Clem's Chronicles: Obama's Education Speech/Health Care Reform/Swine Flu

Howdy folks-Clem Lane here. That was a quick summer wasn't it? Here's what's going on....

PRESIDENT OBAMA’S EDUCATION SPEECH TO STUDENTS-President Obama’s “controversial” education speech to students was delivered today. Among the “controversial” subjects discussed? “Staying in school”. “listening to your teachers”. “developing your talents”. As Ryan Owens noted in his WORLD NEWS spot, “the President’s back-to-school message to the nation’s students-that infuriated so many on the right-turned out to be little more than a pep talk.” So what was the issue? Owens watched with a Houston-area parent who forbade his 8-year-old son from watching. The man, James Noack, told Owens “I was very concerned about having my child in a setting where he’d be forced to listen to the President and we weren’t totally aware of what was being said.” Mr. Noack’s take after watching the speech? “I think the only indoctrination was to stay in school” he said, “and that’s a good message.” Owens does note that “conservatives are quick to point out the Administration dropped the more controversial lesson designed to go along with the address. It called on students to come up with ways they would help the President achieve his goals.” But how did the furor begin? Dan Harris takes us on the timeline to controversy. Harris: “On August 26th, the White House officially announces that President Obama will be addressing students. The next day, a conservative website criticizes the speech without even knowing what the President will say. Just days later…on September 1st…the Chairman of the Florida Republican Party slams the speech as ‘indoctrination’. By September 2nd, Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck are all over it.” We’ve certainly seen coordinated opposition from both sides of the aisle before but what seems to be new here, Harris noted on WORLD NEWS, is that “This White House is operating in a vastly accelerated media environment where you no longer need to be in the presence of reporters to make we saw with the Health Care furor at those town hall meetings.” And Harris also adds that “even though Team Obama ran such a successful presidential campaign, critics say the White House has been unprepared for the ferocity of the Republican opposition”, opposition that has contributed to Obama’s slipping support in polls on health-care reform and government spending. Obama discussed the Republican opposition in his interview with Robin Roberts (see separate entry below)-the following excerpt appeared on WORLD NEWS. President Obama noted “Part of the frustration I have is that on the Republican side, there are wonderful people who voices, I think, are tamped down. The traditional leaders, the Bob Dole’s of the world. Those voices have been, I think, shouted down on that side and I hope that the Republican party can rediscover that voice.”

HEALTH CARE REFORM-With the President scheduled to speak to a joint session of Congress (and the nation) tomorrow night about health care reform, inquiring minds want to know: what’s he going to say? George Stephanopoulos, appearing on WORLD NEWS, notes the President “is going to have to move more to the middle” to achieve a consensus. Stephanopoulos continues:“Tomorrow, I think he will be more specific than he’s ever been in the past. I think he will actually identify many of the ideas that he’s talking about that are Republican ideas and may even come up with new ideas that have been supported by Republicans, like malpractice reform.” How do things look on Capitol Hill? On the Senate side, Jon Karl has seen Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus’ draft outline for one final bi-partisan possibility. Karl notes that under the plan “all Americans must have insurance by 2013 or pay fines of $1500 to $3800 per family, depending on income. It includes no ‘public option’ but it expands Medicaid and provides subsidies to help lower-income families pay their premiums. Health insurance companies bear a big share of the costs with billions of dollars in new taxes.” Unfortunately for the President, Karl adds that “it’s still unclear whether that plan will get any Republican support at all.” But enough negativity-listening to the Democratic leaders in the House and Senate tell it this afternoon, we’re almost there. Sunlen Miller: “After emerging from a nearly hour meeting Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry said that there is now 90% agreement on the way forward for health care reform. ‘Even before the August recess, 80 percent of health care is already done,’ Reid said, ‘In our conversations today, we think we're up to 90 percent of things there are agreed upon. We have 10 percent that we need to work on, and we can do that.’ Pelosi and Reid sat down with the President and the Vice President for nearly an hour in the Oval Office this afternoon and emerged in front of reporters at the stakeout camera positive and upbeat.” Positive and upbeat maybe, but it sure does seem like the last 10% is the longest and toughest part of the journey.

PROGRAM NOTE/PRESIDENT OBAMA & GOOD MORNING AMERICA-ABC NEWS’ Robin Roberts sat down today for an interview with President Obama to talk about health care reform, his education initiative and other topics. You can see the full fruits of the interview on tomorrow morning’s GOOD MORNING AMERICA.

SWINE FLU CONCERNS: The Centers for Disease Control held a news conference today to update the public on new antiviral guidance and preventive measures the government is taking towards swine flu. On WORLD NEWS, ABC News Senior Medical Editor Dr. Richard Besser discussed the CDC’s revised recommendation on whether swine flu patients need to take Tamiflu: “The recommendations vary depending if you are in a high risk group. If you are elderly, under 5, if you have underlying medical conditions, are pregnant, it’s important that you get treatment, see your doctor very early. If you are an otherwise healthy adult, what we are seeing with the course is that it is mild and runs its course without requiring treatment with Tamiflu.” Dr. Besser also says “what we’ve seen is encouraging in terms of severity…what we do now, as individuals, and as parts of communities, will impact on how severe this is in our own communities and around our country.” On the spread of swine flu through the U.S., Brian Hartman reports that “As reported by CDC on Friday, they’re starting to see an increase in states in the Southeast. Flu activity is widespread in Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi and Florida. Not sure if that’s because school began early in the region or because the area was largely spared back in the Spring. Twenty-four schools dismissed students on Friday because of flu. About 25,000 students dismissed. [Rear Admiral Dr. Anne] Schuchat called the outbreaks in colleges and in the SE ‘quite consistent with what we were expecting.’ She also noted that the majority of campuses are not having outbreaks. ‘Virtually all’ of the flu circulating in the US right now is H1N1.” For more, please see Grace Huang’s swine flu editorial note. (thanks to Marisa Bramwell for this entry)

AFGHANISTAN ELECTION: With more than 90 percent of the vote counted in Afghanistan’s presidential election, it appears that President Hamid Karzai has enough of a lead to avoid a runoff. But wait a minute. A so-called “complaints commission,” made up of mostly westerners appointed by the United Nations, says there is “convincing evidence of fraud.” Nick Schifrin explains: “Western officials believe as many as one million votes were likely fake, the vast majority for Karzai. In certain cases, the fraud appears obvious, especially in southern Afghanistan.” So the complaints commission wants a recount in at least three provinces – a process that could take months. And Nick tell us: “The preliminary results announced today will not be finalized until more than 700 serious fraud claims are fully investigated.” In Washington, State Department spokesman Ian Kelly told reporters, including our Kirit Radia, about the need to closely examine those claims: “Our message has been consistent throughout that the results of these elections need to be credible and need to reflect the will of the Afghan people, and as a result, we need to have a rigorous vetting of all of these allegations of fraud. And a legitimate electoral process is vital to us and vital to any kind of partnership that we would have with the government going forward.” However long that process takes, one thing is clear. Any voiding of votes that drops Karzai’s total below 50 percent, could force a runoff with his chief rival, Abdullah Abdullah. (thanks to Ed Bailey for this entry)

GAS/OIL PRICES-From Dan Arnall: “The Energy Department’s weekly survey of gasoline prices shows a fourth weekly drop in the retail price drivers are paying. The national average price of a gallon of gasoline now stands at $2.59, down three cents from the previous week. Prices have fallen six cents in the past month. A year ago, drivers were paying 29% more per gallon ($3.65) when they went to fill the tank. While the summer driving season draws to an end, some analysts are predicting price drops might not continue in the coming weeks. Today oil prices increased $3.08 a barrel (to settle at $71.10) as the dollar fell to new lows against a basket of global currencies and the price of gold shot skyward. This currency fluctuation will likely lead to moderate increases at the pump in the coming weeks. Oil is sold globally in dollars, so when its value falls international markets tend to push the price per barrel higher.”

OTHER STUFF- -- CONSUMER CREDIT- The Federal Reserve reported Tuesday that consumers ratcheted back their credit by a larger-than-anticipated $21.6 billion from June, the most on records dating to 1943. Economists expected credit to drop by $4 billion. Wary consumers and hard-to-get credit both factor into the scaled-back borrowing. -- AIRLINES ON-TIME ARRIVALS UP IN JULY- The Transportation Department said on Tuesday that 77.6 percent of airline flights arrived on time, up from 75.7 percent during the same month last year. July's showing was also an improvement over the 76.1 percent on-time rate in June.

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