Busy night this evening. Lots of late news below…..
THE BUNNING BLOCKADE-Good news from the Senate tonight. A deal has been worked out to end Sen. Jim Bunning’s one-man blockade against a jobless benefits package. Jon Karl reports: “Senator Jim Bunning has struck an agreement with Democratic Senate Leader Harry Reid to allow a vote on the unemployment extension bill later tonight. The bill will pass overwhelmingly. Under the deal, Senator Reid agreed to allow a vote on a measure to off-set the bill’s $10 billion cost with cuts in other programs. The off-set measure is expected to fail. So, despite Bunning’s efforts, the unemployment extension bill will not be paid for.” Karl reminds what’s in the bill…..
“This agreement covers everything in the $10 billion bill, including:
-Money for the highway trust fund
-Reauthorizing network TV for rural satellite TV customers
-Money to keep Medicare doctors from getting a pay cut for another 30 days
Once the President signs this, unemployment benefits will resume, those furloughed DOT workers will go back to work and Senator Bunning will be able to watch the next Kentucky basketball game on satellite TV.”
But Senator Bunning’s not through. Karl tells us “Bunning’s obstruction, however, continues on another front: Democrats say he has put a hold on all pending presidential nominations, effectively blocking ‘several dozen’ of President Obama’s nominations.”
NOTE:Senators passed the unemployment extension bill around 9:15pm on a vote of 78-19. The bill now goes to the President for his signature.
BODY FOUND-San Diego County Sheriff’s authorities say that a body found in a shallow grave Tuesday is believed to be that of 17-year-old Chelsea King, whose disappearance led to the arrest of a registered sex offender, authorities said. The remains were found buried in a park about 10 feet from the shoreline of Lake Hodges, San Diego County Sheriff William Gore said. "While the body has not been positively identified, there is a strong likelihood that we have found Chelsea," he told reporters. Police, meanwhile, said the registered sex offender suspected in
King's disappearance likely assaulted a jogger in December in the same park. And certainly had a history-he was released from prison after six years on a molestation charge. So how does this happen? Terry Moran reports that sex offender monitoring is hit or miss-while some places like Santa Clara County California conduct random unannounced checks on their recently-released parolees, our Cleveland, Ohio affiliate “found sex offenders living within a few hundred feet of a school, in violation of state law, and nobody doing anything about it.” How do you figure out who’s going to re-offend? The numbers are large-Moran tells us “there are more than 700 thousand sex offenders in America, a nation within the nation, and the recidivism rate among them is 24 percent, below average for all criminals, including drug addicts, but still frightening.” As for whether they can be “cured” through medication and therapy, Dr. Cynthia Calkins Mercado from John Jay College is circumspect, saying in Moran’s WORLD NEWS piece “We can never say that they will never do it again or that somebody is definitely cured or not cured. But we do know that treatment helps to reduce the number of new sexual crimes.” Not exactly the encouraging words parents across the country would like to hear.
CHILE QUAKE/TSUNAMI: With the death toll from the enormous earthquake that struck Chile the other day up to nearly 800, we’re learning more about the gigantic tsunami that devastated towns up and down the country’s Pacific coast. David Wright spent the day at ground zero: “Constitucion used to be a pleasant fishing village. It's all gone, along with hundreds of people who lived here. Nearly half of the people who died in the disaster came from this one town alone. 350 people. Some crushed in their homes. More of them swept out to sea.” David fills us in on just what happened: “After the quake rocked the seabed, it took as little as 15 minutes for the first tsunami to smack the shores. The waves hit repeatedly –ranging in size from 6 feet to 50 feet high. Reaching more than a mile inland. And sweeping up everything in their path. Strong enough to lift cars right off the road… and rip palm trees out at the trunk. Today the debris swept up in the water still covers every open space. The town smells of seawater.” Jeffrey Kofman filed from the city of Concepcion. Kofman tells us plenty of people are sleeping outside even if there homes and apartments were undamaged due to the many aftershocks: "it was a real problem for the first couple of days because of the violence and looting. But 12,000 Chilean troops were brought in yesterday and this really is an armed camp. I've got it here. If you don't have one of these stamped passes, you will be put in jail if you are found in the streets after 6:00pm at night and before sunrise." Secretary of State Clinton was in Chile for a few hours today on visit scheduled before the earthquake. She spent most of her time at an undamaged area of the airport in Santiago. Clinton assured President Michelle Bachelet: "We stand ready to help in any way that the government of Chile asks us to. We want to help Chile who has done so much to help others." Chile was one of the first responders to the recent earthquake in Haiti. (thanks to Ed Bailey for this entry)
POSTAL SERVICES CUT SHORT: Today the Post Master General announced big changes to help the U.S. Postal System fend off a $7 billion budget deficit. Ron Claiborne reports on some of the proposed changes: “Ending Saturday delivery – which would save $4 billion a year. Closing post offices…a billion a year. Changing health care benefits for its workers…$5 billion. And – perhaps no surprise – raising postage rates to generate $15 billion a year.” The postal agency says it could lose $238 billion over the next 10 years, and it has asked Congress for permission to make the changes to prevent the loss. Postmaster General John Potter said he planned to ask the independent Postal Regulatory Commission to review its plans later this month. If approved, Potter said he would like to see the service cuts go into effect next year. (thanks to Marisa Bramwell for this entry)
HEALTH CARE REFORM CALENDAR-President Obama will make some remarks on Health Care Reform tomorrow afternoon from the East Room (1:45pm ET). ABC NEWS has learned that the President will offer up a new bill that would include “a nod to Republican ideas”. Diane Sawyer asked Jake Tapper tonight about what the President will say and the timing on Health Care Reform. Tapper: “Well the timeline is pretty tight as you say Diane. The President and Congressional leaders will be finishing up language in the next few days. They’ll send it to the congressional budget office for analysis, how much it costs, etc. the president leaves for a trip to Indonesia and Australia on the 18th and the House and Senate adjourn for spring break at the end of the month. We’re really talking about the next few weeks to have all this done. That’s one of the reasons why President Obama will tomorrow talk about the need to use controversial reconciliation rules requiring only 51 votes. He’ll say this is appropriate because Republicans have used these rules in the past. The rules are for deficit reduction. This bill, he’ll say, will reduce the deficit and also because they’re talking about using the senate fix for this, not the whole bill for reconciliation.” As for that “nod to Republican ideas”, Tapper explains: “he’ll talk about extending a hand to republicans and bringing in some Republican ideas to the Democratic prescription for health care reform. Some of them…a $50 million program, a pilot program for states to have grants to avoid medical malpractice lawsuits, and also, perhaps, some additional efforts to combat fraud for Medicare and Medicaid.”
POLITICS ON LATE NIGHT TV-Is it 2012 already? You might think so judging from two of tonight’s late-night talk show guests. Former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin visits “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno” while possible 2012 Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney joins David Letterman.
TOYOTA HEARING-Another Toyota hearing on the Hill today, this time in front of the Senate Commerce Committee. On the hot seat? Not just Toyota but the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration honcho as well who answered questions about prior investigations into runaway Toyotas. Joe Rhee reports: “After weeks of ducking the press, the administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) finally spoke out in public today at a Senate hearing investigating the issue of runaway Toyotas.
NHTSA administrator David Strickland defended the agency's past investigations of sudden acceleration complaints in Toyotas, and strongly disputed assertions that Toyota was able to influence NHTSA to provide favorable terms on recalls, saying "claims Toyota has made about their influence is false."
Testifying before the Senate Commerce Committee, where he worked as an aide until January, Strickland downplayed reports of dramatic spikes in sudden acceleration complaints by Toyota Camry owners in previous years, calling them "unremarkable" because the complaints were comparable to other manufacturers on a "per-capita basis."
Strickland said that NHTSA did open investigations into the Camry complaints during the Bush administration, but was unable to find a vehicle defect. "The investigators did a full investigation top to bottom, regardless of any type of rationale or cause for sudden acceleration and they were not able to find a defect," said Strickland. "If we cannot find a defect, we cannot go forward, we will lose a case in court."
FEBRUARY AUTO SALES-What’s bad for Toyota is good for Ford…at least February’s auto sales' figures back up that premise. Dan Arnall/Charlie Herman wrote: “A banner month for Ford Motor Company – the only American automaker NOT to have filed for bankruptcy in the past year. According to company reports released today Ford outsold rival General Motors by almost 500 cars. It is the first time since 1998 that Ford has topped GM in overall U.S. auto sales in month.
Sales at Ford jumped 43% last month thanks to growing popularity of some of its models amongst consumers – sales of the Fusion have more than doubled in the past year. Ford was also helped out by big gains in fleet sales to rental car and other corporate clients (+74%).
General Motors posted healthy sales gains (+12%) during February, executives saying they believe the economic recovery is moving forward as expected. In fact, winter weather took a bit of wind out of the sales in February according to GM. Without all the snow, sales would have been even better.
Embattled Japanese nameplate Toyota was the only major manufacturer to see sales slip in February (-9%) as consumers shied away from the brand’s popular models which have recently had a flurry of recalls over accelerator problems. To counter the sales slide, Toyota has started to offer ‘the most aggressive incentive program in [its] history.’ Five-year, no interest financing and free maintenance for some returning customers will likely goose sales in the coming months. Honda (+13%) and Chrysler (+1%) saw sales gains in February as well.”
NY GOVERNOR PATERSON- New York State Police Superintendent Harry Corbitt is abruptly retiring effective Wednesday amid a domestic violence scandal threatening Gov. David Paterson. Corbitt announced his retirement late Tuesday on (Albany, New York’s) Capital News 9 and says intense media scrutiny played a role in his decision. He is the second law enforcement official claimed by the scandal. Corbitt has acknowledged that a police official had contact with a woman who had accused a top Paterson aide of roughing her up last fall in the Bronx. Soon after, the woman dropped her case against the aide, David Johnson. Corbitt's boss, Deputy Secretary for Public Safety Denise O'Donnell, resigned a week ago. She said direct contact by the Governor and troopers with the woman was ‘unacceptable’ regardless of their intent. (Associated Press)
JACKSON STUN GUN INCIDENT: Child services paid a visit to the Jackson estate in Los Angeles today after an incident involving Jermaine Jackson’s sons and a stun gun. According to reports by TMZ, Jermaine’s 13-year-old son Jaafar purchased a stun gun online a few weeks ago. Members of the Jackson security team and grandmother Katherine Jackson heard the teen playing with the stun gun with two other children in the room and promptly took it away. In a statement released by her attorney, Katherine Jackson said Michael Jackson’s kids were not exposed to the stun gun and the gun was confiscated before anyone could be harmed. Her lawyer also said Jaafar was testing the gun out on a piece of paper. But sources tell TMZ Jafaar was pointing the gun at Jackson’s sons Prince and Blanket, and that it was not confiscated for several days. The agency plans to conduct a two-day investigation into the incident. (thanks to Marisa Bramwell for this entry)
FISH OIL/CONTAMINANTS-From Brian Hartman: “A lawsuit is being filed today in San Francisco alleging consumers have been ‘kept in the dark’ about several of the most popular fish oil supplements containing high levels of PCBs and other contaminants.
The filing claims recent tests show eight companies named in the lawsuit — including CVS, GNC, Rite Aid, Solgar and TwinLab – are selling Omega 3 supplements that are contaminated with PCBs. (They tested 10 of about 100 products on the market).
The case, filed in San Francisco Superior Court, claims the companies violated California state law that requires a warning label for products that contain toxins.
At issue is the small fish menhaden (called “bunker” at bait shops in the DMV area) that is the source of most fish oil. Menhaden eat algae contaminated with PCBs. This issue was raised a few years ago after Greenpeace ran some tests on fish oil.”
NAOMI CAMPBELL-Seems Ms. Campbell has lost her temper…again. The famously short-tempered model is being accused of providing a beat-down of her driver from the back seat. The driver told authorities that he stopped the car in midtown Manhattan and called 911. Ms. Campbell apparently jumped out of the car and ran away. Police are looking to question Ms. Campbell about the allegations. In a statement, a publicist for Campbell states “There shouldn't be a rush to judgment. Naomi will co-operate voluntarily, and there is more to the story than meets the eye.” As you’re probably aware, Ms. Campbell has had a long history of attacking assistants, former assistants, housekeepers, security guards and the occasional friend. Anger management classes? She’s been attending them since as far back as 1999, apparently without success.
CYBERSECURITY-The “botnets” have been busted. Spanish investigators, working with private computer-security firms, have arrested the three alleged ringleaders of the so-called Mariposa botnet, which appeared in December 2008 and grew into one of the biggest weapons of cybercrime. How big? It spread to 190 countries and infected some 12.7 million PCs, stealing credit card numbers and on-line banking details in the process. Jason Ryan notes “Yet another example of the growing issue and concern security experts and government officials have about cybersecurity. Currently one of the largest computer security conferences is taking place in San Francisco, DHS Janet Napolitano and FBI Director Robert Mueller are expected to speak there Wednesday and Thursday respectively.”