Clem's Chronicles: Southwest Plane/Sotomayor/Health Care

President Obama won’t be helping the Chicago White Sox anytime soon. The President threw out the first pitch at the All-Star Game tonight. It didn’t quite make it to the plate but props to Albert Pujols for moving up on the plate so it didn't bounce.

HOLE IN SOUTHWEST PLANE-Scary times for passengers on a Southwest Airlines flight from Nashville to Baltimore last night. During the flight, a hole appeared in the top of the fuselage of the Boeing 737-300. Lisa Stark notes that “when the hole opened up in the plane it suddenly depressurized”. Stark continues: “With the hole in the fuselage, passengers were forced to put on oxygen masks to breathe. Pilots quickly descended from 30 thousand feet and prepared for an emergency landing at a West Virginia airport.” Thankfully, the plane landed without incident but Stark, filing for WORLD NEWS, said that “it’s a troublesome event that today is raising questions about the scrutiny of older aircraft.” What caused the hole? Stark: “Likely culprits include metal fatigue, corrosion, a scratch or damage to the fuselage during maintenance.” And the jet itself? Stark: “Southwest says this jet was 15 years old-old enough to be considered an aging aircraft and was last inspected just 6 months ago.” You may remember that Southwest had some issues with maintenance last year…Stark again: “The airline last year was fined millions by the government for failing to inspect all its older planes for cracks as required. Once they did the proper inspections, they found six planes had cracks.” John Goglia is a maintenance expert and former NTSB Board member who was quoted in Stark’s piece saying “Where’s the maintenance programs with the airline. Where’s the FAA? Where’s the oversight?” Stark tells us that Southwest did inspect all of its’ 737-300’s today and has found no problems. She adds that “the NTSB is investigating, and depending on what it finds, it could lead to changed inspection procedures not just at Southwest, but at other airlines as well.”

SOTOMAYOR HEARINGS/DAY TWO-Today Sotomayor was in the hot seat, fielding questions from Senators about her judicial impartiality and her thoughts on specific subjects. Sotomayor pushed back vigorously Tuesday against Republican charges that she would bring bias and a liberal agenda to her seat as the first Hispanic woman on the court, insisting repeatedly she would be impartial as GOP senators tried to undercut her with her words from past speeches. Cue the “wise Latina” remark that has caused so much controversy. Jan Crawford-Greenburg is covering the hearings and reported on WORLD NEWS that “(Sotomayor) said her remark that a ‘wise Latina will reach a better conclusion than a white male’ was intended to inspire young women and Hispanics, but was a bad idea.” As for Ms. Sotomayor’s position on hot-button social issues, Crawford-Greenburg notes that “she never showed her hand” whether the subject was abortion, gun rights or affirmative action. Crawford-Greenburg added that “Sotomayor never lost her composure today as the Senators asked question after question….She’ll be back in this hearing room again tomorrow for another full round of questions.”

HEALTH CARE/HOUSE DEMS PROPOSAL-House Democrats unveiled their health care proposal and you can be forgiven for not knowing everything that’s in the 1000 page(!) proposal. That’s Jon Karl’s job, and he reported tonight on WORLD NEWS that the “sweeping changes to the health care system would include: -a mandate requiring all Americans to buy health insurance or pay a fine. -subsidies to help households with less than $88K in income buy the insurance. -eliminating copayments and deductibles for preventive care, including physicals -no denial of coverage for pre-existing conditions and -creating a government-run insurance program to compete with private insurance” Sounds expensive and it is-Karl tells us the price tag is “More than $1 trillion over 10 years. To help pay for it, the bill would slap a new surtax of up to 5.4 percent on those with incomes over $400K a year.” And as for bipartisanship, fuhgeddaboudit! Karl says that “most Republicans are already vowing to oppose the bill.” Even their Democratic colleagues in the Senate have different ideas on how to finance health care reform. Karl:”ABC NEWS has learned Senate Democrats are considering something entirely different: New taxes on health insurance and pharmaceutical companies. The new taxes could bring in more than $100 billion but would be hotly opposed by the health industry.” Should the Democrats in both chambers get a bill passed before the August recess, the hard work still stands in front of them. Karl notes that “the tougher challenge will come in the fall, when they try to resolve fundamental differences between the House and Senate versions of the bill.”

BERNARD MADOFF-We learned a little bit more today about the federal prison facility in Butner, North Carolina that Bernard Madoff will be spending the rest of his life in. Pretty sure Madoff’s victims are not as happy about the choice as Madoff. One lawyer with clients in the facility was quoted in Brian Ross’ WORLD NEWS piece as saying “he hit the inmate lottery”. Brian Ross explains:“the Butner prison is a medium security facility and has the look and feel of a college campus. Inmates start the day at six in the morning and are required to work seven and a half hours a day on the grounds or in food services.” Madoff’s infamous reputation won’t be out of place at the facility either. Ross tells us of other inmates housed there: “The convicted terrorist known as the blink Sheik, NY Mafia boss Carmine ‘the Snake’ Persico, Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard and another convicted billionaire John Rigas who stole from the communications company he ran.” Ross also notes that there may be another new resident of North Carolina. Ross: “Visiting hours at the prison are very liberal and people close to the Madoffs say his wife Ruth may well move to North Carolina to be close to her husband. Even after everything, they say she is absolutely devoted to him, like Bonnie was to Clyde.”

AFGHANISTAN: President Obama says if next month’s presidential election in Afghanistan comes off successfully his hope is that U.S. involvement in that country can “transition to a different phase.” The President would like to see an exit strategy where the Afghan security forces, courts and government take more responsibility for the country's security. President Obama made his remarks after an Oval Office meeting with Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Belkenende. The Dutch have been a key ally in the effort to defeat the Taliban in southern Afghanistan. Our Bob Woodruff is in Afghanistan, after a trip to Iraq with Admiral Mike Mullen had to be aborted because of a sandstorm: “With Chairman of the Joint chiefs Mike Mullen as our guide, we flew aboard the USS Ronald Reagan where F-18 fighter jets streak off the flight deck to support the 57,000 ground troops now fighting the Taliban. Often just the presence of these fearsome warplanes roaring overhead is enough to stop Taliban attacks.” It’s been a while since Bob was in the region – over three years since he was injured in Iraq and five years since he reported from Afghanistan. And he found much has changed. “Since July 4th, 35 American and British troops have been killed in Afghanistan. Even so, U.S. forces on the ground and in the air are under orders to fire only when they are sure civilians won’t be hurt.” And just today, a civilian helicopter ferrying humanitarian aid was shot down in the southern Helmand Province and crashed in flames. All six Ukrainian crew members were killed in addition to a child on the ground. It was also learned that two U.S. Marines died in a clash on Monday, bringing to at least 107 the number of U.S. troops killed in Afghanistan so far this year. Admiral Mullen told Bob Woodruff that casualties in the past week alone have “been the highest they’ve been in the last three years. (thanks to Ed Bailey for this entry)

MICHAEL JACKSON INVESTIGATION-Today, investigators from the Los Angeles County Coroner questioned Dr. Arnold Klein, Michael Jackson's longtime dermatologist, and subpoenaed medical records from his office as part of their investigation into the singer's death. You can read more in Russell Goldman/Julia Bain’s report for ABC NEWS DIGITAL MEDIA. Lisa Fletcher talked to the Chief Coroner Invesigator and notes: “He says as of now he does not anticipate an announcement this week or even next week regarding the cause of Jackson’s death. He says the finalization of reports necessary to close the case will be pushed back to the week of the 27th or later. They’re still in the middle of gathering info.” EARNINGS REPORTS-A couple of earnings reports out today. Goldman Sachs quarterly profit? A stunning $2.7 billion even as the bank repaid $10 billion in federal bailout money. The total blew past what Wall Street analysts were expecting. Intel announced its’ quarterly numbers after the Wall Street close and it bodes well for the semiconductor sector. In the quarter that ended June 27, the chip maker posted sales and profit that breezed past Wall Street's forecasts – though investors had to overlook a $1.45 billion antitrust fine from the European Union. The fine, which Intel had to pay while it is appealing the case, gave the world's biggest semiconductor company its first quarterly net loss since 1986. Intel earned $1 billion, or 18 cents per share, in the second quarter, excluding the EU fine. On that basis, analysts expected a profit of 8 cents per share, according to Thomson Reuters. Dow component Johnson & Johnson earlier today posted results that beat analysts’ projections even though its’ second quarter profit fell 3.5%. The New Brunswick, N.J.-based maker of baby shampoo, Tylenol, contraceptives and biotech drugs earned $3.21 billion, or $1.15 per share, down from $3.33 billion, or $1.17 a share, a year ago. Revenue fell 7.4 percent to $15.24 billion from $16.45 billion a year ago. The decline was partly due to a combined drop of nearly $1 billion for two medicines - antipsychotic drug Risperdal and epilepsy treatment Topamax - that recently got generic competition. Analysts polled by Thomson Reuters, on average, were looking for earnings per share of $1.11 and revenue of $15 billion.

ABC NEWS CONSUMER INDEX-Feeling anxious/concerned about the future? You’re not alone according to the latest ABC NEWS Consumer Comfort Index. From Patrick Moynihan: “Consumer confidence is flat-lining at an historically low level – with expectations of recovery softening. The ABC News Consumer Comfort Index, based on public views of current economic conditions, stands at -51 on its scale of +100 to -100, 3 points from its record low Jan. 25. It’s been below -50 for four weeks straight, a week from the record stretch late last year. And in a separate, forward-looking measurement, Americans are less optimistic about the future: Just 25 percent think the economy is getting better, down from 31 percent in June and 33 percent in May, its highest in five years. Thirty-nine percent instead think the economy is getting worse.”

OTHER STUFF- -- COLOR-CODED THREAT SYSTEM TO BE REVIEWED-DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano announced today a 60-day review of Homeland Security Advisory System-that’s the red/orange/yellow etc. threat level- (Pierre Thomas) -- MEXICO DRUG WAR-Some troubling news in Mexico’s war on drugs. Twelve off-duty federal agents investigating organized crime were tortured and killed after being ambushed and abducted by members of the La Familia drug cartel in Mexican President Felipe Calderon's home state of Michoacan, which has been a center of his crackdown on organized crime.

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