Blogs

Zahn moves CNN even farther to the right

| Wed Feb. 1, 2006 5:25 PM EST

For some time now, CNN has been an effective mouthpiece for the Bush administration, mostly through innuendo, flag-waving, and omission. Now, with Paula Zahn's help, the network's shift ever farther right has become more overt. Media Matters for America has documented several of Zahn's recent stunts, including this one:

In a conversation with Paul Begala, Zahn said:

But security is still going to be a huge issue in this country, and whether you like it or not, you've got a lot of people out there saying, if you're Republican, we're going to keep the country safe, you know, if you vote for a Democrat, that basically you want to be bombed.

Media Matters has also documented Zahn's cheerleading for Rush Limbaugh. According to Media Matters' records, in the last six weeks, Zahn has aired clips from the Rush Limbaugh Show five times, and on three of those occasions, she offered no countering argument.

Zahn has often used Republic talking points, referring to Social Security privatization as "Social Security reform," announcing that Sojourners "admitted" it was a liberal publication, and "confronted" Al Franken with "lying" when he joked that he was writing a book about abstinence education.

The irony is that when Zahn was on Fox News, she was, more often than not, articulate and insightful--the only one on Fox who went beyond the surface of the issues being discussed.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

The T-Shirt Scourge

| Wed Feb. 1, 2006 4:40 PM EST

George W. Bush: Soft on torture, tough on t-shirts he doesn't like? The Carpetbagger Report has the details. Glenn Greenwald, meanwhile, has much more on Cindy Sheehan getting dragged out of the Capitol building during Bush's speech last night, despite having been invited by a representative, for wearing, apparently, the wrong sort of fashion apparel.

The Costs of Single-Payer

| Wed Feb. 1, 2006 3:55 PM EST

Economist Kash Mansori has a great post about the costs that would come with switching to a single-payer system in the United States. In some respects, a single-payer system would be more expensive than what we have now: people would end up consuming more health care, especially the 45 million who are currently uninsured. But on the plus side, these extra expenses would be outweighed by the cost savings that would come from eliminating a lot of the $400 billion we spend on administrative overhead and allowing the government to bargain down the price of services. Is there any evidence for this? Sure, look at Taiwan:

As another useful data point we can examine the case of Taiwan, a country that replaced a collection of different insurance schemes with a National Health Insurance program in 1995. The percent of Taiwanese with health insurance rose from about 60% in 1994 to 96% a few years later. It turns out that in Taiwan's case, the forces that would increase costs roughly balanced the forces that would decrease costs.
Moreover, providing preventive care to all people, especially those who are currently uninsured, would likely save money by preventing later, costlier hospital visits—it's much cheaper, for instance, to treat diabetes early on than wait for a patient to get rushed to the ER. According to the Institute of Medicine, covering all Americans continuously would save the country anywhere from $65 billion to $130 billion in better health outcomes. Note that this is more than the estimated $80 to $100 billion it would cost to cover the uninsured. On the surface at least, universal coverage makes economic sense.

The catch that's always mentioned, of course, is that some sort of single-payer system would force rationing of health care and stifle innovation. Innovation is a harder problem, but it's worth noting that we already do ration care—by income, by location, by age. But the case for switching to a system that would cost roughly the same, if not less, as our present dysfunctional mess, and would lead to universal coverage, has a lot going for it.

A Pittance for Research

| Wed Feb. 1, 2006 3:39 PM EST

In his State of the Union last night, the president got all environmental on us and proposed a few million dollars in subsidies for clean-energy research. About $264 million, according to David Roberts of Grist—not nothing, but a pittance compared to the billions of dollars in subsidies that Congress is giving oil and gas companies to drill and explore the earth last year. (In a year that Exxon earned a record $36 billion in profit, no less.) Oh, and that also comes after last year, during which funding for carbon-free energy sources was cut 3.6 percent.

Sorry to get critical—yes, yes, the president was making a baby step towards some sort of decent goal for once in his life—but this really won't cut it. Dramatic climate change is on the way, and little half-gestures won't help change course. Meanwhile, the president's proposal to increase spending on federal research and development by an additional $6 billion was a good call, and genuinely needed—most of this basic research is responsible for some of the major inventions of our time, including a variety of breakthrough drugs and of course the internet, and the U.S. is falling behind other countries on this front—but the betting line is that the Republican-controlled Congress won't actually approve anywhere near that much. Oh well, I'm sure it made for a good applause line, and that's all that counts, right?

February 1st...

Wed Feb. 1, 2006 3:26 PM EST

Welcome to February, everybody. February reminds me of Walt Whitman, who wrote, "Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself." That's because February is simultaneously National Snack Food Month and National Heart Month. Oh, and also National Children's Dental Health Month. All the best from Mother Jones.

Cracking Down on Protests

| Tue Jan. 31, 2006 7:48 PM EST

The Secret Service will have a much easier time breaking up protests and arresting protestors if the latest version of the Patriot Act passes, according to Fox News:

A new provision tucked into the Patriot Act bill now before Congress would allow authorities to haul demonstrators at any "special event of national significance" away to jail on felony charges if they are caught breaching a security perimeter.

Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, sponsored the measure, which would extend the authority of the Secret Service to allow agents to arrest people who willingly or knowingly enter a restricted area at an event, even if the president or other official normally protected by the Secret Service isn't in attendance at the time.Just to be clear, the Secret Service already has the power to haul demonstrators away on felony charges if they breach a "security perimeter" while the president or other VIPs are around. But now, apparently, that power's being extended to occasions when no one important is in the area. From the looks of things, the Secret Service could name just about anything they wanted a "special event of national significance" and lock up anyone who crashes. Why? What possible security purpose does this serve, besides clamping down on dissent?

Advertise on MotherJones.com

State of the Union

| Tue Jan. 31, 2006 4:16 PM EST

Can't imagine why anyone would possibly want to watch the State of the Union, but it's tonight for those interested. Charlie Cook pointed out the other day that the only address in recent memory that was even remotely "important" was Bill Clinton's in 1998, when the president strode in after the Monica Lewinsky scandal had erupted and showed everyone that it was business as usual in Washington, life would go on, and there was no constitutional crisis in the offing. (Well, more specifically, the purpose of the speech was to show the media that life would go on; most of the rest of the country didn't actually think the affair was the end of the world.)

At any rate, E.J. Dionne has a great column today noting that whatever President Bush might say in his speech tonight about "boldness" and "vision" and "reform," it's been business as usual in the Republican-controlled Congress, where the upcoming budget vote will slash genuinely important programs for the poor while cutting taxes on the wealthy. (And increasing the deficit all the while—as it turns out, anti-poverty programs are relatively cheap, while tax cuts blow a big hole in the budget.) Dionne's right, there should be moral outrage over this.

There aren't really any new and dazzling ways to spin the GOP's disastrous budget, although we can note some of the consequences: among other things, the non-partisan CBO pointed out that as a result of recent Medicaid cuts, millions and millions of low-income Americans could lose their coverage or face higher payments. The indefatigable folks at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, as usual, have the gory details.

Vets for Congress

Mon Jan. 30, 2006 7:01 PM EST

Eric Massa is an interesting character. He's a naval veteran running for Congress as a Democrat in New York's 29th district. He was profiled at Mother Jones, along with other vets running for Congress, back in October and since then the meme has really taken off. Yesterday Massa posted at TPMCafe (where he's a regular contributor) in an effort to let the world know the vets-for-congress movement has now reached 53 Democrats. Massa is extremely bright and his campaign website has lots of content on tough issues, all thought through and written by the candidate himself. (He even has a blog.) He's running against an incumbent who barely won his last race—this puts Massa in a different position than most of his fellow veterans. A lot of the Democratic veterans are running in solidly Republican districts, where they hope their military background will make voters comfortable with voting for a Democrat.

The Pentagon's Private Army

| Mon Jan. 30, 2006 6:57 PM EST

This seems like it should be bigger news. Congress has recently granted the Pentagon $200 million to aid foreign militaries, a sum which the executive branch can now spend without oversight from either the State Department or the legislature. That means the military can spend money training and equipping foreign armies without following constraints that require that the aid recipients meet certain standards, "including respect for human rights and protection of legitimate civilian authorities." And military leaders will now be able to set a small but potentially important aspect of foreign policy without input from the State Department.

Perhaps there's a case to be made that the old oversight rules were too byzantine, and, as administration officials argued to the Post, the old way of doing things was hindering U.S. attempts to provide security assistance in "crisis situations." But the opportunities for abuse here are pretty self-evident. Among other things, the Pentagon wants to use the funds for "fighting terror and bolstering stability" in Africa. But we know that the United States has fostered a "close intelligence relationship" with, for instance, the regime in Sudan that's currently responsible for genocide in Darfur, all in the interest of fighting terror. Is further assistance on the way? Is this really the sort of thing that demands less, rather than more, oversight?

What Baby Boom Crisis?

| Mon Jan. 30, 2006 4:28 PM EST

Ezra Klein puts up a few nice charts and graphs showing that, relatively, the retirement of the Baby Boomer generation simply isn't going to be the devastating demographic shift that many pundits make it out to be. Good stuff; and as a bonus, here's my favorite way to put the so-called "old-age crisis" in context. As we've heard many times, the future unfunded increases in spending associated with the aging of the population are going to require a tax hike of about 6.5 percent of GDP to close the gap. (Personally, I think it will be much less than that, since the problems with both Social Security and Medicare are wildly overstated, but let's say 6.5 percent.)

That sounds like a lot, but it's hardly unprecedented. Between 1950 and 1952, note, the federal tax burden jumped suddenly from 14.4 percent to 19 percent as a result of the Korean War, a leap in defense spending that was more or less permanent for the duration the Cold War. Now that increase came in just a few years—rather than gradually over decades, as would be the case to pay for Social Security and Medicare—and it was entirely manageable. The economy didn't implode. Life went on.

It would be nice to figure a way to curtail the cost of health care in the future, and obviously a lower tax burden is better than a higher one whenever possible, but even in the worst case, we're not talking about Armageddon here. We wouldn't even be up to European levels of taxation. As Max Sawicky has gone over in gruesome detail, bringing federal revenues back up to around 20 percent of GDP—only slightly higher than the long-term historical average—is perfectly adequate to maintain current spending levels and keep our debt ratios sustainable. Beyond that, thanks to the magic of productivity, those "overtaxed" Americans of the future will still be much richer in real terms than people are today. Slicing up a bit more of all that extra pie to ensure that the workers who brought this country to where it is today can have a decent retirement is a perfectly sensible way to go.