Panel discussion – Part 2 America’s Next Chapter

In Part 2 of a conversation on ‘America’s Next Chapter,’ thought leaders tackle such issues as how the country rebuilds cities with empty homes and no jobs.

How do we rebuild cities with empty homes and no jobs? When does economic recovery really happen? Tavis convenes a panel of thought leaders to wrestle with these and other issues on how America can return to its greatness. Panelists include: Princeton's Dr. Cornel West; The Huffington Post's Arianna Huffington; John S. Chen, chairman of Committee of 100; CNBC anchor Maria Bartiromo; David Frum, speechwriter for former President George W. Bush; The Washington Post's Dana Milbank; CBN News' David Brody; and Maria Teresa Kumar, Voto Latino executive director/co-founder.


Tavis: So we referenced earlier than Hu Jintao is on his way to the USA. What ought we, the American people, expect our government to get for us out of those conversations? What ought they be bringing back to us when this summit is over?
John Chen: Open the market over there. Let us play evenly, fairly and transparently. (Applause)
David Frum: Stop stealing our software.
Maria Bartiromo: It sounds like an impossibility.
Chen: Or stop stealing everything, okay? And by the way, it goes both ways. If you’re a foreign entity and you want to invest in any company in the United States, if you’re a Chinese today, you feel very unwelcomed. It ties to our (unintelligible) process, it ties to some level of, I would say – I wouldn’t say discrimination, but distinction, fear, mistrust – mistrust on our part. It goes into the core of the immigration and everything else surrounding that.
I think our country needs to rethink how to create jobs here, and China is investing – I know it’s off-topic a little bit, but China is investing about $100 billion a year, United States dollars a year into direct foreign investment. We in this country are getting like 3 or 4 percent of that. It is totally not acceptable.
Tavis: When you started your answer by saying – you said very quickly, without hesitation, “Open the markets.” My friend from CNBC, Maria Bartiromo, whispered in my ear, “Impossible.” (Laughter)
Chen: Ah.
Bartiromo: No, I said, “It sounds like an – it sounds impossible.”
Tavis: You want to explain about that?
Bartiromo: Yes, because I think exactly what John is saying is where the rubber meets the road, and let’s talk some specific example. Recently we had tires coming from China and they were being sold at very low levels, or cheaper than American companies’ tires. So there was a big outcry from workers – “Why are Americans buying those tires and not the tires that we make in this country?”
Well, they’re cheaper. So how do we – so we put tariffs. We’re putting higher tariffs on the tires coming into this country, to make them more expensive so that we’re making money on it. The Chinese say, “Well, if you’re going to put tariffs on that, then we’re not going to have you sell products to our people.”
What I mentioned earlier is critical – 1.3 billion people, 300 million people. Our companies need to sell to those emerging middle class, and we need to come to an agreement here in order to prosper, all of us.
And by the way, on the too big to fail, for me, I don’t think it’s necessarily too big to fail that’s the issue, but too connected to fail.
Chen: I see.
Dr. Cornel West: Mm.
Bartiromo: Big companies are not necessarily evil. If you’re connected all over the world – who knew AIG was insuring everything that when the lights went out (laughter) the financial system would dry up? Another conversation, I’m sorry, but I had to get that in.
Tavis: No, but while you’re talking, though, how afraid, then, how scared should we be of China, and for that matter, India as well?
Bartiromo: I’m not afraid. I don’t think we should be afraid.
Tavis: You just said the numbers don’t work out, Maria.
Bartiromo: Yeah, because we have to sell to those people. Multinational companies have to be able to sell American products. We need to manufacture products in this country and sell them all over the world. (Applause) That’s where policy comes in.
We need a policy in place that keeps some manufacturing and some jobs – the good jobs, the jobs we want – here. If a company can do something cheaper in India, it’s going to do it, and it should do it, to stay competitive.
Tavis: So John, tell me then why we should be hopeful, then, given this difficult – I’ll use that word – given the difficulty of this proposition, why then should the American people, as we write this next chapter, be hopeful that we can find, play on a level playing field with China?
Chen: Okay, so let me first answer, because these points have been bouncing back and forth a few times, and Maria likes to use 300 million versus 1.3 billion. That’s a good number, and I’m not concerned at all about that.
I’m going to give you – I’m very fortunate that I come from a technology market, technology field, and I’m very fortunate I came from Silicon Valley. If you look at Silicon Valley productivity numbers, about eight times better than any part in the world, on average. Therefore, I could overwhelm that 300 million versus 1.3 billion if we innovate, okay?
Innovation gets you the margin dollars (unintelligible). (Applause) That ties to my earliest thing.
Bartiromo: Absolutely, I agree.
Chen: That ties to my earlier thing. We have to have an education system; we have to have the immigration system to grab the best, so that we can innovate. (Applause)
Frum: But there’s one element missing.
Maria Teresa Kumar: I think one of the things that we’re missing too is that it’s the American culture, right? What do we export and people want to emulate? Hollywood, music, and I think that is one of our strengths that no one’s talking about when we start saying are we going to be competitive with China and, yes, India, who has a Bollywood industry.
But at the end of the day it’s our differences and our cultural differences and our strength in our Hollywood that we’ve actually been able to use as soft power to change the hearts and minds of people worldwide.
Tavis: But you’re not suggesting we’re going to act and dance our way out of this, though, are you? (Laughter, applause)
Kumar: No. But it is an industry – no, no, no. I don’t dance so well. But it is an industry that we’ve actually been able to sell, of what it means to be rich, what it means to be – to the next – does that make sense? It’s –
Arianna Huffington: But you know what? No, what you’re saying –
Bartiromo: They have to play by the rules and not copy our stuff.
Kumar: Right. Right, that’s the difference. That’s the – copyright.
Tavis: One second. David Frum – I’ll come back, all of you. David?
Frum: I think we should be much for afraid for China than afraid of them. Compared to their problems, our problems are molehills, and that is something that they are very conscious of and we should not lose sight – from their un-free press, from their un-free discussion, from their propagandistic media, from their neglect of their countryside and overinvestment in skyscrapers and high-speed trains and the things we see, we should not forget there are 500 million people living in the Chinese countryside who are living – the problem is not just that they are very poor, the problem is that they are increasingly impatient.
When you look at the history of this country, the great migration of Black farmers from the South of the United States – and (unintelligible) remember at the top of my head how many people that was who moved between 1917 and –
West: Millions and millions and millions.
Frum: Maybe three million people, maybe four million people.
West: Yes, yes, yes.
Frum: There are 500 million people in the Chinese countryside. Now think of the social upheaval that that migration created in the United States, the resentment between groups and groups, how difficult it was to work out, how we’re still not working it out. How whole cities collapsed underneath that transformation.
Now imagine it doing it times 100, or actually 150. That’s their problem. We don’t have that problem, we have our problems. Our problems – I so wholeheartedly agree with those who say, and I think Arianna said this, and others – that our problem is our dysfunctional political system that prevents our extraordinarily strong and powerful economy and society from responding.
Let me just say one thought about that. I am personally haunted by something that Tip O’Neill, the former Speaker, said when he left Congress. He served a third of a century, from the early 1950s to the middle of the 1980s, and at the end of his career he was asked how had Congress changed in his time, and he said, “The people are better, the results are worse.”
That is true again and again through so much of the federal government, that whenever you think of your member of Congress, they are, as compared to half a century ago, more honest, more hardworking, more sober. (Laughter)
But if you then talk to them about the subjective experience of being a member of Congress, they are constantly frustrated.
West: Yes.
Frum: They can’t get things done, and everything they do to make the system work better, they constantly say, “Well, let’s give more power to the members,” which enhances the number of people who are able to prevent things from being done, and the result is completely frustrating.
Tavis: Here’s my problem. I’m going to come to Arianna, because she, again, wrote the book about this. The problem is – and I think this may be – I’ve been trying to keep track of the things that we do agree on so far on this panel, and we haven’t even gotten to this multiethnic, multicultural, multiracial conversation, which I promise we’re going to get to, or the lack thereof in this country.
But I think the one thing so far that we all agree on is that our government is broken. Our system of government is broken. Anybody disagree with that so far? (Applause) All right. That’s the one thing we basically tend to agree on, that we got a broken system –
Frum: Creaky (unintelligible).
Tavis: – that somehow needs to be fixed.
West: Creaky. (Laughs)
Tavis: Arianna, if that’s the problem, how do we fix it?
Huffington: Well, what David said is absolutely true, that the problem with the current elected officials is that there are 26 lobbyists for each member of Congress – 26 lobbyists. That means on top of everything else that while we are sitting here maybe celebrating the passage of financial reform, they’re there undermining it.
So by the time financial reform is enacted, it will bear very little relation to what we celebrated, and we saw that again and again. We saw that in every disaster this year. We saw it in the BP disaster, we saw it in the mining disaster, all the loopholes that have been introduced that made it possible to have what’s known as regulatory capture.
So it’s not really about whether we have regulations or don’t have regulations, it’s the fact that we can have regulations up the gazoo and they don’t work if we don’t have a functional system. On top of it, when you mentioned earlier about the fact that America has traditionally been amazing in terms of using soft power, well, right now, China is getting better at it.
Look at Afghanistan. We are spending over $100 billion there pursuing an immoral and unnecessary and unwinnable war. (Applause) China is spending billions of dollars buying raw material for its industry. Who do you think is going to win that battle?
So we have these kind of perverted priorities across our system. (Laughter) Again, this is a completely beyond left and right consensus that is emerging.
West: Absolutely.
Huffington: That’s one of the most promising things. You had (unintelligible) was yesterday, hardly a lefty, hardly a peacenik, coming out against the Afghanistan war. You have more and more Republican members now asking for real oversight as to how this money is being spent. The good thing to come out of WikiLeaks was a very clear chronicling of the corruption that’s going on, of the fact that taxpayer money is being completely wasted while we are cutting vital social services here at home. (Applause)
Tavis: Let me ask Dana right quick – Dana’s been quiet for a minute here. I know he’s got a lot to say, he’s been thinking a lot. There are two questions I want to ask you, Dana, and they’re disconnected, but I want to get both of them out now so you can take your time and unpack them as you see fit.
In no particular order, number one, to this point about our system being broken, the people in this audience read your stuff every week, you cover this broken system, as it were, all the time. How do you go about covering, how do you remain hopeful about a system that’s broken, number one?
Then I want to ask a question specifically about Arianna’s point about Afghanistan and Iraq. But answer that first question first.
Dana Milbank: Well, I’m sort of a counter-indicator. If this government were working very well, I might be out of a job. (Laughter) I exist to point out what’s wrong with our government.
Now, I’d take that deal; I could find another line of work. Maybe I could get something on Wall Street. (Laughter) So I would take that deal, but my job is to point out what’s wrong and why things are going off as badly as they are, and I think there’s a sense that our government has been sold to the highest bidder. (Applause)
This was a problem with why it was asleep before the financial crisis. The Tea Party was so upset with the way the elites were governing the country that they forced a change. Well, guess what? They’ve been had. Thirteen of the new Republican freshmen in the House have hired lobbyists as their chiefs of staff. They’ve been having fundraisers all over town, raking in money from lobbyists.
A lobbyist is John Boehner’s new policy director. A lobbyist is now running healthcare on the Commerce committee. They don’t just run for election every two years, they run for election perpetually, and they’re perpetually doing whatever it takes to get these required contributions. This isn’t a Republican thing, it’s not a Democratic thing, and that gets to why the system is broken.
Now, this is great business for me, selfishly. (Laughter) So I can watch all this venality and bad behavior and people breaking their principles to raise a buck, but that’s both the source of my enjoyment and the source of the problem.
Kumar: I think it’s very important – I think –
West: But for me, the crucial question is about (laughter) given this corruption, politicians’ perennial fundraisers, looking to big business and big banks and others for their money, hence corporate influence, hence big financial influence on big government, incompetence in big government, greed – not among all, but all of us are human beings, and partly greedy – but concentrated greed, with consequences for them.
Who pays the cost? Invisible. I think here, history is very important. We can talk about America all we want, right? The U.S. Constitution was in place for over 89 years, but slavery was still in place. (Applause) In practice it was a pro-slavery document, and there’s no reference to slavery in the U.S. Constitution. This is very important for immigrants who just got here. This is very important. (Applause)
You’re not going to come into America with all of this robust opportunity and mobility without understanding the history and the degree (applause) to which this marvelous Constitution, which was marvelous precisely because Americans had the courage to make it more free and democratic by abolishing slavery.
Then here comes Jim Crow. That was American terrorism. That was another 90 years, right? (Applause) But it was invisible. So then we had to raise it ourselves. Well, what is invisible today? Have we seen the prison industrial complex? The two and a half million fellow citizens (applause) locked in?
Have you seen the children locked into not just the schools but the quality of their souls? Who’s paying the cost when we talk about all of this corruption at the top? That’s why I have a little – I’m hesitant in terms of the excessive celebration.
I do agree with the fluidity and possibility and so forth, but when I look who’s paying the cost, no serious talk about that in the halls of power. Why? The will of the people is suppressed owing to the oligarchs and the plutocrats on top. (Applause)
Kumar: I think –
Tavis: So speaking of – so Dana, I did not forget the second question I wanted to ask you, and Dr. West gives me a great segue.
West: Sorry to jump in on you.
Tavis: No, it’s fine. (Laughter) You’re segue and your setup was nice, I can go right back to Dana. (Laughter) Because Doc is talking about now, as he should, about who pays the cost.
West: Yeah.
Tavis: The second question I want to ask you was disconnected, but now I think we can connect it. What is the price, what is the cost that we ultimately pay being tied to this ongoing war in Afghanistan, being tied to this ongoing war in Iraq?
We now know this is the longest military excursion this country has ever endured, Iraq – Afghanistan, rather. What is the price that we ultimately pay relative to trying to write this next chapter if we can’t tear ourselves away from either or both of these wars long-term?
Milbank: Well, beyond the immediate cost, of course, is the problem that the spending on the wars has created this sort of “me too” situation. So anybody can now say, “Well, you can pay for what I want to do for this tax cut because we’re able to afford so many hundreds of billions of dollars for wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.”
So the problem is compounded. Now everybody’s saying since we could run these wars without paying for them, well, heck, we can do all kinds of other things – $13 trillion worth of debt – without paying for them.
But I think the corrosion has gone beyond the money in this case, and I think one of the real problems with the wars is that we were never asked to sacrifice for them. I’m not speaking in terms of taxes, but a very small sliver of America has anything to do with these wars, and I think one of my pet projects all along has been some sense of national service, some sense of sacrifice, some sense that we’re in this all together.
You won’t hear a thing about it in the Congress right now or anywhere in this town, but there’s a sense that that war is detached and over there. There’s no sense, as there was, famously, in the Second World War, that we are all in this together, and that’s led to these problems in all of the rest of our culture, too. (Applause)
Tavis: David Brody, you were going to add something?
David Brody: Yeah.
Tavis: One second (unintelligible).
Brody: Well, just two quick points. I think this is actually a place, even though the nation is split on Afghanistan, ideologically there’s a lot of common ground on this issue.
In other words, you have liberals and conservatives agreeing many, many times on where – what to do in Afghanistan. So I just think that’s an interesting dynamic in all of this. You can put liberals and conservatives together and they’ll say, “Look, we need to get out.” Or you can put liberals and conservatives together and say we need to stay. So I don’t think there is one big, happy answer here.
Real quick on politics and how to fix – because this was your original question, how to fix government, if you will. Look, I think the simple answer, and I know it’s simple, but there is something about this, which is if you’re going to drink the Potomac water, drink it quick and get out.
In other words, term limits and this whole idea of power corrupts. Corruption and power together, it’s too much. Here in D.C., it’s way too much. You’ve got to get in and get out. I think that that is a big part of what’s going on here, and I think that’s, in terms of fixing the problem, this is what the Tea Party, to a degree, was about – getting these citizen legislators.
There is a movement called Get Out of Our House in this country. It’s called GOOOH – G-O-O-O-H. It’s a bunch of community forums all across this country electing 430 – trying to elect 535 folks to the House of Representatives. It’s small, it’s in its infancy, but the point is it’s going back to the grassroots of getting citizen legislators in there and going from there instead of politicians that have been drinking the Potomac way too much. (Applause)
Tavis: I’ve been dying to ask you this one question, again, because we’ve been friends for a while and you’ve covered this city more than anybody. But just so I understand this – y’all forgive me, it’s just a personal moment; I just need to understand this.
When the Tea Party says, “We’re going to take our country back.” (Laughter) From whom? I just don’t – (laughter, applause) I mean, seriously. I mean, seriously. You get this rant all the time, “We’re going to take our country back.” Seriously – from whom? What does that mean?
Brody: What it means is we’re going to take our country back to first principles. We’re going to take our country back to a constitutional view of what they really do believe what the Constitution requires in this country, or what it says. So really, it’s not take our country back in terms of let’s pack some heat and let’s go. That’s not what this is about at all.
Getting back to a point, Dr. West, that you made earlier, I think there’s a danger in saying, when you use the race – you or anybody, really, anybody use the race as a word, even if you’re not defining the Tea Party, which I don’t think you were, but you were saying there was an element of racism to the Tea Party.
I can tell you, though, that inherent in that is a dismissive attitude towards the Tea Party, because it’s basically trying to not justify it and its existence and its power in this country, because this is just the infancy.
Tavis: Let me ask Dr. –
West: I would never dismiss them. I’m concerned about the truth.
Brody: Yeah.
West: I don’t want to dismiss anybody. I’m a Christian. I’ve got to love everybody. (Laughter)
Tavis: Were you being dismissive? No, I want to ask –
West: I want to know whether it’s true or not that there’s a racist element.
Brody: (Unintelligible) we record the audio. I can go back and listen to that and I do. But I’m looking for, I’m looking around the corner. I’m looking around the crowd.
West: Yes, yes, yes.
Brody: I’ve got to tell you, I’ve got to tell you, it’s not there. Now –
West: But how many Black folk are at these meetings? (Laughter, applause) That doesn’t necessarily make it racist if they’re not there, but Black folk are very intelligent. We’re very intelligent. We get a sense of what’s going on. But no, go right ahead. (Laughter, applause)
Brody: Well, there’s people that I talk to, the new Congressman Tim Scott who’s come in who’s a Tea Party member, and I actually –
Tavis: Black guy from South Carolina.
Brody: Right.
Tavis: Black Republican.
Brody: That’s right.
Tavis: Beat Strom Thurmond’s son.
Brody: That’s right.
West: (Unintelligible)
Tavis: Okay, go ahead.
Brody: All right. I actually attended (laughter, applause) one of his Tea Party events down in South Carolina in front of an all-White crowd of 55-plus, if you will, and he was beloved there, because he’s –
West: He was what?
Male: Beloved.
West: Beloved. Oh, beloved.
Brody: He was.
West: I thought you said something else. (Laughter)
Brody: So he was beloved there. My point simply is that if you actually go and look at the story from an in-depth perspective, a lot of these charges are really unfounded.
Kumar: I think –
Tavis: Dana Milbank, and then I want to ask Arianna something right quick.
Kumar: Can I just – just to jump on –
Tavis: Sure, right quick, right quick, come on.
Kumar: It may have changed, but the average Tea Party, the first folks that started, they were upper middle class White male. My father is a White male, so I have nothing against my dad, but it’s recognizing that they all of a sudden, the middle class White male felt disenfranchised. They felt that – they had not marched during the civil rights movement, many of them because they were old-time vets and they were actually fighting, they were (unintelligible).
So they realized that this might be a movement for them to take their country back. America’s changing. When they say take America back, it’s that they want the America that they grew up with (applause, cheering), not recognizing that –
Tavis: That’s all we have time for tonight, but join us again tomorrow night for the final night of this terrific conversation. You can catch the full conversation by visiting our website at
Until next time, good night from Washington and keep the faith.
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Last modified: April 26, 2011 at 12:28 pm