[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/images/01/28/art.obamacapitol.gi.jpg]Cate Vojdik
Tomorrow on 360° Gary Tuchman ventures deep into Texas for a look-see in the most anti-Obama corner of the country. We’re not exaggerating, honest.
King County, in the Texas panhandle, is a virtual vacuum when it comes to support for Democrats. Of the 3,140 counties in the United States, King County gave up the least for Barack Obama on Election Day – he won just eight votes. Eight. John McCain pulled in 93 percent of the vote – his biggest percentage win in the country on Election Day.
We were curious about the mood in King County, now that President Obama is in office. Are residents willing to give him a chance? You might be surprised by what Gary found. The county clerk gave him an earful. You can catch Gary’s full report tomorrow at 10 p.m. ET.
We’ll also have the latest on Governor Rod Blagojevich’s impeachment trial in the Illinois Senate. After skipping the first three days of hearings, Blagojevich is now pressing to deliver a closing argument before deliberations begin. The Senate is scheduled to vote tomorrow morning on whether to let him speak. Things should get really interesting if he gets the green light.
In the meantime, we’ll leave you with a pop quiz question: The ten most anti-Obama counties are in two states. We’ve already told you Texas is one of them. Which is the other?
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President Obama is hosting more lawmakers at the White House tonight. I gotta believe it's a bit of an awkward cocktail party. Then again, politicians can schmooze like no others. See Mr. Obama is trying to get members of Congress to support his economic stimulus plan. The plan passed in the House tonight, but no Republican voted for it. 11 Democrats also voted "nay." The final vote was 244 to 188.
Republicans are concerned about the cost of the bill. We're talking about billions of dollars in spending. They also say the tax cuts don't go far enough.
We'll be playing out the numbers for you tonight.
We'd love to know - do you think the bill will do enough to boost the economy?
And, are all of Pres. Obama's meet-and-greets pushing his plan wasted energy - since the GOP doesn't seem to be on board the plan?
A chunk of the stimulus plan would go to improving America's crumbling infrastructure: bridges, sewage systems, dams, etc. The American Society of Civil Engineers issued a new report card on our nation's infrastructure and it wasn't good. The overall grade was a D. Tonight, we'll dig deeper on the report. The troubling part is that the group estimates the government and private sector needs to invest $2.2 trillion over five years to make the necessary repairs. That's about three times more than the amount listed in Pres. Obama's stimulus package.
Tonight we're also looking at the porn scandal at the National Science Foundation. You would think workers know not to surf for smut on the job. But it seems a few did it anyway at the foundation. One senior official at the agency reportedly quit before getting fired. Investigators determined the value of time lost on the job at more than $58,000 - for that one worker. Your tax dollars wasted - as he allegedly viewed explicit images and sent explicit text messages to various women over two years.
We'll have these stories and more tonight at 10 pm ET.
We hope you can join us!
Editor's Note: Tonight on AC360°, don't miss Joe Johns report on the government scientists who are accused of surfing for porn on your tax dollars
Joe Johns | BIO
This story is kind of an anachronism.
When you think about it who doesn't know that surfing porn at work is a no-no? And what makes it even more bizarre is that out of six people allegedly visiting sexually explicit web sites while at work at the National Science Foundation, one of them is being described as a "senior official."
So, OK, we like to think that the people at the NSF are really smart. But this guy, according to an inspector general's report, wasn't just clicking around occasionally on the "down-low." The report said he was spending something like 20 percent of his time at work trolling around on the dark side of the Internet - allegedly looking at sexually explicit images and engaging in explicit online chats with various women. The inspector general calculated the value of the time lost at more than $58,000 - for that one worker. A senior official? Go figure.
It might have been forgettable since he quit when he was told he was being fired, except for the fact that the NSF gets billions from the Treasury – $6 billion to promote the progress of science and advance national health. Put it under the heading of your taxpayer dollars at work.
Republican Senator Chuck Grassley is writing letters and demanding explanations. As a ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee, he's asked the NSF's inspector general for all documents related to the investigation. Grassley says the government is looking at other computer servers at the foundation to find out if anyone else is surfing for sex instead of science.
[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/POLITICS/01/28/obama.first.week/art.obama.gi.jpg caption="The economy has been the main focus of the first week of President Obama's presidency."]
The Washington Post
In testimony before the House Budget Committee yesterday, Alice M. Rivlin, who was President Bill Clinton's budget director, suggested splitting the plan, implementing its immediate stimulus components now and taking more time to plan the longer-term transformative spending to make sure it is done right.
"Such a long-term investment program should not be put together hastily and lumped in with the anti-recession package. The elements of the investment program must be carefully planned and will not create many jobs right away," said Rivlin, a fellow at the Brookings Institution. The risk, she said, is that "money will be wasted because the investment elements were not carefully crafted."
AC360° Associate Producer
I finally saw them. Rod Blagojevich’s bangs. I saw them with my own eyes and I lived to tell about it. The disgraced Governor of Illinois had just finished up Larry King Live and was, I can only assume, on his way to steal money from terminally ill children when he passed me in the hallway here at CNN.
It all seemed to happen in slow motion, us walking toward each other. It was a perfect example of why I need someone to follow me at all times with an iPod boombox playing the theme song from Chariots of Fire.
The governor had quite a large entourage, though I’m unsure if they were Illinois State Troopers there to protect him or U.S. Marshals there to make sure he didn’t flee the country.
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[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/images/01/28/art.nypost.simpson.jpg caption="A cartoon depicting Simpson in the New York Post."]
I'm feeling a little queasy and it’s not because I just remembered one peanut butter pretzel too late that there is a salmonella outbreak at hand. My bout of nausea began yesterday morning when I indulged the rare craving to listen to the radio while getting dressed for work. Admittedly, that 1995 throw back maneuver was likely my first mistake. But what happened next, no one deserves during that sacred time in the morning when you’re trying to center yourself for the day. Cue some horrified sounding radio DJ. The exact wording escapes me, likely a suppression response, but it went something like this: So, wow people! The New York Post ran a picture of Jessica Simpson today and she looks ginormous! She must have packed on 40 pounds! What has she been eating? What was she thinking? End fake quote, now read promo for weight loss supplement. Seriously - true story.
I tuned out when "unflattering" photos of Tyra Banks and Jennifer Love Hewitt surfaced on vacation, or when Britney Spears weight gain inspired teams of professionals dissecting photos, but never has this beloved pasttime of over-zealous armchair weight watching felt more out of place. Perhaps it’s a side effect of the recent culmination of a year of 24-7 “change” rhetoric being piped in to my ear, or the soberness I feel on the heels of record job loss numbers, but for some reason, today was the day when I could no longer stomach the particularly mean-spirited headlines and zings thrown around with reckless abandon accompanying someone’s appearance. The line of absurdity was definitely crossed for me on this one, and not just because I feel a little robbed of what could have been a celebrated moment since I do tend to believe (as friends of the singer allege) she wasn’t very happy keeping her weight at a rib-popping low.
Thankfully, upon further "Jessica Simpson Scandal" research, I was pleasantly surprised to see that the world had not completely gone to sh^%#t. Some web sites covering the concert that inspired the buzz didn't say a word about her appearance or simply duly noted a fuller figure and moved on. Yet several major media outlets went full throttle with the "porker" puns and there was the comic strip in the New York Post today. I’m speechless. The need to get on some sort of blow horn and call Yahtzee on this one overwhelms me. I briefly considered posting a YouTube video, hysterically ranting to “leave Jessica alone” ala Chris Crocker’s infamous YouTube, “Leave Britney (Spears) alone” sensation, but then decided my sore throat would impede dramatic effect and my video really would need to be, "leave the young fans of Jessica's who are trying to convince themselves not to lock themselves in their room till they reach their ideal weight and have to overhear this conversation alone!" I also contemplated writing a “Celebrities Are People Too” thesis and posting it in its entirety online, but again, I worried that wouldn’t really capture my sentiments and something sounded funny about, "People Are People Too." So I guess I'll just have to rely on the plain written word, no gimmicks.
Our President reminded us recently in his inauguration address that "our country is in crisis." It has been noted by many smart people - several pay scales above mine - that the upside to the challenges our country faces is that it will force us to take a closer look at the way we live our lives and with greater ease see what has served us well, and discard what has held us back. This sounds pretty good. I would say, "Sign me up!" but I guess I already am, I guess we all already are. I will be the first to admit my life is chalk full of hypocrisies, ironies, and contradictions, but my hope is that we can collectively make an oath to strive to be better about the big things in life as well as the small things while the door of change is propped open. A simple shift in tone would perhaps be a place to start, and an opportunity to admit that we're not really sure where funny ends, and mean starts, where an obligation to say what we think will sell crosses the line from harmless entertainment to something far uglier and more dangerous.
What I do know is that in terms of one manifestation of a societal mean streak, we've used the same excuses to dodge forward movement for a long time. "We're just covering the news," "celebrities are rich, self-centered, generally suck, and signed up for this so therefore they can just shut their little yappers and take one for the team while we all point and laugh that they're not so perfect after all, ey?!" "She is a star. It is her JOB to stay in shape and look good." And an oldie but goodie, “It’s just not healthy to be fat, that’s why it’s ok to call her x, y and z.”
Americans are better than this. Allow me to gently point out the irony of talking passionately about the desire for health and happiness for ourselves and loved ones out of one side of our mouths, and playing a judgmental bully fat (and otherwise) police to our fellow citizens out of the other side of our mouth. Women are definitely better than this. Who among us has not gazed longingly at their "skinny" jeans and opted instead for their "I had a little too much fun on vacation slightly dumpy jeans" and just prayed not to run in to any exes before they can get back to their regular gym routine?
Maybe this can be our moment of liberation where we accept that the truth of being human doesn't need to be danced around, nor conversely presented like a page out of the script for “Mean Girls: Part Two.” People (and by people, celebrities fall under that general category too) gain weight and lose weight. They also happen to read their email (Yes, I know. I was quite surprised to find out that there was no such thing as a bomb-sniffing “Robo Dog” that ensured that Anderson never got within a 10-mile radius of his email). Some people gain weight when they're in emotional distress, some people lose weight when they're hurting. Some people gain weight when they're in love, some people lose weight when they're in love and on and on and on. So show me pictures of celebrities’ weight range all day and night – just leave out the toxic remarks, kindly. I'll relish the opportunity to see someone I think is pretty and "has it all" going through the same roller-coaster ride of life that I do.
Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist John Updike died yesterday of lung cancer. He was 76, the same age as my father when he died of lung cancer. I’m sure the Updike family is cloaked in grief, just as mine was nearly eight years ago.
It’s unclear when Updike was diagnosed; he passed away in a Massachusetts hospice. As recently as November, the legendary author was out and about, promoting his new novel “The Widows of Eastwick.” He certainly doesn’t look seriously ill in this October video interview with the New York Times.
Program Note: Tune in tonight to hear more from Stephen Flynn on AC360° at 10pm ET.
[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/US/01/28/infrastructure.report.card/art.traffic.gi.jpg caption="The civil engineers said the nation's D- roads cost motorists $67 billion a year in repairs and operating costs."]
National security expert
America’s infrastructure is in the political spotlight as an increasingly contentious piece of President Barack Obama’s $835 billion economic stimulus package. Republicans like Rep. Harold Roger, R-KY characterize the package as “a rampant spending spree.” The White House maintains that it is the jumpstart the nation’s moribund economy needs to move us out of a severe recession. Missing from this debate is any real acknowledgment that the critical foundations that underpin our modern society are literally crumbling around us, imperiling our safety and security, quality of life, and economic competitiveness.
How bad off is America’s inventory of infrastructure? On January 27, 2009, the American Society of Civil Engineersissued their quadrennial report card on 15 sectors. The grades are not the kind you would have wanted to bring home to your parents: four C’s and eleven D’s. Bottoming out the evaluation are drinking waters systems, levees, wasterwater systems, inland waterway locks, and roads which all were assigned a D- grade. Think about this: water is the basic element of life. To get it to most of our homes and offices whenever we turn on the faucet or flush the toilet requires a vast network of underground pipes that are in such bad repair, we are losing an estimated seven billion gallons of clean drinking water each and every day.
CNN Senior Producer
A former CIA station chief in Algeria is under investigation by the State and Justice Departments for allegedly raping at least two women while he held the post, a source with knowledge of the investigation confirms to CNN. The women have told investigators they believe date rape drugs were used in the assaults which allgedly occurred at the officer's official residence, according to the source.
The allegations were first made in the fall of 2008 when the unidentified officer was still serving as station chief. Soon after the allegations were made, in October the man came back to the United States for a previously scheduled trip and was ordered not to return to his post, the source said.
A senior U.S. official confirmed the case was under investigation but refused comment on the details.
The women, who are Algerian citizens, came forward with the allegations to a U.S. government official and then an investigation was launched by federal authorities.