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A Taxing Proposal

The New Republic’s plan to reform Social Security, health care, and more.

New Republic, Aug. 15
Niall Ferguson and Laurence J. Kotlikoff propose a “new New Deal—a combination of fundamental Social Security reform, health care reform, and tax reform” that they claim will help Democrats return to power and solve some of the country’s most pressing problems. The authors advocate universal health care and believe that, “when they stop working, all Americans should be guaranteed a basic income of at least 40 percent of their pre-retirement earnings.” They also think that, “The federal fiscal system should be moderately progressive,” and that “net lifetime taxes should take out of our children’s income roughly the same proportion as they take out of our income.” The plan would replace the payroll, estate, and gift taxes, as well as personal and corporate income taxes, with a 33 percent sales tax that would be accompanied by a rebate that would ensure that poor people wouldn’t have to pay sales taxes.—B.B.

Economist, Aug. 6
Prompted by Hillary Clinton’s recent invective against Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, the magazine swoops to the defense of video games. A piece argues, “Games require players to construct hypotheses, solve problems, develop strategies, learn the rules of the in-game world through trial and error,” and that games are a great way to train 21st century workers. Another article assesses the charismatic Sudanese Vice President John Garang, who died last week in a helicopter crash, just after securing a promise of peace for his Christian and animist followers in southern Sudan. The piece doubts Garang would have been able to make the peace last: “To prevent fresh fighting between southerners, several tribal militias, including those formerly employed by the government, had to be placated, but Mr Garang refused to deal with these old enemies.” The article ties the future of southern Sudan to the ongoing genocide in Darfur in western Sudan and concludes that “[f]ailure to make peace in the west increases the risk of failure in the south—and vice versa.”—B.B.

Atlantic, September 2005 In the cover article, David Samuels asserts that Yasser Arafat and his cronies stole more than half of the $7 billion that the Palestinian Authority received in foreign aid. He also points out that the so-called Authority doesn’t exist—instead, there’s “a vast archipelago of randomly located government ministries, competing security-services headquarters, and prisons that operate according to no coordinated plan.” In reviewing two new books about animal rights, B.R. Meyers quotes autistic professor Temple Grandin as saying that “Autistic people are closer to animals than normal people are.” Claiming that animals and autistic people hone in on specific details—especially “high contrast objects”—Grandin has become a consultant to the meat industry and has “helped eliminate some frightening aspects of the chutes and passages through which millions of livestock are forced every day,” in turn reducing the need for electric prods. —B.B.

Harper’s, August 2005 Mark Crispin Miller reports on voter intimidation and election-rigging during last year’s presidential election. He pins his piece to a report sponsored by the House judiciary committee’s Democrats that cites “massive and unprecedented voter irregularities and anomalies” all through Ohio, and blames Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell, who, Miller writes, often seemed “determined to try every stunt short of levying a poll tax to suppress new voter turnout.”* Duncan Murrell writes about watching Formosan termites, an invasive species, take over New Orleans’ French Quarter. He writes, “Although they will compete for the normal sources of food—a house, a dead tree, an old rotted boat—the Formosans have also found food where the natives rarely bother to look: in live trees, in the upper reaches of tall buildings, in the paper insulation in plastic-coated railroad ties and telephone poles.”—B.B.

Nation, Aug. 15 and 22 John Nichols examines how Vermont Rep. Bernie Sanders, “the most prominent democratic socialist in America,” managed to win over the white working-class voters so elusive to the Democratic Party. Nichols singles out Sanders’ frequent town meetings, where he introduces experts on poverty, health-care reform, and other issues to engage his constituency. Nichols concludes, “Vermonters associate their Congressman with serious discussions about complicated issues, and they understand where he’s coming from—and that allows Sanders to go places most politicians fear to tread.” Bruce Shapiro picks apart Supreme Court nominee John Roberts’ track record, emphasizing a case in which the judge endorsed the arrest of a 12-year-old girl for eating on the subway. He implores, “If ‘advise and consent’ mean anything, it is that senators and the constituencies that agitate behind them have every reason to oppose a lifetime Supreme Court appointment for that kind of chill heart.”— M.O.

New York Times Magazine, Aug. 7 Robin Marantz Henig’s cover story looks at the evolution of hospice care since its grassroots origins 35 years ago. The Terri Schiavo controversy revealed a cultural fantasy that death is “somehow optional.” Henig cites the embrace of euphemisms like “palliative care” and “end of life” as a troubling aversion in a society where many adults are unwilling to talk to their ailing parents about death. Even terminal cancer patients, whose pattern of disease is ideal for hospice, may panic and call 911 when they have trouble breathing. Though 70 percent of Americans say they want to die at home, “few realize how grueling the work of dying can be,” writes Henig. Clive Thompson reports on “machinima,” a new genre of independent filmmaking within video games. In its most popular incarnation (and with the blessing of gamemakers), soldiers within Halo are manipulated like actors and recorded, their banter approximating that of troops in Iraq. Instead of typical low-budget sets in kitchens or living rooms, these cheap films can feature explosions and aliens. “It is the rare form of amateur film in which directors aspire to be not Wes Anderson but George Lucas,” writes Thompson. — L.W.

The New Yorker, Aug. 8 and 15 Elsa Walsh’s profile of Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid reveals that even though he lacks the “domineering personality” of other party leaders, Reid has been unusually successful at keeping the Dems united. A Mormon from Nevada, Reid differs with most of his Democratic colleagues on social issues: He opposes gay marriage, gun control, and abortion. With Republicans controlling Congress and the White House, “Reid’s essential role is defensive—to hold the line for his party when the Bush agenda threatens to trample what Democrats most value.” Ken Auletta exposes the battle behind the banter at Today and Good Morning America, which hinges largely on anchors Katie Couric and Diane Sawyer. Today is the most profitable program on any network, but Couric’s “likability” is falling as her glamour rises. Couric counters, “I feel like a human piñata. The disappointing thing is that no candy is going to spill out!” but adds that it goes with the territory of being successful and female.—L.W.

Weekly Standard, Aug. 8 In the cover piece marking the 60th anniversary of Hiroshima, Richard B. Frank re-evaluates Truman’s decision to drop the bomb. Radio intelligence material made available starting in the 1970s shows that, contrary to theories put forth by Truman critics, “The Japanese did not see their situation as catastrophically hopeless. They were not seeking to surrender, but pursuing a negotiated end to the war that preserved the old order in Japan, not just a figurehead emperor.” A short piece criticizes the Bush administration’s renaming the global war on terror with its optimistic acronym G-SAVE. This mission is just what John Kerry had argued during the 2004 presidential campaign, a viewpoint for which he was chastised by Vice President Cheney: “Senator Kerry has questioned whether the war on terror is really a war at all. In his view, opposing terrorism is far less of a military operation and more of a law enforcement operation.”—L.W.

Time, Newsweek, U.S. News and World Report, Aug. 8 Media moguls: Time profiles Current TV, Al Gore’s new 24-hour youth cable network, which “will invite a young army of ‘citizen journalists’ to submit edgy 15-second-15-minute video segments that the network is calling ‘pods.’ ” The piece explores Gore’s gusto for business (he wants the network to be “the ‘television home page’ for the Internet generation,’ “), notes that many aspiring filmmakers are already disillusioned with the project, and points out that the conservative-minded Rupert Murdoch is strongly backing the channel. John Higgins, business editor of Broadcasting and Cable magazine, insists “Rupert Murdoch right now is the biggest contributor to the possible success of Current.” Newsweek questions why Murdoch’s son, Lachlan, who was long groomed to take over the Murdoch media empire, quit the family business without warning last week. Noting that Murdoch’s “explicit dynastic ambitions” distinguish him from his fellow media moguls, the piece concludes that News Corp. will go to a younger son, James, a liberal “who at first balked at a corporate role.”

Shuttle: “Discovery succeeds, but NASA may have failed its mission,” proclaimsNewsweek in a piece examining why NASA wasn’t able to prevent foam from dinging the shuttle’s exterior during its journey to the space station last week. A spokeswoman says that NASA hasn’t had problems with the part of the shuttle that lost the foam since 1983. At the same time, an engineer at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland claims that “insulating foam has caused NASA difficulties since 1997, when the agency stopped using environmentally unfriendly Freon in its manufacture.” Time, too, is left with many answered questions: “After 2 1/2 years and $1 billion spent on safety upgrades designed to prevent just such a setback, how could things go so wrong again?” The piece questions the merits of NASA’s shuttle program in its entirety: “After 24 years, two lost ships, and another scare this week, it may be time to ask if it’s still an experiment worth conducting.”

Odds and ends:U.S. News reports that U.S. officials seized almost 20,000 pounds of opium from the offices of Sher Muhammad Akhundzada, the governor of Afghanistan’s Helmand province. “The seizure is by far the largest since the Drug Enforcement Administration returned to Afghanistan in 2002, says a senior U.S. official, and raises troubling questions about the ability of the Afghan government to crack down.” “[A]re we fighting the wrong drug war?” asksNewsweek, which devotes its cover to the scourge of meth and notes that many local officials question why the Bush administration still puts so much emphasis on marijuana. Time’s cover focuses on what it’s like to be 13 years old. It reports that 60 percent of 13-year-olds don’t believe in premarital sex, while 46 percent believe the United States will be a worse place to live when they reach their parents’ age.—B.B.

Correction, Aug. 4: This article, in reviewing Harper’s magazine, originally and incorrectly cited a House judiciary committee report; the report was sponsored solely by the committee’s Democrats. Return to the corrected item.