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Other News: Jobless Claims Rise; Ginsburg Hospitalized

February 5, 2009 at 6:25 PM EDT
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JIM LEHRER: In other economic news today, the labor market turned in dismal new numbers. First-time claims for unemployment benefits rose last week to 626,000, the most since 1982.

The report set the stage of unemployment figures for January. They’re due to be released tomorrow.

On Wall Street today, stocks rallied on potential changes in the federal rescue program for banks and other institutions. The Dow Jones industrial average gained 106 points to close at 8,063. The Nasdaq rose 31 points to close at 1,546.

The government put the finishing touches today on revising the rescue program. Treasury Secretary Geithner said he will spell out the changes on Monday.

But the chair of a congressional oversight panel said the Treasury has “substantially overpaid” for stocks in banks and other institutions. Elizabeth Warren spoke at a Senate hearing.

ELIZABETH WARREN, chairwoman, TARP oversight panel: Treasury put in about $254 billion for which it received about $176 billion in value from the financial institutions. That’s a shortfall of about $78 billion when measured as of the date of the transaction.

JIM LEHRER: Warren said there may be a good reason for overpaying, but she said the Treasury has offered no explanation.

Also in the news today, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg had surgery today for pancreatic cancer. A press release today from the court said the cancer was at an early stage. Doctors spotted it during a routine exam last month. Ginsburg is 75 years old. She’s served on the court since 1993. And in 1999, she was treated for colon cancer.

President Obama today called for new standards to cut energy use by household appliances. He ordered the Department of Energy to cut through red tape and to put the standards in place by August. They would apply to home dishwashers, lamps and microwave ovens, plus commercial air conditioning equipment and even vending machines.

The ongoing salmonella scare may have entered the food chain through loopholes in the law. The Senate Agriculture Committee heard today food-makers and state inspectors don’t have to tell federal officials about test results.

Committee Chairman Senator Tom Harkin voiced disbelief.

SEN. TOM HARKIN, D-Iowa: To say that food safety in this country is a patchwork system is just giving it too much credit. Food safety in America has too often become a hit-or-miss gamble that is truly frightening.

Peanuts are good for you. It’s a healthy food. And when we can’t even depend on that, that peanut butter that we put in our kids’ sandwiches that they take to school, if that’s not safe, then we have to ask, what is?

JIM LEHRER: The current outbreak has been traced to a Georgia peanut plant. But the Food and Drug Administration only recently learned the plant has a history of shipping products after initial tests found salmonella.

The FDA’s food safety director, Dr. Stephen Sundlof, defended his agency’s response. He said the gaps in the law make the job harder.

DR. STEPHEN SUNDLOF, food safety director, Food and Drug Administration: FDA cannot require records unless it believes that there’s a reasonable belief that the product is adulterated and could result in serious adverse health effects. That’s the criteria by which the FDA can require, demand records.

So, for the most part, in a routine inspection, those records may not be revealed to us, because the company is not required to give us that information.

JIM LEHRER: So far, the salmonella outbreak is blamed for at least eight deaths nationwide and more than 550 more people have taken ill.

In addition, the state of Kentucky stopped handing out emergency meal kits today to ice storm victims. The Federal Emergency Management Agency said the meals may contain packets of the tainted peanut butter.

In Iraq today, official results gave Prime Minister Maliki’s coalition a sweeping victory in provincial elections. The secular Shiite parties came in first in Baghdad and eight other provinces.

But there was also fresh violence, a suicide bombing that killed at least 14 people. The attack hit a busy restaurant in a Kurdish city near the Iranian border.

U.S. Army suicides in January could exceed combat deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan combined. The Associated Press reported today there were 24 suspected suicides, eight more than the number killed in action. Last week, the Army reported its suicide rate for all of last year was the highest on record.