The Week In News: Health Care Bill, Baby Einstein

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The news this week ranged from a possible heath care breakthrough in Congress to Disney's decision to issue refunds for its Baby Einstein products. Guy Raz reviews the headlines, big and small, with our regular news analyst, James Fallows of The Atlantic magazine.

GUY RAZ, host:

We're back with ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Guy Raz.

And joining us now for a look at the news behind and beyond the headlines is James Fallows. He's The Atlantic's national correspondent and our news guide here at ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

Jim, some weird things happening this past week.

Mr. JAMES FALLOWS (National Correspondent, The Atlantic Monthly): True, indeed, as we can discuss.

(Soundbite of laughter)

RAZ: Let's start with something not so weird: health care. It looks like Democratic leaders are going to push for a public option in the final bills in both houses of Congress. But I'm interested in something that hasn't received all that much attention: the so-called special Medicare provision now under discussion. What is that all about?

Mr. FALLOWS: This is a saga that started more than 20 years ago when the Congress enacted a scheme of future automatic reductions in Medicare payments to doctors and the idea this would be a way to control the otherwise endlessly burgeoning cost of Medicare.

In recent years, each time this provision has come due for the next year, the Congress has overturned it or suspended it, and the administration wanted to do that especially for next year because there was a quite steep 20 percent reduction in doctor fees…

RAZ: Oh, wow.

Mr. FALLOWS: …ahead for next year, which the administration thought both doctors and Medicare recipients would be understandably unhappy about that. The reason this provision did not go through this week is that many Republicans and some Democrats said you haven't paid for this with offsetting, you know, cuts or tax increases.

So now, that, too, needs to be worked into the final health reform bill, which leads to, I think, the real lesson of this episode. That as complicated as Afghanistan or education might be, health reform is probably the most complex issue with the most moving parts to try to solve.

RAZ: Jim, speaking of complex topics, Fox News versus the White House - this storm. And I'm wondering what the Obama administration really gets out of publically expressing displeasure with Fox?

Mr. FALLOWS: It is just a rule of nature and of history that every administration ends up thinking that the press is biased against it. This goes back to "The Founding of a Republic." But I remember it as early as John Kennedy cancelling the subscription to the New York Herald Tribune, which then existed out of peak with some coverage it had given. And the calculation for each administration is whether its worth picking a fight with the press generally, knowing there's going to be this banding together of colleagues.

I think the administration's calculation here must have been either we can say they were acting out of peak, which the Obama administration has not done very often, or acting out of calculation, that the effort to try to lump together the Republican opposition and a radio show host like Rush Limbaugh and Fox News would gain them more in sort of political positioning than it would lose them and looking as if they were having war against the press.

RAZ: Jim, Wednesday night, a Northwest Airlines flight overshot - way overshot its destination in Minneapolis by more than 100 miles. For some 90 minutes, the plane lost contact with air traffic controllers.

Now, the pilots are claiming they were having some kind of heated argument, they're going back and forth denying it and sort of changing their story around. You don't fly jumbo jets, Jim, but you are a pilot. What do you make of this?

Mr. FALLOWS: First, we should have to say it's good that everybody is safe.

RAZ: Right.

Mr. FALLOWS: And also, in our hyper-monitored world, this may be the real story - the rare story that we really don't ever know the truth of because only two people were there. The cockpit voice recorder doesn't go back for more than the last 30 minutes of the flight, which apparently were routine.

I will simply say that anybody who has flown any kind of airplane to any sort of major airport simply finds it impossible to believe that any kind of conversation distracted the pilots from recognizing that Minneapolis airport was ahead of them. It's as if you were driving to Manhattan and somehow missed it and ended up in Ohio.

If it turns out, as most people suspect, the pilots were asleep for some reason or, in some way, similarly unconscious, whether this will lead to discussions of cockpit - of flight safety rules, of fatigue and all the rest that we've seen in some other airline incidents in the last year or two, too.

RAZ: Finally, Jim, to one of the week's weirdest stories.

(Soundbite of Baby Einstein video)

RAZ: That, Jim, is a clip from one of the Baby Einstein videos. You know, the ones that countless parents bought to transform their infants into mini geniuses. It turns out they were possibly duped and that Disney, which owns the Baby Einstein franchise, is now offering parents refunds.

Mr. FALLOWS: I should say that I am a noncombatant on this front. My kids were already in high school by the time this program was even invented. Although, I will say they spent four years of their upbringing overseas without TV, and I think that may have helped them in some way.

But the reason I think this story will be with us for a long time is that some of the claims are not simply that the tapes didn't make your child into a potential Nobel Prize winner, but it might actually have hurt the kids by exposing them to the distraction of TV at a tender age.

This takes us back to Greek myth and fairy tales and every parent's deepest fear that the way you think you are sustaining and nourishing your child might actually have been slipping a little bit of poison in there. So this is a very powerful story.

RAZ: Indeed.

That's James Fallows of The Atlantic and our news analyst.

Jim, thanks and enjoy the rest of your weekend.

Mr. FALLOWS: Thank you, Guy.

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