Here's what's happening this evening, baseball playoffs aside..........
CHICAGO SCHOOL VIOLENCE-No 2016 Olympics for Chicago. No playoffs for the Cubs or the White Sox. One thing that Chicago does have however is a violence issue, specifically kids on kids. US Attorney General Eric Holder and Education Secretary Arne Duncan visited Chicago today, Chris Bury reported on WORLD NEWS, “to confront the crushing wave of kids killing kids.” The most recent example, and the impetus for their visit, was the death of 16-year-old honor student Derrien Albert who Bury reminds us “was beaten with boards and stomped to death.” Albert’s death may be a wake-up call but it’s not an anomaly. Bury: “That murder is only the tip of the iceberg. In each of the last two years, Chicago has lost the equivalent of an entire classroom to violence. Many more…maimed for life.” A visit to a Chicago area hospital provides additional proof of an epidemic of violence. Bury: “Mt. Sinai hospital treats 200 children a year who’ve been shot, stabbed, beaten. Why? Gangs. Guns. Turf battles. Kids surrounded by violence.” School officials looked at some 500 shootings and Bury tells us “they plan to shower attention on the most likely instigators and victims. Black males…skipping school…who get in trouble far more often than fellow students.” Federal officials seem resigned to a long fight to solve the problem. Bury: “Today the Attorney General promised a call to action and more federal money to help keep kids safe. In the next breath, he cautioned ‘There will be no quick fixes’.
AFGHANISTAN THEN, AND NOW: President Obama had another meeting with his war council on this the eighth anniversary of the war in Afghanistan. Back in 2001, the U.S. military called it “Operation Enduring Freedom.” As Nick Schifrin reminds us: “Eight years ago today the bombs began to fall…and a few weeks later, with the help of local fighters, the United States liberated Kabul. Afghans were ecstatic. After five years of repressive Taliban rule, they were free.” But now, Nick says, that joy has worn off: “For millions here the war has been a disappointment. Lack of security, development, and jobs means that less than half say the country is headed in the right direction. Security is so poor, ABC News filmed…Taliban fighters in the last few days less than 50 miles from the capital. And many Afghans are angry at the U.S. military, which they believe is more focused on fighting than on protecting the population…fighting that has caused thousands of civilian casualties.” Along with near 800 U.S. soldiers. With all that in mind, President Obama has been conducting a review of U.S. strategy in Afghanistan. And today we learned that the President now has a copy of the troop request prepared by his top commander in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal. Martha Raddatz tells us: “Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said he was keeping that troop request until they finished a strategy review, but apparently President Obama asked for it last Thursday on his way to Copenhagen, and now all his National Security Team has it, as well. But they were meeting today, and they did not discuss the troop request. They discussed Pakistan today, in the Situation Room at the White House, for about three hours. So, they won’t discuss troops, probably until Friday, or next week.” (thanks to Ed Bailey for this entry)
SWINE FLU AND PAID SICK DAYS: With the swine flu spreading in schools across the country, the government has advised the working parents of sick children to stay home to help prevent the spread of disease. Sounds like a good idea but there’s a hitch – many people don’t get paid sick days, so staying home means taking a loss in income. “Critics say it’s a fatal flaw in the government’s fight against swine flu – encouraging working parents to stay home when an estimated 54-million Americans don’t get a single paid sick day,” Steve Osunsami reported on WORLD NEWS. Linda Meric, the Executive Director of the 9-5 National Association of Working Women, told ABC News the issue was a “health crisis because among the low wage workers who have the most interaction with the public, up to 80 percent or more of those workers don’t have access to paid sick days.” Some cities – such as San Francisco, Milwaukee and Washington, DC - have passed laws mandating that workers get nine paid sick days a year, but Osunsami reports that small businesses protested because of the expense. “If somebody came in and said we’re gonna have to have a sick day policy, we’re going to have to find money somewhere else because there is not extra money at this point,” business owner Ed Udoff told ABC News. Here’s Osunsami again: “Supporters of mandatory sick days say the government is kidding itself if it thinks American families can fight swine flu or any other public health crisis without sick leave for all Americans.” (thanks to Marisa Bramwell for this entry)
GMA/INSIDE THE CDC-Tomorrow, GOOD MORNING AMERICA becomes the first broadcast to originate live inside the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. Robin Roberts and Dr. Richard Besser are there-they will be attending a swine flu briefing and take a tour of the emergency surveillance center among other things.
DETROIT CHAOS-Much has been made of the economic troubles that have beset the city of Detroit in recent years. Today, a stark reminder of just how many people in need are out there. The scene was the Cobo Center, a downtown convention center, that was set up to help struggling families and individuals. Barbara Pinto, reporting from Detroit for WORLD NEWS, says that “the city got enough federal money to help 3500 families pay rent and utilities…but police say 35 thousand showed up.” As one might expect, tempers flared. Pinto: “at least five people were hurt in scuffles. Some fainted in line…more than 100 police officers tried to calm an anxious crowd faced with too much desperation and too few resources.” Detroit’s woes are legion-Pinto notes that “nearly one in every three city residents are out of work”, home foreclosures remain high and Associated Press notes that “One in four families and three out of every 10 individuals live below the poverty level, according to the U.S. Census.” Still more than 50 thousand applications for the 3500 qualified slots were given out by city officials over the past several days. One of those was Rebekah Minkins who Pinto tells us is “supporting her disabled parents…(despite) losing her job. Ms. Minkins’ comments could speak for legions in the same economic boat: “I’m here to find relief jobs money. Whatever is there. I’m here to find relief.”
AIRLINE FEES-How do you like all those nice airline fees that are being added to your ticket price? Well those nice folks in the troubled airline industry seem to found yet another revenue stream they hope will stem the tide-holiday surcharges of $10 each way. Lisa Stark, reporting for WORLD NEWS, notes that “A week ago, airlines announced the new fee would apply to just three days, around Thanksgiving and Christmas. It has already ballooned to 13 days-through spring break and Memorial Day of next year.” In and of itself $20 is inconvenient but not a deal breaker. Stark however reminds of all the other fees instituted in the past year. Stark: “On most airlines, passengers now pay to check one bag-from $15 to $25. Pay for extra leg room-up to $30. For a meal-as much as $10. Even for a blanket and pillow-$7 on US Airways and Jet Blue.” It’s a cash cow for an industry in need of cash-Stark tells us that “for the first six months of this year, passengers paid $1.2 billion in bag fees alone.” But it’s no gouge-airlines are still going to lose billions of dollars this year. Still, travelers looking to take advantage of record low fares should keep in mind, Stark notes, that once you “begin to add on those fees, prices can jump 20 to 50%.”
SENATE FINANCE HEALTH CARE BILL/COST AND CRITICISMS-The CBO has come out with its’ analysis of how much the Senate Finance Committee’s version of the health-care reform bill will cost. Here’s Jon Karl: “According to the Congressional Budget Office, the Senate Finance Committee’s health care bill would cost $829 billion over 10 years. If the bill were to become law, CBO estimates that 94 percent of Americans and legal residents would have health insurance. “ Karl notes the figure falls below President Obama’s $900 billion cost limit. But that doesn’t mean there’s no controversy in the bill. Karl adds “there’s plenty here for Republicans to criticize” and offers up a couple of examples: “The bill is paid for with a combination of new taxes and cuts in Medicare spending. The Medicare cuts will continue to be an issue: the analysis projects $404 billion in cuts to Medicare (and to some Medicaid) providers, including $117 billion in cuts from the popular Medicare Advantage program, which covers nearly a quarter of all seniors. The tax increases will also be an issue. A new tax on so-called ‘Cadillac’ health insurance plans will bring in $201 billion, but many Democrats say this unfairly hits unions that negotiated generous health care plans in lieu of wage increases. Another $180 billion comes from other taxes – including taxes on medical devices and the penalty (up to $1900) paid by those who don’t buy health insurance.”
SCOTUS - RELIGIOUS SYMBOLS ON FEDERAL LAND: Today the Supreme Court took up a case questioning whether religious symbols on government land violate the First Amendment. At the center of the argument – a cross erected in California’s Mojave National Preserve in 1934 by World War I veterans. The cross is now covered by a plywood box – the U.S. Parks Service was forced to hide it because of a lawsuit that argues that “having a cross here on a federal land violates the separation of church and state,” Dan Harris reported on WORLD NEWS, because the Parks Service denied a request that a Buddhist shrine be built near the cross. “Critics say it’s an unconstitutional government promotion of one religion: Christianity,” Harris reports. Ariane DeVogue has more: “In 2003 Congress found a novel way to deal with the situation: it passed legislation to transfer the land to private ownership.” But that did not adequately solve the problem and now, DeVogue reports, “the question in front of the nation’s highest court is not whether the cross can stand on public ground…but instead, the Supreme Court will decide whether the Congressional remedy is a sufficient response. Lawyers for [Frank] Buono say that the proposed transfer is merely a sham and an ineffective way to try to get around the constitutional violation. They argue that although the land might be transferred to private hands – owned by the Veterans of Foreign Wars – the government still has too close a relationship to the cross. The cross would still be designated as a national memorial and the government will maintain oversight of the property.” “Whatever the Supreme Court decides,” Harris reports, “the fate of this desert could have implications for public expressions of faith…nationwide.” (thanks to Marisa Bramwell for this entry)
FIRST LADY’S ROOTS: A New York Times reporter and a genealogist took a glimpse back into First Lady Michelle Obama’s family roots, tracing her heritage back to a young slave girl. “It all unfolds with this 1850 will…drawn up by a South Carolina slave owner,” David Muir reported on WORLD NEWS. In the will, researchers found Obama’s great-great-great-grandmother, a 6-year-old slave girl named Melvinia, valued at $475. Melvinia was shipped to the slave owner’s relatives in New Orleans, where she had a child with a white man. “That child was named Dolphus Shields. Dolphus Shields would move to Birmingham where he became a carpenter. By 1900 he owned this house. And by 1911, he had his own business,” Muir reported. “You get the sense, through these documents, he was pulling himself up step by step, into economic stability which was amazing considering he was born a slave,” New York Times reporter Jodi Kantor told ABC News. The records eventually show Obama’s relatives settling into Chicago, where Michelle was born. “A story impossible to imagine for that little slave girl named Melvinia,” Muir says. (thanks to Marisa Bramwell for this entry)
HELEN KELLER STATUE UNVEILED-From Dean Norland: “A statue of Helen Keller was unveiled during a ceremony in the Capitol rotunda Wednesday. It is first statue in the Capitol honoring the life and accomplishments of a disabled person. It depicts the deaf/blind Keller standing at a pump at her parents’ Tuscumbia, Alabama, home when she was seven-years old. It was at that moment, as her teacher pumped water on the girl’s hand, that young Helen was able to spell the word w-a-t-e-r with her other hand, thus rescuing her from a world of silence and darkness. She would go on to get a B.A. degree from Radcliffe College and become a symbol of the triumph over adversity. Alabama Governor Bob Riley said that children need to be taught that courage and strength can reside in the most unlikely places. He predicted that of all of the statues in the Capitol, the only one of a child -- the one of Keller -- would attract the most attention from youngsters. Also speaking at the ceremony were congressional leaders Pelosi, Hoyer, Boehner, Reid, and McConnell, and Carl Augusto, president and CEO of the American Foundation for the Blind. A musical selection was performed by students from the Alabama Institute for Deaf and Blind, Talladega, Alabama.”
SYRIA AND SAUDI ARABIA/THAW IN RELATIONS?-Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah made his first visit to Syria since becoming monarch, and Simon McGregor-Wood notes that it’s the strongest indication yet of a thaw between the two Mideast nations. McGregor-Wood provides some context and recent history: “The thaw in Saudi-Syrian relations began months ago with President Assad's trip to Riyadh and an apparent agreement between the two to allow this summer's Lebanese elections to pass smoothly. Since then the prime minister elect and Saudi supported Saad Harriri has failed to build a workable coalition with Hezbollah and others One possible by-product of today's Royal visit may be a deal to facilitate the formation of a working government in Beirut. Another hoped for spin off might be progress toward a Hamas-Fatah reconciliation deal in the Palestinian Territories.”And what of Syria’s close relationship with Iran? McGregor-Wood: “The Saudis will also look for Syrian movement away from Iran. This is a US goal too. Riyadh hates the growing influence of Shia Iran in Iraq, and fears the nuclear project almost as much as Israel. The thaw may help inter-Arab relations in general but the Syrians so far seem reluctant to make any significant turn away from Iran. Assad visited Tehran just last month and the outreach from the Obama administration is still very new and faltering.”
VANUATA QUAKES- Two powerful earthquakes rocked the South Pacific near the Vanuatu archipelago Thursday morning, the U.S. Geological Survey reported, triggering a regional tsunami alert. The first quake, with a magnitude of 7.8, struck 183 miles (294 kilometers) northwest of the Vanuatu island of Santo, and 354 miles (596 kilometers) northwest of the capital of Port Vila, at a depth of 21 miles (35 kilometers). Just 15 minutes later a second quake with a magnitude 7.3 hit at the same depth but 21 miles (35 kilometers) farther north of Santo and Port Vila. The Pacific Tsunami Center cancelled tsunami warnings and watches an hour or so later.
OTHER STUFF- -- FEDERAL DEFICIT ANALYSIS-The federal deficit reached a record $1.4 trillion in the 2009 fiscal year, according to an analysis released Wednesday by the Congressional Budget Office. The report is not the actual deficit figure, which will be released later this month by the Treasury Department. The year’s record-high deficit of $1.4 trillion equaled 9.9 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product, the CBO said. It is the highest shortfall relative to the size of the overall economy since 1945. (Matt Jaffe) -- USOC INTERIM CHIEF TO EXIT-A week after Chicago’s surprising first-round exit from the IOC’s 2016 Olympics voting the acting CEO of the USOC announced she would be stepping down. Stephanie Streeter said that she would not seek the USOC's CEO job on a permanent basis, and that she would leave in the next five months. (Susan Caraher) -- SPRINGFIELD, IL BOMB PLOT INDICTMENT- Michael Finton, also known as "Talib Islam," has been indicted on charges of attempting to blow up Springfield, Illinois’ federal courthouse and murder government employees working there. (Jason Ryan)