ED GORDON, host:
This is NEWS & NOTES. I'm Ed Gordon. On today's Roundtable: Senator Harry Reid in a fight over boxing tickets and the Bush balance.
Joining us today to discuss these topics and more - from our New York bureau, ER Shipp. She's a professor of journalism at Hofstra University. And joining us from Kiss FM in New York City, Walter Fields, CEO and Publisher of northstarnetwork.com. And from member station WRNI in Providence, Rhode Island, Glenn Loury. He's a professor of social sciences and professor of economics at Brown University.
All right, folks. We called it the Bush balance because what we're seeing is an interesting juggling act, if you will, from the White House. We saw, this week, U.S. Treasury Secretary John Snow resign, being replaced by Goldman Sachs Chief Executive Officer Harry Paulson, Jr. The replacement there, many people - even whispers from the White House - suggested that they believed that Snow never really could sell the domestic economic policy of this president and that Harry Paulson would be able to do a great job in that. That balanced, or juxtaposed, with the idea of all that's going on in Iraq.
U.S. Military, today, had to release a report that suggested that two Iraqi women were shot to death when they failed to stop their car at an observation point. One of the women was pregnant. Reports even - and I don't know that this has been confirmed - even suggested that they were driving on the way to the hospital, the maternity hospital. A Pentagon report has given a mixed outlook, I should say, on the Iraqi situation in the next year, suggesting that the insurgency - the strength there will likely hold for at least a year, Walter Fields. So when you see the president attempting to, I would suggest, balance domestic policy and domestic good, if you will - because they keep talking about the economy bolstering all of what is wrong - what do you say to that?
Mr. WALTER FIELDS (CEO and Publisher, NorthStarNetwork.com): Well, you know, this president needs some good news. And Henry Paulson is a consummate Wall Street insider who will probably have a much better opportunity to define the nation's economic policies than John Snow did. But we're looking at a White House that's unraveling before our eyes. I mean, this president is in trouble. When you look at what's happening in Iraq, don't forget Afghanistan; you can't forget about the threats from North Korea. This presidency is really being defined by the international agenda that he has set forth that is now backfiring on him.
So Paulson's nomination is sort of that good news angle, I think, that the White House is trying to find a way to get back in the good graces of some of their core constituents, which they are losing right now. They're not worried about, necessarily, the general public. They're losing their base right now, and it's a problem for this White House.
Professor GLENN LOURY (Economics, Brown University): Yep, it's a problem for this White House. I mean, I'm just making a list here of the areas where history's going to judge these guys badly. They didn't govern the country very well; they weren't competent. They couldn't run a war that never should have been fought. They messed up the church-state issue. Remember Terry Schiavo? They trampled over civil liberties. I mean, appointing a gold-plated Wall Street guy secretary of the Treasury is not going to reverse the fundamental problems with the policies that this administration has been following. It looks like they're going down in November, and they're just flailing around right now.
Professor ER SHIPP (Journalism, Hofstra University School of Communication): I'm not sure they're flailing around. This guy is going to give them a little bit of star power for a while, and that will distract us from some of these other issues you've just listed. So I don't think it's a flailing around kind of thing. I think they know what they have ahead of them for the next couple of years. And this man may help them, somewhat, in the whole economic picture.
GORDON: But is it a help - Walter Fields - when you have someone who simply is a better mouthpiece, if you will, a better PR advocate for the Bush administration? He's certainly not going to help those that have not been able to - to steal a Reagan term - receive any help from the trickle-down effect.
Mr. FIELDS: No, he won't. But much like Robert Rubin - another former Goldman Sachs executive - I think he brings an air of legitimacy to the president's economic policy. And I think that's what this White House is really looking for.
GORDON: So more credibility than Mr. Snow.
Mr. FIELDS: More credibility than Mr. Snow. Because when you look at this White House - you have to remember, this presidency is on the way out the door. I mean, for all intended purposes, George W. Bush is a lame duck. He's got a hostile Congress right now. His own Republicans on the Hill are leaving this White House in droves. So he's got to find a way to stabilize his administration. And the way you always do it, as a president, is on the domestic front. You have to sell the economic picture to make people feel as though there's some optimism about their economic future.
Prof. LOURY: Okay, well, let's talk just for a minute about the economic picture. $400 billion a year budget deficits. Took over with a surplus. Cutting taxes in the face of war expenditures. I mean, again, the fundamentals. I mean, I don't take anything away from Paulson. He's gold plated, as I said. What I'm saying is the fundamental policy is off track, and I don't think Paulson changes that.
Prof. SHIPP: But Paulson...
GORDON: Especially if you believe - especially if you believe the reports from the Pentagon that suggest the insurgency strength in Iraq is strong enough, certainly, to last out the year. That, of course, means that this pullout date that we'd been hearing probably will be pushed back. And that means more money will have to be spent on the military.
Prof. LOURY: And this tragic shooting of these women, which is going to happen when you put these young Marines on the ground in the middle of this country as occupiers, just underscores how off track the policy is. Our problem with Islamic terrorism is a political problem. We have to persuade people of something. It's not a military problem. And every day that something like that happens makes that problem that much harder for us. We're going in the wrong direction.
Mr. FIELDS: I think all said is absolutely correct, but I think you have to remember that the American consumer is of multiple personalities here. While they're concerned about rising interest rates, while they're concerned about higher gasoline prices, we're still spending like mad. So I think that there is room for this president to find a wedge there with someone like Henry Paulson to sort of make the case for him. I think you're right on all the other issues.
Prof. SHIPP: Yeah, Paulson is considered - I read somewhere - a deficit hawk. He doesn't believe in spending money the way we've been spending it. So it will be interesting to see if the president listens to his advice rather than force him out as he did his previous secretaries of Treasury when they gave him advice he did not like.
GORDON: All right, let's turn our attention now to something that we suggested may, in fact, be happening in the immediate future; and here we go. Senator Harry Reid is now being looked at with a jaundiced eye by some as he accepted free ringside tickets for three professional boxing matches from Nevada officials who were trying to influence his federal legislation regarding regulating the sport. The Nevada Athletic Commission suggested that they simply passed on tickets so he could get a better sense of what boxing was about as he looked at oversight.
Prof. SHIPP: Research.
(Soundbite of laughter)
GORDON: It's research. There you go. Now, we should note that Congress people are generally dissuaded from accepting gifts from federal, state or local government officials, specifically about taking gifts if, in fact, they are looking at legislation that may influence these actions. We should also note that Senator John McCain insisted on paying for the ticket that he received as he went to one of the fights with Senator Reid. ER?
Prof. SHIPP: (Unintelligible)
Prof. LOURY: Yeah, it looks like McCain was smarter than Reid in that respect. No.
Prof. SHIPP: And shouldn't Reid have noticed that McCain was paying and he wasn't? And shouldn't that have raised something? It just shows you, again, how in Washington people think of themselves as privileged. Them that's got shall get; them that's not shall lose. We're always on the losing end, it seems, as a citizenry. But those in power tend to think they're entitled to freebies.
Mr. FIELDS: And you would think by now they would get it. I mean, this is sort of the - the mistake that the Senate minority leader should know better. And you can't have it both ways. I mean, here is a man who's been talking...
GORDON: All right. But Harry Reid says - Harry Reid says - let me say what he says. This is, quote, "Anyone from Nevada would say, I am glad he is there taking care of the state's number one business." So he's suggesting that, hey, I need to kind of take a look from ringside.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Prof. SHIPP: But he can pay for the ticket.
Prof. LOURY: But he can be there. Just pay for the ticket.
Prof. SHIPP: Pay for the ticket.
Mr. FIELDS: (Unintelligible)
Prof. LOURY: I just want to say - he's a U.S. senator, you know what I'm saying? I mean, he probably figures he's entitled to sit at the ringside. But I grant the point: He needs to pay for the ticket. I guess that's the end of the story.
GORDON: How much of this is - ER - the idea that the media now is going to, based on the Jefferson buzz, going to look for stories like this - unearth them, uncover them, and put them front-page headlines?
Prof. SHIPP: You give us too much credit to think we're actually going to work to find these stories. People are going to call us and tell on their friends and former friends and rivals; so we'll hear all these stories.
But it's not exactly that we're going to be looking for them, but we will definitely publicize them when people do contact us with this information.
Mr. FIELDS: And I don't think it's the media. I think the public's growing intolerant of this type of behavior. And I think much of this has to do with the public's level of distaste these days for what they see are just sort of the abuses of power.
GORDON: All right. Let's turn our attention to something that parents certainly used to, I don't know, beat you over the head with - the idea of you better complete high school and you better go to college, because you need it to get a good job. Now, we're finding that more and more colleges are accepting people who have not completed high school.
We are finding that almost 400,000 students across the country - and this would account for two percent of all college students - three percent of community college students and four percent of commercial or profit making college students - and this is according to the United States Education Department over the course of the year 2003-2004 - are suggesting that they are allowing students to enroll that have not completed high school.
Mr. FIELDS: Well, I mean, I think the problem here is there are varying degrees of quality in secondary education. And I think the - some of the young people are opting out of high school not because they can't compete, because they understand that they're not getting a very good education where they are.
So I think the bigger question is what sort of skill set is required these days to do well in college? And if you don't have a high school degree, is there a way that you can step up once you're in college, let's say a two-year college, so that it will make you college eligible so that you can get a college degree.
But I think what we're finding across the country, a lot of these high students aren't completing their educations because, quite frankly, the quality of education, high school education, in this country is pitiful.
GORDON: ER Shipp, I can understand this to some degree from a commercial or profit making - what they call a profit making college, because it's about just generating the dollar often for those colleges. But some of these community colleges - and we should note that we're not talking about the top-flight institutions - but some of these colleges and community colleges are accepting these, and I'm wondering if, in fact, they are doing the same by virtue of the profit making colleges - just to get the tuition in.
Prof. SHIPP: There's probably a lot of that going on, quite frankly. But on the point of how bad the education is for some of these kids in high school, I've often seen that young people coming to college are kind of where I think I might have been in ninth grade, in terms of what I was prepared to do. And that's at some colleges that are pretty good.
These schools, in some cases, are taking risks. Many of them, of course, are not being altruistic; they're looking for the money. But, in some cases, these kids do succeed. And that's the problem here.
The issue, I think, is should the government be providing financial aid to students who've not yet proven themselves to be ready for college? And I think that's why this issue has come up most recently in New York.
Prof. LOURY: You know, I don't think we want to be too rigid about what the life course events have to be for a young person to mature into, you know, a productive worker. True, it would be better if high school education was serving effectively everywhere, and if the kids moved through in a normal way; but, I mean, you have to ask yourself this question - suppose you've got somebody who, you know, messed up when they were 15, 16, 17, but sort of came to their senses when they were 19, 20, 21. There needs to be someplace for them to go.
If they can benefit from the community college, that's the key question, do they have the qualifications? This is not just make work - then I don't know that we want to be so rigid about, you know, what credentials a person has to have. For example, if we're going to have accountability testing, standards, you know, stuff like that in high school, then there're going to be some people who get pushed out just because they're not ready at that time. Do we want to consign them forever to not getting education?
Prof. SHIPP: But they can always go the GED route, though.
Prof. LOURY: And then they have to have something to do after that.
Mr. FIELDS: Yeah. And I think that the problem is most of these kids know that the GED is seen as a throwaway, you know, diploma. So I think that the issue becomes, you know, do we want to mark children for life simply because their high school experience may not be on the par of what we deem it should be, or whether or not they fail a standardized test that does not allow them to get that high school diploma. There's got to be some mid-way here. (unintelligible).
GORDON: What of those who argue that you're watering down college campuses and expectations if you allow these kids on?
Mr. FIELDS: Well, I...
Prof. SHIPP: Well, they have to find, there has to be a way for them to prove themselves committed to this path of education. And in New York, I believe the governor was trying to say that if you earn 24 credits, or something, in one of these two-year colleges then maybe you can qualify for financial aid. But there has to be some demonstration of really commitment to getting this education at the college level.
Prof. LOURY: And, you know, one thing I think here is, motivation is really important. If I've got somebody who's motivated and who's trying to do something, I mean, that can take me a long way. So, I mean, look at immigrants. I mean, immigrants come and they into community colleges and they go into nursing programs and they go to trade schools and what not, and their background educations may not always be that strong, but they're motivated. So you have to have some screen. You shouldn't just let anybody go, but, again, I don't think you want to necessarily be rigid about what they have to have had before if they show themselves ready right now.
GORDON: And the idea that if this becomes more widespread - Walter Fields -there are those who are going to, as you suggest, just say, why bother with that last year of high school, if they've not been doing well, and they say I'll just pick it up on the other end.
Mr. FIELDS: Well, they could, but there have also been some other interesting things. I mean, there are some places where children in vocational programs have a higher success in college because they're more focused. They can see the path to a career. Part of it is we have to revisit this issue of secondary education and really find out what's wrong that's so many young people who are quite capable, mind you, are not doing well in school. It's just not all on these young people. I think we've got to find a way to have an honest discussion about this.
GORDON: All right. Well, hopefully we have at least started some people thinking about an honest discussion about education. We've been talking about that for years, so we'll see.
ER Shipp, Glenn Loury, Walter Fields, thanks so much, appreciate it.
Prof. SHIPP: Thanks.
Prof. LOURY: Thanks you.
Mr. FIELDS: Thanks.
GORDON: Next up on NEWS & NOTES, NPR's Farai Chideya has a setback in her fitness challenge, but nutritionist Rovenia Brock helps her get back on track. And film great Melvin Van Peebles on 50 years in show business and his latest project.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.