Deconstructing Stephanopoulos: Part II

The Government Accountability Office is an imp...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Sometimes one bites off more than one can chew and I did that by tackling this panel discussion on the economy.  It is not the subject of a post or two, but of a long article or even a book.

Well, I waded in, so now I have to try to get back to shore.  I mentioned four panel members in my previous post.  The other two were, on the right, David Walker, CEO of the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) from 1998 to 2008, and on the left Eric Schmidt, former CEO and now Executive Chair of Google.

Though a Democrat, Schmidt bonded with fellow CEO (ex-CEO) Carlie Fiorina, in seconding her emphasis on creating a more nurturing climate for the growth of small business, but like her, never got into any details about that.  He seems worth exploring further as I imagine he would be able to give a good picture of what changes would seem useful.   Fiorina, on the other hand…..well, Google her being ousted by Hewlitt-Packard and judge for yourself.

From a more immediate perspective, however, Walker seems the one to look at most closely, as he has written a book – Comeback America – and developed a center aimed at restoring fiscal responsibility, and has been praised by figures on the left and right, while also blaming both parties for not dealing with our huge fiscal problems.  Though I believe he calls himself an independent, he has had more Republican ties than Democrat which put him on the right side of the table.

So, those are all the players on the panel.  I said in the previous post that I disagree with G. S.s’ calling the discussion fantastic, but that is not to say that it didn’t have any merit.  For one thing, it reflected our division on political lines, while still bringing together people capable of at least beginning a discussion on them.  Also, G. S. did a good job of giving everyone a chance to speak and moving the discussion along.  They did touch upon most, if not all, of the issues involved with the challenge of turning our economy around, in ways that might work for most people, not just a relative few.

While the economy as a whole is sputtering along, record profits were announced by some major companies yesterday, and the stock market is doing fine, so some of the economy is not in a recession, though many former employees downsized are.

So, what are the “take away’s, “ as they say?

Krugman and Walker seem the two most worthwhile to learn more about, as the former has a well developed argument that now is not the time for austerity, but for increased government spending and the latter has a well developed plan to put our fiscal house in order.   Since Walker agrees now is not the time to cut government spending, there might be some middle ground between the two.

Not that other issues raised were not important, particularly the idea to establish conditions that nurture the development of small businesses, which most agree are the engines of economic development over time.  But as I’ve indicated, how to do that was left open, accept to reform the tax code, which in theory could help our economy in various ways.

But what’s the likelihood of that, even after the next election?  George Will described the code as a “favor machine” which has been accumulating more and more favors since it was simplified back in 1986.   Will’s attitude was:  Good luck reforming that, what with everyone having something they want to protect in the code.   (I might add, it is 2700 pages:  Who wants to begin?).

Oh, and let’s not forget education.  Even though there wasn’t a show of hands, I’m sure they all think our education system need lots of improvement.  However, once again the devil is in the details and, since education (as teacher, trainer, and endless student, according to my friends) is my strong suit, I see even more devils than most.

How about developing an answer to something more specific, such as how to provide more trained manufacturing engineers for Silicon Valley, where there is a shortage according to Fiorina and Schmidt.  We don’t have to fix the whole system at once, which is good since we can’t.    I’ve also read that we are not producing enough electricians to meet our needs with a bigger gap forecast.  Why is that?  Those are good paying jobs and last I heard, you didn’t need a college diploma to do them.   Couldn’t we have educational programs in high school and junior college to help fill the widening electrician gap?

The panelists tried to end the discussion on a positive note, sort of summed up by George Will.   “We have everything going for us once we get our bad policies out of the way.”

I agree, but can we come to an agreement as to which are the bad ones?

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P. S. – Perhaps you have already had more than enough on this topic, but for those hardy few who want to clarify their sense further you can find additional information at the site of the host of the discussion the Miller Center at the University of Virginia.  Among what’s there are additional comments by Krugman, Fiorina and Walker, including why Krugman muttered afterwards “we’re doomed”, only half-joking.

Also, there are responses to the discussion from two college professors, one obviously with liberal inclinations and the other with conservative ones.  I’ll leave it up to you to figure out which is which and who seems the more insightful.  And a third professor offers a 20 page paper covering the “built to last issue”, from both left and right perspectives.

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Deconstructing Stephanopoulos: Part I

Will's Billboard

Will’s Billboard (Photo credit: teresia)

Not the man.  The panel discussion he moderated on This Week last Sunday.   I watched because I heard its topic would be:  Is this economy built to last?    And Paul Krugman, my favorite economist at the moment, was to be on along with George Will, the conservative columnist who usually has something interesting to say and four other folks who might contribute as well.  I’ll get to the others later.  Krugman and Will sat immediately to the left and right of G. S. respectively, which reflects their political inclinations as it did with the other four participants as well.

Afterwards George summed it up as “a fantastic discussion.”  Well, maybe in a teeny-weeny TV sort of way, but not really.   Thirty minutes was barely enough time to scratch the surface,  given the breadth of the topic and the diversity of the group.   People offered their particular agendas, often only tangential to the THE QUESTION, with relatively little agreement.  To call that “fantastic” reminds me of that psychotically chipper “ambassador” to the ever punished districts in the Hunger Games, the one who made the contests to the death seem like fun.

The panel lacked sufficient areas of agreement to do anything but politely squabble.  The question which shaped this discussion was not the one stated but instead:  How many viewers can we reel in?  It is the kind of pseudo seriousness that rules these media shaped political discussions.  The question was chosen not to be answered but to attract viewers sort of like the news promo:  “Does walking your dog cause cancer?  Tune in at 11.”

Always intent on turning a frown upside down, I will try to illuminate a few things worth remembering, and a number of them deal with the sub-text, not the faux discussion.  What’s that baseball saying? You can’t tell the players without a program?  Well, allow me to say a little something about these players, which might help in understanding what was really going on, and what might be useful to take away from it.

As to the question of keeping the economic recovery going, Krugman really was the “main man” here as he is a Nobel winning economist who has just published another book End this Depression Now.  He has a column in the NY Times and a bunch of other books and can back his case with a slew of economic facts quicker than I can type “economic facts.”   He also posts very often on a blog titled:  “The Consciousness of a Liberal.”  So, the far right can’t stand him, especially because he is both very smart and very combative verbally. President Obama has complimented him for his smarts, which only makes the far right hate him even more.

Krugman often argues that the way to really build a recovery is for the government to spend more money, hire back the teachers, rebuild the bridges, put more money into new energy etc., which is what his latest book is about.   He points to Europe’s stagnant economy and the austerity measures they employed as an indication budget cutting right now would be a terrible idea.   The right calls the stimulus a dud, but Krugman argues it helped us stay afloat and it would have helped more if we had spent more  (see my Stimulus page for more).

Not that he is unconcerned about the debt problem.  He says it’s a matter of priorities.  First build the economy to last and then tackle the debt hard and fast (I shaped the rhyme, just for fun).  Not that Krugman spilled this all out immediately, but this is where he is coming from and, if he’s right, a key to economic recovery.

On the right side of G. S. was the conservative George Will, who was given first shot at commenting and immediately dissed THE QUESTION replacing it with his own: “The threshold question is not is the recovery built to last, but does it exist?”.  He emphasized how weak the recovery was and later compared it to 11 other post WWII recoveries which appeared to puzzle him.  He is now 71, I mean exactly now – it’s his birthday today – so he may actually be bewildered like I am at times.  But I suspect he was just playing dumb, leaving us to fill in the blanks. Why is this recovery so slow?  Hmm….what’s so different now?  (Can you spell O-B-A-M-A?).

Krugman immediately challenged Will’s assertions, and those of others later, giving several reasons why the recovery is stronger than Will portrayed it, chomping away at his points like a pit bull.  Will is not an economist, so he wisely did not respond.

Now meet Carlie Fiorina, sitting to the right of Will and less wise.  If the name doesn’t ring a bell, she was the CEO of Hewlett- Packard for three years before she was fired.  Then she ran unsuccessfully against Barbara Boxer for senator in California and now co-chairs the Mitt Romney election team in California, which makes her, unlike the others on the panel, a clear cut political operative.  That means she sticks to the party line.

Over the course of the “discussion” she emphasized a number of key points, as if no one had thought of them before, greater support for small business – “fewer are starting and more are failing than any time in the past 40 years” – the need to improve education and the need to reform our tax code, most importantly to reduce our corporate tax rate which is the highest in the world.

Foul!

Have you seen those Southwest commercials emphasizing the additional fees other airlines charge, the ones where a referee jumps in from nowhere and calls “foul”? Think of Krugman as that referee who, trying to be civil, restrained himself from jumping in and instead sat quietly appearing to need an emergency  bathroom break.  However, as soon as a second of silence arrived he said:  “Nothing you just said about business taxes is true.”

Part of what he meant, if not exactly stated, is corporations don’t actually pay that high of a rate once their phalanx of tax lawyers begin chomping away like rats at a picnic, with a little three card monty thrown in.   The NY Times has examined Apple’s world wide tax rate and it’s about 9.8%, one more reflection of how good they are at everything.  Even less resourceful companies, like Walmart, average only around 24% a year, not the 39.2% that’s official.   Republicans know that.  They just prefer to maintain the half-truth, implying Democrats don’t understand business needs like they do.

Later Fiorina tangled with Jennifer Granholm, her female counterpart on the left side, and former governor of Michigan when the auto bailout occurred.  Sounding just like the Romney surrogate she is, Fiorina doubled down on Mitt’s original assertion that bailing out GM was a mistake.   As Fiorina spoke, Granholm seemed warming up to an epileptic fit:  “We tried everything,” she eventually spat out, waving her arms about to further make the point.  But Fiorina had a rejoinder:  The government should have just called the big bankers together and insisted they loan the money to the car companies, as if that would have been as simple as pie.  Remember the last time the bankers were called together by the treasury secretary?   Few loans resulted as the banks preferred to take that money and invest it.

OH, MY!  I JUST NOTICED HOW LONG THIS POST IS GETTING.

Blog Posts are not meant to be book length, so I’ll introduce the other two panel members and continue my deconstruction Tuesday.  I hope I’ve prompted some interest in this “discussion” and in the meantime, some of you will want to see it for yourself at this ABC web page, which provides a written synopsis along with videos.

Of course, the slackers among you can just wait for more of my slant Tuesday which I’ll be happy to provide.   Despite its shortcomings as a discussion, I think the show offered several points worth noting and building upon later.

I Know You’re All Crazy Busy but…

At some time over the past week or so I asked myself: Are you nuts?

Whatever made you think you could squeeze your way into the densely populated blogosphere and find a following?  True, I think I have a good idea, simply by being willing to give a stark look at our broken body politic to see how it might be repaired, whether surgeries are needed, a heart transplant, or even something bionic.

Few doubt our future is in doubt.  President Barack Obama acts like he is confident, but that’s his job.  He has to act that way.  Can you imagine him saying:  “Well, folks, I gotta say we are up the proverbial creek without a paddle.  Anyone see any paddles out there?”  But I imagine in private moments he has said to Michelle:  “Whatever made me think….?”

In googling to expand my knowledge, I’ve come to see the error of my ways even more clearly, since there are already about a zillion web sites and blogs – many of them worth following . Along with that, I’ve belatedly realized most people have email in-boxes bursting like mine.  If you’re like me, you set aside emails you want to really pay attention to for later, and then forget you ever got them.  Now that we have all these labor saving devices, we have no time for anything,  There are a few blogs I like to read, but haven’t read them in days.  I’ve been too busy working on MY blog.

Actually, I shouldn’t whine so much, as the site had 74 hits on it Sunday , the second largest day by far since my “opening day” of 119.   (Maybe Sunday is just net surfing day for many of you).   Not bad for a baby blogger, I think.  But I want the audience for this blog to grow like crab grass.  After all my reach-for-the-stars goal is that this eventually will become a go-to web site for solid information and thoughtful opinion regarding making whole once again our broken body politic.  The one chance in a million of that happening depends on an ever growing readership.

In contemplating ways to expand the pool of sifters and winnowers, of course I first thought of adding naked pictures  or maybe providing contest prizes.  I decided instead to make a direct plea to EACH OF YOU.  That small band of brothers and sisters who like what I’m offering enough to come back for more on occasion and, HOPEFULLY, to put your reputations on the line and recommend the blog to friends.

Convincing three to check it out would be good, five would be better and 10 would be great.  A few friends have suggested that I should go on Twitter and Face Book, but since two of my life goals are to do neither, I’m putting my cyber future in your hands.  That jump up in readers Sunday suggests some of you have already answered the call and I thank you.

One friend who tweets is already working on it, and I’ve asked another to plaster kudos for my blog all over his Face Book page (though I have never looked at a Face Book page, so I’m unsure what I will be getting, or if it was even a good idea.).  Of course, if all of you drop the ball, well, I might HAVE TO try those other methods, but word-of-mouth remains the best advertising, so I’ll try this first (and really, who wants to see a 67 year old man naked?  Not me.)

If you like what I’m doing, that may be enough to coax a friend or two to check me out (unless of course they don’t value your opinion as highly as you do.  In that case, isn’t it good to find that out now, so you can find more insightful pals who will appreciate you more?).

So, I beg of you.  Help spread the word, unless of course you have concluded it would be better for the future of humankind if my words flicker and fade out of sight as soon as possible.

I can respect the authenticity of that.

Richard

P. S. – If you haven’t noticed, I put up Posts on Tuesdays and Fridays.    Also, periodically I  add information to the pages listed across the top.