Clem Lane here. Late news tonight that the fallout from Toyota's "sudden acceleration" mystery expands to include a sales freeze on some models. More on that story below as well as the other news…….
TOYOTA RECALL EXPANDS- Toyota Motor Corp said today it will suspend sales of eight models involved in a recall announced last week for potentially faulty accelerator pedals. Toyota also said it would halt production at plants in the United States and Canada in the first week of February. The models affected… 2009-2010 RAV4, 2009-2010 Corolla, 2009-2010 Matrix, 2005-2010 Avalon, 2010 Highlander, 2007-2010 Tundra, 2008-2010 Sequoia, and certain 2007-2010 Camry models. Brian Ross, who first reported on this story and has been following ever since, said on WORLD NEWS “this is a huge blow for Toyota after reports of some 2000 accidents involving these runaway cars and sixteen deaths.” Ross continues: “hundreds of thousands of cars will now be frozen on Toyota dealers’ lots. (In a statement Toyota says) this action is necessary until a remedy is finalized. ‘We’re making every effort to address this situation for our customers as quickly as possible.’ This is going to cost the company hundreds of millions of dollars, not to mention the damage to Toyota’s reputation for quality and safety.”
FORD IS HIRING-There’s some good automotive news out there today as well. Ford is hiring! The company announced today it was hiring some 1200 additional workers at a Chicago plant. Chris Bury, filing for WORLD NEWS, tells us the “jobs (are) to build new Explorers that won’t guzzle gas like the old ones.” Bury notes that “most jobs will be filled by laid-off employees” and adds “the new hires (are) to earn $14 an hour, about half as much as current workers.” But the company’s decision to beef up its staffing, Bury tells us “is another sign of life” for Ford, the only US automaker not to take part in the government bailout. Bury continues: “Its sales are surging…while GM and Chrysler, surviving on those government bailouts, are struggling.” Struggling but not moribund-Bury tells us that “even GM offered a glimmer of hope today, adding 200 new jobs in Baltimore to build electric motors. Which begs the question: is the ailing auto industry-at long last-beginning to recover?” Auto analyst Rebecca Lindland tells Bury “I think we’re seeing a slow and steady recovery. We should continue to get some pretty decent news out of the auto industry month after month after month.” That news has to be music to laid-off autoworkers ears who Bury noted in his close “after so many months out of work, they can’t wait to begin building cars and collecting paychecks.”
SOTU/SPENDING FREEZE-As Jake Tapper reported last night, President Obama will announce plans for a 3 year spending freeze “on non-security discretionary spending” when he delivers his State of the Union address tomorrow night. The move, Tapper told us tonight on WORLD NEWS is “meeting with harsh criticism even before the President has unveiled it.” The criticism is bi-partisan it seems too. Tapper tells us that “liberals question (Obama’s) priorities and conservatives…say he’s not cutting nearly enough.” To his critics who suggest he’s not cutting enough, Tapper notes “there’s a lot that he either cannot or will not touch in this proposed freeze.” Tapper continues: “Medicare…Social Security…Defense spending? No freeze on that. Not to mention Homeland Security, the Veteran’s Administration and many more.” That’s a lot of coin-Tapper totes it up and reports “more than 37 trillion dollars which the President will not touch.” And that “non-security discretionary spending”? Tapper tells us it is “the remaining 1/8 of the budget” which leads to a cost-saving of “$250 billion over 10 years, less than one percent of what the government spends.” Not exactly a deficit buster…but the Administration is obviously looking at other ways. Which may be much more difficult than the President would like. In his close, Tapper noted “There’s little indication that Washington DC currently has the stomach for any serious measures for deficit or debt reduction. There was one suggestion the President got behind for a bipartisan debt reduction panel that would have made some tough recommendations and congress would’ve (had to vote) up or down on them like the base closure commission, but the Senate voted against the creation of that panel today.”
HAITI: Getting enough food to eat is still quite an ordeal for most survivors of the devastating earthquake that struck Haiti two weeks ago. Our David Wright was in one crush of people that developed today in Port au Prince as the food arrived at one distribution point: “No sooner did the white UN trucks appear today….then the crowd started to swarm. Thousands of people converging in an instant. All of them desperate for help. The need is so great here in Haiti that unfortunately this is the scene at just about every food distribution. The UN forces are having to use pepper spray to subdue the crowd. In fact without these troops, this would quickly become a stampede. Just yesterday, near the same spot, things DID get out of control. The crowd pushed past the peacekeepers. People mugged each other, stealing boxes of food. The World Food Program feeds 100 thousand people a day this way. Rotating the sites. Trying to make order from chaos….but the demand is overwhelming. Today, like most days, some of the people on line went home with nothing.” David also tells us about another distribution center that was much more organized: “Across town, in a wealthy suburb, a stark contrast. A tent city for 50-thousand set up on a local golf course. This camp, overseen by the 82nd Airborne, is a model for how it should be done. But this place is an exception.” And that could change in the next couple of weeks, according to Lt. Gen. Ken Keen , the head of the US military task force in Haiti. After a Pentagon briefing earlier in the day, Luis Martinez tells us: “Keen said planning for the next phase of long term food distribution has begun. In consultation with the World Food Program and the Haitian government, 15 food distribution sites will be set up around Port au Prince. Each site will be able to feed up to 15,000 people a day. It will take one million rations a day to sustain those 15 points. 12 of these sites will be run by the US military, the remainder by UN forces.”
As some members of the 82nd Airborne were busy at that mentioned food distribution site, other members of the division found themselves in the middle of a rescue. On Rue de Miracle – "Miracle Street" – they pulled a thirty-something Haitian man from the rubble, two blocks from the Port au Prince Cathedral. The man was said to be suffering from severe dehydration and a broken leg. It’s still not clear how long he was trapped in the debris – but fourteen days is not out of the question. (thanks to Ed Bailey for this entry)
DAIRY FARM INVESTIGATION: Undercover video released by animal-rights activists is raising questions about disturbing practices in the dairy industry. Brian Ross reports: “At the heart of the problem, according to animal rights groups are the huge operations they call factory farms….for maximum efficiency, some 5,000 cows here are never allowed outside but spend every day of their lives inside giant, manure-filled barns, kept perpetually pregnant so they keep producing milk…big farm operators say such large scale operations are necessary to afford the latest machines and the number of workers to get the most out of the cows with the highest quality and lowest price.” The most disturbing part of the undercover video – shot at a dairy farm in upstate New York -shows “the common industry practice of what’s called tail docking, the end of the cow’s tail cut off so it won’t interfere with milking machines,” Ross reports. “Along with burning off the cows’ horns, so they don’t get in the way, it is done here without any anesthetic for the animal.” Tail docking was banned in California last year, and similar legislation has been proposed for the state of New York. (thanks to Marisa Bramwell for this entry)
TEBOW SUPER BOWL AD CONTROVERSY: Women’s groups are in an uproar over CBS’s plans to air a pro-life ad during Sunday’s Super Bowl game. “Pretty much all that’s publicly known about the ad is that it stars Heisman trophy winning quarterback Tim Tebow, known for wearing Bible verses under his eyes…and that, according to the evangelical group Focus on the Family – which put up the roughly $2.5 million for the ad – it will celebrate ‘family’ and ‘life,’” Dan Harris reported on WORLD NEWS. A source tells Harris the ad does not specifically mention the word “abortion,” and says it discusses the choice Tebow’s mother made to keep her son after being encouraged to abort him by her doctor. Pro-choice groups are urging CBS to pull the ad, but in a statement, CBS said "We have for some time moderated our approach to advocacy submissions after it became apparent that our stance did not reflect public sentiment or industry norms on the issue…At CBS, our standards and practices process continues to adhere to a process that ensures all ads — on all sides of an issue — are appropriate for air.” (thanks to Marisa Bramwell for this entry)
LANDRIEU OFFICE ARRESTS-Four men have been arrested for allegedly trying to tamper with the phone lines at the New Orleans office of Senator Mary Landrieu (D-LA). One of the suspects is James O'Keefe, a conservative activist who posed as a pimp last year on hidden camera to target the liberal community-organizing group ACORN. Authorities say one of the other suspects is Robert Flanagan, son of the acting U.S. attorney in Shreveport, Bill Flanagan. The FBI says Flanagan and another man dressed as utility workers Monday and said they needed to fix the phone system. A witness told the FBI that O'Keefe filmed the men on his cell phone when they walked in. John Parkinson sent along a written statement from Landrieu which read “This is a very unusual situation and somewhat unsettling for me and my staff. The individuals responsible have been charged with entering federal property under false pretenses for the purposes of committing a felony. I am as interested as everyone else about their motives and purpose, which I hope will become clear as the investigation moves forward.”
MACHU PICCHU DEATHS-Five days of heavy rains in the Cuzco region of Peru, home to Machu Picchu, have led to at least five deaths, including two on the famed Inca trail to Machu Picchu itself. A mudslide on the trail killed an Argentine tourist and a Peruvian guide. Fabiola Antezana reports “hundreds of tourists, including about 500 Americans are trapped.” Antezana continues: “Authorities have begun an airlift rescue operation involving 10 helicopters to pick up the estimated 2,000 tourists stranded in the neighboring town of Aguas Calientes.” Four of those helicopters are on loan from the US Embassy. The Inca trail is a popular tourist trek that follows a stone path built by the ancient civilization from their capital, Cuzco, to the Machu Picchu citadel.
TEXTING AND DRIVING- U.S Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood today announced federal guidance to expressly prohibit texting by drivers of commercial vehicles such as large trucks and buses. The prohibition is effective immediately and is the latest in a series of actions taken by the Department to combat distracted driving since the Secretary convened a national summit on the issue last September.
The prohibition applies to drivers of interstate buses and trucks over 10,000 pounds. Truck and bus drivers who text while driving commercial vehicles may be subject to civil or criminal penalties of up to $2,750, the department said. (Lisa Stark/Bret Hovell)
GM SELLS SAAB- GM signed a deal today to sell Saab to Zeewolde, Netherlands-based Spyker Cars NV for $74 million in cash plus $326 million worth of preferred shares in Saab. The deal hinges on a $550 million loan from the European Investment Bank, which the Swedish government on Tuesday committed to guaranteeing.
–REMAINS FOUND, BELIEVED TO BE MISSING VA TECH STUDENT-Virginia state police say they are confident that human remains found on a Virginia farm are likely Morgan Harrington. The Virginia Tech student has been missing since October 17th after she vanished after attending a Metallica concert with friends. An autopsy to confirm that it is Harrington will be conducted. Authorities say they found significant items and evidence at the scene.
–AVATAR ROLLS TO #1 ALL-TIME-Leave it to James Cameron to be the one to top James Cameron. “Avatar” surpassed “Titanic” to become the all-time worldwide box office champ. The worldwide total for the James Cameron movie stands at $1.859 billion after Monday's sales, beating the $1.843 billion haul racked up by "Titanic" in 1997-1998, according to distributor 20th Century Fox. (Michael Kreisel)
–NFL GAMES DRAW HUGE RATINGS-Television’s fragmented landscape was no match for the NFL conference championships this past Sunday. The overtime thriller between New Orleans and Minnesota was seen Sunday by nearly 58 million people The Nielsen Co. says it was the most watched NFL conference championship since the 1982 contest between Dallas and San Francisco. The AFC championship between the New York Jets and Indianapolis Colts was seen by just less than 47 million people. Nielsen says it was the most popular AFC championship in 24 years.
–MARS SPIRIT ROVER R.I.P.- NASA announced today that the Mars Spirit Rover, stuck in sandy soil since last year, will give up trying to get out. It is still operating, but local winter is approaching, and there are doubts it will survive the cold of -40 degrees. Spirit landed on Mars in Jan. 2004. NASA said it was expected to last 90 days. It’s worked for six years. (Ned Potter)
–SENATE VOTE ON BERNANKE COMING THURSDAY- Senators have reached agreement on a cloture vote on Ben Bernanke's nomination to a second term as Fed Chairman Thursday morning at a time tbd. Final passage will come sometime after that. His term as Fed Chairman runs out over the weekend. Bernanke antagonists could have drug out his nomination into Friday. All indications are that he will get the 60 votes he will need as part of this agreement to hold the vote early. (Zach Wolf)
–START TALKS TO RESUME-The State Department announced that START talks between the US and Russia are scheduled to resume in Geneva Monday. State Department spokesman PJ Crowley wouldn’t predict when an agreement will be reached. On the Russian side, President Medvedev said Sunday that “95% of the issues have been coordinated”. Still a sticking point-US missile defenses and batteries in former Soviet bloc countries. (Kirit Radia/Alex Marquardt)