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THE MCLAUGHLIN GROUP HOST: JOHN MCLAUGHLIN PANEL: PATRICK BUCHANAN, MSNBC; ELEANOR CLIFT, NEWSWEEK; TONY BLANKLEY, THE WASHINGTON TIMES; CLARENCE PAGE, THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE TAPED: FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 21, 2007 BROADCAST: WEEKEND OF SEPTEMBER 22-23, 2007

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MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Issue One: General Advice.

For almost four years, July 2003 to May 2007, the number one military person overseeing all of Iraq and the region was four-star General John Abizaid. As the head of the U.S. Central Command, Abizaid was also the superior to all of the generals in the Middle East.

Ten months ago, General Abizaid made news in testimony before the Senate when he said that a surge in U.S. troops was a bad idea.

GEN. JOHN ABIZAID: (From videotape.) I believe that more American forces prevent the Iraqis from doing more, from taking more responsibility for their own future. MR. MCLAUGHLIN: This week, the general made news again. Abizaid said that it was unlikely that Iran would attack with a nuclear weapon if it had one and that we could live with a nuclear Iran.

GEN. ABIZAID: (From videotape.) Iran is not a suicide nation. They may have some people in charge that don't appear to be rational, but I doubt that the Iranians intend to attack us with a nuclear weapon.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Abizaid went on to say that the U.S. could live with a nuclear Iran.

GEN. ABIZAID: (From videotape.) There are ways to live with a nuclear Iran. Let's face it. We lived with a nuclear Soviet Union. We've lived with a nuclear China. We're living with nuclear other powers as well.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Question: Abizaid floated the idea that the U.S. can live with a nuclear-armed Iran. Was that irresponsible? Pat Buchanan.

MR. BUCHANAN: No, it was not irresponsible. And I would commend the general for doing this, John. I think what is going on here -- first, a nuclear Iran is a terrible idea. But then you get down to the choice, if we have to go to war to prevent it or to delay it for 10 years, is a war with Iran worth it? General Abizaid is saying, "I don't believe it is worth it."

And secondly, I believe the general is speaking for generals retired and on duty right now. I think he's speaking for a lot of people in the Pentagon who desperately do not want this war with Iran, which the neoconservatives and Mr. Cheney's element and the Israelis and others are pushing us toward.

I think he performed a service for the country. He is doing what this Congress ought to be doing is weighing the question of whether or not what Iran is doing in Iraq and with regard to enrichment of nuclear technology is worth a United States war with Iran.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is this idea of a strike circulating in the Pentagon?

MR. BUCHANAN: Oh, the idea of a strike is -- I mean, it's circulating all over the Net.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Does the vice president want a strike before the president finishes his term?

MR. BUCHANAN: Everything you read about Cheney is he's saying, "Condi Rice has failed. Let's get on with it." I think the Israelis are pushing it. We don't know what that strike in Syria was about. The neoconservatives are pushing it; the AEI. They're holding their little sessions there, promoting this idea. It is the biggest issue in D.C. right now.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think he was trying the blunt talk, Abizaid was, by saying that we can militarily handle a nuclear-armed Iran?

MS. CLIFT: He is saying publicly what a lot of generals are saying privately and what the military is saying privately, and that is that the U.S. is in no position to handle another war. And all this loose talk about a bombing campaign, as though we can take care of Iran from 30,000 feet -- you can't go into a military engagement like that unless you have the troops that you can back up all the tough talk with.

So I think he is speaking to a reality that exists. And we already are coexisting with North Korea, which has a rather irrational government as well. I think Iran is actually a middle-class -- has a vast middle class. They're not that happy with the government they have. If we militarily engage them, we will just raise the nationalism in that country and make it so much more difficult to deal with them in the future. This is --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think General Abizaid --

MS. CLIFT: Diplomacy is needed.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think General Abizaid is sending a signal to the Iranians that they need not be concerned about the opposition of the U.N. or the EU or the U.S. to their development of a nuclear program?

MR. BLANKLEY: I don't think he's in a position to send a message, because he's out of office, out of government now. France has also started talking about the need for --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, they yanked that minister back.

MR. BLANKLEY: No, Sarkozy reinforced that. But let me respond to your first question, because this is obviously a very serious question. I would remind you that President Jimmy Carter in 1980 said the greatest danger to the world is nuclear proliferation. A lot of people laughed at him.

But in the Middle East right now, it's not just going to be Iran. If Iran gets it, Egypt and Saudi Arabia and Turkey go after getting nuclear weapons. And then we've got -- and Israel has already got nuclear weapons. Everybody in this most dangerous place in the world will be nuclear-tipped. And you think that's a safe place to just use deterrence?

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, your -- MR. BLANKLEY: The danger -- even if you assume that Ahmadinejad is not going to be able to carry out his threat to wipe Israel off the map, and that was just talk or he doesn't have the power, the idea of a completely nuclearized Middle East is to me a lunatic strategy to accept.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, the idea of containing the nuclear development of the world is equally untenable.

And what has happened to the MAD doctrine, mutually assured destruction?

MR. BLANKLEY: No, if Iran is stopped, then we won't have -- we won't see Egypt and Saudi Arabia and Turkey do it. If Iran is not stopped, they're all going to be sucked into it.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Why don't you, with your newspaper, develop a new theory to replace the existing theory on the development of the nuclear bomb?

MR. BLANKLEY: What is that new theory I should be articulating?

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I don't know what the theory is, but clearly the proliferation --

MR. BLANKLEY: Proliferation is a tremendous danger, and particularly in the Middle East.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I understand that. But you simply can't say, "Oh, no, we can't do it," when it's obvious that nations are going to get the bomb.

MR. BUCHANAN: John, Iran --

MR. BLANKLEY: It's not obvious. We have the power to stop them.

(Cross talk.)

MR. BLANKLEY: And I think we will.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What do you think? Do we need a new nuclear doctrine? Do we need a new doctrine?

MR. PAGE: Well, maybe we need a revival of the containment doctrine that didn't work so well during the Cold War. Look, we've already --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You mean, which is fundamentally mutually assured destruction. Is that what you mean?

MR. PAGE: Exactly. And what Abizaid is saying is, "Yeah, the Iranians may look crazy, but they're not stupid." In fact, they are a sophisticated country with not a clear leadership in terms of Ahmadinejad speaking for them. He is not the real power over there. And they want to have the bomb the same reason everybody else wants the bomb, because they want respect. So Abizaid is saying that we can handle this diplomatically in terms of giving them the kind of respect that they --

MR. BLANKLEY: This isn't about respect. This is about Iranian hegemony there. Once they have the weapon, they're going to be able to overlord that entire zone.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I want to ask you a question. I know you have the chakra, and you have mighty chakra. Let me ask you this. With regard to Iran, is it not true, when Iran was at war with Iraq that lasted with Saddam for eight years, that Saddam used chemicals repeatedly against the Iranians and the Iranians refused to do it back because it was a weapon of mass destruction?

MR. BUCHANAN: They did, because they said it was against their religion. But let me talk to what Tony is saying. He's got a very good point. Proliferation in the Middle East is an enormous danger if Iran gets the bomb. That is why I am not convinced that it is automatic. I'm not convinced that Iran really wants the bomb.

That is why we ought to engage these people, because what they want -- they want the bomb for deterrence if they do. What it's going to cost us is security guarantees for the Iranians to get them to give up that bomb, and I would give it to them.

MS. CLIFT: Yeah.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: And some buyouts. That's what they want. Their economy --

MR. BUCHANAN: Well, you've got a grand bargain.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Their economy is tanking. We know that. I was in Tehran. I can affirm that. Their economy is bad, and they want something to exchange.

MR. BUCHANAN: You need a grand bargain.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: (Inaudible) -- to stop the cycle at the point where it reaches fissionable uranium.

MR. BUCHANAN: The potential for a grand bargain has always been there, and it is still there.

MS. CLIFT: We all agree that nonproliferation is the way to go. We're talking about how you do it. Diplomacy is the answer. Bombing Tehran would be the single thing that could make the whole mess we're already in in the Middle East, the whole destabilization, would make it much worse. It's what Ahmadinejad wants, and he's a bombastic fellow. And we shouldn't take the bait. He would love it. Osama bin Laden would love it. It would be the clash of civilizations. That's how they would set it up.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is that --

MS. CLIFT: We don't need to walk into that.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is that precisely what Abizaid was about in this speech? He was trying to blunt the talk about the desirability of bombing Iran.

MS. CLIFT: Exactly. And the talk can get out of hand, because then a little incident can happen. One side or the other can blow that up, and you're in a war that you didn't even intend.

MR. BLANKLEY: Those of you on this panel who have said that proliferation of nuclear weapons in the Middle East would be bad disagree, to some extent, with what Abizaid said, which is we can live with it. You know, he's saying we can live with it. I think a lot of us may think that we can't live with it. And everybody agrees that diplomacy is the preferable way. I met with both the president and the vice president in the last three weeks. They both said they're pushing all they can on diplomacy and economic sanctions.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Okay.

MS. CLIFT: They said that about Iraq, and they weren't --

MR. BLANKLEY: The question is that each of us have to decide, if the diplomacy doesn't work, then what do you do?

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, why didn't he show that in relation to Ahmadinejad? And that gets us to this: Okay, Ahmadinejad snubbed.

A month ago, the president of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, requested permission from the U.S. to lay a wreath at the base of where the World Trade Center's twin towers stood. He'll be in New York for a U.N. meeting. This week Ahmadinejad's request was denied.

It was a collective decision by three bodies: The New York Police Department, the Secret Service, and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. The reason for the denial was, one, security, both Ahmadinejad's and New Yorkers'; and two, safety. Ground Zero is currently a construction site and is not open to the public.

At his press conference on Thursday, President Bush was asked to comment on the Ahmadinejad snub.

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: (From videotape.) Our thoughts are that the local police will make the proper decision and that if they decide for him not to go, like it looks like they have, I can understand why they would not want somebody who's running a country who's a state sponsor of terror down there at the site. MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Question: Should the decision regarding whether a foreign head of government can place a wreath at the World Trade Center site be left up to local authorities? Eleanor Clift.

MS. CLIFT: Oh, that's a ruse. They're just hiding behind the local authorities. Look, this is a PR stunt by the Iranian leader, but why not? What do we have to fear from letting him go to Ground Zero?

First of all, the Iranian people were in the streets in Tehran in solidarity with this country after 9/11. And I don't see how this could be a negative in terms of trying to advance a dialogue between these two countries to have him pay his respects.

MR. BLANKLEY: Iran --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I want an answer to my question.

MR. BLANKLEY: Yeah, I'm going to give you an answer.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is it not true that the Constitution stipulates that international relations is handled by the federal government?

MR. BUCHANAN: It does, John.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is that not an international relation?

MR. BUCHANAN: It does. And let me agree with Eleanor. Look, he has been obnoxious. He has been nasty. He has been stupid. But he's also the elected president of Iran and he's saying, "I'd like to come to America," a country with which you're at odds, "and lay a wreath at one of your most sacred sites." To me he has tried a couple of times to make openings, and we --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Did Reagan --

MR. BLANKLEY: Let me get a word --

MR. BUCHANAN: Reagan --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Wait a minute.

MR. BUCHANAN: He wrote a --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: He laid a wreath at Bitburg.

MR. BUCHANAN: Yes, he did.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: And you wrote his comments.

MR. BUCHANAN: No, Ken Khachigian wrote them.

MR. BLANKLEY: That was --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Wait a minute.

MR. BLANKLEY: That was a war that had been over for 40 years. Iran today is trying to kill American troops in Iraq. To let a war leader against us come and put a wreath there is shocking. MR. BUCHANAN: But look, Eisenhower --

MR. BLANKLEY: That would be like inviting Hitler over here during World War II.

MR. BUCHANAN: Well, look it. Richard Nixon went to China and he toasted Mao Zedong --

MR. BLANKLEY: We weren't fighting them.

MR. BUCHANAN: -- in toasts I wrote for the guy, and he had killed 33,000 Americans in Korea.

MR. BLANKLEY: But not currently.

MR. BUCHANAN: Tony, we've got to act like a great and mature country.

MR. BLANKLEY: If you want to negotiate with him, you can negotiate. But don't let him come to a sacred site like this.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think, as a great country, we should have allowed this act to happen?

MR. PAGE: I think we should. At the same time, I understand the feelings of New Yorkers, that they do feel this is sacred ground. We've always been ambivalent in this country as to whether the cities and the states ought to have their own foreign policies. (Laughs.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Part of this nation went crazy when Reagan laid the wreath at Bitburg because Nazi soldiers were in part buried there. Correct?

MR. BUCHANAN: SS.

MR. PAGE: SS.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: SS soldiers.

MR. PAGE: If there was Gestapo in that cemetery, that would have --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: But he went, nevertheless, and there was an uproar. Now, the uproar in -- there's been no demand, by the way. There was a demand for -- a request from the German government in that regard. Our government has not asked. I mean, the government in New York has not asked that he go there; no one from the government. Correct?

MR. PAGE: Correct.

MS. CLIFT: I guess you can legitimately say that his country is aiding and abetting al Qaeda. But Iran had nothing to do with 9/11. And so I don't really see that we need to exclude him from this sacred ground.

MR. BUCHANAN: Exactly. John, again --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Nor have the Iranians attacked any American citizens.

MR. BUCHANAN: John, also --

MR. BLANKLEY: Yes, of course they have, in Iraq. They're supporting the killing of American troops in Iraq now.

MR. BUCHANAN: But Tony, why doesn't Congress --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Did we not permit the Soviet Union to participate in the kind of public event that Ahmadinejad was seeking, even though we knew that the Soviet Union was supplying weaponry in small wars throughout Southeast Asia and South America?

MR. BUCHANAN: John, look, Richard Nixon went to --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you see the logic behind that?

MR. BLANKLEY: No. This is a --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: A robust diplomacy will permit that kind of --

MR. BLANKLEY: You can have a robust diplomacy --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- relatively minor transgression. Isn't that true?

MR. BLANKLEY: You can have a robust diplomacy, but not at a sacred site. We can meet him in Switzerland.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I want to hear from Pat.

MR. BUCHANAN: Richard Nixon went to Moscow and Richard Nixon went to Beijing in the same year that the Soviets and the Chinese were pouring weapons --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: There you are.

MR. BUCHANAN: -- into South Vietnam to kill our guys --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: There you are, Tony.

MR. BUCHANAN: -- because he wanted to stop the damn war. That's what we want to do, Tony, is stop the war.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Tony, chew on that, will you? Is General Abizaid right? Get back to Abizaid. Can the U.S. live with a nuclear-armed Iran and that there is no need for a preemptive strike that could lead to another full-scale war in the Middle East? Pat Buchanan.

MR. BUCHANAN: We may have to, John. And I think Abizaid has performed a service because he at least raised the question.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Eleanor.

MS. CLIFT: We lived with a nuclear Soviet Union, nuclear China. We're living with a nuclear North Korea. It is not the preferred option, but it is better than a preemptive strike. That would only antagonize that whole region of the world and really set off a clash of civilizations.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: And did not the Iranians sign the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty?

MR. BUCHANAN: Sure.

MS. CLIFT: Yes.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Are we helping India with its nuclear technology when India did not sign the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty?

MR. BLANKLEY: I would point out that mutual assured destruction almost didn't work a number of times; the Cuban missile crisis.

The idea that you want to take a chance on something that almost blew up the world a couple of times when you can avoid it by preempting --

MS. CLIFT: Blowing it up earlier?

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You mean, go in in violation of international law and effect a military strike, and do that?

MR. BLANKLEY: It may be that that's the more prudent thing to do.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Ah. So you stand outside international law.

MR. BLANKLEY: There is no international law.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Oh, there is no international law.

MR. BLANKLEY: Self-defense is the only international law that's ever going to exist.

MR. PAGE: I'll tell you one law of war, which is once you start it, you don't know how it's going to end.

MR. BLANKLEY: Absolutely right.

MR. PAGE: I would be very slow about thinking, "Well, a few surgical strikes will be all it takes in Iran." That's just folly.

MR. BLANKLEY: (Inaudible.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You should dwell on Clarence's words of wisdom. He could not be more right.

Issue Two: Hillary Care Returns.

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY): (From videotape.) Part of our health care system is the best in the world, and we should build on it. Part is broken, and we should fix it.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Hillary Care '07 was unveiled this week. Key features sharply distinguish the new plan from Senator Clinton's earlier plan 14 years ago, 1993. She playfully self-deprecates the old plan.

SEN. CLINTON: (From videotape.) I still have the scars to show from that exercise.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The senator was quick to point out the principal difference between the '93 and the '07 versions. The features of Hillary Care '93 and Hillary Care '07: Mandates: Then, '93, employers only; now, '07, everyone, including all uninsured. Now covered: Then, 37 million; now, 47 million. Employer: Then, pays individual; now, pays individual or pool. Small business tax cut: Then, no; now, yeah. Cost: Then, $55 billion per year; now, $110 billion per year. Pages: Then, 1,342; now, 10. Crafting: Then, task force in secret; now, campaign staff in secret. Cardinal element: Individual mandate. Clinton's plan obliges Americans to sign up for health insurance, much like vehicle insurance. It's your choice. Everyone can keep his or her current insurance provider. Insurance that sticks; switching jobs does not mean losing insurance.

Cost: Hillary says that Hillary Care '07 would be paid in part by scrapping some of President Bush's tax cuts.

Question: Has Hillary hit on a winning prescription for what ails America's health care? Tony Blankley.

MR. BLANKLEY: Well, not if you think that market forces are more likely to be the path. She's learned a lot of lessons from 1993. It's a 10-page proposal as opposed to hundreds of pages, so you don't have a lot of the details. But you can learn something. She calls it choice, and yet the key to the program is mandate. You have to have the program. You have no choice. If you're a 23-year-old young man who you don't need health insurance -- in fact, you save some money to start a small business -- you've got to have the program.

So this is going to be a highly regulated -- both the insurance companies are going to be regulated as to the kind of service they provide and the kind of prices that they're going to have to pay, so this is not a bureaucrat-free program. It is a big government program.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Eleanor.

MS. CLIFT: Well, that 23-year-old can get hit with a devastating disease or an accident as well.

MR. BLANKLEY: Statistically it is not worth it for him.

MS. CLIFT: And this plan is really more about 1993 than it is to her rivals in 2007. She has demonstrated that she's learned a lot, and she has turned a weakness into a strength. Her biggest critics are now her biggest contributors. The health care industry has undergone a transformation. They are now burdened by all of this debt because of the number of uninsured, and they're now welcoming some role for government. And she has modified the role she sees for government. She's won applause virtually from everywhere. And she has, at the very least, neutralized what could have been a very serious negative for her.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Pat, you must be pleased by this because she's ruled out the single-payer government system that she had in her '93 program.

MR. BUCHANAN: Well, I think I agree with Tony. I think she's learned a lot. And 10 pages is smart because you don't want a large complex program which will be torn to pieces in the general election. This covers her, I think, inside the Democratic Party. But again, you get in the general election and you get the idea of coercion and all the rest of it, and she is vulnerable to sharp attack from conservatives on the coercive aspects of it. So I think she's helped herself in the primaries, but she ain't helped herself --

MS. CLIFT: Pat, Pat --

MR. PAGE: At the same time, though, the landscape has shifted since her first Hillary Care. A lot of Americans who were afraid of what the insurance industry warned against -- a loss of choice of doctor, rising costs and all -- that's all happened under the existing system. More people understand that the system is broken. And Tony, those young 23-year-olds or whatever out there, we're paying for them when they have a traffic accident or something else.

MR. BLANKLEY: Statistically --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: If they get hurt --

MR. BLANKLEY: You're wrong. The reason why Hillary --

MR. PAGE: She's met with actuarial people as well, and --

MR. BLANKLEY: The reason why Hillary and people --

MR. PAGE: Who is paying for those kids who have accidents and they aren't insured, Tony? You're paying for them. I'm paying for them.

MR. BLANKLEY: Let me answer the question, because you're not right on this.

MR. PAGE: Please do.

MR. BLANKLEY: The reason why she wants to have --

MR. PAGE: Answer my question, Tony. Who's paying for those uninsured kids? MR. BLANKLEY: Let me finish one sentence.

MR. PAGE: Yes or no?

MR. BLANKLEY: The reason she's being included is because they're net contributors to the insurance pool because they underuse it. That's why they're in. So they're the ones who are going to pay for people like me, older people.

MR. PAGE: They will pay for it, yeah. Right now we're paying for them. That's the whole point.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Exit question: In the upcoming presidential election, does Hillary have a lock on this health care-sensitive issue, which now ranks two after Iraq? Pat Buchanan.

MR. BUCHANAN: No, she doesn't. I think Edwards has got his sort of position over there in the party. Look, she's got to --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think any of those candidates have presented their position with clarity?

MR. BUCHANAN: Well, no, I don't think they do. But you said a lock.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Hers is with clarity.

MR. BUCHANAN: But she doesn't have a lock on it. Yeah, she's got a good position for the primary. I think it's going to be trouble in the general.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Does she have a lock on it?

MS. CLIFT: The three leading candidates all have good plans, and the nomination will not be decided on the minor differences between their plans. And in terms of coercion, Pat, are you out there picketing about car insurance? You're being coerced into that.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Does she have a lock on it --

MR. BUCHANAN: Illegal aliens will get this insurance, Eleanor. (Laughs.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- especially because she advanced it in '93? Does she have a lock on it?

MR. BLANKLEY: No, I don't think she has a lock. I agree with Pat. I think she's finessed the issue nicely. In the general election, conservatives will be able to take some shots. But she's going to have some selling points.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What do you think?

MR. PAGE: The fact is, both sides -- you know, Republicans are trying to sound more and more like each other and Democrats are sounding more and more like each other. There are little nuances of difference there. But the real debate will come in the general, and more and more Americans do want the government to assist in some way on this problem with the at least partially broken system.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: But those 47 million in there with this kind of insurance, so to speak, there's going to be a big demand on health care. Now is the time to buy health care, Pat. Put that in your portfolio.

MR. BUCHANAN: (Inaudible.) John, there are a lot of illegal aliens in there.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The plan is so right on target in all of the aspects that you can possibly cope with that I think she's got a lock on it. Issue Three: Computer Obsession.

RON DAVIS, M.D. (AMA president): (From videotape.) It gets to the point where this can be your family, your community, your cohort, and you forget about the real life because you're so busy working or playing in the virtual world.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Computers -- one more thing to worry about. Computers can be addictive. It's called compulsive computer use, CCU. Many Americans obsess over computer gambling and computer video games, but that's not all. Many are addicted to instant messaging, text messaging, e-mail. As a result, health is ignored. Marriages crumble. Families disintegrate. Jobs are lost.

Coincidentally with the CCU phenomenon, the U.S. Congress has introduced a new legislative measure titled Recognizing Addiction as a Disease Act 2007. This measure refers to drug and substance addiction, mind-altering drugs, not to computers. But why not include computer addiction as well? Symptoms of computer addiction include inability to limit the volume of time spent on a computer, dishonesty, lying about the volume of time spent on the computer, isolation, social and mental.

Question: Are businesses causing consumers to be fixated on computers, to be obsessive-compulsive? Can you speak to that, Eleanor?

MS. CLIFT: I don't know that I'm going to blame businesses here.

MR. BLANKLEY: Oh, go ahead.

MS. CLIFT: I think a lot of people --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, when you call, don't they direct you to a website?

MS. CLIFT: There is a phenomenon on the Internet that's called second life where people have a whole other life. And sometimes that takes over their real life. I think these are significant problems, but I think they need to be played out in the dynamics of maybe --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Airlines are going to remove tickets and direct you to your computer to do your own planning on an airline?

MR. PAGE: But that's okay, though.

MS. CLIFT: That's fine.

MR. BLANKLEY: I think it's a harmless enough obsession.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Don't schools assign homework to be done on a computer? MR. PAGE: That's right.

MS. CLIFT: Yes, and it's a lot easier. I mean, I would not lump in the good things with the bad things.

MR. BLANKLEY: The computer is a wonderful thing.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Out of time. Bye-bye.

END.