Gessing, Gisser and the Common Good

September 4th, 2014 · No Comments · Fact Check, journalism, role of government, tax policy

By Arthur Alpert

I’m involved in a production of Steve Martin’s “Picasso at the Lapin Agile” opening Sept. 5 at the brand-new Vortex on Carlisle NE. Given its authorship, it’s no big surprise the play is funny, but in rehearsal I realized Martin also excels at making audiences feel intelligent.

My colleague, Denise Tessier, has the same talent. Her posts flatter, get me thinking and anxious to expound on her subject or write variations on her theme.

That’s what I plan to do today, working off her insightful and good humored August 27 essay on a surprising confluence of letters in the Aug. 25 Business Outlook from rightist activists Paul Gessing and Micha Gisser and a knowledgeable Journal reader, one William Jewell of Placitas.

If you missed it, look again because Gessing wrist-slapped Professor Gisser, a former collaborator. Seems the retired UNM prof had allowed “politics to cloud his economic thinking.”

As if politics and economic thinking can be disassociated!

As if Gessing’s own work for the Koch-supported Rio Grande Foundation is non-political!

As Dave Barry likes to say, you can’t make this stuff up.

Denise’s post prompted me to reread Gessing’s letter. It misstates reality, but here’s the journalistic issue:

The letter represents the Journal’s views. Columns by George Will, Cal Thomas, Charles Krauthammer and the like echo Gessing’s views. And the editors lard the “news” columns with accounts of similar spin.

Ergo, this Gessing sentence deserves scrutiny:

“President Obama has raised taxes and further expanded government.”

The tax part is simply not so, but first, did you note Gessing’s use of a common right-wing political tactic? They love to talk about raising or cutting taxes without specifying, “on whom?”

Now to the essence – under President Obama almost all Americans enjoying lower federal taxes, while rates rose on the folks who play Mr. Gessing’s salary.

The bite on the Haves remains less onerous than under Ronald Reagan and whatever the nominal rate, the affluent employ legions of lawyers minimize the tab, but yes, in theory their taxes are up a bit.

So the first part of Gessing’s sentence is wrong.

As for expanding government, explore that here would require a tome and I’m not sure the result would be clear. But we can agree that Gessing meant to imply it’s a bad thing.

This is puzzling, to say the least, given big government’s essential role in the research, subsidization and protection of big business, including Obamacare, a corporate wet dream.

But also because Charles Koch personally founded the Institute for Energy Research and its subsidiary, the American Energy Alliance, both of which currently are fighting to protect federal tax breaks for fossil fuel producers. (See Lee Fang’s at Republic Report, August 29.)

So Gessing badmouths big government while his underwriters insist on big government tax breaks. Huh?

Of course, the Kochs, via Gessing, should make their case and, thanks to the First Amendment, they need not be accurate or responsible. The daily that publishes that case ad nauseam, however, even as it shuns middle-of-the-road and left-of-center opinions, should be held to account.

Which is what Mr. Jewell, the letter writer, did and he’s not the first. The Journal may be the only daily in America where the readers who write to the editor provide the fact checking!

But let’s proceed. Gessing’s letter describes the Rail Runner and Spaceport as “new costly projects.” We don’t know how costly, really, because (to my knowledge) nobody has quantified the train’s benefits to Santa Fe businesses or the environment. Nor do we know how much commercial activity the Spaceport may spur downstate.

Though, on second thought, Governor Martinez’s support for the Spaceport must rest on return-on-investment projections.

Notice we haven’t even mentioned what the train and space businesses will contribute to the common good.

I recognize that “common good” are fightin’ words for Gessing’s Rio Grande Foundation, of course, and that the Kochs don’t subsidize “we,” only “I.”

I bring it up, however, to distinguish between the Kochs’ pursuit of private business interests and what most newspapers proclaim they’re after – to serve the public interest.

On March 9, for example, the New York Times public editor, Margaret Sullivan, concluded an essay about uncertainty in a “murky, media world” this way:

“Integrity. Challenging the powerful. Truth and fairness. No matter what the technological changes, these are never going to go out of style.”

(In fairness, the Times doesn’t always measure up; witness its incapacity concerning the George W. Bush administration’s failure to prevent 9/11 and its subsequent optional war on Iraq.)

Still, Ms. Sullivan was describing the Times’ aspirations, so what is the Albuquerque Journal’s mission?

Well, since management never challenges the powerful Koch brothers, other right-wing politicians and financiers, affords them near-blanket immunity from coverage and then throws in lots of free space for their propaganda, often hiding the source from readers, the Journal’s raison d’etre could be:

“Representing America’s ruling class in their assault on government of the people, by the people and for the people.”

But back to Denise’s post, where she noted new editors (Charlie Moore, Ellen Marks) will supervise its business coverage and wondered if that might mean fewer contributions from Prof. Gisser.

That raises the questions, are big changes likely and if so, what will they be?

Surely the first answer will be “No.”

The business pages will continue to offer a lot of excellent journalism from the staff, including Richard Metcalf, Winthrop Quigley, Kevin Robinson-Avila and Jessica Dyer, as well as contributors like Tom Philpott (military) and CPA James Hamill (taxes). But they will work within management’s context – see the private sector to cheer it on and see nothing more.

Oh, if we are very lucky, the new editors could inch stealthily toward a broader perspective, but that’s a big “if.”

Finis. This was fun, building on my colleague’s work. Next time, maybe, variations on Denise’s fascinating post about Leslie Linthicum’s retirement.

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