Clem’s Chronicles: Auto Comeback?/Afghani Violence/Health Care Co-ops

By Clem Lane

Aug 18, 2009 10:09pm

howdy folks-sorry no video links tonight. here's what we're focusing on….

AUTO INDUSTRY/PRIMED FOR A COMEBACK?-What’s that sound I hear? Could it be the sound of automobile factories ramping up production? GM is scrambling to re-stock dealerships thanks to the success of the “cash for clunkers” program. Sharyn Alfonsi explains what that means: “Today, the company announced they’re adding shifts in Canada and Ohio where GM builds its Chevy Cobalt, the company’s most fuel-efficient car. And they’re not just adding jobs-they’re adding overtime for more than 10 thousand workers in Indiana, Tennessee, Kansas and Michigan.” And GM is not the only car company ramping up-Ford, Honda, Toyota and Hyundai have also announced plans to make more cars. Economist Diane Swonk notes “it’s a sign of stabilization and move back up in one of the hardest hit sectors of the US Economy.” That’s a move up for the sector-not a seismic shift. Alfonsi reminds that for GM, “even with today’s increase the company will build just over a million cars this year. Down almost 40 percent from last year.” But after many months of bad news, let’s focus on the good. Such as consumer satisfaction-Alfonsi tells us a survey released today “finds GM and Ford enjoying big gains.” Wow-increased sales, customers liking the product…some hope then for those auto workers being rehired or returning to a full five-day shift that they won’t outlive their industry.

AFGHAN VIOLENCE:  The polls open in Afghanistan’s presidential election in just over 24 hours.  And there is no doubt the Taliban is determined to disrupt the election in any way it can.  On the road to Kabul today, insurgents fired on a NATO convoy and Jim Sciutto described the scene: “In the confusion just after the blast…a cloud of dust, a rush of emergency workers …then it was clear…a suicide car bomber had scored a direct hit on a military convoy.  An armored British jeep torn apart…its heavy metal door thrown fifty yards away. Nearby, a UN armored SUV destroyed as well.  There are car parts scattered everywhere by the explosion, large pieces of engine, the bullet-proof window from one of the vehicles – evidence of a powerful blast. It is the latest and worst in a series of Taliban attacks, which have spiked to an average of 48 a day since Saturday.”  Eight people were killed in the attack and more than 50 wounded.  Another attack, in eastern Afghanistan, killed two U.S. soldiers.   As for election day, the military has indicated its troops will concentrate on protecting the voters, instead of launching any offensive operations.  The government of Afghanistan has also issued two decrees aimed at preventing the news media from reporting on any violence while the polls are open.  Its feared that any reports of violence will scare voters away. (thanks to Ed Bailey for this entry)

HEALTH CO-OPS: As the White House backs away from supporting the public option for its revised health care plan, the insurance co-op is being floated as a possible alternative. On WORLD NEWS David Wright explained health care co-ops are “a collection of people that are uninsured at the moment, but would through collective bargaining power be able to access private health insurance.”  But would the formation of co-ops help keep health care costs down? Wright reports the Government Accountability Office says no:  “Looking at some of these co-ops that exist around the country…they say they simply don’t have the bargaining power that’s necessary to compete.  They compare it to being like somebody that’s trying to build a generator in their garage…or, more like a credit union, competing against a bank.  You may join a credit union, but not going to drive the rates of Bank of America down….The judgment so far has been no, however it’s never been tried on a national scale, and those who propose this kind of reform say that if it were done on a national scale with the right regulation, it could work.” (thanks to Marisa Bramwell for this entry)

HPV VACCINE CONTROVERSY: The debate over the safety and necessity of HPV vaccine Gardasil was fueled today with the release of a report by the Journal of the American Medical Association, which detailed adverse side effects of the vaccine.  “So far more than 7 million Americans have received Gardasil injections,” John McKenzie reported on WORLD NEWS.  “The study out today identifies 12-thousand medical problems after vaccination.  Most are mild: dizziness, headache, and fainting.  But there are more than 700 reports of serious medical problems, including blood clots, autoimmune disorders and 32 cases of death.” While these are preliminary reports, McKenzie says they “have caused some doctors to think twice about the vaccine…a separate, unusually critical study out today says major medical associations have been too quick…working with the vaccine maker, Merck…to encourage large-scale vaccination campaigns.” (thanks to Marisa Bramwell for this entry).

BEAUMONT TX TORNADO TOUCHDOWN/OTHER TORNADIC ACTIVITY- A tornado swept through a southeast Texas shopping district without warning Tuesday, collapsing a department store roof, overturning vehicles and leaving several people in stores and parking lots with minor injuries, authorities said. Beaumont police officer Crystal Holmes said the tornado hit a Kohl's Department Store – collapsing its roof – skipped over a Wal-Mart and continued on to Parkdale Mall, leaving a trail of destruction about a half-mile long. Nearby Christus St. Elizabeth Hospital treated fewer than 10 people for lacerations and abrasions, said hospital spokeswoman Jacquelynn Conger. In Colorado, there were reports of a tornado touching down today in the Lake George area, about 100 miles southeast of Denver. The Park
County sheriff's department says the storm flattened trees and damaged a few vehicles but no injuries were reported. The National Weather Service says members of the public also reported a tornado about 35 miles west of Colorado Springs. It was moving east.

BILL NOW A MAJOR HURRICANE-Hurricane Bill is now a category three storm according to the most recent update provided by the National Weather Service (just after 8:30pm ET). Winds have increased to nearly 125 mph-on its current path, Bermuda should begin to feel the effects of Bill Friday with the hurricane passing just to the west of Bermuda early Saturday.

MILITARY PREPAREDNESS/THE STRESS OF WAR:  The U.S. Army is getting ready to introduce a new training program to deal with the stress of war.  Bob Woodruff explains:  “Beginning this fall, every U.S. soldier will be required to take classes  — from recruitment to retirement.  The hope:  to stem the rising tide of mental health disorders inflicting so many service members, including post-traumatic stress and suicide.”  One study last year estimated that nearly 20 percent of military service members who have returned from Iraq and Afghanistan have symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder or major depression.  Bob tells us those multiple deployments are a big factor: “The Army recognizes that soldiers are overworked and over stressed. Already this year, 96 active duty soldiers have taken their lives.”  So the Army has come up with a new program called “Comprehensive Soldier Fitness.”   Here’s how Army Chief of Staff, General George Casey described the program:  "The Comprehensive Soldier Fitness program is designed to strengthen soldiers, family members and Army civilians emotionally, spiritually and socially, giving them the ability to cope with stress."  But there could be one obstacle, as Bob Woodruff found out during a recent trip to Afghanistan:  “Military psychiatrists we spoke with in Afghanistan told us the challenge lies in convincing tough soldiers to talk about their emotions.” (thanks to Ed Bailey for this entry)

BRETT FAVRE-The ranks of the undead in popular lore have included Freddy Kreuger from the “Nightmare on Elm Street” series, Jason from the “Friday the 13th” franchise and of course our old friend Dracula. Tonight you can probably add the name of Brett Favre. Favre announced YET AGAIN his intention to return to professional football, this time as the quarterback for the Minnesota Vikings (yeah I know he said he wasn’t going to play for the Vikings this year but that was SO LAST MONTH). At a press conference tonight, Favre said “I still think I can help this team…or any team”. John Berman did a yeoman’s job detailing the multiple Brett Favre retirements in his WORLD NEWS spot and asked the question sports nuts across the country want to hear answered: “really, what is this guy thinking?” Chris Mortenson, NFL analyst for ESPN notes “Brett has always had a passion to play, he just has a passion to play on Sundays and for six months out of the season.” Berman continues: “by dragging out the decision, (Favre) does get to skip most of training camp. And then there is the financial reason-10 to 12 million reasons to be exact. He makes a lot of money playing football, a lot more than he could collecting Social Security…which he will be eligible for soon.”

ROBERT NOVAK DEAD AT 78-Conservative political columnist Robert Novak has died after a thirteen month battle with brain cancer. Dubbed “the Prince of Darkness” by a journalistic associate early in his career, Novak is probably best known for his appearances on CNN political shows like “Crossfire” over a 25-year period from 1980 to 2005. Novak was also a columnist for the CHICAGO SUN-TIMES for decades and broke many stories, none more famous than the outing of CIA agent Valerie Plame. The article was published eight days after Plame's husband, Joseph Wilson, said the Bush administration had twisted prewar intelligence to exaggerate the Iraqi threat of nuclear weapons. An investigation of who leaked the Plame information to Novak eventually resulted in the conviction of I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney's former chief of staff, on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice for lying to investigators about his conversations with reporters about Plame.

SPACE PROGRAM IN JEOPARDY?- The Augustine commission has told President Obama the shuttle should be grounded after it flies the remaining seven flights to finish the International Space Station – in 2010 or 2011. They also told him without an extra 3 billion dollars a year in NASA's budget the US doesn't have the money to go back to the Moon, and Mars is technologically impossible without huge advances in propulsion and billions of dollars more. Their report will be released just before the September 15th congressional hearings on the future of the US space program. (Gina Sunseri)
PACK OF WILD DOGS KILL COUPLE-Horrific story out of Lexington, Georgia. A pack of wild dogs attacked and killed an older woman and then killed her husband who happened upon the scene near their rural Georgia home. Preliminary autopsy results show 77-year-old Lothar Karl Schweder and his 65-year-old wife, Sherry, died of injuries related to multiple animal bites. Authorities say it appears the pack of wild dogs attacked Sherry Schweder as she walked a dirt road near her house. They say it appears her husband later went looking for her and was also attacked by the dogs.
FIORINA TO RUN FOR CAL SENATE SEAT IN 2010?- Republican Carly Fiorina, the former CEO of Hewlett-Packard, announced today that she will begin the formal process of exploring a bid for the U.S. Senate in 2010 against California Sen. Barbara Boxer (D) by filing the name “Carly for California” with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). Last year, Fiorina served as a spokeswoman for John McCain on the economy and chaired "Victory 2008," an RNC-coordinated group which raised money and conducted get-out-the-vote activities. Fiorina is the second high-profile businesswoman running for office in California next year as a Republican. Meg Whitman, the former eBay CEO, is seeking the GOP's gubernatorial nomination. (Teddy Davis)
CALIFORNIA CREDIT UPGRADE- A major bond-rating agency has taken California off its negative credit watch but says the state's financial situation remains precarious. Standard & Poor's on Tuesday affirmed its A rating on California's $67 billion in general obligation debt. The rating remains the lowest of any state. Taking the state off a negative credit watch removes the threat of an immediate ratings downgrade. It also should help the state resume selling bonds and allow it to secure as much as $10 billion in short-term loans. (AP)

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