Clem's Chronicles: Sotomayor/Cash for Clunkers passes the Senate/John Hughes

Hi there folks-here's our note this evening.

BIENVENIDA SENORA JUEZA DE LA CORTE SUPREMA!-As expected the US Senate voted to confirm Sonia Sotomayor as a Supreme Court justice, becoming the first Hispanic to sit on the nation’s highest bench. The vote was 68-31. President Obama noted “this is a wonderful day for Judge Sotomayor and her family, but I also think it’s a wonderful day for America.” Jan Crawford-Greenburg, filing for WORLD NEWS, noted the grilling Ms. Sotomayor received from Republican Senators in her Judiciary Committee hearing last month where she emerged “without a major misstep” and what that meant to the Republican party. Crawford-Greenburg: “When Obama nominated the first Hispanic, that posed a problem for Republicans worried about offending a crucial voting bloc. Still 31 of the 40 did…including party leaders and former presidential candidate John McCain.” One Hispanic activist was quoted in Crawford-Greenburg’s piece as saying “We do have power at the voting box and we will remember those that voted no.” But enough of the past-what does Sotomayor have to look forward to when she joins the bench? Crawford-Greenburg: “Sotomayor will hit the ground running. The Court returns early next month to hear arguments in a major campaign finance case. It also will take up cases on religious expression, congressional power and whether juveniles can get life in prison for their crimes.” And for those worried Ms. Sotomayor’s “liberal activism” will tilt the court, Crawford-Greenburg reminds that “she’s replacing liberal David Souter…and most expect her votes will be similar to his.”

H1N1/SWINE FLU VACCINE SAFETY-With the government set to announce their new Swine Flu guidelines for schools tomorrow, a continuing nagging question: will it be safe?. Lisa Stark, filing for WORLD NEWS, noted that the World Health Organization was “bombarded with questions about the vaccine’s safety.” And? Stark: “Researchers say there’s no reason to think it won’t be safe-that the vaccine will be made in the same way, by the same companies as the seasonal flu vaccine.” But for those with long memories there’s some reason to fret. Stark: “Many Americans remember the swine flu debacle of 1976…President Gerald Ford ordered a massive vaccination program after a soldier from Ft. Dix died from a swine flu virus. The president, and 40 million other Americans got the shot-but the vaccine killed more people than the flu.” So while the government does not anticipate any problems, Stark says they “are already working to set up a system to monitor side effects if they begin a mass vaccination program.”

CASH FOR CLUNKERS PASSES THE SENATE-Congress has passed a $2 billion extension of the popular "cash for clunkers" program, clearing the legislation for President Barack Obama's signature. The Senate passed the extension this evening by a vote of 60-37. The House approved the measure last week. Zach Wolf adds: “The program, officially called “CARS,” was originally slipped into a war funding bill and given $1 billion to last from the summer thru November. But it was so popular with car buyers that it was exhausted in two weeks. The bill to save the clunkers program withstood six amendments on a variety of issues. Any of them would have killed the program for the summer(since the House has recessed until September).” The White House released a written statement from President Obama which read in part: “I want to thank Leader Reid and the members of the Senate who moved quickly to extend a program that benefits our recovery and our auto industry while reducing our economy’s dependence on oil.”

CASH FOR CLUNKERS/AUTO SALES-Whether you’re for or against the “cash for clunkers” program, there is no doubt of its’ effectiveness in boosting car sales. Charlie Herman: “ reports that at the current sales pace, if sustained for the entire year, 19.6 million vehicles would be sold. Considering that in June the industry was selling at an annual rate of 9.69 units , auto sales have clearly exploded thanks to the C4C(Cash For Clunkers) program. In addition, compare that to record level of 17.4 million sold several years earlier. The auto website also reports the following Prior to C4C - 39% of new car sales involved a trade-in vehicle. After C4C – 51% of new car sales involved a trade-in vehicle Prior to C4C – 9% of trade-ins would qualify as clunkers. After C4C – 39% qualify also estimated that people trading in their wrecks were benefitting financially as well. It estimates that the average value of the clunkers was $1,475. As the rebates range from $3,500 to $4,500, car buyers are benefiting. And they will save money at the gas pump as well. Also, it’s interesting to note that according to, there sure are a lot of American-made low mileage clunkers out there. Prior to the launch of the program, half of the models (5 out of 10) traded in were foreign (all 5 were Japanese). Once the program began, 100% of the trade-ins were from Chrysler, Ford or General Motors.”

BAITUALLAH MEHSUD KILLED?: US & Pakistani authorities believe that Pakistani Taliban chief Baitullah Mehsud was killed in an American drone attack yesterday. Martha Raddatz reported on World News, “SENIOR OFFICIALS TELL ABC NEWS THAT PRESIDENT OBAMA WAS BRIEFED TODAY ON DETAILS OF THE DRONE STRIKE...AND WHY THE US BELIEVES THERE ARE ‘STRONG INDICATIONS’ THAT BAITULLAH MEHSUD IS DEAD.” Baituallah Mehsud is not as well known to the world as Osama Bin Laden but many in Pakistan believe he was ‘their OBL’. Mehsud was believed to be responsible for dozens of suicide attacks, beheadings and target killings in Pakistan. He was suspect number one in the killing of former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. Martha went on to report 9 of the last 10 CIA drone strikes have been aimed at Mehsud’s networks. What does his death mean? Nick Schifrin reported on World News, “THERE WILL UNDOUBTEDLY BE NEW COMMANDERS WHO WILL TAKE BAITULLAH MEHSUD'S PLACE. BUT HIS DEATH WILL GIVE PAKISTAN A LEVEL OF CONFIDENCE THAT THE TALIBAN ISN'T ALL-POWERFUL AND THAT ITS LEADERSHIP CAN BE DECAPITATED. THAT WILL HELP PUSH PEOPLE HERE TO CONFRONT THE TALIBAN, AND THE U.S. ADMITS IT CAN'T WIN THIS WAR WITHOUT PAKISTANI SUPPORT.” The investigation to determine whether Baituallah Mehsud is truly dead continues with DNA testing but many believe they got their man. Martha in her live close said it best: “IF MEHSUD IS DEAD...IT WILL NOT ONLY MAKE THE PAKISTANIS SAFER..BUT THE US AS WELL…” (Thanks to Faisal Jamil for this entry)

ECONOMY-Everyone’s favorite four-letter word takes center stage tomorrow when the Jobs Report for the month of July is released. Some indications today that suggest businesses may be laying fewer people off. The government said Thursday that initial jobless claims fell to 550,000 last week from 588,000 the previous week. While still high, new claims have dropped by about 50,000 in the past month. Remember that would only be FEWER layoffs not more new hires. Tomorrow’s jobs report is likely to show an increase in the unemployment rate (from 9.5 to 9.6%) and a continued loss (albeit smaller) of jobs.

JOHN HUGHES DEAD-Writer-director John Hughes has died in New York of a heart attack at the age of 59. While his movies would never be confused with the high art of a Fassbinder or Kurasowa, his body of work told as good a history lesson of American social life in the eighties as anyone. Some of the movies he wrote or directed include “The Breakfast Club”, “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” and the “Home Alone” series (let’s forget about the “Beethoven” series for a second). Hughes’ influence came at a time when MTV was starting and his films incorporated both popular songs and edgier “alternative” selections (The Psychedelic Furs’ title song for “Pretty in Pink” comes to mind), something that became commonplace in the nineties and this decade with teen-centric television shows such as “The O.C.” or “My So-Called Life”. His movies provided memorable quotes from misfits, preps, jocks and weirdos-basically the 1980’s American teenager in all his self-obsessed glory. Check out this quote from Matthew Broderick, the title character in “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”, showing off his true world vision: "I wasn't kidding. I do have a test today. It's on European Socialism. What's the big deal? I'm not European. I don't plan on becoming European. So why should I care if they're socialists? They could be fascist, anarchist pigs. It still wouldn't change the fact that I don't have a car." American myopia at its’ finest!

HEALTH CLUB SHOOTING- About 75 people turned out in downtown Pittsburgh for a vigil tonight to remember the victims, offering prayers, lighting candles and observing a moment of silence. Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl was among those who attended. We also saw more video and blog evidence out today that Health Club shooter George Sodini was one troubled man. John Berman, filing for WORLD NEWS, points to “this YouTube video posted one year ago, you hear more of his obsession with younger women.” That video included Sodini talking bluster “When I’m 10 to 20 years older than she is, she has to feel good about this thing.” Berman continues: “In a separate older website,…you see pictures of Sodini in happier times. And an interview with himself asking ‘have you ever been in love?’ The answer? ‘Hell yeah, lots of times, I am still single so obviously nothing ever worked out.” Berman also notes that “Hidden in the code of his blog, ABC NEWS found this message hinting at second thoughts on his murder plot: ‘At the gym I saw a woman I like…occasionally she makes good eye contact and smiles…To get a friend like her (and for nighttime action) I would cancel this plan, or put on hold, at least for a while.” Berman notes that unfortunately “he didn’t cancel his plan. His pain never gone.” But with all this mountain of evidence on video and in blog form that the man had issues, Pierre Thomas addressed the Trillion dollar question “Why couldn’t authorities stop him?” Filing for WORLD NEWS, Thomas notes: “While police do troll the web hunting for intelligence about hate groups, terrorists and gangs-they do not typically look at the internet postings of the tens of millions of individual Americans.” Another problem may have been Sodini’s non-existant readership. Thomas: “He was a loner so it’s doubtful anyone saw any of his violent rants. Apparently-Sodini intended his password-protected writings to be seen only AFTER he died.”

HURRICANE SEASON FORECAST DOWNGRADE- The Atlantic hurricane season will be less active than originally predicted, government forecasters said Thursday, after the first two months of the half-year stretch passed without any named storms developing. Updating its May outlook, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said a warmer weather pattern called an El Nino over the Pacific Ocean was acting as a damper to tropical storms in the Caribbean and neighboring Atlantic. The updated forecast calls for a below-normal to near-normal season with seven to 11 named tropical storms, down from a range of nine to 14 in the May forecast. Three to six storms could become hurricanes, down from four to seven in the earlier forecast. The new projection says one or two hurricanes could become major storms, instead of one to three major hurricanes.

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