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Victoria Jones
Victoria Jones is the Chief White House Correspondent of the Washington DC based Talk Radio News Service. where her insight and analysis are made available to over 400 news talk radio stations around the country and internationally.
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A a n n n d y   M u r r r r a y!  

In the News
  • SF plane crash: co-pilot error?
  • Cairo: 40+ Mursi supporters shot dead
  • Congress: only 15 bills done so far!
  • Senate: student loans today
  • SCOTUS today: stop NSA spying
  • Snowden: "last chance"
  • NSA leaks loom over DC trade talks
  • House: immigration
  • 650,000 furloughed today: defense
  • Foreign markets today: Wall St?
  • Debt ceiling debacle: GOP plot!
  • BP in court today: fraud claims
  • Zimmerman trial: defense
  • Royal baby watch!

SF Plane Crash: Pilot Error?
* Asiana Airlines says the co-pilot in control of the Boeing 777 that crashed in San Francisco had only 43 hours logged piloting 777s. This was his first landing at that airport. Lee Gang-guk was trying to get used to the plane (AP)
*  However, if Asiana adheres to global industry standards, a big chunk of the co-pilot's 43 hours were logged in a 777 simulater rather than during actual flights, according to safety experts. He would have been under special supervision. He had nearly 10,000 hours of flying time
* The co-pilot of the Asiana Airlines jet that crashed at San Francisco Intnl Airport over the weekend allowed the 777's speed to dip dangerously low, and then apparently ran out of time to correct the landing approach, according to preliminary data released by investigators (WSJ)
* NTSB chair Deborah Hersman stopped short of pinpointing pilot error as the likely cause of the fiery crash that killed two teenage passengers and injured dozens of others
* However, she indicated Sunday that investigators already are focused primarily on understanding why the crew allowed speed to decay to such an extent - and failed to take decisive action until two seconds from impact

* Pic from inside the plane

* A preliminary readout of the black box indicates everything was normal until just seven seconds before impact. At that point, the crew realized the plane was flying too slowly. Three seconds later, a stall-warning light activated. The crew didn't act to sharply increase engine thrust and try to climb away from the strip until 1.5 seconds before impact
* The safety board believes "the engines appear to respond normally" to those commands, but by then it was too late to recover, and portions of the lumbering jet slammed into the seawall in front of the strip
* Taken together, the preliminary data and Hersman's early description of the sequences of events strongly suggest investigators are leaning away from mechanical or other system failures as the likely culprit
* South Korean and U.S. investigators will jointly question the caption and co-pilot of Asiana Flight 214 TODAY

* Video: San Francisco plane crash moment of impact (CNN)

* The instrument landing system, "glide slope", was not working at the time. It had been taken offline for maintenance until 22 August. However, the weather was clear, and pilots and other experts have said there were other warning systems on board and that the pilots should have been able to land without glide path (Politico, Reuters)
*** Separately, an air taxi crashed Sunday at a small Alaska airport, killing all 10 people on board and leaving the aircraft fully engulfed in flames before firefighters could get to it, authorities said (AP)


Cairo: Mursi Supporters Shot Dead
* At least 40 people have been killed in a shooting incident in Cairo early TODAY, say officials and the Muslim Brotherhood, amid continuing unrest over the removal of President Mohamed Mursi. Some 300 people were reported wounded (BBC)
* The Brotherhood says its members were fired on while they were saying dawn prayers during a sit-in at a President Guard barracks where Mursi is believed to be held. But the army said a "terrorist group" had tried to storm the barracks. Reports continue to come in
*** After the violence, the hardline Salafist Nour party - which had supported Mursi's removal - said it was withdrawing from talks to choose an interim prime minister, describing the shooting incident as a "massacre." The Nour party's emerging as a major player, having nixed the appt of moderate Mohamed ElBaradei as PM (note - Islamists are still calling the shots)
* Sunday, U.S. lawmakers were divided over whether the govt should suspend aid to Egypt. Sen John McCain (R-AZ) said funds should be cut off, while Sens Bob Corker (R-TN) and Jack Reed (D-RI) argued the U.S. should be a "force of stability" (Fox)
* Saturday, President Obama issued a stern statement, condemning the ongoing violence across Egypt. Obama "reiterated that the U.S. is not aligned with, and does not support, any particular Egyptian political party or group." "The future path of Egypt can only be determined by the Egyptian people."


Congress is Back and - Not - Busy!
* The current U.S. Congress, facing a backlog of unfinished business and sliding approval ratings, is on pace to clear fewer bills than its predecessor - which had the least number of measures signed into law since modern record keeping began in the 1940s! (Bloomberg, NYT, me)
* Undone: student loans, farm bill (disaster assistance for livestock producers), immigration reform, post office reform, fiscal deadlines for the debt limit. Tax rates went up on 1 January. The sequester happened because of inaction
* Since the 113th Congress convened in January, lawmakers have passed 15 bills - yes folks - that were then signed by the president. That's eight fewer than in the first six months of the last Congress and 19 fewer than in the same stretch of the 111th Congress
* One bill specifies "the size of the precious-metal blank that will be used in the production of the National Baseball Hall of Fame commemorative coins." So far the House and Senate have had eight full weeks away from Washington. They're scheduled to be gone for all of August and one week of September
* Of course, staff members maintain that time away is hardly a vacation. Weeks away from Washington are called "district works periods" and are designed to provide time for work-related travel (Afghanistan, Iraq, or Tahiti, Caymans...) or for office hours and town meetings back home (and fund raising!!)

* Park Police and DC Police are investigating video of gun rights activist Adam Kokesh loading a shotgun (and being weird) in Freedom Plaza (?), DC, on 4 July. Illegal. He'd cancelled a 4 July gun march in DC

Senate: Student Loans
* Congress went home having failed to stop Stafford student loans from doubling from 3.4% to 6.8% on 1 July (and hopefully got an earful and some pies thrown). TODAY, senators get stuck into competing proposals to fix the issue retroactively (Hill, me)
* Most Democrats support a proposal from Sen Jack Reed (D-RI) that would extend the rate of 3.4% for one year and that's paid for by ending tax breaks on tax-deferred retirement accounts - Keep Student Loans Affordable Act
* A bipartisan group introduced a permanent solution similar to the bill the House passed last month. The Bipartisan Student Loan Certainty Act would set all newly issued student loans to the U.S. Treasury 10-year borrowing rate plus 1.85% for undergraduate Stafford loans. Interest rate fixed over the life of the loan, capped max loan rate of 8.25%
* Some Dems argue that that the bipartisan bill and the House bill are worse than doing nothing because the maximum loan rate would be higher than 6.8%. The Bipartisans are: Joe Manchin (D-WV), Richard Burr (R-NC), Tom Coburn (R-OK), Lamar Alexander (R-TN), Angus King (I-ME), Tom Carper (D-DE)


Lawsuit TODAY: Stop NSA Spying
* The Electronic Privacy Information Center plans to file an emergency petition with the Supreme Court TODAY, asking it to stop the NSA's domestic surveillance program that collects the phone records of millions of Americans (NYT)
* The group says it's going to SCOTUS because it can't challenge the legality of the NSA program at the secret FISA court and because lower courts don't have authority to review the secret court's orders. The ACLU and Larry Klayman have also challenged the NSA
* A lawyer for the EPIC said the Patriot Act provision cited by the FISA court required that business records produced be "relevant" to an authorized security investigation. "It is simply implausible that all call detail records are relevant," Alan Butler said (depends on definition of relevant - FISA has redefined "relevant" - WSJ piece today)
* The lawsuits benefit from the publication of the secret court order concerning Verizon, providing evidence that the records of Verizon customers have been collected. Previous court challenges have been dismissed, as it was difficult for plaintiffs to prove that they had been spied on by the NSA


Edward Snowden: "Last Chance"
* Alexei Pushkov, who heads the Duma's foreign affairs committee and is seen to have the ear of the Kremlin, tweeted Sunday "Venezuela is waiting for an answer from Snowden, This, perhaps, is his last chance to receive political asylum." (AP, Guardian, Reuters, me)
* Friday and Saturday, Bolivia, Venezuela and Nicaragua offered asylum to the NSA leaker, who's believed to be hiding out in the transit area of Moscow's airport. He's stuck because the U.S. annulled his passport
* The Venezuelan foreign minister said he will be consulting with Russian officials TODAY about Snowden's situation. Snowden would need travel documents and a way to get to Venezuela. The only direct flight goes to Havana, Cuba and flies over Europe and the U.S. - a problem
* Some European countries (astonishingly) refused to allow Bolivian President Evo Morales to fly through their airspace on his way home from Moscow last week because of suspicions that Snowden was on the plane. All very murky as to whether they were told to do so by the U.S.


Snowden: Awkwardness
* The U.S. has sent Venezuela an extradition request for Snowden. President Nicolas Maduro has said the request has already been rejected
* Joint Chiefs chairman Gen Martin Dempsey said on CNN that Snowden's disclosures have undermined U.S. relationships with other countries and affected what he calls "the importance of trust." (think the actual spying had something to do with it, too...)
* Pushkov joked that if Snowden doesn't find shelter in Venezuela, "he will have to stay and marry Anna Chapman," the redheaded Russian spy who was deported from the U.S. in 2010. Chapman proposed to Snowden on Twitter last week
* The Russians want Snowden gone. President Obama's due to meet President Putin in Russia in September ahead of a G20 meeting. It would be diplomatically an impossible situation for Obama and Putin to have to deal with Snowden lurking in the airport!


NSA Leaks Loom over Trade Talks
* The first round of major talks on the transatlantic trade and investment partnership (TTIP) are scheduled to start TODAY in Washington DC between the U.S. and the EU. Looming over them is huge mistrust by the Europeans over allegations of spying on the EU and European countries by the NSA (Guardian, me)
* Also starting TODAY in Washington are talks on issues of data privacy and the NSA's PRISM program between the U.S. and Europe. The talks were to have included intelligence and espionage but Britain and Sweden vetoed the plans - a huge uproar (turns out Britain's a bigger spy than the U.S. - dunno about Sweden!)
* The talks on data privacy and PRISM are happening at the same time as the trade talks in an attempt to defuse the transatlantic tension. National govts will now need to pursue talks on intel and espionage separately with DC (much harder)
* Such is the transatlantic and intra-European disarray over the espionage wars that senior east and west European politicians and intel veterans privately suspect a Russian role in the intel row. They point to Snowden still being at the Moscow airport and the controversy surrounding the Bolivian presidential plane

* GSA video spoof "Mission Impossible" (obtained by Judicial Watch through FOIA request!) - gets pretty good within a minute

House: Immigration
* The House Republican conference meets Wednesday to discuss their way forward on immigration reform. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) said in a memo Friday that the House may consider border security measures and other proposals in July (Politico, WaPo)
* You can be sure that House border security measures would be tougher than those added to the Senate bill just passed with Republican votes. Rep Mike McCaul (R-TX), chair of the House Homeland Security Committee, said on CBS Sunday the Senate threw "a bunch of candy" at border security (meow)
* Rep Raul Labrador (R-ID) said Sunday on NBC "I actually think that if we don't do it right politically it's going to be the death of the Republican party. If we do it right, I think it's going to be good for us."
* Former President George W. Bush said on ABC "The reason to pass immigration reform is not to bolster a Republican Party - it's to fix a system that's broken. Good policy yields good politics as far as I'm concerned."


Defense: 650,000 Furloughed TODAY
* Civilian Pentagon workers will be forced to take one unpaid day off each week, leading to a 20% reduction in their pay through 21 September, starting TODAY (CNN)
* Furloughs will delay repairs on military equipment ranging from patriot missile systems to land mine rakes used to explode bombs ahead of troops that march into dangerous areas, according to Deborah Witherspoon, president, National Federation of Feral Employees union
* Unions are also predicting economic problems for rural communities that depend on military bases and depots, where thousands of furloughed employees live and work
* The furloughs don't affect those on active duty. Another 150,000 of the agency's 800,000 civilian workers have avoided them because their jobs have been deemed critical: intelligence officers, Navy shipyard builders, Army firefighters and foreign nationals

* Pic: Arizona firefighters' remains driven home in procession of 19 white hearses

Asian, European Markets TODAY: Wall St?
* Asian financial markets weakened TODAY after strong U.S. jobs data Friday raised expectations that the Fed would ease its stimulus measures within a few months and maybe as early as September (Reuters)
* The market defied expectations of a brutal early selldown on the U.S. payrolls report released Friday, but as this morning progressed selling gathered pace, making another bleak day for Asian currencies, stocks and bonds
* The Fed's been printing money to buy $85 billion of U.S. Treasuries and mortgage-backed securities a month in order to drive down long-term interest rates. Those low rates over the past few years prompted investors to seek decent returns by investing in Asian emerging markets
* That flow of funds is now reversing as U.S. Treasury yields rise. The good news out of Europe THIS MORNING is that London's FTSE is up, as is Germany's DAX. What will Wall Street do?


Debt Ceiling Debacle: GOP Plot
* It may be five or six months away, but House Republicans are plotting a humdinger over the debt ceiling, according to National Journal. They're drafting a "menu" of mandatory spending cuts to offer the WH in exchange for raising the country's borrowing limit (hostage taking extraordinaire) (NJ, me)
* Now, remember that President Obama has said he won't negotiate over the good faith and credit of the U.S. etc etc. blah. Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) is working with Budget Committee chair Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Rep Steve Scalise (R-LA), chair Republican Study Committee. The plan's based on the Ryan budget
* For a long-term deal (giving Treasury borrowing authority for three-and-a-half years) Obama would have to agree to premium support. They want him to agree to privatize Medicare, for example
* For a medium-sized increase, Republicans want Obama to agree to cut spending in the SNAP food stamp program, block-grant Medicaid or tinker with chained CPI
* For a smaller increase. there's talk of means-testing Social Security or ending certain agricultural subsidies. At the low end, there's talk of pushing back the eligibility age for Social Security by as many months as they agree to extend the debt limit. This all sounds like fun times ahead

* The 52 faces of the London 7/7 bombings victims

BP in Court TODAY: "Fraudulent Claims"
* Lawyers for BP will appear in federal court in New Orleans TODAY to argue that the terms of last year's agreement - that it signed off on - to compensate victims of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill are being abused by "fraudulent, excessive or improper claims." (Guardian)
* 11 people died when the BP oil rig exploded on 20 April 2010 and oil poured unchecked into the Gulf of Mexico for 86 days. Hundreds of thousands of people and businesses were affected. But as every month goes by, 10,000 more claimants emerge
* Last week, the judge overseeing the multi-billion dollar civil damages case against BP appointed Louis Freeh, a former judge and head of the FBI, to look into allegations of misconduct at the office that administers compensating claims
* BP argues that the compensation committee is ignoring the accepted legal meaning of words such as "revenue" and "earnings" in the way that it assesses claims. It's represented by Ted Olsen. It lost the first round because the judge said they'd drafted the terms and now they didn't want to live with it
* The settlement agreement's more than 1,000 pages long, so plenty of room for legal maneouvres. There have been bogus cases. On the other hand, BP has a poor record in the environmental arena and the accident arena


Zimmerman Trial: Defense
* So, at the moment it looks to me like George Zimmerman's going to be acquitted, judging by the lame case the prosecution's put on and the way the testimony of some of its witnesses has undercut its case (don't they prep these people?) but you can't tell with juries
* This week, the defense makes its case. Unknown whether Zimmerman will testify in his second-degree murder trial. He's charged with shooting and killing 17-year-old, unarmed Trayvon Martin, who was black and who may have been followed and profiled by Zimmerman - and may not
* Defense began Friday with Zimmerman's mother briefly testifying that it was her son screaming for help in a 911 call that recorded the fatal shot. She said Zimmerman was terrified before shooting Trayvon. Zimmerman's uncle also testified the voice was Zimmerman's
* This week, the defense may call Sanford police officials and Florida Dept of Law enforcement authorities, also John Good, who lived near the shooting scene and testified earlier that Trayvon was striking Zimmerman while straddling him

* On 4 July, Broward Sheriff Fire Rescue saved a puppy who traveled across three cities trapped under hood of a couple's car (between steering mechanism and axel!)

Royal Baby Watch!
* Kate Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge, could give birth to a prince or princess at any time, although the official due date's the middle of this month
* Kate and William don't know the sex of the baby - the couple's chosen not to know

Victoria Jones
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