THE RUNDOWN
A BLOG OF NEWS AND INSIGHT
  • BY   December 22, 2009 at 5:08 PM EDT

    On the day that President Obama met with community bankers, we examine the troubles facing small banks. Then, a look at the big money lobbying efforts aimed at health care reform, how Michelle Rhee tackled DC’s worst performing schools, the government steps up efforts to fight cyber crime, and the story of a National Geographic photographer helping military families create the most meaningful holiday gifts.

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  •   December 22, 2009 at 3:49 PM EDT

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    It’s an early Christmas present for Senators and their staff. Senate leaders announced Tuesday that they had scheduled a final vote on the Senate’s health care reform bill for 8 a.m. on December 24.

    Democrats appear to have locked up the 60 votes necessary to end any filibuster attempt and pass the bill — and the bill has already passed two procedural hurdles in party-line votes.

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  •   December 22, 2009 at 1:59 PM EDT

    The weekend storm that dumped more snow on Washington, DC, than the area usually sees in an entire winter was a Nor’easter, a powerful storm characterized by a strong low-pressure center that forms in the Gulf of Mexico or the Atlantic Ocean and moves north up the Eastern seaboard.
    In the Northern Hemisphere, winds flow in toward the center of a low-pressure area in a counter-clockwise spiral, which means that as the storm heads north, the leading winds come in off the ocean from the northeast.

    The record-breaking blizzard shut down the federal government and stranded travelers, leaving between 11 and 20 inches of snow on the ground throughout the metropolitan area, according to the National Weather Service.

    The photo above, released by NASA’S Earth Observatory, shows just how thoroughly the Nor’easter blanketed the mid-Atlantic. Larger images are available here.

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  •   December 22, 2009 at 1:37 PM EDT

    Nearly seven months after announcing a new emphasis on digital security, the Obama administration has tapped a veteran of both eBay and Microsoft to lead the nation’s military and civilian cybersecurity efforts.

    Howard Schmidt, who served as a cybersecurity advisor in the Bush administration, will fill the new post of White House Cybersecurity Coordinator. Schmidt will be charged with setting computer security policy and providing budget guidance across the government. In a letter announcing the appointment, the White House said Schmidt “will have regular access to the President and serve as a key member of his National Security Staff.”

    In May, President Obama declared that protecting the nation’s digital networks would be a “national security priority.” The naming of a cyber-czar was slowed, however, by internal debates within the administration over how much authority the official would have. According to the Washington Post, several candidates turned down the job “out of concern that the job conferred much responsibility with little true authority.”

    “It’ll be a thankless job,” writes Marc Ambinder in the Atlantic’s politics blog. “Given the near-certainty that the government will experience some massive data breach or a major cyber terrorism attack, Schmidt will be both the point person — and the person seen as responsible, even though he lacks the statutory authority to prevent these catastrophes.”

    On tonight’s NewsHour, Jeffrey Brown will have more on Schmidt’s appointment and the threat of cybercrime. Stay tuned.

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  •   December 22, 2009 at 9:39 AM EDT

    President Barack Obama will meet Tuesday with representatives of a dozen small and community banks at the White House in a follow-up to a similar meeting he held last week with some of the nation’s top bankers.

    The Wall Street Journal reports that as the bankers meet with the president, a battle is brewing between the American Bankers Association and the Independent Community Bankers Association over who truly speaks for community banks – an important role given the push on Capitol Hill for tighter financial regulation.

    The meeting also comes as the Commerce Department revised its third quarter GDP numbers downward to show that the economy grew at a slower-than-expected rate of 2.2 percent. Still, the growth rate was the fastest pace since the third quarter of 2007.

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  • BY   December 21, 2009 at 5:30 PM EDT

    Iranians amassed in Qom on Monday to mourn the loss of dissident cleric, Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, considered the spiritual voice of the opposition movement. Continue reading

  • BY   December 21, 2009 at 4:57 PM EDT

    Tonight’s program looks at changes in store for the American health care system, protests in Iran, school reform in Washington, D.C., and a behind-the-scenes look at the Copenhagen climate agreement.

    HEALTH CARE – With the stage now set for a final vote in the U.S. Senate
    on Health Care before Christmas, our Health Correspondent Betty Ann
    Bowser will have the latest. Then, Gwen Ifill gets reaction from two
    prominent voices on Capitol Hill.

    IRAN – Protestors returned to the streets of Iran today, demanding
    reforms. The funeral of a prominent dissident cleric proved to be the
    catalyst for the latest anti-regime demonstrations. Margaret Warner
    reports today’s events, and explores the next move for opposition
    figures both inside Iran, and in exile.

    DC SCHOOLS – As a dramatic year in the history of Washington DC’s
    schools comes to an end, we’ll begin running a special series of
    encore reports by John Merrow, our Special Correspondent for
    Education. John has cataloged the battle to improve DC’s public
    schools ever since the appointment of Michelle Rhee as Education
    Chancellor for the District of Columbia
    . Tonight, a story that first
    aired shortly after her appointment, in which Rhee describes the
    enormity of the challenges that she faces. There are additional podcasts from Merrow’s reporting on his Learning Matters website.

    COPENHAGEN POST-MORTEM – Ray Suarez is back in the United States,
    following his week-long visit to the Copenhagen Summit on Climate
    Change. Tonight, he’ll talk to Jeffrey Brown about the
    behind-the-scenes events that led to the summit’s hotly-debated
    conclusion.

    WEB-ONLY – Our web exclusives include a Rundown conversation with Ray about his adventures in Denmark; extended excerpts of Margaret’s interview with the former Iranian Revolutionary Guard member who runs a dissident message board from northern Virginia; a blog from education correspondent John Merrow of stories to watch in 2010; and a special feature about how the health care reform could affect people with different jobs and different kinds of insurance.

    All that, plus the other news of the day, including the latest news on
    the recovery of the “Arbeit Macht Frei” sign, stolen from Auschwitz a
    week ago. That’s all ahead on tonight’s PBS NewsHour, anchored
    tonight by Jeffrey Brown and Gwen Ifill. We hope you’ll join us.

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  •   December 21, 2009 at 4:22 PM EDT

    All this week the PBS NewsHour is broadcasting chapters of our coverage of the troubled public schools in Washington DC: call it a Michelle Rhee Film Festival.

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    We’ve been following the efforts of this dynamic young leader since she took office in June 2007. When I read about her appointment that spring, I called her up, introduced myself, and invited her out to dinner. Our senior producer, Murrey Jacobson, joined us, and I made a pitch: “We’d like to chronicle your efforts on the NewsHour. What do you say?”

    Her immediate reaction was notable for its candor: “I have to figure out whether it will help me do what I have to do, which is make things better for kids,” is what she said in roughly those words. If it would help, she’d be on board. If not, forget it.

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  •   December 21, 2009 at 12:05 PM EDT

    Fresh off of his reporting trip to Copenhagen for international climate talks, Ray Suarez stopped by the Rundown Monday to talk to Hari Sreenivasan about the summit’s conclusions and lingering questions over the climate agreements reached. Watch their conversation here … Continue reading

  •   December 21, 2009 at 11:55 AM EDT

    Updated: Dec. 22, 2009, 12:35pm ET

    Score one for airline passengers: The Obama administration said Monday it will begin penalizing air carriers for leaving passengers stuck on a tarmac for more than three hours.

    Under the new guidelines, which take effect in 120 days and apply to domestic flights, airlines would face fines of $27,500 per passenger for violations. Carriers will also be required to provide food and water for passengers within two hours of a being delayed on a tarmac, and to maintain working bathrooms.

    An average of 1,500 domestic flights each year experience runway delays of more than three hours, affecting some 114,000 passengers, according to the Wall Street Journal. One of the worst cases of the past year occurred in August, when what should have been a two-and-a-half-hour flight from Houston to Minneapolis was diverted to Rochester, Minn., and the 47 passengers on board were not allowed to disembark for six hours.

    “Airline passengers have rights, and these new rules will require airlines to live up to their obligation to treat their customers fairly,” Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said in a statement announcing the decision.

    Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this post incorrectly stated that the long-delayed flight last August from Houston to Minneapolis was diverted to Rochester, N.Y.

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