Clem's Chronicles: Dems In Trouble?/Obama Interview/Haiti

Howdy folks-plenty of news tonight......

MASSACHUSETTS FALL-OUT/ARE INDEPENDENTS ABANDONING DEMOCRATS?-Republican Scott Brown’s victory in Massachusetts may make passing health-care reform harder but it seems that’s not the biggest fall-out. Jake Tapper, reporting from the White House for WORLD NEWS, noted the victory “has the White House and Democrats in general worried about losing independent voters…after they supported President Obama and Congressional Democrats two years ago.” Tapper notes independents’ frustration with the Dems “can be seen in the Tea Party movement…a loosely-affiliated grass roots group that has played a role in the last three big Democratic losses (the other two being VA and NJ Governorships)”. Jenny Beth Martin, the national coordinator for notes the issues she believes cost the party in power: “Fiscal responsibility, Constitutionally-limited government and free markets.” Our polling bears out that independent dissatisfaction with President Obama-Tapper notes that in a new ABC NEWS/Washington Post poll only 28% of independents feel President Obama has done enough to improve the economy (versus an overall 35% approval). The White House argues “that health care reform has been unfairly caricatured and poorly communicated” Taper reports. “They argue the Wall Street and auto bailouts were unpalatable but necessary.” Tapper interviewed Obama political advisor David Axelrod today who said bluntly “The President did what he had to do, understanding that the politics weren’t good, and we paid some price for that.” As for what the White House has in mind to re-attract those disaffected independents? Tapper noted in his close “White House officials say they hope to appeal to these angry voters with a focus on jobs, a new tax on big banks and the new crackdown on wall street through financial regulation reform, but fundamentally they know that until the jobs come back, the voters are still going to be angry and hold the White House and Congressional Democrats accountable.” What does the President himself think? George Stephanopoulos sat down with President Obama today for his first interview after the Massachusetts debacle. That entry follows.

PRESIDENT OBAMA-In an interview today with George Stephanopoulos, the President tried to explain his reaction to last night’s vote in Massachusetts, a reaction characterized by WH Press Secretary Robert Gibbs as“surprise and frustration” Obama: “Certainly I think a lot of us were surprised about where this was going about a week ago. Here’s my assessment of not just the mood in Massachusetts, but the mood around the country. The same thing that swept Scott Brown into office swept me into office. People are angry and they’re frustrated.” Stephanopoulos wondered whether critics who questioned the Obama Administration agenda as overly ambitious may have had a point. Obama: “Well the question is ‘what could we not have done?’ And I think that a lot of people would say ‘Health care’s the one thing you didn’t have to do’….here’s the problem though. If we didn’t take on health care, then when were we going to take it on”. As for moving forward on health care-the President said nothing will be done until “Scott Brown is seated. People in Massachusetts spoke. He’s got to be part of the process.” The President told Stephanopoulos that he wouldn’t get “into the legislative strategy”, saying his job was “to set direction and the direction I think that has to be set is to identify those core elements of (the health-care) package and to get that done.” While telling Stephanopoulos that his first year in office has been the most fulfilling, the President added “During the course of this year, we’ve had to make some decisions that weren’t popular. We’ve made some mistakes. I’ve personally made some mistakes.” The President went on to note that he has so far been unsuccessful in closing “the gap between the values of the American people and the values of Washington, and the values of Wall Street.” President Obama spoke of another casualty of this most busiest of years: “I think we lost some of that sense of speaking directly to the American people about what their core values are.” After the interview ran, WORLD NEWS anchor Diane Sawyer asked Stephanopoulos if “I’m hearing him say that on health care reform, it’s back to square one”? Stephanopoulos: “He wants something to happen, but what was interesting, the President did not demand that the House pass the Senate bill and he said he wanted both sides to come together around the core principles that everyone agrees on. so even though he wouldn’t say so directly, he was really signaling, recognizing reality, that the two big bills, the nearly trillion dollar bills that passed the House and the Senate, they aren’t going to pass this year.”

SENATOR-ELECT BROWN-John Berman took a look at Republican Senator-elect Scott Brown’s Massachusetts victory today. While noting that “National political winds certainly helped push this 50-year-old state senator to victory” Berman added “there was clearly more at work.” Such as? His truck. Berman reports “it became an unlikely symbol of regular guy, plain-spokenness.” His stint as a male-model in the 80’s was not a liability. Berman: “The money (he got for modeling) helped him pay for law school…he became a Lieutenant Colonel in the National Guard and the ordinary guy became a father to some extraordinary girls, Arianna and Ayla, a semi-finalist on “American Idol” and a guard for Boston College. The ordinary guy, Berman noted in his close “is headed to Washington tomorrow where his first meeting will be with Senator John McCain. in case you’re wondering how he will get there? He is flying, leaving the truck back here."

HAITI AFTER THE EARTHQUAKE: The earth shook in Haiti again today, as a major aftershock sent nervous earthquake victims into the streets at daybreak. There have been nearly 50 aftershocks since the quake that virtually leveled the country’s capital city of Port au Prince on January 12th. This one was a 5.9 magnitude jolt that collapsed more buildings - seven to be exact - in the seaside town of Petit-Goave. There were no reports of people crushed or trapped this time, perhaps because most are now sleeping outside. A light rain fell on the area today adding more misery for quake victims and the international volunteers trying to help out. There has been an improvement in the massive relief program, though some still complain about a shortage of supplies. David Muir found his way to a makeshift hospital in Carrefour: “We find the tent. Inside, the sounds of pain. And the lead surgeon who told us – they’re running out of supplies.” Not enough instruments or plaster of paris. But, David continues: “they allowed me into the operating room with a small camera…as doctors performed an emergency caesarean. The mother’s placenta ruptured. She was hemorrhaging and they have no blood here. They just got the baby out.” It was a boy. And it turns out the mother survived. Good news this time. But the group Doctors Without Borders wants to know why only five of their 13 planes have been able to land at Haiti’s National Airport, where planes have been landing at the rate of one every six minutes. An airport supervisor only says it’s first come first served. But tonight, more good news as David tells us: “We've learned a sixth Doctors Without Borders plane has now landed, carrying supplies, medicine, and another inflatable hospital. We asked..will those supplies reach that hospital in Carrefour tonight-- we were told, they're being unloaded at this hour.. and will make it there by morning.” (thanks to Ed Bailey for this entry)

CALIFORNIA STORMS-For water-logged residents of California another day of unrelenting rain. Today’s storm was the strongest of the three so far that have hammered California this week, with gale-force winds and up to 5 inches of rainfall, according to the National Weather Service. As noted in previous notes, much attention is being paid areas denuded during wildfires the past two years and mudslide fears. Authorities ordered the evacuation of nearly 800 homes in the foothills near Los Angeles. While most residents heeded the evacuation warning, others did not, signing a waiver and pledging to stick it out. The storm spawned thunder, lightning and hail across several counties and dumped snow in the mountains, forcing closure of California's chief north-south highway, Interstate 5, at the Tejon Pass. A winter storm warning was posted for higher elevations, with snow accumulations of up to 4 feet and near-blizzard conditions in some mountains. Flooding shut down numerous roads in low-lying areas. A fourth storm is expected to hit the Southern California area tomorrow.

TEXAS STORMS-A possible tornado is being blamed for damage done to a North Texas town. Canton, Texas was the scene-“The storm cell damaged a Chevron gas station, overturned 18-wheele trucks, ripped down signs and completely destroyed things now unidentifiable” according to the NNS. No reports of any injuries. The Newsone Regional Desk is monitoring and will bring in additional picture as editorial developments warrant.

MEDICAL FRAUD: Today the DOJ announced that dental management company FORBRA Holdings LLC, which serves low income children insured by Medicare, will pay $24 million to settle allegations that they provided unnecessary medical treatments – such as removing teeth, x-rays, anesthesia, and root canals – along with substandard services to children at 68 “Small Smiles” dental clinics in 22 states. From Pierre Thomas, “ this practice was part of what the government describes as an assembly line approach by a healthcare company where dollars apparently mattered more than children.” Pierre goes on to report that “whistle blowers from inside the company told ABC News it was all allegedly done to rip off tax payers, to boost payments from Medicaid.” The company has agreed to overhaul procedures and pay the $24 million but has admitted no wrongdoing and remains open for business. Pierre reached out to company officials today but none were willing to talk on camera. (thanks to Yvonne Lai for this entry)

MR. MARKET HAS A BAD DAY-One day after setting 15-month highs, the Dow declined by triple digits today, dropping more than 122 points to finish at 10,603. What happened to the “post-Republican victory in Massachusetts” euphoria that most were expecting? Betsy Stark: “Analyst Hugh Johnson says traders are viewing the Massachusetts upset through a different prism today. Today the reality is setting in that loss of Democratic control in Washington could mean less federal spending, less fiscal stimulus, less government support of a weak economy. He says the change in the political landscape casts a shadow over the assumption that if the economy were to falter again, the federal government would step in with another round of stimulus. As a result, stocks, commodities, oil, even gold are all down today on fears of slower growth.” Other factors-China and IBM. Although IBM posted a stronger-than-expected quarterly profit late Tuesday, investors had misgivings about its guarded 2010 outlook, sending the stock down nearly 3 percent. China may be the biggest contributor to today’s losses. Reports out today suggest that China is tightening up its credit market, leading to fears of slower economic growth there.

KIDS AND THEIR GADGETS: A new survey examining current media use by young people found that children 8-18 years old spend about 75 hours per week on their electronic devices. Bill Weir breaks down the averages, “according to this study, the average kid sponges in 2.5 hours of music each day, almost 5 hours of TV and movies, 3 hours of internet and video games and 38 minutes of old-fashioned reading. That's 75 hours of media A WEEK. Which doesn't include the hour and a half spent text messaging each day…and the half hour on the cell phone…just one of the gadgets that makes this all possible.” Sadly, reading - including books, magazines and newspapers - is the only medium surveyed that hasn’t increased. So one must wonder, when do they eat, sleep, and do homework? Weir reports, “that multitasking has a price. Among the heaviest media users, about half get Cs or lower in school, while only a quarter of light users report bad grades… only around a third of the kids surveyed say their parents put limits on TV or computer use. But in houses with even minimal guidelines, kid's media consumption drops by nearly three hours a day.” (thanks to Yvonne Lai for this entry)

VIRGINIA MURDERS-A man suspected of shooting eight people to death in Virginia has been charged with murder. Lt. J.D. Baker of the Lynchburg, VA Adult Detention Center says Christopher Bryan Speight is being held there on one charge of first-degree murder. Speight turned himself in Wednesday morning after police say he spent the night hiding in the woods. A bomb squad discovered a multitude of explosives at the home, and crews are detonating the devices.

GATE CRASHERS HEARING- As expected, White House gate crashers Tareq and Michaele Salahi invoked their Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination Wednesday, refusing to answer a House committee's questions about their uninvited appearance at a state dinner. A federal grand jury is investigating the Salahis to learn how they got past the Secret Service without invitations and shook hands with President Barack Obama.

STROLLER RECALL-Graco Children’s Products are recalling some 1.5 million strollers after product safety questions were raised by consumers. The Atlanta company received seven reports of children placing their fingers in a stroller's canopy hinge as the canopy was being opened or closed. Five children had their fingertips severed and two children received cuts on their fingertips. YOU TUBE TO RENT MOVIES-Dan Arnall: “The world of digital distribution just got a bit more interesting. On their business blog this afternoon the Google-owned online video site said they’re going to start a pilot program where users can ‘rent’ five movies which are shown at this year’s Sundance film festival. This could be a first step in reducing the importance of film studios in providing distribution to feature-length films. Shoot it, edit it, upload it to YouTube and get people to rent it directly from you via this almost ubiquitous video web site. Could the big studios be close behind when it comes to using YouTube to get their product in our hands?”

OTHER STUFF- -- NEW CRIB SAFETY PROGRAM TO BE ANNOUNCED TOMORROW-The Consumer Product Safety Commission is going to announce a new crib safety program tomorrow. CPSC chair Inez Tenenbaum will discuss the details at a House hearing tomorrow. -- HAITIAN ORPHANS/NAPOLITANO-Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano appeared before the Senate Homeland Security Committee today and was asked by one of the members (Senator Jon Tester, D-MT) why there has been a delay in bringing Haitian orphans into the United States. Napolitano testified, "…you have that commitment…The issue of orphans is tragic…it is going to grow…this needs to be handled very carefully…we need to make sure they are orphans…we need to make sure the parents in the US are qualified…there are issues of health of the orphans…we have formed a team with State and HHS to work on the issue. This issue is only going to grow over time.” (Jason Ryan) -- SUPREME COURT CALLS AN AUDIBLE- In an unusual move the Supreme Court has announced it will issue between 1 and 4 decisions TOMORROW. The court rarely deviates from its set schedule…one must wonder if they will finally release the campaign finance decision….(Ariane DeVogue) -- NEW YORK TIMES/ONLINE ACCESS FEES COMING- Starting in 2011, The New York Times will begin charging users for full access to The Wall Street Journal now does this successfully and the implications for consumers and for the industry, as it struggles with falling advertising revenue, are enormous. (Betsy Stark)

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