Clem’s Chronicles: Swine Flu & Kids/Afghanistan Elex/Executive Bonuses & the Obama Administration

By Clem Lane

Oct 20, 2009 9:31pm

Clem Lane here-howdy. Here's what we're working on tonight……

SWINE FLU/THE YOUNGER YOU ARE..-The CDC released figures today on the H1N1 Virus that offers more evidence that our nation’s kids are getting sick at a disproportionately higher rate from those who succumb to the seasonal flu. John McKenzie, filing for WORLD NEWS, gives us the skinny: “The new data…shows that of those hospitalized with H1N1 only-7% are people 65 and older…and 39% are between 25 and 64…compare that to the stunning 53% of people under 25.” That’s the opposite of the seasonal flu demographics, where the 65 and older crowd usually accounts for about 60% of cases. Why the difference? Dr. Paul Hain from the Vanderbilt Medical Center told ABC NEWS “Young people are bearing the brunt of this disease because they’ve never seen anything like this before whereas our senior citizens have most likely been exposed to something very similar over the years.” And while today’s news may finally move many previously-reticent parents to seek out the H1N1 vaccine for their children, it may take awhile. McKenzie tells us that “the CDC said there are less than 13 million doses of vaccine available. 13 million…of the 250 million doses the government has ordered.”

PAY CZAR: HEY MAIN STREET, THERE’S ONLY SO MUCH I CAN DO-What is appropriate compensation for executives working for companies that received “exceptional assistance” from taxpayers? Whatever the amount might be, Obama Administration pay czar Kenneth Feinberg seems resigned to the fact that Main Street America is not going to like it. “I’ve learned about the incredible gap, the chasm between Wall Street perceptions and Main Street perceptions. It is a formidable chasm that I’m not sure can be bridged, although the law requires me to attempt to bridge that gap,” Feinberg said in remarks at a Washington DC conference held by the National Association of Corporate Directors. Matt Jaffe notes that “On or before October 30, Feinberg will issue his rulings on compensation packages for the top 25 executives at seven companies receiving what the administration has deemed ‘exceptional assistance’ from taxpayers: AIG, Bank of America, Citigroup, General Motors, Chrysler, GMAC, and Chrysler Financial.”

PRESIDENT OBAMA’S DELICATE DANCE WITH WALL STREET-While the President’s pay czar was trying to soften the expected Main Street outcry ahead of his compensation package rulings, his boss was in NY, Jake Tapper noted on WORLD NEWS, “to shake the money tree…including some fruit from Wall Street.” Tapper explains: “(President Obama) is attending two events this evening for the Democratic National Committee (that’s) expected to raise around $3 million…Democrats say about a third of the attendees are from the financial sector.” Surprised? Don’t be. “Theirs is a complicated relationship, the President and Wall Street” Tapper noted. On the one hand you have a President bent on regulatory reform. Tapper tells us “the White House has also expressed frustration with news of tens of billions of dollars in bonuses executives are setting aside.” On the other hand, Tapper adds that “some of that bonus money may be headed for Democratic wallets.” There’s certainly data to suggest it-Tapper reports that “between 1996 and 2006, the finance and credit industry never gave less than 57% of its’ political donations to the Republican Party. This year, even though actual dollar amounts from Wall Street are down, the Democrats are getting the lion’s share (58%).” But don’t expect to see “anybody who’s anybody on Wall Street” tonight at the fundraisers. David Chalian, while noting that “the giants of the financial sector certainly like to donate their money to the people in power”, says of those who don’t attend “(they may be) holding back just a bit here to see how it all plays out with the Obama Administration’s push for financial regulatory reform.” Tapper notes the President was not shying away from talking about regulatory reform this evening, saying according to prepared remarks “If there are folks from the industry here tonight, I ask you to join with us in passing what are necessary reforms. Don’t fight them. It’s important for our country. And in the long run, it will be good for your industry to have a level playing field in which everyone knows the rules – and everyone knows that the rules will be enforced.”

AFGHANISTAN RUNOFF: It took a while – but Afghan President Hamid Karzai has finally agreed to take part in a runoff with challenger Abdullah Abdullah in his country’s presidential election.  You could almost hear the collective sigh of relief back in Washington, where President Obama has said U.S. plans for Afghanistan rely on a "credible partner" in Kabul.  Our Jonathan Karl says the President has a senator from Massachusetts to thank for his perseverance: “Over the last five days in Afghanistan, John Kerry acted more like a Secretary of State than a Senator, playing the central role in brokering an agreement with Afghan President Hamid Karzai to accept a new presidential election.  As Kerry engaged in shuttle diplomacy – going back and forth between the Karzai and Abdullah camps and between Afghanistan and Pakistan – top Obama administration officials, including Hillary Clinton and Richard Holbrooke were thousands of miles away in Washington.”  Word is that despite daily meetings with Karzai, including three working sessions over dinner at the presidential palace, the Afghan President was steadfastly opposed to a runoff. That is until today after Kerry and Karzai took a walk and paid a visit to a mosque at the presidential compound. At last, an agreement and even a date – November 7th – for a presidential runoff.  Nick Schifrin tells us:  “The US hopes a second round can bring some legitimacy to a tainted first round. And some people here do agree with that. But most people believe Karzai will remain in power no matter what, and they believe that their government will remain corrupt. And a second round will not be easy.  Hundreds of millions of dollars, many of them American, will be spent to deliver ballots to remote villages and secure polling stations in areas controlled by the Taliban.  And there is no guarantee the vote will be free of fraud.”  So now that the Obama Administration knows that there will be a runoff in Afghanistan, Martha Raddatz says:  “Now the U.S. has to decide whether they go ahead with making this decision on a troop increase.  President Obama is going to look seriously at that in the next couple of weeks and this election will probably affect his decision.”  Martha says everybody she’s spoken with believes a decision will be made by the end of the month – and explains: “There’s a very practical reason they’ve got to make a decision soon. If the President decides he wants 40,000 more troops over there, they’ve got to get those troops moving.  Not only does it take time to get them physically there, they have to have infrastructure.”  For example, Martha reminds us that President Obama announced early this year that that he was sending additional troops to Afghanistan: “Think about this. 17,000 troops in February, they are still not there yet.”

POVERTY REPORT:  The poverty level in America is much higher than previously estimated, according to new figures released this week by the National Academy of Science.  “The new numbers paint a grim portrait,”David Muir reported on WORLD NEWS, “One in six Americans now in poverty, seven million more than the government’s own number.”  The Census Bureau’s formula – created in 1955 – does not factor in medical care, child care, non-cash government aid or geographical variations in living costs.  As a result, millions of people are left out of the Census Bureau’s count of those living at poverty levels.  According to the NAS’s figures, 18.7 percent of Americans 65 and older – 7.1 million – are in poverty and 14.3 percent of people 18 to 64 – 27 million – are in poverty.  About 13.3 million children (17.9 percent) are living in poverty.  Increases in poverty levels were highest in the Northeast and western United States, thanks to the high costs of living in cities such as New York City, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Boston.  As for what’s driving the poverty numbers up, Muir reports “the key component is unemployment, and with unemployment rising…there is real fear that next year’s report will be even worse than this year’s.” (thanks to Marisa Bramwell for this entry)
 
HEALTHY LUNCHES/FDA LABEL WARNING: Today the Institute of Medicine presented new recommendations that will increase the amount of fruits, vegetables and whole grains in school meals.  The IOM also recommended schools reduce the amount of sodium and trans fats in foods, and for schools to use low or no fat milk.  They did not recommend limits on sugars.  The USDA plans to review the recommendations and issue guidelines for schools to follow.  The new healthy food restrictions are expected to increase the cost of school lunches, but schools could model their revamped meal programs after the one used in Baltimore’s public schools.  For WORLD NEWS, Dr. Richard Besser met with Tony Geraci, the Food Service Director with Baltimore’s City Public School System to see how he’s taken steps to provide cost-effective, healthy school lunches for students.   About 84,000 students are enrolled in the Baltimore City Public School System, where 3 out of 4 students get free lunch and one-third of students are overweight.  “Geraci puts part of the blame on the traditional school lunch menu – processed foods shipped across the country and loaded with empty calories and little nutritional value,” Dr. Besser reported.  So what did Geraci do to improve school lunches in his schools without increasing costs?  Dr. Besser tells us “Geraci revamped school lunches in one of the nation’s toughest urban areas – with one restriction – he couldn’t spend a penny more to do it.  He added more fresh produce from local growers, cutting down on transportation costs and he introduced meatless Mondays in all 218 schools – a first for a US public school system.”  Some of the schools have greenhouses and the system has its own 33-acre farm (which was donated to them) where students learn to grow and appreciate fresh food. 
In other health-related news, the FDA today warned food producers against labeling foods as healthy choices when they are not.  Example: Kellogg’s labeling of colorful, sugar cereal Fruit Loops as a nutritional “smart choice.” Here’s Lisa Stark: “The FDA today sent a letter to the food industry warning that the agency will be examining those claims and may take enforcement action for false and misleading labels on the front of packaging.  Perhaps even more significantly, the agency said it is moving forward to develop a common set of nutritional standards and is looking at a common front of package label that would be easy for consumers to understand…The FDA indicated it would like the industry to act voluntarily – but made it clear if that doesn’t happen the FDA is ready to move forward with rule-making that could require all companies to use the same nutritional criteria and front of package label.” (thanks to Marisa Bramwell for this entry)

GUANTANAMO PRISONERS/U.S. PROSECUTION-From Jason Ryan: “The Senate has voted on a measure in the Homeland Security Appropriations Bill to allow GTMO detainees to be sent to the United States for prosecution. This procedural move is what had previously been agreed to in July by DOJ and Congress, but this formal approval by the House and Senate will now be signed by the President and gives the administration a small victory on the complex issue of shutting down the detention center. This does not allow for detainees to be moved here for any other reasons besides prosecution.”

BERNARD KERIK DO NOT PASS GO- Former New York City police commissioner Bernard Kerik has been ordered to jail after a federal judge revoked his bail on corruption charges. Kerik's trial is slated to open Monday for allegedly taking apartment renovation work in return for a recommendation for city contracts. Rich Esposito provides some color and additional detail: “Bernie Kerik is a ‘toxic combination of self minded focus & arrogance,’ Federal Court Judge Stephen Robinson said towards the close of the 3 and a half hour proceeding in the White Places Federal Courthouse. ‘He sees himself as a victim.’ The court found that Kerik repeatedly leaked sealed information – sharing the information with two lawyers who had not filed notices of appearance before the court. The information was leaked to a newspaper. The court found that Kerik essentially obstructed justice and disobeyed an order of the court. Robinson, in ordering Kerik remanded also slammed his defense saying Kerik “could have been better served by legal counsel.” Kerik was led from the court by the Marshalls and was to be sent to the County facility at Valhalla where the federal government rents space. His lawyers headed for the federal court in Manhattan in an effort to appeal.”

FLORIDA MISSING GIRL- The search continues for a missing 7-year old Northern Florida girl who vanished on her way home from school Monday. More than 100 Clay County, Florida deputies, law enforcement officers from neighboring counties, the FBI and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement scoured the residential Orange Park neighborhood Tuesday looking for Somer Thompson. At a press conference this afternoon, Sgt. Dan Mahla, a Clay County detective, said that horses, dogs, divers and helicopters have been used in the search. Authorities have received more than 150 leads so far. 

OTHER STUFF
PRESIDENT GETS HIS (SEASONAL) FLU SHOT- A WH official tells us that the President received his seasonal flu shot this afternoon. The First lady and the girls had received their seasonal flu vaccines previously. (Jake Tapper)
ZAZI FATHER TRIAL SET-A federal judge announced a 10-day trial for Mohammed Wali Zazi starting Dec. 7 in U.S. District Court in Denver. Zazi is free under electronic monitoring on $50,000 bail. An indictment alleges he lied to the FBI when asked if he had spoken to anyone on the phone about whether his son was in any trouble with authorities. His son, Najibullah Zazi, is being held without bond in New York on a charge of conspiring to detonate explosives in the United States. Najibullah Zazi has pleaded not guilty. (AP)
COLLEGE COSTS RISE-Maybe we can all home school our college-aged children. Depressing news for parents today-college is only getting more expensive. Average tuition at four-year public colleges in the U.S. climbed 6.5 percent, or $429, to $7,020 this fall according to an annual report from the College Board, released Tuesday. At private colleges, tuition rose 4.4 percent, or $1,096, to $26,273. You can blame state funding problems and endowment declines.(Dan Arnall/Wendy Fisher)
NASA SCIENTIST-Initial court appearance for Stewart David Nozette accused of trying to sell secrets to Israel. Arrested in an FBI sting operation, Stewart David Nozette was jailed without bond and accused in a criminal complaint of two counts of attempting to communicate, deliver and transmit classified information. Nozette did not enter a plea today, he will have a detention hearing on October 29. The former NASA Scientist appeared completely disheveled in court this afternoon with his shirt untucked and his jeans sagging. At times he looked over at his wife during today's brief hearing. If convicted of the attempted espionage charges he could face life in prison. The government has deemed him a flight risk and will ask that he remain in detention until his trial. A Judge will rule on this at the Oct 29th hearing. (Jason Ryan)
THE POWER OF PRAYER?- Police in Indianapolis say a gunman spent nearly 10 minutes on his knees praying with the clerk at a check cashing business before fleeing with her cell phone and $20 from the register. According to the clerk, the gunman prayed with her after she started crying. He is said to have then asked for prayers about overcoming his hardships. A suspect has since surrendered. (AP)

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