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Election 2008: Purple State Videos

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Citizen journalists Liz Gotsdiner and Bert Sobanik on the campaign trail in economically depressed Flint, Mich., examing the economic messages of John McCain and Barack Obama and asking about the prospects for middle-class jobs and financial security for the next generation.Video by Purple States

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Cynthia Farrar, Elizabeth Gotsdiner and Bert Sobanik
Producer/CEO and Citizen Journalists, Purple States
Thursday, September 18, 2008; 2:30 PM

Purple States producer Cynthia Farrar was online Thursday, Sept. 18 at 2:30 p.m. ET to discuss the project, which involves sending citizen journalists to shoot documentary video in swing states. The two creators of today's segment, Elizabeth Gotsdiner and Bert Sobanik, joined to take your questions about their piece on Michigan and its economy.

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The transcript follows.

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Elizabeth Gotsdiner: Hey all! It's Elizabeth in Iowa City!

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Bert Sobanik: This is Bert from Lyman, Maine, ready to discuss the economy and the end of manufacturing in this country

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Lansing, Mich.: The auto towns are going the way of the steel towns and the coal towns. I guess it's natural for modern man to have to migrate around. But tell me this: Where do we migrate to from here?

Bert Sobanik: The messages that I get vary only a little -- get an advanced degree in law or medicine. or else look into the "service sector." The one thing that everyone agrees on is "be a nurse."

Elizabeth Gotsdiner: China.

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Peoria, Ill.: When will CEOs be judged not by short-term profit but by long-term stability, quality, and job creation here?

Elizabeth Gotsdiner: I think that as we move into the next generation the skeletons in our closet will become fewer and fewer with our movement into a digital age. Now, as I personally don't want everyone diggin' through my skeletons, this will serve the public more by allowing us more insight into the life of the people who run the show.

I think also what you're getting at is loyalty and commitment to a company, and I think that's totally necessary to climb the corporate ladder. People in high-up positions should be deserving of them. So hopefully we will see proper judgment in the near future. I hope Illinois is beautiful!

Bert Sobanik: The shareholders should be allowed to decide the compensation packages of the senior management, rather than the board of directors. The current system is incestuous and makes top dogs wealthy whether they do good or bad.

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Washington: I like the concept of what you are doing here. I have several questions about it, though. Is this series only going to focus on McCain's and Obama's ideas? I think that the third parties tend to focus more on the issues, and have a wide range of solutions to every problem, and it would be a bad thing to ignore them. Any time I see a "purple" concept I can't help but think of all the different centers in American politics. There is the center between the two major parties, but also the center between libertarians and classic liberals -- as we saw when Ron Paul and Ralph Nader recently were together. In a more European grid-like political spectrum (where our two parties both are considered conservative and authoritarian), what center would we really talking about?

Cynthia Farrar: Hi, this is Cynthia Farrar, Executive Producer of Purple States -- and we covered Ron Paul in the primaries. Bert can speak to his views about where Libertarians fit -- he is one!

Elizabeth Gotsdiner: We started this series a year ago, beginning with the primaries. Tracking all these politicians has been amazing. I for one (and I'm sure Bert, too) truly enjoy seeing active third parties. What bothers me is the reference to third "parties," like we say "this group is for everything else." We should not view third parties as everything else -- we should listen to a word off the beaten track. Many times when voters take the chance to listen, they find something enlightening, or almost refreshing about creative thought, and speculation about how the system is working. I applaud third parties, fourth parties and fifth parties, and I feel we need to give them the time and respect they deserve.

Cynthia Farrar: Just to clarify, the "purple" in Purple States is not about finding or creating Purple People, but about having a red and blue (and everywhere in-between) discussion from the perspective of ordinary people.

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Washington: So maybe economic policy didn't work well coming from the powers that be. ... Maybe that's debatable, but how would "everyman" do it differently? Can't open those factories back up -- that train has left the station.

Bert Sobanik: The train of manufacturing has left the station. Now it is time for the leaders in government, medicine, legal services and other "top feeders" to adjust to serving a much-less-wealthy population. Time for the top to adjust our spending habits to better reflect the means of the people they are feeding off.

Elizabeth Gotsdiner: I actually just rushed home from McCain's rally about 20 minutes ago in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and I had a great conversation with a sound dude. Every candidate will give the same answer regarding new jobs. They will be green jobs that will entail building solar, wind and all sorts of other biofuels and alternative energy sources. But my concern then was, how long until these jobs also are outsourced? And his response to me was, how long until we make these jobs?

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Boulder, Colo.: Elizabeth in Iowa City: How did you get this job as "citizen reporter"?

Elizabeth Gotsdiner: How's Colorado? One of my favorite states. I actually received this job in an interesting way. There I was, a year ago, twiddling my thumbs waiting for opportunity to knock ... and then it rang. A public relations firm called and did some demographic questioning, and then asked me to come into the studio for an interview. At that point I wasn't exactly sure what I was interviewing for, but figured "why not?" So I went. About a week later I received a phone call that I'd been chosen to represent Iowa as a citizen journalist. It was life-changing, and invigorating. The job may have found me, but I love doing my job.

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Des Moines, Iowa: Hey Liz. I am very impressed and proud of what you are doing. We need more people our age speaking out and getting involved.

Elizabeth Gotsdiner: Yay home! Go Tigers! Thank you for the comment!

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Fort Myers, Fla.: What do you think about the latest government bailout, this time of AIG? How do you think it will affect our economy in the long-term?

Bert Sobanik: The bailout of AIG is going to ripple through our economy for many many years to come. This sets the bar for other greedy incompetents who want to drop their "babies" at the doorstep of the Federal Reserve. The other thing is that all these bailouts are going to push this year's budget deficit way up, and the value of the dollar way down. I would say we can look for a steady decline in the value of the dollar as big investors around the world try to work into stronger currencies and away from the dollar.

Elizabeth Gotsdiner: My soundman friend enlightened me with this one, too. How long until we are paying for oil in Euros? Ouch.

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Charlotte, N.C.: Hey, you've been on the trail -- has either candidate given solutions to the present economic crisis? I'm not talking about boilerplate -- have we gotten specifics from the candidates?

Bert Sobanik: Both candidates talk about fixing the problem in general terms. However, they both seem to prefer to discuss how their opponents party either created the situation, or will raise taxes, or would be unable to do anything about it, and so on.

We need to amend our trade policies to try and stem the steady flow of wealth out of our nation. We have not balanced the trade gap since the 19070s -- it cannot go on forever as it is. We need to amend our energy policies to slow the flow of wealth from our nation. We need to change our place in the world economy from borrowers/consumers to producers and savers.

Elizabeth Gotsdiner: Like I mentioned I literally was watching McCain speak about an hour ago, and boy, the protesters were out. But McCain made a proposal to create the MFI, the Mortgage and Financial Institution Trust (or something along those lines). The reason for this would be to see that companies that might go down hard can have assistance before they reach a state of crisis. We should not have to rely on Resolutions, instead lets practice preventatives so we don't need damage control.

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Edmonds, Wash.: So you're average citizens. Can you tell another average citizen: What's the actual, tangible difference between the proposed economic policies of McCain and Obama?

Bert Sobanik: Because the Candidates speak in generalities and change their positions as they go along it is kinda hard to put a sure measurement on what they will do. I sorta see it as: Democrats -- tax and spend; Republicans -- borrow and spend.

Neither has come up with a definitive target of where they will stop spending. Saying things like "cut waste" or "plug tax loopholes" does not give me much to work with. Now ,Ron Paul has said that "the Constitution says education is the job of the states, so I will eliminate the federal Department of Education."

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Harrisburg, Pa.: Ironically, I watched the film on the Mayor's race in Bogota, N.J., last night. Have you see this film? How close to or different from this one is the type film you wish to see others make?

washingtonpost.com: Anytown, USA (IMDB)

Cynthia Farrar: I didn't see the film -- tell us a little about it!

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Lansing, Mich.: An entire economy of doctors, lawyers and nurses. I guess we all could heal and sue each other by turns. But is there nothing that will replace manufacturing? Could the cyber-economy ever fill that place? Could our engineers become programmers? Could our line-workers become...?

Bert Sobanik: The last Fortune 500 that I worked for (Pitney Bowes) built a large "campus" in Bangalore, India, where the "H1B" visa workers would return to after being trained in this country. This is where the programming and software-writing is being/will be done, as well as the network maintenance and customer service.

Cynthia Farrar: Bert, what about the "green-collar jobs" that McCain, Obama and Granholm talk about?

Bert Sobanik: Cynthia, the technologies of green energy are in large part already available and adopted widely in Europe and other places. The trick here would be for established, proven designs to reach production here ... and then have that production not be outsourced to China or Mexico, where it is so much more profitable to produce!

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Baltimore: So, when talking about jobs and the economy, why not something like the New Deal? It created jobs, improved infrastructure, boosted the economy, etc.

Bert Sobanik: The New Deal was pushed through when times were desperate; we probably will need a few years of much greater pain than we have now. And after all, the current deal where the elite are getting fabulously wealthy while the average go down the tube is working really well for the people who are running the show.

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Minnesota: Are we ready to admit that free trade agreements are stupid, and it's time to reimplement some protectionist policies? Having an economy that relies on huge corporations that perform financial transactions but produce nothing has left us with a fundamentally weak economy.

Elizabeth Gotsdiner: We had a someone discuss this similar topic on our site, www.purplestates.tv. I asked what would happen if globalization ever reached such a level that we all fell under one government? And the response was brilliant. I believe is was ROBOT that answered this one ... she said that globalization and internationalization are two different things. Globalization is giving away our jobs -- and I personally don't want to see anymore job outsourcing -- and internationalization is more of a trade system, where we create at home and then sell what we, the American people, have made. I want to see our jobs stay in our country, but I would like to see other countries buying our products, so I am for trade, but not trading our jobs.

Bert Sobanik: Here is my thought: Why protect? Let's just level the field. Start with this:

  • Any item manufactured or containing components manufactured in a place where the strict environmental standards of this country are not adhered to will not be imported here. Keep the world clean for all the worlds people.
  • Any item manufactured, or containing components manufactured by people who are not protected by the strict OSHA standards that our workers enjoy will not be imported here. No child or slave labor. No sweatshop conditions. Fair wages for work done.
  • Any item manufactured, or containing components manufactured by people who enjoy the considerable subsidy of government supplied health care will be charged a tariff to make that subsidy equivalent to what it costs employers in this country who must supply their workers with health care insurance. Our employers should not shoulder the burden that other nations do not require of employers in their nations.

By the way, "free trade" is so much baloney -- our "trading partners" protect their markets overtly and on the sly.

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Black Mountain, N.C.: I saw from the description of the project that you're following the election in person. What do you think of the candidates whom you've met so far? Are they "different" in person? Did they surprise you?

Elizabeth Gotsdiner: I don't know if "different" is the word. I would more say slick -- they dress slick, talk slick, hair's slick, and damn they're witty. I think what makes a presidential candidate isn't just the substance of their material, it's being able to always have the punch line. Every one of their punch lines seem to be a knee-slapper, especially the improvs, the one's from a witty-minded observer. I've met them all except for Hillary, but I did meet Bill. Collectively I would say they are the same person. Now sure, their values differ here and there, but I could not imagine a dinner table with all the candidates in this year's election. It would be a cardboard cutout of slime. But they are always nice, well-mannered, will shake anyone and everyone's hand, and say "thank you" more times in one hour than I've said in my entire life.

Bert Sobanik: The candidates I met -- and that includes both front-runners -- changed as their star rose. I remember Barack Obama in Waterloo, Iowa, getting large applause when he avowed that it was time for the people of Palestine to be treated with dignity and fairness. I don't hear anything like that now.

I recall seeing John McCain in New Hampshire talking about his vision for green technologies and the need to begin building a large number (30?) of nuclear power plants during his first year in office. He also looked me right in the eye and said "I am a free-trader, my vision of America does not have us competing for basic manufacturing jobs."

I didn't hear that when I watched his speech in Michigan.

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Naples, Fla.: Elizabeth, as someone who is a young student, what has been your experience with people your age and how much they understand about what's going on with the economy?

Elizabeth Gotsdiner: Well, to be honest it wasn't until this project that I truly started learning about the economy, and I still am. I think my generation is extremely distracted. The friends I have made in college so far are ones with strong political interest, and who see some truth in the world, and sometimes you have to look for them. That is one truly positive aspect of this project for me. My opinion is that we need to be encouraging the youth to learn about current events and foreign policy. I don't see my generation as caring as much as they should. I'm learning that there's so much to care for, I have little left for distraction. Thank you for the question.

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Ann Arbor, Mich.: Michigan gets a lot of this kind of press. And yes, I'm a regular citizen too. What I observe is that we need a lot less weeping about the old industry and a lot more working towards the new -- anything new. Obama's ideas about green energy and green building seem a little ... shall we say, stabbing in the dark? ... but from where I sit it looks better than dwelling on all those empty plants.

Elizabeth Gotsdiner: Hi Michigan! I was just there last week, and it was beautiful -- great campus. I agree with you, we need to be proactive, and we need to start now. And how do we start? How about we hire some construction companies to start building facilities to house these new environmental jobs we plan on creating. Motion. Let's get kinetic.

Bert Sobanik: Why not build the plants for our new green energy economy in China? That is where they will end up anyway. The current state of our trade agreements make it almost impossible for anything non-defense-critical to be produced here.

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Philadelphia: What are some of the best things you ever have filmed?

Cynthia Farrar: Bert interviewing Huckabee. And nose-to-nose with McCain. Mexicans gathering on the other side of the border near Tijuana, in daylight, in dark clothes, ready to cross when darkness fell. Tamara talking on camera about her faith, and about abortion. A discussion among the citizens about race -- which will be featured in our piece on The Post next week.

Elizabeth Gotsdiner: Me, of course! Right, Miss Cynthia? I think some of the best material is when Bert's raw opinions fly. Man's got wit. Bert for president!

Cynthia Farrar: Yes, Miss Elizabeth! Your voyage through the Iowa caucus was an eye-opener...

Bert Sobanik: I was so naive about how this process takes place. Grassroots ... hah.

I think the floor of spin city in Myrtle Beach, S.C., after the GOP debates there was outrageous -- the place was like a mosh pit of pundits and reporters trying to connect, sort of like traders on the floor of the stock exchange.

The whole scene had a certain circus-like atmosphere that seemed to have so little to do with the choosing of a leader.

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People who enjoy the considerable subsidy of government supplied health care: Actually our country spends 2.5 times what other wealthy countries spend per patient. They also get better health care as measured by all the basic public health statistics. They just have better systems. Why should they pay for our stupidity?

Elizabeth Gotsdiner: I'm a little confused about how this question or comment is put? Can you rephrase for me?

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Hamden, Conn.: How do the candidates connect with the crowds? It's all made for TV, so I was wondering if there was a difference in atmosphere between an Obama event and a McCain event, or a difference between the people who attend them? What are they like on the stump? Have they changed during the year you have been following them?

Elizabeth Gotsdiner: Whew. I'm going to be very honest: The rallies have the same equation ... a few guest speakers, the Miss State will sing the national anthem, music plays, candidate takes stage, candidate speaks, then goes right to left or left to right and shakes the front row's hands, and they're out.

The difference ... the crowd. Just this morning while I was at McCain there were two major outbreaks in the crowd of protesters. The second group waited until almost the entire event was over before breaking out. I have yet to see protesters inside an Obama rally. But the crowds are so different. The major diversity is at Obama's, and his events have high energy, but the crowds cheer about anything that comes out of his mouth -- it's not even when he's makin' a point, they just cheer, chant, cry, sing... whatever.

At Republican events, i.e. McCain, the crowd is a lot more patient about cheering, they wait for the proper time. But ya know, the more I think about it, the more I realize location makes all the difference. I saw Obama and McCain last week in Michigan, and both crowds were on-their-feet insane. But today in Iowa seeing McCain, I realized I think its just the Iowa way to really pay attention to detail. And I suppose this is one reason that we do deserve to have the first primary.

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Wayland, Mass.: Bert, you need to go into politics.

Elizabeth Gotsdiner: I second that.

Bert Sobanik: I am on the Zoning Board of Appeals in my town, so I guess I am already there.

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Harrisburg, Pa.: Anytown USA was a professional documentary, but it followed three candidates for mayor of Bogota, interviewed voters, showed some meetings, told a bit about the community and the issues in the race. I thought it was well done. You knew who the candidates were and what each stood for.

Bert Sobanik: Feel free to continue in conversation with us at purplestates.tv.

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Elizabeth Gotsdiner: Thanks for all the great questions! Come join our discussion at www.purplestates.tv. I hope to see you all there!

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Cynthia Farrar: Thanks to everyone who participated. Hope you'll tune in to our next episode, next week. And to Bert, Liz and the other Purple States team members on The Daily Citizen at the Purple States's Web site.

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Editor's Note: washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions. washingtonpost.com is not responsible for any content posted by third parties.


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