so far uneventful. Weir continues:“And then, crossing a peaceful terraced meadow, with a goat herder the only sign of life, it happens. Charlie Company is pinned down in a dry creek bed, shots coming from the same village they skirted hours before.” Weir, with bullets whizzing, notes that “this kind of attack is most common. It happens during ‘x-ville’, that is the exit of the mission. The insurgents in those hills know these guys have been marching all night, they’re tired and they just gave up the high ground.”While the soldiers and our ABC NEWS personnel sprint for cover, NATO’s command center, watching via predator drone, springs into action. Weir: “After 30 minutes of fighting, a 500-pound bomb takes out a Taliban sub-commander and four of his fighters with no American injuries.” The soldiers that Weir are with take the day’s events in stride-a Sgt. Sheely that Weir interviewed earlier “thinks of (his) wife and two boys. It’s a big day for his five-year-old.” Sheely: “Happy birthday Lucas”. Commanding officer of the unit Captain Shawn Conlin tells Weir “today was fairly tame, I guess you could say”…a fact a viewer might dispute looking at the fighting video but perhaps all too common for the American men and women fighting in Afghanistan.

SEN. HARRY REID: Republicans continue to ask Sen. Reid to step down after this weekend’s disclosure of remarks he made describing  Obama during the 2008 presidential campaign as a light-skinned African-American "with no Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one." The statements appear in a new book, "Game Change," by Time magazine's Mark Halperin and New York magazine's John Heilemann. Reid addressed the situation at a power plant in Apex, NV saying, “ I’ve apologized to the president, I’ve apologized to everyone that with the sound of my voice, I could have used a better choice of words. “Jake Tapper goes on to report,” many prominent African Americans we spoke to today were offended by Reid’s words but many also said his observation was correct… that Americans in general find lighter skinned African Americans more acceptable than those with darker skin. Numerous studies indicate that lighter skinned blacks are more likely to be elected to public office and to be hired.”Many prominent Democrats across the country, from Obama to Rev. Al Sharpton, have accepted Reid’s apology and offered support , while others such as Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI) have said they are unsure whether Reid should resign his leadership role just yet. Feingold told ABC affiliate WISN, “we’re going to be getting together as a caucus next week and the topic will come up. I’ve have not decided whether these comments merit that or not. They’re very unfortunate. They should have never been said. So, I need to think about it.” (thanks to Yvonne Lai for this entry)

MARK McGWIRE: After a decade of denials, Mark McGwire finally admitted to using steroids and human growth hormones for a decade starting in 1990, including the year leading up to his single-season home run record in 1998. The AP reports that the announcement was carefully rolled out  in a schedule of statements and interviews, McGwire called commissioner Bud Selig and St. Louis manager Tony La Russa on Monday to personally break the news and left messages for the stars of the Cardinals before issuing his public statement. In the statement he said, “ I used steroids during my playing career and I apologize.” John Berman reports, “there had been whispers about McGwire and his bulging muscles for years, but he dodged questions from reporters and even Congress in 2005.”  After staying out of the public view for so many years, why has he finally decided to come clean?  Possibly due to his October hire by the Cardinals and the impending start of spring training in mid-February and as John Berman says, he “ may want to put that past behind him….however tough the past might be.”  (thanks to Yvonne Lai for this entry)

UAE ROYAL ACQUITTED IN TORTURE TRIAL-Sure is great to be a royal. Remember that Brian Ross story that allegedly showed a member of Abu Dhabi’s royal family brutally beating an Afghan grain dealer? Well the trial has ended for Sheikh Issa. Lara Setrakian/Vic Walter and Megan Chuchmach report “A member of the Abu Dhabi ruling family who brutally beat an Afghan grain dealer in a graphic video aired by ABC News has been acquitted on charges of sexual assault, endangering life and causing bodily harm in the 2004 attack. In a surprising move, the three-judge panel that cleared Sheikh Issa Bin Zayed al Nahyan, instead found two American businessmen who went public with the tape guilty of the attack. Issa's defense team had argued that he had been drugged and blackmailed by the U.S. business associates.
‘The verdict is a farce, and shows why the world should have no confidence in the UAE justice system,’ Tony Buzbee, an attorney for Ghassan and Bassam Nabulsi, the American businessmen who the judges sentenced each to five years in jail and a roughly $2700 fine for the attack, said.
The video of the beating shows Issa brutally abusing Afghan grain dealer Mohammed Shapoor, beating him using a stick with protruding nails, shoving sand down his mouth, and running over him repeatedly with a car, with the assistance of a man dressed in a police uniform.
No criminal charges had been filed in the case until ABC News aired footage of the beating. Shapoor, who attended the trial as a witness, had agreed to a financial settlement from Issa prior to the criminal case.” 

BANKS AND FINANCIAL INSTITUTIONS AWARDING BONUSES-Bonus time…it’s soon to be that time of year for employees of the nation’s banks and financial institutions. Huge bonus checks are expected, even from the formerly “bailed-out but now paid up and free of government control” banks who got billions in TARP payments. While there’s not much the White House can do about the bonuses, there’s word tonight that the Obama Administration is going to have a new fee on these banks in the President’s budget. Jake Tapper told George Stephanopoulos earlier tonight on WORLD NEWS “they’re not exactly sure how the fee is going to take effect but of the $700 billion in TARP funds, bailout funds, they are expecting that more than $100 billion will not get paid back. So whether it’s a fee on the big banks based on how big the bonus pool is, how big the institution is, or how big the profit is, they want to get the money back for the taxpayers.” New York state is looking for some financial accountability as well. New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo today pressed the nation's eight biggest banks to reveal how much they plan to pay out in employee bonuses for 2009. Cuomo told reporters that he also wants to know how the size of the banks' bonus pool would have been affected if the banks hadn't received a taxpayer rescue at the height of the financial crisis in late 2008. Cuomo said he was only asking for information and didn't threaten legal action against the eight banks – Bank of America, Bank of New York Mellon, Citigroup, Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase, Morgan Stanley, State Street and Wells Fargo.
Cuomo asked the banks to provide bonus information by Feb. 8 in letters sent Monday. He didn't say what actions he would take if the banks don't comply.

KIDS JEWELRY/CADMIUM-The latest health warning concerning children’s gifts involves the heavy metal Cadmium. Elisabeth Leamy notes that “it’s in stores across the country, cheap children’s jewelry. And when the Associated Press had 103 pieces tested for the Cadmium 12 tested positive.” And guess what? It’s not illegal…well not exactly. Leamy: “Cadmium in more than trace amounts is illegal in toys but not specifically banned from children’s jewelry. An industry group said today the test results are surprising and vowed to look into the issue. The Consumer Product Safety Commission has launched an investigation and tonight will show this taped warning to Chinese manufacturers.”

SUPREME COURT-Ariane DeVogue reports we will be getting 1-4 decisions from the Supreme Court tomorrow and Wednesday including the big campaign finance case Citizen’s United. The court will also hear arguments tomorrow on the following two cases. Info thanks to Ms. DeVogue:
United States v. Comstock 10 am
In 2006, six days before Graydon Comstock finished serving a federal prison sentence for possession of child pornography, the Attorney General certified that Graydon was a “sexually dangerous person” and blocked his release from prison. The Supreme Court will decide whether the 2005 provision of the Adam Walsh Child Protection Act which allows the federal government to seek open ended civil commitment to any “sexually dangerous person” is constitutional.
Abbott v. Abbott 11 am –a rare example of the high court getting involved in family law when it hears  an argument about a woman, Jacquelyn Vaye Abbott, who won custody of her son in Chile when she divorced Timothy Mark. Later she moved the child To Texas without Timothy’s consent. The court will look into family law obligations between countries.

NORTHERN IRELAND- Northern Ireland First Minister Peter Robinson temporarily stood down on Monday to face an inquiry over money his wife raised for a 19-year-old man with whom she was having an affair. Robinson, who earlier received the backing of his Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) to stay on as its leader, asked party colleague Arlene Foster to stand in as head of the province's executive for a "short time". Robinson's wife Iris said last week she had tried to kill herself last year after the extramarital affair. The subsequent financial disclosures have threatened the province's already shaky power-sharing system. (AP/Reuters)
SARAH PALIN is joining FOX NEWS as a contributor. She’ll provide “political commentary and analysis” for the FOX cable channels and network coverage, and will host episodes of “Real American Stories” throughout 2010. (Rick Klein)
HEALTH CARE BILL/CHRIS DODD’S TAKE-Not seeking re-election sure does allow for some frank talk. Just ask Connecticut Senator Christopher Dodd. In a CNBC appearance this morning, Dodd had this to say about the health care reform bill-“It is hanging by a thread, obviously. One or two votes could determine the outcome of this bill despite all the efforts over the last number of years”.
SIMON COWELLis leaving “American Idol” after the current season. But fret not Cowell lovers (and haters), he will be back on tv next year on his own broadcast “The X Factor” which Fox has picked up for the 2011 fall season.
SALT GUIDELINES/NEW YORK CITY- First it was trans fats in restaurant meals. Then it was posting calorie counts on chain eatery menus. The latest salvo in NYC’s New York City fight to get people to eat better? An assault on salt. Today, NYC set guidelines recommending maximum amounts of salt for a variety of restaurant and store-bought foods, with the goal of cutting salt levels in food by a quarter overall in five years. Unlike the earlier directives, the salt initiative is voluntary.
JIM JONES TO THE MIDEAST- NSC advisor Jim Jones will travel to the Middle East this week to meet with leaders in Saudi Arabia, Israel, and the Palestinian Authority. “During his trip, General Jones will discuss the full range of regional challenges and opportunities at this critical time in the Middle East,” NSC spokesman Mike Hammer says in a statement. (Sunlen Miller)

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