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Fact check: Obama’s words on Iran get tougher

President Barack Obama describes himself as being "entirely consistent" in his expressions of concern about the disputed Iranian election and the crackdown that followed protests. Was he?
/ Source: The Associated Press

President Barack Obama described himself on Tuesday as being "entirely consistent" in his expressions of concern about the disputed Iranian election and the government crackdown that followed street protests. But his language clearly has gotten tougher since his first statement that the suppression of dissent was "of concern to me."

In Tuesday's news conference, Obama was asked whether he had soft-pedaled his public reactions to postelection unrest in Iraq. The president correctly recalled that he had initially expressed deep concern about the election. And he has consistently made the point that he would not allow the Iranians to use the American government as a foil to undermine the legitimacy of the protesters.

Obama shifted some of his emphasis to condemnation of the violence. In a June 16 statement, for example, he said suppression of peaceful dissent "is of concern to me." On Tuesday he was more forceful, saying the U.S. is "appalled and outraged by the threats, beatings and imprisonments" of protesters. And he cited the "searing image" shown on TV of a female Iranian protester "bleeding to death on the streets."

A look at some of Obama's other claims Tuesday:

On climate bill
OBAMA: Speaking about a climate bill coming up for action in the House this week, he said: "At a time of great fiscal challenges, this legislation is paid for by the polluters who currently emit the dangerous carbon emissions that contaminate the water we drink and pollute the air that we breathe."

THE FACTS: Carbon dioxide is not directly harmful to humans' air and water in the way of traditional pollutants, such as sulfur dioxide or mercury. Carbon dioxide has no direct effect on drinking-water quality, but is likely to affect how much is available. Carbon dioxide in itself is not harmful when inhaled in normal amounts, but increased warming from carbon dioxide increases harmful smog.

The gas that is exhaled every time a person breathes, and released by the burning of fossil fuels, is primarily considered a pollutant because as it builds up in the atmosphere it raises the temperature of the planet.

Research has shown that the warmer temperatures caused by the buildup of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases can reduce the amount of oxygen in lakes, rivers and reservoirs making it difficult for fish and other living things to survive. The increased rainfall expected to come with global warming could also wash more pollutants into waterways, but more rain could also dilute pollution such as pesticides, sediment and fertilizer.

When it comes to air pollution, warmer temperatures can worsen smog and other air-quality problems. But carbon dioxide itself does not taint water or pollute the air. It is the warming it contributes  that can.

On health care reform
OBAMA: "We must preserve what's best" in overhauling the current health care system, and that means "allowing Americans who like their doctor and their health care plan to keep them." He added: "If your employer is providing you good health insurance, we're not going to mess with it."

THE FACTS: This is a pledge that's beyond the president's power to keep. Health care coverage for 160 million people is provided by employers, and Obama's plan leaves companies free to change their health plans in ways that workers may not like, or to drop insurance altogether. In addition, his health care plan is only that — an idea proposed by the administration — and is subject to reworking by Congress. A preliminary analysis by the Congressional Budget Office estimates that a Democratic plan being worked on in the Senate would force 10 million Americans to seek new coverage because their employers would no longer offer it.

Obama acknowledged employers would be free to change what they offer employees, and said his pledge is limited to what the government would do if a health care overhaul is enacted. But he added that leaving the health care system untouched would lead to ever-escalating costs and the likelihood that employers would drop coverage. "That's exactly why health reform is so important," he said.

On bailing out companies
OBAMA: Taxpayers would not have had to bear the burden of bailing out companies such as insurance giant American International Group Inc. if the federal government had the legal ability to unwind large failing companies in the same way that the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. can use banking industry money to pay the costs of intervening in failing banks. "We want that power to be available so that taxpayers aren't on the hook," he said.

FACT: The administration has indeed proposed a plan to take over and either liquidate or restructure large interconnected companies whose failure could damage the economy. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner said the costs of such an action would be recouped over time by assessing a fee to other large institutions. But as Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., pointed out last week, taxpayers would still have to cover the costs of such an expensive intervention until the industry fees are collected. During that period, taxpayers would be on the hook.

On quitting smoking
OBAMA: Speaking about his struggle to kick smoking, the president said: "Have I fallen off the wagon sometimes? Yes." But he added, "Am I a daily smoker, a constant smoker? No. I don't do it in front of my family. And, you know, I would say that I am 95 percent cured."

THE FACTS: It's hard to say how "cured" someone is when they're still trying to kick the habit. Obama promised to quit his one-time five-smoke-a-day average during the campaign, at the urging of his wife.

Brain research proves nicotine is powerfully addicting. Seventy percent of smokers say they want to stop, but only about 35 percent try in any given year. The National Institute on Drug Abuse says three-quarters who try relapse within six months. It usually takes repeated attempts to completely quit long-term, and using various treatments such as nicotine patches or gum can work better than going it alone. NIDA cites research that shows extended smoking cessation care can help half of quitters stay cigarette-free at one year.