A Depressing Lack of Bad News

Posted: Oct 20, 2007 12:01 AM
A Depressing Lack of Bad News

Bad news, folks. We’re winning in Iraq.

According to a front page story in The Washington Post, “The U.S. military believes it has dealt devastating and perhaps irreversible blows to al Qaeda in Iraq in recent months, leading some generals to advocate a declaration of victory over the group.”

Wait -- isn’t that good news? As Charlie Gibson put it on ABC’s World News Tonight, “One item from Baghdad, today. The news is that there is no news. The police told us that to their knowledge, there were no major acts of violence. Attacks are down in Baghdad, and today, no bombings or roadside explosions were reported.”

Oh, come on, Post. Come on, ABC. You’re not trying hard enough. Any story can be bad news if you’re willing to dig deep enough.

Luckily for us, the Baghdad bureau of McClatchy Newspapers did just that. “A drop in violence around Iraq has cut burials in the huge Wadi al Salam cemetery here by at least one-third in the past six months,” Jay Price and Qasim Zein reported. “That’s cut the pay of thousands of workers who make their living digging graves, washing corpses or selling burial shrouds.”

See, finding the bad news is easy. The reporters even managed to find a struggling, out-of-work deathworker to comment. “Certainly, when the number of dead increases I feel happy, like all workers in the graveyard,” 30-year-old Basim Hameed lamented. “This happiness comes from the increase in the amount of money we have.”

Well, maybe not.

Few of us have more money than rock stars, yet that money can’t buy them love or, apparently, good health. A recent study of 1,000 rockers found that rockers are “two to three times more likely to suffer a premature death than the general population.” The Rolling Stones are the exception that proves the rule. Mark Bellis, the lead author of the study, suggests this may be because impoverished former rockers often lack health insurance.

There’s a simple solution to all this, and it’s amazing that nobody’s thought of it yet. We need to make rock stars eligible for SCHIP.

For those who haven’t been paying attention, that’s the State Children’s Health Insurance Program, launched in the 1990s to provide health care to children whose parents were too poor to purchase insurance.

Like all government programs, SCHIP is expanding, not contracting. This month lawmakers approved bill a bill that would have made government health care available to families that earn three times the federal poverty level, as much as $62,000 for a family of four. That earned a sensible, and -- sadly -- rare, veto from President Bush, a veto that’s now been upheld.

Still, the SCHIP debate has been enlightening. In trying to make their case, Democrats rolled out spokeschildren including Graeme Frost, a Maryland 12-year-old who’d benefited from SCHIP. But the Frost family is, by all accounts, what we once would have called “middle class.” If they need federal health care to make ends meet, who doesn’t?

The problem may well be our perception of the economy. By most measures, things are good. The stock market is near a record high. Our economy adds jobs month in and month out. Eight million new jobs in the last four years.

Yet in the midst of the boom, Americans don’t feel wealthier. In fact, a recent CNN poll showed that 46 percent of Americans think our economy is in recession. A mere 51 percent don’t. Clearly the mainstream media’s relentless focus on bad economic news is taking its toll.

For example, it hammers away on the supposed collapse in the mortgage market, even though housing prices almost everywhere have soared in recent years, and any slowdown in growth now is probably a correction, not a catastrophe. Such examples fit the media’s storyline that many, if not most, Americans are just a paycheck away from disaster.

Yet the reality is we’ve never had it so good. We have more gadgets and conveniences than ever. What hinders us more than anything are the poor choices we often make.

As W. Michael Cox and Richard Alm of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas noted in 2004, today’s Americans work less and can afford more than families in the 1970s did. “Hard data on work, leisure and consumption belie the image of overworked, overspent Americans,” they wrote in Investors Business Daily. “Americans aren’t working harder to afford the house, car and creature comforts usually associated with a middle-class lifestyle.”

In other words, we spend more these days because we choose to spend more, and because we have more to spend. Those are good problems to have.

We finally have a viable exit strategy from the war in Iraq. We’re going to win and come home. Too bad we haven’t yet fashioned a strategy for escaping the media’s relentless focus on bad news.