THE MCLAUGHLIN GROUP
HOST: JOHN MCLAUGHLIN
JOINED BY: MICHAEL BARONE, TONY BLANKLEY,
JAMES CARNEY, AND ELEANOR CLIFT
TAPED FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 12, 1999
AIRED THE WEEKEND OF NOVEMBER 13-14, 1999
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MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Issue one: Doctor knows best.
DR. ARCHELLE GEORGIOU (medical director, UnitedHealthcare): (From videotape.) What we're doing is improving the health-care experience for the member and eliminating the hassle that's associated with managed care.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: That's Dr. Archelle Georgiou, medical director of UnitedHealthcare, the nation's second-largest HMO, telling us what we all know anyway, namely, doctor knows best.
UnitedHealthcare has nearly 15 million members. This week it made a stunning and widely applauded policy change. In the future, United will let doctors have the final say on what treatment patients receive. No longer will UnitedHealthcare's 340,000 physicians have to get pre-approval from HMO insurance plan administrators.
Besides cutting red tape that vexes doctors and makes consumers wait for care, the pre-approval process does not save money, United says, surprisingly. That's what HMOs are supposed to do. The manpower consumed in pre-approving doctors' health decisions costs the company more -- $100 million a year more -- than what it saves on the care it disallows. On average, United denies only 1 percent of doctor-recommended treatment annually, agreeing with its doctors 99 percent of the time.
But there are dangers stemming from taking off the doctors' cost lid.
WILLIAM SCHWARTZ (professor, the University of Southern California): (From videotape.) To back away from that strategy, which is what they're doing now, means that they're backing away from their entire cost-containment effort and means that premiums are going to rise sharply.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, not quite, Dr. Schwartz. United's doctors far from being completely unfettered. Twice a year United will issue report cards on a doctor's care record. That raises concerns that United will oust doctors they deem too expensive and possibly make these records public. Remember, doctors are still the employees of the HMOs.
Question: What most prompted UnitedHealthcare's decision to let doctors call the shots, Michael Barone?
MR. BARONE: I think it's the marketplace, John. And it's one of the examples where you see the marketplace responding more quickly and more subtly to the cues that it's getting from people than government's been able to do. I mean, basically, they want to appeal not only to patients or potential patients, the people who enroll in these systems, but they've also got to keep their own doctors happy and attract the right kind of doctors. And the doctors are the ones who have been pushing to get HMOs regulated, to bring in the trial lawyers, the piranhas in the swimming pool, and so forth, to come in on this. And so United is responding to the market.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Eleanor Clift?
MS. CLIFT: Well, it's a terrific public relations move at a time when HMOs are really under attack. And second, I think it does in the end save them money. And they have, as you point out, control. If doctors order up too many expensive tests, they can get rid of them.
I think there's also an effort here to shift liability back to the doctors and away from the insurance companies, now that there's a move on Capitol Hill to allow people to sue if they don't get the right kind of coverage.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Tony, can you answer this?
MR. BLANKLEY: Yeah, I mean, there are a lot of reasons. There was a poll out the Washington Post did, that shows of all the issues that concern Americans the most, the highest one, with 66 percent, was HMOs not letting the doctors make the decisions. So this is something that has a huge political factor in there, and the HMOs have had a difficult year in Congress, so that I think that they sense that there's a tide that they may be getting on the wrong side of.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: But, Jay, let me put this to you. Ninety-nine-point-one percent of what doctors had recommended as an action to be taken in the precertification process were in fact taken by United. And for the industry, it's supposed to be 97 percent of their recommendations. So what's the basis for the big universal gripe about doctors not being able to make the decision?
MR. CARNEY: Well, first of all, if you're one out of 10 who has a procedure that your doctor recommends rejected by an HMO bureaucrat, it's going to make you very upset, especially when the issue is of your health.
Secondly -- first of all, I want to say that I am a member of the UnitedHealthcare network and I am very happy with this decision. (Laughter.)
But, you know, another issue is really -- it's liability. The liability issue for HMOs is exploding. There was a very interesting article in Friday's Washington Post by David Segal about several law firms that have combined together to start a mega-law firm solely to pursue lawsuits against HMOs. Now, if you're a massive HMO provider like UnitedHealth, you're thinking -- you know, you want to protect yourself against multi-billion-dollar lawsuits and jury verdicts, and you do this, as Eleanor said, to shift liability back to the doctors.
MS. CLIFT: Well, they also -- it's very easy now to collect data on how the doctors are carrying out their practices and which doctors are ordering up MRIs willy-nilly. So the doctors are all going to know that "big brother" is watching them. So I think there's a kind of a lid on what they will do, regardless.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I want to know this -- I want to know whether this is going to take the steam out of the Patients' Bill of Rights effort because that turns on the patient being able to litigate a claim against a doctor. Is it going to take any of the steam out of that?
MR. BLANKLEY: Well, if this is followed by a substantial part of the rest of the industry, then it could. But on the other hand, if it's just one company doing it, I think the political impulse -- keeping in mind the Democrats, who want to keep that issue going all year through the election cycle because it's a very strong issue for them -- so they are not going to want to withdraw that just because some elements of the industry are doing what they want.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: All right. Do you also want to tell us today that nothing is going to happen in the area of medical reform until next year?
MR. BLANKLEY: Till next year?
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Correct.
MR. BLANKLEY: Of course, nothing is --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Nothing is going to happen?
MR. BLANKLEY: Well, because --
MR. CARNEY: In the Congress, there was a bill passed by the House that's Democratically favored, where you would be able to sue your --
MR. BLANKLEY: Yeah. Nothing is going to happen this year, though.
MR. CARNEY: -- but the Senate passed a different bill. It's dead in the water. Democrats will use it to beat up on Republicans.
MR. BARONE: Yeah.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: So this will come back next year?
MR. BARONE: John, I'd like to say --
MR. CARNEY: Yes.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Yes. Yes?
MR. BARONE: -- I'd just like to challenge one of your assumptions that you made earlier, that there is sort of universal discontent with the HMOs. In fact, when you look at polls, about 85 percent of HMO members are satisfied with their HMO.
The people who are most strongly critical of it are the majority of people who are not in HMOs. And some of those may have used to -- been in HMOs previously and opted out.
The patient can escape because the typical employer situations gives you a choice every year. And if you don't like it, you can get out.
So I think that the HMO thing -- I think more of the HMOs are going to move Unitedhealthcare's way. I think that is going to assuage the fears of a lot of patients and risk -- and will postpone this bill to 2001.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Let me put the point I was making with the precision that will help you understand. (Laughter.)
What I am saying is that the HMOs in this country have become a natural whipping boy for politicians and the media.
MR. BARONE: And they have become a --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is that true or false?
MR. BARONE: -- that's true -- and they have become a target group for the trial lawyers, who have absorbed the asbestos industry, transferred the capital of it to themselves, and the billions of dollars. Now, their latest target is the insurers, and they'd like to get their hands on that money. And of course --
MS. CLIFT: You can find a lot of unhappy Americans with the kind of health care -- and they are directing all that unhappiness, fairly or unfairly, at HMOs. And the --
MR. BLANKLEY: One second.
MS. CLIFT: -- politicians on Capitol Hill will kill any reform next year, and it will be a big issue in the 2000 campaign.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Quickly.
MR. BLANKLEY: Your own magazine, Newsweek, reported in their big feature on HMOs, that people in HMOs get as good treatment as people in any other category, "fee for service" or anything. So in fact, it's not a problem.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Exit question.
MS. CLIFT: (Laughs.)
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Assume that United's decision will be replicated by many other HMOs. And bear in mind that cost containment was originally premised on keeping doctors subordinated to the decisions being made by the HMO, which may go -- at least under this premise, it will. So that means cost containment may go. My question is: Will that mean -- that is, other HMOs becoming like United and giving the say to the doctors --
MR. BARONE: Some already are.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- will that mean dominantly better health care, or will it mean dominantly higher premiums?
MR. BARONE: I think we are working towards better health care at premiums that people can reasonably afford. You have an infinite demand for this subject and a finite --
MS. CLIFT: This is a fail-safe move by the HMOs. They'll dump the doctors who order up too many tests. I don't think it will influence the quality of care, qualitatively.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What do you think?
MR. BLANKLEY: I think it will marginally increase the costs of care. But the key to HMO success is for them to get more preventive care to their patients. And that's, I think, where they are going in the long term.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think doctors will revert to their old ways when the pressure is somewhat taken off?
MR. BLANKLEY: No. I suspect that Eleanor is substantially right that there is going to be some monitoring.
MR. CARNEY: I think there will be slightly improved health care because you'll have happier, you know, patients, but increased premiums.
Don't forget, health-care inflation is on the rise again -- it's double regular inflation; it's rising again -- which is why health care will be, as Eleanor says, a large issue next year in the election, not just because of HMOs, but because of increasing uninsured and other problems within the health-care system, like cost.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: All right. The answer is that the question was based on a false dichotomy. (Laughter.)
In point of fact, we will have superior health care, and we will have increasing premiums, the increasing premiums going to a variety of other causes besides the one at hand.
Last week on mclaughlin.com, we asked, "Which agency should come first in managing air crash investigations, the NTSB or the FBI?" Contrary to what the host of this program suggested, FBI, 14 percent, NTSB, 86 percent.
When we come back, Decatur, Illinois, a two-year expulsion for fighting in high school: zero tolerance or blatant racism?
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Issue two: Zero tolerance or blatant racism?
KEVIN ARNDT (superintendent of schools, Decatur, Illinois): (From videotape.) Unfortunately, in America, it seems as though more and more people today do not wish to be held accountable for their own actions. And that has to stop.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: So says the superintendent of schools in Decatur, Illinois, who expelled six black students, for two years, for getting into a fight at a high school football game. Is the punishment too big for the crime?
No one was seriously hurt, but the Decatur School Board, mostly white, invoked its new policy towards violence; namely, zero tolerance.
On Monday, Jesse Jackson marched into Decatur with a throng of supporters protesting civil-rights violations. Out of concern for safety, the Eisenhower High School, where the fighting took place, and two other high schools were shut down Monday and Tuesday.
Jackson says the incident was mishandled.
REV. JESSE JACKSON: (From videotape.) A one-year expulsion for a fistfight where no one was injured, is too severe a penalty.
REV. JACKSON: (From another video clip.) We urge this school system to put forth punishment that leads to remedy, not to rejection.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, rejection won out. Ring leader miscreants have been criminally charged with, quote, unquote, "mob action" -- a felony. And the miscreants have struck back with their own lawsuit, a civil one, to gain reinstatement at Eisenhower immediately. The state's Republican governor, George Ryan, mediated a compromise -- a one-year expulsion instead of two, plus this:
GOV. GEORGE RYAN (R-IL): (From videotape) My offer was to allow these young men to go to an alternative program and get credit for it.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Question: Was this a case of zero tolerance on school violence or was it blatant racism?
MR. BLANKLEY: Clearly zero tolerance. Completely justified in this instance. In fact, these students had been missing many days of school; they were truants. They've been charged with felonies. And they weren't being kicked out of the school system, they were sent essentially to a reform school, which is now called an alternative school, for a year. And it has nothing to do with racism at all, it has to do with stopping mob violence in the school yard. If you have kids in school, you don't want that kind of activity going on.
MS. CLIFT: Well --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: It was a wilding, would you not say?
MR. BLANKLEY: It would look to be, from what we've seen, something like that.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Eleanor?
MS. CLIFT: Well, this was a rigid application of zero tolerance. And in fact, not all of these seven students had the same records. One of them has a 3.5 average and is an honor student and captain of the basketball team. This is about fairness. I mean, you don't take kids involved in fisticuffs when there's no guns, no weapons, no drugs, no alcohol --
MR. BLANKLEY: Sure you do!
MS. CLIFT: Wait a second!
MR. BLANKLEY: The fairness --
MS. CLIFT: Wait, let me finish, Tony! You had your turn, I get my turn!
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Let her finish!
MS. CLIFT: Two years is entirely too much. I mean, Spreewell got -- he had to sit out for one season. There's an extreme double standard here. Now, the governor --
MR. BLANKLEY: That's the problem. They learn in school they can get away with it and then they start doing it -- it multiplies.
MS. CLIFT: Wait a second!! The governor intervened and there is a good compromise on the table. Jesse Jackson ought to take that compromise, and those kids ought to be able to get back in school, either after Christmas or at the end of the term.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Michael, quickly.
MR. BARONE: Well, two years initially seemed like kind of a long time to me. But I think the fact is, we also have to think about the kids who were in the school. One of the things that we've learned in the 1990s -- and this is partly -- this sort of zero tolerance happens partly as the result of a Clinton administration initiative -- is that if you want to teach kids, and in particular in any city schools or places where kids have had problems going into school, you have to keep the peace. You cannot just say, "Well, you know, they weren't -- they didn't actually shoot anybody with a machine-gun, so let's just let them stay there." I think the fact is that you do want them separated from the body of students that need to learn.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Right. And the wilding prompts those students who are less strong, who are weaker, to carry weapons to defend themselves. That's how the cycle of violence begins to spiral out of control.
MR. CARNEY: Well, violence begets fear. But John, you have to be fair in your application of this kind of, you know, harsh punishment. And I've actually -- I've been to Decatur. I went to a high school graduation once at the school, the second school that was involved. And there's a great deal of racial tension in that town, especially in the high schools. And there's a lot of concern among students there who believe -- white students, who believe that both -- there wasn't, you know, direct racism involved but there was unfair punishment. There was a fight at one of the high schools just last year involving -- or several years ago involving two white students, and --
MR. BLANKLEY: This --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Okay, but let me --
MR. CARNEY: -- (inaudible) -- because their parents were involved in the school.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- let me move on as to whether or not zero tolerance, however, is begetting a certain kind of nutty extremism, Decatur aside. For example, if you look at the screen, Lamont Agnew in Illinois, his crime was bringing a toenail clipper into class. It was regarded as a weapon, and his punishment was suspension, not expulsion, suspension from second grade for 45 days. Samantha Jones of Minnesota, her crime was having her picture taken atop of a Howitzer with an American flag next to her, and she was told that her picture would not be allowed in the yearbook, in any part of the yearbook. Kyle Schreiber of Missouri dyed his hair green, and he was not allowed to come back into the school until his hair becomes a natural color.
Is there an extremism here, or is it okay and that these things should be --
MS. CLIFT: You need some common sense, but this is all going on against the backdrop of Columbine and a need on the part of administrators to root out anybody who's at all different, who looks violence prone, because they want to avoid, you know, a massacre. I mean, it's a ridiculous application of the principle.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: They not only want to avoid a massacre, they want to avoid a major lawsuit. That's what they want to avoid. They're something like doctors who practice defensive medicine.
Issue three: Political Potpourri. Item: Al eases up.
VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE: (From audiotape.) I decided to dress like a rodeo clown this morning. I've been watching you.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Al Gore, our national "beta male," played off George W. Bush's foreign leaders pop quiz this week with broadcaster Don Imus.
(Begin audiotape segment.)
DON IMUS (Radio broadcaster): Mr. Gore, should George Bush have been able to identify the leaders of Taiwan, India, Pakistan and Chechnya?
VICE PRESIDENT GORE: Not knowing the names, you know, I think that's kind of understandable. I mean, the other day I was talking to Otkir Sultonov -- (pronouncing it "Sultonovwas") -- you know, the prime minister of Uzbekistan. And --
MR. IMUS: Yeah, I did know that.
VICE PRESIDENT GORE: He asked me, "Did you send a birthday card to Hamed?" And that's, of course, Hamed Karoui -- (pronouncing it "Karoul") -- the prime minister of Tunisia. And I thought: God, how could I have forgotten? (Laughter.) And I'd just been talking about him with Ion Sturza, the prime minister of Moldova. (Laughter.) We're old friends. We actually met through a mutual friend, Lenart Meri, the president of Estonia, of course. (Laughter.)
(End of audiotape segment.)
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Question: Was this name-dropping of Gore self-burlesquing humor that worked, or was it something else, Jay Carney?
MR. CARNEY: Well, it was heavily scripted humor, but it worked. I mean, it's been effective. Don Imus is a huge critic of Gore, and I'd say it has --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: How come he made a --
MR. CARNEY: -- but I think that it did sort of enable Gore to be gracious in a way earlier in that program, where he talked about how, you know, you shouldn't pick on George W. Bush for getting the names wrong, but it enabled him to take advantage of it anyway.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: But why did he make a mistake with the prime minister of Moldova?
MR. BARONE: Well, John --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: He said it was Clubuc, but Clubuc had been voted --
MR. CARNEY: That day!
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- a vote of no confidence.
MR. CARNEY: That day!
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: He should have been on top of all that.
MR. CARNEY: (Chuckling.) That's true. He should have --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Clubuc had no authority at the time.
MR. CARNEY: You have to be -- (inaudible).
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: So there you are.
MR. BARONE: Well, I think that's ineluctably true, John. We certainly don't want a false dichotomy here.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: (Laughs.)
MR. BARONE: The fact is, I thought Gore sure was effective.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Okay, item: Hillary's kosher campaign.
HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (first lady, potential Democratic candidate for the Senate): (From videotape.) And God gave to Israel the Torah.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Hillary Clinton was in Israel this week on a four-day trip. The presumptive Senate candidate is courting the crucial New York Jewish vote. Not everyone in Israel was pleased with her visit.
UNIDENTIFIED JEWISH MAN: (From videotape.) This is 11th-hour pandering just to beat Giuliani.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Meanwhile, back home, Hillary's campaign ads have begun airing. The 30-second commercial shows Mrs. Clinton smiling and shaking hands, never actually stating that she is running for the Senate. The 100,000 ad flight is being paid for by state and national Democratic parties. But federal election law prohibits political parties from using soft money to pay for specific candidates. Parties can use soft money to underwrite political commercials only when soliciting support for the party itself or for party issues. Republicans are up in arms over this soft-money abuse, as they see it.
Question: Hillary took Chelsea on this taxpayer junket, as she did on her mother-daughter African tour. Remember that? Was there a compelling state reason for this Israel trip, or was it U.S. government-paid tourism, Michael?
MR. BARONE: Well, I think it's obvious that this is pandering to voters in New York. Personally, the ads -- maybe she should have sent Chelsea --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, who should pay for it?
MR. BARONE: -- Chelsea Clinton should have been sent alone. She's a highly intelligent and competent person. And -- who should pay for it? The fact is that the Clintons are making end runs around the campaign finance laws, as they did in 1996 and as Bob Dole and other Republicans did as well. It's a cynical exercise to keep that campaign --
MS. CLIFT: Well, first ladies and presidents travel, and they get political benefit for it, John. Get used to it. And second, on the complaining about the campaign ads, the Republicans aren't going to complain very much because they're going to do the same thing. They have done the same thing.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think, in taxpayers picking up the bill for her trip to Israel, she's going to hurt herself in New York rather than help herself?
MR. CARNEY: I think this trip is probably a net loss for her because the focus of the trip in all discussions and media coverage has been whether or not she should be getting a taxpayer-paid trip, whether or not, you know -- why did she at first not agree to meet with the Palestinians and then was forced to meet with them, reminding everybody of her call for a Palestinian state. I think this is a problem for her.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Give me a 10-second description of what happened when Mrs. Clinton, Hillary, met with the wife of Yasser Arafat?
MR. BLANKLEY: Mrs. Arafat then went in to a screed against Israel, saying that they were using chemicals to poison Palestinian children and increase their cancer rate.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What did Mrs. Clinton do?
MR. BLANKLEY: Nothing.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: She sat solemnly silent.
MR. BLANKLEY: She sat still, she didn't say anything. Not till she got back to Israel did she put out a little press release. It was a big mistake. It showed that she doesn't have experience yet at the retail political level. She should not have let that moment go by without a statement.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Okay. By the way, three -- four of us out of five believe in the previous item that what --
MS. CLIFT: That Al Gore did himself some good --
MR. BARONE: (Inaudible.)
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: He did himself some good by the Imus exchange. Okay. Item: Don Giuliani.
MAYOR RUDY GIULIANI: (From videotape.) I spent a day today in Washington. I was on a listening tour. (Laughter, applause.) And I figured out I got a pretty good chance of running for shadow senator. (Laughter.)
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani was in Washington this week to meet with supporters with whom he shared a nostalgia moment on his former organized-crime-busting U.S. attorney days.
MAYOR GIULIANI: (From videotape.) (In "Godfather" voice.) Nice of all youse to have me here tonight. (Laughter.) And some families are represented from all over the country -- (laughter) -- Los Angeles and -- (resumes normal voice) -- I'm sorry. (Laughter.)
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The mayor can keep smiling. A new poll out this week shows that he continues to lead Hillary Clinton, now 47 percent to 42 percent. More importantly, Giuliani leads among white women by 10 points, beating Hillary in her own demographic -- and one that historically has foretold the election victor.
Question: Giuliani is conducting a run-in-your-face campaign against Hillary. One was his Arkansas visit to highlight the carpetbagger issue; two, he refused to be a doormat for Talk Magazine during its Hillary-on-the-cover debut gala; 3, seizing on the issue of the sacrilegious Brooklyn Museum that Hillary wants tax dollars continued for. Is Giuliani benefiting from a take-no-prisoners approach to Hillary? I ask you -- a round-robin.
MR. BARONE: The answer is, yes, I think he is. You can look at the -- Bill Clinton got 59 percent on the vote in New York in 1996; Hillary Rodham Clinton is running 42 (percent), 44 (percent).
MS. CLIFT: Well, the "new nice Rudy" has a limited shelf life, and I think he has to worry about the bullying side of him still coming out. I think there is a good chance it will emerge before this fight is over. (Laughs.)
MR. BLANKLEY: It's working well because he is using humor, which is I think, an area where Hillary is vulnerable; she hasn't manifested any sense of humor in public.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Are tough tactics paying off?
MR. CARNEY: (Laughs.) Yes, very much so, John. I mean, the proof is in the numbers. I think he has to be a little careful about spending too much time in Washington, associating himself with the very representatives of the Republican Congress that New Yorkers tend not to like.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The answer is, yes, he is helping himself because New Yorkers love in-your-face campaigning. We'll be right back.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: A forced prediction: Will the Fed raise interest rates next Tuesday, Michael?
MR. BARONE: No.
MS. CLIFT: (Gruffly.) No. (Laughs.)
MR. BLANKLEY: Not justified. No.
MR. CARNEY: I hope not.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The answer is, if they do, it won't be more than a quarter of a percent.
®FC¯END OF REGULAR SEGMENT
PBS SEGMENT FOLLOWS
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Issue four: Parents just don't understand.
(Advertisement using rap music is played.) You have seen it before: kid crazes, fickle fads du jour fashions, Cabbage Patch Kids, Tickle Me, Elmo, Beanie Babies; now the latest, Pokemon, a Japanese import by Nintendo, created in 1996, that invaded U.S. shores last year. Nintendo has made billions of dollars of Pokemon in many versions; video game, collectible trading cards, stuffed animals, toys like the Power Bouncers.
The WB Network launched a cartoon series that is all the kiddie rage. A full-length feature Pokemon movie premiered this week and is expected to earn $75 (million) to $100 million over its first five days.
The cartoon animal stars, all 150 of them, speak their own nomenclature, possess special powers, are belligerent little devils. All are born to fight and trained for combat by cartoon humans, notably hero Ash Catch'em (sp). Add to that a system in which kids score points when their Pokemon characters win extreme combat fights.
Nintendo has developed a regular pre-teen gaming industry. Even though the Pokemon characters and the Pokemon rules of the game elude most adults -- they can't understand them -- parents everywhere are looking to cash in. A full set of first edition Pokemon trading cards has sold out. On eBay, one set is available for upwards of $2,000.
Question: Is Pokemon harmless?
MS. CLIFT: I think it's as harmless as all of the other crazes. And frankly, kids have their parents trained. The Los Angeles Times reports that the Burger King franchises have SUVs and mini-campers winding around the block going through the drive-through line because they give away Pokemon with the happy meals. And frankly, the Pokemon has revived the Japanese economy, turned Japanese kids into consumers, and it's good for us! (Laughs.)
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Are we teaching our children materialism?
MR. BLANKLEY: Of course. But we're a materialist society. It's part of the element of our civilization, and we're teaching them early, as we always have.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think that children are naturally competitive, primitive, brutish and acquisitive?
MR. BARONE: Sure.
MR. BLANKLEY: Yes, we are now --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Aren't we supposed to be untraining them?
MR. BLANKLEY: No, we're supposed to train them to our civilization, and part of our civilization is materialism, so we're doing a good job.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: But all of this in Pokemon seems to glorify competitiveness and victory and win and combativeness.
MR. BLANKLEY: Well, there's nothing wrong with that. I remember when I was a boy I got a Daniel Boone cap, you know.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: And look at where you are today! With us here! (Laughter.)
MR. BARONE: I just want to see him wear it on the show!